The Goonies Fight Krusty

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Title: It

Rating: 2 Stars

This had come in with so much positive buzz that I had a lot of high hopes for it. Unfortunately, I left the theater disappointed. It was OK, but it certainly did not meet expectations.

Most of my issues with the film surround trying to distill a very dense, plot thick novel into a movie. It looks like it’s going to be at least two movies. Even so, this film involved the initial appearance of Pennywise in the children’s lives, which is still a pretty big story in of itself to tell.

The main challenge is that there are too many characters that each had some kind of plot arc. Stephen King is the master of weaving characters in and out of a complex plot. However, King has a thousand pages to accomplish this. A movie has about 135 minutes.

Under that constraint, you have to cut characters. Here, the filmmakers don’t. There are seven (count them, seven) child actors that are all in mortal danger. Not only that, but they all have personalities that need to be developed. One is an overweight budding architect. Another is a gifted mimic. Yet another is a hypochondriac. And so on. In the limited time frame, there just isn’t enough time to define and then create space for each character to develop.

I’m in the midst of reading It when I went to the film, so I know the characters. Even with that background, there were moments where I was confused. Wait, is that the kid who can’t stop talking or is he the hypochondriac?

I would have much preferred for characters to be excised from the plot than to have these one dimensional characters with carefully parceled out lines and scenes. Everybody had to have their special moment or two, which left the overarching plot a bit of a mess.

My second issue with it might come from the fact that maybe I’ve become somewhat inured to horror. Yes, the special effects were amazing and the transformation of Pennywise from creepy clown to flesh-eating hellion was impressive, but there were actually relatively few moments in the film where I actually jumped.

It might actually be an age thing as well. Perhaps I just can’t relate any more to the child in danger motif. I’ve long sense lost the innocence of youth. The perils of walking down the street and being tormented by bullies perhaps just doesn’t resonate with me anymore. If so, I’m assuming that the next chapter, if this chapter is successful, will take place the usual 27 years later, at which point the children would then be adults. Perhaps this type of horror will resonate more with me?

In the book, the setting for the children’s horror is 1958. From a pure American folklore point of view, 1958 is probably the better setting for the children’s section. Derry is presented as this typical small town with a dark shadow hanging over it. Setting it in 1958 makes this dichotomy even more apparent. The myth of the 1950’s is that of a time of bucolic innocence (well, if you’re white, anyways). Moving it into the 1980’s, while maybe will make the next chapter (ie 27 years later) a little easier to film and more relevant to our current time, caused the larger issue of lost innocence to be lost.

Finally, I wasn’t that impressed with the CGI. If anything, it was just a little too CGI-y as Pennywise seamlessly transformed into impossible shapes. Sure, from a technical point of view it was impressive, but again, maybe this is me, but horror is more effective when it’s simpler. Just last month or so I re-watched the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was I’m sure literally made for less than this film spent on catering.  Re-watching the shock and horror of that film and seeing how effective that was makes this one seem tamer, even though it clearly had way better pedigree / production values.

So, not a horrible movie, but clearly a disappointment.

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Thou Shouldst Not Been Wise Till Thou Hadst Been Worldly

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Title: Julius Caesar

Rating: 4 Stars

My apologies for the pretentious title. That’s a paraphrase from King Lear. In King Lear, the great, respected and wise king decides that it’s a good idea to divide his kingdom amongst his three daughter upon the condition that they each verbally declare their love for him. This, in typical Shakespearean tragedy fashion, leads to pretty much everyone dying. Lear’s fool, in exasperation at the stubborn foolishness of the old king, pleads with him not to embark upon this destructive path by telling him, “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”

Similarly, in this play you have Brutus. Brutus is recognized as one of the wisest leaders in Rome. The conspirators to assassinate Caesar need to have Brutus in their camp to lend it legitimacy.

First of all, they fool him by leaving anonymous notes for him to find that beseeches him to rise up against Caesar. Apparently random notes are enough to convince this wise man to a path of assassination.

Then, when planning the assassination, the conspirators decide that they should also murder Antony, since it’s known how loyal Antony is to Caesar. Brutus says no, it’s better to shed only a minimal amount of blood. It sends a better message to the Roman people that the conspirators are not bloodthirsty.

Antony is clearly grief stricken by Caesar’s death and asks to give the funeral oration. Cassius, the main conspirator, thinks it’s crazy to let Antony speak to the people over the body of Caesar. Brutus says no, it’ll look better because the conspirators will look magnanimous letting Antony speak and anyway, he (ie Brutus), a great orator himself, will speak first and will pacify the people. What could go wrong?

Of course, immediately Antony gives a speech that turns all of Rome against them. They have to flee and a civil war commences.

Finally, on the field of battle, Brutus’ forces are nicely arrayed in fine defensive position waiting for Antony’s / Octavius’ forces to attack. Cassius advises Brutus, since they are in such fine defensive position, to let the battle come to them. Brutus says no, we are at the pinnacle of our strength right now, so we should leave our fortifications and attack them at Phillipi.

Multiple suicides later, both Brutus and Cassius are dead and Antony and Octavius reign supreme.

Brutus is the classic example of someone with great wisdom, judgement, and respect but just absolutely horrible gut instincts.

Cassius, who is portrayed here more of a sneaky character, does not have Brutus’ gravitas but clearly knows how to get the best of a situation. Unfortunately, his respect for Brutus is so great that he always yields against his own judgment.

This actually reminds me of…Night of the Living Dead. Now, bear with me. For those of you who haven’t seen it, there’s a group of people trapped in a house as zombies are trying to break in and get to them. The two main sources of conflict are between Ben and Harry.  Ben is the conventional heroic type (a young black man in a very early effort at actually representing minorities non stereo-typically) and Harry, who’s kind of a sniveling coward.

Ben is all about trying to figure out to fight the zombies and get out of the situation. Harry just wants to go into the cellar, barricade it, and wait for the authorities. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a movie if they all went down into the cellar and then spent the night playing pinochle or whatever, so Ben inspires them all to fight the zombies. Of course (yes, spoiler alert for a 50 year old movie), they all die except for Ben. Ben himself dies when he is shot by the authorities who mistake him for a zombie (and well, probably also because he’s black).

The point here is that, although Ben is a indisputably a brave and wise man, Harry was actually right. The zombies weren’t all that strong, the cellar door was solid, and the authorities were coming. If they’d just spent the night in the cellar they’d probably have been perfectly fine.

That connection was also probably triggered because in the play, Brutus was played in a wise, brave, heroic manner by a black actor and Cassius was played by a kind of middle management snivelly white actor. There’s probably a message here that leaders can’t be completely driven by some abstract concept of morality and sometimes have to do things that others might perceive as cowardly and weak. I could connect this even more to events in the 100 years war, but I’m going to stop now because it’s already getting too long.

I’m always a little suspicious of Shakespearean plays that place themselves in the current day, but here Julius Caesar really does seem weirdly relevant, which is bizarre for a 400 year old play. It’s a testament to Shakespeare’s genius and maybe to some common notes of humanity that stretch across centuries.

Here you have, in the background, 24 hour news channels continuously blasting events as they occur (including spot on imitations of how somber news channels get upon the death of a popular leader / celebrity). Here you also have leaders overtly manipulating the masses for their own political ends. Here you have the war hero Caesar, all ego and bluster, pretending not to want the crown while obviously secretly aching for it (every military dictator ever). Here you have the unthinking masses, all fired up in anger, literally tearing to pieces an innocent person in a case of bad timing and mistaken identity.

Also, I like the race / sex neutral casting of the play. Brutus is a black man. Antony is a black man. The Roman senators, Casca and Cinna, are a black woman and an Asian woman, respectively. They all were effective. I have no idea if there are Shakespearean canonical purists out there anywhere that raises a ruckus about this (considering the fact that there was a somewhat defensive note about it in the program, there must be), but if so, they need to get over it, or would you prefer that we go all the way back to the original and have prepubescent boys in drags for all of the female characters?

So, why not five stars? It’s not the players’ fault. The first three acts is where all of the interesting things occur, in my opinion. Acts IV and V have plenty of military action, but the moral questions have been answered, decisions have been made, and the final two acts is just the play heading towards its foregone conclusion. Everything after the intermission just seemed anticlimactic, even if well done.

Introverts Unite!…Quietly Alone

I am, I must confess, an introvert. Looking at my blog, with its 130 book reviews and 90 movie reviews, this is probably not exactly a shock.

I am in something approaching a leadership position where I work, so I can overcome it. It’s gotten to the point where I’m actually pretty comfortable now speaking up in meetings, giving presentations, and other such nonsense.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been living alone. I have no real burning desire to become the guy that dies at 90, his body  left undiscovered for weeks, and when the authorities finally do break down the door, they’re confronted by ceiling high piles of newspapers, mildewed books, and decades of old magazines. There’s a rabbit warren of barely navigable pathways that lead inevitably to my shriveled, desiccated body, buried under a pile of National Geographics from the 1980’s.

To avoid that, I make a conscious effort to go out, especially on the weekends. I try to make it a point to try a new restaurant, go to a play, concert, reading, or movie, or some other public event where I have to, even minimally, be amidst other people.

This weekend, I had several options. One option was to go to Punk Drublic, which is a punk rock / beer festival. Some popular bands from back in the day were going to be there. I was tempted but it was an all day thing and it was way out in the hinterlands of Tacoma, so if I was to drink (which I would), getting there and back was going to be a minor hassle.

Literally next door from where I live, Chris Rock was performing tonight. Maybe a mile away or so, Jim Gaffigan was performing. At a small club about a mile from me The Beaumonts were going to play. I don’t really know much about The Beaumonts, but they appear to be a Texan honky-tonk punkish kind of band, which sounded fun.

But…there was another option. Without going into too many details explaining why, one of my lifetime goals is to read James Joyce’s novel, Finnegans Wake. For those who don’t know about it, Finnegans Wake is Joyce’s last novel. He spent nearly twenty years writing it, and was blind or poorly sighted for much of that time. He essentially invented a new language while writing it. Eighty years later, there are people still trying to figure out what it’s about. Here are some examples of prose from it:

  • The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. 
  • And the duppy shot the shutter clup (Perkodhuskurunbarggruauyagokgorlayorgromgremmitghundhurthrumathunaradidillifaititillibumullunukkunun!)
  • The (klikkaklakkaklaskaklopatzklatschabattacreppycrottygraddaghsemmihsammihnouithappluddyappladdypkonpkot!).
  • Wold Forrester Farley who, in deesperation of deispiration at the diasporation of his diesparation, was found of the round of the sound of the lound of the Lukkedoerendunandurraskewdylooshoofermoyportertooryzooysphalnabortansporthaokansakroidverjkapakkapuk.
  • For hanigen with hunigen still haunt ahunt to finnd their hinnigen where Pappappapparrassannuaragheallachnatullaghmonganmacmacmacwhackfalltherdebblenonthedubblandaddydoodled and anruly person creeked a jest. [205]
  • Let us here consider the casus, my dear little cousis (husstenhasstencaffincoffintussemtossemdamandamnacosaghcusaghhobixhatouxpeswchbechoscashlcarcarcaract) of the Ondt and the Gracehoper.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, those bolded words are one hundred characters long each.

I think that you can see now that, even though I’ve been reading semi-seriously for over thirty years, I have yet to tackle it.

What does this have to do with anything?

Well, apparently someone in the Seattle area has, not only read it, but has decided to memorize it. And not only memorize it, but he puts on shows where he declaims it. His goal is apparently to find the musical underpinnings of the prose.

That’s actually cool on a couple of levels. First of all, apparently there is a rhythm to Finnegans Wake when spoken aloud. More than that, the pre-written word epic poets of ancient Greece used to recite their poems. These poems were passed down from generation to generation by poets memorizing the verses. To aid in the memorization, poems like The Odyssey or The Illiad also have a musical structure, so we seem to be circling back to the arts of the ancients. Lastly, Joyce was nearly blind and Homer was allegedly blind, so there’s yet another weird multi-millenial tie that binds.

The artist is apparently up to chapter four. If that doesn’t impress you, understand that reciting just chapter one takes an estimated three hours.

So, given all of that, imagine my shock and surprise when I saw that he was going to read chapter one Saturday night. Even though I have no idea how such an event could possibly go (if I can’t read it and understand it, how can I possibly hear someone else recite and get anything out of it?), I quickly abandoned thoughts of Chris Rock and decided that I wanted to hear some dude recite from memory some gibberish!

Perfectly normal!

It starts at eight. It’s about a mile and a half away, so I walk. I arrive about five minutes early. It is in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There are no lights anywhere. I walk past what appears to be a couple of hyper-local storefronts (one is a hairstylist). I keep walking. I walk past one of the storefronts and the door is open.

I look in and see about fifty chairs set up. It looks like nothing more than one of those storefront non-denominational churches (Rock of Faith, all are welcome!). I look in as I pass by. No one is sitting down. There are three people standing at the front. I figure one of them must be the counter person (tickets must be purchased). The three of them have formed a conversational triad with a level of comfort that implies that they all have known each other for a while. There is no one else there.

I walk past the theater (I guess?) and stand off to the side. No one else comes in over the next ten minutes.

What do I do? If I’m literally the only person in the audience, that will leave me extremely uncomfortable. Even if two of the people are audience members, clearly I’m the guy that doesn’t fit in. What if they ask me about Finnegans Wake and I have to confess that I’ve never read it? That I have to admit that I’m some kind of voyeuristic poseur of avant-garde literature? I was planning on checking it out and then maybe ducking out at the intermission. That’s going to be really hard to do if I’m the only fucking person in the audience. What if it’s really uncomfortable? How am I going to respond if this artist, who has spent God knows how many probably thousands of hours memorizing gibberish, stands in front of me looking sad or forlorn but feels some show must go on duty to make sure that I get my $15 worth? Or even worse, what if he sits next to me, knees touching, and stares at me fiercely, eye-to-eye, while he regurgitates Joycean stream of consciousness at me for three hours?

The pressure becomes too much. I bolt. Like I said earlier, I do try to make an effort to break out of my introvert shell, but this was asking too much. We all have our breaking point and I’ve just found mine.

I think that I’ll see what’s in my Netflix queue.

A Failed Exercise Book

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Title: The Trespasser

Rating: 5 Stars

In case you haven’t noticed, you can group the books that I read into a couple of categories. I read ‘serious’ literature, whatever that means. I read classic fiction. I read non-fiction / history. And I read genre action/mystery/thriller.

Which one is not like the others?

There actually is a reason for this. I exercise most days of the week. I usually try to play racquetball twice a week. I do weights twice a week. I try to do some other form of aerobic activity twice a week.

The non-racquetball aerobic activity that I used to do was primarily running on a treadmill. However, over the last year or so, I’ve been fighting off plantar fasciitis in both feet, which makes running for any sustained period of time painful. Therefore, I’m now riding a recumbent bike.

I personally find riding a recumbent bike mind-numbingly boring. To mitigate that, I read while riding. I tried reading other types of books, but since I ride pretty hard and I only ride once, at most twice, a week, I found that I was getting lost and distracted pretty easily and losing the thread of the work.

Genre fiction is actually nice for this. They usually follow a pretty linear plot. The characters are usually well defined and manageable in number. For most action/mystery/thriller, I can read for 35 to 40 minutes once or twice a week without losing track of where I am.

Note that I’m not knocking genre fiction. I think it’s great and a perfectly respectable form of literature. It’s just that its form lends itself to my exercise.

Every now and then, an author fails me. I’ll start reading a novel while riding the bike for a couple of sessions, but ultimately the work just draws me in and I can’t help myself. I can’t wait until my next ride to read. I have to sit down and finish it.

Tana French always does this to me. Usually before I’m even halfway through it, I am staying up late at night or burning a couple of hours on the weekend to finish it.

She failed me yet again with The Trespasser. I don’t think I even got halfway through it before I gave up and sat down to finish it.

Her plots are interesting but I really think it’s the characters that draw me in. All of her novels are set in the Murder Squad in Dublin. Her novels (she’s on number six now) are at best loosely connected but can be read independently. Each novel is a first person narrative told from a different person’s perspective.

This time its Antoinette Conway’s turn. She’s a relatively young but hard and brittle detective. She thinks the squad is against her and she is absolutely determined not to let them get the upper hand. Her partner, Steve Moran, is a people pleaser that wants to get along with everyone, but Antoinette feels that her bad karma will also inevitably bring him down as well.

They’re assigned what appears to be a simple domestic murder, but as they investigate it, it seems to be escalating into something much larger. The big question is, are the detectives themselves making it larger because they are sick of getting assigned the boring, easy murder cases, or is there something else at work? And, if so, what is it? Who can they trust? Can they trust each other?

The whole troubled lead brilliant detective is obviously a trope. French’s characters are so deeply drawn that she rises above it. Yes, Conway clearly has some emotional problems, but these problems are somehow integrated into her larger character so that you’re not just rolling your eyes at the poor tortured-soul detective.

The interplay between the detectives and the suspects are richly drawn. She spends time on each character so that, even though at some times they are used just to advance the plot, you find yourself interested and caring for them.

The ending is spot on. I personally find the ending of most novels to be problematic, regardless of genre. The ending of many mysteries have a tendency to peter out because once the case is solved, usually there is some wrap-up / closure that takes place that kills the excitement of the solve. Here she ends it perfectly. I’ve found myself re-reading the last several pages several times just for the sheer enjoyment of a well executed novel.

In short, I think that all of Tana French’s novels, but especially The Trespasser, are absolutely brilliant examples of mystery fiction. She could very well be the best mystery writer active today.

 

Movie Images Put To Words

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Title: The Regional Office is Under Attack!

Rating: 3 Stars

This is an odd book to rate. On the surface, it’s basic action genre. There is a top secret organization (The Regional Office) that has a team of female action heroes with extraordinary gifts taking on world threatening organizations and/or extra-dimensional beings that the rest of the world is blithely unaware of. At the beginning of the book, an attack is being launched against The Regional Office. The story is told from the point of view of both an attacker as well as a defender.

What makes this odd is that this is clearly inspired by / blatantly steals from any number of movies.

  • There is an air duct scene straight out of Die Hard.
  • Rose, one of the attackers of The Regional Office, is first introduced as kind of a malcontent young woman that is then recruited and trained to become an assassin (ala La Femme Nikita).
  • The mission of The Regional Office resembles nothing more than the Men In Black.
  • Sarah, defending The Regional Office, is equipped with an all powerful artificial arm. Over time, her arm takes over more of her body, and she ends up growing mechanical arms and legs. Ultimately, she becomes truly a cyborg, in my head resembling something like the Terminator or, more likely, Robocop.
  • The Oracles, who form the predictive arm of The Regional Office, are three women, heads shaved, permanently kept in a plastic pool of water, which is pretty much exactly from Minority Report.
  • The team of female assassin agents seem much like the original team from Kill Bill.

It’s written in the breezy style of David Wong’s book, John Dies at the End. Amazing things happen that are treated with something like nonchalance.

So, basically it’s a movie that is transposed to literature. Why? Is Gonzales trying to make some connection between popular entertainment and literature? Maybe I’m going down this path because I’ve just finished re-reading David Foster Wallace’s essay, E Unibus Pluram.

It’s a very dated essay (1993), but still thought provoking. In it, he examines the fact that television has completely taken over entertainment (like, I said, it’s dated). One of the essay’s interesting conclusions is that previously the purpose of art was to expose hypocrisy via the employment of irony. That is, the value of art was in describing the distance between what one expects to be true and what is actually perceived to be true. The challenge to art is that television has been, since at least the 1980’s or so, hugely self aware and ironic. Since television is so ubiquitous, that means that Americans (if not the world) has been so immersed in irony that we have become inured to it.

If everyone’s first language is irony, what fresh perspective can art truly bring?

Is this what’s going on here? Is Gonzales bombarding us with images that we already know as some kind of short hand for some deeper purpose?

I don’t know, and honestly, I kind of lost a bit of interest. The first third or so of the book was fun, exciting, and innovative. However, at a certain point, it just kind of seemed to lose narrative steam and seemed to chug to its inevitable conclusion.

It had a lot of promise and I think that Gonzales was, to his credit, swinging for the fences in trying to do something truly innovative, but at the end of the day, even with big, smart, new ideas, you still have to tell a story that keeps me engaged all of the way to its end.

A Melange of Terror

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Title: The Terror Years

Rating: 4 Stars

This is a series of independent essays highlighting various aspects of life in the Middle East. If you’ve already read The Looming Tower, then a couple of essays will seem familiar to you, but I still found them valuable because each was focused on a pretty narrow topic.

The two that were most redundant to The Looming Tower where the essays on Ayman Zawahiri and John O’Neill. In history the two might always have some kind of weird symbiotic relationship. Zawahari is the master terrorist that inspired bin Laden to look beyond Saudi Arabia towards the United States, and O’Neill was laser focused on stopping terrorist attacks on American soil. Wright does well here looking beyond their life’s work and focusing on the nuances and contradictions that exist in them. This is true especially of O’Neill, who is clearly a slightly fallen hero who was gently pushed out of the FBI and became head of the twin towers about a month before they fell. There is a complexity to a man who, despite his single minded focus on stopping terrorism, also found time to have multiple affairs, propose to women while he was still married, and live a lifestyle that left him constantly hounded by debtors.

Speaking of 9/11, there is another affecting essay concerning another FBI agent, Ali Soufan, who was recruited by O’Neill and became another passionate defender against terrorism. He led the investigation into the suicide bombing of the USS Cole. Working under difficult circumstances, it was his hard work that started making the connections to a larger conspiracy being directed by al-Qaeda. There is a heartbreaking turn here in this essay as it exposes the paranoia and distrust between the FBI and the CIA pre 9/11. The FBI was predominately concerned with prosecuting cases while the CIA was focused on using assets (criminals that were prosecutable) to gather intelligence. Therefore, the CIA was loathe to share intelligence with the FBI. Almost immediately after 9/11, it was discovered that nearly fifty CIA personnel knew that al-Qaeda agents were in the United States but none of them informed the FBI, despite the fact that there were working groups designed explicitly to share such information. Upon learning this, Soufan immediately runs into a bathroom to throw up. History is a great teacher, but sometimes the tuition is a bitch.

Most of the essays focus on topics beyond 9/11. The essay that struck me the most was the one on Saudi Arabia (The Kingdom of Silence). Wright embedded himself in the kingdom for several months working for a Saudi newspaper. This essay was striking for many reasons and highlighted how little I know about Saudi Arabia. Many Saudis are highly educated but there are actually very few jobs for educated Saudis. The education that many get has little practical purpose. Men want to marry but few of them have the means to do so. There is a tremendous amount of money but it is tightly controlled by the very large royal family, so the average Saudi is actually struggling. Corruption is endemic but must never be spoken of. By the end of the piece, you are thinking that this is a country that, behind its apparent static, stable appearance, could within a generation suffer revolution.

Beyond these essays were ones on the state of culture in Syria under the Assad regime (spoiler alert: not great), a look at how invasive (and how blithe the government leaders seem about it) America’s intelligence agencies are getting domestically, an interesting essay on some Islamic terrorists that are actually renouncing violence (thus disproving that Islamic terrorists are this monolithic force), and an absolutely heartbreaking article on five Americans that were kidnapped by terrorists, the government’s seeming disinterest in them, and the private efforts made to try to save them.

The bottom line is that you are looking for some grand, unifying theory of the state of terrorism today, this is not your thing. If you are interested in some essays on the subject by a skilled writer deeply experienced in it, then you should find this extremely valuable.

Where Does She Put Her Shield And Sword?

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Title: Wonder Woman

Rating: 4 Stars

It was a good movie. As should be apparent by now, I’m not a huge fan of either DC or Marvel movies but kind of feel obligated to go to them since they’re such a part of our cultural fabric. So, I’m not going to spend much time on the plot or characters or much about the film itself and write more about what I was thinking as I was watching it. I do have to say that her little lasso of truth thing was pretty crappy CGI.

Wonder Woman as a character in a comic book was first created in 1941. As is obvious, this was the apex of Nazism, and yes, as can be expected, she took on the Axis powers of WWII.

What’s interesting here is that the movie moves her creation story (which is pretty close to the same as the comic book) to the time of WWI. In WWII, the Germans are clearly the bad guys. Without going back to someone like Vlad the Impaler, it’s really hard to find a more evil guy in history than Hitler.

However, in WWI, this is significantly more ambiguous. Sure, at the Treaty of Versailles, Germany is assigned prime responsibility for starting it, but that was pretty much the victors dictating the terms. In a war in which both sides gunned, gassed, and bombed each other with impunity with no other obvious war aims than to gain some territory, it’s really hard to paint Germany as the purely evil force.

In particular, General Ludendorff was certainly a leading general in Germany. However, there is no evidence that he was some diabolical force of evil. In fact, in 1918, when it became clear that his army was collapsing, he and Hindenberg went to the chancellor to plead for an armistice. Having said that, he’s not totally in the clear; even though he asked for the armistice and said that the army was collapsing, after the war he claimed that it was actually the politicians that sold Germany out and that the soldiers could have continued fighting. It was this ‘stab in the back’ argument that helped doom the Weimar Republic and ultimately helped to lead to the rise of Hitler (he actually participated in the ill-fated Beer Hall Putsch).

Wonder Woman becomes convinced that Ludendorff is actually Ares, the god of war. This seems asinine because clearly, if anyone is Ares, it would be Hitler. And, although WWI was imaginably horrible, it turns out that mankind has a very active imagination, because WWII, with the Holocaust, atomic weapons, and the mass slaughter on the Eastern Front, pretty much eclipses it.

So, why move her origin story to WWI? This calls into question Wonder Woman’s reason for existence. Allegedly she was created by Zeus to be the god killer of Ares so that mankind can live in peace. Well, if Ares is killed and yet war continues on, what does that say about her mission? And mankind?

To the film’s credit, moving her story to WWI actually allows these questions to be asked, which in of itself adds a layer of complexity to the film that was unexpected. It’s not often that a superhero movie leads me to question the origin of evil and the nature of evil in us (usually it’s more like finding evil and then removing it and saving the world). Killing off the evil Hitler would have been the easy route to take, so I have to give credit to the film for not taking it.

By the end, Wonder Woman discovers herself to be a goddess. This brings up the same question that Thor and, for that matter, Superman (who on this planet is effectively a god) have. Why should they give a fuck about the human race?

Sure, all three of the characters discover love and somehow love is a driving motivation for all of them. The point is, they are effectively immortal. The person that they love will die and yet they still have millennia to live on. It’s the equivalent of me falling in love with a house fly. Civilizations will be born and will die and they will still just be. They will see unimaginable changes. As essentially immortal gods with what appear to be human emotions, how will they not go insane? At least Thor has his own universe to go home to. Superman and Wonder Woman are pretty much stuck here.

Interestingly enough, this topic is broached in the overlooked but I personally think pretty amazing movie “He Never Died”. Henry Rollins stars as Cain, as in the brother that murdered Abel, now in the current day, doomed to wander for eternity and to feed on human flesh. Cain, in the present day, is simply overcome with boredom and barely finds the motivation to feel anything.

This has to be the end result for all of these immortal superheroes. I’d really love to see someone tell that story.

Granddaddy Slasher

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Title: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Rating: 4 Stars

For some reason, this film has been making the rounds a bit with various media lately. It is not its fortieth anniversary. Maybe the collective hive that is the mass media just happened to coalesce around this topic or maybe there’s some patient zero article that inspired a pile-on.

Regardless, it was, at least self-consciously, on my mind, so I thought that I’d watch it again. I’ve seen it a couple of times, and of course, there’s a scene or two that is part of the cultural landscape, but it’s been a pretty long time since I’ve sat down and watched it in its entirety.

I have to say, it holds up pretty well. Even now, there’s a scene or two that legitimately made me  jump. There’re also scenes that are just so grotesquely creepy that they kind of make your skin crawl.  All in all, for a forty year old movie made on a shoestring budget, it’s pretty amazing.

I’m old enough to remember (vaguely) when it first came out. The rumor was that it was based on a true story. I was underage, so I could not see it myself (and this was way before even VCRs and there was absolutely no way that it was going to be shown on any of the three channels that controlled the airwaves), so there were all kinds of rumors of how bloody, disgusting, disturbing, distressing, and grotesque it was. In fact, the whole idea of people being massacred by a chainsaw is just horrifying in concept. It just seemed to me, at the time, as one of the ultimate outlaw bad-ass movies that would probably scar me for life if I were to watch it.

Now, watching it in 2017, I can smile at my naive 1974 self. Don’t get me wrong, it’s disturbing and scary, but it’s really not all that graphic. So much of the horror is implied. In fact the first killing (of Kirk, I apologize if that’s a spoiler, but seriously, it’s a forty year old movie, for fuck’s sake) is Leatherface hitting him on the head with a mallet, dragging him into the abbatoir, and slamming the door. It’s maybe a ten second scene, but holy shit, if you’re seeing it for the first time, it’s shocking. Even now, after listening to Franklin graphically talk about what it’s like to kill a cow in a slaughterhouse and then a short time later, watching Kirk’s legs jerk spasmodically as a macabre visual to that description is pretty fucking disturbing.

Later, watching Leatherface rip (again, with virtually no blood involved) the wheelchair bound Franklin apart is both scary and disturbing. Franklin, trapped in his wheelchair, unable to run, while Leatherface looms over him with a screaming chainsaw is just messed up.

The last third of the movie moves from straight horror into some kind of bizarrely surreal family sitcom nightmare, where a mummified grandpa is brought back to life by sucking on Sally’s bleeding finger and Leatherface, now wearing apparently a woman’s facsimile of a face, complete with clown like eye makeup and lipstick, and a matronly dress, serves dinner.

So, yeah, it’s a freaky story. It’s not based upon a real story, but Tobe Hooper was certainly influenced by Ed Gein, a truly bizarre killer / grave robber that actually did make furniture out of human bones and masks out of human skin (among many other disturbing things; check his wiki if you want to be disturbed not by a film but by humanity).

One thing that’s cool about this film is how many scenes / motifs are in it that are now considered standard fare in slasher films. Here is a incomplete list that I just quickly came up with:

  • Young, hip, sophisticated people in a rural area that apparently progress has forgotten about. There is this strange undercurrent theme in movies where they clearly acknowledge that the urban life is ascendant and that rural life is on the decline, but when the two come face to face, it’s rural that gains the edge. I don’t know if this is an urban filmmaker expressing some self conscious fear of the unknown or if by having one victim ultimately prevail (ie survive) that this somehow demonstrates the inevitable triumph of urbanity.
  • Characters thinking it’s a great idea to go out on their own and investigate this highly suspiciously looking house separately.
  • The sexual undertones of Kirk and Pam, as they head out to a watering hole with a blanket all on their own is a precursor to succeeding slasher films where couples hooking up is almost a guarantee that they will next die.
  • Killer as somehow sub-human. The previous gold standard for serial killers was of course that nice guy next door, Norman Bates. Here you have a serial killer that does not appear to be verbal. You never see his face, but you imagine it to be horribly disfigured. He seems to be mentally handicapped. This starts the idea in slasher films of the killer actually being something more of a monster than a human.
  • Woman running through the woods is now pretty much standard fare. Here, since it’s an early attempt, it goes on way too long. Was anyone surprised when she tripped and almost knocked herself unconscious as Leatherface rapidly approaches?
  • Woman as sole survivor. It’s not the strong men that survive. In fact, the two full bodied men are dispatched rather quickly. Sally is the sole survivor. On the one hand, you’d think that’s somehow empowering. However, consider the fact that she does not save herself. She’s basically just running around screaming. It’s the truck driver that actually diverts Leatherface and it’s the pick-up driver that ultimately rescues her. Not a lot of women’s rights progress taking place here.

So, yes, although my eleven year old self would never have predicted it in 1974, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is actually a classic and important film that had a large impact upon the industry.