Sycophants Gone Wild


Title: The Death of Stalin

Rating: 4 Stars

Every now and then I see a movie that I swear was custom designed for me. For instance, about twenty years ago, there was a movie called Dick. It was a juvenile comedy about Watergate. There were inside references to such things as the taping over of locks at the Watergate complex, Deep Throat, and the 18 1/2 minute gap. At the same time, it was the story of a giggly teenage young woman that had developed a crush on Richard Nixon, writing his name repeatedly on her pee chee, and blurting out, in moments of complete silence, how much she loved dick.

Note that this movie came out twenty-five years after Watergate. I believe that the Venn diagram of people that would have simultaneously enjoyed the subtle and inside nods to the Watergate conspiracy and have a deep appreciation for sophomoric humor didn’t extend that far beyond me.

Now, I see that another movie has come out. It’s about the death of Stalin and the immediate chaotic fallout after his death. As with Dick, this is a comedy right smack dab in history geek’s wheelhouse.

I’ve read Montefiore’s The Red Tzar a couple of times now. Stalin’s reign holds an almost obsessive fascination to me. How does a country let this happen? Stalin ordered several purges during his time. He purged anyone that was even remotely a threat to him. He purged the original so-called Old Bolsheviks. He purged the small landowners (the Kulaks) that wanted to keep farming their own lands. He purged the army of its officers (which turned out not to be such a great move right before the start of WWII).

It was so simple. He’d pressure / torture someone to confess and name names. He’d then have those who were named arrested and repeat the process. Desperate to avoid torture, a person arrested would quickly confess to the most absurd crimes and then name as many names as they could come up with. Following this process, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and ultimately millions would ultimately be executed.

And then, of course, the torturers themselves would then be arrested and executed.

The movie starts at this point. Lists of people are sent out to be arrested. In his dacha, Stalin and his small cadre drink and make jokes. This cadre, Stalin’s inner circle (Beria, Krushschev, Malentov, Kaganovich, and a couple of others), possess enormous power but are aware that at any moment Stalin can yank that power away from any one of them and send him to his death. In fact, one of them, Molotov, unknowingly is on a list soon to be arrested. So, although they drink and laugh and shout joyously, they all do it while nervously eyeing Stalin. It’s much like the Twilight Zone episode of the six year old kid that has absolute power over all of the adults.

Later that night, Stalin has a stroke. He is not dead but he is incapacitated.

At first, they are all paralyzed. They are so used to living under Stalin’s thumb that they are at a loss of what to do. They’re afraid at first to even touch him (think of medieval times where it was a crime for a commoner to even touch a king). Even though he’s lying on the floor, comatose and incontinent, they debate the merits of bringing in a doctor. This situation is even more complicated by the fact that just recently many Moscow doctors have been arrested or executed as a result of a purge (the doctors’ plot).

Eventually, Stalin dies. Beria sees his chance. He makes his move to seize power. Will Krushschev be able to block him? The weak Malentov is technically the next in succession. Who will he support? Who will get the legendary General Zhukov’s, the leader of the army, support?

That forms the plot.

It is an entertaining and funny movie. The machinations of these previously toady sycophants trying to become the next supreme ruler of the USSR is absurd to watch. The actors (especially Jeffrey Tambor as Malenkov, Steve Buscemi as Krushschev, and Simon Russell Beale as Beria) all do exceptional comedic work.

It kind of gets the fact right but clearly this is a comedy, not a documentary.

It is a timely movie for many reasons. First of all, think of the situation in Russia. Putin is, as I write this, about to win a landslide election. He has no significant opposition. Within the Russian government itself, there is nothing that appears to be a succession plan. In fact, it appears that not much happens without his approval. If he were to drop dead tomorrow, what would the Russian government do?

And it’s not like the US is in much better shape. Especially with the recent firings, Trump’s cabinet is a chorus of yes-men (and women) who occasionally make appearances together to compete in fulsome praise of the vision and talent of our great leader. Mike Pence goes to great lengths to be as subservient to Trump as the most pliable lapdog.

Let’s face facts. Our president is an obese man in his 70’s who does not eat well and counts golf as exercise. Would any of us be really all that surprised if he stroked out?

And what if he did? Imagine him prone on the floor and surrounded by Mike Pence, Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Ben Carson, and Steve Mnuchin. Who from that sorry mess would you want to take the reigns and start issuing orders?

So, yes, it was a funny movie that I enjoyed watching. However, the fact that a comedy about an autocrat that died sixty years ago caused me to reflect upon our current political situation was, to say the least, unsettling.


Cash Machine With A Social Conscience


Title: Black Panther

Rating: 4 Stars

I finally got around to seeing Black Panther. Was the hype worth it? Except for an annoying amount of over the top CGI, definitely yes. It was one of the best Marvel movies that I’ve seen.

It successfully blended action sequences and typical comic book superhero struggles with interesting social / philosophical questions.

The premise is that there is an African nation named Wakanda. A meteorite lands there some time ago that contains a material called vibranium. This semi-magical material is incredibly strong and has many other valuable properties.

A series of Wakanda kings decided to keep vibranium secret for themselves. Using the material, they have become technologically advanced and fabulously wealthy while appearing to be a poor third world country.

The latest king has died and the new one, T’Challa, has been installed. Meanwhile, the previous king had a brother that was undercover in the US. The king discovers that his brother is actually working to share vibranium with impoverished blacks around the world to allow them to rise to power. The king forbids it and ultimately ends up killing his brother, leaving his brother’s young son to grow up radicalized in the US. Ultimately, his brother’s son (nicknamed Killmonger) grows up to be a highly trained fighter with a single minded purpose to avenge his father’s death and to continue his father’s mission of sharing vibranium with oppressed black people.

The main plot is the conflict between T’Challa and Killmonger. Who will rule Wakanda? What will Wakanda’s role be in the world community?

It does bring up interesting questions. Wakanda definitely is painted as a utopia of peace and progress. It appears that vibranium landed possibly hundreds of years ago. That would seem to imply that while Europeans were carting off their fellow Africans and forcing them into slavery, this technologically advanced nation was just letting it happen without even trying to help. Is that the actions of a beneficial nation?

What would be the responsibilities of an incredibly advanced and rich black nation when there are at least hundreds of millions of blacks and billions of people of color that are oppressed? Would they / should they have a higher responsibility than a rich white nation due to some shared sense of ethnicity?

Let’s leave aside the issue of race. What are the responsibilities of any rich nation when there over a billion people that live in extreme poverty? As we sit in our technologically advanced cities with easy access to the conveniences of life, do we have an obligation to people on the other side of the planet that don’t have ready access to clean water?

There’s also the issue of vibranium. It truly appears to be a wonder material. Wakanda has built up a super civilization and apparently they’ve barely even scratched the surface of the amount of vibranium that they have. Is it fair that they have exclusive / easy access to the material? No matter how benevolent a nation is, it would seem problematic if it has exclusive access to a material that, if used, they could apparently conquer and control the world. This seems reminiscent of that very short period of time after WWII when the US was the sole atomic power. It was shocking when the USSR exploded its atomic weapon, but in an alternate universe where that didn’t happen, how would US / world history have unfolded if the US had the sole power to destroy any nation that defied it over a period of decades?

The movie itself was entertaining. I particularly liked T’Challa’s sister Shuri. She’s sixteen years old and is the technical genius behind much of Wakanda’s technology. In the film, she was funny and brilliant, reminiscent of the quirky genius Q from the Bond movies. Especially given the dearth of females of color in the technology field, including her in the film was pretty awesome.

As far as I can tell, there were two white characters in the film. One was an evil soldier of fortune arms seller kind of guy. The other was a CIA agent that was used to a significant extent as a comic foil. Amazingly enough, the film still worked and is making a shitload of money. Maybe white guys are OK with movies where they’re not always the center of attention?

Besides the blatant overuse of CGI, the only discordant note for me during the film was the Jabari Tribe. They worship gorillas. They dress in gear that resembles gorilla. They go into battle with a war cry that sound like gorilla grunts. Maybe I’m being an overly sensitive liberal snowflake, but large men kind of acting like gorillas seemed kind of problematic to me

That’s basically a nit. I kind of have a habit of hating on Marvel movies since they are such an obvious cash machine that sucks oxygen out of the market for other types of films. In this case, Marvel really hit the mark on character, action, and social commentary.

Deadpan Euripides

mv5bmju4ndcwota2nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmje2otg4mzi-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Title: The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

Rating: 4 Stars

This is the second film that I’ve seen by Yorgos Lanthimos. The first was The Lobster, a very odd movie in which people that have lost their loved ones gather in a hotel and have 45 days to find a new partner or they will be turned into their chosen animal and released into the forest.

I was expecting a similarly odd film here and I was not disappointed.

Once again we have Colin Farrell, who also starred in The Lobster. Here he is a successful cardiac surgeon (named Steven). He has a beautiful, success wife named Anna (Nicole Kidman) and two attractive children named Kim and Bob. They live in a beautiful house in a beautiful suburb. All seems perfect.

However, there is a discordant note. He has a strange relationship with a 16 year old young man named Martin (Barry Keoghan). It’s not clear how their relationship was formed. It seems as if Martin has some kind of hold on Steven. Their interactions are awkward and forced.

From here, Steven’s perfect life starts to unravel.

It turns out that Martin is the son of a patient that Steven treated. Steven has been sober for four years, but at the time that he was treating Martin’s father, he was not. Martin’s father died following a procedure that Steven performed. Steven had had a couple of drinks before the procedure. Martin is convinced that Steven murdered his father.

Steven’s son Bob wakes up one morning unable to use his legs. Doctors cannot diagnose his condition. Martin pulls Steven aside and tells him that he has placed a curse on Martin’s family. His wife and children will lose the use of their legs, will bleed from their eyes, and will die unless Steven kills one of them. In Martin’s eyes, this will even out Steven’s murder of his father.

Steven of course does not believe him…until his daughter Kim loses the use of her legs.

The remainder of the film is Steven trying to figure out a way to bring his family back to health without actually having to kill one of them.

Like I said earlier…not your typical kind of movie.

To top off the weirdness, this is based upon the ancient Greek play Iphigenia by Euripides. In the play, the Greek leader Agamemnon and his army are set to sail to Troy. However, there is no wind. He learns that the goddess Artemis is withholding the wind because Agamemnon has offended her. She demands that he must sacrifice his eldest daughter, Iphigenia. The plot revolves around whether or not Agamemnon will perform the sacrifice. 2500 year old spoiler alert…Iphigenia, for the good of Greece, willingly allows herself to be sacrificed. In the extant version, apparently she’s replaced at the last moment by a sacred deer, but it’s generally assumed that this was bowdlerized at some point to put a happy face on the play.

It also has some connection to the film Cape Fear. In both cases, you have a successful man with a happy family. The man, in his past, has done something to wrong someone that he now feels guilty about. That someone then reenters the man’s life, intent upon revenge.

Most of the film is deadpan, awkward, and slightly off center. The characters are, for the most part, affectless. The situation, much like in The Lobster, is on the surface, absurd. However, all of the characters just seem to resolutely accept it and make their peace with it.

It’s full of dark comedy. When the family understands their dilemma and that there will be no escaping it, they all begin to suck up to Steven so that they will not be the chosen victim. After previously resisting it, Bob cuts his hair and earnestly informs his father how wise he was to insist on Bob cutting his hair. His daughter Kim tells him what a great father he is and how lucky she is to have him. His wife Anna earnestly tells Steven that he should kill one of their children because, after all, they’re both still young enough to have another. At one point, Steven talks to the principal at the school that both of his children attend and asks him which is the better child.

It certainly is an odd movie. On Wikipedia, it’s described as a black comedy psychological horror film, which I guess is as good description as any, although I’d also throw in the words off-beat, deadpan, and maybe Greek tragedy remake?

Low Drama In High Fashion


Title: Phantom Thread

Rating: 4 Stars

Since this is apparently Daniel Day-Lewis’ last film, I thought that I should make a point of going to see it in a theater.

He plays a dressmaker named Reynolds Woodcock. He is an obsessive perfectionist who has built strict routine into his life.

This includes his personal life. His habit is to meet a woman and then fall in love. Eventually, in fact rather quickly, the romance gets old, and the relationship ends, oftentimes with the assistance of his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville).

Fresh off yet another failed relationship, he takes leave and goes out to the country. There, he becomes enamored with his waitress at a local restaurant. As usual with him, he sweeps her off her feet (the character is Alma, played by Vicky Krieps).

It appears that he’s going to follow his usual pattern of romance fading ultimately into disinterest. However, Alma herself has a strong will and a deep commitment to the relationship. In fact, she understands what to do to keep the relationship strong, and does not hesitate to act on it (since it’s still out in release, I won’t spoil it).

Reynolds clearly has maternal issues, which manifests itself in a close relationship to his sister and deeply disconnected relationships with everyone else. Cyril and Reynolds clearly have a deep bond that his temporary lovers can’t even think of breaking. Cyril is the only woman who has any authority over Reynolds at all, at least until Alma comes along. Although it’s a strange sibling relationship, it’s left pretty unexplored.

And that’s pretty much the movie. Don’t get me wrong. It’s well acted and well made. The sheer skill in the art of the film brings it up to a four star rating, but just barely. There just wasn’t a whole lot to the story.

In some ways, it was reminiscent of a Henry James or an Edith Wharton novel. I’m thinking specifically of something like James’ Golden Bowl or Wharton’s Age Of Innocence. In such novels, you have wealthy, well-bred people quietly suffering. In fact, they are so well bred that their emotions are nearly sterile. There’s a distance between their breeding and their feelings that’s nearly unbridgeable. Interestingly enough, Daniel Day Lewis also played the lead role in a film version of Age Of Innocence.

If this is in fact Daniel Day-Lewis’ last movie, it’s an interesting choice. Considering that his most famous roles are those in which he is capital ‘A’ Acting, this is a pretty understated performance.

In comparison to his roles like Lincoln, Bill the Butcher in Gangs Of New York, Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, or even Christy Brown in My Left Foot, this role is so much quieter. In typical Day-Lewis fashion, he obsessively researched dress design, taught himself how to sew, and apparently even tried to make a dress. He stayed in character all the way through the shoot. As usual, he did an awesome job, but for what?

If the director wasn’t Paul Thomas Anderson and if the lead actor wasn’t Daniel Day-Lewis, this film might have won a Sundance award and played in some art houses. Considering that it’s a Paul Thomas Anderson film with possibly Daniel Day-Lewis’ film role, it pretty much was always going to be a critical darling. Sure enough, it’s received multiple Oscar nominations, including film, director, and actor. It could very well run the table.

If it does, I can pretty much guarantee you that ten years from now, it’ll be one of those films that people will look back on and wonder what the Academy was thinking (I’m looking at you, American Beauty).


Casper, Not The KKK

mv5bmzcyntc1odqzmf5bml5banbnxkftztgwntgzmzy4mti-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Title: A Ghost Story

Rating: 3 Stars

A couple (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) are living in a house. It appears that the woman wants to move but the man seems reluctant. The man dies in a car accident. From the hospital morgue, his spirit (ie ghost) rises, wearing a white sheet, and begins to walk around. The ghost is offered the chance to enter the bright light (presumably heaven), but instead decides to go back to the house. There he first witnesses the woman grieving for him. Eventually, the woman leaves, but he still stays at the house, basically haunting it.

That’s pretty much the movie. Casey Affleck, a legitimate movie star, spends a good eighty percent of his screen time completely covered in a sheet. At least you think it’s him, you never get another glimpse of him. Considering the allegations against him, maybe hiding underneath a sheet is not a bad career move for him at this point.

This is a strange movie to be sure. The ghost does not speak. It simply watches. There are long scenes in the film where there is no dialog at all. I envision the screen play being about 20 pages. The movie Drive seems like an adrenaline filled Jason Statham movie in comparison.

One particularly notable scene is where the ghost has just recently started haunting the house. The death of the man is still raw. One of the woman’s friends leaves her a note and freshly baked pie. The woman reads the note and then decides to take a bite out of the pie. In grief, she collapses to the floor with the pie pan and a fork and proceeds to eat pretty close to the entire pie in one sitting, before getting up and running to the bathroom to vomit. The entire time, the ghost just stands there and watches her. On a side note, the scene was done in only one take and apparently Rooney had never eaten pie before. I’m guessing after the gorge, it might be a while before she tries it again (think of the Buddhist actor Choi Min-Sik offering up a prayer before having to eat a live octopus in Old Boy).

So what’s going on with the story? The ghost is a presence. No one interacts with it. With very few exceptions, it does not make its presence known.

Is the ghost there to help the woman through her grief? If so, then it seems to do a pretty piss poor job of it. The ghost seems to do little than stare at her. She comes home with another man and it gets upset. It’s one of the rare times that it makes its presence known to her. She eventually does move out, but the ghost stays.

Is the ghost the manifestation of the man’s grief? In the first stages of the haunting, the ghost seems to get some relief out of just watching the woman. However, as I’ve just said, the woman does leave and the ghost continues haunting the house.

While alive, the man clearly did not want to leave the house although the woman did. Does the house itself hold some connection to the man? And did this connection survive his death? What could that connection be? This seems the most likely since due to a weird plot point that I won’t even bother to go into, the ghost actually ends up inhabiting the same space both in the past and in the future over apparently a several hundred year period (how does a ghost commit suicide, anyway?).

Finally, a major plot point is that, since childhood, the woman leaves notes in every place she lives. She does so again when she leaves this house, and the ghost doggedly tries to retrieve the note. Once it does, it is released.

What does the note say? It is never shown. In fact, in real life, Rooney wrote a message on it that no one ever saw and that was then lost, so Rooney is literally the only person that knows.

My guess? It might have been something along the lines that love is in the heart, love is not in a place.

The Skating Princess We Deserve


Title: I, Tonya

Rating: 5 Stars

This is a black comedy about the life of Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie).

In her role as Tonya’s mother, LaVona, Allison Janey is a force of nature. She is unrelenting in pushing Tonya. She has a face of stone and apparently allows neither herself nor Tonya any joy. She doesn’t take any crap from anyone and is brutally blunt with everyone. That drive is reflected in Tonya’s skating. She is naturally gifted and pushes herself to excellence.

Unfortunately, the skating world is  upper class elitist and looks for innocent and femininity in the women skaters. Tonya, although clearly the most athletic and best technical skater, is lost in this world with her working class, hard scrabble upbringing. It’s a struggle for her to succeed in that world while at the same time claiming her identity.

Although LaVona pushed her to excellence, she also verbally and physically abused Tonya as well. Keeping her so singly focused on skating took away her personal life and she fell in love with the first man that paid attention to her, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan).

Since he is also abusive to Tonya and is the cause for sending her world crashing down around her, this obsession with skating to the exclusion of all else ultimately led to her undoing in the skating world that she so wanted to conquer.

Jeff and his sidekick, Shawn Eckhardt are portrayed as idiots. The two men that they hire to carry out the attack on Nancy Kerrigan are, if anything, even dumber. Their ineptness is another vein of dark comedy running through the film.

The film pretty much takes the side of Harding. This is interesting because at several points in the film, Tonya breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience that nothing going on is really her fault. By so unfailingly presenting her side, the film implicitly agrees with her.

The other approach is that there are many scenes in the film that are quite amusing. Again, in a speech where Harding speaks directly to the audience, she accuses them of using her life as fodder to laugh at her. By presenting aspects of her life comedically, the film is an accomplice to that laughter.

By the end, Harding is shown to be an American hero. She came up from nothing and through natural talent and unrelenting work, rose to the top. She is knocked down by scandal, but promptly picks herself up again and starts the struggle again. This is best shown by the scenes immediately after finishing fourth at the Albertville Winter Olympics. Finishing fourth doesn’t earn you any endorsement deals, so immediately after leaving the limelight of the Olympics, she’s back at her home town working as a waitress at the local diner.

The very last scene of the movie is after the Kerrigan attacks, after breaking her shoelace in the Lillehammer Winter Olympics, pleading guilty to involvement in the Kerrigan attack, and being barred for life from skating competitively.

To keep earning a living by cashing in on her notoriety, she has taken up boxing. The other boxer lands a massive blow and sends her flying to canvas. Harding shakes it off, gives a little smile to the camera, spits out blood, puts her mouthpiece in, stands up and continues to fight.

Coming from humble beginnings and possessing an indomitable spirit, this is the American hero that we all want to believe in.


Gary Oldman’s Oscar Bait

mv5bmtgwnze3ndcwnf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmji2mzi0ndm-_v1_uy268_cr20182268_al_Title: Darkest Hour

Rating: 3 Stars

This is the story of Winston Churchill’s rise to Prime Minister in the early days of WWII. At that time, the Germans were pushing the Allied forces to the shores of Dunkirk. There was the very real possibility that the entire British army was about to be captured.

Churchill was not popular amongst his peers and was not well regarded by King George VI. From the outset it appeared that his term would be a short one and that ultimately the British would make peace with Hitler.

Churchill refused to be daunted and he stubbornly continued to look for ways to continue the fight even as the odds became increasingly bleak.

Finally, the combination of the evacuation of Dunkirk and a rousing speech stirring the people for the upcoming fight led to the continuation of the war until Hitler’s final defeat.

That’s the history. How did the movie do?

It did pretty well. Since it is a drama (not a documentary), I’m sure that certain licenses were taken to heighten the drama and the tension. I’m guessing that some characters motivations were exaggerated. Even as a kind of history geek, I understand that this happens and don’t have a serious problem with it.

Oldman did an outstanding job as Churchill. He captured his belligerency, his insecurity, his wit, and his foibles. Hunched over, mumbling, Oldman \ vanished in his characterization.

It will be interesting to see if this will get Oldman his Oscar. It has all of the pedigree for one. You have a period British history. You have an actor taking serious pains (three hours of makeup each day) for the role. You have an actor at that point in his career where he has a body of work that warrants Oscar consideration. On the other hand, you have Daniel Day Lewis apparently starring in his last movie…

I also was impressed with Ben Mendelsohn, who played King George VI. He played him with a stiff, ramrod posture. Although cold to Churchill in the beginning, by the end he begins to warm to him, understanding that in all of England, he and Churchill would be the only two men not allowed to show doubt; therefore they needed to be there for each other for mutual support. I also appreciated how understated he played the King’s stammer and have it come out, even then only slightly, during times of great personal stress.

In the movie, Neville Chamberlain and Viscount Halifax come out looking the worst. This might be where some dramatic license is being taken. In a drama, clearly you need a foil to the protagonist, and these two characters fill that role here.

In the annals of history, Chamberlain has come out much the worst. His passive demeanor, with his ever present umbrella, just does not compare to the bulldog tenacity of Churchill. As time has gone by, I’ve noticed that there has been some rehabilitation of Chamberlain. To many historians, he no longer appears to be some patsy of Hitler or some peace at any cost kind of politician. It seems more likely now that he understood who he was dealing with and was buying time to get Britain better prepared for the battles to come.

Was That A 5 Hour Movie?


Title: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Rating: 2 Stars

I have to admit it. I think that I’ve seen all of the Star Wars films, but I’m certainly not some fan boy obsessing over them.

Was it me or did The Last Jedi last about 5 hours? It certainly seemed like it. I watched a matinee and came out of it thinking that it must be dark and dinner time, but no, it was only 1:40 in the afternoon.

Part of the problem was that I swear there were at least five major points of time in the movie where it could have logically finished, but it kept going. There’d be some climatic fight (like between Kylo Ren and Rey, or maybe between Kylo Ren and Luke) or there’d be some climatic heroic sequence (Finn trying to stop the cannon) and I’d be stretching a bit, maybe reaching for my jacket…and no, the movie’s still moving onto to the next dramatic moment.

There was just too much baked into this plot. Even now, I’m not sure what the point of Finn and Rose going to some gambler planet to retrieve one specific code breaker. After all of that, they didn’t even get the code breaker they needed and even after that, it turned out not to be that important anyway. That could probably chopped 15 to 20 minutes right there. Did they feel some compunction to give Finn something to do? Was there some obligation to have Benicio Del Toro do one of his trademark morally challenged odd characters?

The whole Princess Leia near death scene was ridiculous. I’m sorry, but give me a break. Even in the Stars Wars universe that was pretty much totally unbelievable. Again, why?

The plot between Rey and Luke was also problematic. She goes there (I think) to bring Luke back into action and also to get some Jedi training herself. If I recollect correctly, Luke underwent extensive training with Yoda to acquire his expertise. Luke gives her like three lessons totaling about twenty minutes, and then she’s good?

This whole thing just seems like such a rehash of the original trilogy. Hey, look it, there’s an evil empire, all dressed up like Nazis. Even their cute robots have everything but an swastika branded on them. You have the underdog rebel force, looking scruffy, but apparently having access to huge stores of material and secret bases. You have the conflicted character on the dark side of the force. You have the conflicted character on the light side of the force. You have the risk taking, cocky pilot. You have vague spiritual mutterings that sound like they came out of a new age group therapy session.

At a certain level, it functions as some kind of simple cowboy western carnival ride. As usual, the special effects are impressive and pretty seamless. To their credit, the universe is no longer composed exclusively of white people and oddly shaped aliens.

But still, aside from the obvious money making possibilities, why was this film made?



Title: The Room

Rating: Who The Fuck Knows

I’ve just noticed that this will be my 100th film blog posting. I’m not sure how I feel about this film being the one that I write about for such a major milestone.

A little while ago, I watched The Disaster Artist, the James Franco movie about Tommy Wiseau and the making of the movie, The Room. The Room has the reputation of being the best bad movie ever made.

A friend happened to hear of The Disaster Artist and decided that he wanted to watch the original movie. The movie is not available via any conventional streaming methods, so this proved to be somewhat challenging. He managed to acquire a DVD copy, which he graciously lent to me.

Even that proved to be a challenging to me, because I can’t even remember the last time that I watched a film on a disk. I don’t have a television, let alone a DVD player. Luckily, I still have an old laptop that has a DVD drive that appeared to be still functional. The O/S had been upgraded to Windows 10, which out of the box no longer has software to play DVD movies. I rooted around and found open source software. I downloaded it, installed it, and amazingly enough, I was in business.

So what is there to say about this movie? Well, the acting is really bad. The dialog is laughably bad. The plot is, to put it mildly, fairly confusing.

As far as I can tell, Johnny and Lisa have been together five (later in the film, it seems like seven, so one of those numbers) years and are deliriously happy with each other and are apparently getting married in a month. But wait, Lisa is bored with Johnny. But wait, she doesn’t want to break it off with Johnny. But wait, she’s in love with Johnny’s best friend, Mark. But wait, she plans a surprise birthday party for Johnny. And so on…

Here’s just some of the weird things that I saw watching it:

  • Who is Denny? Denny is a young man (but legally an adult I believe) that Johnny has semi kind of adopted. He apparently has free reign over the house, even barging in on Johnny and Lisa while they are preparing to having sex (by having a pillow fight, naturally)
  • Apparently Denny developed a drug problem and a dealer named Chris-R pulls a gun on him to get money. Johnny and Mark barge in and rescue Denny. And…we never hear another word about it for the rest of the movie.
  • Apparently Lisa’s mom thinks that the only reason you should have a man in your life is if he can financially support you. Johnny has money, ergo, Johnny is a wonderful man. She constantly tells Lisa to stand by Johnny, not because she thinks that Lisa loves him or that they’re good together, but because he’s so financially stable. Also, Lisa’s mom has breast cancer. And…we never hear another word about it for the rest of the movie.
  • Lisa at one point gets Johnny drunk and then falsely claims that he hit her while drunk. Later, she falsely claims to be pregnant. Why? Who knows? If you’re trying to get a man out of your life, claiming to be pregnant would seem to be counterproductive. And…we never hear another word about it for the rest of the movie.
  • People just randomly walk into Johnny and Lisa’s place. Very few people knock. It’s kind of like Kramer on the Seinfeld show. Oddly enough, two people walk in, have a quick conversation, and then just walk out again. Why did they need to be in the room to have the conversation?
  • Mark and Lisa’s affair is discovered when someone walks in and discovers them. Who is that guy? It’s kind of an important moment, but I swear that it’s a character that I’ve never seen before that discovers them. I think that it might be Lisa’s best friend’s boy friend, but I really don’t know. As far as I know, the character is actually never introduced.
  • What’s with playing catch with a football? Several times, the guys randomly decide to play catch. In most cases, they are literally maybe four feet apart, which it makes more like a hand-off than a catch. Clearly, Tommy Wiseau literally has no idea how to actually throw a football. Why does he insist on having so many scenes with a football?

I could keep going on, but let’s talk about the dialog. Here’s a selection of the choicest lines (when you picture them, make sure to visualize them in an incredibly poorly acted way):

  • I did not hit her, it’s not true! It’s bullshit! I did not hit her!
  • Thank you, honey, this is a beautiful party! You invited all my friends. Good thinking!
  • You don’t understand anything, man. Leave your *stupid* comments in your pocket!
  • You’re lying! I never hit you! YOU ARE TEARING ME APART, LISA!
  • She’s a stupid bitch. She wants to control my life. I’m not going to put up with that. I’m going to do what I want to do, and that’s it. What do you think I should do?
  • You betrayed me! You’re not good. You, you’re just a chicken. Chip-chip-chip-chip-cheep-cheep.

So, the verdict? Fuck if I know.

We Are The Monster


Title: The Shape Of Water

Rating: 4 Stars

This is an updated horror movie. Set in the 1960’s, the US government has captured an alien creature from the Amazon that was being worshiped as a god by the indigenous people there.

From the outside, this looks like the makings of a conventional 1960’s style horror movie. If the film had followed that arc, the creature would have somehow managed to escape and would have wreaked havoc, terrorizing if not murdering women until finally it itself would have been destroyed by some square jawed all American hero.

Well, this is not that type of movie. The creature, regularly referred to in a clinical manner by its captors, as the asset, is tortured in the name of science. He can breathe both air and water. Scientists think that could have some applicability to the ongoing space program.

The squared jawed all American hero, Richard Strickland is played by Michael Shannon. Here Shannon is in all of his obsessive, severely repressed, homicidal rage. He hates the creature, the creature hates him, and he arranges for the creature to undergo a vivisection, all in the name of advancing American science.

Led by a mute woman, a motley collection of people try to save the creature. She manages to recruit a black woman, a gay man, and an undercover Soviet spy.

What do these people have all in common? They are all aliens to conventional American culture. They all have more in common with the creature, the ultimate alien, than with anyone else.

The mute woman, Elisa (played by Sally Hawkins), and Zelda (Octavia Spencer) are even more outside because they are both just lowly janitors. This works to their advantage as the men can’t even remotely conceive that they could have been so audacious as to have actually pulled off the caper.

The bland assimilation of 1960’s American culture is on full display here. I found it interesting that, aside from Shannon’s character and the general leading the program, virtually all of the workers at the compound were absolutely generic. They were just homogeneous characters walking around either with lab coats or in uniform.

Again, this is a reversal of the typical horror trope. In such movies, usually it’s the heroic scientists, desperately trying to find a cure or trying to find some way to stop the  horrible creature, that get front and center character treatment. Here, the scientists (other than the Soviet agent) are completely nondescript.

So, a very interesting movie. You have the fierce looking non-human creature, who is actually the hero, if not the romantic lead. You have two women, both lowly janitors, that pull off a heroic rescue. You have the Soviet spy that displays the most humanity of any government official.

In these times, it’s hard not to find a political message in everything you see or read, but is the message here that if your government is doing something evil, that it is the responsibility of the individual to stand up and do the right thing?