Tag: #moviereview

You’ve never heard a movie like this one

750x450 a quiet place

Catch it if you can

If you like, you can call me out of it.  In fact, way out of it.

But it wasn’t until just a few months ago that I became aware of the 2018 film, A Quiet Place.    But I must have been about the last one to get on board.  It made a ton of money.  And raked in award nominations and wins like fall leaves after a good blow.

It was probably unconscious.  A Quiet Place is a scary movie.  And scary movies and me go together like oil and water.  Or actually, more like water dripping into boiling oil; it’s not pretty and someone’s gonna get hurt.

In a nutshell, the movie’s a sci-fi horror flick about an earth that’s been conquered by ravenously hungry aliens.  Who, although they’re blind as bats, can hear a pin drop.  And, when they do, it’s game permanently over for the unfortunate man, woman, child or infant who dropped it.  And if that’s not a recipe for suspense, I don’t know what is.

Silence is golden

Ever tried to keep three young kids quiet for even a few minutes?  When they’re not sleeping?  Then imagine doing that for day after day.  Then week after week.  And month after month.  And then imagine that your failure to do so doesn’t just wake the baby napping in the next room.  But almost instantly brings down on your head a monster that makes Jaws look warm and cuddly.  And then imagine that a monster devours your youngest son for playing with a space shuttle toy.

Welcome to the world of Lee and Evelyn Abbot.  And their three-then two-young kids.  Sure, they’re smart.  Lee’s an engineer/tinkerer.  Evelyn’s a physician.  But it hardly matters; their backs are up against the wall.  And it shows.  In the quiet of the basement of their country farm house, they silently join hands around the dinner table.  And silently give thanks for their daily bread.  And silently pray for deliverance.

The family under siege

The great thing about science fiction, I suppose, is that you can let your imagination run wild with it and make it mean almost anything you want.  And Quiet is no exception.

For example, there’s this article, from a Catholic perspective, that lauds the film for the couples’ willingness to risk bringing a noisy infant into this terrifying world.  Rather than aborting it.

But in a larger sense, perhaps a better analogy would be to the family itself.  And the world at large.  About how, simply because they exist, families find themselves under assault from all sides by unseen and scarcely understood-but terrifying forces.  Drugs.  Mindless violence.  Sex.  Hollywood.  Politicians.  A global economy that chews people up.  And then spits them out.

But there is a silver lining to A Quiet Place.  The sequel is scheduled to come out in 2020.  If, that is, I’m not too much of a scaredy-cat to watch it.

 

I, Claudius

Decadent Rome.  Decadent America?

I don’t really remember how I, Claudius got on my Netflix radar.  I think it was my sister who suggested it.  But in any event, it took months, even years, for it to work its way to the top of my queue.  But I’m glad-I think-that it eventually did.

1976 BBC TV series, the show depicts the early days of the Roman Empire.  From the Pax Romana of Augustus, to Tiberius, and then to Caligula the Empire sank ever further into corruption, depravity, luxury and ruthless violence.  There’s a brief respite when Claudius, who escaped assassination only by playing the part of a harmless idiot, assumes the throne.  But at the death of Claudius (probably at the hands of his wife Agrippina), the loony excesses of Nero lead the Empire over the cliff to ruin.  And so, with a whimper, ends the line of emperors that began with the mighty Augustus.

Allowing for dramatic license, the show actually seems pretty accurate.  Moreover, the show was a huge commercial success and was voted by others in the British film industry as the 12th among the 100 best TV programs of all time.  

Fine.  But what’s ancient Rome got to do with us?

Good question.  But, unfortunately, I fear that the excesses of the Roman actually have quite a lot to say to the America of our day.

Start with something simple: the relative burdens of “empire.”  Ours, with its globe girdling military presence, dwarfs anything Rome ever ruled.  The Pentagon “estimates” that we have 5,600 bases around the world.  Which, when you’re fighting perpetual wars, isn’t all that surprising.

And the sheer cost of our military?  The U.S. spends more on arms than the next six countries combined.  And four of those six could be considered allies.  Keeping the Empire’s barbarian hordes at bay eventually bankrupted Rome.  What makes us think we’re any different?

As depicted in I, Claudius, the Legion’s elite Praetorian Guard routinely interfered with politics, making and unmaking Emperors and even assassinating some, such as Caligula.  Now, under Trump and for years before him, key cabinet posts are filled by generals and admirals.  Are we to the point of having our own version of Rome’s lawless and cosseted Praetorian Guard?  Perhaps not yet.  But who can make a persuasive case that is not the direction in which we’re trending?

And then there’s Harvey Weinstein

weinstein sketch

By today’s standards, I, Claudius is pretty tame sexually.  But what it lacks in today’s explicit, pornographic images, it makes up for with suggestion and imagination.

For example, there’s the scene where Caligula (who’s declared himself the incarnation of the god Jupiter), suspends his nude, very pregnant wife by golden handcuffs.  (She‘s also his sister. And, as is only fitting for a god’s consort, is a goddess herself.) As her nervous titters morph into horrified awareness, he proceeds to disembowel her because the unborn infant “might become a threat to my rule.”  Which, judging by the standards of the rest of this despicable bunch, is a reasonable prophesy.  

At the outset, we only see the woman’s back.  And, fortunately, the relatively prudish 1970’s era camera diverts its eye even further at the end of the scene so that we only hear the woman’s hideous screams from the other side of a closed door as she’s butchered.

But no such luck with the low life Harvey Weinstein and his vile film, Pulp Fiction.  Harvey and the film’s director, Quentin Tarantino, hold nothing back: gore, graphic sex of all varieties, drug fueled orgies, you name it. (I couldn’t bear to watch this stinker through to the end.) Sure, I know most critics fawned over it.  But so what?  The cowering sycophants around Nero and Caligula did the same for their “gods.”

But what’s really troubling about Pulp Fiction isn’t so much the film itself, but what it’s enthusiastic reception has to say about our larger culture.  What can you say for a nation that celebrates all the varieties of perversion and violence that were on display in this movie?  Probably the same thing you’d say about a decedent Roman empire that did very much the same thing.

Is it too late for us to draw back from this yawning brink?  I’d say no; it’s never too late.  But I’d say that this is equally true:  those who fail to learn from history, are condemned to repeat it.

In other words, I, Claudius is a show all concerned Americans should watch.  Carefully.  And learn from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disorder

750x450 disorder (1)

MSMS:  My scary movie syndrome

Understand.  I have a slight tremor anyway.  It’s a side effect of the medication I take for my bipolar syndrome.  And, I suppose, a natural consequence of getting older.  But it doesn’t come close to preventing me from spending inordinate amounts of time poking this keyboard trying to turn out something that might grab your attention.

And, understand further, that I’m a coward when it comes to spooky movies.  On the first date with the woman who became my wife of what is now nearly 40 years, I, for some crazy reason suggested we see Hitchcock’s Psycho.  Before the credits rolled, I was reduced to a whimpering mess, eyes closed, my head cowering behind her back.  Why she consented to marry me after that display remains, to this day, a mystery.

And then there’s the night before last.  As is my wont when watching DVD’s, I was grinding away on the downstairs elliptical.  Marleen was in the mountains, skiing with my sister who was visiting from Albuquerque.  So it was just me and DisorderIn a quiet house with nightfall rapidly coming down outside.  But by the time it was over, I was palsied like a leaf in a hurricane, barely able to get the disc back in its Netflix sleeve and rush it back to the outer darkness from whence it came.

But . . . I watched it again a few nights later.

Bread crumbs

I got to it, of all places, from one of my favorites, Far From The Madding Crowd

Matthias Schoenaerts is the common denominator: the strong, silent type.  But in Disorder he’s a veteran- and victim-of one of our endless wars: the conflict in Afghanistan.  His unsettling portrayal of the mood swings of a now body guard for hire suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was more than enough to keep me on the edge of my figurative seat while on the elliptical.  And keep me glued to the couch when I otherwise would have climbed down from the elliptical and started doing sit-ups.

But it wasn’t because I needed to see the subtitles in this French language film-the dialog doesn’t carry the show.  It was far more that the long silences and the eerie sound track were punctuated by jump-out-your-skin sneak attacks as Schoenaerts defends co-star Diane Kruger’s creepy mansion from invasion.  Even the last scene, which turned out to be perfectly benign, made my skin crawl the first time around.

But as I said . . .

I’m a coward when it comes to scary movies.  But I liked this one anyway.  How Kruger slowly, grudgingly allows Schoenaert to earn her trust and respect.  In part, because, he, a hardened soldier with plenty of issues of his own, unobtrusively shows her how to be a better mother to her young son.  Over a bowl of cereal.

But if fingernails-on-the-blackboard suspense isn’t your cup of tea, Disorder might not be for you.  But I’ll give it this much:  it made me come back for a second helping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Far From The Madding Crowd

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

A real, live white male hero?  Not possible!

I’ve watched it more times than I want to admit.  But, as Sergeant Troy, the film’s anti-hero says just before he stops a richly deserved bullet to the heart, “Honesty in all things.”  So.  There you have it.  Guilty as charged by my wife, who more than once has cast a wondering, skeptical glance my way as she goes up the basement stairs while I spin the elliptical, watching Far from the Madding Crowd yet again.

I like Carrie Mulligan as the impetuous, strong willed Bathsheba Everdene.  And Mattias Schoenaerts as the wise, steadfast Gabriel Oak.  I like the marriage bond that finally unites the two.  I like that, right from the outset, “a baby or two” is recognized as the natural and desired outcome of marriage.  I like the defiant heterosexuality.  And the picture’s equally defiant sexual modesty, even prudery.  I like the gentle, English countryside. And the Victorian conventions that bound it together.  I particularly like that the film makes no effort whatsoever to appease the vast array of aggrieved minorities and pressure groups that Hollywood has seemingly come to believe are its primary raison d´être.

The thrill is gone

But all good things come to an end.  Especially after the furnace is stoked cherry red.  But in due course, I’m confident the thrill will be back.  And what’ll I do then?  Climb aboard the elliptical.  And watch it again.  Even knowing each of it’s twists and turns.

And which is something you might want to consider doing yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Indoctrination.

Or entertainment?

Well, here we go again.  Yet another retrospective on a film I saw while trapped, eyes wide open, on the flight to Greece last spring.  It was the wildly popular and critically acclaimed, The Shape of Water.  The possessor of the ultimate in Hollywood’s Good Housekeeping Seal of PC approval, it won Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards.  Not to mention cleaning up in a bunch of other categories.

Oh, that I could have slept.  Or, with apologies to Mrs. Browning, How do I dislike thee?  Let me count the ways.”

Creative?  Or an assemblage of weary PC tropes?

For the few of you that may have missed it, the story revolves around a sexually intimate relationship between a young, mute cleaning woman, Elisa, and a lizard like sea creature.  Only in Hollywood.

But, I have to confess, right off the bat, that I’ve probably made my first mistake.   Bestiality probably isn’t a weary Hollywood stereotype.  Yet.  But give it time.  With the success of Shape, who knows what kinky delights show biz, even now, is conjuring up for us?

The really bad guys.

As everyone knows, a gang of bad guys is de rigueur in a red blooded Hollywood production.  And, in the case of Shape, the gang is-horror of horrors- a 1950’s era nuclear family:  husband, wife and a couple of kids.  And believe me, there’s plenty not to like about the Strickand family.

The husband, an Army Colonel, is a knuckle dragging Cold Warrior whose preferred method of “interrogating” the sea creature is chaining him up and poking him with a cattle prod.   Now, if you’ve followed this blog at all, you know I’m no fan of our bloated military:  here and here.  But the depiction of Strictland’s character is nothing more than a one dimensional caricature of the villain in a black hat.

The wife?  A ’50’s era house wife whose bouffant hairdo matches her empty head.  And the chubby, boob tube watching kids?  Put it this way:  the world would be a be a better place if these brats were both unseen and unheard.

But the most serious charge against the Strickland mob? They’re heterosexual.  And exemplars of “white privilege”.  So, in the all seeing eye of Hollywood, there’s no need for a trial: the entire gang is guilty by definition.

And the good guys?

No, that’s not a trick question.  It’s as easy as is seems.  Figure out who the bad guys are.   And then look for their opposites.

In père Strickland’s case, it’s Giles, the sensitive, oppressed homosexual who helps Elisa free her sea creature lover from the clutches of Colonel Strickland.

And the antipode of Strickland’s wife?  The sensitive, oppressed black cleaning lady who joins forces with Elisa to let my sea creature go“.

I like movies.  Just not this movie.

As you’ve gathered by now, I watch quite a few movies.  Most often Netflix choices while I’m working out on the elliptical in our basement.  Movies are among the most transparent windows into our culture that are available to us.  But the movies that I usually favor tend to be years, even decades, old.  Give me Hollywood’s Golden Era almost every time.  And movies made during the Golden Era are, perhaps, most revealing in showing how far Hollywood has fallen.

And Shape is, indeed, transparent.  Transparent in its distortion of institutions like marriage and family that have served as the bedrock of civilization for millennia.  Transparent in its contempt for the regard that most Americans still, at least in theory, have for these institutions.  And, therefore, transparent in its contempt for most of its audience.