Thoughts on Chinatown

chinatownI came to film noir rather late in life, but it is style of cinema that I thoroughly enjoy. Having joined the party late there are plenty of classic noir and neo-noir films that I have yet to see, chief amongst these is the 1974 classic neo-noir Chinatown.

Before I dive into my first screening of the bit of film history, let me take a few lines to address the horrid, diseased elephant in the room, Roman Polanski. Given the crimes he is accused of, his behavior over the years, and the generally likelihood of his guilt, I can come to no other conclusion that he is a reprehensible human being. I would not socially associate with the man and firmly believe that he appears unrepentant for his assault. All that said, I can separate the artist from the art. If you have a different moral stand on the issue I can respect that. It is a line each of must draw and live with.

Chinatown is a dark cynical film set in Los Angeles in the late 1930’s as the town is becoming a city and the water wars are raging between urban needs and rural ones. Jack Nicholson plays Jake Gittes a private detective whose meat and potatoes is catching unfaithful spouses. Jake’s life starts to unwind when he unwittingly assist in the public disgracing of an important city official. With his reputation and livelihood at stake, Jake begins digging into a twisted case of murder, deceit, and sexual perversion.

This film is a quintessential example of both 70’s cinema esthetics and Polanski’s. It is a bitter dark and cynical story with major themes of corruption and futility. One does not simply walk into Mordor and one does not simply expect a happy ending from a Polanski movie. All through the 1970s films became progressively darker, reflecting a world where few expected dawn, but only an everlasting midnight of the soul. Chinatown, though a period film, perfect capture the mood of the 70s. It is a masterwork of a film and getting to see it on the big screen as my first viewing was a treat. I doubt I will add it to my personal collection. While dark movies and film noir do appeal to me, this movie’s sense of futility carried almost to sense of destiny, is not something to strikes a resonant cord in my own emotional matrix. If you have not seen it, do so.

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Why I Cannot Vote Republican

For many years my natural political niche was Republican. In 1994 I was quite happy to see the House switch parties. There still are a number of points that cause me to be uncomfortable when I vote on the left side of the ballot. (Those I will save for another post on another day.) However the evolution of the Republican party and conservatism in general has driven me from their support. The following points are not meant to be exhaustive but merely the most important issues that make, for me, a Republican impossible. (Any I am talking primarily about national politics, not local.)

  1. Torture:   There simply is no other way to put it; the Republican Party made this country a nation that tortures. They refuse to correct their mistake, standing firm on the weasel euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation.’ Torture, the abuse of prisoners, is an immoral and evil act. I may not be religious, I may not be Christian, but I will not endorse such evil. (There are times when I wonder what a Republican Christian imagines he or she would say to their God when they face the final judgment. What argument can support trading torturing human beings for tax cuts?)
  2. Marriage Equality: One of my philosophical passions is equality. I do not see the animal ‘gay marriage.’ In my mind there is not such animal. There is only marriage. I can remember back in the 80’s, long before this bubbled up into the national political fight, coming to the conclusion that no logical argument support banning gay people from marriage. Nothing in the decades in-between has altered that conclusion.
  3. Anti-Abortion Absolutism and Hypocrisy : There is no reasonable compromise that can be forged with the Social Conservative on abortion. Any agreement is merely a stepping stone for further restrictions on the march to total prohibition. There are those who accept the argument that this is really a personal liberty issue, defining the unborn fetus as a person whose liberties outweigh all others, but I do not believe that this is the sincere motivation for the abolition at all. IF you accept that the fetus is a person with all the right and protections of a person (which I do not) there can be no moral justification aiming all criminal charges in the direction of the providers and not the woman. Here is no moral argument supporting excepting for rape or incest. Anyone who supports the death penalty for murder for hires would have to support it for abortion. No, the real issue here is an attempt to roll back the sexual revolution. Hence the Conservatives issue with the HPV vaccine. Nothing that makes sexual encounters safer can be tolerated.
  4. The Iraq War: I was against the invasion when it happened and nothing has come to light to present the Iraqi dictatorship as an imminent danger to the United States. The War was foolish without any serious thought given to the post war environment. The major players in the Republican field supported the war and continue to do so. State

5. Fiscal Hypocrisy: Hypocrisy is the normal state of affair in politics. The Filibuster is scared when you’re the minority and a nuisance when you are in the majority. However the central conceit of Republican is their supposed fiscal sanity. 2000-2008 proved the lie to that illusion. Deficits only matter when they can be used to bludgeon the Democratic Party. Given the chance the ‘conservatives’ rushed to war and paid for it on the government credit card.

Comment if you like, but the subject of the thread is the Republican Party. Deflecting to the Democratic Party and its sins is off topic.

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Sunday Night Movie: Double Feature Edition

With respects to Richard O’Brien this is not a science-fiction double feature, but a main feature and a short one.

Sunday night my sweetie-wife and I settled in after dinner to watched a silent horror film. I had recently developed a hankering to watch ‘Nosferatu’ again and my sweetie indicated that she too would re-watched this classic of early German Cinema.

NosferatyuNosferatu made in 1922 is an early vampire movie and in the good tradition of vampire movies, lifted heavily from the classic novel Dracula. Unfortunately for the producers and the studio, Dracula was still under copyright in 1922 and they were sues for infringement. They lost the suit and a judicial order instructed them to destroy all copies of the film. Lucky for future film fans they were less than successful and the movie survived. The edition on Netflix is a restored version using source material from around the world attempting to recreate the original print.

If you are familiar with Dracula then if very broad stroke you are familiar with the plot of this film. A real estate agent is dispatched to the mountains beyond the forest to secure a transaction for a mysterious nobleman who is buying a building in a bustling metropolitan center. The estate agent endures horrors at the hands of his host and is nearly killed. The nobleman, a vampire, secure transport by sea, kills the crew enroute, because the undead have no concerns about travel safety, and arrives to begin spreading his deadly plague in his new home. The estate agent makes it home and the search begins to discover what is happening.

Unlike Dracula, in Nosferatu the vampire ‘s attack is not transformative and the victims remain dead. Where Dracula kept a tight scope on the action, dealing with a hand full of characters, Count Orlok is killing dozens and the entire city is threatened by the supernatural danger.

This film, while occasionally hampered by it distance from us in time, it is nearly a century old, still holds up and many considerable way. There are many interesting twists and hints of German Expressionism throughout the production. If you have an interest in film history and silent movies, this is worth the time.

Later, by myself, I watched a WWII training film ‘Resisting Enemy Interrogation.’

interrogationProduced during the war, I happened to catch the ending of this film on TV once. Now through the wonders of YouTube and that fact that all government films are public domain, I have finally taken the time to watch the entire movie.

The film is the story of 5 American airman, the crew of a ‘B-99’ (no such plane in WWII) that have crashed and are now prisoners. The crew have destroyed the aircraft and are determined not to talk. They will not provide the enemy with any useful intelligence. Their German captors, suspecting a major raid is about to occur, are racing the clock in trying to break the crew and glean the vital information. The German do not resort to torture and brutality, but cunning and classic interrogation techniques. Despite their best intentions the crew, one by one, fall prey to the tricks and in the give away the target of the next days raid, even though not one man among the crew know that.

This is a particularly well made training film, with a fairly tight narrative arc. A couple of the actors went on to have quite successful careers. The biggest fault in the film, and the one that made me so interested in seeing it, is that the German are by definition the protagonists. The Germans have an active goal, discover the details of the coming raid, the German have the obstacles, the airmen who will not cooperate, and it is the German’s racing the clock against failure. When the German’s unlock all the secrets it is the climax of the story. While during the war it would have been difficult to feel sympathy for the enemy as they raced a clock, now with 70 some odd years separating us, it almost feels like you want cheer them on as they prove their cleverness.

Almost.

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Random Thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo Attack

I have been deeply busy in copy-editing my novel and as such I have neglected this here blog. Now I am sick with flu and my head is in a perpetual dizzy state. However I will attempt to put down at least some of the thoughts that have been running through my brain since this horrific attack in Paris.

  1. These murderers are nothing more than vicious, savage barbarians. An attack on free expression is an attack on civilization. The slaughter of unarmed people is not an act of war, or courage, or defiance. It is barbarity.
  2. The writers, editors, and artists at Charlie Hebdo, in my opinion not speaking as to French law, have a right to free expression and being insulting, offensive, or blasphemous does not restrict or rescind that.
  3. Some have argued that it is wrong to ‘punch down.’ That is to mock or satirize people from disenfranchised or marginalized populations. I disagree. There is no state of being that immunizes anyone from mockery. Any idea is subject to ridicule.
  4. That said I am sure that there are those would who advocate I should use the blog to reproduced the images that some found so offensive as symbolic stand for the ideal of free expression. I can stand for the ideals of free expression without being obligated to reproduce content with which I disagree.
  5. From what I have seen the images in question are neither worthy in an artistic or satirical manner. Simply being insulting isn’t satirical, being offensive doesn’t mean you had anything interesting to say. I particularly do not agree with images that mock the entire religion. The trouble is with radicalized fundamentalist at war with modernity, not the entire 1.8 billion followers of that religion.
  6. Throughout the world there is a problem with fundamentalist thought and mind-set. In my country is it Christian fundamentalism in politics that is the trouble. All religions have such extremist, not all are violent, but more than most people generally think.

Those are my thoughts on this flu fogged day.

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2014 A Personal Review

So today is the first day of 2015 and I have decided to look back over the totality of 2014, the challenges, the changes, and share a few of them with you.

  • A year about I was working as a temp, earing about 66% of what I had been pulling down, plowing in serious amount of overtime every week to make ends meet.
  • Now I am fully employed in a good position with union benefits making 15% above my previous high-income mark. I have good co-workers and everything on that front looks to be stable and growing.
  • This year I have received 40 rejections on short stories I have submitted for publication and 1 acceptance. That may sound dreary and depressing but of those 40 rejections 12 were personalized with comment from the proposed markets. 30% of my rejections elicited comment from editors and screeners. This is a new high water mark and indicates that more and more often my prose is scratching at professional acceptance.
  • My rejection streak continues with the Writers of The Future contest. Under the new coordinating judge I cannot seem to advance. A year ago this generated a great deal of frustration, but now I have only acceptance. It is simply one of many markets.
  • Sadly two friends passed away this year. They will be missed
  • I finished a new novel and that novel is generating at least some professional interest. We’ll have to see if 2015 closes that deal.
  • I attended a family reunion and spend a far too short weekend with my kin.
  • I started this year and ended it happily married to my sweetie-wife. Clearly the best aspect of the year.

 

 

This year was good and bad, as most years are, but overall I am happy to be be here and optimistic about the future.

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Thought of the Cuba re-engagement

I have been dreadfully busy the last few weeks. The dayjob has hit it peak crush and OT is plentiful. There are stirrings in the writing the department that may herald good news, but it is too early to tell more than that. So my poor blog has been a wee bit neglected. However the news on Cuba is so big I just have to comment.

I confess to being torn on the issue. On one hand Cuba is a brutal, murdering dictatorship.The less we have to do with such beasties the better. That island is no workers paradise. It pretty much flows from the definition of paradise that people would claw to get into one, not out.

One the other hand out five decade policy simply is not working. We have not crushed Castor’s government, and for fifty years the people of Cuba have suffered. The pragmatist in me is repelled that the thought of continuing a policy that doesn’t work.

We engaged with the Soviets, while keeping a strong commitment against their totalitarian rule and in the end they fell. In part because of the seduction presented by the engagement, the people could experience a better life, they could suffer McDonalds and want more. So engagement is not always appeasement and it can help us spread freedom to people who need it.

Yet we have also seen that engagement appears to the failing in China. Those brutal rulers seems to be navigating their way out of communism and into Fascism. this transformation is being fuel my American enterprise utilizing the cheap labor, but the price in the end may turn out to be quite high.

So engagements can work and it can fail. Did the Administration do the right thing?

I don’t know.

 

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Stupid Movie is Stupid

So this past weekend I ended up watching a fairly stupid film with a friend of mine. After watching a documentary on Australian Exploitation movies, I had started seeing how many of these I could get from Netflix or streaming services. (Answer: very few.) However, I did disover a listing for an odd 70’s genre movie called Chosen Survivors.

chosensurv4Ten people, selected by computer, are nabbed by the government and shoved into a shelter 1700 feet underground to survive the global thermonuclear war and restated humanity afterward. Sadly due to an oversight, the caverns that were selected as the receptacle for the shelter is infested with hungry, aggressive, vampire bats. Trapped, the survivors must find a way to contend with the threat.

Now, this looked to be bad. I had never heard of this movie, and I was under no illusions when I had Netflix ship it to me. Sometimes bad movies are their own entertainment.

What did surprise me was the amount of talent in the film. Jackie Cooper, Bradford Dillman, Richard Jaeckel, Diana Muldaur, Barbara Babcock, (that’s two from Start Trek’ TOS) combined with the others for a total count of more than 700 acting credits according to IMDB.

In theory the people were picked for their essential skills and breedability , but the selection clearly makes a hash of that straight away. A wall Street financial guy? (Cooper) a Congresswoman (Muldaur) a novelist? No one would make-up their post-apocalypse survival team from such characters.

So they get nabbed (off screen to save budget) drugged (to save them from the shock and horror of the world’s ending), shoved into an elevator and dropped 1700 feet into a gleaming stainless steel complex. Almost at once the threat appears when the bats manage a bit of birdy-horror by killing all the parakeets in a cage. (It is never explained how the bats got into or out of the birds’ cage.)

Five men and five women they natural pair off into couples except for a few. They squabble and yell exposition at each other, fight over who’s in charge, with Cooper’s character insisting the thing stink of a set up. They make poor choices in dealing with the bat threat and things get worse.

Cooper’s character shows tremendous constitution by finishing off a battle of hard liquor, going around in a drunken rant yelling and insulting everyone, before ending up in Barbara Babcock’s room because he wants to ‘talk’ to her. Yes, you can see where this is going. He attacks her, she can’t fight him off, and in that strange view found only in really bad writing, goes from fighting the rape to participating. This is horrid enough writing, but it’s compounded by the rest of the movie where it has absolutely no effect upon the plot what so ever. You could literally snip out the scene and the film will be unchanged. No one line of dialog would sound out place. It is a small grace that it is shot without nudity and not in a titillating manner.

Sobering up, Cooper’s character then proceeds to destroy the ‘alarm’ that they have rigged to warn about bats, and open up a nice wide passage letting in lots and lots of the flying blood-suckers.

This is too much for Bradford Dillman’s character, whose confesses that he works for the government and that there has been no thermonuclear war, that this was a proof of concept experiment for the shelter program. (Can’t wait for the congresscritter to get back to her job after that.) He tried and fails to signal for an emergency extraction, leaving it to the athlete to climb the 1700 foot elevator shaft and signal for help.

He makes the climbs but the bats kill him after he completes his mission, the bats get into the shelter a couple more die, and then the air force shows up and rescues everyone.

Personally I had hoped that the end of the movie would be that during the week that they were trapped the war had broken out, but no, the final scenes are the character being flown away by the Air Force.

Stupid movie is stupid.

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The Two Most Influential Science-Fiction Films of the 1980s

So here am back at my irregular series on the most influential SF films, by decade. The 1980s are a particularly target rich environment for discussing SF and genre movies. After the explosive popularity of Star Wars in the 70’s, a popularity that followed through into the 80s with The Empire Strikes Back and The Return Of The Jedi, studios turned to genre film as the path to the next mega-blockbuster. The decade so film that had big budgets with full studio backing, and small Indy movies that challenged the big boys at the box-office. So picking just two and the most influential is a daunting task.

Neither film that I selected were major hits at the box office, but their impacts far out reached the lack luster initial performances.

220px-Blade_Runner_posterBlade Runner (1982): A dark, film noir SF movie from master filmmaker Ridley Scott, Blade is a rather loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s stranger and thought provoking novel, Do Androids Dream of electric Sheep? The film cratered at the box office, when audiences were in the mood for light escapist fare, and had already been conditioned to accept Harrison Ford as an ‘action hero’ this psychological detective story about the qualities of humanity, love, and compassion, found itself serious out of step with the times. However the filmmaking was revolutionary. The look, feel, and future presented in Blade Runner inspired filmmakers for decades. Christopher Nolan is said to have used it as a touch stone for the look at ‘Batman Begins.’ Later it gained a cult following, and eventually critics noticed the serious thought and themes running through the film, but almost from the start filmmakers fell in love with it and copied it. Now regarded as a classic, and one that prompt endless debates about preferred versions , endings, and character natures, Blade Runner is a film that has stood the test of time.

TheLastStarfighter_quad-1-500x376The Last Starfighter (1984): Star Wars produced a glut of young men leaving home and becoming heroes in the vastness of space stories, and while this one is quirky, fun, and has some tremendous performances, overall the story is not that ground breaking. What marks The Last Starfighter as the innovative and formative movie that it is comes from its production. This was the first film to attempt and utilize photorealistic computer generated imagery for nearly all of the special effects produced in the movie. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan broke ground with the CGI of the Genesis effect, impressive work that holds up to this day, but it was less than a minute of screen-time while the rest of the film used traditional model photography to achieve the shots of dueling starships. The Last Starfighter has no miniatures or models, all the starships exist solely as CGI imagery. While that CGI is painfully dated by todays standards, it is hugely important in the history of film. It proved that it could be done and that audiences would accept the effects. From there we lead into Babylon 5, Jurassic Park, and every genre film made today. They are all building up in the work done in this film.

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A Snapshot of the current economic picture

So last night a friend and I were were discussing politics, life, the universe and everything. He seemed incredulous that I thought that from some measurements and perspectives the economy was doing quite well and that from other points of view it was doing quite poorly. I believe that it was his impression that the economy was doing poorly. This morning after having blood drawn I went and looked up a few graphs to illustrate what I was talking about.

All of the graphs come from the same source the Federal Reserve at St. Louis.

So street level, how does this economy look to the person who is working for a living?

Employment:unemployment

So from this graph it’s quite clear that employment, while improving has yet to recover fully from the disastrous financial crisis of 2008. Bad for the working person.

Household Income
household income

Median Household Income has only recently began to recover from the 2008 crisis. As you can see in the graph, the household income continues to fall even after the recession had ended. Bad for the working Person.

Stock Prices

Stock prices

Stock prices have fully recovered are in fact higher than before the crisis. The stock market  is going like gangbusters.

Corporate Profits

Coporate profits

Corporate Profits have fully recovered from the crisis and just as with stock prices are now higher than before the crisis.

I think that this is one of the essential driving forces in the ‘throw the bums’ out mood of the electorate in the 2014 Midterms. The working person isn’t feeling like that they are in an economic recovery, their view is that jobs are scare, the jobs available are not as good as the ones that they used to have and that their incomes are low. Where this leads I do not know, but it will be interesting.

 

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