All posts by Bob Evans

DVD Review The Set-Up (1949)

When I got my boxed set of film noir DVDs one of the pleasant surprises was discovering that one of the films had been directed by Robert Wise. Wise came up through the old school Hollywood. he was the editor on Wells’ Citizen Kane, became a director with the fantastic Val Lewton horror movie The Body Snatcher, and had a career that spanned just about every genre of movie. The Set-Up was the last picture he made while under contract for RKO and it is a bleak, tragic, and fantastic bit of gritty filmmaking.

The movie’s premise is simple; Stoker is a down and out boxer, thirty-five year olds his career, such as it is, is drawing to an end. His wife Julie wants him to give up boxing, the injuries and chance of serious harm or death have become too much for her but Stoker knows he’s just ‘one punch’ away from turning everything around. Unable to take it anymore she bails on attending his evening’s fight, a lousy bottom bill in a terrible dive. Stoker’s manager, Tiny, meanwhile is taking bribes from to local crime boss to make sure stoker goes down in the fight. Tiny doesn’t tell Stoker of the fix because there’s no need; Stoker always loses. Why share the bribe money?

What makes this movie work is the focus on characters. Not just the leading characters like Stoker, Julie, and Tiny, but the bit supporting characters bring this film to life and do so with a strong sense of theme. When the bout is going on Wise doesn’t focus all of his screen-time on the boxers, but with judicious cuts he plants us among the spectators and their bloodlust. In addition to a taunt story of a man whose dream is slipping away The Set-Up is also a sharp commentary on blood-sports without being a ‘message movie.’

The DVD has just one bonus feature but it’s a great one. The film’s commentary track is split between director Robert Wise and Martin Scorsese.

I have never been a particular fan of sporting movies but The Set-Up moved me, wringing out powerful emotions with it’s gut punch of an ending.

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New DVDs to my Library

The collection is not new, but they are new additions of my collection. Yesterday I received in the mail my latest eBay purchase, Film Noir Classics Vol 1. This is not one of those 50 collections of publica domain movies taken from questionable source material. The collection is five individual packaged DVDs, all from Warner Brothers the studio that specialized in street and crime cinema, in one boxed set. It was cool finding it a very affordable price. Of the five films I had seen only one, Gun Crazy, but I certainly wanted to add it to my library.

What made for a pleasant surprise was that one of the noirs, The Set-Up, was directed by Robert Wise, one of my favorite directors. Another benefit of these movies is that many of them were B-features. That means they were designed to play as the second feature in a double bill. Directors and writers were a little more experimental with the B movies and they were also shorter. There is something to be said for being about to watch an entire story in an hour and a quarter instead of 3 hours plus.

I am looking forward to a week of cool movies and bonus features.

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Sunday Night Movie Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

Last night I was in the mood for something from yesteryear. Now some time ago Universal put out boxed set for their classic monsters until the branding of ‘Legacy Collections.’ I have many of the set including the one for Frankenstein. The Legacy Collections include the original film for each series, some decent bonus material about the classic horror film, and several of the sequels or associated films.

Ghost of Frankenstein is the fourth film is the series and it continues the story from the previous entry, Son of Frankenstein. Ghost is used metaphorically as the Frankenstein of this film is the second son of the original mad scientist but titling a movie Second Son of Frankenstein seems underwhelming.

The population of the village of Frankenstein, convinced that the area is under a curse dues the action of Henry and his son Wolf Frankenstein dynamite the standing castle where in the previous story the monster had fallen into bubbling sulfur pits. The explosions free the monster and aided my Ygor, who has somehow survived the hail of bullets from the last movie, escapes fleeing the town. Ygor takes the monster to Ludwig Frankenstein, Henry’s second son, in hopes that the creation might be healed and returned to full ability, allowing Ygor to manipulate it to continue his own evil schemes.

The creature kills of the Ludwig’s associates and this after much turmoil with the local populace, prompts Ludwig to plan to transfer the brain of his dead associated to the monster’s body as a way of undoing the crime and transforming the monster into a non-dangerous creation. Ygor, working on the ego of Ludwig’s disgraced mentor gets his brain placed into the monster without Ludwig’s knowledge. These villagers arrive, torches are barred, great manor houses are burned, and Ygor in the monster’s body goes blind because the great mentor hadn’t considered blood type mismatch.

Over all this is pretty standard fare for a Universal monster sequel. It pays fair attention to continuity but hand-waves is way past anything that would actually kill the story, such as Ygor’s ability to survive the gunshot wounds without medical care. Dr. Frankenstein once again pays the price for meddling in things that ‘man was not to know.’ (Hmm we should really have a Lord of the Rings moment in some film like this where the female mad scientist proclaims she is no man.) In terms of the Universal classic monster cycle, which was the first cinematic universe, this is purely a middle-grade entry. The movie did not descend in unintentional farce as with Son of Dracula casting Lon Chaney jr as the Count,, but neither did the film come close to matching the atmospheric heights of Frankenstein.

As this film was from 1942 I did ponder a sequel in which Nazi’s took the castle and ended up dealing with mad scientists and the classic monster. Ah movies that were never even considered.

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Say “Thank you, Mr. Reagan.”

Oh no, this is not about any of the current healthcare debates of tax cut proposals. I have a feeling that most of you reading this own a smart phone and that you can take advantage of that device’s GPS for turn-by-turn navigation. This is a feature that has not only enabled a great deal of modern commerce but has saved lives. For this you say ‘Thank you, Mr. Reagan.’

The Global Positioning System, GPS, was developed for the U.S. Military to allow the United States to have pinpoint accuracy on all it’s assets around the world. It is what is referred to in mil-speak as a ‘force multiplier.’ A factor that allows a force to fight as though their number were actually larger than are present. Opening that up to everyone’s use is a major policy and that policy change was ordered by President Reagan after a tragedy.

September 1 1983 KAL flight 007 wandered off course and into the airspace claimed by the USSR. Mistaking the passenger jet for a spy plane the Soviets shot it down killing all 269 aboard. I order to avoid such tragedies in the future the Reagan administration opened the GPS up to world-wide civilian use.

Say ‘Thank you, Mr. Clinton.’

The system opened to civilian use by Reagan was slightly altered to degrade performance. Non-military users could not locate their position with an accuracy greater than a few hundred meters. This prevented navigation errors such as with KAL 005 but preserved a significant degree of superiority for the U.S. Military. In 1996 the Clinton administration, recognizing the huge private sector potential, removed the additional signal that degraded the service for civilians. Now everyone with a GPS receiver could pinpoint there location to within a new meters. You know, that thing your phone does all the time.

What’s the point of all this?

Conservatives and Liberal can both have terrific ideas, either can advance the common good and either can see beyond petty self-interests. Only a partisan fool blithely disregards something solely because it came from across the aisle. Every idea, suggestion, and should be judges on its own merits.

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Some Random Thoughts While Recovering

This week has been a rough week. Every single of the week I have suffered a migraine attack. Individually each one has been a mild to mid-grade headache, not enough to keep me home but severe enough to seriously reduced my productivity and enjoyment. This morning I awoke with another migraine and after yesterdays I decided to take the serious step to break the cluster. That means staying home from the day job and taking two does of my medications about four hours apart. This nearly always stops a cycle but leaves me fog-headed and a little unsteady. Right now, for the first time in a week, I do not feel like a headache is about to explode.

 

The Republicans have released the Senate’s bill for repealing and replacing the ACA with their own version. It is cheaper, skimpier, and will result in lots of people losing their coverage. If they pass it and Trump signs it, not a certainty as the man’s alignment is Chaotic Greedy, I think they this victory will serve them as well as Imperial Japan’s victory at Pearl Harbor. They will have won a battle but plunge into a war that looks far worse for them. This will have taught the Democratic party two very valuable lessons. First that it is futile to consider the conservative position on health care. The attempt at a mixed mode or public and private systems produced no benefits at all. Second that reconciliation is the method to achieve their goals; that there is no penalty paid for shutting out the other party. In addition to those lessons further making the ground worse for the conservatives the conversation on health care has changed in a very basic manner; the population in general believes that more people should have access to health care and that it’s a proper role of the Federal Government to make that happen. One of the few consistencies in the Trump campaign was his promise to make healthcare cheaper and covering more people. Trump is salesman and he was telling people what they wanted to hear. It is what they want and the GOP plan does the opposite of that. They might make that sale with a fast talk roll and a quick vote but once implements there’s no three-card monte way to hid the results. Let me close out the political thoughts with one more observations. Conservative positions are a package deal, they are all sailing on the same ship. If the GOP sinks the ship over healthcare it will take down everything else that conservatives might care for, tax cut, ‘pro-life’ policies, gun rights, all of this I think is imperiled in the long term. Is that a trade you really think is worthy? Is this the hill to kill your movement on?

 

I’ll wrap up with an artistic observation. I am quite happy with the releases of Mad Max: Black & Chrome and Logan Noir. After the advent of cheap and easy color film, remember The Wizard of Oz and The Adventures of Robin Hood were 1939 but common color films didn’t come about until the late 1960s, B&W film were for only art house releases and the odd film released wide in B&W generally did not do well. Seeing the special editions in the theaters give me hope that we are seeing a generation of general theatergoers who are more open and interested in artistic expressions that go beyond just the basic entertainment.

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Not Very Productive

Between migraines and software issues today has been a day where I have gotten very little accomplished. No blog posts of note, no editing on the novel in progress.

The good news is that the headache appears to have responded to mediation and after 23 hours has broken. The software now looks to be backing up properly so maybe later today I can get back to work.

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Mostly over Submission Anxiety

Well, it has been nearly a week since I submitted my application to the current class of Viable Paradise and I think my emotional state if almost back to baseline.

I will admit that yesterday did not feel good, but I had a mild migraine start up while I was at the day-job and it turns out the supply of medication I kept in my desk had been exhausted. I suffered through the entire shift finally making it home to grab the needed pills to banish the pain.

Given the level of pain, enough to disrupt my thinking but not severe enough to send me home, I was unable to compose new text for my novel in progress but I did manage to edit two chapters so work has progressed.

Here’s hoping that today will be a more productive day.

 

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The Stages of a Trump Supporter

It has been interesting watching the shifting sands of the Trump candidacy and administrations change individual conservatives positions on the man. Recently I have been thinking that it bears a resemblance to the Kubler-Ross model of grief.

 

First Stage: Denial. This stage occurred during the primary. Trump was rejected as a serious candidate, not worthy of any consideration for his positions, such as they were, or his wild statements,

Second Stage: Anger. Once it became clear that Trump was not going away I watched a lot of anger over his run for the presidency. Usually this anger was directed at those deemed responsible for his continual presence, the Media for making him relevant, various other candidates for not stopping him and so on. Interestingly it rarely blamed the voters, that is the base of the GOP remained clean and pure even as they selected the narcissistic man-baby as their standard bearer.

Denial: Oh yeah there was a lot of denial going on. Denial that Trump cold get the nomination and denial of support should he get it. Denial didn’t endure.

Bargaining: Look, Trump won and for a lot of conservatives this started the bargaining phase. Trump may be a lying, self-centered, grifter, but damn it he is not Hillary Clinton and he’ll sign those wonderful, wonderful GOP bills into laws. Yeah we’ll have to turn a blind eye to he and his kids looting the Republic, but he’s not really that bad.

Acceptance/Full Support: That brings us the final stage. Bargaining gives way to Full Support as the intensity of attack on Trump and his corruption escalates. The very nature of partisan gravity in our bi-polar political system means you are either against Trump, and therefore aligned with Liberals or you stand shoulder to shoulder with Trump and your fellow party-members. No enemies to the right! This is the inevitable terminus of this process. Those who cried ‘Never Trump!’ and ‘I’ll vote Third Party’ will be vocal supporters of his re-election for the far less terrible fate then being called a liberal by those you would have to leave behind.

You can paraphrase Michael From The Godfather all you want, “That’s my party, it’s not me,” but we all know where Michael ended up.

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A Cold War Movie Marathon

I have been considering hosting a ‘Cold War Movie’ marathon in the not too distant future. It would be a simple affair, a few friends, a few pizzas, and three films focused on the struggle between the USA and the Communist world. Here are the films I am considering, the order I’d play them, and why.

The Manchurian Candidate: This is a terrific movie and one that I think captures the sense of paranoia, otherness, and hidden dangers that helped fuel the tensions. As a movie, particularly for people who may not have lived through the Cold War it would help capture the feeling that the enemy is everywhere and vastly committed to our destruction.

The Eiger Sanction: Hailing from the mid 1970s this movie is about an assassin forced out of retirement in order to both protect a national secret and avenge the death of a friend. Starring and directed by Clint Eastwood tit is a movie steeped in cynicism with the lines between the good guys and the bad guys nearly invisible. I think it reflects the mood that the Cold War was corrupting and how adapting your enemy’s methods is at best problematic.

Dr. Strangelove or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb: One simple does not address the Cold War without speaking about the existential threat of all out nuclear war. I could go for something dark and depressing such as On The Beach, or I could metaphorical and play something that symbolizes that aspect of the war such as The Bedford Incident, I think lightening the mood with a comedy, made by one the masters, is the perfect way to end the marathon. Strangelove, which started out as a dramatic film, highlights the absurdity of nuclear war. Filled with memorable characters, three of which are played by the incredible Peter Sellers, quotable lines, “You can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!” and filmed in bleak black and white is a classic of cinema and of the Cold War.

 

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Words Create Reality

I was going to write a post about the long-term costs to the Republican party if they throw millions of people of their healthcare. (Short answer the cost is high and it endangers everything conservatives want to achieve or protect.) However the shooting in Virginia has prompted today’s thoughts.

 

It may be self-serving for a professed writer to proclaim the power f the word but in my opinion the truth remains no matter the source. Words create our reality. Now clearly I do not mean that in a Newton/Einstein/Bohr sense of reality, but human perceptions of about what the universe is and how is works is vitally important that those perceptions are shaped and created by the words we use to describe our shared understanding.

The words we use to describe ourselves and perhaps more importantly those with whom we disagree contain a terrible power. We can all too easily de-humanize those who are not of our in-group. Once people are de-humanized and no longer seen as ‘really people’ then the processed proceeds easily to assault and murder. This is true in war where propaganda creates the illusion that the enemy solider is a monster and not a person. This is true and vile depravity of racism where entire swaths of humanity are expelled from our family. And it is true in politics when we refuse to accept that those who disagree with us can hold a legitimate point of view. This has been on display far too often lately.

Of course there was the attack this week by a lone gunman who attempted to murder Republican politicians as they played a game. That action is the wholly unsurprising resulted of labeling your opponents Nazis. After all Nazis are the unquestioned evil of our modern age. Pundits on the left and on the right argues endlessly that the Nazi actually belong to the other side’s camp because turning your opponents into Nazis is the ultimate de-legitimization of their position and causes.

Recently we’ve had a spate of people urging that it is always right to assault a Nazi, and lucky for them they get to decide who is and who is not a Nazi. This week was not unexpected; it was the next logical step.

The process plays out exactly the same when you decry they your opponents have a culture of death, that they do not value human life, that their system of belief is wholly evil and violent. When you beat that drum you cannot then be shocked that houses of worship are burned, people are assaulted and people are murdered. If civilization itself is at stake, the reality too often painted with words from that side of things, then how can we exert anything less that total commitment including violence?

I recall sitting on a panel at a science-fiction convention and a fellow panelist called for greater civility in our political discourse while using pejoratives to describe his political opponents and that is the heart of the problem. Those on the right can easily see how the inflamed rhetoric from the left caused this week’s shooting, and those on the left can clearly understand how the right’s rhetoric caused the recent murder on public transit and yet from your own side the perpetrators are always unbalanced people never actually representative.

Yes, these people are imbalanced but it is the inflammatory words that helped prompt them into think that there actions are not only acceptable but praiseworthy.

Choose your words carefully.

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