Monday, July 16, 2018

Solo, as in Han

Erin couldn’t believe that Solo was as bad as reported, so we went to see it yesterday. I don’t know if Solo has been evicted from cineplexes but it was playing at the neighbourhood theatre in Lexington. A small venue but decently filled. None of your fancy electrified lounge chairs but okay primitive theatre seats work. There were no previews.

It started murkily with Han and girlfriend racing around in dystopia until he escapes but she does not. Years later he’s on a battlefield, which resembles WWI, and falls in with scurvy thieves.  Han joins them in a caper to steal ________. They attack the train carrying the stuff as it bolts thru what appears to be The Alps.

The leader of the group is played by Woody Harrelson. My aversion to him doesn’t scale to how I feel about Tom Cruise or Bruce Willis but I did flinch at times, even tho he was acceptable. One of the gang was a 6-limbed ape and a lively character. It felt muy Guardians of the Galaxy. The caper failed however.

The survivors get to visit the bad guy. Hollywood has produced gangs of heartless psychopathic villains but this guy rates right up there. Simultaneously obsequiously polite and ruthlessly villainous, he will never really be your friend.

A second caper kinda reflects the actions in the first set of Star Wars, but without the thrills. The formula is pretty familiar. And don’t forget betrayals.

The person who played Han eventually won me over. He’s somewhat faceless, could’ve traded places with the guy in Guardians, but he looked comfortable in the role. The guy who played Lando Calrissian was great. The person who played the female lead did her job. Yes, the whole thing followed the dots. The story was less fuzzy than Rogue One. As one who never yearned for more after the initial trilogy, I am not the target audience. Scaled as the franchise is, the movies should be more than IKEA pictographs. Tho a good enough movie, too much was perfunctory.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Lincoln: the Movie, the Guy, and Stuff

Just watched Spielberg’s Lincoln. It’s a movie of reverence, message, and potato salad. It shows the effort of someone trailed by Hollywood’s self importance. The movie points to important things but its inadvertancies are more striking. It doesn't take long to figure out which moustache or chin whisker denotes the bad guy. Every black face is solemn and nearly speechless.

Daniel Day-Lewis gets a tour-de-force to work with. Anyone who has applied the whiskers to chin has had an iconography to deal with. By main effort (tho it doesn't show) Lewis keeps the character lively and alive. Lincoln himself, of course, was richly eloquent and succinct, but also given to jokes and silliness. Doris Kearns-Goodwin's book from which the movie derives shows the wise and thoughtful approach to compromise that Lincoln used. It is an approach completely obliterated by the self-serving wheeler dealer in the current White House, whose binary thought processes center on schism. The greengrab of our cabinet is horrendous, if you haven't noticed.

I found the opening awkward. A couple of black Union soldiers are having a confab with the president. Trump would treat such an occasion strictly as photo op (paper towels to the victims in Puerto Rico) but Lincoln knew how to speak to human beings. One of the soldiers speaks piquantly about the racial situation. Lincoln sits in a circle of light, looking like the Lincoln Memorial. Ease up, Steven. The soldier leaves reciting the Gettysburg Address, which just comes across as overly buffed up.

The plot of Lincoln focuses strictly on the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment. Government in action, and pretty touchy. Heaven knows that compromise doesn't always work. Blacks as partial people, as the Constitution tries to have it, is just a capitulation to the venal horde. Likewise the Missouri Compromise. Neither answer could possibly work in this given machine. The polarities that Trump blithely and crudely plays with cannot keep balance. The result can only be spit and fire. Lincoln, the movie, reminds us of this. Government by schism is not government.

Spielberg from his lofty perch can load the cast with all the best sports, and first class facial hair. Day-Lewis' performance is captivating albeit highly conscious. The liveliness of James Spader in his role surprised me. Crusty Tommy Lee Jones simmers and glares in the face of anything.

Other actors fare less well. Sally Field played the Strong Female Role. The writing and direction gave her no chance to make Mary Todd other than a spokesperson. The movie wanted a tortured presence but one that made human sense, but that balance is a little too many for slouching Hollywood. I don't blame Fields. Spielberg can't help himself.

He did at least keep Ford Theatre offscreen. Little Tad the president's son attends a play when someone rushes onstage to announce the president has been shot. Oh the temnse drama Spielberg could have made of Booth and the derringer and all those juicy elements.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Infinity Wars

Erin’s birthday weekend finishes with a viewing of the latest Avengers morsel. Packed with spectacle, it brings forth the reasonable question why comix are so enamoured with apocalypse. I got nothing.

The movie is a congery of plotlines. The effect is as of an anthology, switching from one group of characters to another. It felt slapdash, with a strong of marketing at base.

Bad guy Thanos had the most lines in the movie and the most closeups. He looks like a cross between the Hulk and The Thing (Ben Grimm), only scaled larger. The rest of the cast were more like cameos. Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy had the best lines, with Drax the champ at forthright obliviousness. The effect was of five movies twined together then snipped by Reader’s Digest’s editor corps.

I did not immediately recognize either Thor or Captain America, their beards throwing me off. Thanos busied himself collecting Infinity Stones and laying waste. He offers a theory that there are too many creatures so he destroys many so that the rest may abide. The dummy doesn’t realize that’s a natural process and will continue without his help.

Several times characters must go to some wasted spectacular setting to carry the plot on. And then battles arise in which heroes punch Thanos to no effect so they punch him again.

The plot brings many to Watanka, homeland of Black Panther. Here is the final battle, as if such could exist in comix land. Blurry battling occurs against warg-like creatures. With much drama and little surprise Thanos remains undefeated and a hearty expectation of sequels galore looks likely. Go forth and discuss.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Captain America, Civil War

I watched this over the past two days, in prep for seeing The Avengers tomorrow. I’m a bit wore out with these movies but it was largely pretty good. The Marvel Universe is worth examining and deconstructing.

The character of Captain America intrigues, what with him being lost in time. Fighting Axis originally then into the future to fight whatever in the name of justice. Obviously he verges on zealot with his enthusiasm as one man army. In the movies he’s so earnest. Chris Evans is pretty much perfect in the role. He's not flouncing around with the pain of his circs. He just goes forth against the angry tide.

Civil War takes the unusual step for Hollywood of contemplating (however superficially) the idea of collateral damage. Think of Independence Day where so many are killed and so much damaged and it is yay! when the aliens lose. Dum-de-dum-dum, we won. Superheroes just let everything go when it’s clobbering time. Here, tho, the King of an African nation dies during a Super Battle and lo, the idea of registering your superhero arises.

Half The Avengers, working the self-guilt, acquiesce to this bureaucratic demand. The rest believe vigilantism is a good thing because they do it and they are good. Captain America is particularly believable in that way. And don’t forget Hawkeye, who wants to go back to his home and family, and perhaps a paying job, but evil exists and he must fight.

I never saw Winter Warrior, the previous Cap flick. In it, Cap's former sidekick, Bucky, who played Robin to Cap's Batman, appears in the present as Dark Side Captain America. Civil War begins with evil Bucky. He's a bad guy for a while until I don't know how, Cap brings him back to the Good side. Also there's a guy seeking vengeance for the death of his family, who died in that ridiculous Ultron-induced floating city disaster. The physics of which...

The son of the dead king shows up as Black Panther. He seeks revenge on the perps of his father's death, caused by a wayward levitation by Scarlet Witch that destroys a building. Revenge, thou art an excuse for sequels. From there to the end we see a lot of intramural sparring. Spider-Man and Antman show up. More like cameos, they supply some antics and further twine the various strings of Marvel Universe Inc.

I think we're on the third cinematic Spidey. I didn't think improvements were needed on the first but I have to say, offering him up as a nerdy but enthusiastic teen hit the right chord, at least in this small dose.

Civil War comes down, and I mean down, to Cap and Bucky battling Iron Man. The question arises: why do these people all fight hand to hand? No one gets hurt, if you're knocked down you get up. It seems like Iron Man's armoury would have something that would turn Captain America and Bucky into smoke but in the end Cap wins. The near impossibility of injury takes a big bite out all all this rough house stuff. It's some nice sound and fury but drama is left to a soft simmer.

We can surely turn to Shakespeare for myriad examples of the twisting power of revenge. Our superheroes tend to boil that down to an outsized incompatibility with life issues. Only the simple expedients of crashing, banging, exploding and so on shall soothe their souls. There, my friends, is the nature of contemporary politics, the unexamined ache of anger. I do not hold Marvel responsible but that's the abiding business plan.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Hampton Beach in the Actual Sun

Erin and I went up to Hampton Beach today. Beth had grown up work to do. I dunno why Hampton Beach, a vacation spot on NH’s minimal coast, except that it’s close enough. It’s a small scale New Jersey boardwalk.

We just wanted to greet the ocean, it is one of the largest oceans in the world (the Atlantic). The day, the day was entirely cloudless. The machinations of commerce were at about half speed this early but the place was quite lively. Families spread out across the wide embrace of sand.

We just hung out, talking, absorbing. There were a lot of horses ridden on the beach, I mean 15-20, with children rushing eagerly towards them. A few people even entered the water.

It was lunchtime but I had no interest in the greasy options in the busy beach area. I’m not above greasy food but the goal of exciting crap increasingly becomes anathema to me. I don’t want to over invest in crappy pizza.

Near the beach was the water slide of the gods. It is an adrenalin machine. My aim is to lower my adrenalin output, so I shall avoid such pranks, but enjoy what you enjoy.

A kite on the beach served me well. I couldn’t see who commanded it. The wind brought it towards us, rather than lifted high. It fluttered with bird-like movements and held my attention.

We drove around a bit in this maelstrom of distraction, then sought food elsewhere. Trying to elude the temporary bliss of grease. 

Outside the gross plea of the shoreline grab, we peeked at a brunchy place that we have been to before but it looked full. Erin pulled into a parking lot to consult the god Google. A full 200 feet away was a well-reviewed establishment. Google’s genius led shortly down the road then turn back to arrive at where we were. A place called Victoria’s Kitchen. A caterer but open to dine in.

The modest appearance from the outside was belied by the friendly space within. A large selection of items for breakfast and lunch. Erin and I both went for Angus bacon and blue cheese burgers. They were cooked perfectly, ensconced on home made English muffins, with home made potato chips (food of the gods).

Northbound we listened to Silly Wizard, traditional sad Scottish. Homeward, The Darkness, sort of AC/DC with an exotic falsetto. I brought home beach stones for Beth, those are pretty real.

“It’s the same old man sitting by the mill

Mill turns around of its own free will.”

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Pacific Rim Uprising

Erin and I saw this yesterday, with anticipation. I'm not big on sequels but I enjoyed the cheesy thunder of the first movie, so full steam ahead. We arrived for the pre-noon matinee only to discover that it was in 3D. Bad cess on that! Just gives a headache. Came back around two. Nary a soul in the theatre. An older man was already seated up front, killing a day, I suppose.

The trailers foretell a summer of the usual summer stuff. At least no heart to heart dramas portend. So, I glean that the Jurassic Park franchise goes on. It looks like this one grandly renders the spectacle but it doesn't look like a surprise otherwise. Special effects and movie tech keep improving, or at least continue to up the simulacrum ante.

I don't think I have seen a Dwayne the Rock movie, he's one of those entities who osmose into your consciousness, but two are in the pipeline. He's got a good comedic delivery, give him that. One movie has a gorilla in it, the other a burning skyscraper. Take your pick.

The only true excrescence in the coming flicks is one with Johnny Knoxville. A rundown amusement park must fight off the advances of a super new one. I've seen this movie 111 times or maybe ten thousand, ie, what the hell do scriptwriters actually do??? Supposedly the idiot stunts are done for real. O wasteland!

The first Pacific Rim was fine. The idea of robots versus dinosaurs is fun, tho every step of the way revealed something ludicrous. The scale, the careless destruction, the outsized, clumsy robots. Those big lunks have to be helicoptered to the battle zone, which seems like their most telling weakness. Number two here follows that map. The movie begins with the son of the iconic hero of the first one. The son flamed out at robot corps and turned to a dissolute life. It's a semi-post apocalyptic world with the bones of dead kaiju from ten years ago laying where they died but life otherwise going on. The son is a petty thief trying to steal robot parts.

He meets a young girl who herself made a small fighting robot out of spare parts that she fingered. The two get caught because such is illegal, not sure why that's so. After a brief jail cell scene in which we see the two verbally spare, he is brought in to the Jager corps to train young recruits, and she becomes a recruit. A certain charm to this with him being the protective big brother a bit. Like with the first movie, we have our heroes not quite fitting in with others. You need not skip ahead to find out it all works out, the trail is wellworn and clear.

The movie is not about that anyway, it's about Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots. It's a surprise that the first big battle occurs between two robots. Wait, what? A mystery robot appears and performs devastation procedures until finally sent packing. It's all an ode to unrestrained collateral damage. That miscreant of a Jager suggests nefariousness, but I will let you see how the plot unrolls for yourself.

Only a few of the characters in the first movie return, and mostly in minor appearances. The tech guy and the science guy from the first prove central in this battle to end all battles redux. The gist of the fight is literally destruction of the planet. Some kaiju appear, a few red shirts die. Something about racing to Mount Fuji before the kaiju end everything, thwarted by the son and the girl. You can open your eyes now.

The great line from the first movie was referenced: We are cancelling the apocalypse!!! I wish this movie had something that popped out as effectively. I suppose equaling that lame ass battle cry could not be expected. There's evidence at the end of the movie that a third cancellation may be in order. Stay tuned.

I'd say the movie is technically better than the first in its look. No actors in either one is familiar to me, which actually is a relief. Let the vehicle be the vehicle. Movies are so much about these branded creatures called actors, who must remain in brand. Whatever their chops are, when you see Sylvester Stallone on the screen, or Jennifer Anniston, or every damn whosis on the red carpet, it is first of all a branding exercise. These creatures of infernal power then can prance on the screen as may be, secure in their inviolate importance. The competent nobodies that people this movie and its predecessor are allowed to stick to the task of just taking the ridiculousness on the movie screen seriously enough to keep plot going. That is all I ask.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Easter and That

I grew up in the Unitarian-Univeralist church, mainly, I suppose, because of a long family line in Massachusetts. My father was dutiful about having a church to go to, and my mother was relieved that no fire and brimstone appeared in the services. I gather someone on her side of the family offered too much of that.

Services at our stately church on Lexington Green seemed pretty formal to me but I never had experience in other churches and temples probably till I was an adult. My friend’s mother one time suggested that I go with him to confession. I imagined it as a strange and awful event and hastily declined. As her sight failed, and then her broken hip, my mother stopped going to church. She was not as gregarious as my father, anyway, tho both were well known in the church.

An Easter tradition developed late in her life in which I would stay with my mother while dad was at church with the quadrupled holiday turn out, and we would watch movies. For instance, we watched Easter Parade with Fred Astaire and the not yet trashed Judy Garland because mom loved dancing, any dancing. Garland was young and Astaire seemingly always would be.

I remember finding a documentary about a 12th century painter whose name escapes me, who apparently invented perspective. The paintings of course were hellaious Christian imagery both terrifying and uplifting. I remember in elementary school, a boy told me that God died on a mountain. I had not been so informed, that's not the sort of thing Unitarians talk about, either in or out of church. What I pictured was something akin to Mount Doom, in that famous movie.

For me, growing up Unitarian, Easter simply meant candy, big dinner, and coloring eggs. I didn’t like coloring eggs, or eggs in general. Easter only became interesting when it linked to spring rebirth and revival, sword dances, daffodils, banging the earth with a stick, and all that. The ritual with my mother, we did this for several years, felt meaningful, if not exactly part of that. Connecting life to that thing that isn't life, but is.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Rogue One, at This Late Date

Finally saw this addition to the Star Wars canon. I loved the original three Star Wars creations, tho I admit that when Yoda appeared, some of my enthusiasm slid away. Muppet dharma, no thanks. I eventually saw the next three releases but by then I didn't care about the franchise much. I have seen no other Star Wars movie till Rogue One. Expect here a dour response to Rogue One.

Right from the start, a grimness pervades the movie. A child watches as an Imperial task force comes to get her father, and kill her mother. She takes to a prearranged hiding place and eventually someone collects her. Years later we find her in prison. There's probably a project in the works to detail those years.

The plot didn't want me to follow it. Rebel leaders apparently want our heroine, I forget her name, to help find her father or something. And she ends up joining a rebel in I don't know. Suffice to say a band of misfits forms a suicide squad to get the plans of the Death Star (of legend!!!), which her father designed. She and the rebels race around, explaining plot points between breaths. I was lost, tho partly owing to disinterst. This could as well be The Guns of Navarone, tho a few of that mission survived.

The bad guy in the opening scene could be a Marvel or Bond villain. Which gets me to my ulteriour point. These franchises have begun looking the same, weak from hunger. Granted in this film, everyone in the mission dies, there's no Ishmael alone who alone escapes. Still, it's the same cheese we've had before.

The actors were pretty faceless, competent but forgettable. The droid reminded me of Marvin in Hitchhiker's Guide, and was a highlight of the movie. If you really needed to know about the beginning of the rebellion, this flick works. I am about done with prequels and franchises, however.

The Star Wars franchise is like an ode to jury-rigging. There's the Lucas outline to be honoured, and then these outgrowths of intention that produce more movies and, it seems more importantly, more action figures and merch. As far as story-telling goes, it's all so inorganic. I mean, thank goodness Melville didn't incite Ishmael to avenge Captain Ahab's death. Or Queequeg's, or...

Obviously people like all this stuff but to me the mercantile aspect of this franchise, and all movie franchises, bother me. Movies operate in something close to geologic time, with gross national product budgets. They attenuate the creative kernel to the farthest farthing.