Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

I joined the French Foreign Legion to avoid talking to my boss. Our yearly evaluations were fast approaching and I was anxious about my possible future with MicroBio Nicotine and Ice Cream Flavoring, Inc. While I am usually a reliable and productive employee, I’m not sure my boss appreciated the mannequin-cum-soap-box-derby races through the halls of the main offices which I single-handedly devised as a way to ‘boost morale’, or my well-intentioned, however ill-timed observation/comment/joke regarding the whereabouts of his wife at the recent company picnic and ‘did she divorce him for another man’ (which I later found out was partially true; she had run off with a man 20 years her junior to become part of a magic act in a traveling circus that sells Tupperware on the side). I have no stomach for confrontation and try to avoid it whenever I am able to, so, instead of enduring the inevitable bad review, or possibly the humiliation of being fired and having to walk through the halls with the proverbial box of personal belongings tucked awkwardly under my arm for all to see, I didn’t come in to work that day and decided instead to sign up for the French Foreign Legion at the local branch office. The forms that I had to fill out were thankfully brief, and smelled faintly of lavender and fresh bread. The entire process of entering the Foreign Legion was amazingly streamlined, nothing like my last trip to the DMV which lasted several days after becoming lost while in line (I was found several days later by a couple of brave DMV rescue workers near the computer road test stations, slightly dazed, having survived on a packet of half-eaten Tums I had in my pocket). Within one week the elite of the French army had trained me to become a part of one of the and best dressed fighting forces in the world. I learned how to fill a puff pastry at 100 yards, disarm a dancing bear and grow a mustache that would curl nicely at the ends when properly waxed. I was ready for adventure!

My first assignment however, was not the sort of gallant undertaking I had envisioned, least of all did it resemble one of the scenarios that had been pictured in the Legion’s colorful brochure (dropped into combat against a horde of plainly dressed Lithuanian accountants or pitted against a cult in Ohio that worships the tangerine, for example). My particular unit was sent to the south of France to guard a 100×75 ft. piece of Brie that was to be hauled across the countryside by dozens of groundhogs ropes cinched tightly around their furry torsos. That summer the government of France was staging a particularly obscure episode from the French Revolution which mostly involved barnyard animals and maître d’s of certain social breeding and temperament. The reenactment, Le Voyage De Fromage, is mounted every ten years, or whenever a piece of Brie of this magnitude is available for transporting. Due to the vulnerability of this moveable production at the hands of various bands of robbers, who often make off with segments of the Brie, the Foreign Legion has been assigned to protect the colossal cheese from the predictable assault for the last five decadal reenactments. Our unit walked alongside the groundhogs in the profuse, stifling heat for days, sometimes moving only a few feet in a span of several hours. We frequently stopped to rest, exhausted from pure boredom, sipping brandy or whiskey from ornate flasks that we had secretly stowed in our boots. The groundhogs dragged the immense cheese over the lush topography of southern France, the increasingly flaccid and fetid Brie slowly making its way up the side of steep hills, the spectacle of which in previous reenactments had become the focus of documentaries and films ( see: Achtung!: Brie!, directed by outstanding German eccentric, Werner Hertzog).

Then, a few weeks into the pilgrimage, a gaggle of French chambermaids fell upon our haggard unit. They gleefully surrounded us, purring like kittens at the sight of a large bowl of milk. They tickled us with well placed feather dusters, leaning us back, gently prying open our mouths with perfumed fingertips and tucked mints under our tongues ever so carefully while the rest moved around to the back of the cheese, out of sight, absconding with chunks of the Brie which is known for its curative powers, in addition to being delightful when spread over a cracker. The chambermaids giggled like French chambermaids are known to do, then disappeared into the countryside.

Finally, a few days later, we arrived at the end of the march, exhausted, our uniforms badly in need of ironing (this is one of the points stressed in the Legion Code of Conduct: all uniforms must be expertly pressed, at all times; you never know who you might see in battle) and the rear of the cheese, the rind, almost entirely gone. We were reprimanded by our commander and sent to bed without dessert.

* * *

After this first tour of duty was completed I was then assigned to the latest installment of The Conquest of Algeria (staged sporadically). Finally, I could prove that I was made for the scathing ground of battle, not the Berber carpeted halls of my languid office existence!

This year, The Conquest of Algeria, for reasons of budget, was staged in Trenton, New Jersey in the parking lot of the Ramada Inn near the airport. The Algerians were played by the Trenton Mime Theater Group, Local 204, a jovial bunch even for mimes. Our unit mostly milled about in the hotel lobby or bar, occasionally grappling with the Algerians/mimes when we ran into one another, the abridged face-off always ending with the mimes creating an invisible box to hide in. The mimes proved to be unworthy adversaries and I found myself loitering around the hotel’s breakfast buffet in the mornings, just to occupy a few stray hours. I drank copious amounts of terrible coffee and gorged myself on uniformly voluptuous and over-frosted Danishes, tasteless and rubbery from their lengthy residence beneath a heating lamp. I watched local TV weather reports in my hotel room, switching between stations frequently to see how they differed from one another. One weather person had a hair piece while the other was simply bald. I noted the difference.

* * *

On the last day of the Conquest, I was approached by one Reginald Wittenbaum the Third, rabid entrepreneur and manufacturer of innovative gadgetry including the steam-powered vacuum cleaner and nose hair removal system. He was in town attending the local Scientific Inquiry and Gadget trade show sponsored by Intel to present his latest invention, a small contraption that harvested anti-matter and transmuted it into a delicious marmalade suitable for bottling. He was looking for someone to run the device, to test its limitations, a dangerous endeavor according to Wittenbaum. I must have appeared somewhat reliable in my uniform, even though it sported a few errant coffee stains and the occasional Danish crumb dangling precariously from a lapel like a climber hanging from a cliff face. I was in doubt as to my future with the Legion; the previous assignments had proved to be tiresome and I subsequently developed a slight case of French Legionnaires’ disease, characterized by sudden bursts of ennui and cravings for monogrammed handkerchiefs. The offer was intriguing. Wittenbaum was surely mad; however he did have nice trousers. A person with trousers that nice can’t be all that bad I reasoned, and I readily agreed to abandon the Legion and join him in the pursuit of scientific enlightenment.

We were about to board his unicycle-powered flying machine, when I thought of my goldfish, which I had purchased some months back in a spontaneous burst of responsibility. I had never owned a dog because I knew that I would forget to feed and walk it. I never acquired roommates, because, at some point, I would forget to pay the rent or my half of the cable bill or clean up discarded toenail clippings in the living room. This was also why I was never able to commit to anything beyond dating; marriage was a giant warship of responsibility that I was unwilling to board, much less co-pilot. Fish, however, seemed fairly straightforward; they could be my own small attempt at commitment.

Of course, it had been almost two months since I had abandoned my job and joined the French Foreign Legion. I wasn’t overly familiar with goldfish, but I was reasonably positive that they wouldn’t last that long without food.

As Wittenbaum and I took off from the parking lot of the Ramada Inn, I knew that I wasn’t quite ready to settle down, to fully embrace the routine of leading an average life. I just wasn’t that sort of fellow. It was adventure that I was seeking!

Besides, I could always buy more goldfish.

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Atheist. Provocateur. Eccentric. Foot fetishist. Luis Buñuel was all of these things and more. A Surrealist through and through, Buñuel was able to subvert even mainstream cinema, often working within ridged studio systems to produce films that were still deeply personal, that reflected his own sensibilities as an artist. Buñuel was also a dead-on satirist who crafted some of the most striking, controversial and visually stunning films ever made— a true original that produced images that would become iconoclastic. Who can forget the razor blade slitting the eye of a woman from his first film, Un chien andalou (1929)? His was a single-minded, uncompromised vision, tackling variations on the same themes for over 50 years: the Catholic Church, human desire and bourgeoisie society. He mined these tropes for decades, getting more mileage out of these ideas than most directors could have with dozens more. With The Phantom of Liberty (1974), the second to last film that Buñuel made for retiring for good, everything he had learned as a filmmaker, as satirist, as an artist was applied with truly groundbreaking results.

Perhaps the most subversive, audacious and freewheeling of Buñuel’s films, The Phantom of Liberty is also a movie that echoes the pure surrealism of his earlier works like Un chien andalou and the L’Age d’or (1930) as well as later films, Simon of the Desert (1965) and The Milky Way (1969). All of these films use non-narrative story structure to elaborate their particular scenarios, but it is the The Phantom of Liberty that is the most accomplished, the most daring. The film is structurally complex, revealing layer after layer, a charge of seemingly disparate scenarios that bleed into each other, one after the other. The brilliance of Buñuel’s conceit is that the film feels effortlessly random, truly dream-like (one of the tenants of a true Surrealist film). Unlike other films that claim to be “dream-like”, The Phantom of Liberty actually succeeds at this notion because Buñuel allows the film to give into this structure, or anti-structure, fully.  He uses traditional story genres like the gothic novel, with the more radical impulses of the Surrealists to tear apart both forms, to remake all storytelling in his own vision.

Part of a final trilogy of brilliant films—The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) the other two—The Phantom of Liberty boldly declares that Buñuel would never compromise his vision, even as one of the elder statesman of a movement that ceased to be relevant (he was 74 when he made The Phantom of Liberty). Indeed, these are some of his most pointed, funny and scathing statements on modern life. And with The Phantom of Liberty, Buñuel was returning to, no, embracing his surrealist roots with this film: the essential randomness of the overall structure fell in line with the original mantra of the Surrealists that Buñuel began working with in the 1920s. John Baxter, author of the insightful biography, Buñuel, pulled from Buñuel’s own memoirs in his section on The Phantom of Liberty with this quote: “Chance governs all things. Necessity, which is far from having the same purity, comes only later. If I have a soft spot for one of my movies, it would be for The Phantom of Liberty, because it tries to work out just this theme.”

The Phantom of Liberty is an incendiary work, and, within the film’s non-narrative structure, Buñuel crafted a potent critical analysis of modern morals. This is in no small way related to fact that Buñuel took the film’s title from the opening of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto (“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of Communism”), a work that takes critical aim at the establishment of the day. But even more profound, and less literally, Buñuel seems to be saying that society is an irrational, utterly corrupt institution, that it provides the illusion of freedom, of free will, when in fact chance governs all.

The Phantom of Liberty is composed of episodes that seamlessly blend into one another, each one working its way into the next, scenes within scenes, one collapsing into the next. We begin in the Napoleonic Wars and then move into present day via nanny who is reading aloud the prior events from a book on the subject. Characters and situations evolve in what seem like random, disparate events, leaving the viewer to arrive at their own conclusions. There are 72 actors credited in the film, and Buñuel uses the expansive cast to develop a wide-cross section of types. He seems more interested in the type of work a character does, or what stereotype they fall into rather than developing that character, and, in many ways, this works to the film’s advantage. The audience is never able to grasp any underling motivation of the characters, they are more often than not subject to chance in many ways, and again this routes directly back to the main argument of coincidence versus free will. Are the characters simply victims of a cruel universe (or in this case a cruel director) or can they navigate their own destiny? Perhaps they are simply victims of their of desires, lustful or otherwise, trapped in a cycle of self-imposed impulse, much like Fernando Rey’s brilliantly lecherous character in Buñuel’s final film, That Obscure Object of Desire. Trapping his characters in one circumstance or another is nothing new for Buñuel—he has done this many times with amazing results: the party guests who cannot bring themselves to leave the dining room in The Exterminating Angel (1962), or the friends who are endlessly attempting to sit down to dinner but are continually thwarted by one thing or another in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

Buñuel cleverly undermines certain conventions of storytelling, playing with the audiences expectations with often genuinely funny results. In one episode, much is made of a certain French postcard, which we assume to be erotic in nature, but once it is shown turns out to be a completely banal photo of a the country side; in another episode, party guests take their food and eat it in private in the bathroom, while the others sit on toilets instead of chairs at a table full of food which is never eaten.

In many ways The Phantom of Liberty is all about the audience’s expectations and how Buñuel disrupts those assumptions by giving us what is closer to a dream rather than a film in any traditional sense of the word.

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Jayne Mansfield always reminds me of summer, as strange as that sounds. Perhaps it’s all the photos of the smiling, phosphorescent leggy blonde in bikinis, often lounging by a pool, sunning herself, sultry and white-hot in the bright sunlight. Jayne Mansfield is the summer of Americana, of bygone eras that always appear glamorous in photos, always feel nostalgic despite whatever reality they actually inhabited. Vacationers lingering by pools, by lakes; the heady smell of newly cut grass, of hot dogs and hamburgers grilling, of ice cream pops dispensed from musical trucks; lazy days that stretch on and on, skies at dusk fading to a burnt-orange color. All around the sound of kids shouting and laughing, adults drinking and talking until it was dark.

This is the history that is exhumed, minus the racial chasm, the gangsters, the junkies, the crooked politicians, all of the foriegn entanglements—shot through the lens of a movie camera. Mansfield was certainly part of that; the American movie-of-the-mind, a summer drive-in double feature of sand and sun and the and good-looking young men and women dancing to transistor radios blasting static-ridden bubblegum pop.

But then there is the flipside: her often bizzare later career which spawned such tacky treasures as The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield (1968), and her terribly sad death in a car crash that killed nearly everyone aboard. This is the dark side of my associations of Jayne Mansfield. I cannot help but imagine that car accident when I think of Mansfield, the lurid details not only played out in the tabloids, but immortalized in film maker Kenneth Anger’s tell-all book of the dark underbelly of Hollywood, Hollywood Babylon. Much of the book is wholly imagined of course–amplified rumors and innuendo, or out-right lies, but these are the details that stick, the images that remain, the hot-bed of a public’s collective memory. This is the evil twin of the cotton-candy nostalgia: the awful, turgid realities that are twisted and distorted for the bizarre glee of an audience wanting all of the dirt on people who seem larger-than-life.

Still, Mansfield occupied a certain space, along with her “blonde-bombshell” counterpart, Marilyn Monroe, in the American landscape. Monroe mixed sexuality with innocence, but Mansfield was all raw sexuality. She was uninhibited and wild; she held nothing back, or so it seemed. Surely Monroe has posed by enough pools, retained that same sun-kissed glow of summer, but somehow Mansfield has become indelibly linked to all of those thoughts of summer, remaining somewhere in the back of my mind.

She lingers in black and white, sometimes in color, a woman who symbolized a nation’s new-found sexuality, bubbling with optimism, the sun as bright and intense as her short-lived career.

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“So here we are. Out.”

“Don’t make fun.”

“Yes sir…”





“You know. That tone. That look.”

“I’m simply commenting. I mean, this is what everyone is talking about. The food prepared in picturesque portions, like the photos of meals in Gourmet magazine; the lights craftily placed about the room, as to create an atmosphere of cinematic reality. People laughing, drinking, conspiring…”

“Don’t be a jerk.”

“So this is out. I’m unimpressed.”

“Do we always have to be in? We’re always in. Work and home. That’s it. People are living in random and wonderful ways. Spontaneous ideas that disgorge them from their daily routines. People not afraid to revel in the unknown, in the benifits of unplanned travel. Backpacks carried. Shoes worn. Ideas mapped. We have no ideas.”

Somewhere, a plate falls to the floor.

“What’s so awful about being in, anyway? I think being out is overrated. When you’re in there are no variables only constants. You can relax. Take off your pants if you want. You can dribble on your shirt and read obscure 18th century books on botany without ridicule. You can imagine a young woman, a Victorian train passenger, crossing her legs from left to right, traveling across the English countryside while humming the lines from the St. Swithen’s Day nursery rhyme to herself; softly, sweetly. Eat a salad without utensils. You can sit and smolder. You don’t have to form complete and articulate sentences…”

“This is you being articulate? You’re rambling if you ask me.”


“Forget it.”

A few seconds pass.

“You weren’t always so anti-social? You weren’t always like this, were you?”




A few more seconds pass.

“So here we are.”

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Dick Powell is a glutton for punishment. More specifically, Powell’s Philip Marlowe is a glutton for punishment. In the 1944 film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Farwell, My Lovely, renamed Murder, My Sweet, Dick Powell played the part of the famous private detective as if it might be the last acting gig he ever got. He is funny, strangely charming, clumsy and a joy to watch even as he’s repeatedly beaten over the head, drugged, tossed in an insane asylum, and temporarily blinded by gunshot fire. Powell doesn’t simply play Marlowe as the typical tough-guy detective—there was always more to Chandler’s character than that—his version is fully formed; vulnerable, really vulnerable, which makes him more likeable, certainly more sympathetic. Much of the unintended glee in watching this film are Marlowe’s dealings with the somewhat sociopathic nitwit, Moose Malloy played deftly by Mike Mazurki. Moose is all blunt, dumb menace and is constantly annoyed by the wise-cracking Marlowe; his first instinct always violence.  As twisted as the plot can sometimes become, the interplay between these two actors helps to ground the film.

Many consider Humphrey Bogart’s take on the seminal literary figure in Howard Hawks’ The Big Sleep to be the best rendition of Marlowe (Elliott Gould’s turn as Philip Marlowe in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye is certainly odd, not bad, just odd), but Dick Powell is my personal favorite; his reverence for the hardboiled dialogue comes through in every scene and really, truly, he looks and acts the part. In my mind, this is Marlowe, sinking into the seedy shadows of old Los Angeles, waiting for the next case to walk through the door.

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The Untouchables (1987)

Director: Brian De Palma


Barrels of Technicolor blood. Limitless rounds of ammunition. The melodramatic and the absurd. Innocence and clear-eyed reality. All these things run together in the universe that is Brian De Palma’s version of the late 50s TV show, The Untouchables. The violence is graphic, sometimes cartoonishly so, as it always is in a Brian De Palma film—his obvious affection for Italian cinema, especially that of the Giallo genre, bleeds through, gloriously staining his entire visual approach—but it is also operatic and lavish and weirdly seductive, an over-the-top rendition of Prohibition-era America that lives in the other-reality that is the Hollywood Movie. De Palma is clearly swinging for the fences here; he wants to create a film that is larger than life. He is aiming at mythos rather than any sort of historical accuracy (there are plenty of inaccuracies in this film), the myth of not just the gangster in America, but good and evil writ large. It is beautiful and repulsive all at once.

As a gangster film, more specifically a modern gangster film, The Untouchables is certainly different. The film does not focus on the mob life, the trappings of family obligations, of traditions. It does not track the history of any one clan. More to the point, it does not feel like any of the Godfather films, or Goodfellas (1990), or Casino (1995) or even Once Upon A Time in America (1984), which tackles the same era. The Untouchables is cut from the same cloth of the gangster films of the 30s and 40s, and it that respect, it falls more readily in line with the TV show upon which it is partially based. It is a crime film, mixed with adventure elements. And possibly because of this, it is hardly mentioned as a film of merit in this genre when compared to the Godfathers and Goodfellas, which is too bad. Quite possibly, this is one of my favorite films of this particular sub-genre because it feels like such an interesting departure. There are scenes that I never grow tired of, dialogue that still crackles as much as it as it did when I first saw this movie in the theaters.

The Untouchables opens with a roar: Al Capone (Robert De Niro) flippantly declaring to the press that “there is violence in Chicago, but not by me and not by anyone I employee”, juxtaposed with a scene of a little girl and other patrons of a drugstore killed by a bomb meant to send a message to other businesses. We are then introduced to government agent, Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) sent to Chicago to lead the clean-up illegal alcohol activity and its subsequent turf warfare. Ness is clean-cut and wide-eyed; his notions of right and wrong are steadfast, unwavering. He wants to “do some good”, but learns quickly that things are not what they seem, and that even those in the police force may not be trustworthy. Chicago is corrupt from the bottom up, and his mission may be simply be a fool’s errand.

We soon meet the “poor beat-cop” Jimmy Malone, wonderfully played by Sean Connery. Connery’s Malone has seen it all, and had may have once been as clear-eyed and optimistic as Ness, but after years as a cop in Chicago knows the real score, and this is when Ness’ real training in the “Chicago Way” begins.

The rookie cop, George Stone, played by Andy Garcia and the bumbling accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), round out the “Untouchables” and their war against Capone and Chicago corruption is soon underway. No scene is wasted, nothing feels frivolous or belabored, and every frame furthers the steamrolling plot. De Palma deftly cuts together scene after scene, trying to one-up himself as he races toward the finale of the film. The war becomes bloodier and tragedy unfolds at every corner. Even with hyperbolae of some of the situations, De Palma is able to deliver much weight to the deaths of blank and Malone, partly because Mamet has written such likeable characters, but also because their deaths are so horrible particularly that of Malone, which De Palma juxtaposes with the Capone’s attendance of the opera, Pagliacci.

Then there is the infamous train station sequence, the centerpiece and first climax of the film, a stark, blatant homage to Sergei Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps Sequence from his groundbreaking film Battleship Potemkin (1925). Quentin Tarantino may receive plenty of flak for exceeding simple homage, but certainly Brian De Palma is guilty of the same thing with this particular sequence (as well as his take on Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966) which became Blow Out (1981) and Dressed to Kill (1980) which is seedy mix of the Giallo genre and Hitchcock films). It’s difficult to say how far is too far when it comes to artistic lifting such as this, but the scene is utterly breathtaking. De Palma is a master of pacing and the train sequence shows this quality in spades.

By the end of the film, Ness is forced to do the one thing that he has railed against. It seems the De Palma is tellling us Ness’ brutal killing of Frank Nitti (Billy Drago), is not only necessary, it is also cathartic. Nitti gets his in the end because he is evil and that is the way a just universe should work, but at what price? By this point, Ness doesn’t seem bothered by killing his enemy as he did previously; violence begets violence, the “Chicago Way” plays itself out.

True, much of the The Untouchables is surface and no substance. De Palma is clearly in love with the clothes and the architecture of the period; there are extreme worm’s-eye-views of the interiors of court buildings, of churches, he relishes shots of mobsters decked out in period-inspired Armani suits. And De Palma does not delve too far into the true motivation of any of the characters. De Niro’s Capone is cartoonish and all flash compared to his nuanced, sometimes tender turn as the young Vito Corleone. De Palma is almost fetishistic about the violence of the film, lingering on shots of blood spreading slowly outwards in all directions, the spray of bullets choreographed in slow motion. Clearly, subtly is not what De Palma is striving for in The Untouchables. It is all blood and thunder. That’s what makes it so thrilling. That’s what makes it endlessly watchable.

And if it is De Palma’s measured vision that makes the film endlessly watchable, then it is David Mamet’s screenplay that makes it endlessly quotable. “You can get further with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word”, “You wanna know how to get Capone? They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital; you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the “Chicago” way! And that’s how you get Capone”. Although the script lacks much of Mamet’s signature cadence, his character development and deep psychological interspection, you can still you can hear the odd juxtaposition of language that he his is know for (especially in the latter “That’s the Chicago way” speech). There has been much made about De Palma ‘s and producer Art Linson pulling apart of Mamet’s original script, so it is hard to say what exactly remained in tact, and how much of Mamet’s story was altered (much of the train sequence was De Palma’s idea), but it is hard to dispute the sheer excitement of the hearing dialogue delivered; it staggers and pitches, deploying period slang as readily as a gangster unloads his weapon.

Of course, the third part of the holy trinity that came together to make The Untouchables, was without a doubt composer Ennio Morricone. Morricone produces one of his most memorable scores, and, in large part, is one of the driving forces of the film. From the opening theme, Morricone is setting the relentless pace of the rest of the film, mixing elements of pop, classical and period influences, he creates a score that doesn’t exactly represent the period in which it was set, but presents something that is boldly out of time, and arguably iconoclastic. You know a Morricone score when you hear one, and you know that you are watching The Untouchables with this particular score: the two are so inexorably intertwined with one another.

The Untouchables ends on a sober note to be sure: half of the squad dead, a trail of slain mobsters left behind, Ness thinking back upon the past events and remarking, “so much violence”. Of course this is more of a comment on the film itself rather than any real summary of the era; De Palma is utterly complicit in the filmic carnage, and in some ways might relish it. With The Untouchables he is out to create larger than life characters whose only recourse begins and ends with violence. De Palma wants to add a chapter to the myth, not record an historical document; even the truth in this case is almost too banal for a Hollywood movie.



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1 out of 4 Americans believe something bad will happen to them if they sneeze.

4 out of 5 doctors recommend eating a diet low in carbs, high in bran and Styrofoam, extremely low in grass-roots organizing and middle of the range in tofu that resembles the President of the United States.

Percentage of Americans who favor the white candies in a box of Good ‘N Plenty over the pinks: 60%. Percentage who favor the pink over the whites: 30%. Percentage that have combined the pink and whites into one super candy in their basement laboratories: 10%.

According to 8 out of 10 marriage counselors, the best way to avoid loneliness is to marry someone who shares your fear of loneliness. Divorce is statically unavoidable in these situations, about 1.6 trillion to one, but at least you can say that you were married once.

Percentage of Americans who can engage in a meaningful conversation regarding the fact that the space/time continuum is currently caught in an endless loop: 7%. Percentage of Americans who can engage in a meaningful conversation regarding the fact that the space/time continuum is currently caught in an endless loop: 7%.

Rank of injuries―fork plunged into hand, hot coffee thrown in face, nagging feeling that you’ve “made a mistake” which over several years develops into a crippling feeling of regret―among those sustained after ending a long relationship with the following sentences: “I love you, I’m just not in love with you.”, “I guess I was never really in love with you after all, it was just bad indigestion.” and “I’ve been transferred to Siberia.” while sitting in a booth at a crowded Bob’s Big Boy: 1, 2, 3.

Number of scientists surveyed at the annual Science Extravaganza in Cannes, France who agree that dinosaurs did not die out 65 million years ago, but actually retired, migrated from the Earth in extra-large Winnebagos and are now living in spacious assisted living communities on Mars: 100 out of 100.

Half of all movie stars who make over five million dollars per picture report that they are not satisfied with their lives and believe that Llamas are happier, more productive individuals; except, of course, Julia Roberts, who recently announced in a press conference that she is in fact a Llama pretending to be a movie star.

At one time 85% of physicians in this country concurred that swimming on a full stomach was dangerous. This conclusion was then revised; 90% of physicians advising people to swim on a full stomach. More recently however, 79% of physicians strongly recommend that you eat a full meal, begin swimming and then induce vomiting while swimming, especially if you are in a pool belonging to a neighbor that you despise.

Nearly 57 % of all urban legends are completely untrue. The rest have some basis in fact. And, by the way, that phone call you received a couple of minutes ago advising you to “check on the children”, it was coming from inside your house! Get out, get out of there NOW!

Number of times that Dick Clark’s clone has hosted “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years Eve” since Dick Clark’s death: 12

Approximately 1/2 of all Americans over the age of thirty still believe in the boogeyman, while 3/4 of American children under the age of 12 no longer believe that the Dollar can compete against the Yen.

9 out of 10 survival experts polled suggest that if you’re on a camping trip in the Pacific Northwest and are approached by Bigfoot, that you not run, or act erratically. Rather, you should remain calm and consume a standard automotive spark plug. If none are available, redirect your stated goals in life to include more interaction with those you loathe/pity/desire. Play hopscotch. Bathe in pickled herring. The latter options will also work in the event that you are approached by the Loch Ness Monster or any reality TV star.

96% of people surveyed agree that you should never look a gift horse in the mouth because they’re liable to bite your face off.

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To kick things off for this year’s festivities, my previous review of John Carpenter’s Escape From New York is being included on Radiator Heaven’s John Carpenter Blogathon. While technically not brand-new, and not really a horror movie perse, this essay was a blast to write, and the John Capernter Blogathon is an amazing compendium of all things Carpenter, which, in my estimation, is a great way to start off the spookiest month of the year.

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previously unpublished short story

Q: How did the invention of plastic change the 20th century?

A: In exciting and meaningful ways to be sure. Straws for drinks are one way. Before plastic came along straws were made of wood which sometimes left splinters in the lips. If left untreated, the seceded wood could infect the area in which it was lodged, eventually leading to amputation of said lips (I’m assuming). Assorted organs are transported across time-zones in plastic coolers of various primary colors, but sometimes the coolers are absconded with, relocated to far-flung locales, sold to the highest bidder. A similar scenario happened to a co-worker: desperately in need of a kidney transplant and the one he was to receive was kidnapped by organ thieves at gunpoint. That would probably be organnapped, in point of fact. And: plastic drop cloths. Dear God and Father Christmas Who Art in Heaven, plastic drop cloths are everywhere in the house! They cover everything. Furniture mostly. Available in both 1 and 3 mil. thickness. They keep everything from harm, from air-borne damage. Discounts are sometimes passed along if bought in bulk (but I didn’t tell you). Avoid putting plastic drop cloths over the head, though. They (the plastic drop cloths) tend to blur the world around you in ways that are wholly unpleasant. Another: plastic utensils of every size and persuasion―forks, knives, spoons, the rarely seen spork. Picnics wouldn’t be the same without plastic utensils. How would we eat all of the animals and animal related by-products stored in plastic containers (Tupperware, and their resulting parties) and neatly packed in the wicker picnic basket that we hauled into the large grass clearing near the graveled parking lot filled with the gleaming cars hot to the touch? With our fingers? Savages! How on Earth would we kill the army ants that deploy themselves at the very base of our food; battalions of ants enlisted against their will for the good of their colony, the good of their Nation?―with our feet most likely: rubber-soled or steel-toed, perhaps both. Or the ends of our fingers, the middle digit descending like a missile above the frontline of those enlisted ants, crushing them into oblivion upon impact. Using your finger in this fashion is so much more personal than using a foot; like stabbing someone instead of shooting them with a gun―or so I’m lead to believe from all the late-night movies I’ve consumed over the years. There are other ways. Let me count them. TV Ads. I almost forgot those! Without plastic we wouldn’t have advertisements for plastic related products, undulating and luminous as they move across our eyes, inserting barely perceptible urges into our brains. The one where the child touches the side of the father’s whiskered face always makes me cry. These are the kind of things you take for granted, because they’re always with you, you never envision your life minus these sorts of things, you never think, “gee what would have happened if the person who invented blank was run over by a car, or hit in the head by a large rock―the kind one would find at the bottom of a quarry―when would blank have come along?” There are also these: Plastic Safety Men. The one in the closet is made entirely of plastic, smooth and cool to the touch, the sound it makes when you run your hand over it like a sort of resistance. It is just like the blow-up Incredible Hulk punching bag I had when I was a kid, although this one isn’t green, or angry, in reality he is completely without emotion, as if a lobotomy had been preformed. Plastic Safety Men are meant to accompany those among us who are too afraid to move through this world alone. It is in there now, sequestered to the back of closet next to the formal shoes I never ware anymore, and the tennis racket that never presumed to have made contact with a ball. I have dressed it with a nice, crisp white shirt and a golf visor (no pants; Plastic Safety Men are born into this world without legs)―otherwise they’re simply inanimate vessels for your oxygen. The one made of flesh left and the plastic one replaced her. All that remains in the house is plastic. And the ant problem—did I mention that? I kill everything with my finger now.

Q: Have dramatic recreations produced for a TV audience altered the way in which we view historical events?

A: The other day I was excavating various unmarked cardboard boxes from the attic―an unwitting archeologist of my own buried past―when I came across a video tape of my 4th grade history class play about Custer’s last stand. I played Custer. This was me: yellow-bearded and perched on stilts hidden under my Calvary uniform pant legs; my teacher―long, spindly limbs, back pitched forward, a face rendered dull from years of mediocre experiences―insisting that the false height lent more credibility to my performance. Near the end of the play I was the only Calvary solider that remained alive, as per the script, the other students/soldiers playing dead, heaped in piles of strange death poses and my other classmates―those playing Indians―closing in on me; tiny fists turned dead-fish-white, clutching plastic butcher knives. It felt all too real. I panicked and began to urinate in my Calvary-issue pants. However, I was unable to leave the stage; the stilts made every step awkward, belabored. Then I fell. My classmates, red-faced, baring the whitest of teeth, closed in on me. Their heads seemed too big for their smallish bodies, like floats in a parade. I began screaming, “Custard has fallen! Custard has fallen!” my teacher watching―how do they say it―from the wings?, holding the script, franticly flipping the pages with fingers coated in colored chalk, no doubt to confirm her suspicion that I was improvising my lines. The warm liquid in my pants was already turning cold. I watch the video tape in my living room, the sound muted, sitting on the couch, holding the remote control with both hands, clutching my breath in my mouth, as if it were my last, as if it might escape and not return, the house silent except for the heavy panting of the dog in the kitchen, the hollow scratching sound of his nails echoing against the tile as he stretches. I try to think of the worst thing possible. This is the only way to eliminate this videotaped atrocity that has been unearthed. I imagine myself jumping out of a thirty story window, cutting through the air head first, the concrete below coming up fast, upon impact my head going straight through my body, and out my ass. I try to replace this image with the one that I see on the screen. Unfortunately it still remains―my frantic, static-forged likeness crawling off stage, blood-thirsty classmates trying to pull me back on, under those large stage lights that rendered everyone a bleached-out sweaty mess. The day after the play my mother stopped at a corner convince store for milk and tofu and was shot dead when she walked in during the middle of a robbery. I couldn’t help but wonder if the last thing she pictured before she died was me pissing my pants.

Q: Has technology enhanced or detracted from the way we interact with other people on a daily basis?

A: My leg for example. It is currently wrapped in duct tape―two rolls worth. No, wait. Actually, to be more specific, it’s what you would call electrician’s tape. There’s a difference, I’ve been told. One is for ducts, the other for wires. To begin again: my leg is wrapped in electrician’s tape―two rolls worth. I shaved my leg first (I’m not an idiot!) so that when I eventually extract the tape I will not (hopefully) be in an extreme amount of hair-related pain. Problem: I can feel the hair growing back under the duct tape even now.  At night, while I lie awake on my side of the bed, I hear the individual hairs emerging from beneath my skin, like bamboo in the forest. It’s lunacy, I know, I know. I am restricted to certain forms of movement, all of which seem overly dramatic, as if I were faking some sort of injury in order to gather sympathy from those around me. But it has to be done. No way around it. I have certain obligations to fulfill; specific experiments to conclude. I am a test subject, you see. For a company that manufactures electrician’s tape. However, for reasons stated in the contract, which I signed with my own hand, I cannot not proceed any further with this explanation. Rest assured this hasn’t stopped me from meeting people. On the contrary, I feel I am emboldened by the handicapping this presents. Video dating, internet dating, phone dating, inter-office/adjacent cubicle dating, park dating, bar dating, supermarket dating, movie theater dating, alley dating, hot air balloon dating, vehicle/bumper car dating, DMV dating, bookstore dating, blind/deaf/mute dating, dating abroad, dating while in mid-air, arms outstretched―I have attempted all of these rituals with certain vigor and a level of acumen I would classify as fair to competent. I am nothing if not thorough. When I am not occupying my time with all of these freestyle forms of dating I sometimes sit at my kitchen table and thumb backwards through a pile of outdated calendars that my wife collected habitually. Obsessively is a better word. Seasonal photographs of various country settings begin in winter, then transition to fall, then summer, then spring. She never threw calendars away; she thought it was bad luck. I pour over a stack of my old journals (I still fail to use the term diary, as if the very word were a knife poised to emasculate) that I have kept for reasons that having nothing to do with bad luck. I search for any indications of failure on my part, but there are only mechanical ones: the time I drove headlong into a neighbor’s picture window for example. I pay special attention to the entries that mark the first of a new year to determine if the resolutions I’ve made previously actually transpired. I have found that a life not lived in reverse is not worth living at all.

Q: Do you feel the government has done enough to address problems of pollution in this country, i.e. regulations, fines, etcetera, or do you believe more could be done to safeguard the environment in which we live?

A: The lake near my house is―to use a term of the slang variety―in a bad way. The chemical factory upstream has dumped God Knows What into the water over the years; chemicals of all colors and odor spreading its own patented brand of ruin across everything. Last year the factory was shut down and executives from the company were escorted out of the darkness of its placid headquarters and into the broad sunshine by plain-clothed government agents. They were ushered into unmarked cars, their sport jackets and raincoats placed over their heads as if in private contemplation. The following week I deposited myself over the landscape around the lake, looking for signs of chemical devastation in the wildlife that claimed residence there. I began to find squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and birds of all sorts, damaged in some way by the chemicals that had been poured into in the lake. I’m no vet, but I could see the resulting wreckage in their eyes. It was abundantly clear. Now: the animals are in my backyard, in the guest bedroom, in the garage. My dog has since runaway from home. Perhaps he was jealous of all the attention I was giving to the other animals. Selfish bastard. I strap birds to model airplanes and airplanes fostered from balsa wood, proxy wings by which they can fly. The birds glide through the air upon simulated wind and air currents provided by an array of various electric fans I have placed about the interior of the house. The animals migrate from one room to another. They are all in ceaseless pain, or so I am lead to believe by the way they look at me. I am on 24-hour suicide watch now.

Q: What other benefits that arose as a result of the industrial revolution still apply today?

A: Look in my garage. Wall to wall tools poised to cut-through, tear-down, break-up, nail-in, saw-off, adhere-to and split-to-and-fro objects that I deem necessary to alter. They hang there like hungry children waiting to receive a scrap of parental affection. We had plans, my wife and I. They (the plans) involved the building of extensions to the house, remodels of existing rooms, additions to existing rooms, the buttressing of interiors against the insidious decline of age. But the only remodels that we executed were those which involved our own failed structures; my wife underwent plastic surgery on her drooping eyelids, I on my crooked nose. The both of us were architecting remodels upon ourselves, tearing down that which was detracting or that had aged inappropriately. Curb appeal is everything these days. The house remained confined to plans which were still blue pencil marks upon graph paper, the unemployed tools meant to foster these designs loitering in the garage, a testament to those failed initiatives. Recently I have learned just this: Plastic Safety Man is not always reliable. Air escapes him, like exiting desires. Plus he is a man. I am not that way inclined. I have begun using the unused tools, constructing a new her from the ground up. This one will have legs, unlike Plastic Safety Man. There is much cutting of wood, forging of intentions. Yes, what I lack in woodworking skills I make up for in intentions. Intentions are as plentiful as the failures that followed them. It takes me a few weeks. Working into the night, toiling under mists of sawdust, festoons of curled wood that look like the fancy chocolate shavings they put atop ice cream in your better eating establishments. I nearly slice an errant finger with a table saw. I just miss impaling myself with a piece of rebar. There are several other near-accidents, but I am resolute. She is completed in the early hours one Tuesday night, the dangling fluorescent lights bathing her in a baptismal glow. She will assist me in my grief, unlike the Plastic Safety Man, that wretched bastard. The next night I am ensconced in a dream of myself and Veronica, the name I have bestowed upon the wooden woman. We are in the house, the house as my wife and I had dreamed it; the structure rising and vaulting, expanding and jutting-out, pregnant with the expectation of children. Even in my dream Veronica is still wooden, my quiescent imagination not sufficient enough to Pinocchio her up. I must then rely on myself for certain activities; she merely provides the color commentary. Then there’s my mom. Poof. Out of nowhere. She is wandering about the house, tidying up. She ferries a flowered vase to better spot. Adjusts pictures. Refills the ice tray in the refrigerator. The side of her head is gone. The grey matter is exposed, matter-of-factly. She looks small and shriveled, a balloon deleted of air. She stumbles upon Veronica and me; one hand on Veronica’s lovingly varnished breast, the other on my stiffened self. She tells me I’ll go blind and then she is gone. I awake in the garage, Veronica splayed into a position I am not aware that most figures made of wood can acquiesce to. I close up the garage and go to bed. I leave Veronica behind. She is not ready to move inside the house just yet.

Q: Are there are modes of transportation that might one day render the car obsolete?

A: Here’s one: Coney Island. I went to New York City once on a high school trip―you know the kind: excursions where parents who don’t trust their kids as far as they can toss them let said children go on a school expedition with little to no supervision. So: the girl that I had been dating at the time, Clair, she and I broke away from the group and ended up on Coney Island (or was it Carla? Cassandra. That was it. Like the sound a woman feigning seduction might make when she breathes the word snake). Cassandra was my first love, the first one I had crushed on. Her face, even now, was rendered in the most abstract of terms: a lollypop of sorts―her colors vivid as a cartoon, her scent sugary; the smell of adolescence. We spent the afternoon riding some of the amusements. We boarded the Ferris-wheel just as the sun packed its bags and went south. The air swiftly turned cold; neither she nor I were dressed for weather that was anything but considerate. Then, a few minutes into the ride, the Ferris-wheel suddenly ground to a halt and we were stuck at the top of the wheel, watching the ocean gobble up the sand then regurgitate it rhythmically. Cassandra was calm. A face of unblinking nerve. She placed a strand of stringy blonde hair behind her left ear, her fingers curled to form the top of a question mark. I, on the other hand, was flirting with panic. Had the guy operating the Ferris-wheel told us what to do in a situation such as this? Had he done so when I was concentrating on Cassandra’s blank expression? Maybe he hadn’t said a damned thing. Typical. Let kids board a dangerous machine and give them no clear instructions as what to do when it fails. The sky turned cotton candy pink. I vomited over the side of the Ferris-wheel, clutching the metal rail on the outer rim of the car, my knuckles drained of any color that might look natural. The pink of my vomit mixed with the pink of the sky as it went down. Leaning over the side I felt a hand on my shoulder, the carrier of the softest touch I had ever felt. I said Cassandra’s name aloud, but all I heard in response was the gritty, bottomed-out voice of the guy who was operating the Ferris-wheel telling me it was alright to let go.

Q: Has better hygiene in the last 100 years improved our overall health or simply made us more susceptible to newer diseases?

A: There are tiny animal corpses everywhere. I have become an expert of animal suicides. Squirrels climb to the top of the roof and jump off, pirouetting into space like tiny ballerinas. There I am in the kitchen, at the sink looking out the window and a little furry body goes screaming by in a colorful blur. I find raccoons that have drowned themselves in the pool. I scoop up them with a drooping pool net and cast them over the fence, into the neighbor’s yard. A robin tied to a balsa-wooded plane crashes headlong into a closed patio door. I hope the recently Windexed glass door was merely hard to see. I hope that was all there was too it. I disinfect surfaces and spray furniture. I build tiny coffins. The backyard is mined with little mounds of dirt where I have buried the recent dead. There is also the following to distract me: I move about the house attempting to discover bits and pieces of my wife, things she left behind. Her hair clogging the drain in the bathroom sink, nail clippings abandoned amid the cushions on the couch, pieces of dead skin that may have fallen into the shag of the wall-to-wall carpeting. I seek out her smell. It’s almost undetectable now; utterly eradicated. All that’s left are my own stale, awful smells that hang presciently in the air. At night I sleep as if my wife were still in the bed with me: curled into myself like a tick, at the very precipice of the mattress, her ghost-self splayed out next to me, arms open wide, as if waiting to embrace something from above. I am not so much losing sleep, as I am estranged from it. Still: I have a blouse. She doesn’t know I kept it. A white cotton blouse speckled with ivory buttons down the front. The same blouse she wore the day we bought this house. The same blouse she wore the day we brought our dog home from the pound. The same blouse she wore when I found her in the hallway one day after work, fidgeting with one of the ivory buttons, the fourth one down, her mouth working awkwardly, fumbling towards a sentence that was soundless. I can’t read lips, didn’t she realize that? Right now: I crawl inside the coat closet in the hall, next to the Plastic Safety Man and Veronica, and the apparitions of my mother and Cassandra. We are all in here, together. It is getting crowded. I raise the blouse to my nose. There’s a hint of a scent. It’s still there. I keep the blouse in a plastic bag with one of those sealing devices where the red has to meet the green. Did I mention everything in the house is covered in plastic?

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Over on the formidable movie blog, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, writer Dennis Cozzalio has posted a long, and articulate article about the Christopher Nolan blockbuster, Inception, just released on July 16,  and the mass of pre-critical buzz associated with the film and with Nolan’s previous movie, The Dark Knight. Mr.Cozzalio argues that in the case of The Dark Knight, all of the build up from fans, bloggers and pre-release reviews from critics created a backlash against those who wrote in dissent of the film.

This article got me thinking about the role of film critics in shaping the success of a movie and what responsibilities they have, if any, to the general public. More often than not, initial buzz initiated by the studio marketing department, fans etc, creates unreasonable expectations, expectations that may or may not be in line with film itself. Granted this all comes down to opinion, to taste, but I think the argument is also valid that all of this goodwill may be undeserved and simply camouflages the obvious flaws of a film. And in a world where You Tube, blogging and viral videos have made this sort of unstoppable, 24-hour hype machine a given, where does the hyperbole end and the movie begin?

Now, it would seem that the same controversy is brewing once again with Inception, and Mr.Cozzalio uses a recent article by Los Angeles Times reporter Patrick Goldstein lambasting New York Magazine’s David Edelstein—who wrote a  negative review of the film— to frame his argument. Here is a quote from Goldstein in his article regarding Edelstien’s review:

I give Edelstein points for lively writing, but in an era where critics have enough credibility issues as it is, the last thing we need is a critic thrashing a film because, in part, he’s chagrined to see it get so much open adulation. If you want to write that after the movie has opened, fair enough. But it’s the wrong stance to take before people have even had a chance to make up their own minds.

This is a ridiculous statement for many reasons, least of which is that Goldstien argues that the only reason Edelstien gave Inception a negative review is because it has received some much attention and good press, and foremost he claims that giving it a negative review is “the wrong stance” to take because the movie is not even out yet, and this could very well cloud the public’s judgment of the film. But isn’t the same true for a positive review before the movie has come out, specifically Peter Traver’s glowing review that is highlighted in the TV ad campaign for Inception, a campaign which has been running constantly for the last several weeks (more on that later)? You certainly can’t have it both ways and this, it seems, it what is most troubling to Mr.Cozzalio, as well as myself. Everyone wants to be right, no one wants to be wrong, and the very value of film criticism is undermined because everything seems to boil down to what will help or hinder a movie’s chances raking in gobs of money. David Edelstein is clearly not interested in whether or not Inception with do well money-wise, that is not his job. His job is to give his own assessment of the film’s ultimate value, which, according to Edelstein, is questionable. Yes, he can be rather snarky, which sometimes undermines his position, but it is clearly his writing style, and his past insights into other films have been thoughtful and well-reasoned albeit with a heavy dose of sarcasm. Edelstein closes the review by saying this:

For the record, I wanted to surrender to this dream; I didn’t want to be out in the cold, alone. 

Cleary he went in wanting to like the film but, in the end,  gave his unbiased opinion, about the actual picture. And ultimately this is what Patrick Goldstein finds fault with. But what is most disturbing is Goldstien’s unabashed defense of the film, especially since he’s a reporter. Even an industry reporter, as he is called, should be neutral, but Goldstien is operating as if he has something at stake if this is not the most beloved movie of all time. I would say that it is Goldstien’s entire stance that is suspect, and negates any true debate over the merits of a particular film. And really, isn’t this the kind of ridiculous debate that the studio would want anyhow? What’s going to grab the public’s attention even more than uniformly glowing reviews? Maybe a reporter creating needless controversy around a dissenting review? Again, it’s an assertion as pointless and stupid as the entire “controversy” itself. Of course all this posturing might be a moot point anyhow; as the film has just opened, public opinion is still out, at least for another few weeks.

So, again, the question becomes where do movie critics fit into all of this? It’s a sticky proposition at best, one that can be perilous to navigate these days. Ideally film criticism should argue, with distinct clarity, for or against a certain film, all the while illuminating the movie’s virtues or transgressions. Criticism should provide a new view into the picture at hand. Group think, should be abandoned. There is no room for the writer that simply follows the views of other writers in the field. The film critics I have always admired, Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, David Bordwell—while I have not always agreed with them—have always given me something to think about. They have provided me with a method of looking a film anew, and have never shied away from controversial remarks about how terrible a film may actually be. Yes these are lofty goals, I did say ideally, but in an age where lines are becoming blurred between what is actual film criticism and what is simply bullshit—a quote emerging from a traveling press junket and  used heavily in an TV ad for a film, for example—it becomes easier to wade in with everyone else rather than be he lone voice against a film, especially when there seems to be so much positive criticism surrounding it (particularly when it comes from someone as well-respected as Peter Travers). When is a positive review simply a positive review? I’m sure many of the critics that have seen Inception really enjoyed the film, and found it be a nice change from the usual mindless summer blockbuster, hence all of the stellar reviews. Memento was a taut, well-made thriller and, I can’t believe I’m still saying this, but I really enjoyed The Dark Knight*, so when I began seeing trailers for Inception I have to admit I was not put off by how grandiose it all seemed, in fact, given Nolan’s track record, I am actually very interested in seeing it. But as a Kubrick fan, I bristle at quick comparisons, even when attached to a competent director such as Nolan. Take for instance this review from Anne Thompson, with the title, Inception Early Review: Nolan Delivers Kubrickian Masterpiece with Heart:

As intricate as the script is—Nolan worked on it for a decade—the movie is not just a feat of cinematic wizardry, even though it comes close to the level of technological derring-do carried off by the likes of Stanley Kubrick. (Indeed Nolan works in repeated homages to the late great auteur beyond the obvious use of moving sets on gimbles to allow athletic Gordon-Levitt to bounce weightless and walk on walls and ceilings.) The movie also has heart. So that even if you do get confused (as I did in the James Bond snow section, filmed in the Canadian Rockies), the emotional through-line pulls you along. It’s as simple as The Wizard of Oz: The Extractor wants to go home.

Now, not having seen the movie, I can’t really say otherwise, and it may not really be hyperbole in Thompson’s view to compare Nolan to Kubrick. But if you ask me, comparing a film, not even out of the gate, to be on par with the cannon of Stanley Kubrick is not only incredibly premature, but unduly persuades a moving going public, and hardcore film buffs, more so than a negative review ever could. Much of the reason that directors like Stanley Kubrick are highly regarded is that enough time has gone by, enough writing has been done, and enough clarity has evolved to permit that sort reverence. Some of Kubrick’s films, which are now seen as masterpieces, to use a buzz-word, were first released to luke-warm reviews, and or out-right controversy and hatred, as in the case of A Clockwork Orange. In fact, Pauline Kael bestowed a scathing review upon the film, denouncing its extreme violence, concerned that it would have a de-sensitizing effect upon audiences . It is an articulate, well-reasoned review, which, written by someone as highly regarded as Kael could have been disastrous for the film( in addition to being branded with an X-rating when it was first released in the United States). Of course, it has become a cult favorite, and considered one of Kubrick’s best. Make no mistake that A Clockwork Orange is a difficult film to watch, and it is not a film that can be well-received by everyone because the material itself is so aggressive. Pauline Kael did her job as a film critic and gave her honest impression of the film without regard to its box office or its future place in film history. And I this is the ideal situation I spoke of earlier. One without regard for ridiculous Rotten Tomatoes ratings and they’re impact on box-office, or what the denizens of some fan sites might say.

It is worth noting that there has always been a disconnect between what critics enjoy and what the public at large likes. Film critics often get a bad rap for hating everything mainstream and only liking “arty films” (outside of film critics, historians and film students, I have been hard-pressed to find someone who would count Citizen Kane among their favorite films). While there may be some truth to this, as a whole, I think film critics are really film lovers first, writers and critics second and third, and probably, for the most part, want to go in liking a film. After all, if it is your job to write about films wouldn’t you rather write about what works in a movie rather than what doesn’t? (OK, maybe some critics really enjoy writing scathing reviews) So when public and critical opinion actually converge with unanimous admiration of a film, should it be that any reaction against be met with skepticism or at worst some sort hateful backlash?

In the end debate is good, it is always good, and in this case, with film criticism, it is necessary, and even helpful in the ultimate enjoyment of a film. Everything released can’t be a masterpiece, it can’t be directed by the next Kubrick, because, in reality, those sorts of films, and directors are ultimately few and far between. Just think about how many movies are released every year, in the United States alone (and I mean everything from straight to DVD to festival circuit fare), and of the really good ones, can they truly be called masterpieces? We all know hyperbole is what get’s asses in seats, for lack of a better, and studios use it all the time, so why not bloggers and critics? It becomes a problem when there’s no room for a second opinion, when that opinion is dismissed as simply disliking anything that may have a whiff of mass appeal. This, I would say, is the downside to the internet (one of many). With so many voices trumpeting so many opinions, often with such rancor, truly good film criticism becomes few and far between, trying to etch out a place amongst the din of mediocrity.


*OK, OK, I know how bad that sounds, but given my utter disdain for blockbusters in general, The Dark Knight was a bit of a revelation.  I liked The Dark Knight; I liked it a lot, more than I wanted to. In fact I went in not wanting to like it, as my exceptions were incredibly low given the track record of the movie franchise (I went to a free screening, and even with that as an incentive, I almost didn’t go). There are problems to be sure with the film; a throwaway, hammy monologue by Gary Oldman in the final scene of the film served to end the picture on a bad note; Heath Ledger’s performance, mostly riveting, sometimes teetered on the edge of the ridiculous, in way that could have undone the entire character; and yes, had there been another absurd scenario that followed the people-on-a-boat-with-a-bomb plot device, the movie would have collapsed under the sheer weight of itself. However, the film in general, was thrilling to watch, in way that only pure entertainment can be, thrilling because blockbusters usually remind me of the ridiculous plotlines they’re trying to camouflage, and The Dark Knight didn’t. With a different director at the helm, one with not as much obvious confidence in the source material as Nolan, The Dark Knight’s endless plotlines and characters, and it’s three-four movies shoved into one, would have surely failed. But Nolan makes it work for the most part because he is able to maintain the momentum; the tension is omnipresent and by the end of the film it feels as if you’ve run a marathon, but in a good way I suppose. The Dark Knight is nowhere near a perfect film as some would believe, but it finally did the character justice. The film, in many ways, emulated Frank Miller’s dark vision of the character, which is perhaps one of the most compelling in the comic book’s history.  Nolan’s first stab at Batman, Batman Begins, while not the worst movie version of the comic book (that goes to the Joel Schumacher atrocities) was a ho-hum start, it was an origin story, it went through the paces, but did nothing to really elevate the character. With The Dark Knight, Nolan turned a corner to be sure. He was more assured with his vision for the franchise, and finally, finally a movie version of Batman appeared that wasn’t campy, that wasn’t throwaway, that wasn’t completely forgettable. I would hate to think that I’m a part of anything labeled, “group think”, but there you are, a blockbuster that’s likeable, that’s entertaining, that at the very least gives you your money’s worth. 

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