Saturday, February 17, 2018

Keanu (2016)

Keanu (2016): written by Jordan Peele, Alex Rubens, and Jamie Schaecher; directed by Peter Atencio; starring Jordan Peele (Rell/ Oil), Keegan-Michael Key (Clarence/ Smoke), Tiffany Haddish (Hi-C), Method Man (Cheddar), Nia Long (Hannah), and Keanu Reeves (Voice of Keanu): 

Fun action comedy nods a lot to such movies from the 1970's and 1980's (especially anything starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder). Key and Peele play cousins Clarence and Rell, suburban blerds who are forced into action to save Rell's kitten Keanu, kidnapped by gangsters. Knowledge of George Michael and the conventions of action-comedy capers are probably necessary to derive something like full enjoyment out of Keanu, which sometimes veers too much into 'serious' territory. Recommended.

The Big Sleep (1939)

The Big Sleep (1939: Philip Marlowe#1) by Raymond Chandler: Worried that in seeing the great Howard Hawks adaptation of The Big Sleep you've ruined yourself for the novel? Worry not! The novel diverges enough by page 50 or so that it's pretty much a different story than the movie.

Of course, it's also a lot more explicitly bigoted and homophobic than the movie, so there's that too. Get through that stuff and you've got a superior hard-boiled detective novel, one which had a psychological and stylistic depth that would influence hard-boiled fiction ever after.

This is the first novel-length adventure of Chandler's Philip Marlowe, the Los Angeles PI with a heart of gold. Well, gold alloyed with cynicism and pithy, pungent comments on The Way Things Are. Chandler's Marlowe arrives here pretty much entirely formed. He'll stay on a case if he thinks justice needs to be done, regardless of what a client wants. He likes chess, whiskey, and pondering the dusty nature of his office.

The written word in America 1939 had a bit more freedom than Hollywood movies in 1946, so certain portions of the plot are simply a bit more explicit when it comes to the pornography ring that drives part of the action. This also leads to the bigotry and homophobia becoming more explicit -- Bogart couldn't utter the opinion that "a pansy has no iron in his bones" in a movie, but Marlowe sure can, and does, in the novel. Hoo ha!

Nonetheless, the novel still reads with a surprising amount of stylistic freshness. Chandler was not better than all those who would follow him into the hardboiled world he remade, but he certainly was better than most -- and better than Dashiell Hammett, who was the epitome of the hardboiled writer before Chandler. Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Herzog & Kinski X 2

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972): written and directed by Werner Herzog; starring Klaus Kinski (Aguirre) and Del Negro (Brother Gaspar/Narrator): As the IMDB tells us, "A few decades after the destruction of the Inca empire, a Spanish expedition leaves the mountains of Peru and goes down the Amazon river in search of gold and wealth." The time is about 1560. And the Spaniards have brought their heart of darkness with them.

Werner Herzog is in peak form here with this story of human evil and the sublime and haunting jungle which swallows anything it wants to swallow. Klaus Kinski's greedy, murderous, deluded soldier dreams of claiming all of the land around him for himself. In a way, he does. Well, him and a bunch of cheeky monkeys.

Human perversity ends up dwarfed by the jungle, never more threatening than when everything goes silent and a barrage of arrows kills off members of Aguirre's party. Again and again. 

The Catholic monk who serves as the film's narrator dreams of conquest as well -- spiritual conquest. Well, and maybe a gold cross for himself. Aguirre searches for El Dorado, the legendary Lost City of Gold of the Americas. He's going down the Amazon to find it. Silly rabbit -- as we learned from Nick Cage's National Treasure movies, El Dorado is located beneath Mt. Rushmore!

Klaus Kinski is superb -- craven and menacing and delusional. The rest of the performances are solid. Shots of the party on their makeshift raft built to hold 20 people and a horse repeatedly surprise as the raft drifts in and out of encounters with the dangers of the river and the shore. An influence on pretty much every horrifying journey in movies ever after -- most notably Apocalypse Now -- Aguirre, The Wrath of God moves towards a climax that sums itself up with its final scene. Highly recommended.

Burden of Dreams (1989): directed by Les Blank: Documentarian Les Blank managed to make a great documentary about the filming of a great movie -- Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo. One can enjoy this without having watched Herzog and Klaus Kinski's second journey into the Amazon jungles, but you probably should if you haven't already. 

Herzog's often loopy monologues are the highlight of the movie, which also sometimes offers surprising moments of humour. I'm not sure there's any better example of why one should never go to the movies for history than this documentary. The 'real' story of Fitzcarraldo involved the titular character moving a 30-ton steamship in 19 pieces overland from one bend of a river to another. Herzog inflated that to 300 tons, moved the whole steamship at once, and constantly imperiled everyone on the film pretty much all the time with increasingly arcane and difficult business. 

But for all his faults,  Herzog let this documentary show him in all his Faustian strangeness. Fascinating, involving stuff. Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Bright (2017)

Bright (2017): written by Max Landis; directed by David Ayer; starring Will Smith (Ward), Joel Edgerton (Jakoby), Noomi Rapace (Leilah), and Lucy Fry (Tikka): The most expensive Netflix movie ever at about $95 million, Bright actually entertains. A mash-up of buddy-cop movie and urban fantasy, Bright teams grumpy LAPD patrolman Will Smith with perennially upbeat partner Joel Edgerton, in heavy make-up as the first Orc to ever serve on the LAPD.

Yep, Orc, as in Lord of the Rings. Like the Warcraft series, Bright gets to use the term 'Orc' because it's not peculiar to Tolkien -- he borrowed the term from an Old English word for 'whale.' But the backstory of Bright steers very close to Tolkien. How would the Orcs and Elves of Tolkien's time operate in society today if the battle against The Dark Lord really happened 2000 years ago?

Well, the Elves are the 1%, the Orcs are a despised underclass because of their long-ago pact with the Dark Lord ("We chose the wrong side," Smith's partner tells him, "and we've been paying for it ever since.") Of course, the Dark Lord was an Elf, not an Orc, but the Elves live the high life, with humanity beneath them on the social ladder and orcs below that. Tinkerbell-like fairies mainly make things interesting at bird feeders. So it goes.

Will Smith and Edgerton propel the movie through its rough spots with their charisma and occasionally hilarious back-and-forth. I probably liked Bright a lot more than I should have. Oh well. Recommended.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Little Sister (1949) by Raymond Chandler

The Little Sister (1949) by Raymond Chandler: The Little Sister is the fifth (of nine) novels featuring Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe. Marlowe gets involved in the madness that is Hollywood this time around, along with gangsters and tabloids and a particularly nasty killer who enjoys sticking an ice-pick into the base of his victims' skulls. As is often the case, Marlowe doesn't seem to end up being paid for his cynical, dogged, heroic efforts on the parts of all the people who need his help. 

A seemingly naive young woman from rural Middle America hires Marlowe to find her brother, who moved to LA to see the lights and hasn't been heard of in months. As with every Marlowe case, this initially simple proposition blossoms into a labyrinth of corruption, blackmail, and murder in which almost no one is what she or he appears to be.

Chandler's style was so influential that it permeated hardboiled detective fiction, as he added a level of pungent description and social criticism to the prior pinnacle of hard-boiled fiction (and still influential and excellent, then-and-now), Dashiell Hammett and his detective Sam Spade. 

Both characters were played by Humphrey Bogart, appropriately and memorably, in movies: Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon and Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep. An odd but enjoyable movie version of The Little Sister was made in the 1960's with James 'Jim Rockford' Garner as Marlowe. 

The Little Sister moves fast and tight, plot-packed without neglecting Chandler's strengths, deployed through first-person narrator Marlowe, at character study and subtly metaphoric descriptions of the California setting. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Postmodern Paradigm? Pure Power Pop?

Anti-Matter Vatican What???
Dan Brown's Angels and Demons (2009): adapted from the novel by Dan Brown by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman; directed by Ron Howard; starring Tom Hanks (Robert Langdon), Ewan McGregor (Chief Pope's Dogsbody McKenna), Ayelet Zurer (Woman Who Knows All Things That Langdon Does Not Know Especially Italian, The Map of Vatican City, Anti-Matter, and Whatever The Hell Bio-ub-Nuclear-Physics Is), Stellan Skarsgard (Swiss Stellan Skarsgard), Nikolaj Kaas (The Non-Albino Albino), and Armin Mueller-Stahl (Suspicious Red Herring Cardinal):

Pure postmodern power pop!

In The DaVinci Code, Harvard Symbologist (not an actual thing)  Robert Langdon battled a conspiracy that hides the true nature of the relationship of Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ. The conspiracy was dangerous because, um, it might hurt the great-to-the-Nth-power-child of Mary and Jesus. 

Wait, were the stakes that low in The DaVinci Code?

But now, in a tactic ripped from the escalatingly epic pulp space operas of EE "Doc" Smith, Langdon returns to battle a conspiracy that intends to kill all the popes and blow up Vatican City with an Anti-Matter Bomb stolen by The Last Illuminati from the Anti-Matter-Bomb-Making facilities at the Large Hadron Collider in Poussy, France.

Anti-Matter Bomb? WTF?

Angels & Demons is enjoyable nonsense. Tom Hanks looks a lot more relaxed than he did in The DaVinci Code. He runs around Vatican City trying to save the four most likely candidates for Pope because he knows more than anyone about Italian things even though he still cannot speak or read Italian despite Italian things being the focus of 90% of his academic studies and 97% of his exciting adventures.

Tom Hanks is joined in his awesome world-saving adventures by an Italian biosphere genetic astrophysicist who knows everything about Vatican City, the history of the Popes, and Anti-Matter. 

Jesus, these people have weird fucking skill-sets!

The only thing that would make Angels&Demons the greatest movie ever made about anti-Catholic conspiracies deploying Anti-Matter Bombs against the Vatican only to be thwarted by an Italian woman with a crazy skill-set, Forrest Gump, and a young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) would be if the self-flagellating, Opus Dei-serving, super-Albino super-assassin (Paul "The Vision" Bettany) showed up to turn over a new leaf like Jaws at the end of James Bond in Moonraker and help Langdon, Robert Langdon save the Vatican. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Deep Thoughts With The Discovery Channel

"I'm a symbol for Harvey Weinstein!!!"

Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (DS9) became by its third season and remained to its odd, rousing Star Wars Meets Lord of the Rings finale the second-best Trek series of them all, trailing only The Original Series

The above is fact, by the way, and not IMHO.

DS9 also had the funniest yet most respectful homage to the original series with the episode "Trials and Tribble-ations." 

"Do Klingons still sing songs of The Great Tribble Hunt?"

This week's episode of Star Trek: Discovery ("Set ten years before the Original Series!" because "Set ten years after the Earth-Minbari War!" would have got them sued by Babylon 5) ... oh, God, we're back in the Mirror-Universe, made so memorable when it appeared, created by Jerome Bixby, on the original series... Set 11 or so years after this episode of Star Trek: Discovery!

The Pakleds killed everyone in my universe!
Mirror Spock with a goatee! Uhura's midriff! Evil Chekhov! Evil Scarface Sulu! The fight in which Kirk splits his pants! The fight in which one can see clearly for the longest time in Trek history that stunt doubles are fighting because Spock's stunt double has an afro! One of Kirk's most rousing speeches!

NextGen avoided the Mirror Universe, probably wisely, though I assume Mirror-Picard had hair on his head... in the shape of a goatee!
There's more hair in the Mirror!!!

100 Trek years and about 30 real years later, DS9 treated the Mirror Universe seriously, revealing in Kyra and Bashir's first plunge through the looking glass that Kirk's rousing speech had great results for aliens and unintended disastrous results for humans. 

Voted NICEST IN MIRROR U 5 years in a row!
Kirk's speech got Goatee-Spock to successfully make the Evil Earth Empire less war-like. But everyone in the Mirror-Universe was the dick version of themselves except when they were dicks in the original universe, in which case they were either nice or dicks depending on random plot necessities.

The Terran Empire of TOS's Mirror-Universe episode "Mirror, Mirror" was gone. Now all humans were slaves of The Alliance, the Evil Team-up of the Mirror Universe's all-evil Klingons, Cardassians, Bajorans, Vulcans, and so on, and so forth. Everything was just as bad or worse. BECAUSE THE MIRROR UNIVERSE SUCKS!

DS9 would treat the Mirror-Universe seriously for several episodes until someone in the writers' room realized that the Mirror Universe became sillier and more improbable every time one had to think about it to write another episode. So in the last DS9 Mirror episode, DS9's Ferengi characters send the Mirror Universe off with triumph for the Terran rebels and a lot of metafictional snark about how the Mirror Universe no longer made any rational sense.

Unfortunately, Star Trek: Enterprise , ie., the Worst Trek Of Them All (fact and not IMHO), went to the Mirror Universe in its semi-OK fourth season, 200 years BEFORE DS9 and 100 years BEFORE TOS (so I guess... 90 years BEFORE Discovery). In a standalone two-parter, blah blah blah... Oh, right. The Constitution-class Defiant lost into "Interspace" in third-season TOS episode "The Tholian Web." What was I saying? French toast, please!

Jesus, Shatner, you're supposed to wear pants!
We learn that this TOS Defiant whose only real plot purpose was to allow for Kirk's rousing, recorded speech that he left for McCoy and Spock in the event of his death to be viewed by Spock and McCoy on their 17-inch TV before they realize because of a screaming Uhura in a bathrobe that Kirk is still alive and apparently a bit of a Peeping Tom when he's stuck between universes! Oh, Kirk! MeToo! Ha ha!

So the Defiant no one has ever given much of a shit about before now REALLY fell into the Mirror Universe a century earlier than when it left its original universe. A hundred years earlier because this plot-conveniently allows it to appear on Enterprise because, remember, Enterprise took place a century earlier than TOS.

Defiant's century-better technology allowed the Terran Empire to crush the multi-species rebellion then waging and become the Terran Empire we saw in "Mirror, Mirror."

SIGH. They should have called the two-parter episodes 'Ouro' and 'Bouros' but I'm expecting way too much here.

In this week's Discovery, we are in the goddam Mirror Universe again because Trek writers can no longer create new ideas

The New England Patriots NEVER WIN HERE!

Our Discovery lead character, Michael Burnham, is a human woman named for the great American model-actress Michael Michelle who was so great in the last three seasons of HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET... honestly, I don't know. 

Burnham seems to be named 'Michael' so people can comment on how weird it is that a human woman is named 'Michael' even though it's the 23rd century and every second person, human or alien, is named Glorp or Mendacious Orchid or whatever.

Mr. Worf's adoptive parents.
Michael Burnham is Spock's human, adopted sister. She was raised by Spock's parents (Vulcan Sarek and human Amanda) from the age of 6 after, I swear to God, Sarek seems to find her at the same Khitomer massacre that resulted in orphaned Klingon Mr. Worf (DS9, TNG) to be raised by Chekhov's brother Piotr and his half-Pakled wife Mrs. Piotr.  

The massacre isn't Khitomer but it might as well be because it's the same concept, re-used by the new Trek writers because Trek writers can no longer create new ideas. 

Spock's step-sister Michael Burnham has never been mentioned before the first episode of Discovery (2017) because she wasn't created until they started creating Discovery.

I wonder if she ever hung out with never-mentioned-before-1989 Sybok, Spock's half-brother only appearing (or ever mentioned before or since)  in 1989's Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. What weird family reunions the Mr. Spock Family must have every, I don't know, 11 years.

Anyway, Discovery is in the Mirror Universe, show and starship (did I mention that the ship on the show is named Discovery?). Discovery's Mushroom-Powered Dizzily Spinning Instantaneous Improbability Drive (R) has malfunctioned and sent them to the Mirror Universe, which at this point is easier to get to than the washroom down the hall.

Michael Michelle of Homicide: Life On the Street is so excited at meeting members of the  multi-species rebellion against the Terran Empire that she nearly gets everyone from her Discovery (show and ship!) killed so she can give a rousing speech to the Klingon who leads this 'good' rebellion. 

Lead the War of the Rings Rebellion I do!
I will call this Klingon 'Bitey.'

So, finally.

Is this Discovery episode meant to be ironic to all of us who've watched Trek for a million years and know just what that multi-species rebellion has become by the last time we see the Mirror Universe in a 1999 DS9 episode?

Is this Discovery episode meant to be taken at face value, which is to say, are we supposed to ignore DS9? Have the makers of Discovery ever watched DS9? Are they just ignoring it? Or, as noted above, is this a case of metafictional irony?

Do the writers of Discovery remember the two greatest lessons about the Mirror Universe taught to us by Discovery's superior forebears TOS and DS9?:

1) The Mirror Universe only makes sense when you don't try to make any sense of it.

M) Everyone in the Mirror-Universe is the dick version of themselves except when they were dicks in the original universe, in which case they are either nice or dicks depending on random plot necessities.

I'm betting against irony, but one can dream.