Category Archives: Film

GoT Finale and T. Paine

So I found the Game of Thrones conclusion pretty satisfying. I especially liked the brief discussion that comes up at one point about the best form of government. It was a good reminder, I thought, of how absolutely idiotic monarchy is. If there’s a DNA to this country, then opposing monarchy must be in that DNA. I think, for instance, of Paine writing of the origins of a given monarch. In Common Sense, he wrote, “could we take off the dark covering of antiquity and trace [kings] to their first rise, we should find the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang, … who by increasing in power and extending his depredations, overawed the quiet and defenseless to purchase their safety by frequent contributions.”

When the “chief among plunderers” died or was dying, the question of succession would naturally come up. Everybody would kind of scramble, and somebody would pipe up: “Well, we’ve already convinced people that there’s something called ‘royal blood’; they’ll clearly believe pretty much anything. So, let’s just say that one of the king’s kids has the right blood.” Brilliant. Seems like a great way to empower a real-life Joffrey, a Caligula.

I took this class within the past couple of years where we talked about utopias. Pretty interesting. I came away thinking that we should let experts in certain fields oversee those areas in which they’re experts. Sounds crazy, right? But we wouldn’t elect them. They’d just be chosen by lottery every 5–10 years. That would help limit partisan influence and special interests. Of course, that’s not a democracy or even a republic anymore. And I think these days especially, when people are still persuaded by claims of “elitism,” that this is a tough sell. How come, though? You want an “elite” to fly your plane, right? You want an “elite” to design your bridge, or building, or rocket, or car, don’t you? Maybe you want an “outsider” pilot or brain surgeon who never went to school who’s going to let some rolled bones or the position of a star cluster decide how a flight or operation will turn out. Sounds … less than ideal to me.

So, clearly we’re a ways off from the kind of technocracy I’d like to see. The next best thing does seem to me to be direct democracy. The “wisdom of crowds” seems generally pretty good. Consider that 89% of people in this country favor expanding solar energy.* This suggests to me that, if the U.S. weren’t an oligarchy ruled by fossil fuel companies (oiligarchy? coaligarchy?), we wouldn’t be a top contributor to the burning planet.

Abortion: 69% of people in the U.S. oppose overturning Roe v. Wade* while 79% think that abortion should be legal in some or all circumstances.* What about immigrants? Don’t they steal our jobs and murder/rape everyone? Well, 62% of people in the U.S. (correctly) think that immigrants (of which we are all descended) make the country stronger.* How about gay marriage? Isn’t it a sin in the Bible? Well, no. Like dinosaurs, airplanes, DNA, the Internet, canned food, rock and roll, and zippers, gay marriage isn’t mentioned in the Bible. Maybe people in the U.S. recognize this or just don’t care, as 67% of us think that marriages between gay people are valid.* Well done again, majority.

Yes, a majority (54%) in this country does favor the death penalty, but that support has been pretty steadily declining for years,* along with the country’s crime rate. Which kinda suggests that the death penalty may not be necessary as a crime deterrent. Why people think that it’s necessary may largely be based on misperception, though. Consider that more than two-thirds of people in the country routinely and erroneously report that crime rates have risen in recent years.

Doesn’t that show the weakness of the majority, though? Doesn’t it show how we can let our mass misperceptions influence how we govern? Well, yeah. But, the solution is to look to those dastardly “elites” again rather than to anecdotes. I think that local news is incredibly valuable, but it doesn’t always do the best job of highlighting trends such as the country’s declining crime rate.

So, I’d suggest that, since we probably won’t be randomly assigning experts to run various facets of our government, we should at least elect representatives whose views agree with those of the experts. I’d argue that each major quality of life gain that we’ve seen as a species has started with such a group of experts, of “elites,” questioning the status quo or simply being curious enough to pursue unanswered questions. I think of contributions such as electricity, germ theory, agronomy, contraception, vaccines, sanitation, computer science, and evidence-based medicine.

(Incidentally, who gives sight to the blind today? That would be optometrists and ophthalmologists. Who allows people to walk or run who’ve lost one or both legs? That would be physiatrists and prosthetists. Who cures leprosy? Your local medical professional with an appropriate antibiotics regimen. Who lets the deaf hear? Otolaryngologists. Who will bring you back to life when you flatline? Probably an EMT with a defibrillator. Those were all considered miracles 2,000 years ago, even 200 years ago.*)

Expecting any one person — hereditary, elected, or appointed monarch — to know enough to effectively rule a whole country seems pretty unrealistic to me. So, why not look to our experts when we can?

One might almost say that our various “elites” have been wielding the tools of science like a dragon’s fiery breath to cut through the darkness of superstition and magical thinking that has plagued humans for most of our existence.

Or maybe more like a solar-powered, LED flashlight, because, although less cool than dragons, they do actually exist.

12 Monkeys

I think, Dr. Railly, you’ve given the alarmists a bad name. Surely there is very real and very convincing data that the planet cannot survive the excesses of the human race: proliferation of atomic devices; uncontrolled breeding habits; pollution of land, sea, and air; the rape of the environment. In this context, isn’t it obvious that Chicken Little represents the sane vision and that Homo sapiens’ motto, “Let’s go shoppin'” is the cry of the true lunatic?



Trying to be inconspicuous

The Interview

Ryan 
Friendly reminder that responding with racism isn’t suddenly justified if the person is a bad person (even if they’re, say, a genocidal dictator). The Interview is probably racist as hell. Team America was racist as hell.
Get over it, nerds.

Armand 
“Probably”
Even if it was, it wouldn’t justify or excuse the bully or threats of violence to prevent it from being shown. The decision of pulling it makes sense but people have a problem with the use of threats from an outside group to try to force others in deciding what should or shouldn’t be released or seen. Even if it is a stupid movie.

There’s been other movies affected by the fear these threats have caused that you probably wouldn’t label as racist, so I don’t see how this movie being “probably” racist has anything to do with this.

Continue reading The Interview

Interstellar

Caution: Spoilers (Enhancements?)


Interstellar


Why does Mann try to kill Cooper?
It appears that Mann had to falsify the data in order to save his own life. It does not appear that he should have known that he would be jeopardizing humanity by doing so. He thinks he has to stop Cooper because Cooper is bound for Earth. This is bad because Mann knows that he (Mann) will need all available resources to get the human seeds to Edmonds’s planet. His comments about survival are probably to drive home just how sure he is that Cooper could not be talked out of going back to Earth despite its certain doom.

Why doesn’t Mann just tell everybody that he falsified the data?
There may be insufficient clues in the movie to answer this question. It may simply be that he’s not sure that he can trust them. And, before he can determine whether or not they’re trustworthy, the dominoes start falling. He sent the beacon for anyone to rescue him, assuming that no one would. When the rescue party did come, he reasoned that, given their limited resources, the group could only make one trip (to deliver their payload to Edmonds’s planet) before those resources were depleted.


Cooper [After being pushed off a cliff by Mann] What are you doing?

Mann
I’m sorry. I can’t let you leave with that ship. We’re gonna need it to complete the mission. Once the others realize what this place isn’t, we cannot survive here. I’m sorry.
Don’t judge me, Cooper. You were never tested like I was. Few men have been. You’re feeling it, aren’t you? Your survival instinct. That’s what drove me. It’s what drives all of us. And, it’s what’s going to save us. ‘Cause I’m gonna save all of us. For you, Cooper.


Continue reading Interstellar

Life Itself

Thanks to a helpful Facebook post by Chaz Ebert, I learned that the Roger Ebert documentary Life Itself is now playing in Scottsdale (Shea).

Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed the documentary enormously and I hope that other people see it. I think it may be worth noting, though, that, aside from being equal parts funny and moving, the film also takes an unflinching look at the illness that took Ebert’s life.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why it was so important to Ebert that he not hide his illness, not because I find it difficult to see him in such discomfort (I do, of course), but because of one review of his I have long found frustrating.

That would be his critical review of The Elephant Man (a movie that reduces me to a blubbering mound of flesh and mucus every time I watch it): “The film’s philosophy is this shallow: (1)Wow, the Elephant Man sure looked hideous, and (2)gosh, isn’t it wonderful how he kept on in spite of everything? This last is in spite of a real possibility that John Merrick’s death at twenty-seven might have been suicide.”*
Continue reading Life Itself

Spirits and Ghosts

“Like most men who never knew their father, Bill collected father figures.”
A line from Kill Bill, Volume 2. That line struck me when I first heard it because I remember reading that Tarantino was raised by his mom. As someone who’s never seen even a picture of his father, I think the line may have resonated with me even more.
I don’t know if I’ve really “collected” father figures, but there are some guys that I grew to look up to and I can’t see any harm in acknowledging them for helping me to acquire an appreciation for other people, an appreciation for knowledge, and for giving me profound things to strive for. So, thanks to François Truffaut, Roger Ebert, and Carl Sagan.

I think of these guys and I think of Kurosawa’s great Ikiru which implores us to leave something worthwhile behind. Amiri Baraka also sums it beautifully in Bulworth: Be a spirit, not a ghost.

Here’s to some of my favorite spirits.

Mouchette (1967)


Arsène


Mathieu


Louisa


Mouchette


Arsène’s Bite Wound Cauterization


Mouchette’s father: “She was a brave woman.”

Once upon a time the dead were embalmed. Now they’re not even washed. I know the departed go to heaven, as the curé says, but even so…. The dead were worshipped once. They were gods. Real religion, that was.


Mouchette works mud into the old woman’s rug. She whispers, “You’re disgusting, you old bitch.”

Final scene:
Mouchette holds the thin fabric of the dress against her body. The bottom of the dress gets caught on a bush and tears. The sound of a tractor motor can be heard. She raises her hand as if to get the driver’s attention. He looks back and continues on. She wraps the dress around her body, over her clothes, and rolls down a hill. Leaves, twigs, and dirt cling to her clothing and to the dress.

Throughout most of the film, she has worn no expression on her face. In one scene, where she appears to be enjoying riding the bumper cars, she smiles. In a few scenes, she is shown to have tears on her face (though, her expression doesn’t change). In this scene, whatever she’s thinking is her secret as her expression remains neutral. She rolls down the hill a few times before dropping into a pond at the bottom of the of hill. The camera stays fixed on the water. She doesn’t surface and music beings to play. It’s clear that this shot of the water’s surface is rewound and replayed several times to prolong the shot.

Blue is the Warmest Color

Something I thought of while enjoying Blue is the Warmest Color (streaming on Netflix!): “As for erotic or pornographic films, without being a passionate fan I believe they are in expiation, or at least in payment of a debt that we owe for sixty years of cinematographic lies about love. I am one of the thousands of his readers who was not only entranced but helped through life by the work of Henry Miller, and I suffered at the idea that cinema lagged so far behind his books as well as behind reality. Unhappily, I still cannot cite an erotic film that is the equivalent of Henry Miller’s writing (the best films, from Bergman to Bertolucci, have been pessimistic), but, after all, freedom for the cinema is still quite new. Also, we must consider that the starkness of images poses far more difficult problems than those posed by the written word.”
—François Truffaut, 1975

This isn’t to say that I found Blue is the Warmest Color (aka La Vie d’Adèle) to be pornographic. Then again, I also don’t find pornography to be pornographic. That is to say, I don’t find the act of watching humans copulate any less significant or legitimate (or voyeuristic!) than, say, watching Jack Nicholson perform his home-entering ritual in As Good as It Gets. Why should things be this way? Maybe in 50 years things will have changed. Too bad we’ll all be dead. Still, …Warmest Color seems a positive step to me and I couldn’t help shedding a few tears both for Truffaut and for Roger Ebert while watching it as I know they’d’ve liked it as much as I did. That’s the worst problem with being dead.

Strong Female Characters

Favorites
Lisbeth Salander (Män som hatar kvinnor)
Frances Farmer (Frances)
Ripley (Alien)
Elizabeth Shaw (Prometheus)
Ellie Arroway (Contact)
Maggie Fitzgerald (Million Dollar Baby)
Mallory Kane (Haywire)
Christine Collins (Changeling)
Mattie Ross (True Grit)
Lisa Reisert (Red Eye)
Marge Gunderson (Fargo)
Clarice Starling (The Silence Of The Lambs)
Sarah Connor (The Terminator)
Ryan Stone (Gravity)
The Bride (Kill Bill)
Jackie Brown
Erin Brockovich
Karen Silkwood
Ree Dolly (Winter’s Bone)
Mildred Pierce
Marie Curie (Madame Curie)
Stella Gibson (The Fall)
Shosanna Dreyfus (Inglourious Basterds)

Need Further Exploration
Jordan O’Neil (G.I. Jane)
Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games)
Diana Guzman (Girlfight)
Gloria (Gloria, 1980)
Hanna (Hanna)
Jen (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
Bree Daniels (Klute)
Norma Rae Webster (Norma Rae)
Josey Aimes (North Country)
Temple Grandin
Tina Turner (What’s Love Got To Do With It)
Dian Fossey (Gorillas in the Mist)
Sabina Spielrein (A Dangerous Method)
Ada McGrath (The Piano)
Diana Christensen (Network)
Edna Gladney (Blossoms in the Dust)