Category Archives: Movies

When you play villains as well as Oldman, you HAVE TO apologize this graciously, and then some

Would you accept an apology from this guy?

Would you accept an apology from this guy?

Gary Oldman has apologized abjectly, completely and graciously for offensive comments he made about Jews in a Playboy interview:

I am deeply remorseful that comments I recently made in the Playboy Interview were offensive to many Jewish people. Upon reading my comments in print—I see how insensitive they may be, and how they may indeed contribute to the furtherance of a false stereotype. Anything that contributes to this stereotype is unacceptable, including my own words on the matter. If, during the interview, I had been asked to elaborate on this point I would have pointed out that I had just finished reading Neal Gabler’s superb book about the Jews and Hollywood, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews invented Hollywood. The fact is that our business, and my own career specifically, owes an enormous debt to that contribution.

I hope you will know that this apology is heartfelt, genuine, and that I have an enormous personal affinity for the Jewish people in general, and those specifically in my life. The Jewish People, persecuted thorough the ages, are the first to hear God’s voice, and surely are the chosen people.

I would like to sign off with “Shalom Aleichem”—but under the circumstances, perhaps today I lose the right to use that phrase, so I will wish you all peace–Gary Oldman.

I don’t know whether Oldman or a publicist wrote that apology, but it’s a good one. It holds nothing back, unlike many other public apologies we’ve seen (such as the Mark Sanford “I’m sorry, but I’m like King David, and God forgave King David, so you’ve gotta forgive me — what, do you think you’re better than God?” approach).

Of course, when you play villains as chillingly convincingly as Oldman does, you’ve got to go all-out, because a lot of people wouldn’t consider it a great leap to picture him as a neo-Nazi. And even when you DO apologize, they’re quick to point out that you didn’t apologize to other groups you may have offended.

All of that said, what person with any class does Playboy interviews any more? What does he think this is, 1970?

... or this one?

… or this one?

The cast of “Star Wars VII” assembles

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This is pretty cool — a picture of old and new cast members sitting around preparing for shooting to begin in a couple of weeks on the new “Star Wars.”

Check this out:

The Star Wars team is thrilled to announce the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII.

Actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max von Sydow will join the original stars of the saga, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Kenny Baker in the new film.

Director J.J. Abrams says, “We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud.”

Star Wars: Episode VII is being directed by J.J. Abrams from a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and Abrams. Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk are producing, and John Williams returns as the composer.

I wonder what character Max von Sydow will play — the ghost of Obiwan Kenobi, perhaps?

I guess that’s the back of his head, talking to Mark Hamill over on the left. There’s Harrison Ford on the opposite side of the circle, in front of R2D2. Is that Carrie Fisher two over to the right of him?

Aside from von Sydow, I don’t know the new cast members. But then, I didn’t know who Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill were, before the original film. Carrie Fisher I remembered from “Shampoo.” Who could forget?

Han Solo takes the Fifth on Greedo killing

The Washington Post should be ashamed of itself. Not because it won a Pulitzer for helping Edward Snowden achieve his goals, but because it led readers of its The Switch blog to believe that it was going to finally clear up the raging controversy over whether Han Solo or Greedo shot first.Greedo

That didn’t happen.

But in the course of not answering, Harrison Ford demonstrates a callousness regarding the question that seems consistent with the classic Han-Solo-as-rogueish-antihero-who-would-shoot-first interpretation, as opposed to the revisionist he-was-just-standing-his-ground-in-self-defense view.

That’s how I see it, anyway.

Someone tell Tyler Durden: Marketers have appropriated ‘Fight Club’

Brad-Pitt-fight-club-body2

Back when I was in college, I read James Michener’s book Kent State: What Happened and Why, which came out the year after four students were shot and killed there by the Ohio National Guard. This was a time when memories of the event were still pretty raw. That one semester I attended USC before transferring to Memphis State, I used to wear a T-shirt (I forget where I got it) with a big target on the back under the word “Student.” It was less a political statement than me just being edgy, ironic and immature.

Michener’s book went into a lot more than what happened that day in May 1970. It painted a portrait of student life at that time and in that place. At one point, he interviewed a campus radical who was complaining about how the dominant white culture kept appropriating and mainstreaming, and thereby disarming, countercultural memes, particularly those that arose from African-American culture. (I would say he was making some point vaguely related to Marcuse’s “repressive tolerance,” but I’ve always tended to understand Marcuse as meaning something other than what he meant. By the way, my version makes sense; Marcuse’s didn’t.)

Anyway, to make the point that there was no limit to the dominant culture’s ability to absorb culture from the edge, he said, “I’ll bet that within two years Buick will come out with full-page ads claiming that the 1972 Buick is a real motherf____r.”

Well, that still hasn’t quite happened. But I saw something today that comes close. I got an email from the travel site Orbitz with the headline:

The first rule of Flight Club is – Columbia deals from $200 RT

Wow. Think about it. “Fight Club” was all about characters who were utterly, savagely rejecting mainstream consumer culture and everything that went with it. But now the best-known line from the film is being appropriated to sell airline flights. Are you digging the irony here?

It doesn’t even make sense, since the first rule of Fight Club is that you do NOT talk about Fight Club. Presumably, Orbitz would like us to talk about this deal.

But the line got me to look — and that was the point.

I can’t wait to see how next year’s Buicks are marketed.

My life, seen as a paranoid conspiracy theory

Actual untouched photograph taken in the Des Moines airport in January 1980. Why am I meeting with then-Senator, later White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker? And why am I in disguise?

Actual unretouched photograph taken in the Des Moines airport in January 1980. Why am I meeting with then-Senator, later White House Chief of Staff Howard Baker? And why am I in disguise? Who is the man in the background, watching us?

On a previous post, Doug mentioned Oliver Stone’s paranoid masterpiece “JFK.”

Which reminded me of when I lived in New Orleans — during Jim Garrison’s investigation.

Which got me to thinking further…

You know, Oliver Stone could probably weave a good paranoid conspiracy around my life. All of the following is true:

  1. I was in Washington during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  2. Shortly thereafter, I moved to Latin America, not to be seen in this country for two-and-a-half years.
  3. That means I was conveniently out of the country when Kennedy was killed.
  4. There was a military coup while I was in Ecuador. It was planned (in part at least) in the very same house in which I lived, while I was there.
  5. My guitar teacher in Ecuador was an agent of U.S. Naval Intelligence.
  6. The pastor of the nondenominational church we attended was an agent of the CIA.
  7. Within months of returning to this country, I moved to New Orleans, where Jim Garrison was about to get rolling with his allegations.
  8. In 1970, I had a run-in with Admiral John McCain, then Commander-In-Chief, Pacific Command — and the father of the John McCain who was at the time a prisoner of the North Vietnamese.
  9. In 1978, I met George H.W. Bush, former head of the CIA who at the time was a director of the Council on Foreign Relations.
  10. I was in Iowa two years later, just before Bush beat Ronald Reagan in the caucuses there.
  11. Several weeks later, I was present during the Arkansas caucuses when delegates of Reagan and Howard Baker conspired to squeeze Bush out, thereby bumping him out of contention. I had been traveling with Baker in Iowa. I had a brief face-to-face contact with Bush that day.
  12. During the 80s, I had numerous face-to-face meetings with Al Gore.
  13. In subsequent years, I would have closed-door meetings at my office with John McCain (on multiple occasions), George W. Bush, Barack ObamaJoe Biden, Ralph Nader, Jesse Jackson, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, and, completing the circle to the Kennedy administration, Ted Sorensen.

Forget Oliver Stone. I’m starting to have suspicions about myself

Think about it — how would your life look in the eyes of a conspiracy theorist who believes there’s no such thing as coincidence?

Art imitating life imitating art imitating life imitating…

USS Nimitz

USS Nimitz

Hollywood makes a movie, a year or so ago, about the Iran hostage crisis. It tells the true story of how the CIA pretended to be making a movie in Iran in order to sneak a handful of the American hostages out of the country.

The real movie about the fake movie that hoaxed the Iranians wins the Best Picture Oscar, which Iran could not have failed to notice.

So… now we see that Iran is building a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier — or rather, a vessel that looks like a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. They do it in plain sight, so we can’t fail to notice. Our intel guys watch it being built ever since last summer, and we finally get to the point that we can’t stand it anymore, and have to say something.

Then, when the United States raises questions as to what in the world Iran is up to, they respond, Uhhh… it’s for a movie! Yeah, that’s the ticket… we’re making a movie… ya know, like ‘Argo.’

Which makes us wonder what they’re really up to. What could be the actual purpose for which making a movie is the transparent cover?

Whatever it is, when they spring it on us, I half expect the Iranians to say, “Argo ___ yourself!”

"I'm, uhhh... making a movie! Yeah, that's the ticket..."

“I’m, uhhh… making a movie! Yeah, that’s the ticket…”

Burl’s take on ‘Monuments Men’

monuments2

John Goodman, Matt Damon, George Clooney, Bob Balaban and Bill Murray.

We had a conversation about movies a couple of days back, and “Monuments Men” came up. Since interest has been expressed, I thought I’d share a link to our own Burl Burlingame’s review of the film.

Excerpts:

Hitler and the Nazis were bad dudes. They set the bar on being bad dudes. They not only were intent on dominating the world (to them, Europe WAS the world), the Nazi mission statement involved wiping out entire cultures and races. Not just killing them, but erasing them from history. The focus of “Monuments Men” is the rescue of priceless art seized by the Nazis, either as booty or to be destroyed.

Actually, “priceless” is too weak a word. Maybe irreplaceable….

The “Monuments Men” were a group of older artists, architects, historians and other scholars drafted by the army to save artwork and architecture from Nazi nihilism. They came under fire, just like other soldiers, but their mission was to save the best works yet produced by humanity….

In order to sell the film to disinterested modern audiences, Clooney adopts a wisecracking, ironic tone that is surface-level entertaining. But this creates a distance between characters and situation, and “Monuments Men” never quite catches fire. This stand-offishness also undercuts the true horror of the Nazi menace and makes them cartoons and buffoons. It’s very “Hogan’s Heroes.”…

That doesn’t mean it’s not an entertaining couple of hours, and if folks learn a thing or two about this historical niche, that’s swell. I liked “Monuments Men,” but nobody is going to love it.

Oh, just go read the whole thing. As usual with Burl, it’s well-written…

George Clooney as an old-fashioned hero

george-clooney-gravity-image

Several members of my family were watching the Oscars last night, and occasionally I’d step into the room, taking a break from re-reading The Far Side of the World for about the sixth time, which is something I’d rather do than watch the Oscars. (I’m still mad about the “Shakespeare In Love”-as-Best-Picture fiasco of 1998.)

So I heard a couple of references to the movie “Gravity” — which stands out among the films of this past year in that I actually went to see it in a theater. I had heard that a) it was good, and b) the 3D was actually worth seeing. So several weeks ago, I went to see it while I could still catch it in that format.

It was good, and the 3D, while not being mind-blowing, was at least watchable. It didn’t get in the way. But I wouldn’t call it indispensable. I think the film would have been visually impressive without it.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about. This morning, skimming through my email, I saw a link to a Slate piece about the Oscars, and I followed it because I was curious what they could possibly mean by the headline, “Ellen Was the Stephen Colbert of Oscars Hosts.” Turns out, not much. But on the way to finding that out, I ran across this sentence fragment (believe me, you don’t want to read the whole sentence; it’s unintelligible to anyone who doesn’t live and breathe celebrity news): “… another montage about heroes, featuring almost no women.”

No, I don’t know what that referred to, and don’t care. But it got me thinking about George Clooney in “Gravity,” who I thought was impressive as an old-fashioned, early ’60s-or-earlier kind of hero, the kind you don’t see all that often in movies anymore.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT. Seriously, I’m about to give away the whole movie, so if you care about that, stop reading now.

Yes, the movie centers around Sandra Bullock’s character, who spends most of the screen time alone. The film is mainly about her grit and determination to survive. You would in fact call her character heroic if she were saving anyone other than herself, but whether you call it that or not, her struggle is pretty gripping.

But the reason she spends all that screen time alone is that at the beginning, George Clooney’s character gives his life so that she’ll have a chance.

And in his few minutes on screen, he exhibits enough Traditional Manly Virtues to fill up the whole film and more. He seems to personify all the courage we ascribed to the original seven Mercury astronauts, as described by Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff. And as befits a hero, he wears it lightly, hid in a constant stream of wisecracks, maintaining an even strain.

There’s a dynamic between him and the Bullock character that I’ve seen in real workplaces. She is the no-nonsense woman who has a task to perform and is doing it not because she enjoys it, but because it needs doing and she knows how to do it, and she just wants to get it done and go home and maybe put her feet up, but while she’s working she has to put up with this lollygaggin’, wisecracking guy who doesn’t seem to have enough to do and who is maybe flirting with her or something, which is something she doesn’t need.

Although it turns out that the good-time Charlie thing is just part of his leadership style. He’s just trying to get a smile out of someone having a bad day (because if you can do that, the unit functions more smoothly). But that’s not all there is to him. When things go bad and somebody needs to give orders, he does so with a crisp, commanding confidence. No question at that point that he is the mission commander, and there’s a reason for that. Because as much as you might need scientists and techies to make the gadgets work, there’s a time when you need a pilot, a guy who routinely hangs his hide out over the edge in a hurtling piece of machinery and hauls it back in again without breaking a sweat — someone schooled in emergency, someone at home with danger. You need someone in charge who knows exactly what he’s doing, even when everything’s gone all to hell.

His persona makes such an impression on Sandra Bullock’s character that even well after he is certainly dead, at a point when she has decided to just give up and let herself pass out from lack of oxygen, he returns to her in a hallucination — still the same lollygaggin’, keeping-it-light guy, but gently goading her into waking up and doing what it takes to survive, in spite of the odds.

And the thing is, he does all of this without seeming like a caricature, or a stereotype, or a throwback to movies gone by. In fact, he does all this more artfully and smoothly than most Traditional Heroes in old movies.

Anyway, I was impressed by that. And I wonder whether any actor other than Clooney could have pulled it off….

We lose Maurice Bessinger and Harold Ramis on the same day

bill_murray-stripes1981-1040

Which means nothing, of course — I mean, the fact that they died on the same day means nothing; obviously their respective deaths mean a great deal to their families — but it struck me as an odd juxtaposition.

Maurice Bessinger, purveyor of yellow barbecue and “South Will Rise Again” tracts was 83. The man who gave us Egon “Print is Dead” Spengler and Army recruit Russell Ziskey (and as a writer and director, such gems as “Groundhog Day” and “Analyze This”) was only 69. And yes, my very first thought on the latter’s passing was that maybe collecting spores, molds and fungus was not the healthiest hobby. I mean that fondly, and intend no disrespect.

In Maurice’s behalf, I’ll note that his barbecue was my youngest daughter’s favorite. As the baby of the family, she had trouble understanding why the rest of us preferred not to give him our custom while that flag was flying at his restaurants. But now my daughter is off in Thailand with the Peace Corps, so I don’t think her BBQ preference limited her horizons or worldview any.

As for why the juxtaposition is notable, well… Maurice was a man who went out of his way to stand up for outmoded ideas, a man who insisted on pushing a discredited worldview even when it drove customers away. Ramis, on the other hand, was a harbinger of a new ironic meme in our popular culture, the smirking wise guy who poked gentle, mocking fun at our social foibles. One insisted on respect for ideas that had never deserved it; the other urged us not to take ourselves so seriously.

For what that’s worth…

Have fun storming the castle (a bit late)!

Click on this to blow it up.

Click on this to blow it up.

I missed this reunion of the cast of “The Princess Bride” when it happened a couple of years ago (to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary), but since I just ran across it today, I thought I would share.

The photo, near as I can tell, came from Entertainment Weekly. Here are some close-ups from it.

So you want me to go back to politics and other serious stuff? As you wish…

I’d like to have seen a sequel in which Billy Jack, with great reluctance and a heavy sigh, kicks Old Age’s butt

"You know what I'm gonna do?"

“You know what I’m gonna do?”

Local boss man Stuart Posner couldn’t take down Billy Jack. Billy kicked his butt.

Posner’s worthless, sniveling son Bernard couldn’t do anything to Billy Jack, either. Billy kicked his butt once, and when that didn’t take, made him drive his ‘Vette into a lake, and when that didn’t work, came back and killed him with a chop to the windpipe.

Deputy Mike, daddy of the pregnant runaway girl, couldn’t stop Billy Jack, despite shooting him in the gut with a rifle.

A rattlesnake couldn’t even kill him. Its multiple bites were just steps on his path to becoming stronger.

In the end, the most banal, mundane, everyday bully got Billy Jack — old age and years of failing health.

“Billy Jack” was, as anyone who has watched it again years later can attest, a painfully amateurish, rather silly film. The one thing a fair critic can say for it is that it was better than the three other films in which Tom Laughlin played the character.

But that one semester that I attended USC, the fall of 1971, the film was what Jesse Pinkman would call “the bomb.” We loved it. We’d never seen anything like it before, although we’d soon see something that copied the formula on TV — the formula being a character who’s all about talking nonviolence and exotic mysticism, but who is forced, with great reluctance, to kick bad guy’s butts on a regular basis. Which was why we watched.

The films were awful, but it would have been nice to have seen him prevail over the foe that got him in the end…

Apparently, some newspapers still have money to waste

scene

That’s all I can think after glancing through this offering of “one-line films created by the Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski.”

Which, the credits tell us, were produced by The New York Times Magazine.

And which star Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Bradley Cooper, Oprah Winfrey and others.

Wow. Apparently, some newspapers still have money to waste…

An Armistice Day reflection

Doughboys of the 64th Regiment celebrate the news of the Armistice, November 11, 1918

Doughboys of the 64th Regiment celebrate the news of the Armistice, November 11, 1918

I originally posted the below material as a comment on the “Top Ten War Movies” post from over the weekend. Bryan suggested that today, it should be a separate post. I suppose he’s right.

The context is that I was responding to two previous comments — one by Rose praising the TV series “Band of Brothers,” and the other from Phillip about “anti-war” messages. This lies in the larger context of a long debate of several years’ standing, in which Phillip takes the position that all sane people oppose war, and I take the armchair-warrior position of “not always”…

“Band of Brothers” was the best thing ever made for television.

And it had the kind of anti-war message in it that I appreciate [as opposed to the kind of anti-war message I hate, which I had described earlier as "one that beats you about the head and shoulders with the idea that war is futile and stupid and anyone who decides to involve a nation in war is evil and unjustified, and we should never, ever engage in it"]. It’s very similar to a powerful one in “Saving Private Ryan.”

There’s this great scene in which the actor portraying David Kenyon Webster — the writer, from Harvard — is riding past thousands of surrendering Germans being marched toward the rear (the opposite direction from which he and Easy Company are traveling) and he spots some senior German officers. He starts shouting at them (excuse the language):

Hey, you! That’s right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That’s right! Say hello to Ford, and General fuckin’ Motors! You stupid fascist pigs! Look at you! You have horses! What were you thinking? Dragging our asses half way around the world, interrupting our lives… For what, you ignorant, servile scum! What the fuck are we doing here?

To explain what I mean by this… I grew up with shows like “Combat,” which gave a sort of timeless sense of the war. Sgt. Saunders and his men were soldiers, had always been soldiers, and would always be soldiers. And they would always be making their way across France in a picaresque manner, doing what they were born to do.

Well, what Webster is shouting at those Germans is that NO, we were NOT born to do this. This is a huge interruption in the way life is supposed to be.

That lies at the core of Tom Hanks’ character in “Saving Private Ryan.” His men think HE was born to be a soldier, and can’t imagine him in any other role (as Reuben says, “Cap’n didn’t go to school, they assembled him at OCS outta spare body parts of dead GIs.”) — hence their intense curiosity about what he did before the war. And their stunned silence when they learn the reality:

I’m a schoolteacher. I teach English composition… in this little town called Adley, Pennsylvania. The last eleven years, I’ve been at Thomas Alva Edison High School. I was a coach of the baseball team in the springtime. Back home, I tell people what I do for a living and they think well, now that figures. But over here, it’s a big, a big mystery. So, I guess I’ve changed some. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve changed so much my wife is even going to recognize me, whenever it is that I get back to her. And how I’ll ever be able to tell her about days like today. Ah, Ryan. I don’t know anything about Ryan. I don’t care. The man means nothing to me. It’s just a name. But if… You know if going to Rumelle and finding him so that he can go home. If that earns me the right to get back to my wife, then that’s my mission.

There, you learn this this is NOT supposed to be where he is. This was not the way his life was supposed to go.

Now… on the other hand…

Dick Winters was a real-life guy who had no desire to be a warrior. After surviving D-Day (having led his men in an action that should have gotten him the Medal of Honor, but he “only” received a Distinguished Service Cross for it), he took a quiet moment to pray that “I would make it through D plus 1. I also promised that if some way I could get home again, I would find a nice peaceful town and spend the rest of my life in peace.”

That’s all he wanted.

And yet, by having been forced to be a soldier, he and everyone around him found that he was superbly suited to it. He was one of those rare men who thought quickly and clearly under fire, and communicated his calm and his self-assuredness to his men. He knew what to do, and how to give orders so that it got done. He had a gift.

And that gift actually was a thing of value — to his society, and to the world. And here’s where we separate. Here’s where we draw a line between being “anti-war” as an absolutist position — that war is always wrong and evil and has no redeeming qualities — and my position, which is that sometimes nations need people like Dick Winters to step forward and exercise those abilities that they have. In other words, the warrior is a valuable member of society like the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker (actually, nowadays, perhaps more valuable than the candlestick-maker).

Which seems like a good place to stop, a little more than an hour before 11 o’clock on Nov. 11.

 

The Guardian’s Top 10 war movies

Clint Eastwood firing two MP40s at the same time in "Where Eagles Dare."

Clint Eastwood firing two MP40s at the same time in “Where Eagles Dare.”

Yeah, I know, The Guardian. I’d as soon ask Jane Fonda for her top ten war pictures as I would The Guardian.

But I didn’t ask; they just published it on their own initiative the other day, and I find such lists irresistible. So here is their list, but with my comments on each:

10. “Where Eagles Dare” — They included one slam-bang, fun-to-watch action picture, and I appreciate the gesture. I actually think of this one as less a war movie, and more an action/spy story. But it is of course technically a war picture, and probably fires more (blank, I hope) rounds from Schmeisser machine pistols than any other film ever made (in this scene alone). Best bit — the battle on the cable car/ski lift thing.
9. “Rome, Open City” — Haven’t seen it. Sounds intriguing.
8. “La Grande Illusion” — Also sounds interesting. Need to put it on my list.
7. “The Deer Hunter” — Some fine performances by some great American actors, but perhaps a bit too ponderous, too impressed with its own seriousness. And the whole Russian roulette thing only makes sense in the way The Guardian sees it: “as a metaphor for America’s suicidal intervention in south-east Asia.”
6. “Three Kings” — Saw this, but quickly forgot it. “Kelly’s Heroes” did the same thing better (or at least, more entertainingly, although it is unfortunately an exemplar of the wearisome “WWII was so much fun!” genre so prevalent at the time). All I remember is a character’s graphic description of what a bullet does when it enters the body (or was that in something else?). Why did The Guardian include it? Why else? “What Three Kings is really concerned with is challenging some of the bogus US triumphalism that clung to the war at the time.” Bogus? Really? I thought that was supposed to be the “good war” in the estimation of people who opposed going in and finishing the job in 2003.
5. “Come and See” — Haven’t seen it. Sounds like something extremely unpleasant, that would mostly tell me something I knew — the Nazis were really, really bad guys.
4. “Ran” — The Kurozawa classic that I’ve never seen, and need to. It’s in my Netflix queue. Maybe this weekend.
3. “The Thin Red Line” — The most disappointing war picture I’ve ever seen. I went to see it right after reading James Jones’ superb novel, and was sickened by Hollywood’s cheesy, gauzy, preachy version of it. I hated it so much I wrote a column about how bad it was, which you can read here. (It’s a Word file — you have to go to your “downloads” folder to read it.)
2. “Paths of Glory” — I’ve only ever seen parts of it, and I want to see the whole thing. It probably deserves to be here more than another Kubrick film that too often makes lists such as this one, “Full Metal Jacket.”
1. “Apocalypse Now” — An awesome piece of film-making. Although this is another one that I don’t exactly think of as a “war picture.” The Vietnam War is just used as a setting for retelling Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which is more about the war in men’s souls than a bang-bang war. Most people’s favorite bits, such as Robert Duvall’s surf-mad air cav colonel, are to me fun to watch, but distracting, and degrading to the film’s artistic value. I like the slower, darker, quieter, more contemplative narrative, the plot thread of the film that stays true to Conrad. I like the parts when Willard is talking to himself, narrating. So did a lot of people, obviously, since this seems to have launched a whole new career for Martin Sheen doing commercial voiceovers.

Mainly, what’s glaringly missing from this list are such obvious greats as “Saving Private Ryan,” “Platoon,” “Black Hawk Down,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Stalag 17,” “The Big Red One,” and maybe “The Hurt Locker.” (And, for sentimental reasons, because I loved it as a kid, “The Great Escape.”)

And of course, “The Thin Red Line” would be on a 10 worst list, if I were compiling it.

Aside from the foreign classics that serve to air the critics’ erudition, their guiding preference for iconic anti-war works, and the fun pick of “Where Eagles Dare,” it’s like they phoned this list in.

You learn something new (about history) every day…

Lincoln

AT&T U-verse offered free Showtime this past weekend, which means I got to see the first episode of the new season of “Homeland.” (SPOILER ALERT: Carrie’s off her meds again. But that probably won’t come as a shock to anyone.)

Anyway, it also meant I got to see “Lincoln” for the second time, and it was just as great as when I saw it in the theater.

But I was a bit puzzled by the synopsis, pictured above, that was provided on my guide.

Fascinating. The whole country seceded? And there were two confederacies, not just one? (Two separate confederacies, just in case you missed the “two” part.) And he “joined the Union” in order to deal with it? What, was he not a part of it before?

You just learn something new every day.

Fielding Mellish was ahead of his time

I had to laugh at this story on the front page of The State today:

By SAM HANANEL — Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Glued to your desk at work? Cross that off the list of reasons not to exercise.

A growing number of Americans are standing, walking and even cycling their way through the workday at treadmill desks, standup desks or other moving workstations. Others are forgoing chairs in favor of giant exercise balls to stay fit.

Walking on a treadmill while making phone calls and sorting through emails means “being productive on two fronts,” said Andrew Lockerbie, senior vice president of benefits at Brown & Brown, a global insurance consulting firm….

 Once, the Execu-ciser existed only as an expression of Woody Allen’s sense of the absurd. Now, it’s real. Such are the times we live in.

Can the Orgasmatron be far behind?

The actual TR800-DT5 Treadmill Desk from LifeSpan.

The actual TR800-DT5 Treadmill Desk from LifeSpan.

Since he’s opposed by Moe and Larry, mayor should change his name to ‘Curly’

stooges

Just passing that on. I didn’t come up with it; it was mentioned to me by a local attorney.

It arises from the fact that Mayor Steve Benjamin is being opposed for re-election by Councilman Moe Baddourah and former FBI analyst Larry Sypolt.

If the mayor would only make this one little change, think of all the great national coverage the campaign would get.

It’s meant to be. There’s already a major heading in the Wikipedia page about Larry, Moe and Curly headlined, “The Columbia Years.” I am not making this up…

We’ve gotta protect our phony-baloney jobs, gentlemen! (And, in this case, ladies….)

Bryan Caskey shared the above video clip via Twitter, saying “Here’s what happened before the vote on a Columbia #StrongMayor was defeated.”

Indeed.

This clip contains one of my favorite lines ever: “I didn’t get a ‘harrumph’ outta that guy.” Kind of like me presiding over editorial board meetings, back in the day.

What if I’d come back in 2013? Would I have been impressed? I think not…

The-Man-from-UNCLE-007

Some seemed to doubt the premise of the preceding post about how static and dull and lifeless popular culture has become (or at least, to discount the importance of it). But to someone who was young in the ’60s, there’s something very weird about living in a time when a photograph of people 20 years ago would look no different from a photo today (assuming you could get them to look up from their smartphones for a second during the “today” picture).

As I said in a comment on that post

I’ve written in the past about how enormously exciting I found American pop culture when I returned here in 1965 after two-and-a-half years in South America without television. My words in describing it are probably inadequate. It was so amazingly stimulating, as though all my neurons were on fire. It was like mainlining some drug that is so far unknown to pharmacology, one that fully engages all of your brain.

If I had returned at that same age in 2013 rather than ’65 — meaning I had left the country in March 2011 — I doubt it would have been such a huge rush. It would be like, “Oh, look: The latest iPhone does some minor stuff that the old one didn’t. And now we have 4G instead of 3G. Whoopee.”

Most of the big movies would be sequels of the big movies when I left — or “reimaginings” of Superman or Spiderman. The best things on TV would still be “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” “Firefly” would still be canceled. I’d be disappointed that “Rubicon” had only lasted one season. And I’d marvel at the fact that, with hundreds of channels out there, everything good was on one: AMC. (HBO hasn’t impressed me since “The Sopranos,” and that would have been over years before I left the country.) “The Walking Dead” would be new to me. Again, whoopee.

I just can’t imagine what I’d grab hold of and say, “Wow, THIS is different and exciting…”

But consider this list of things that I saw and heard for the first time in 1965, either immediately when I got back into the country, or over the next few months:

  • James Bond – who was enormously important to my friends and me, and who did a lot toward defining the decade (just ask Austin Powers), and who embodied much of what “Mad Men” recaptures about the decade. Yes, Bond had been around earlier, but I had never heard of him before the film “Dr. No,” which I actually saw on the ship on my way down to Ecuador. Which I did not enjoy. I didn’t really get Bond, as something that interested me, until “Goldfinger.”
  • Really exciting new cars that changed dramatically from model year to model year. I had seen ONE Mustang, parked outside the Tennis Club in Guayaquil, and I thought it was awesome. I’d never seen a Sting Ray, and the ’65 model was particularly cool…
  • Not just the Beatles, but the entire British Invasion – the Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Dave Clark Five, Freddie and the Dreamers, the Animals, Tom Jones, Petula Clark. Just those few names illustrate the tremendous diversity of styles just within that one category we describe as the “Invasion.”
  • Folk rock – The Byrds, Chad & Jeremy, Simon and Garfunkel, and so on.
  • Beach music, West coast – The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, the Surfaris
  • Gimmick bands – Paul Revere and the Raiders, Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs, etc.
  • One-hit wonders – Much of the vitality of the era was personified by such groups as ? and the Mysterians, the Standells and the Troggs (OK, all three of their hits were technically in ’66. But consider such one-time hits of 1964 and 65 as “The Girl from Ipanema,” “Eve of Destruction,” “Keep on Dancing,” “Land of 1,000 Dances”…)
  • Ordinary guys wearing (relatively) long hair. Yes, we’d heard of The Beatles by this time in South America, but the fashion had not caught on.
  • Beach music, East coast – Yeah, this music had been around, and white kids had been listening to this “black” music, but it didn’t have the kind of profile where I could hear it until this point. I think Wikipedia rightly cites the heyday as being “mid-1960s to early 1970s.”
  • Color TV – It had existed, but I hadn’t seen it.

OK, taking off on that last one, let’s just take a quick run-through of the TV shows, icons of the era, that were either new in 1965, or new to me because I’d been out of the country:

  • Gilligan’s Island
  • Green Acres
  • I Spy
  • Hogan’s Heroes
  • The Wild, Wild West
  • The Smothers Brothers Show
  • Lost in Space
  • Bewitched
  • Daniel Boone
  • The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Get Smart
  • The Munsters/The Addams Family
  • Shindig!

I want you to especially note the variety in those shows — they weren’t all manifestations of the same cultural phenomenon, the way, say, “reality TV” shows are today. (A phenomenon that would not be new to me at all from a two-year absence.)

I’d like to include “The Beverly Hillbillies,” but it actually premiered shortly before I left the country, and I’d seen it once or twice. And I won’t cite the ground-breaking “Batman” because it premiered in January of 1966 – which was still within my first year back in the country. Also, I never saw “The Andy Griffith Show” before my return, but that was my fault — it had been out there for a year or so before I left.

This may all seem silly and superficial to y’all, but I think it’s actually significant that our popular culture is so static and unchanging today. Someone, trying to dismiss this, said on the previous post that I was ignoring the fact that the dynamism of popular culture in previous decades was just a First World, affluent-society phenomenon.

No, I wasn’t. In fact, that is sort of my point. I had come from an unchanging, static culture in the Third World into one of the most exciting cultural moments in the life of the most affluent country in human history. I would even go so far as to suggest that the dynamism of the popular culture is related somehow to economic dynamism.

And maybe the economic stagnation that is the New Normal today is related to cultural stagnation. We could feel our economic horizons expanding in past decades. No longer…


The Rolling Stones – Live in Shindig! (1965) by Vilosophe