Jan 18

An Off-the-Cuff review of ‘IT’

      We finally saw the movie IT. We found it entertaining, with a lot of good set pieces, well worth a horror-film fan’s time, but there were disappointments. I’d been given the impression by glowing blurbs that it was an epochal horror film, something supposedly as significant as The Exorcist or Psycho or The Creature from the Black Lagoon or The Incredible Shrinking Man or The Blair Witch Project (I found Blair Witch to be scary and it created a whole subgenre of horror film) or Ringu or The Host… But it wasn’t as significant as any of those films. The Exorcist had a real auteur at the helm, a director with an innate sense of image flow and narrative traction. IT, by contrast, has a director who’s either weak willed enough to be excessively interfered with by producers and studios, or who doesn’t understand storytelling and cinematic flow very well. He’s not awful, he’s just either prone to choppiness, and lapses into narrative vagueness–or someone made him cut a lot of connective tissue. I also think the that music used to signal “something scary is coming” is a weakness in filmmaking, and it’s a weakness here…
      Most scenes, as individual set pieces, seem well written,  very well acted (Bill Skarsgard is quite effective indeed as Pennywise the Evil Clown), and the majority of scenes have their scares. There are moments when Pennywise makes his move to take down a victim, coming at us face on, that are strikingly, chillingly constructed, a sort of rapid-pace montage of rapacity. The climactic scene is nicely constructed…The girl who plays Beverly is wonderfully charismatic, and is the boldest and most empathetic of the group, a good role model for young women. The cinematography, creature effects, shot composition, art design, is all high quality, sometimes exquisite. And the script does seem very Stephen King inspired. However…
      I know, there are a lot of characters to juggle, you can only fit so much in, but if that’s the challenge, rise to it. Work harder. Say more with less if you have to, but include what you need to make it flow…As it is the film feels herky-jerky, and there failures of internal logic, as after hugely horrific incidents the group of kids are often flirting or kidding around when they should be much more devastated. And there are a lot of threads that are not followed up. I’m sure it was all more cohesive in the novel. And I see that this is designated Chapter One, so a sequel is planned, which may knit the first film into an overall weave–much more from the King novel. (Which I haven’t read, but I’m aware it’s a huge book.) If I were giving the film as a whole a rating using stars–I’d say overall, IT is a two and a half or three star movie. But if I were giving stars just for acting, visuals, production values, pacing (it’s 135 minutes but didn’t seem too long), soundtrack, I’d give it four stars.
      You can call the following a spoiler if you like, but I don’t think so, it won’t mean anything to anyone but those who’ve seen the film: That bit near the end “the kids are floating down”–and then nothing more. That whole aspect is never resolved. What happened to the souls or ghosts of the murdered children? We never learn. Also the kids in the group  don’t explain anything to the town. No one in authority is sent down into the well. Does the book resolve this stuff?
      Still, it’s worthwhile, and you can see it now as a streaming rental for five bucks.

Jan 18

The Infinitely Creative

Just returned from a walk, a chilly, gray visit to the beach. It was low tide, as January seems the low tide of the year, but my dogs were lively, seabirds went about their business. Thought of the moon pulling the tide like a hand coiling a spring. It’ll release, the tide’ll rise, either way, there’s turbulence, interaction–gravitation with planet, wind with water, a churning, a constant striking of sparks from flint.

It strikes me, so to speak, that there’s no need for a creator in a universe that is all creativity. It is its own creator.

Jan 18

Know Thyself

First…from the Gnostic text, though some say it really closer to being a straight up gospel…The Gospel According to Thomas: “…These are the secret words which the Living Jesus spoke and Didymos Judas Thomas wrote: And He said: Whoever finds the explanation of these words will not taste death. Jesus said; Let him who seeks, not cease seeking until he finds, and when he finds/he will be troubled, and when he has been troubled, he will marvel, and he will reign over the All. ..Jesus said: If those who lead you say to you: ‘See, the Kingdom is in Heaven’, then the birds of the Heavens will precede you. If they say to you: ‘It is in the sea’, then the fish will precede you. But the Kingdom is within you and it is without you. If you will know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will know that you are the sons of the Living Father. But if you do not know yourselves then you are in poverty and you are poverty.”

This “knowing yourself” is not so easy. There is a story (there are several extant versions) of a Zen monk who went to his Master and said, “Master I want to be like you, and soon. How will this be accomplished?”

And the Master said, “It can be accomplished like this: go for just seven days watching everything you do and everything you feel, and do not let your attention lapse at all for those seven days.”

The Monk said: “Piece of cake!” He went and tried to do this, and after just a few minutes found he was thinking, instead, of dinner. And afterward, was drawn into free association and ceased to be vigilantly aware within himself. He tried again and again but could not be completely vigilant for more than a few minutes at a time. And he had been asked to be vigilant continually for seven days! So he returned to his Master and said, “It is too difficult to learn to do this in seven days—can you give me more time?”

The Master said, “Yes. Take seventy years.”

Dec 17


What’s buggin’ me lately is THE NEW SNOBBERY. Not so much reviewers, though there are some who engage in it, but mostly it’s people at parties or on social media, who just can’t stand it that other people are enjoying things that aren’t their cup of tea; that people are enjoying something like THE LAST JEDI (one guy claimed *the Jedi* were “fascists”!), it’s all so formulaic and actiony and corny or something they say, or like THE SHAPE OF WATER, how dare audiences enjoy the romance, the sentimental parts, the inevitability of the way the story plays out. Or the new STAR TREK, that’s supposedly for the *simple* people. And they claim that The Lord of the Rings movies are (somehow) racist or classist or something, and also designed to entertain, well, other people than the Snobs…They’re even going after A WRINKLE IN TIME..These New Snobs have to constantly take in only film or TV or books that are deeply cynical and everyone dies in the end. Snobbery isn’t new but there’s a new burst of this extra postmodern hyper politically correct looking down on anything that’s a franchise, anything that’s from big studios, type of snobbery…

I dig Bergman and Herzog too, and PBS Masterpiece shows…But looking down on people for enjoying some encouragement, some pure entertainment, a hint of hope and transcendence, as in The Shape of Water and A Wrinkle in Time… It’s intellectual classism…

Dec 17

The One Millionth Off the Cuff Review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

We saw STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI today. There are various SW fan community subsets. There are probably more than six, like maybe Wookie fetishists, we don’t talk about those–but basically, far as I can see, there are six. There are Star Wars nerds, Star Wars super nerds; there are Star Wars geeks, who are more detail oriented than the nerds, and SW supergeeks, who are quietly hated by the studios involved, and there are two more: SW Dweebs, and SW Super-Dweebs. SW Dweebs are often somewhere on the autism spectrum, and that is not mocking them, I think I’m on the spectrum somewhere myself; they are a little compulsive and judgemental but they’re good-natured and not usually wrong. Then there are the dreaded super-dweebs. The super-dweebs are all about how THEY want the thing to be; they’re control freaks who can’t tell where their preferences (or pretend preferences for the sake of an imagined self importance) end and crafted entertainment begins. They feel that THE LAST JEDI should be excluded from Star Wars “canon”. They feel it breaks with the big overall story in some way. If it did, I think George Lucas would’ve straightened that out and…it wouldn’t. I don’t see how it does. If you do and want to tell me, message me about it, so we don’t make all six categories wail “Spoilers! You’ve ruined my life!” What I want to say to the super-dweeb SW fans is, *if you think this movie is all wrong, you didn’t listen closely enough to Master YODA’s spectral comments in the movie.* They’re also missing some philosophical depth I haven’t seen before.

We liked THE LAST JEDI a lot. I personally agree with some reviewer who said it’s the best SW movie since THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Those who growl about JJ Abrams should take note that the director is also the writer, and he is Rian Johnson who wrote the movie BRICK which won a special prize at Sundance; he won numerous other awards in his relatively short film/TV career. He wrote and directed LOOPER which I now want to see, he wrote three episodes of BREAKING BAD. The guy is a masterful director, as you can see in THE LAST JEDI, and a very good scripter. And whoever oversaw the editing should win a best film editor Oscar. The editing was great–suspense and pacing in it, superb. Someone was bitching it was draggy. Whaaat? Lots of action, it thumps right along, and the non-action scenes pulse with drama and flash with humor.

The script uses a good deal of humor, in a balanced way, which I always enjoy. It was good, effective humor. There are all kinds of cool creatures in this thing–my favorite is the weird oceanside creature that Luke Skywalker actually milks.Yes, he milks an alien and drinks that milk right up. Spoiler, Luke milks an alien, oh no! …Hamill is excellent in this, my wife thinks his best performance ever and I think so too…I loved the sophisticated but evil interplanetary casino in this movie…And Carrie Fisher. I’m not a terribly sentimental guy but boy the scenes with her affected me. She was very good, and…my wife and I squeezed each other’s hands and said, “Carrie!” (We’ve read her books, seen docs on her, saw her live in person in her one-woman show.) …I just wanted to say that Adam Driver was way better in this one. He rediscovered his gravitas, his anger, his timing. Better director I’d guess.

There’s a scene at the end that my wife thinks may be (unconsciously?) inspired by a scene at the end of the movie of CAMELOT…it worked, anyway… There are a few special effects and a few props and set items I thought could’ve been realer…but it didn’t really matter. The movie has winning ways, if you’re not a super-dweeb…oh and Chewbacca has a bit more character development in this, and one very amusing scene.

BTW, did you know that Wookies make good eating? They’re delicious. What are they like to eat? They’re Chewie.

Now is that joke nerdy or dweeby or…

Dec 17

I’m a Supporter of Transgender Rights & I Can’t Stand the Term Cisgender

Okay, I say this objection is NOT political. I can’t stand the term cisgender or cismale or cisfemale, as promulgated by people who imagine they’re progressive (even though they’e engaging in linguistically incorrect name calling) for people who are Just the Gender They Were Born In. People (rarely actual transgender people) who feel we must resort to assaulting English to supposedly prove some point, are, dare I use the term, bozos.

“Calling me a bozo is pejorative!” Yes it is. You deserve a real pejorative. And cisgender as a term SOUNDS pejorative and I do not believe them when they say it doesn’t and I do not believe them when they say it’s not intended, consciously or unconsciously, to be negative sounding, ugly, and like hanging a sign over someone. “Wear this armband that says cisgender,” she sneered.

If that’s not what’s going on why is it pretty much always in a negative context that they use the term? “Cisgenders oppressed me today.” No–ASSHOLES oppressed you. That’s why we have terms like ASSHOLES to talk about certain kinds of jerks who are abusive–whether to girl scouts or postal workers or to gay persons or transgender persons. It was a cretin, a jerk, a putz, a schmuck, an asshole–it was not a cisgender person oppressing you. Because that term doesn’t exist just because you and a few thousand other people say it does, or because some rare college professor pretends to like it.

And is the term cisgender ugly, oh yes. It sounds like cess-gender. It has a hiss-sound at the beginning of it.

I’m SORRY I have had one definite gender from birth, okay? I’m SORRY it’s my birth gender and I’m not bothered by the gender. Happy now? But aren’t transgender people supposed to know what gender they are psychologically, inwardly, and so on, from an early age? “I’ve always known I was female, so I’m transing to female.” And that’s fine with me. I believe you! But if you always knew you were female, shouldn’t we say you’re cisgender? You weren’t assigned that, true, by the outside world, but you assigned that, or knew that you were always female…so…you were always that gender. So you’re arguably cisgender. Which means the term is extra lame.

This isn’t political because accepting transgender folks is not a political thing, it’s a human decency thing. That’s how they are, it hurts no one, just accept them. And don’t call people phony categorization names.

Dec 17

A Hole in the Heart of America

Not a terribly big asteroid. But one enough to punch a great hole in the heart of America. Its impact on the USA is just the beginning–the shockwaves spread out from there…In the case of the asteroid the explosion rains particles of Earth and asteroid, darkening great parts of the world… That’s what comes to my mind, when I think about TRUMP. It’s not the end of the world or, technically, the end of the United States. It’s the maiming of America; it’s the crippling, of America… When I think about Scott Pruitt, like all that darkening debris, all that toxic dust from the asteroid…When I think about the tax plan. Great numbers of people dying in the cold darkness. The sudden impact, then the slow progress of America’s black lung disease… I want to think about something else.

Dec 17


We’re gonna see the new Star Wars pic tomorrow, I hear it’s good despite some whiny hyper-nerd fans, and my wife has given me a sharp look as she warns me not to bitch about the following during the movie:

the one thing that annoys me about Star Wars movies in general is the Storm Troopers apparently have armor made out of eggshells, and not just because it looks that way, but because if you merely, say, sneeze at them they fall over dead. It’s the galaxy’s most useless armor. it deflects nada, nothing. Punch them, shoot them with anything, they instantly die. If they can manage it, several will die from one shot. “Fellow stormtroopers, line up so more of us can die from one blaster shot!” Also apparently their helmets are designed to make them the worst shots, the worst at aiming, in the galaxy far far away.

Dec 17

‘An Alarming Number Of People Think “The Martian” Is A True Story’

Buzzfeed reported that large number sof people believe that the movie about an astronaut trapped on Mars is a true story.

I shake my fist at the vast abyss, like fifty grand canyons cut into the landscape of knowledge in our country…I shout damn you, damn you, and my voice comes echoing back to me…I shake my fist at ignoramuses who’re squandering their minds on their cellphones and ESPN and who are voting against money for libraries…and for more money for coliseums where brain damage is regularly manufactured…I shake my fist at the dearth of science education…I shake my fist, then I bow my head and shuffle back into my house, so discouraged I dont’ have the strength to slam the door…

Dec 17

Off the Cuff review of THE SHAPE OF WATER

We saw THE SHAPE OF WATER tonight. This fine film is the overall-best del Toro film I’ve ever seen. His films are always rewarding but this one is the best-balanced, the best paced, the most effective. It only cost 20 mil to make and it’s in limited release right now but it’ll be a success for him and will get many award nominations. Sally Hawkins is superb in this as the mute girl who encounters a strange creature trapped in a secret govt lab–a creature which, yes, was probably in part inspired by the Creature from the Black Lagoon. And there is a line in the film that seems an homage to that movie. But this isn’t some kind of sequel concept or reboot of Creature from the BL. This is a branch, an offshoot, a volunteer growth with a life of its own. It is its own movie. It’s not at all dependent on that film. It’s a way better film too (though actually the C from the BL is a damned good movie of its kind).

THE SHAPE OF WATER shows us once more that an auteur with a good vision is always way better than a lot of creatures from the green-fixated studio–always better than a movie  under  significant studio control. del Toro co-wrote and directed and it’s a seamless vision. There are a couple of dream sequences, in a sense, and a surreal quality that never is too heavy handed. There’s just enough of it…I don’t want to say too much because it’d risk spoilers. There are surprises in the story, and there are things that probably play out the way you thought they would, but this film has no shortage of suspense, you’ll probably never feel bored. Unless of course you have no goddamn heart…I’ll just finish by saying that sometimes I thought of the French movie Amelie, oddly enough, but it reminds me more of the better Tim Burton films except this does human feeling, suffering, romance, far better than Burton could. Oh and actually all the actors in this are really, really good.