Bleeding Fool

Back to work at Bleedingfool.com

While I was in the throes of writing Walls of Men, I decided to forgo other creative activities.  As a result, my output here and elsewhere suffered.

Today my first new content since June appeared on Bleedingfool.com: a scathing review of Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai.

The review itself is less significant than the fact that I finally have time to do something other than research or write about China. 

Don't get me wrong, it's fun to take on a major project and feels great to get it behind you.  Still, it's also tough to give up sidebar hobbies and just grind away on a single topic.

I'm still decompressing from the effort, and am taking something of an intellectual vacation in terms of heavy reading, but the notion of getting back into turning out short pieces is appealing to me.


Gorky Park: a superior Cold War thriller

I've seen Gorky Park a couple of times before, but after research on Spain and China, it seemed a good time to revisit it.

It's excellent.  Really a tight, well-crafted film that captures the sense of living under Communist rule.

The late William Hurt is brilliant, playing one of those roles that are well outside what one expects of certain actors.  I think his turn as a Soviet police ("militia") detective is arguably his best.  It's not just the mannerisms, but the way he inhabits the character.  His makeup and facial expressions are - to be blunt - unAmerican.

Which is a very good thing.

One of the difficulties in doing films set in foreign lands is giving a sense of the language differences.  Do you have everyone do an atrocious foreign accent, or just have them speak normally?

Gorky Park has the Russian characters use English accents and only the Americans (who play Americans) talk like, er, Americans. 

What this means is that Hurt plays a Russian but speaks with an English accent.  That sounds silly, but actually most Europeans learn British rather than American English, so it works.  Plus, the rest of the crew around him is British.  Without that, he'd stand out.  It may seem I'm making too much of it, but it is upon such details as these that films have foundered.

The 1980s are interesting because the Soviet Union was a far more pressing threat to us than Russia is today, yet the anti-Russian animus is much worse now than it was back then.

Of course, back then we wanted to know what our enemies were thinking.  We needed that so we could plan appropriately.  Today, a lot of "smart" people simply ignore their enemies, assuming they know them or that they are beneath knowing altogether.  Put simply, Hollywood is a lot more bigoted and stupid than it used to be.

It makes a nice companion to White Nights, which is of course brilliant.


My anti-Disney screed

I don't normally highlight my posts over at Bleedingfool.com that much, but my column excoriating modern - and especially Disney - films seems to have struck a chord.

While hardly a viral post, it got an unusually positive reception and this site saw a surge in traffic.

One can only conclude that I'm onto something.

I've been doing these retro-reviews for a while and I think they key difference between movies made decades ago and those of more recent vintage is simply that back then it was taken for granted that people in movies should behave like, um, actual people.

Now it's pretty much a given that people should behave like a Platonic Woke Ideal, that is - something that never was and never will be.

Flawless heroes demonstrate their flawlessness while also appearing Stunning and Brave.  The villains they face are a hitherto unknown combination of stupid, malevolent and impotent, which makes the triumph over them completely without any tension whatsoever.

When a rare film does allow something approximating reality to appear, it's shocking and seems at first glance to be better than it really is.  Alternatively, films that realistically portray human nature have to be steeped in irony lest anyone of the Woke Police denounce it as heresy.

Diminishing box office hauls and new funding sources for alternative entertainment indicate that we may be on the brink of a serious shift in cultural preferences.  We'll see.


Geek Guns ain't dead yet

While I don't normally do "link posts" to my work over at Bleedingfool.com, some of my readers might be interested to know that I added a new installment to the Geek Guns series, this one centering on Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum (Smith and Wesson Model 29).

The feature ran for 23 straight weeks before I took a break, and while I don't have a follow-up series planned, I will continue to add new installments as the opportunities present themselves.

The primary challenge is of course access to iconic weapons.  For example, I'd love to do a feature on the Colonial Marine weapons from Aliens, but I don't know anyone with a Thompson submachinegun (which is what those were).  I guess I need to hang out with a wealthier crowd.

 


The unified Battlestar Galactica compilation post

For a while it seemed that every other post over at Bleedingfool.com involved Battlestar Galactica, specifically its terrible "reboot."

In fact, I've pulled it apart in so many different ways, I think it would be useful to have a handy place to reference the collection, so here we are.

These are the ones at Bleedingfool.com:

Yes, Battlestar Galactica (2004) was the First Punitive Remake

Battlestar Galactica’s Reboot was the forerunner of SJW Hollywood

Battlestar Galactica ’78: The Original Space Western

Again With the Battlestar Galactica Thing…

At the time I was also in a habit of doing posts linking to stories when they posted and adding some addition commentary here at Chateau Lloyd, so here are those links:

My Battlestar Galactica piece is up

Battlestar Galactica revisited

 

 


The faith of Babylon 5

Over at Bleedingfool.com I've got an article up celebrating that lost gem of the 1990s, Babylon 5.

One of my challenges in writing it was keeping my admiration for the show in check, because there is so much about the show to like.

I watched the entire run when it was on live TV of course, and subsequently got the DVDs and binge-watched it twice more.  I'm thinking I might be due for another viewing.

One thing I touched on that's germane to my current Spirit World kick is the degree to which all of the characters on the show not only have some form of religion, but this actually directs their actions.

That's not very common these days as politics have replaced religion.  It's worth mentioning that none of the Star Trek versions ever bothered with a ship's chaplain.  Oh, they had empaths and therapists, but no one regularly participated in prayer services.  When it was shown, faith was always individual.

Babylon 5, by contrast, highlighted how even aliens had a belief system that touched on the supernatural.  It is considered a universal feature of sentient life.

Whether one looks at the near-Islamic Narn, Dionysian Centuri or mystic Minbari, religion was a core part of the group's identity and how each character expressed that was a key part of their personality.

Another element that stands out is that the humans are portrayed as every bit as reverent as the aliens.  This also cuts against the grain.  The classic rule in Hollywood is that only non-Christian cultures have sincere religious faith; Christians are either hypocrites or raving lunatics (often both).

Babylon 5 doesn't do that and as the years go by, I appreciate it more and more.


Comparing The Year of Living Dangerously with The Killing Fields

I've fallen out of the habit of cross-posting my articles from bleedingfool.com, but I think it's necessary in this case because what I wrote about The Year of Living Dangerously goes to the heart of what I didn't like about The Killing Fields.

I'm going to assume by now that you've checked out the article and move on with my critique of The Killing Fields.   The films are of course quite similar, being about the spread of Communism in Asia during the Cold War.

In fact, they films bookend Vietnam, with The Year of Living Dangerously taking place in 1965 while The Killing Fields begins in 1973.

Both center around Western journalists striving to get the truth out to the larger public.  However, the portrayal of them is profoundly different.

The journalists in Indonesia are, as I've noted, a bunch of heavy-drinking perverts.  They may be good at their craft, but they are hardly role models.

By contrast, Cambodia's press establishment is remarkably noble and altruistic, particularly Sam Waterston's Sam Schanberg.  The only hint of criticism he gets his how failed to ensure the safety of his translator/friend Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor, who is amazing) and reaped the benefits of the subsequent publicity.

In fact, while approving of the subject matter, I found the presentation of The Killing Fields to be heavily at odds with the facts.  I get that by 1984, there was still a lot of Nixon hate out there, but it's obvious that the production team has let it completely cloud their judgement.  Late in the film Schanberg admits that the Khmer Rouge were worse than he thought, but then tries to blame Nixon for radicalizing them!

Uh, no.  Every single time Communists take control of a country they kill off huge numbers of people. (In Spain, they couldn't even wait until they won the civil war.)

The Khmer Rouge were just really good at it.  The notion that the Communists would have been peaceful and inclusive if only those pesky Americans weren't there is nonsense on stilts.

It;s possible that his answer isn't an attempt to preach but instead shows how far removed from reality his thought process has become.  I suppose there's also implied criticism in how Schanberg sits in his comfy chair talking about mailing photos while his dear friend eats lizards and climbs over corpses.

Even understanding the difficulty of the logistics at the time, I can't wonder why Schanberg didn't go to the refugee camps and write about them personally, maybe mount a vigil for his friend there rather than rage-watching Nixon administration footage while listening to his high-fidelity stereo.

The most tone-deaf moment in the film is when Schanberg is reunited with Pran and the production team plays of all things John Lennon's "Imagine."  Seriously?!

The Khmer Rouge was the embodiment of everything in the song!   They denied God, wiped out family ties and literally made everyone live for the day, every day.  The fact that their "brotherhood of man" was a nightmare only illustrates the inevitable outcome of nihilistic fantasies.

My resulting rage stroke almost wrecked the movie for me.

I will re-watch The Killing Fields at some point, looking for greater detail.  Also, the dialog wasn't very clear in places, so I'm sure I missed things.

Even so, The Year of Living Dangerously is a much better film.  The characters are more fully developed and the moral questions are presented with greater skill and complexity.  The Killing Fields gets very preachy at times, which it doesn't need to be.  The story speaks for itself, we don't need Waterston's sermonizing to make the point for us.

 

 

 


Unintended works of genius

I'm not sure if anyone has noticed, but my ruminations here often find their final form over at Bleedingfool.com.  Since I don't always bother to link to my articles (because I don't always know when they run), prudent readers should check the site from time to time.

My latest concept is how it often happens that a creator's vision is thwarted in some way, with the result that the finished product is better than it otherwise would have been.

One of the catalysts for this has been my recent viewing of The Caine Mutiny, which differs from the book insofar as Humphrey Bogart is considerably older than his character, Capt. Queeg.

In theory, this should be a problem, but in fact it makes for a much better story.  In the book, Queeg is a jerk and a coward, a villain devoid of any redeeming qualities.

For the film adaptation, the character was subtly changed - Queeg is a seven year veteran of the Navy, but there is a remark that he has 14 years "at sea," which means he was a merchant sailor prior to joining the service.

Bogart wears a class ring, so presumably Queeg went to the Merchant Marine academy, captained a merchant ship and then decided to pursue a direct commission into the Navy - perhaps because the Great Depression was hurting trade.

This career path is very similar to the one followed by James Cagney's character in Mister Roberts.  Both men have a chip on their shoulder, both are older than normal for the rank they hold, and in the case of Queeg, the strain of combat duty has proven too much.  This makes Queeg much more sympathetic and interesting.

It also met the Navy's requirement that the story be altered in order for them to participate.  The book painted a very unflattering picture of the Navy, particularly in who could rise to positions of authority.  Herman Wouk might well complain that the integrity of his work was compromised by self-interest and politics, but I think the result is far superior.

There is a tendency for people to treat books as authoritative, particularly if they are fictionalized accounts of historical events or experiences.  With greater creative freedom, books can "go there" and reveal the dark sinister truths that otherwise would be unspoken.

This view is particularly prevalent in the military, where disparaging one's service can be a career-ending experience.  However, the shield of creative license can also be used as an offensive weapon as well.  Using a thinly-disguised work of fiction to settle scores is a time-honored way to skirt libel laws (particularly when they were more rigorously enforced).

For example, Pat Conroy's The Great Santini was a bitter, angry attack against his father.  When it was made into a film, the decision to cast Robert Duval necessarily make the character of Santini more sympathetic, and some changes were made to the story to make him  more likeable. 

In the process, the character became more believable.  Again, the artist's vision (and goal) of vicarious character assassination was thwarted, but with the result of making a better work of art.

Don't be surprised to see a longer discussion of this in the near future, because I think it's worth examining.

 


Seeing Star Wars in sadness, not in anger

In what may be a first time event, my article at Bleedingfool.com expanding on my split with Star Wars hasn't gotten a single negative reaction or comment.

That's a remarkable occurrence.   Normally with that many reactions someone's bound to be a hater, but that's not the case here.

Clearly my experience in not unique.

I find that a lot of our problems as a society come from people who turn every disappointment into incandescent rage.  The movie wasn't good AND IT'S YOUR FAULT!!!

I suppose hate-clicks count the same as any other, so why seek understanding when you can spout off for fun and profit?

That brings me to my other observation, which is that about half of the reactions were "sad," an emoji I've never seen anyone choose for my articles before.

Of course what happened is deeply sad, both from the perspective of ruining art to the self-destruction of the creative talent behind it.

One one of the things that gets me fired up is waste - wasted opportunity, wasted resources, wasted talent.  It's particularly galling when you see something that mostly good and could have been great but for that one stupid thing and the thing wasn't an oversight or accident, but a very deliberate and determined choice.

As I get older, I'm less like to rage against waste and more likely to mourn it.

 


I'm not a fan of the Amon Sul podcast on Lord of the Rings

Based on my enjoyment of the Lord of Spirits, I thought for sure I'd love Father Andrew Stephen Damick's Tolkien-centric Amon Sul podcast.

Not so much.

I think I'm fairly near the upper end of the Tolkien fandom spectrum.  No, I don't speak Elvish, but I used to read Lord of the Rings every year, have most everything J.R.R. wrote and can accurately recite some of the songs and poems.

Maybe that's my problem: I seem to know more about the books than the host, which is really irritating.

Father Andrew also makes some pretty significant mistakes, conflating battles, names, events and this combined with his (freely admitted) "fangirl" behavior to really turn me against the show. 

I think the final straw was his refusal to completely and unconditionally condemn the Peter Jackson movies.  These are terrible, both as adaptations and as standalone movies.  I wish to emphasize that second point, because people will sometimes argue that Jackson can't be blamed for having to make a few concessions to the necessities of putting the story on film.

If you take the movies as they are, they are completely incoherent.  The plot is completely incoherent.

I've already linked to my trashing of the film, and so I won't repeat (or add to) my previous invective.  Suffice to say that Father Andrew's unwillingness to put those atrocities in their place - either because he's too nice or simply doesn't see the problems - is a deal-breaker.

I tried, but I can't take it anymore.  I'll stick with Lord of Spirits and leave it at that.