The Death of Stalin – A Commie Comedy of Terrors

To appropriately quote an iconic catch phrase from Monty Python – the most well known outing of Michael Palin, who is one of the actors in Death of Stalin:

"And now for something completely different."

I am delighted and honored to present a GUEST REVIEWER! Stuart White – former journalist – the author of several amazing books, and (Art of the Warrior: The Story Sun Tzu) (Black Jacques) screenwriter of a number of brilliant movies (Pendragon) and a frightening and intriguing TV show currently in pre-production, and MOST important (at least to me) my very dear friend.

I PROUDLY PRESENT TO YOU BY STUART WHITE:

The Death of StalinA Commie Comedy of Terrors

By Stuart White.

Imagine you’re a producer or screenwriter. You’re sitting by a big pool in Hollywood while a cigar-smoking movie mogul listens to your movie pitch.

"Well it’s about Stalin’s death in 1953, and the murder and mayhem and stuff that went on afterwards."

Big Mogul pulls on his cigar. Exhales:

"Stalin? The Russian dictator guy who killed millions of his own people? Starved them to death? Sent them to labour camps in the Siberian GULAG? That the guy?"

"That’s our baby. Now we open on him getting drunk with the Politburo and they’re all having a great giggle about the dying screams of executed political opponents, and then they play practical jokes, sticking tomatoes in each other’s pockets and squashing them.

"They watch endless movies after dinner, including John Wayne films which Stalin adores, but after they’ve finally gone Stalin keels over from a cerebral haemorrhage, peeing himself in the process.

"And even though his armed guards hear his collapse they are too terrified to go into his room, and he lies there all night."

Movie mogul blows smoke rings, and now there’s a hint of irritation:

"Yeh, yeh. Cut to the chase."

"Then the maid discovers him the next morning. The rest of his criminal gang, Krushchev, Beria – the head of the secret police – Malenkov his deputy – they turn up but are too terrified to call a doctor.

"Not surprisingly because the Soviet leadership has either killed or put in prison all the country’s best doctors on the grounds they suspected them of trying to kill Stalin.

"So his colleagues stick Stalin on a bed and leave him for four days debating what to do, before finally calling in medical guys dragged out of prison for the occasion. And on about day four Stalin finally pegs out."

The mogul’s attention wanders and he starts to ogle a skinny starlet Weinstein-style; you’re losing him..

"Yeh – so – our main man is dead. That’s the end of the picture, right?"

"No, you don’t get it. Stalin’s dead by about page 8 of the script. The story is afterwards. All his buddies are terrified of each other becoming leader, in case the new one has each of THEM killed."

Big Mogul is a trifle puzzled, "Like the Godfather is killed so it’s who takes over the Mafia – right?"

"You got it! Stalin gets embalmed, and shown in an open coffin while all the leaders weep crocodile tears and plan each other’s downfall."

"A Russian Godfather? I don’t know – "

"No, there’s more. We’ve got torture scenes. We’ve got executions! We’ve got sons betraying their own fathers to the secret police. We’ve got one of the ministers even slandering his own WIFE who is in prison – until to his astonishment she’s released.

"This film has the Three T’s: TERROR, TORTURE, TYRANNY. It’s Orwell’s 1984 only real. And true."

You sink back exhausted. The producer takes another puff on his Cuban and looks pointedly at his Cartier tank watch.

"All seems a little gloomy to me. And there’s no zombies, I like zombies, and – this is too serious a movie for me."

"No…no… read the title page of the script – IT’S A COMEDY!"

Big Mogul sits bolt upright in his sun lounger and spits his cigar sizzling into the pool.

"A comedy? Are you out of your freaking mind? Get the hell outta here! What next – Auschwitz the Musical?"

…………………………………………..

Unless it seems, the pitcher is Armando Iannucci the creative Scottish-born comedy genius of Italian heritage who came up with the stunning VEEP, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and brought to the screen half a dozen more comedy classics (in Britain at least).

So it got made. The Death of Stalin. A comedy.

Now having read more than a little about the rule of that psychopathic megalomaniac Stalin and a reign of terror that sent millions to their deaths, I confess I couldn’t see the humour – even the black humour – in a film about his demise and its bloody aftermath.

And for the first fifteen minutes, despite the insane guffawing of some bearded throwbacks sitting in front of me – I thought, "This is the least funny thing I’ve ever seen."

The casting and the actor’s portrayals didn’t help. Lavrenti Beria, the paedophile-rapist secret police boss was in real life physically a bald, weaselly little runt.

Nikita Krushchev, eventual leader of the Soviet Union was a bald, burly peasant type.

But they cast the English theatrical actor Simon Russell Beale, who is naturally bald and extremely rotund as – Beria. They cast thin, lithe, cosmetically- made-bald Steve Buscemi, as Krushchev.

So for a few minutes I admit I was confused thinking Krushchev was Beria and vice-versa.

Then there’s Monty Python star Michael Palin as the Russian leader Molotov. As you watch him you can’t help cast your mind back to the Dead Parrot sketch.

"No, this is a Norwegian blue…it’s not dead, it’s resting."

And the accents. No-one even attempts a Russian accent. Steve Buscemi is outright, no-holds-barred stars and stripes American. "Hey, who the hell put a go****ed tomAYto in my pocket?"

Jason Isaacs as the pugnacious Soviet military man Marshal Zhukov, has an English Northern accent so blunt he sounded like one of the Yorkshiremen in another Python sketch, where each one recalls growing up in such poverty they ate broken glass and walked 195 miles a day to school in the snow, then adding, "And it were luxury, bluddy luxury."

 

Then there’s an English TV comedian called Paul Whitehouse playing wily Anastas Mikoyan, who sounds off like a chirpy bus conductor on a red London Routemaster issuing tickets as he heads for the East End.

 

But the most incongruous accent of all comes out of the moustachioed mouth of Stalin himself; an astonishingly bad verbal impression of Dick van Dyke doing an astoundingly bad verbal impression of a Cockney in Mary Poppins.

It’s an utter dog’s breakfast, a veritable Babel of confusing accents.

But there IS a standout performance by that fine American actor Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the hapless and terrified Stalin deputy, Georgi Malenkov.

His bad wig is priceless, his hang-dog look and seemingly hesitant performance, looking this way and that before he makes even the smallest decision, is a master-class, even if this Deputy Chairman of the USSR appears to come from St. Louis, Missouri. The other standout is Jeffrey Russell Beale as the lascivious, murderous creep Beria.

But always in my mind as the movie unrolled was: never mind where’s the beef? Where’s the comedy?

There’s one scene where they roll the paralysed and dying Stalin onto a bed and two of the bearers end up UNDER Stalin.

Oh, wow, hilarious, what farcical stuff – yet the two swamp people in front of me thought it hilarious.

Or when Malenkov confesses to Zhukov that he thinks Beria is a danger, believing Zhukov will sympathise. But Zhukov in his broad Northern accent says he will have to report that remark to the Politburo. That could be a death sentence.

The eyes of Tambor’s Malenkov go wide with sheer terror, and his multiple flabby chins wobble with nerves. Next is the Lubianka prison and a bullet through the back of his neck. Then Zhukov laughs and prods him, "You shudda seen your face." He was putting Malenkov on.

Oh, excuse me for not rolling in the aisles. A man thinks for a brief second he has been betrayed and will soon die a horrible death. Then you say, in effect, "Just kidding." Maybe we need a laugh track here.

And an egregious error – (and a spoiler alert if you’re not acquainted with the period.) Beria, who has spent two decades sending people to death and slavery get his just desserts.

But as he’s dragged off for what we see as a bloody summary execution (oh, and another laugh clue: we feast on a shot of his burning body after he’s been shot in the head. What a rib-tickler.)

But as Beria is dragged away, bound and gagged, face bloodied, Malenkov, who Beria was going to have killed, is still sticking to pointless Soviet committee rules, shouting that Beria deserves a trial, insisting: "He was one of us!"

In reality Beria got his absurd show trial, was inevitably found guilty of betraying the Soviet Union, but also with some ingenuity, of rape too.

It was nine months later before he was finally executed, shot in the face after a gag had been stuffed in his mouth to stifle his terror-stricken and vain appeals for mercy.

Yes, this whole movie is simply a larf-a-minute.

To my amazement Homeland’s super-spooky-spook actor Rupert Friend plays Stalin’s drunken son, Vasily. And badly.

But he does get an actually almost funny moment. He insists on making a speech on the Kremlin balcony at his father’s funeral, against the wishes of the leadership. He even stays sober for it.

But as he starts to extol the virtues of his warm and cuddly dead Dad, and compares the peoples of the Soviet Union to a collection of sad little bereaved bears, fighter jets scream over Red Square and make his words inaudible.

His is the worst performance of the whole movie. AND we’re supposed to find funny him talking about a plane crash, caused by his incompetence, that killed an entire hockey team. I studied the audience for that one. Not so much as a titter.

And to be the worst performer takes some doing in a cast that includes Stalin’s daughter Svetlana, played by Andrea Riseborough, in the manner of a rather strident and at times hysterical English girl from the posh Home Counties of England who looks as out of place in Moscow as a Siberian babushka would in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Ok. Now here’s the weird part. I ending up LOVING this movie and I’d recommend you see it.

Truly, honestly – no joke – and no wordplay intended.

Why? Well…I can’t truly say. I didn’t believe ANY of the characters, yet the story is compelling, and if you needed a reminder – or to be informed for the first time – just how bad Communism was at its murderous apogee in the Soviet Union as short a time ago as the Fifties, well here it is.

And given Iannucci’s comedy street-smarts perhaps he’s actually saying in his less-than-coded way: "How can you treat these people and events as other THAN farce? Dangerous, homicidal farce but farcically ludicrous nonetheless."

And Buscemi as a Moscow Mafiosi?

Well, weren’t these people the Mafia of international politics with the largest country in the world for their turf?

Zhukov as a blunt-speaking, no-nonsense, I call-a-spade-a-spade Yorkshireman? Well perhaps the better to understand the rough-edged military genius who actually arrests Beria and roughs him up in the process.

Palin as mild-mannered nonentity Molotov, the man who in the 1930’s thought up the Molotov Cocktail – something that as military historians will tell you is not something to be ordered at your local upmarket hotel bar with a Vodka-Martini and twist for your companion. Well why not?

Weren’t these senior Communist apparatchiks frequently faceless, Janus-like two-faced straw men?

So go. Take the kids. And let them draw their own conclusion about the movie. Mine is it’s a comedy not of errors but of terrors; a blackly humorous attempt to show what can result when you let a country fall into the grip of totalitarianism.

And my confused view of the movie reminds me of an old joke told by a gagmaster in his prime:

"When I grew up and told them I wanted to be a comedian they laughed. Well, let me tell you, they’re not laughing now."

And I’m not laughing after this movie, and I didn’t laugh once during it – but it did make me think.

And make me want to read more about Stalin, that Georgian – yes, he was Georgian not Russian – red Tsar and about those murderous times.

But don’t tell your kids – or your wife, husband, or date – that the movie you’ve got tickets for is a comedy. Then if they come out splitting their sides saying, "That was SO funny," well, then Iannuci wins.

I wager you’ll have a humdinger of a conversation about the movie and the crazed world of the court of the Red Tsar, over the burgers and shakes afterwards.

And of course I mean Georgian as in the Soviet Republic of Georgia, rather than as in the US state of Georgia in case there’s any confusion. Stalin’s home-town was not Atlanta. LOL………

Dasdivanya!!!

Ends.

Suburbicon: Clooney sinks a Coen comedy

SHORT TAKE: Clooney’s failed attempt to walk in the shoes of the Coen brothers, Suburbicon is supposed to be a noir comedy in the line of Fargo but sinks under the heavy handed weight of Clooney’s attempt to be socially relevant.

LONG TAKE: Years ago the Coen brothers wrote a darkly comic script about a quiet average suburban family who descends slowly and inexorably into evil and ultimately madness beginning with one bad decision. That script lay fallow until George Clooney – alumni of multiple Coen films, including two of my favorites –

Hail, Caeser! and o brotherO Brother, Where Art Thou? – decided to film it.

BEYOND HERE BE SPOILERS:

The premise of the main story deals with the disintegration of a family subsequent to a robbery which results in the death of the paraplegic mom, Rose (Julianna Moore). As the story unfolds, like the gradual rotting of a supporting beam to a house, the unnatural complacency of the husband, Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) during the break in, the displays of grief amongst his friends and family that he obviously does not share, the quick injection of the twin sister Margaret (also Julianna Moore) into the mother’s place all begin to develop the smell of what Big Daddy from Tennessee William’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof might have referred to as “mendacity”. gardner and margaretThat is – the husband and the deceased wife’s sister are lying and definitely up to no good. Much of this growing tragedy is seen through the eyes of their 12 year old boy Nicky (Noah Jupe).

What struck me about the machinations of Gardner was the “Banality of Evil” – a phrase coined by Hannah Arendt – the ease with which otherwise ordinary decent men can be lured into committing great evil.

At its best moments, Suburbicon reminded me of the movie Good – starring Viggo “Aragorn” Mortensen and Jason “Lucius Malfoy” Isaacs. Good is about a decent ordinary man named John Halder (Mortensen) who is slowly lured, one simple, poorly chosen decision at a time, into having his mother euthanized, betraying his best friend and family to hideous deaths, and becoming a functionary of the Nazi party, ending in the weight of his guilt pushing him into madness. Good is a tragic tale of the noble man whose flaw of stunning self-interest destroys him and everyone around him. Good is a fascinating movie heartbreakingly told with complexity and depth of purpose. But – at the deliberate risk of being punny – Suburbicon is NOT Good.

There is an especially telling scene in Suburbicon where Lodge calls his son, Nicky, into his office. Nicky, by witness of a number of incriminating events subsequent to his mother’s murder, has already inferred his father and aunt’s complicity. Aside from the terrible vulnerability a child would feel, he has been betrayed by his father in the most fundamental of ways. intimidatingHis father has not only failed to protect their family but he has opened the door to permit evil and chaos wreck their will upon their home. carSo driven is Lodge by his own mortally self-indulgent passions, that he has tried very little to even pretend sympathy or connection with his son throughout this ordeal. Knowing his son’s suspicions Lodge enters the bathroom where Nicky is bathing – metaphorically and physically vulnerable – to cajole then berate Nicky into agreeing that what he knows – he does NOT know. Then in a later scene he lectures his son on his failings, rationalizing the boy’s grief and suspicions on being undisciplined and coddled by his dead mother.  Lodge’s thinly veiled justifications for his own abominable deeds reek of the casual self justifications offered by the Nazis at Nuremberg.

This is as dark a story as one might tell and in the hands of the Coen brothers who directed equally dark themed topics like Fargo through the medium of humor they become multilayered stories which make you wiser for having watched them. But wherein the Coens guide their films through those grim forests with the lightening lantern of humor, Clooney takes himself too seriously and drives the Coen scripted screenplay to murky depths. The trailers advertise a black comedy. What we get is a noir which attempts and fails humor like someone who uses a hand buzzer in a funeral line.

To underscore Clooney’s heavy handedness he adds to the Coen script a clunky grafting of the real life incident of the Myers family in Bush, Pennsylvania in 1957, wherein a black family’s entrance into an otherwise white suburban community results in two weeks of harrassment culminating in a neighborhood riot. Clooney is too intent on castigating the memory of early white suburbia as uniformly viciously racist based upon a single isolated incident, rather than craft the Aesop-like Coen tale to which we are used.

There is some small merit to the historical event’s inclusion to the Coen brother’s film as a macrocosm of chaos, as it were, to the microcosm of the family’s disintegration. In addition, as a clunky plot point, the riots act as a convenient McGuffin to explain why the neighbors don’t notice the insanity unfolding in the Lodge’s home. But Clooney cannot resist the urge to overlay his own obvious disdain and suspicion of middle class America upon the story all the while in an act of hypocrisy more wryly amusing than the movie, patronizingly presents the beseiged black family not as individuals but as de-personalized racial symbols. Neither adult has a first name and the father does not even have any lines. The only personality given to the black family is through their son Andy and only then through his friendship with the white Nicky Lodge child next door.

Samuel Goldwyn once famously said to an idealistic screenwriter with visions of teaching the public a socially meaningful lesson: “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.” Clooney would have been wise to heed that advice.

Hopefully Clooney will learn, if he directs any movies in the future, from the admonition that Edmund Kean allegedly gave upon his death bed: “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

As a side note – if anyone was wondering – I looked for a connection to Satyricon – the story whose obvious title similarity screams for comparison – and really couldn’t find much – aside from the fact Satyricon in all of its manifestations from Roman literature to Fellini – were just bawdy house sensualities with about as much deep meaning as your average porno film. I suppose it is possible the title was simply intended as a warning that this story might start out as an innocent  look at suburban life in the 50’s but will become an excuse to roll around in undiluted profane sexuality and raw graphic violence and bloodshed.

My son-in-law, Jacob Semmes, a video game docent for MMORPG and gamespace.com

When I was in my twenties there was an arcade on the way home from work. Sometimes my husband and I, armed with a roll of quarters, would meet there and while away an hour busting asteroids, breaking down brick walls, paddling pin balls, shooting Western baddies and jumping Mario mushrooms. Those games, played for 25 cents a turn, on clunky machines with the most basic of animation required leg stamina and sturdy fingers as you hoped to get enough points or kill enough zombies or break enough asteroids to play for another minute. They were simple and straightforward. Anyone who could stand could play them. It took very little intellect and no learning curve to start. We thought they were fun….but we didn't know any better.

Nowadays the computer generated interactive ever shifting constantly upgraded multi-world role playing games often require clever problem solving skills as well as quick reflexes and a sharp eye. But that won't be enough if you are not familiar with the maps, how to acquire health points or guidance on the best weapons to use in a given scenario. In addition there are nuances to each game which almost acquire a personality of their own and sometimes require a tour guide or video game docent to allow you to get the most out of your experience.

This is where my son-in-law, Jacob Semmes, comes in. He writes reviews for video games for the Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game website – or MMORPG for short, which you can access with a free registration at:

http://www.mmorpg.com/index.cfm. He also writes reviews for www.gamespace.com.

These are paradises (paradi??) of computer generated realities where a universe of avatars and challenges await – from fighting orcs in a fantasy forest to shooting tanks for the Allies in WW II to collecting coins in a wizard shop in the comfort and privacy of your own home.

His acumen and observant eye, his background as an IT (information technology) professional, and literary expertise acquired through his English degree make him the ultimate expert in assessing not only the technicals of a game but intuit its ambient storyline objectives. In short he is a gamer’s gamer.

Granted I’m biased, but his reviews are entertaining as well as informative. With a few well chosen phrases he can conjure up from your mind’s eye the first hand experience of wielding swords against powerful wizards or jumping platforms in a candy shop, wetting your appetite and tweaking your curiosity to experience the scenarios yourself.

Full disclosure – reading the reviews will tempt you to want to sign on for the games.

But why not spend some time improving your eye to hand coordination for an hour? Jacob’s reviews will help you anticipate game mechanics and storyline to enhance the enjoyability of the experience. So for a clever hands' on – birds' eye – embedded jorunalist – "you are there" heads up on upcoming releases and old favorites or just a good read —  sign up, log on, and enjoy.

Best of all — you don’t have to stand!!

 

SWEENEY TODD – AT CENTRAL SCHOOL OCTOBER 26-29 – A PERFECT MOOD SETTER FOR HALLOWEEN – BUT FOR ADULTS ONLY

I was very excited to attend the rehearsal of KC Productions’ newest theater piece – Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. The director Keith Chamberlain graciously allowed me to watch as our talented local cast strove to bring this very challenging musical to life.

For those of you not familiar with this very dark comedic play, Sweeney Todd is based on a series of anonymously written penny dreadfuls called The String of Pearls, which were later combined into a melodrama by Christopher Bond then turned into a musical by Stephen "Into the Woods" Sondheim. The shocking tale is of a man whose life is destroyed by the corrupt politicians in his town who send him unjustly to a penal colony in Australia in order that they might pursue his very beautiful wife. Todd returns 15 years later and seeks a unique brand of particularly gruesome revenge with the help of a slightly batty baker. Together they descend fully into the madness that wrath and vengeance will bring.

The original production starred Angela Lansbury who had to be persuaded to accept the role by Sondheim himself. Ms. Lansbury’s 1979 manifestation of Mrs. Lovett’s singing style in the manner of a dotty music hall performer established Lovett’s personality for everyone who has come after her. Len Cariou was hand picked by Sondheim as Sweeney Todd.

While others have tried to say Sweeney Todd is an allegory for the limited historic scope of the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the average man, Sondheim himself disagrees and makes the case for a more timeless interpretation: "Sweeney Todd is a man bent on personal revenge, the way we all are in one way or another, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the time he lived in, as far as I'm concerned.”

My own personal view is that Sweeney Todd is intended to be a demonstration of the Confucian aphorism: "If you go to seek vengeance, you should dig two graves."

While NOT for kids, it is a complex classic replete with music very difficult to play or sing. Dissonant, syncopated, halting in melody, woven with multiple counterpoint parts, yet the musicians and singers turn the harshly written lyrics and tunes into catchy mesmerizing songs which capture the essence of the dark torment into which Todd has sunk, including, my favorite, a clever but chilling song called "A Little Priest".

Sweeney Todd is being staged at Central School, the historic building naturally accentuating the old world atmosphere.

So go see Sweeney Todd October 26 – 29 as the perfect lead up to Halloween. But whatever you do – don’t plan on a shave there and ………. don’t eat the meat pies.

Lara Connolly – Mrs. Lovett

Michael Davis – Sweeney Todd

Curry Burton – Judge Turpin

Ashley Traughber – Joanna

Tyler Brumback – Anthony

Evan Seago – Tobias

Kelly Rowland – beggar woman

Travis Stegall – Beadle

Jeff Johns Pirelli

Caleb Olbrych – Jonas Fog

Haley Cooley – young Lucy

Ensemble: Sarah Broussard, Ryan Byrne, Heather Champagne, Dylan Conley, Kathleen Evans, Steven Fox, Bob Goodson, Joel Jacob, Amy Phillips, Tim Smith, Stacey Solak, Ella Theriot, Gabriel Townsley, Jamie Young

Director – Keith Chamberlain

Piano – Andrew Steiner

 

GEOSTORM – Entertaining Crazy Quilt of Cliches Create a Delightful Dish of Disaster

I have always been a sucker for a disaster movie. Perhaps it is because it gives me perspective against my anxiety neurotic tendencies. Maybe it’s the cathartic thrill of watching people be braver than I ever want to have to be. Or maybe it’s the parade of celebrity cameos that inevitably populate the screen. Or just the fact that when I get out of the movie theater all I have to worry about is bills, car repairs, grocery shopping, and remembering whether I gave all the animals heart worm medicine this month. The fact there is no world shattering meteor heading our way, or pandemic zombie virus ravaging the country or hostile aliens incinerating national landmarks is a relief.

Over the years I’ve noticed there are formats and factors required of a movie to BE a disaster movie. While no one disaster movie has to have them all they simply must have at least 2 or 3. The more points they have the better and more satisfying the disaster movie. And Geostorm hits a LOT of the hot spots.

Geostorm is your classic formulaic disaster movie. And I do NOT mean this as an insult. Just like your standard rom com is structured in a way so familiar it has bred the cliche: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back – the audience who goes to see one would be disappointed if that was not what happened. Like buying a McDonald’s hamburger in China, Australia or England – with minor variations – you really expect to get the same burger you’d find in Lake Charles, LA or Taylor, South Carolina or Irvine, California. If you wanted something different you’d have gone somewhere else to eat.

It’s the same with certain genres of movies. You expect spy movies to feature car chases and lots of fisticuffs. Cop movies catch (and usually kill) the bad guy. Westerns need a gun slinging confrontation. Kung fu movies involve a LOT of kicking. Slapstick comedies wouldn’t be slapstick without characters enduring extravagant falls, bludgeons and other impacts without much consequence.

And disaster movies have their own standard set of events and contrivances without which you would leave the theater feeling as empty as your popcorn box.

The premise of Geostorm is that after a series of very bad meteorologic events all the countries of the world put aside their differences and got together to create a network of satellites called Dutchboy after the child in the story who put his finger in a dike to forestall its failure. Dutchboy was a scientific marvel equipped to disburse lasers or mini bombs or…well they don’t really explain how it works that much and it doesn’t really matter…to calm hurricanes, cool heat waves, and make blizzards go gently into the night. In other words – people got sick of the weather and contrary to that old expression decided to do something about it!!!*

Gerard "Phantom of the Opera" Butler plays Jake Lawson, inventor of Dutchboy – egotist and all around stereotypical smarter-than-thou jerk who ticks off the purse string holding Congress so much they fire him and turn the project over to his younger brother Max played by Jim Sturgess. Three years later Dutchboy inexplicably goes rogue, threatening to bring about a global storm which will result in billions of lives lost so they need to bring Jake back.

And so the interpersonal tensions are set to launch (pun intended) this space centered disaster flick.

Butler is fun as the scene and accent chewing maverick scientist. Sturgess is fine as the more stoic and stickler younger brother, but honestly at 33 Sturgess was distractingly younger than the 48 year old Butler. They should have either chosen an older actor or rejigged the script slightly to make him Jake’s nephew or child. Abbie "Robocop’s wife" Cornish is cute and believable as Sarah Wilson, secret service member and Max’s secret love interest.

Andy Garcia plays President Palma. I have been an Andy Garcia fan since his staircase acrobatics in The Untouchables. Those of you who have seen the movie know of the famous scene and those of you who have not —- should go see it, for that scene alone if nothing else. Though having only a tiny role, Garcia is a pleasure to watch as Palma, functioning, when he is on screen, as the only responsible adult in the room.

So if you’re in the mood for ice cream seek out a Baskin and Robbins. If you hanker for the smell of flowers go to a garden. If you crave a slice of pepperoni pizza call Domino’s. If you want a dip in salt water go to the ocean. But if you feel like seeing a good old fashion roller coaster of a ride disaster movie Geostorm is the ticket (pun intended) for you.

As I said before there are many reliable attributes which can identify the disaster movie. It occurred to me that one could even chart out a bunch from Geostorm and compare them to other weather or space disaster flicks to determine how well they match up against Geostorm's notable number of disaster movie trademarks.

Take a look at the list below. While I’m sure you could come up with lots of other characteristic identifiers these were ones that jumped to my mind about Geostorm. And I think you’ll be amused at the one on the last line (contributed by my son Louis) which, after 2012 comes closest to meeting Geostorm's watermark as I’ve outlined it.

One last thought – it occurred my oldest daughter – Scout – that Geostorm, while a lot of fun as a straight drama action adventure, does SUCH a thorough job of touching on so many other disaster movie cliches that in the hands of someone like Mel Brooks, without changing any of the set up or dialogue, and with only a tiny push in the other direction, could have been made into a parody.

Just sayin’……….

Below find a rough chart I bashed out giving an idea of the kinds of elements often featured in disaster movies. It’s not meant to be exclusive or exhaustive, just enough to point out some of the common threads among them. I’ve only considered ones that I thought most apposite to Geostorm – involving weather and space – and have not included ones which involve, for example, sharks, zombies or dinosaurs.

 

* Old expression attributed to Charles Dudley Warner, American essayist as well as friend and co-author with Mark Twain – "Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it."

 

The Orville – an update – NOW A WARNING?!!: Seth MacFarlane’s stand against science

On October 12, 2017 I posted a tentative but positive blog review of The Orville and told you I would update with any new insights or concerns. The very next show, "Krill," provided one. Originally I endorsed the show for mid teens and up. And while that continues to be true as far as content, visuals and violence go, I must in good conscience add a caveat. I would NOT encourage ANYone young or adult to watch who is not spiritually mature and confident.

The latest show, "Krill" while well written and in all fairness approaches the subject matter with an intelligent script, does state up front and baldly that the characters believe there is no place for religious belief in their society.

To give the writers their due – unlike a lot of other shows and movies – they do NOT disrespect or place as strawmen any Judeo-Christian philosophy or representative. The religion they face is more of an Aztec one held by the Krill, who apparently, as the writers created them, believe that all other creatures who are NOT Krill are like animals without souls and can be treated as cattle.

The premise of the episode addresses the hostilities between the Krill and the Union. During a firefight, the Orville manages with a Picard/Stargazer type maneuver to outfox and destroy a much more powerful Krill ship. They retrieve a Krill shuttle from the wreckage and Gordon and Ed are sent undercover as Krill to retrieve a copy of the Krill sacred book, the Ankhana, in order for the Union to study and perhaps find grounds for detente between the cultures.

While this all sounds like serious stuff, and the topic is treated with respect, in Orville fashion there are light moments. When Ed and Gordon, in the guise of the Krill and their far bulkier uniforms, approach the bridge of the Krill ship to pay respects to the captain, they get stuck trying to go through the doorway at the same time. It’s the kind of thing that happens that you suspect would have occurred in the course of all the Star Trek shows – something that would happen to normal people. Which is why in the previous blog I suggested that The Orville is what REALLY was going on behind the sanitized version brought to us by Kirk’s Star Trek and all of its conceptual descendants.

When Gordon finds out the Krill god is named Avis, the smart alec Gordon has a field day. Sidestepping the question of why Gordon would know of a 400 year old car rental company as irrelevant, when confronted by the Krill spiritual leader in unauthorized perusal of the Ankhana they explain they were seeking solace on the loss of their ship, to which Gordon intones: "Oh wise and powerful Avis cover the loss of our vehicle."

And yet this episode still manages to creatively and intelligently include issues on the morality of war time actions, respect for other culture’s beliefs and how far does one go to protect innocents in the line of fire. Heavy stuff in a show which still manages to evoke laugh out loud scenarios.

I respect people who honestly speak their minds and MacFarlane does exactly that. With no pussy footing around, in the course of being briefed on the Krill political situation the Union Admiral Ozawa says "…generally when a civilization becomes more technologically advanced their adherence to religion declines…" and everyone nods sagely and approvingly. Of course, this is a blind denial of the devout men upon whose shoulders those "technologically advanced civilizations" stand: Galileo, Newton, Mendel, Pascal, Descartes, Pasteur are just a handful of the most famous superstars. And it might comes as a shock to these sadly ignorant writers that the theory of the Big Bang on which they hang so many of their hats was FIRST postulated by a Roman Catholic priest, WHILE a Roman Catholic priest – Georges Lemaitre TWO YEARS BEFORE Hubble suggested it, and whose theory was lauded by none other than Albert Einstein, who publically endorsed Lemaitre’s theory even as Hubble’s was being published.

There are literally thousands of devout Catholic contributors to the sciences who were trained in Catholic founded and funded universities. Not to mention the devout Christian Protestant contributors NOT to mention devout practicing Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims who – all the while adhering to and practicing their faith, believing in a Divine Creator and PRACTICING THEIR RELIGION, discovered brilliant insights in every discipline: biology, astronomy, paleontology, optometry, genetics, physics, chemistry, algebra, calculus – etc. BELOW FIND A SAMPLING OF CATHOLIC SCIENTISTS AND A SMALL EXCERPT A-C FROM AN EXTENSIVE LIST OF CATHOLIC SCIENTISTS THROUGHOUT THE AGES.

Sadly, it never occurs to anyone to mention that the likes of Pasteur and Mendel were as cutting edge and "technologically advanced" for their time as the people of The Orville believe they are…or that WE, in our egotism, believe WE are. It is what CS Lewis might have called chronological bigotry – wherein people who are anti-theists rely on a false assumption that events and concepts closer in time to their point in history – the "NEW" – have more merit, JUST because they are "new", than those events or concepts which preceded them.

It is tragic that Mr. MacFarlane's atheism, based upon what I have read from his interviews, stems from a hero worship of Carl Sagan and the classic misapprehension that science and religion are at odds – that to believe in one you must dismiss the other. This is, of course, absurd on a number of counts, not the least of which is the Catholic Church's support – at periods in time the SOLE support – for scientific study in the West. AGAIN – CHECK OUT THE TRUNCATED LIST BELOW THEN CHECK OUT THE WIKIPEDIA.COM PAGE FROM WHICH JUST THIS SMALL ENUMERATION COMES: LAY CATHOLIC SCIENTISTS then TAKE A LOOK AT THE CATHOLIC CHURCHMEN SCIENTISTS:

Although the ethics of waging war are treated with a balanced hand, the treatment of belief in God is not. The belief in even a philosophy as nebulous as an Intelligent Designer is dismissed out of hand and assumptions are made from that premise with no counter argument.

So while I still conclude I can endorse The Orville as a clever, well written, mostly balanced view of social issues from a humorous Star Trekkian POV, I must in good conscience, temper my praise with a warning for those who are unsure of their belief system. While I commend MacFarlane for his openness on the subject, I must warn that you will find neither answers nor a constructive contribution to your search from MacFarlane’s theologically biased anti-theistic Universe-view.

IRONICALLY – as Seth MacFarlane stands against the very institutions which produced, is populated and defended by priests and churchmen who broke frontier scientific grounds aided and funded by the church –  by his own words Seth MacFarlane stands against science.

Ampere  Pasteur  Lavoisier  Kolbika  Eccles Zahm

 Chardin  Copernicus  Gassendi  Bacon  Ockham  Pacholczyk  Mersenne

 

The Foreigner – a compelling departure from “type” for both Chan and Brosnan

 Given that The Foreigner stars Pierce "best James Bond since Sean Connery" Brosnan and THE Jackie "most brilliant and funniest martial artist to ever live"  Chan, about a dad with special abilities beating up bad guys, there have been so many speculative anticipations of what The Foreigner might be that I think it best to start off with what The Foreigner is NOT.

The Foreigner is not comedy Kung-fu master versus James Bond. Nor is The Foreigner a version of Taken-Chan style.

The Foreigner IS a movie which proves that Pierce Brosnan and Jackie Chan are not just movie stars.

I remember the first time I ever saw Jackie Chan. B.C. (Before children) when we actually had time to kill, my husband would flip through channels and occasionally watch a kung fu movie. I found them dull but would sit next to him and either read a book or doze off. But then one day he found a movie which featured a guy using martial arts and beating up bad guys…with a LADDER! Who fights with a LADDER!? Of course it was Jackie Chan. The fluidity with which he fought, the cleverness with which he parried blows and attacked his foes were a pleasure to watch. AND he was FUNNY! Watching Jackie Chan fight was the martial arts equivalent of watching Gene Kelly dance!

I have been a big fan of Pierce Brosnan for decades. First saw him in the TV show Remington Steele. In this clever old TV show Brosnan plays a con man who impersonates the head of a private detective agency actually owned by a woman. Her business had not been going anywhere because people wanted to trust a male detective. So she invented a masculine boss and Brosnan's character, in a North by Northwest homage, accidentally becomes the flesh and blood front man. Brosnan's Steele was, at the same time, both suave and adorably bumbling, seeing every case as some version of an old classic film. Then eight years after the close of the show, when FINALLY given the shot at James Bond, Brosnan ramped up the suave but kept just a touch of the cheek with him, making Brosnan's the best Bond next to Connery they ever had.

…………………..The Foreigner features NONE of the above – nothing of the simpler and lighter personalities we have come to associate with either Brosnan or Chan are in evidence in The Foreigner. The Foreigner instead showcases Brosnan's and Chan's talents as ACTORS. Both, to their admirable credit,  play strongly against the type we have come to expect and love. Chan plays Quan Minh, a father devastated by the loss of his only surviving daughter to an IRA bomb in London. Shuffling humbly from police station to political representative, he personifies an almost stereotype Chinese man. Without giving away anything you wouldn't know from the trailers, it is not long before grief and frustration peels away the onion thin layers that hide the dangerous man he has hidden beneath this carefully cultivated, easy to underestimate, persona. Brosnan, for his part, plays Liam Hennessy, a weasely slick Irish Deputy Minister who is also both more and less than he first appears. A political animal, Hennessy superficially sympathizes with Chan's character but clearly has his own agenda forefront in his mind and plans.

In the beginning, we watch Chan as his catastrophic loss seems to gut him. Then we follow him as this emptying out process becomes a metamorphosis. Meanwhile, the writer, in a fascinating twist, carves out the background with Brosnan's Hennessy, which explains how this collateral damage came to be. We see a bigger more complex picture through the eyes of the innocent bystander, Minh, who will stop at nothing to get justice for his daughter. The explanation of the intrigue which casually took Minh's daughter's life takes on a life of its own so that we end up with two movies in one.  The two stories begin like strands from separate balls of yarn, but become knitted inextricably together in an unexpected and fascinating pattern.

This is not to say that Chan doesn't kick some serious booty – because he does. As my husband is wont to say – they should have never have left him with nothing to lose. And one of the many applaud worth aspects of The Foreigner is that the story does not attempt to turn Chan's Minh into a super hero. Minh's age is even mentioned several times, as in (paraphrasing) "How can we be getting our a***es handed to us by a 60 year old man!"

And Chan, the actor, doesn't hide his age either. When Minh takes on two 35 year old men in their prime, it takes its toll on Chan's character, as, I imagine it really did on his now 63 year old body in a realistic way.

Over the years Jackie Chan has let it be known how dangerous his stunts were. Chan always was one for letting the audience, especially the kids in the crowd, understand what he does has a price. I always found it laudable that he would make a point of demonstrating in the end credit sequences of his lighter films the bloopers wherein he incurred obvious injuries. He wanted to be sure others knew: when you try to run up a wall and flip over or slide through a small opening or jump kick or slid down a 5 story pole – things happen even to professionals and they get hurt. Chan has broken almost as many bones as has the daredevil motorcyclist Evil Knievel. OK that may be an exaggeration inasmuch as Knievel holds the world record for the most bones broken by a surviving human being at 433. But Chan has had broken bones, concussions, a slash with an unexpectedly unblunted sword, dislocated cheek bone, sternum, and pelvis (I didn't even know you could DO that!), and his thighs crushed between two cars. Chan even has a hole in his skull from a misadventure jumping to a tree in Armour of God. But Chan still is a pleasure to watch, performing martial arts with his signature balletic grace despite his age and previous injuries. Chan's  acrobatic martial arts in a fight scene is as much a thing of beauty as watching Mikhail Baryshnikov performing a grand jete .

The story of The Foreigner is fascinating and both of these men deserve big kudos for gutsy performances quite different from the meat and potatoes style most people have come to expect. And they do it well.

I have a friend, Stuart White, a retired journalist, who covered the appalling violence of what the Irish called "The Troubles" – that period of time when the Irish and English were constantly and mortally at each others throats – when terrorist attacks became so horribly prevalent that public trash cans vanished as too convenient for depositing bombs. Stuart wrote a brilliant book about an IRA terrorist called Shamrock Boy which was turned into a screenplay called Crossmaglen now in pre-production. While watching The Foreigner it felt like the same world, so from my limited perspective I can say The Foreigner came across to me with the power of tragic authenticity.

Go enter the dark labyrinthian world of The Foreigner, then come back with a new appreciation for the talents of the men we previously knew, respectively, as Pierce "Remington Steele" Brosnan and the comic martial arts master Jackie Chan.

There is realistic violence and some rough language and sexuality from the terrorists. And the human assault which begins the story is terrifying. So mid to late teens would be my minimum age and then only with parental attendance.

The Orville – A Delightfully Fresh Change of Pace to the “Star Trek” Universe

 

SHORT TAKE:

Never thought I'd say this but I have come to recommend (tentatively) a TV show by Seth (Ted, 50 Million Ways to Die in the West) MacFarlane. The Orville is a homage to the Star Trek Universe … but only for mature sensibilities. Soaked in mild adult humor it is a charming combination of Star Trek and Galaxy Quest with just a pinch of Saturday Night Live thrown in for a bit of spice. In the honored footsteps of Gene Roddenbury, MacFarlane uses the setting of a space ship in the future to intelligently examine sensitive cultural issues, but takes this trip with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

LONG TAKE:

Ours is a three generation science fiction family – Heinlein, Asimov, EE Doc Smith were read to me as bedtime stories by my Dad.

I introduced my kids to Star Trek. I have been a Star Trek fan my entire life. The first show came out when I was seven years old and I grew up watching the shows in syndication.

I accepted the fact that Star Trek went off the air after 3 years and was excited by the movies.   I was ecstatic when Star Trek: Next Generation appeared and devastated when it was killed at the height of its popularity and in its prime because it became cheaper to syndicate the old shows than create new ones.STNG None of the other Star Trek shows quite hit the bull's eye for me the way STNG did. And the last show to date, Star Trek: Enterprise, ended on the lamest of notes by killing off one of its main characters as a flashback told by an embarrassingly … out of shape Riker. While I enjoy the reboot of Star Trek it  has no TV show to back its alternate universe up…. And it's a long time between movies. *sigh*

So when they said there was going to be a new Star Trek TV show – Star Trek: Discovery – no one anticipated its premiere more than me – or was more disappointed to find out it was to be held hostage by CBS's membership "service"  – like I need to pay for another subscription on top of Amazon, Netflix, Pureflix and Youtube payments.

Then out of nowhere, like a Galaxy class ship to the rescue, appeared an unlikely contender –The Orville – brain child of Seth MacFarlane – positively infamous for his crude humor, liberal attitudes and atheism. Hesitant is a massive understatement to describe my feelings about this project. But the trailer was funny and desperate for anything even close to a Trek fix, I tuned in through Amazon. Shocklingly, I found it good. NOT for kids – this is not your or your father's Star Trek to be sure.

I've seen all four of the shows they have released so far and I've come to the conclusion that THIS is what was REALLY going on aboard all those impressive star ships while Kirk and company presented us with the sanitized version of the events.

And no, it isn't even really part of the Star Trek universe at all. But it follows so closely in those stellar footsteps that thinking of The Orville as Star Trek's little brother is inevitable.

While not part of the Trek universe, everything in The Orville is a Trek echo, but with a slightly different spin. In The Orville universe the ships are part of the Union (And every time  MacFarlane, as Captain Ed Mercer, refers to Union ships, I can't help but wonder if they get overtime. LOL) The aliens are "new" but very familiar. The Orville's Moclus – an all burly-male single-gender planet whose main industry is weapons making

gallery

are very much the Orville's version of Trek's Klingons, only without women. And there's Isaac, from Kaylon-1 – an entire planet of artifical lifeforms whose Greek chorus objective view of the human race is obviously a nod to Trek spock dataVulcans and Data. Then there is the caring but tough female chief medical officer, Dr. Penny Johnson Jerald (Claire Finn – Kassidy Yates from Deep Space Nine),   counterpart to Trek's Dr. Crusher and Alara (Halston Sage) a tough female security officer like Trek's Yar.

potato headOne early sub-plot examined a mainstay topic of our favorite emotionless aliens – humor. Without giving any spoilers, let's just say that there is a more "no holds barred" to their…ahem…Enterprises. The humor is rougher and slightly bawdier but nothing you wouldn't hear in a day to day after hours conversation with close friends. They gossip, they gripe, they insult, they even occasionally threaten each other – and that's just on the bridge.

This is not the cream of the crop. Admiral Halsey (Victor Garber) makes no bones about why Ed has been chosen to captain The Orville – because with a new crop of 3,000 new ships to be manned the fleet was spread thin…and Ed was available.

The crew of the Orville are the guys who do the heavy lifting while crews like the Enterprise in Star Trek  go on diplomatic missions and save the universe.

helmsmanThe command crew drink sodas and beer and watch old TV show excerpts while on duty. The First Officer Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki mostly recently Bobbi in Agents of Shield)  refers openly to the helmsman Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes – Mystery, Alaska and Crimson Tide) as an idiot  – and he will agree. There is an amorphous amorous blob named Yaphit who crassly flirts with the ship's doctor.  First Officer Grayson is also the Captain's ex-wife who cheated on him – an event which, while a source of great regret to both Grayson and Mercer, is the source of a lot of needling by and occasionally unfiltered amusement for the crew.

These are not the dress blues we're used to, but the cargo ship-construction crew. Though everything looks spit and polished, there is a realistic familiarity among these guys which strikes a more homespun note than the tunic tugging Picard. picard maneuverDon't get me wrong – I LOVE the proper Star Trek universe. But these guys just SAY the things we KNOW darned well Kirk or Picard or Scotty or Dr. Crusher or even Data were DYING to say but couldn't – like Captain Mercer to a bigoted and cruely rude Moclus: "Dude, you have been a colassal d*** all friggin' day. Shut the H*** up." It wasn't polite or proper etiquette for a STAR TREK captain, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to applaud and laugh when he said it.

ed and first officer.jpgAnd the storylines follow quintessential threads: examination of other cultures in comparison to our own; time travel paradoxes; stifling tyrannical societies which MUST be exposed with the help of our intrepid heroes……maybe not heroes. More like good natured friends who will follow the rules most of the time because they don't want to get their butts kicked. And The Orville crew manages to clever their way out of problems just like the best of Trek – only with the occasional dose of deliberate silliness thrown in to remind us we are here for a good time. Kind of like Firefly only with more resources and a cleaner ship.

lasersWhile they don't take themselves too seriously, they present the characters and stories with obvious respect and affection for the source concepts. There is humor but fights break out, career making/breaking decisions have to be made, people die and the scenarios have hazard – just like the original ST:TOS – if that was happening at your average family holiday get together.

shootingAnd yes, MacFarlane has a liberal world view which comes out now and again. But I was pleasantly surprised to find he does not use his platfiorm to villify or unfairly castigate points of view he likely doesn't follow…at least not so far. MacFarlane has already begun to delve into hot button issues such as homosexuality and gender orientation but with tact and civility. moclusFor example, the Moclus, the all male planet, has an inevitable male-male couple who procreate by hatching eggs. But because it is another species it is, frankly, not as in your face as the heavy handed presentation of Sulu's "husband" in Star Trek: Beyond.

security officerTo be fair Roddenbury founded the Star Trek universe on the examination of the sensitive social issues of his time: racism, class structure, the hazards of interfering in less technologically developed cultures, the definition of life forms, the inherent dangers in protracted automated warfare, the tyranny of nanny states, the constant struggle with our baser natures. So it would be hypocritical of me to complain if The Orville explores the hot button issues of our times. And I was very pleased to find that MacFarlane is following Roddenbury's example. The Orville so far has reviewed these areas wth a certain dignified grace.

trialOne story in particular dealt with the single-gender society in a way that I believe fairly examined the different sides – a rarity when most liberal agendas include screaming over their conservative opponents instead of debating. The issue of gender identity at birth became a leading topic, and was treated with thoughtful clear headed discussion resulting in the crew uniformly taking the conservative side!

hanger.jpgAll this being said, it is possible Mr. MacFarlane could be luring the mainstream population in to lower the boom and cram yet another politically-correct driven anti-"everything traditional" agenda down the throats of anyone near by. But for the moment Mr. MacFarlane has created an extremely well written show for its genre. Funny, occasionally bawdy, but thoughtful.

And as an added bonus – again no spoilers – but I will note there are a few jaw dropping "A" list guest stars MacFarlane has managed to acquire in just his first 4 shows.

The Orville is a charmingly whimsical combination of Star Trek (mostly, I think, Next Generation era) and Galaxy Quest, with a hint of Dr. Who and a restrained splash of Saturday Night Live. I'll give Seth MacFarlane credit for now and the benefit of the doubt ………… for now. I just hope he doesn't eventually hand us a politically correct disappointment.

YOUR LAST CHANCE TO SEE WORKS AT THE 2017 LAKE CHARLES FILM & MUSIC FESTIVAL IS OCTOBER 8 FROM 11 AM – 5 PM.

Paris has Cannes. Park City, Utah has Robert Redford’s Sundance. New York City has Tribeca.  Christians have the Worldwide. Canada has the Toronto International. And my home town has  the Lake Charles Film & Music Festival. Now in its sixth year it attracts films and film makers from around the country. Shorts, documentaries and feature films abound, along with a yearly celebrity. Celebrities in the past have included Burton “Blazing Saddles” Gilliam and William “The Greatest American Hero” Katt.

2017-fest-main-poster-final-version_origThis year the festival is honored to host Kathy Coleman who played Holly in the 1970’s hit cult classic TV show Land of the Lost.

20171007_144606_HDRGenerous with her time and extremely approachable Ms. Coleman graciously agreed to allow  me to ask her a few questions concerning her experiences at the film festival, what she thought of Lake Charles, 51rk2FlkidL__AC_US218_her exciting new autobiography which is available on Amazon.com and her busy appearances schedule.

Watch the interview videos with the affable Ms. Coleman and head out to The Brimstone Museum in Sulphur for the last day of the festival – Sunday October 8, 2017 – where you can see dozens of creative independent film entries and hob nob with some of our most talented film makers.

I’ve always maintained that Lake Charles is a hidden treasure of talent – from theater to symphony, ballet companies to magicians. The Lake Charles Film and Music Fesitval proves we showcase film talent too.

The offerings are varied and there is something for every taste – from campy horror to film noir, from comedy short about a man in a gorilla suit to documentary about the blues scene on Long Island. If you can’t find something that appeals to you then you’re just not trying.

Go and support your own hometown film festival – or if you’re within driving distance come and check out film experiences that are just a little bit different – and ensure that there will be many more film festivals like this one in years to come.

CHECK OUT: www.lakecharlesfilmfestival.com or just drop by the Brimstone Museum at 900 S Huntington St, Sulphur, LA any time from 11 am – 5 pm Sunday October 8th.

ALSO plan to submit a creative entry of your own next year and have people coming from all over to see YOU!!!!

Kathy Coleman – where are you going next?

What is Chiller?

What’s next for Kathy Coleman?

Why did you write your book?

Where can we get an autographed copy of your book?

Where can we get a copy of your book?

BLADE RUNNER 2049

statute

SHORT TAKE:

Sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 release – Blade Runner – Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is visually stunning as it continues in the original’s futuristic neo-noir style, picking up 30 years after the end of the first Blade Runner. Despite plot holes, preposterous coincidences required to propel the story and some internal contradictions, it is an interesting adult viewing if you don’t mind watching a movie the way one might stop and contemplate a mesmerizing painting at a museum.

LONG TAKE:

I will try to avoid revealing anything in Blade Runner 2049 that is not shown in the trailer.

FULL SPOILERS FOR THE ORIGINAL BLADE RUNNER: The original Blade Runner, which came out in 1982, had a clear plot: replicants, self aware engineered human appearing creatures – Pris (Darryl Hannah), Roy (Rutger Hauer) and others – have limited 4 year life spans but extraordinary strength, speed and intelligence. They become “disenchanted” with being slaves on off planet colonies. They revolt, kill their keepers and come to Earth seeking to have their lives extended by their makers. When their Creator – Tyrell – either won’t or can’t upgrade them, they kill him. Deckard (Harrison Ford), the Blade Runner/replicant killer hunts them down and “retires” them one by one. Eventually in a face to face confrontation Roy gains the upper hand but in a final act of mercy, saves Deckard’s life by preventing him from falling off a building. Then, like a clockwork toy, Roy runs out of time and simply expires. Deckard runs away with Rachael, who is a replicant without the life span limit. The movie ends with their fate unknown and a final question unanswered – was Deckard a human or another replicant? Essentially a Bogart-like detective noir film including femme fatale and cynical narration by the protagonist updated to a dystopian future with flying cars and hologram advertisements in a depressing (“Hong Kong on a bad day” to quote director Ridley Scott) cityscape where it is always raining.

The story line of Blade Runner’s sequel, Blade Runner: 2049 is not quite as easy to follow.

While there are some spoiler-ish comments I need to make I will try to negotiate the territory between being too oblique and revealing secrets but not ruining any serious plot points. This will, unfortunately require some vaguery on my part.

The new 2017 Blade Runner: 2049 starts similarly to the original, where the new blade runner, K (later called Joe) (Ryan Gosling), hunts down a rogue replicant. The replicant is hiding out in an unforgiving barren area raising grubs on a protein farm. If you couldn’t figure out Joe was a replicant within the first 45 seconds from his conversation with Joshi (Robin Wright) his handler/boss, then the beating Joe survives while bringing down bautistaDave Bautista’s character Sapper would definitely be a clue.

The subsequent plot is dependent on so many wildly unlikely coincidences that when it turns out there is no mastermind leaving bread crumbs it leaves one with a sense of disillusionment about their universe.

And although I appreciate a script writer who trusts their audience to accept certain unfamiliar details which make up the background to any futuristic, or sci fi story, there is a fine line between not spelling out everything and not explaining what the heck is going on.

An example of the puzzling backdrop is the “debriefing” Joe gets when he returns. He sits in an empty room and is barraged with a series of sentences to which he repeats certain words and phrases. Joshi comments afterwards on the results of his debriefing as good. But there is little context for the audience to appreciate what it means so that later, when Joe has a “bad” debriefing, I really couldn’t tell the difference. There were no hints as to what the debriefing meant so Joshi’s reference to a possible extreme reprisal for a continued inability to follow the “baseline” really didn’t mean anything to us. A little background would have gone a long way to making the test results have more impact.

Elsewhere, the megalomaniac brilliant inventor of the modern replicants – Wallace (Jared Leto) – wildly successful, wealthy, and powerful, meets one of his new “born” replicants. He monologues to his female psycho hench woman, Luv, about how difficult it is to make enough replicants and how he thinks of them as his children, then coldly stabs the helpless newly formed replicant to death. OK, I get it, the guy’s a genius nutburger, but the track of his soliloque just was not tending in that direction so her death was more confusing than shocking and there was certainly no sense of suspense.

JoshiThere is a secret revealed by Joe’s unique abilities in a preposterous series of events which sets the majority of the plot in motion. Joshi is horrified but it is obviously something that Wallace would want to make use of. Joe is tasked by Joshi to root out the source. Neither Joshi nor Wallace have the moral ground in this. One wants to destroy an innocent, the other exploit that innocent to enhance their culture’s slave society. Joshi’s concern about “the secret” and Wallace’s desire to foster it seem to be at odds, which is another point of confusion as Wallace seems to be in a position to control everything including the police, making all the subsequent cloak and dagger of the rest of the movie unnecessary.

Further, given the entrenched class structure of this casually cruel society, I was unconvinced that the revelation of the secret to the public would have had the kind of dire consequences which would make the extremes to which Joshi asks Joe to go be required. Conversely, the attention Joshi brings to the “secret” by sending Joe after the source creates the very problem she claims to want to avoid. No exposition is offered to clarify any of these points relating to the “secret”.

Also, there is some debate as to whether the use of this “secret” which Wallace so wants to capture would aid or destroy his empire. AND – it is unclear how Wallace found out about this “secret”. Either he has so much access to so much information that he would already know where this “secret” is or he would not even know about the “secret” much less Joe’s involvement in it. Either Wallace is borderline omniscient or he isn’t – make up your mind. And what is it with his eyes? Is HE supposed to be some kind of replicant that perhaps Tyrell created – which would explain his inside information, gifted research abilities AND weird eyes – but this potential plot point is never so much as hinted at.

K is supposed to be a “new” replicant which is designed to obey. But later K doesn’t always obey and even lies to Joshi.

The replicant hench woman of Wallace, Luv, cries when Wallace kills a replicant but then is randomly and pointlessly cruel, including to other replicants. This cruelty is not instructed by Wallace nor inherent in replicants. If the replicants of this era are supposed to be held in such a tight rein of obedience these acts make no sense.

Joe fakes another character’s death then brings that character to an extremely high surveillance area to meet someone important to the Wallace corporation. This would be like taking someone in the witness protection program on a tour of the White House and encouraging them to sneak into the Oval Office to say “Hi” to President Trump and expect their identity will remain a secret.

There are other similarly nonsensical actions taken by characters which left me wondering if the writers thought the amazing scenery would distract sufficiently from the sloppy plot points.

HOWEVER – These critiques are not to say that Blade Runner: 2049 is not a decent to good movie. The visuals alone are worth the price of admission. Villeneuve faithfully recreates Ridley Scott’s vision, ambiance, and mood. The acting is stylized but excellent, especially Gosling. joe w joihologramHe does a lot despite his character’s inherent reluctance to express much obvious emotion.

And those of us with serious trivia issues will note that one very poignant moment in Blade Runner: 2049 features music from an equally poignant moment from the original Blade Runner. I won’t say the name of the bit of music as that would be telling, but fans of the first outing should recognize it when it happens. (If you REALLY want to know I will spoiler below.)

It is a stunning, surreal world which director Denis Villeneuve creates. But anyone expecting a rollicking sci fi the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy or Star Wars will likely fall asleep. The pacing is that of a performance artist whose every movement is intended to mean something so strikes poses and stands, statue-like, long enough for their audience to appreciate and think about what they are seeing.

There is a good deal of gory violence though the worst is done out of visual sight. There is some profanity, graphic moments of sex seen through almost opaque windows and a lot of naked holograms whose full frontal is frequently avoided only by inches.

The Blade Runner universe is a specific genre in science fiction – ground breaking in 1982, somewhat derivative in 2017. And while my viewing companions thought the movie had a clean ending, I thought the writer left major opportunities begging for another sequel.

Hope I have been sufficiently vague enough to prevent giving away too much to this peculiarly engrossing yet perplexingly convoluted story.

And OK – this seriously annoyed movie mavin mom will give one BIG SPOILER … more like an UN-SPOILER ——– duly ignoring Ridley Scott’s pronouncement as just another opinion despite the fact he was the original film’s director — after 30 years of waiting we STILL do not definitively know whether Deckard is a replicant or not!!!!!! ARGGGGGH!

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MUSIC RELATED SPOILER – BIG SPOILERS – BIG BIG SPOILERS – BE SURE YOU HAVE EITHER SEEN 2049 OR DO NOT CARE IF MAJOR PLOT POINTS ARE REVEALED TO YOU —- OK –  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED: The “Tears in the Rain” motif by Vangelis, played when Roy dies at the end of Blade Runner is again heard when Joe, seriously (mortally??) wounded, lies on steps leading up to the building into which he has sent Deckard to look for his daughter. He stares, wistfully, up into the falling snow. We are left wondering if Joe will die. Deckard does not know how badly Joe has been hurt but Joe has survived some savage injuries during the course of the movie so……?