Saturday, September 12, 2020

Movie Reviews: Sleepwalkers

directed by Mick Garris
This older (1992) film was written specifically for the big screen by author Stephen King, who also appears in a brief funny cameo. Sleepwalkers is not based on any of King's pre-existing books. 

This is a solid B-movie that appears to be deliberately designed to gross people out. It doesn't have any King trademarked hidden messages on tolerance, subtle paeans to childhood, or bittersweet reminiscing about the One True Love who got away all those years ago. 

So you probably shouldn't watch this movie expecting anything like that. In fact if you are sensitive to depictions of violence or perverse sexuality then you probably shouldn't watch this film. Those things don't bother me that much so I decided to rewatch this film.

This film comes across as something that could have been adapted from a "Weird Tales" story or comic, which I am guessing probably was both King's and Garris' intent. This is not a movie that requires a long analysis, description or plot detail. The characters are also, well calling them flat,  sounds accusatory. 

Let's just say that there's not too much deep introspection or emoting required or offered, with one possible exception. But really, do people really watch these sorts of horror movies for acting worthy of Shakespearean theater? Probably not, though the lead actress Alice Krige is indeed a classically trained stage actress. Basically what I am saying is that this film is the very incarnation of a low budget cheap thrills adventure with some sicko stuff mixed in for good measure.

Movie Reviews: The Desperate Hours

The Desperate Hours
directed by William Wyler
Because of the film's star and the fact that it was shot in black and white, some people consider this to be a film noir. I disagree with that.

There are no tortured heroes, no anti-heroes, no confusion between good and evil, no femme fatales, not too much in the way of depression or pessimism, and no one doing wrong to get to right or doing right and falling into wrong. I don't think it's a film noir. It's just a crime drama.

It does have the typical lighting and snappy dialogue that was common in film noir and many other movies created during the 40s and 50s noir heyday. So there is that. There is some bloodless violence and threat of same and a young woman in a tight sweater but by today's standards this would be a PG film. 

This was based in part on a true story. This film was remade in 1990 with Mickey Rourke, Anthony Hopkins, Kelly Lynch and Mimi Rogers. That version ramped up the sex and violence considerably. And I suppose if the film were to be remade today there would be even more mayhem, sexual and otherwise.

The original version doesn't have all of that. It may have been less "realistic" in some ways but it certainly got its point across by using subtext for what today would be shouted with a bullhorn. The viewer can fill in the gaps if he or she so pleases.

Book Reviews: Lord High Executioner

Lord High Executioner
by Frank DiMatteo and Michael Benson
I've read other books by the author, a former gangster and friend and relative to other gangsters. This book is about the late Albert Anastasia aka The Volcano aka The Mad Hatter aka Lord High Executioner. Albert Anastasia was fellow gangster Lucky Luciano's favorite hit man, which when you consider the crews Lucky ran with is saying something. Anastasia was the prototypical scary man who makes other scary men tremble and mess themselves.

Anastasia liked killing. He was convicted of murder and sent to Death Row before his 21st birthday. 

As with the fictional Luca Brasi, older and more powerful hoodlums intervened to rescue Anastasia from his fate. For Anastasia it was apparently Lucky Luciano who "convinced" the District Attorney to set a new trial and eventually drop charges when witnesses changed their story or disappeared. So the volatile Anastasia always demonstrated tremendous loyalty and respect for Luciano, even though the two men were technically in different organizations.

Anastasia rose through the Mob ranks, making a reputation for himself as the violent Mafia satrap on the Brooklyn waterfront. Anastasia would later be the partial inspiration for the hoodlum portrayed in the Academy Award winning film On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando, Lee Cobb, Rod Steiger and Karl Malden.

When Luciano decided to eliminate his own boss, Joe Masseria, Anastasia was one of the men Luciano picked for that job. Everyone in the 1930s and 1940s underworld milieu knew of Anastasia's aptitude at such work, which is why together with the similarly minded homicidal maniac Lepke Buchalter, Anastasia oversaw the Mob enforcement group later known as Murder Inc. 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Movie Reviews: Pentagon Wars

Pentagon Wars
directed by Richard Benjamin
This older film is a black comedy that details the various battles in the Army over the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. 

Although military familiarity may help one understand this movie even better, ultimately the frustrations of the hero and his allies will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in any sort of entrenched bureaucracy, whether the organization's stated purpose is to kill people and blow things up or save the whales.  

Certainly design engineers or programmers reporting to clueless business managers will recognize some scenarios. The late author Jerry Pournelle conceived of an Iron Law of Bureaucracy such that: 
Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. 
Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions. LINK
It's this thinking which allows auto companies to knowingly sell vehicles with defective transmissions or fuel tanks, banks to help drug cartels launder billions, or lawyers to go on vacation to islands owned by billionaire pedophiles. This mindset allows military officials to be more invested in a project's success rather than questioning if the project helps save American lives and win wars.

Congress has become irritated with the budget overruns and delays on the Army's proposed Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which by the mid 80s has been in development for almost twenty years. Congress no longer trusts the Army project updates.

Doordash Wyandotte Shooting over McDonald's Delivery

I have heard of drunk belligerent people becoming violent because someone got their order wrong, delivered their order late, or refused to take their order. 

Until recently I hadn't heard of someone becoming violent because someone delivered their order early. But now I have. And so have you.

FOX 2 - Accused of shooting at a DoorDash driver, a Wyandotte woman has been charged with assault with intent to commit murder. A Wyandotte woman was 10 feet away from her DoorDash driver when she tried to fire her first shot. The gun misfired. She tried two more times, with the third attempt firing at him, but it missed. Police say the customer was Michelle York. When Ricky got to her house, she was waiting on the porch with a man, and child. "They had a little 8- or 10-year-old boy and he was standing there for the whole thing," he said.

Movie Reviews: You Should Have Left

You Should Have Left
directed by David Koepp
You Should Have Left is in some aspects a horror film but using that descriptor makes it sound as if there's going to be plenty of blood and guts, heavy special effects, overused jump cuts, sharp violins squealing just before someone gets stabbed in the neck, disgusting deeds, bouncing mammary glands, and plenty of naive people doing stupid things so that they can move the story along. 

There's none of that here. There may or may not be supernatural elements. I think that there are but different viewers may see things differently. Maybe a psychological thriller would be a better way to describe this movie. I thought the ending was predictable, but I watch a lot of these sort of films. 

For the casual thriller or horror film viewer this movie might be a breath of fresh air. And for people who refuse to watch horror or thriller films on general principle because of the violence, this film lacks explicit mayhem.

I've written before that it must take a special person to marry and to remain married to a working musician, an actor/actress, a model. First, one spouse is often away from home for months at a time, something which just by definition would appear to make staying happily married more difficult, at least in the beginning. And the artist may not want his or her spouse tagging along on tour or shoots, even if it's financially feasible. Next, actors and/or models often appear nude, semi-nude or otherwise display body parts which their wife or husband might think that only he or she should be seeing. Even for the person who claims to lack any jealousy, this might cause some occasional issues.

Hall of Fame baseball player Joe DiMaggio was disgusted, embarrassed and angered when his then wife Marilyn Monroe, filming The Seven Year Itch, stood over a subway grate to let the hot air send her dress flying skyward while everyone took pictures. What was just business and a little fun for Monroe was apparently the last straw for DiMaggio. Later on the couple fought, divorcing soon afterwards.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Movie Reviews: Galveston

directed by Melanie Laurent

This 2018 neo-noir movie was the English language directorial debut of Melanie Laurent. You may remember her from her role in Inglorious Basterds as Shoshanna, the Jewish cinema owner, who is seeking revenge on the Nazis for murdering her family. Apparently Laurent is something of a Renaissance woman, being a director, actress and singer among other things. On the surface the Galveston movie may seem familiar to you.
After a chance encounter a bad man feels obligated to defend a broken angel of a woman from even worse people. In so doing he may rediscover his own humanity, find redemption and/or even find the love that he has convinced himself he doesn't need, previously lost, or will never have. And as in many films of this type a road trip is included. So yes, we've all likely seen that story before. 

Galveston follows that basic outline before deviating. This film was an emotional gut-punch because it defied typical Hollywood conventions even as it teased the viewer into thinking that they would be upheld. The best way I can describe this film visually is that it hearkens back to some late sixties early seventies films. Things are literally very dark on screen at times, which reflects some of the characters and the decisions that they make. 

This is not a Hollywood action film. No one gets shot in the shoulder and declares in a deadpan manner "It went straight through. I'll be fine." When people get hurt, physically or emotionally, they stay hurt for a while. 

Laurent takes her time establishing character reactions and feelings. There's a fair amount of silence throughout the film as we watch people react to each other, express feelings, or just survive ordeals. This film is based on the novel of the same name by Nick Pizzolatto (creator of True Detective), who also wrote the screenplay under a pseudonym. I think I would like to read that book now. Have you ever had a job where your boss doesn't like you? That's not good. It can be worse if you are unaware of your supervisor's ire.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Outpost

The Outpost
directed by Rod Lurie
This is a war movie based on a non-fiction book by Jake Tapper that details the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh between Afghanistan Taliban forces and US Army forces. 

If you are into war movies you will like this film, no doubt. If you are not into war movies, this film won't really be your cup of tea. 

That said although there is violence aplenty, a great deal of the film details the boredom and frustration of the isolated American soldiers, the stress they feel and their distaste for what appear to be foolish or even contradictory orders. But orders are orders. 

The US brain trust at the time apparently felt that it needed to have a lighter touch in Afghanistan while simultaneously maintaining the ability to respond quickly and decisively to Taliban activity. That might have been a good idea, strategically. But the implementation of that went wrong at Combat Outpost Keating.

One of the stated objectives of the troop at Combat Outpost Keating was to engage the local population in community building and thus turn the locals against the Taliban. The other objective was to kill Taliban. These two goals could occasionally be in conflict since many of the locals were Taliban or at least sympathetic to Taliban. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Hagia Sophia Becomes A Mosque

Something that remains near constant across time and cultures is that when one group of people successfully invades, dominates, displaces, or conquers another group of people, members of the victorious group often, not always but often, decide to build their important political, social, or religious buildings and monuments on top of those of the defeated peoples, change the functions of those older buildings to something more in line with the values of the winning side, or just gleefully destroy the older structures altogether. 

It's a spike of the ball in the end zone complete with touchdown dance. It's hanging on the basketball rim after a particularly vicious dunk. It's watching the baseball soar out of the stadium, glaring at the pitcher, flipping the bat and taking a slow jaunt around the bases. In other words, it's something specifically designed to let the other group know that they lost and there's not a damn thing they can do about it. It's not a very nice thing to do. And that's the entire point. 

It's not often remarked upon or noted but Islam like Christianity, has its own history of invasion, conquest and imperialism. The Turks, who are originally from Central Asia, not only conquered the region known as Anatolia, now modern Turkey, but also much of Eastern Europe, including the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine), Constantinople, renamed Istanbul. 

Movie Reviews: The Big Town

The Big Town
directed by Ben Bolt
This 1987 neo-noir film wasn't earth shattering in terms of story, acting, or direction. The viewer can call out most of the twists and turns ahead of time. I still found it entertaining. 

A fatherless young man has an awesome once in a life time skill. Supported and trained by his enigmatic father replacement figure the young man decides he's ready for the big time. Becoming (in)famous the Kid proceeds to shock and awe his rivals while making time with two attractive ladies. 

One lady is a good girl, the other not so much. The Kid must determine which woman is good for him and not just good to him. The Kid learns that people aren't always what they seem. Eventually the Kid must make some life and death moral choices. 

This movie's brash young man is J.C. "Cully" Cullen (Matt Dillon, who apparently has aged only slightly in the intervening thirty three years: good genes and clean living or deals with Infernal Powers?), a small town Indiana gambler and gas station worker who wants more. 

Although his mother discourages it, Cully loves hearing stories of gambling and fun times in Chicago from his mentor, Carl Hooker (Don Francks) who, along with Cully's father, once ran with the Windy City's gamblers. 

Hooker has looked out for Cully ever since Cully's wastrel father died. Hooker thinks that Cully is the best craps player he's ever seen. Hooker believes Cully will be far better than Hooker ever was. Cully quits his job. Armed with Hooker's lucky silver dollar, Hooker's enthusiastic support, and his mother's reluctant approval, Cully departs for Chicago.