Monday, August 5, 2019

Another Day, Another Shooting...

... and all the talk about "Good Guys with Guns" vs. "Bad Guys with Guns" really gets my back up.


There are no "Good Guys" or "Bad Guys"

....because humanity is an inherently flawed animal, and we are all, every one of us, capable of doing "Good" or "Evil" on any given day. This doesn't even begin to get into the argument of how one defines the twin concepts: someone else's "Evil" may well be your "Good."

There are no "Smart People" or "Stupid People" 

... because all of us are capable of both on any given day, any given hour.

There are no "Sane People" or "Insane People"

... because "sanity" is never an absolute, and we all go crazy sometimes. I'd say my Dad was sane probably most of the time. But often enough, he wasn't. He'd probably still be alive today if there hadn't been a gun in his house.

Are the Police always "Good People"?

Hell, no. They gun down innocent people in the streets all the time.


... and that is meaningful Gun Control, starting with a Complete Ban on the sale AND MANUFACTURE of assault rifles and all other weapons of capable of firing that number of bullets in rapid succession.



It is not a matter of so-called "good" or "evil." The tools of mass murder need to be taken off of the playing field. Banning their ownership is not good enough. Only a complete ban on their manufacture and sale will work at this point.

-- Thorn.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Bond and Bree

It's High Summer in Maine, and I have installed the air conditioner in my bedroom to prove it. Likewise, I've been indulging in the sort of films that feel appropriate to the season... that is, Low Entertainment: on the one hand taking the form of the early Bond films (because I just picked up the whole set, newly restored and remastered on Blu-Ray, and the obsessive Asperger's gene in me is forcing me to watch them all) and on the other hand in the form of Giant Japanese Rubber-Suit monsters (because somehow I landed on the first GAMERA movie from the mid-60's and found it so insanely entertaining in the most off-beat way that I felt compelled to track down all the early GAMERAs and the early GODZILLAs as well -- more on that "discovery another time).

THUNDERBALL has the best opening sequence of any of the Connery Bonds, and it still holds up today. I'll wrestle to the ground anyone who disagrees. But the rest of the movie is a bit slow and stately by today's standards, and in some ways (sexism, anyone?) the picture has aged more in the last decade than in the 40 years prior.

It is my third favorite of the Connery Bonds, after FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Despite all . the years and all the pictures that followed it, RUSSIA still holds its own as the best picture of the whole series: because without it, there never would have been a series.

Once again, the HD restoration from the original camera materials is the star of the Blu-Ray release: it just looks so unbelievably fresh and gorgeous. You see what the camera saw, including details in the costumes and settings and even the actors' skin that have always been unnoticeable until now. It almost has the effect of putting you in the same room with Bond, and that's the closest thing to Time Travel that I've seen in my lifetime. Just stunning.

Now, about the "Bree" in the title up there.

You might ask how I can watch the Bond movies without complaining about Bond's rough and undeniably chauvanistic character, attitude and bearing when I so vocally hated Bree Larson's arrogance and smug demeanor in [NOT MY] CAPTAIN MARVEL. At least, I asked MYSELF that question: and the answer came without a moments hesitation: 

It's because JAMES BOND IS NOT A HERO. I don't think anyone would argue that point with me: not even Ian Fleming, who called Bond "a blunt instrument in the hands of the government." If Bond sometimes finds himself in the position of saving the world, it's really of no concern to him. It's Just Another Mission: and (especially with Connery playing him) he tackles it with the same brutish efficiency that he would bering to bear if he were ordered to kill the child who would grow up to be Hitler.

CAPTAIN MARVEL is supposed to be a HERO. We expect more from a hero: including humility, good intentions and kindness. These are qualities that Bree Larson is utterly lacking, at least insofar as her approach to this character goes. Compare Bree Larson's CM not to Bond, but to Christopher Reeve's turn as Superman. There is no comparison. Larson comes off looking like a jack-booted thug, like James Bond in drag minus the sex drive. 

THIS is supposed to be a hero? Not in my universe, me buckos.

-- Thorn.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

"Are You Free, Mr. Humprhries?"

I pulled the plug on broadcast TV several years ago, and except for local news and weather (which I've recently been able to get in small quantities through my Apple TV device), I haven't regretted that decision at all. The single thing that I enjoy best about the twenty-tweens is the ability to act as the Programming Director for my own personal TV station. As you might expect, its imaginary call letters are station WDUK. 

Monday nights are Comedy nights, I've been able to balance new-to-me shows like COUPLING and BLACK BOOKS with old favorites like GILLGAN and ALL IN THE FAMILY -- and just recently among the mix I've been watching the first series of ARE YOU BEING SERVED? once again, after probably more than a decade since the last time it aired on my local PBS station. 

It was and remains an absolute classic, and a textbook (along with its cousin, ALLO, ALLO, by the same creators) on how to write comedy that is clean enough to pass any censor yet filled with filthy double-entendres that actually work both ways. Where modern shows are dragged down by in-your-face vulgarity, the writers of ARE YOU BEING SERVED and 'ALLO 'ALLO mastered the art of getting away with the dirtiest jokes by making them perfectly innocent. I will always fondly remember Mrs. Slocum's pussy.

Today I looked up the actors and was dismayed and saddened, though not surprised, to find that ALL the cast, even the youngest, have died -- they're all gone. Frank Thornton (Captain Peacock) outlived them all, dying at the age of 92 in 2013. They were not in the upper echelon of British actors, but they were top notch at what they diid, one of the great ensemble casts of British television.

-- Thorn.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Omens May Be Good, But the Rest?

I have FINALLY slagged my way through all six desperately tedious hours of Good Omens.

Sheen and Tennant are wonderful and so is their story arc. But the rest? Ye gods and pickled catfish, not since Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies have I seen anything quite this bloated and torturous. On a weekly basis, I began to count on this series to knock me unconscious within the short side of ten minutes.

Y'know what? I have Adobe Premiere and I have this series all in digital format and I bet you ANY AMOUNT OF MONEY that I could cut it down to a two, two and a half-hour movie that was a million times better than the series.

The brainead witch-hunter played (poorly) by Michael McKeen and and his even more idiotic assistant? GONE. 

Anathama Device (who perhaps should have gone under her real name of Plot Device)? Equally useless and uninteresting -- so, GONE.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse? Well, they have to stay in, but you watch how much better this thing would be if they had all their insanely un-funny (at least as the actors delivered it) dialogue taken away from them. Some things are just "less is more." 

Bill Patterson is a wonderful actor but his character here is 100 percent padding and a complete waste. GONE. 

There's probably a bunch of other stuff that needs to be cleaned out, but I almost certainly slept through it.

I actually got into an argument of sorts, on Facebook, with SF writer Sharon Lee, co-author of the popular Liaden Universe novels. She felt that all these tedious characters whose parts I was so eager to chop played an important part in what she considered to be the main storyline, which concerns the impending End of The World. "Oh, no no no," I said. "The main storyline is NOT the end of the world -- the main storyline is about the rule-breaking friendship between an angel (played by Michael Sheen) and a demon Crowley (played by David Tennant). The end of the world is just the McGuffin that brings their friendship into focus. You can lose or combine any amount of those boring second-string characters so long as you have the materials to move the end-of-the-world plot device forward." 

At this point I was only up to about the fourth episode, and so had to admit that the series could still prove me wrong. But now I've seen the whole mind-numbing thing, and you know what? I was NOT wrong.

Neil Gaiman is on record as saying that he tried to preserve the book when writing the series. And right there is the problem. It maybe, probably, was a delightful book. I admire Mr. Gaiman and am an enthusiast of Terry Pratchett's solo work, and so I want to believe that a collaboration by the two could be nothing short of a classic. But Good Omens the series, although technically well-made, is not wonderful and far from it. 

Movies and TV are not books and the argument needs to be made that no matter what they do to a book in adapting it to film, THE BOOK IS ALWAYS GOING TO BE THERE. You can always pick up the book and read it. The job of a movie is not to replicate a book. The job of a movie is to be its own thing, and be the best version of its own thing that it can possibly be. Good Omens, as a miniseries, is the worst, dullest, most plodding and pedantic version of itself that it can possibly be. It won't be me: but SOMEONE needs to take a scissors to it.

-- Thorn.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time....

I recently finished watching the first season of Fess Parker's DANIEL BOONE TV series, which aired for six seasons starting in 1964. This was one of those things that I was aware of while it was originally airing, but for the most part was never able to watch... because I was a little kid, and my parents packed me off to bed at the ignominious hour of 7:30. 

I'm quite enjoying the opportunity to catch up on all those series that I knew about, but didn't watch back in the day. It's not all great stuff, but I feel like I'm filling in the gaps of my cultural experience, if that isn't too pretentious a turn of phrase.

The Fess Parker BOONE is actually quite a well-made show and more entertaining than I ever imagined it would be; but if it proves anything, it proves (even through its sweetness and innocence) that we (namely White Folk of mostly British descent) absolutely did march in here and just take everything and anything we wanted. 

The very first episode opens at Georgie Washington’s house, where Georgie is meeting with a Snooty English Guy. Enter Dan’l BOONE and his pal, the latter of whom is known in Hollywood as “the hot-headed one.” Dan’l’s pal takes one look at Snooty English Guy and goes all “GRR! GRRRR! It’s a Snooty English Guy! Why, I ought’a—“ Dan’l calms him down and taking the Better Part of Valor, ushers him out of the room.

Alone again with Georgie, the Snooty English Guy says, “What’s all this stuff about WAR against England that I’m hearing?”

Georgie assures him that it’s nothing, just some Youthful High Spirits, there isn’t gonna be any war.

“WELL THERE’D BETTER NOT BE!!!” snarls Snooty English Guy, who stomps out of the room. 

No sooner is he gone than Dan’l re-appears; Georgie turns to him and says, “Now about this WAR we’re gonna have…”


Always the practical one, Dan’l knows they’re going to need a better Defense than what they’ve got. His solution? “How’s about I head right on that inta th’ heart of INDIAN territory and find us the perfect place t’ build a FORT?”

This is where my eyebrows met my hairline. I thought, “Dude, d’you hear what you just said? That land doesn’t belong to you! You can’t just waltz in there and build a fort in their back yard! That's ASKIN' fer trouble!”

But we could. And we did. And we’re STILL giving Native Americans a hard time because they didn’t just roll up they sidewalks and get out of our way.

And so on.

-- Thorn

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Holli Would if She Could... But She Can't.

In trying to catch up with all of the movies that one was aware of when they were released, but never had a chance to see, one inevitably runs into a few Stink Bombs along the way; and it saddens us to include Ralph Bakshi's COOL WORLD, from 1992, in that category. 

In Bakshi's defense, it's not the movie that he wanted to make: while he was shooting, the script was completely re-written without his participation or consent by the studio. With no script to work from, Bakshi reportedly told his animators to "do whatever they wanted" -- no good can come out of that kind of chaos, and none does.

You can't fault Bakshi for having a lack of ambition, that's for god-damn sure, and this is at least as ambitious as his version of THE LORD OF THE RINGS or his attempt to dramatize all of pop music history in AMERICAN POP. The latter picture was at least a success in its ability to start interesting conversations. COOL WORLD has another thing its favor, in that it's drop-dead gorgeous. In purely visual terms, it may be his best movie.

And yet, it's a complete train wreck. You can't under-state this, and you almost can't believe what you're seeing -- it's that bad, a disjointed bomb with a capital B: not for nothing does it have a 4% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. There are good ideas behind it, but the writing is so dreadful that it's doubtful anyone could have made anything out of it.

The live-action characters are flatter than the paper that the animated ones are drawn on, and while the animated characters are full of bombastic toonish shenanigans, none of them are charming or engaging. The cutting between the two worlds is ridiculously bad, and no one involved with this thing took the time to craft a believable, let alone involving, storyline. Kim Basinger never stops moving and acts as if this was her last, best chance at superstardom, as perhaps it was. The whole thing is one big, frenetic, pleasingly colorful disaster.

It's likely that Bakshi was inspired by WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, and that he wanted to make something in the same vein that asked larger questions and told a more serious story about life and death and art and love. But the end result is nowhere near as accomplished or entertaining as ROGER RABBIT was, and not even close. Bakshi didn't have the money to make it technically as good, and studio interference insured that anything good in the original concept would get whitewashed right out of the thing.

Bakshi has been one of my heroes and he has a unique but problematic place in the modern cinema. COOL WORLD was his last significant movie. Its visual accomplishment only makes it that much more disappointing.


Meanwhile, 1975's THE HINDENBURG crawls across the movie screen at a stately pace that's appropriate to its namesake. Directed by Robert Wise in a strictly workmanlike fashion, it features George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft heading a mostly wasted cast. What's Burgess Meredith doing in this thing? Sitting around, like the rest of us, waiting for the ship to blow up. Several contemporary reviews, excerpted at Wikipedia, are more entertaining than the picture. It's not that bad, really... it's just that it's a very ordinary early entry in the disaster genre. The special effects are wonderful, and prove that models and optical effects, when done well, are better than CGI any day of the week. Some magnificent shots of the ship in flight and taking off at night are worth sitting through the rest. And even when she's given trivial material to work with, Anne Bancroft is a revelation.


Thursday, June 6, 2019

And So The Queen

Near the end of E.F. Benson's Queen Lucia, first in his series of novels following the social progress of Benson's monstrous but lovable anti-heroine Lucia Lucas, Lucia's primary accomplice Georgie Pilson (euphemistically described as a "confirmed bachelor") suddenly breaks down and reveals his true feelings for Lucia's main rival of the moment, opera star Olga Bracely. 

It's just a moment. It's just a (very short) sentence. And yet it is the absolute moment in which Queen Lucia is elevated from being a delightful, gently twisted light comedy to the status of a genuine classic. Like all the people at home in Lucia's main stomping grounds, the little English village of Riseholme, Georgie may be a predominately comic character, but in that moment he becomes real: and that's an achievement that many more high-brow and more highly-thought-of novels often fail to arrive at. 

The book made me happy on many levels; and the good news is, there is more to come: and I believe they get better from here.

The LUCIA stories differ greatly from the Larkin family novels of H.E. Bates, from the Fairacre and Thrush Green books of Miss Read, and from the much zanier stories of Wodehouse, and yet they are all joined at the hip, for their good humour, their humanity, for the fully-realized worlds that they create, and for capturing specific and different aspects of the British personality. Like all the best fantasies, they take root in the reader's hearts, in a place where one joyfully returns to them again and again.

-- Thorn.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Coming Soon!

After successfully funding at Kickstarter last month, the Revised and Refined Second Edition of THE ARTHUR RACKHAM ORACLE is in production and coming soon! Here's the trailer for the new edition -- I had fun making it, and I hope you'll have fun watching it.

Withe best wishes to all of you;

-- Thorn.
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