Thursday, August 2, 2018

REVIEW: AVENGERS INFINITY WAR & OTHERS


With Doctor Strange I began to feel that the Marvel Movie Universe had “jumped the shark” in a way that echoed what happened to their comics line more than thirty years ago; and now Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 proves me right. It has considerably less entertainment value than a second-rate MARVEL TEAM-UP ANNUAL from the early ‘80s, cost about ten billion dollars more to produce, and takes three or four times as long to consume.

The thing that made Thanos such an interesting villain in the comics was that he was In Love: with the female Personification of Death. Literally, he was a moon-eyed Romantic who was killing off large swaths of the universe as an Offering to his Beloved Lady Death. That whole element has been washed clean in this movie, replaced by the thoroughly insipid "daughters with Daddy Issues" trope — this might resonate with teenage girls, but it’s nowhere near as compelling for anyone over the age of sixteen, and does a disservice both to the character, and to the character's creator, Jim Starlin. As my friend Bruce Canwell (editor extraordinaire at The Library of American Comics) pointed out to me, it changes Thanos from a Champion of Death to a Champion of Life, albeit a Life Champion with a twisted way of going about things.

People who never read comics back in the day mocked the medium as being silly and childish, but the fact is that this Marvel Movie Dumbs Down the comics source material in ways that I can neither accept nor forgive. I parted company with Marvel Comics way back in the early eighties because they broke faith with their audience and stopped being Relevant. Now in 2018 I part with the Movie Universe for the same reason.

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Another Big Recent Disappointment was the Netflix-backed sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It just does simply not have the magic of Ang Lee’s original film, and wastes both Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen, two normally dazzling stars who turn in inexplicably lifeless performances here. I was looking forward to this because the original film is a big favorite of mine, and because the source material is so vast as to warrant a whole pantheon of movie adaptations. The new movie isn't egregiously bad: but where the original flies, this one lands like a dead lump of lead.


Traveling back and back down the spiral of time, we find things that are still well worth the viewing. I was ready either to sneer at or fall asleep on The Absent-Minded Professor, having never seen it before… but damn. It may not be Lawrence of Arabia, but there’s just something so pleasing about a perfectly realized and assured movie that accomplishes with flying colors the simple thing that it sets out to do… and this falls confidently into that category. Professor never fails to entertain from start to finish, and although it probably marked the end of his career as a serious actor, Fred MacMurray is top-notch here; smooth, confident, assured… delivering what’s needed in every single shot, bang on target whether the scene is comic or dramatic. If you grew up watching him on My Three Sons, rather than being exposed to his earlier work, you’d never imagine that he was so very proficient as a movie leading man.

The Absent-Minded Professor is a better movie than anything to come out of the Marvel Movie Universe in at least a couple of years now, by a wide margin. Of course it was made while Walt was still in full control over the studio. It reminds us that Walt was a talented showman above all else, who cared about the value of the product that he put out under his name. The Disney Company, the entity that has now existed independently of Walt for more years now than Walt himself ever controlled it, could learn a lot by studying the life and works of the man whose name they bear gracelessly and without dignity.

—Thorn
www.tarotbyducksoup.com
www.ducksoup.me

Monday, July 30, 2018

Art and Craft


Sometimes it may seem that I dislike contemporary cinema on principle, but nothing could be further from the truth. I dislike contemporary cinema in practice, which is a whole different thing and leaves the door open for well-noted exceptions. One of those exceptions is last year’s Maudie, a faith-and-soul-renewing docudrama about folk artist Maud Lewis, who found her way in life while facing challenges that would have defeated most others. No superheroes here, no dragons, no action scenes. Just life and art in 1930’s Canada, photographed beautifully and played with dedication and talent by a cast headed by British actress Sally Hawkins. Ms. Hawkins has qualities of greatness and should be watched. I loved Maudie, the movie and the character, without reserve, and recommend it highly.
D.W. Griffith's masterpiece Intolerance, even when viewed in a smashing HD restoration, is a tough slog today — but then I suspect that it always was. It is three long hours of structural pretentiousness and emotional manipulation (you didn’t think Steven Spielberg invented manipulation, did you?) punctuated by scenes of Babylonian war that are so very spectacular as to remain unsurpassed even today, even by the likes of Peter Jackson. What Griffith invented of film storytelling is not merely impressive, but of paramount importance to film history. Griffith, and especially Intolerance, can not be ignored. But the word for the movie is “ponderous.” Griffith’s theme is much too simplistic to hang an epic upon; he establishes this theme early on and then hammers on it relentlessly for the film’s entire ungodly runtime. No wonder Buster Keaton poked such fun at it with his own The Three Ages. However, there is much in the small details to hold one’s interest (as an example, long-time Laurel and Hardy opponent Walter Long turns up in a prominent role) and enough death, death and more death — some of it pretty gol-danged grisly — to keep even modern audiences awake and alarmed. Undeniably, Intolerance is an important classic; but would anyone, even its most ardent fans, embrace it as one of their favorites? That’s hard to imagine.
I suspect that the reason White Folks have been falling all over themselves to praise Black Panther to the skies has more to do with White Guilt than it has to do with the virtues of the movie. Because, as a movie, it is perfectly OK — it is perfectly serviceable as a superhero fantasy for the bulk of its runtime. It is not, however, the best movie of its kind and not even close. In fact its final third is pretty god damn tedious stuff, and nowhere near as good or as entertaining as the material that precedes it. So the hero has to fight an evil version of himself. *YAWN* Ye gods, but that shit is getting old! They took the name of an interesting and intensely individual villain created by Don MacGregor and stuck it on bland, Tired Old Plot Device that has LONG outlived its welcome. Overall, this chalks up the picture as a disappointment in my book. A smashing first two-thirds does not a classic make. 
— Thorn.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Rump Must Go

I thought Reagan was bad. But at least Reagan was literate and more than literate, he was eloquent with an actor's speaking style. Then Bush the first came along, and he was worse than Reagan, embodying all the Crap Politics without the eloquence. I never imagined things could get worse, until Bush the second came along. Here was all the crap politics, minus the eloquence, COMBINED with the intelligence of a five year old. Somewhere in the middle there was Bill Clinton, and frankly Clinton did not do the Liberal cause any god damn good -- selling middle America down river for the price of a blow job. The only President I have respected since Jimmy Carter was Barack Obama: and look at how history has shit upon him. We now have a Troll Occupant of the White House and let me say this to my Conservative friends: I UNDERSTAND CONSERVATIVE VALUES. I GET IT. BUT YOU HAVE GOT TO FIND SOMEONE ELSE TO REPRESENT YOUR VALUES. Never before has the Presidency of the United States represented So Little To So Few. 45 has all the values of a used car salesman, the soul of a tapeworm, and the literacy of a rock. The only thing 45 cares about or represents is his own ego. 45 makes Ronald Reagan look like Joan of Arc and he frankly makes me Nostalgic for the Reagan days. In case you have not been paying attention, THAT IS NOT A COMPLIMENT.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

(Unfortunately Not) The Last Jedi... and Others


For a long while now, my so-called “reviews” of film and TV have been limited to spontaneous postings on my Facebook page, while those of books have been posted to my Goodreads library. While not full reviews in any sense of the word, occasionally I have typed something in those forums that succeeds in expressing what I felt about the subject. Even rarely, I type something that’s worth salvaging. Here, in no particular order, are some of those mini-reviews, although cleaned up a mite and hopefully improved to a point where someone might find them mildly useful, or suggestive of something, goodness knows what. There’ll be more of this sort of rubbish over the next few weeks.

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In the sharply divided “love it or hate it” camps, which are largely but not exclusively defined by generation, put me down on the “hate” side for STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

Wow. Where do I begin to sort out this monumental heap of stinking rubbish?
One has to hand it to director / screenwriter Rian Johnson, for it is No Mean Feat to make JJ Abrams look good by comparison. Perhaps that was why he was chosen to handle this Middle Chapter.

But here’s the thing: I’ve re-watched (or tried to) a bunch of them in recent months, and it has to be said that there have only ever been two good STAR WARS movies, three if you’re generous and count ROGUE ONE. So after all, it’s no surprise to rack up another stinker. What is a little bit surprising is that neither George Lucas nor the new team at Disney ever seem to learn from their mistakes. Especially with the new team, it’s not just that they have no real talent and are incapable of creating anything original: they have no BRAINS and are incapable of even creating a reasonable COPY.

Like much of what has gone before it, THE LAST JEDI is long and ponderous and boring and stupid and a painful waste of time.

I was there for the first STAR WARS. I will always remember its fun, its excitement, and most of all, its light-heartedness. It wasn’t trying to sell you anything, and it never took itself seriously. It was George Lucas’s homage to the great Saturday matinee serials, and nothing more. It was cotton candy. It lifted our hearts with its simplicity and sweetness.

That all changed with RETURN OF THE JEDI. By then, George Lucas had stuck his head so far up Joseph Campbell’s asshole that the only thing he could see was his own ego. He made the fatal mistake of taking himself seriously, and STAR WARS has never been the same since.

The Disney Company have spent millions and millions of dollars to create this zombie simulacrum that looks uncannily like one would expect STAR WARS to look like all these years later — but it has no soul, and worse than that, it has no heart.

As a side note: it’s obvious that Carrie Fisher was a sick woman when she filmed this. She looks fully ten years older than she actually was at the time of her death.

*

One doesn't exactly *enjoy* Ingmar Bergman's SAWDUST AND TINSEL (1953), unless one takes a perverse and sadistic joy in observing the very personal sufferings of Circus Folk. But there's no denying the exquisite beauty in its shabbiness, nor the way that it makes you feel the many levels of humiliation its characters experience. It's my second-favorite Bergman movie, after THE MAGICIAN.

*

It seems churlish to criticize a movie with so noble a cause as its subject, but SUFFRAGETTE wears its purple heart on its sleeve with a fringe of malice and force-fed righteousness. It is well beyond manipulative in the style fostered by Spielberg: not for nothing did they choose Carey Mulligan (whose innate qualities of sympathy made her such a vital part of “Blink,” one of the modern Doctor Who’s finest episodes), to endure in composite form all of the worst things that were collectively endured by the members of the movement. You expect to get the obligatory force-feeding scene and they do not "disappoint," playing it with spectacular ugliness. But it’s hard to trust anything in which all the women are presented as saints and all the men (barring one token character) as sinners. The film’s production design is so evocative as to make a viewer feel they have jumped back in time, but it's squandered by an incompetent director who drowns the picture in herky-jerky close-ups made with a deliberately shaky hand-held camera, trying to force either a sense of urgency or an upset stomach; it’s hard to say which. It's not a movie at all, but a polemic, and a cowardly one at that: for there are signs in place that point towards a much stronger ending that seems to have been sanitized for the sake of leaving the audience "feeling good." If that’s true, SUFFRAGETTE doesn't even have the courage of its own convictions.

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What a marvelous pirate Walter Matthau would have made. Unfortunately, he chose to play one in Roman Polanski’s PIRATES, an insufferable display of one vulgar gross-out joke after another played out on one of the most beautiful set-pieces ever built for a movie. This set-piece is the pirate ship itself: and because it is beautiful Polanski does everything he can to avoid letting us get a good look at the thing, choosing instead to focus on Matthau’s one-legged double stumping around in feces and vomit and ultimately killing a live rat on screen, in close up, by stomping it with his peg leg. This is where I gave up. Sometimes, the nicest thing about movies in digital format is that you can simply throw the bad ones in the trash, where they belong, and purge your computer of their bits and bytes forever and ever.


For many and many a year I have wanted to see Cooper & Shoedsack's THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, made in 1933 and shot on the same jungle sets and at the same time as their original classic, KING KONG. But time and movie rights were not kind to this film: for decades, the only available versions were lousy public-domain prints and computer-colored versions. Thank goodness the Mostly Good folks at The Critereon Collection have given it the release it deserves, beautifully restored in high-def and looking as if it could have been filmed yesterday, if only the people and the styles disn’t look so alien to the world we find ourselves stranded in today.

It is a very minor masterpiece, not a horror movie despite some undeniably horrific moments, but a delightful example of film noir that sometimes strays outside the tight boundaries of the genre into plain adventure. Everything about it is pitch-perfect. It is short, exciting, thrilling and frightening. The supposed insights into human nature are not very profound, but the picture accomplishes everything that it sets out to do -- and oh, that Fay Wray!


— Thorn.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

When You Walk Through a (Shit)storm...


In the unlikely event that you've been wondering why I haven't been posting all that much in recent months, the best answer I can give you is: well, you know.

2018 hasn't been a particularly easy year almost from the outset. On Valentine's Day, my 91-year-old father shot himself to death, apparently (I have to go by what I'm told, folks), in a fit of pique over the thought the would have to start using a walker. To which I can only roll my eyes and say "Oh, poor BABY!" My grief was drowned under a wave of anger and confusion and anger and distance and anger and, oh yeah, anger. I had just talked to him the day before and he sounded fine. He was going in to the hospital the next day for tests to see if the treatments he had been undergoing for cancer had had a significant impact. He went through with the tests; but as far as I know he didn't wait for the results.

Throughout the rest of February and into March, the Kickstarter campaign for my latest big Tarot project was dogged by a dedicated series of personal attacks from a small but vocal group of folk who don't like one of the decks that I publish. I'm not going to write here about the issues that they raised against me, in part because I've said my piece at the website for the deck, but also because I think it's beside the point. I think that the attackers have the right to their (uninformed and misguided) opinions, and I believe they absolutely have the right to decide for themselves whether or not the deck is something they'd want in their house. But they don't have the right to make that decision for other people, and they certainly don't have the right to act as the Supreme Arbiter of What Can and Cannot Be Published in this wild and many-faceted multicultural world in which we live. They don't have the right to act as the Great Censor for All Humankind. And they don't have the right to attack me and make my life a living hell over the damn thing.

Anyway, That Furore has died down to a dull roar, and with any luck at all the paragraph that I just typed won't dredge it up again. It's not meant to do that ... but this pile of steaming crap falling on me in the weeks immediately following my Dad's death did not make life any god damn easier.

Just when things were starting to look up, June hit: and June has been a notable shitstorm. I won't bother you with the details: lots of other folks out there have things significantly worse than I do. For one thing, as the problems have cropped up, I have been able to get the solutions in place, if not in progress.

In in the end, it all reminds me of why I don't do this anymore: I started this blog as a form of self-therapy to get me through a significant Dark Period of my life, at a time when I had no other form of self-therapy other than alcohol and nothing good in life that I could point to to keep me going. Eight years later, all that has changed. I'm not drinking anymore, and in the place of the gaping hole that used to be my life I have a lot of exciting and fun and interesting and fulfilling projects that are keeping me going just fine. I got out of the crap job that was killing me and now I work for myself, and for the most part a lot of the work that I am doing is stuff that people seem to like.

That makes me pretty god-damn fortunate. "Privileged," to use an old word in the modern vernacular. And so if 2017 has been a shitstorm that has slowed me down or set me back, still it hasn't buried me yet, and I am working to make 2018 better.

I still hope to publish film, book, TV and pop-cultural reviews and suchlike on this blog, and have a long post on those lines coming along here any minute now, but the kind of self-confessional winging that you've just been subject to and which was the main business of this blog for a considerable bunch of time: that's going away, hopefully forever: because although Life never gets any easier, I've learned that you can do things that allow you to change how you face it.

-- Thorn.
www.tarotbyducksoup.com
www.ducksoup.me

NEW from Duck Soup and Available Now: THE ANIMAL CHILDREN ORACLE!




Derived from a 1912 Children's Book with illustrations by M. T. Ross, THE ANIMAL CHILDREN ORACLE is a charming and versatile system that "plays well" with most any deck you own, presenting Influences, Qualities, Correspondences, Themes, Connections, Personality Types, and much more. It's the latest release in the Antiquarian-themed Playroom Orackles series, and it's just one of 30+ unique limited-edition tarot & oracle decks you’ll find at our sister site Tarot By Duck Soup!

-- Thorn
www.tarotbyducksoup.com
www.ducksoup.me

Trick or Tarot: Watch the Trailer!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Dividing Lines


To write an effective blog post, one needs to narrow their focus into a wafer-thin slice of life, a neat little serving of five to eight hundred words that connect to the larger world while serving as a complete thing unto itself.

But I am having a harder and harder time of cutting things down. Even though I have a surfeit of personal and cultural dividing lines to choose from (and nothing  serves as a better dividing line than the death, deliberate or not, of a parent), I am feeling less and less inclined to make those surgical slices. Everything happening in the world and everything happening in my life seems all too connected, and yet connections that are honest, faithful and true seem much too few in these declining days.

When I wake in the morning, the world presents itself in terms that are sharply reduced from any other time I have known; but I am in denial. I know now that no one I meet from here on will ever see me as anything but an “old man;” but I know the truth of it and see myself at all ages looking out on a world that swims by in a blur. 

I find myself becoming less and less interested in the future; my personal time machine takes me most often to places where everyone I loved is still alive. 

— Thorn
www.ducksoup.me

Monday, January 15, 2018

Trick Or Tarot is Here!


I have been awfully, terribly remiss about posting here on the blog. I do have a couple of substantive (i.e., non-promotional) posts in the works that I hope to have ready sometime in the next few days (the appalling state of our culture has driven me to it at last)... but in the meantime, you'll have to settle for this notice that I should have put up over a month ago....

TRICK OR TAROT


Two affordable editions.
Wholesale rates available
(use the email link in the sidebar to contact me!)

HALLOWEEN IS JUST A TURN OF THE CARD AWAY.



Thank you!

-- Thorn.
www.ducksoup.me
www.tarotbyducksoup.com

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