Thursday, February 15, 2018


Celebrating twenty years of two Indians on a pilgrimage to Phoenix.
Born of fire and ash, Thomas (Adams) and Victor (Beach) are unlikely friends with differing views of Victor's dad, Arnold Joseph (Farmer). To Thomas he is the hero who saved him from a fire, but to Victor he is the drunk who abandoned the family. When the young men learn that the bigger-than-life figure has died, they scrape together enough money for a bus ride from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, to Arizona.
And in this framework, laughs galore!
Equal parts comedy and drama, Smoke Signals is a largely non-linear story where the past is always present. It's funny, wise, packed with interesting characters, and loaded with quotable lines: "I think there's something wrong when you don't see a guy's teeth," Victor observes to Thomas on the subject of John Wayne.
Based on Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Smoke Signals is a journey to understanding on multiple levels, mixing fact and fiction into a greater truth.
Victor and Thomas meet Suzie Song (Bedard), who had been Arnold Joseph's girlfriend, and from her we learn how proud Arnold was of his son--even more than she knew. As Victor says to Thomas, "You can't trust anybody." But sometimes in a good way.
The characters are as believable as they are eccentric. For example, Thomas in his nerdy glasses, hair in pigtails, looking like his mother's twin. And two women in a Chevy that runs only backwards who warn the young men to be careful because they're heading off the rez into a foreign country.
"But it's the United States."
"Damn right it is--that's as foreign as it gets!"
Gary Farmer stands out as the bear-like amateur magician who performs coin tricks for his boy, and good-naturedly muses on the trick of making white people vanish. In one scene, Arnold asks eleven year-old Victor who's his favorite Indian, and the boy replies, "Nobody"--a clear meta-reference to Nobody, Farmer's character in the 1995 film Dead Man.
Subsequent to Smoke Signals, Adam Beach starred in the Clint Eastwood movie Flags of Our Fathers (2006) as Ira Hayes, and appeared as Slipknot in Suicide Squad (2016). Dr. Evan Adams became a physician, and starred in a film written and directed by Sherman Alexie, The Business of Fancydancing (2002).
The 1998 Sundance Film Festival winner directed by Chris Eyre has the distinction of being the first one made by Native Canadians and Native Americans. Like the KREZ radio man says, "It's a great day to be indigenous."

Starring Adam Beach,
Evan Adams,
Gary Farmer,
Irene Bedard,
Tantoo Cardinal,
Elaine Miles,
Michael Greyeyes
Directed by Chris Eyre
Written by Sherman Alexie
Runtime 89 minutes
Rated PG-13

Stewart Kirby writes for

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


          Reflections on the disturbing Netflix series now in its fourth season.
          Featuring dystopian near-future stories emphasizing tech-dependence, "Black Mirror" at first blush plays like a contemporary version of "The Twilight Zone." 
          Created for British TV, the first episode aired Dec. 4, 2011, and the show continued on into 2014. In 2016, Netflix picked up the series. 
          As with "The Twilight Zone," some episodes are lighter in tone than the majority. However, "Black Mirror" is its own show, and differs from Rod Serling's creation significantly. For example, "The Twilight Zone" was the brainchild of a well-respected, much-honored writer looking to outsmart the censors with the protections afforded by speaking in the language of sci-fi and fantasy, whereas "Black Mirror" boasts no such background and faces no such censorship scrutiny. 
          In the first two episodes of the show, there is nothing of the TV classic's old school character or charm. "The Twilight Zone" is a just universe where bad things happen to bad people and the good are treated accordingly. The first episode of "Black Mirror," however, while well-written and excellently presented, seems specifically intended to anger and disgust. 
          Remaining deliberately vague to preserve the experience, suffice to say the Prime Minister of UK is terrorized with the execution of the nation's very popular princess unless he does something terrible--although it could have been really worse--on live TV. The second episode is also quite well done, even though the story seems, again, intended to disappoint. It is as though the dehumanizing problems of the 21st-century are too severe for stories concerning them to make folks feel great.
          So it comes down to an aesthetic. But certainly the writing for the anthology series is top-notch, as is the production value of the Netflix show which Netflix gives its highest rating. 
          From ETA Hoffmann's early sci-fi story "Automata" and Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, to the horrors in HG Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau and Stephen King's Cell, potential problems with technology prove great grist for the writerly mill, and often prophetically so. 
          The show has no clench-jawed, chain-smoking host with a penchant for alliterative lead-ins, nor the unforgettable theme music of Hollywood's greatest composer, but audiences will relate to the problems presented. Paying particular attention to detail and therefore verisimilitude, "Black Mirror" pulls the viewer into entertaining, thought-provoking tales reflecting our dark world.

Stewart Kirby writes for

Friday, February 2, 2018


          Fact: 1980 will always be remembered as the year we learned Barbara Billingsley could speak fluent jive.
          Fact: Robert Stack wears multiple sets of sunglasses, so that when he removes one pair for emphasis, he's still got another pair of shades underneath.
          Fact: In his spare time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar pilots commercial jet-liners...with one-liners.
          And how do we know these things? Why, Airplane! off course.
          Written and directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, the original title of the screwball spoof was Flying High.
          Loosely, Airplane! parodies disaster films of the '70s. Specifically, it parodies the B-movie drama Zero Hour! (1957), starring Sterling Hayden. Dana Andrews plays Ted Stryker, a pilot with a past flying as a passenger on a jet where members of the crew suffer food poisoning.
          By contrast, in Airplane! Robert Hays plays Ted Striker, a pilot with a past flying as a passenger on a jet where members of the crew suffer food poisoning. The filmmakers couldn't get Sterling Hayden. So they got the next best thing: Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and Leslie Nielsen.
          From the opening titles high in the sky with the theme from Jaws playing as the plane's tail fin cuts through the clouds, sight gags, puns, and cartoonish silliness abound.
          Old lady to nervous guy fastening airplane seat belt:
          "First time?"
          "No, I've been nervous lots of times."
          Like a live-action version of "The Simpsons" before "The Simpsons" existed, Airplane! packs the laughs into a well-stuffed Samsonite of cinema.
          Zucker, Zucker, and Abrahams grew up together, seeming perfectly normal, with a loving childhood, and then they made Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), which consists of irreverent sketches and is delightfully tasteless.
          The trio followed the commercial smash hit of Airplane! with Top Secret! (1984), which stars Val Kilmer and combines Elvis Presley musicals with Cold War spy films for double-barrel parody hilarity. When asked why his name is Nick, Kilmer replies it's just something his father thought of while shaving.
          It might be their funniest movie, but it wasn't commensurately successful. Two years prior, they had a show on ABC for six episodes called "Police Squad!" Starring Leslie Nielsen (this time as a detective), the show largely parodied a Lee Marvin cop show years prior called "M Squad." In 1988 the trio re-packaged the TV for the film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
          Nielsen's straight-man dead-pan delivery works in perfect contrast with the zany sight gags and puns of The Naked Gun, just as in Airplane! In subsequent films where he is no longer being a totally serious baritone authority figure, but instead acting silly, then there is nothing funny at all. Here though he is in his element, turning his career as a B-movie heavy completely inside-out.

Stewart Kirby writes for

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


Click the link to check out my Amazon action

Howdy, Stew here!

For the past 16 years I'm the weekly movie reviewer for The Independent in Northern California. I also write for Two Rivers Tribune every week now, and Hermiston Herald once a month.

I've written about 38 short stories, novellas, and short novels primarily set in the Goth Hick world of Humbaba County, where levitating Hippies battle the forces of globalization. Have a look on Amazon, and be sure to check out the short video there that gives a sense of my work.

Much obliged!

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Monday, January 22, 2018


          Killer indie Western.
          Johnny Depp stars in this stylish cinematic journey across the brutal but beautiful landscape of the Wild West.
          Filmed in glorious black and white, Dead Man is the story of Bill Blake (Depp), an accountant from Cleveland newly-arrived in the dismal town of Machine. There he goes to the metal works factory where he expects to find his job. Instead he finds Mr. Dickinson (Mitchum), the kind of a guy who holds a shotgun and smokes a cigar under an oil painting of himself holding a shotgun and smoking a cigar.
          Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, Dead Man boasts a strong supporting cast of great actors in eccentric roles--Crispin Glover, Billy Bob Thornton, Alfred Molina, John Hurt, Iggy Pop, and Gabriel Byrne all lend their talents in unforgettable portrayals. Although the star of the show is Depp, the scene-stealer is Gary Farmer as Nobody, who quotes the poetry of William Blake borrowed by Jim Morrison of the rock band The Doors and leads Bill Blake on his vision quest: "Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to endless night."
          In some ways the film is open to interpretation, but it is clear that Blake (whose fur coat looks like it came off of Keith Richards' back) leaves the dehumanizing forces of mechanization and gradually joins with the natural processes of the spirit. Nobody takes Blake to "the place where his spirit belongs"--with a bounty on Blake's head, and three hunters on his trail. One of the bounty hunters, played by Lance Henrickson, is so vile and nasty, he would just as soon kill the other killers as walk.
          Alternately violent and comic--Iggy Pop wears a dress and serves beans to shady cohorts while relaying as best he can the tale of Goldilocks moments before arguing with the others over who gets to keep the new guy when Depp wanders in arm's reach--the film moves at its own pace. The pace isn't always fast, but the story is always interesting. As Nobody tells Blake, "You were a poet and painter, but now you are a killer of white men."
          Featuring music by Neil Young, Dead Man is loaded with memorable moments. From Crispin Glover, covered in soot and pointing at buffalo being shot, to Mili Avital as the town prostitute whose humanity is revealed by her hobby of making paper roses, Dead Man showcases unique characters in visually striking settings, including the redwoods.
          The 1995 masterpiece is freely available online.

Starring Johnny Depp,
Gary Farmer,
Crispin Glover,
John Hurt,
Robert Mitchum,
Iggy Pop,
Billy Bob Thornton,
Alfred Molina,
Mili Avital,
Lance Henrickson,
Gabriel Byrne
Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch
Runtime 121 minutes
Rated R

Stewart Kirby writes for


Monday, January 15, 2018


          One of the best new movies in a long time.
          Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks star in a true story about the core American value of free speech.
          An old school throwback hearkening to political thrillers such as All the President's Men (1976), The Post details the leaked Department of Defense admission that the Vietnam War was a losing effort carried on through four Presidents, not because it was necessary, but primarily in order to save face.
          Set mostly in 1971, the film hinges on the decision of America's first female newspaper publisher, Kay Graham (Streep), to run the leak for the benefit of the American people--"Our readers are our leaders"--or bury it per the demands of the Nixon Administration.
          It is a story from a time when journalism had the power to hold elected authority accountable. According to Ben Bradlee (Hanks), the editor of The Washington Post, "We can't have an administration dictating our coverage."
          Meanwhile, the paper is in the process of being purchased by new owners, bankers not remotely interested in First Amendment rights, but rather only desirous of profitability.
          For filmgoers accustomed to seemingly endless special effects-saturated superhero movies, The Post may come as a shocking aberration. Surprisingly fast-paced, the film immerses the viewer in a time when reporters were resourceful, newspapers had teeth, and the concept of a vindictive administration terrorizing democracy with an enemies list was repugnant and unacceptable.
          "We have to be the check on their power," Bradlee asserts. "If we don't hold them accountable, who will?"
          At no point in the film will audiences forget the star power of the lead performers. For Streep and Hanks these are terrific roles perfectly suited to their respective professional caliber. What might surprise is to find the director is some new guy named Steven Spielberg. Keep your eye on him. He's going places.
          True, for historical accuracy, the shirt collars could well be bigger, and ditto for the sideburns. Wisely, the filmmakers chose to reduce the jarring impact of these images, and softened the blow by making the collars and the sideburns less gigantic than in reality. But everything else is remarkably authentic.
          A potent reminder of where we've been, The Post is one of those rare movie experiences with the power to entertain us with a story, and also make us think about where we are long after we've left the theater.

Starring Meryl Streep,
Tom Hanks,
Bob Odenkirk,
Sarah Paulson,
Bruce Greenwood,
Matthew Rhys,
Carrie Coon
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Liz Hannah, Josh Singer
Runtime 116 minutes
Rated PG-13

Stewart Kirby writes for

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


          "In 1991, while serving as the director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, historian Roger Kennedy was shocked to learn for the first time that massive ancient city remains existed in North America."
          So opens "Ancient Voices - Cahokia: America's Lost City," one of several fascinating documentaries freely available online.
          "Cahokia Mound is bigger in its footprint than the Great Pyramid of Giza," says Kennedy. "We didn't know that."
          Didn't know it, and in a big way.
          These ingenious and indigenous constructions once dotted the ancient North American landscape. And most Americans have no idea.
          Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and more US states hold, beneath their cities, the staggering magnitude of one of early humankind's greatest accomplishments.
          No one knows exactly why they were made, and no one knows at all what happened to the people who, like the cliff-dwelling Anasazi, vanished from history. But we know they had trade routes stretching across North America for thousands of years.
          Mounds appear to have been built in stages and added onto over time. At its height, Cahokia held more people than there were in Medieval London or Rome.
          "The Lost Civilizations of North America" and "Ancient America Mounds" (featuring actor Wes Studi) round out the mound-builders search.
          Settlers 200 years ago knew of the Mississippian mound-builders. Indeed, St. Louis used to be known as Mound City. Over time, however, this knowledge was forgotten because the fact of vast ancient North American cities flew inconveniently in the face of the Doctrine of Manifest Destiny. It conflicted with the supposition of American character and uniqueness.
          According to Kennedy, there are "tens of thousands of architectural consequences that are now hidden behind our junk."
          Hardly the first time that the truth was buried to protect political and scientific agendas. Witness, for example, the case of the Piltdown Man hoax, which resulted from someone's attempt to make the world believe that the first human being was an Englishman.
          Keep in mind, these are not major motion pictures. No major motion pictures on Cahokia exist. Yet the information they contain staggers the imagination.
          Because the discovery of antiquities conflicted with the sense of European immigrant importance, and the desire to view Native Americans as savages while shoving and shooting across the West, these ancient cities of an advanced people which undermined wrongly established view were ignored for as long as possible.
          But not anymore.

Stewart Kirby writes for