Monday, June 19, 2017
It's one of the best movies ever made.
During the Vietnam War, an Army captain is sent on a secret mission into Cambodia to assassinate a Green Beret colonel acting on his own authority and living like a god among local tribes people.
Martin Sheen plays the captain, Willard, and Marlon Brando is the colonel, Kurtz. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now is the movie that splits the whole cinematic program and takes its orders from the jungle.
Like Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey ten years earlier, the 1979 instant classic is a high-water mark in film to which other movies regularly refer.
At times almost Expressionist in its striking use of shadow, the surreal, and twisted storylines, this loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad's short novel Heart of Darkness features unforgettable images and performances.
The horror of war and the madness of war are the film's central themes, and in scene after scene these themes are thoroughly explored.
For example, early in his journey upriver to find Kurtz, Willard meets Colonel Kilgore (Duvall). Like General Jack D. Ripper in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, Kilgore is a certifiable guy in a position of military authority. All Kilgore really wants to do is surf. Even under heavy fire. He gets a little misty-eyed when he thinks about the war one day ending. If his boys won't surf with him, he might just shoot them. And if the waves aren't good enough, he apologizes with deep contrition.
Insanity, Willard realizes, isn't the real complaint against Kurtz. The problem is independent action--especially when it achieves results.
Tales around the making of Apocalypse Now are as interesting as the film itself. Evidently Coppola had a hard time getting some of the actors to learn their lines--Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper--and yet the performances are legendary. As Coppola battled to make the movie, his wife Eleanor filmed him with her own camera. The result is an incredible 1991 documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse.
In 2001 Coppola released a re-edited version of his film, Apocalypse Now Redux. Containing an additional 49 minutes of footage not included in the original, Redux is worth seeing even though the additional material ultimately does not improve the film, but rather slows it down. In particular, a long scene on a French plantation was correctly cut from the 1979 release.
"Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, and pure" are the words which Kurtz uses to describe his realization regarding the enemy's strength. But he might just as well have been talking about the movie. And the real horror would be not to see it.
Starring Marlon Brando,
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Written by Francis Ford Coppola, John Milius
Runtime 153 minutes
Sunday, June 11, 2017
Should have kept it under wraps.
The strength of a slick trailer and Tom Cruise's name can't overcome the many flaws of The Mummy.
When a forgotten Egyptian princess named Ahmanet (Boutella), in league with powers of darkness and herself basically a deity, is discovered and returns to life, disaster befalls all those in her path as she seeks the implements which will secure her power.
The twist is that she isn't discovered in Egypt, but rather a thousand miles away in Iraq. And the one responsible for releasing her from centuries of imprisonment, a mercenary named Nick Morten (Cruise) who sells stolen museum antiquities on the black market, becomes in the eyes of the Mummy her partner bound with her in the afterlife.
Those eyes, by the way, split into double-pupils. Pointlessly. And she's a mummy with barely any bandages who controls things that have nothing to do with mummies but which allow for big special effects, surprise surprise, like a sandstorm with a giant face inside.
After Howard Carter discovered King Tut's tomb in 1922, it was a natural fit for Universal to capitalize on the interest in ancient Egypt in 1932 by essentially re-making the first one of their two successful new horror pictures from the prior year, Dracula, and by using the star of the other, Frankenstein. Boris Karloff's makeup as the Mummy was every bit as effective as that used in his portrayal of Frankenstein's monster--but for most of the movie he never wears it.
In 1959 Christopher Lee played a vigorous version of the title role in the excellent Hammer films version, made with all the old Universal monster classics in color for modern audiences. And then in 1999 Brendan Fraser starred in the first of several outings in a mummy franchise content to make essentially light romantic-comedy adventures.
Unfortunately this one leans that way, too.
One has to wonder: why, if she is to be imprisoned forever, does the mummy's sarcophagus have an elaborate system of chains on it, ready to easily haul it up at any moment? Why not just bury it? At which point one realizes the filmmakers don't care about little details like that in their rush to cash in on a new franchise re-imagining all the old Universal characters in new ways. Beginning with a lame start.
The film doesn't know what it wants to be. Ahmanet never looks like a mummy. Several of the characters are annoying. When Morten's dead partner Chris (Johnson) returns from the dead as a ghost whom only he can see, chiding Morten familiarly, we get the feeling that the filmmakers saw An American Werewolf in London (1981) and start thinking how nice it would be to watch that one instead.
Starring Tom Cruise,
Courtney B. Vance
Directed by Alex Kurtzman
Written by David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman
Runtime 110 minutes
THE LUNAR LANDER touches dust, and boots inside itch for ground, but protocols must be observed. This means the "Also Sprach Zarathustra" opening played by a band consisting of artificial life designed to closely resemble, for our benefit, beloved figures from 20th-century American culture. Naturally the lander's passengers cannot hear the reception committee performing on the surface of the moon just outside the window, but a recording played in the lander nearly in synchronization with the band provides an approximation in keeping with the moment, a moment which this reporter in her storied career never dreamed possible.
On the dark side of the moon, no light pollution dims the stars, a permanent night sky so prolifically abundant and pristine, the journey might well have been accomplished for this result alone, if the greatest star in the galaxy did not happen to reside in a mansion on the moon.
The guide that greets me at the disembarking station is a terrestrial hominid with green and purple skin from a distant planet with amazing stories of his own. When I ask him what it's like working for the King, he shows me a ring on his finger with the letters TCB.
"Taking Care of Business," I acknowledge.
My guide smiles, nods, and leads me into an immense auditorium entirely covered by a transparent dome revealing the star-thick sky. From a colorful array of artificial life I am reminded of the many faces of Elvis Presley. A Young Elvis android curls his lip and shakes his hips as he tells me of his early experiences, followed by a gold-suited version of himself a decade later with Android-Margaret dancing by his side. Lastly, Elvis ten years further advanced, bloated in a blue sequined cape. This one has nothing to say. He only points to the figure seated high on the throne in the center of the shadowy room.
Intergalactic General Elvis Aaron Presley, champion martial artist in three solar systems, descends in a glorious white jumpsuit sequined with otherworldly gems and asks if I'd like a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. He doesn't make the sandwich himself, I learn. That's done by the Marilyn Monrobot. But it tastes as close to the real thing back home as possible.
"Elvis Presley," I ask as we sit down, "is this really you?"
"I hope so. I think so. Yes, this is really me."
"But how? After all these years? The world thought you had died."
"Rock and roll can never die. Never forget that."
"But they held your funeral."
"They held a funeral."
"Why? Why the deception? And how is it that you don't seem to have aged a day, but in fact look younger than you did in 1977?"
"Hold on, hold on, hold on. Listen, the first thing you have to understand, I volunteered into the Space Program very soon after I hit it big."
"The Space Program?"
"At that time, the Army had access to certain non-terrestrial officers stationed in Germany at a top secret underground base. I was told one night that several of the non-terrestrial personnel had requested I entertain them with a private, first class performance."
"What happened that night?"
"I did the show."
"And I saw more than I wanted to know. Much more."
"What did you see?"
"I saw that we aren't alone. That there are other beings much older, much more advanced than our species."
"How did you react?"
"Honestly, it scared the heck out of me. I couldn't sleep at night, but I wasn't allowed to say why."
"Why is that?"
"Because I was under orders to not reveal what I had seen. I couldn't tell anyone. The pressure to stay silent was incredible."
"What did you do to cope?"
"I turned to pills."
"And they nearly killed you?"
"Yes. Fortunately for me I had friends in high places."
"Your non-terrestrial officer fans?"
"Yes. And others. They made all of this possible for me here."
"Is it true that you undergo advanced culture youth-promoting treatments?"
"Yes, ma'am, that is true."
When I ask Elvis if he can tell us anything about that, he responds in the negative as politely as possible and leads me on a tour of the sprawling estate.
Big sideburns, big collars, big cuffs, big sunglasses, big rings, big bell-bottoms and one very big estate with much of the lunar landscaping--and yes, including the gates--replicating Graceland. He's one hundred years old now, yet he looks and moves like he's thirty-five.
I notice Elvis calls all of his android impersonators "Jesse." That, we will all recall, was the name of his young twin brother, who died early.
'68 Comeback Special Elvis, clad head-to-toe in black leather, and Aloha From Hawaii Elvis, wearing a white cape and sporting layers of leis, provide security for the King. Who would win in a fight between the King versus both of his android bodyguards, remains uncertain. Incredibly enough, odds lean toward actual Elvis. He's that good.
"Obvious question, perhaps, but I have to ask: Why is it called Graysland?"
The King smiles. "You may have noticed a large population of what folks back home call little gray aliens."
Indeed, I had. When I inquire about these grays, the King shocks me with steely assurance that the grays help maintain what is actually a hollow base, formerly a stronghold and long-since an Area 51-like prison.
"The moon is an alien prison?"
"Sounds pretty out there, right? But the truth is, the only thing that quelled a massive prison uprising sometime back was my 'Jailhouse Rock' performance."
Here Presley pauses, surveying his gray, cratered terrain. The android contingent vigorously agrees with the King's view.
"Did you move into your amazing estate site-unseen?"
"No, ma'am. I was fortunate enough to visit the entire area in all directions some years earlier. 1972 I believe."
"What more can you tell us about these pre-existing structures on the moon?"
"I'm afraid nothing more at this time."
The King shifts our conversation back toward the deal he made. In the course of explaining that the famous photo of his handshake with Nixon in fact ensured that Elvis would stay silent on alien secrets in return for lunar asylum, emergency alarms suddenly blare. It is a sound which throws celebrity androids into instant action.
Himself in the lead of a mighty host, the King storms toward the boarding station where we left the lander and discovers a serious conflict between members of the lunar escort and certain boarding station personnel...
Saturday, June 10, 2017
I used to listen to Bruce Springsteen's "Jungleland" and see such visions. The Ballantine paperbacks cannot be overstated. The covers by Boris Vallejo in particular helped me see the world of Tarzan. In my story I imagined a figure, ostensibly me, in the future surviving a crash, but taking a blow to the head which leaves him believing he really is the lord of the jungle. And then he doesn't merely survive, yet thrives sufficiently to live among and interact with local populations of people and other primates and big animals like elephants and much more.
Additional conflict arises. Adventures ensue.
Eventually, years later, rescuers arrive by small plane. Bringing romance possibilities, undoubtedly. The hero's Quixotic aspects, once amazing achieved and displayed, subsequently depart. Senses returned, however, cannot sway the hero into leaving. For now the forest...is truly his home.
And then as the plane flies off, he races to the swaying tip of the furthest branch of the tallest tree and vents a soul-searing uncanny yell--just in time with Bruce Springsteen at the end of the song.
When my kid heard me tell her about all this she said, "Oh, awesome!"
So yeah, I don't know. Hm. Maybe there's something there after all. That would be a cool thing to bring to life after all these years.
In The Deerslayer, Hawk-eye is about 23; in The Last of the Mohicans he's about 36; in The Pathfinder he's about 38; but then in The Pioneers he's 71 or 72, and in The Prairie about 81 or 82. Strangely, what we have is a gap of thirty-plus years in Hawk-eye's life during his prime.
So, this feeling keeps growing in mind that these stories exist and want to be found.
I see Leather-Stocking, Tomahawk, and Nathaniel as working titles for three works focusing on events in the hero's life during his 40s, 50s, and 60s.
In order to take on the challenging task of writing this sort of fan fiction, I would want to create as much of the proper tone and feeling as possible for verisimilitude, but would not attempt to write stories intended to fool anyone into thinking that these were "lost works" of JFC. They'd be novellas, heavily influenced by Daniel Boone's experiences, not focusing on huge battles, but rather his time perhaps held hostage by a tribe.
I mention this here just because I know if I don't then there's no chance of anything.
A few days ago I went out to my pickup heading to work and saw someone had left a flag carefully wrapped around a five-foot staff. Wondering what in bloody blue blazes this damn thing was, I unfurled it, and lo, turns out it's a Marines flag.
I think it's a sign of respect. I think somebody sees me around here as the guy for this thing.
Hell yeah, that's an honor. And plus a real conundrum.
Had to make sure and spell that last word just right so as to avoid confusion.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Gal Gadot owns the role of the superhero who first appeared in All-Star Comics #8, 1941.
Diana (Gadot), princess of Paradise Island, daughter of Hippolyta, is an Amazon warrior whose hidden land is discovered by an American pilot (Pine) running from the Germans in WWI. When she learns of the conflict in the outside world, she accompanies the pilot with the intention of dispatching the cause of the trouble: Ares, God of War.
In keeping with the Dark Knight trilogy, we have another DC character not referred to by the regular old name. At no point in the film are the words "Wonder Woman" ever uttered. We may therefore take from this that the filmmakers want the positive value of the character name brand without any of the negative baggage.
This reinvention of a character largely associated with a cheesecake-heavy 1970's TV show faces the uphill battle of presenting a woman equally as rugged as she is good-looking. And without being Jennifer Lawrence.
Gal Gadot. Perfectly cast.
She's the Janis Joplin of superheroes. When she runs into a tank, it wobbles. She can smash rocks with her fists and jump about twenty feet in the air. These aren't things we expect to see and are therefore more visually appealing than the same old stuff.
For example: In Batman v Superman (the movie where Gadot's Wonder Woman first appears), by virtue of riches, Batman makes a super-suit that lets him go toe-to-toe with Superman. Causing us to wonder, well hey, if could do that, why did he ever be regular Batman? When actually, if he was to fight Diana barehanded, he'd flat-out lose. Batman's just a dude. If he runs into a tank, that hurts him, not the tank.
Kinda sorta, DC makes Ares their Loki. Marvel has Norse deities running around, and DC gets the Greeks. At some level one does feel the palpable desire on the part of DC to de-throne Marvel at the box-office. And at another level one also detects the intent to finally have a superhero movie starring for once a woman, and for that film to not only be successful, but successful for the right reasons.
Not because of a skimpy outfit. Not because of getting saved by somebody else. The right reasons.
Starring Gal Gadot,
Eugene Brave Rock,
Directed by Patty Jenkins
Written by Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs
Based on the character created by William Moulton Maston
Runtime 141 minutes
Stewart Kirby writes for
Friday, June 2, 2017
THE BASEBALL BAT CINCHED tight in the vise takes a dozen staples from the gun when affixing five or six feet of razor wire. That much wire is right where you want it. Less is too little and more is too much on a baseball bat. The man favors a prime maple Louisville Slugger. She's sturdy, well-balanced, and gleams like a million bucks all decked out in steel finery. The fresh razor wire looks every inch like a tight sexy dress on his best gal, and it sure is nice when that dress is red.
Upon completing the task of constructing the tool, the product of the craftsmanship is beheld with swelling pride. See the pretty girl in all her glory, held aloft like a newborn babe, razor wire so sharp and shining.
The instrument is placed in a specially constructed truck bed-liner case, and the case is placed in the back of a pickup. Letting the engine warm allows a moment to retrieve directions to the destination written on a piece of paper folded up in a back pants pocket. Somewhere on Oak Street, not too sure about the number. In the cell phone's light the address is memorized, paper subsequently folded to original size and chucked among the old receipts and sundry debris building up behind the seat. On the passenger side awaits a black, close-fitting cold weather hood with a slit for the nose and the eyes.
At the end of the street rise a commanding series of stone steps toward the university. Gray and cracked and thick with moss, the old stairs and wrought iron-topped walls give a good feeling every time. The maples are beginning to turn. Crisp brush of the leaves in the breeze with the window down. On a night such as this, a man might walk home his gal and sit on the front porch swing together sipping lemonade, or maybe take a baseball bat wrapped with razor wire on over to Oak Street.
At an intersection looking like a corner in a town straight out of any number of episodes of The Twilight Zone, there she is getting into an SUV: the Golden Woman, the shockingly beautiful brunette with the inhumanly perfect features and otherworldly golden sheen to her bright bronze skin. Beneath the streetlight clearly seen. And once again, eye-contact. Unable to stop, unable to meet her, unable to talk with her at all. Merely another maddening glimpse. This is going to cost Oak Street. He can't wait to get there now.
At a stoplight he checks his phone for the time. "Good good good," he says aloud. The next time he sees the Golden Woman, he determines, he will stop no matter what and speak with her somehow.
"Elm Street," he says, passing it. There was an episode of The Twilight Zone with Elm Street in the title. Wasn't there? Or was it Maple?
Maple Street, he decides. But can't remember the rest of it. Elm Street is the one with Freddy Krueger.
Boy is she a beaut of a bat. True, there is much to appreciate in a kukuri, but he likes being a bat-man. "I'm a bat-man," he likes to hoarsely announce when alone.
Takes the turn, cruises on down a bit, finds the right address, continues on a block before turning. Pulls a U-turn, parks facing Oak with a view of the address. Turns off the lights and the motor, sits and waits appreciating old trees rising around, making fantastic silhouettes against the deep rich blue of the new night sky.
He checks his phone for the time. "Should be any minute now." Thoughts of the Golden Woman creep at the edges of his mind.
Lights coming down the street. Hand moves for ninja hood. The problem with the kukuri is that it's too clean. One good swing severs a leg mid-thigh. For sheer brutality though, ah, a razor wire-wrapped bat.
Sure enough, the car is the quarry. It turns into the correct address. Swiftly flying into action, the man becomes silence, he becomes shadow. He dons his mask, he grabs his case. He opens it just a crack, so that it stays closed only by his holding the handle. Crossing the street quickly, he approaches his prey from the blind-side of the vehicle. His prey has parked in a dark driveway shielded by twisted old trees. Appearing from behind he drops the case and grabs the bat.
It's him, all right. He has the right guy. He has done his homework. "Hey scumbag," he growls, aiming at the knees, "Harry says hello!"
The razor wire bat chops into the kneecap hard, comes back out roughly while the dumpy little guy screams, and goes into the other knee every bit as deep.
No point sticking around now. He tucks his best gal with her pretty red dress back into bed and gets a move on as the screams start to get loud.
He puts the case in the back of the truck, hops in, starts up, and drives off, removing the ninja hood only when safely around the corner. Then, carefully as he came in, he calmly heads out of town to the bridge over the river. There he parks and cleans his hands and the bat and the case in the current.
Only when he stops washing does he really hear the river, and listening to it he thinks of the Golden Woman. Every time they see each other, their eyes always lock.
The bat in the case gets stashed in a pre-scouted spot under a thick clump of brush in the boulders near the bridge.
Dumpy little punk. Never should have screwed around with Harry's wife, dumbass. Got what you deserved, stupid piece of shit. Ya got schooled, hard. Schooled by the a professional.
Schooled by the Vindicator...
NEXT UP: Chapter 2 - The Golden Woman