- Hulk Smash Loki: Silent Epic—Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
“A silent film parody of the epic battle scene in The Avengers between Hulk and Loki, probably the best fight scene in the history of the movies. Guess who won. Hulk, Smash!!!”
Something to lighten your day. The Silent Movie era was wonderful. We just don’t get movies like this nowadays.
- Yes Minister: The Complete Collection—Thursday, July 5th, 2012
This show was a huge hit in both England and in the United States. Even Americans who don’t follow British television imports will light up and smile on the mention of Yes Minister. It captures the entrenched bureaucracy that we fear and does so in a way we can laugh at. While Yes Minister shows a very different system of government than we have—the executive and Parliament are not separate, our president does not appoint his cabinet from sitting members of congress, and rarely pulls members of congress out of congress to be part of the cabinet1—the lessons of an entrenched civil service are ones we should take to heart.
Yes Minister is ostensibly about Member of Parliament Jim Hacker, who in episode one has just won reelection to Parliament in Birmingham East and is chosen as a cabinet minister. But the series appears to me to be almost as much about Bernard Woolley. It’s a sort of political Screwtape Letters, with long-term civil servant Sir Humphrey Appleby vying with Hacker for Woolley’s soul. This leads up to the penultimate episode, where Jim Hacker is faced with a real moral dilemma, one which also draws in Woolley. Throughout the show, half the characters accuse the other half of being Humphrey Appleby. Which is the point of the show: that everyone in politics becomes Humphrey Appleby if they survive. There may be little victories along the way, but politicians who stay in politics enjoy the protection—the plausible deniability—that a thick bureaucracy gives them.
The very last show has Hacker realizing that he has forgotten his constituents—after they very blatantly tell him. He endeavors to assist them, and, of course, that has to end up a rung in his ladder to Appleby, too. It isn’t just that a long-term bureaucracy exists to impede changes, but that a long-term bureaucracy exists to divert political attention—money and power—to benefit the members of the long-term bureaucracy. It isn’t what the government can give to the people, but what the people can give to the government. Hacker doesn’t understand this, and in many shows tries to change it. He comes into power as a reformer, and his first inclination is usually to do the right thing. But without experience or willpower, he’s easily persuaded not to do wrong, but to pretend that right is wrong and wrong is right.
- The Brother From Another Planet—Wednesday, November 30th, 2011
John Sayles1 directed this movie that got good word of mouth and then went nowhere fast. About a black alien landing in Harlem and running from the precursors to Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. A very strange, somewhat disturbing story about assimilating into a new and strange culture.
A small spaceship carrying a frightened pilot crashes at Ellis Island. The pilot crawls out of the steaming sea with the Statue of Liberty in the background. He lost one foot in the crash, sheared right off. He lays glowing hands on himself and hops away on his one leg.
He hears the voices of the past in everything he touches. Which makes it difficult to sleep on the benches in the empty immigration center. So he sleeps on the floor. By morning, his sheared foot has returned.
With three toes.
He’s hungry; he learns to talk to a cash register so that he can exchange the cash inside for a pear. He understands machines far more than people: he figured out from watching that if he wanted a pear he needed to exchange the green slips of paper for them, but didn’t know where they came from or their significance. So he guessed, and guessed wrong.
That’s all in the first few minutes of the movie. Eventually the guy ends up in Harlem, in Odell’s, a bar that’s sort of the black mirror to Cheers. Everyone knows everyone’s name (Steve James, who plays the owner and only bartender, even bears a striking resemblance to Ted Danson) and they trade jokes and bullshit.
Fly: “Come back here, it’s all ‘dangerous’.”
Sam: “I never lived here, Fly.”
Odell: “Sam’s from Englewood.”
Fly: “Where’s that?”
Sam: “It’s in New Jersey.”
Fly: “You let people know that?”
When the unnamed slave on the run walks into Odell’s, Fly is playing the arcade game Astro Chase while the rest of the bar “discusses” space diseases.
As the movie progresses, he learns more and more about the people and the culture he’s crashed into—in effect, he assimilates as any immigrant needs to do.
- The Last Dragon—Friday, November 25th, 2011
Seeing martial artists fight over the petty fiefdoms of the slums was just brilliant. This is a deliberate cartoon reality, what director Michael Schultz called “a living comic book”. But despite that, it’s also somewhat real, in that the people within it recognize how out of place, and even silly, Leroy and the Shogun are.
There’s a lot of deliberate poking at stereotypes. An Asian using his ethnicity as a weapon against non-Asians; Asians acting blacker than black and running a fake-wisdom fortune cookie factory. An Asian martial arts master leaving town on a journey—to see his mother in Miami. And a couple of feuding black warriors running around Harlem dressed as Chinese and Japanese.1
Leroy Green, son of a black entrepreneur, dresses as a Chinese peasant and eats popcorn with chopsticks, and idolizes Bruce Lee. His younger brother calls him a “chocolate-covered yellow peril”. Sho-Nuff—we never find out what his real name is—dresses, as well as he can, as a samurai, and styles himself “the shogun of Harlem”. They’ve got a bit of a feud running: Sho-Nuff wants everyone to know he’s the master of martial arts in this town. But Leroy’s quiet confidence has got a lot of the kids thinking he’s at least as good as Sho-Nuff. But Leroy won’t fight: one of the tenets of his dojo is “May God help me if I ever have to use my art.”
Which can be taken two ways, but, at least for the first part of the movie, Leroy takes it as a prohibition on fighting.
The feud between the two martial artists blows up when a Jersey-born mobster, just as silly in his own way as the two warriors and with a penchant for picking up losers, gets involved. He wants dance club host and owner Laura Charles—played by Vanity—to highlight his artist’s music videos on her dance floor.
That rounds out the three main characters: Leroy, Sho-Nuff, and Laura. They all have one thing in common: they’re very good at what they do and they’re confident in their own abilities. Sho-Nuff knows he’s the best; his feud with Leroy is a tactical one: he needs to prove to the community that nobody can outfight him, so that he can command their obedience as the master of Harlem. That’s why he can’t just beat Leroy up. Leroy has to fight back or some people might still believe someone could be better than the Shogun.
- The Adjustment Bureau—Monday, August 29th, 2011
If you expect to see The Adjustment Bureau, don’t read this review. I’ve got a lot of spoilers here, but I don’t think they matter, because you aren’t going to like this movie. If you enjoy the first part, you won’t enjoy the second; if you enjoy the second, you’ll find the first part annoyingly weird.
David Norris is a New York congressman running for United States Senate. He’s a young man with a promising future and a bit of a reckless past. Nothing major, but it’s enough to derail his Senate bid when his frat party photos are published the morning of the election. It’s pretty obvious from the first returns that he’s not even going to win on his home turf, so he retires to a hotel bathroom to write his concession speech.
After working for a long time on the speech, he realizes he’s not alone in the bathroom. Turns out a woman is in one of the stalls. She’s hiding from hotel security because she crashed a wedding party. They immediately bond; they are clearly meant for each other. And then hotel security finds her and she runs and he is never going to see her again. All he knows is her first name, and there are a lot of Elises in the world.
He scraps his speech, and gives an impromptu Jerry Maguire-style speech about how marketing has taken over politics. From the snippets we get to see, it’s a very good speech. It’s a speech that would be very difficult to deliver without a teleprompter or divine inspiration.
He doesn’t have a teleprompter. His giving that speech is part of the divine plan, both for him and for Elise. Elise was inspired to dare herself to crash the wedding party, so that she would inspire him to tell important truths in his concession. He would then go on to make a successful run for the Senate in the next go-round, make a name for himself there, and eventually win the presidency, and his brand of truth would push the world a little bit further from world war and nuclear destruction. Elise would lead an emotionally troubled life but this would inspire her to become one of the world’s great dancers, and then pass on her inspiration to others as one of the world’s great choreographers.
That’s the divine plan for both of them.
The problem is that this isn’t the only divine plan. There’s an older plan in which they were meant for each other. They complete each other, and when they meet they live a quiet, loving life together in which each of them fills the need of the other for greatness. He doesn’t become a great politician, and she does not become a great dancer. They live for each other instead of for the world.
“She runs towards the danger… the oil execs approached her and said, you don’t know who you’re messing with… And she looked ’em in the face, stared ’em down… she took it on because she knew it needed to be done… she was a champion… to hell with the establishment, because the establishment has put us in this position in the first place.”
Wow. I’ve held off commenting on this movie because it had real potential for going very wrong. But this trailer is very powerful.(Hat tip to Doug Brady at Conservatives 4 Palin.)
- The battle for Helm’s Deep has begun—Saturday, April 30th, 2011
William A. Jacobson posted a snippet from Churchill’s “Finest Hour” speech this morning, and listening to it, I can’t but remember the notion that Tolkien was heavily inspired by the events of the second World War for some of the things in The Lord of the Rings:
What General Weygand had called the Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in these islands, or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed, and the life of the world may move forward, into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty, and so bear ourselves, that if the British empire and its commonwealth last for a thousand years men will still say, “this was their finest hour”.
Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings between 1937 and 1949. There’s some controversy about how much he was influenced by World War II, but very little controversy that he was. However, Tolkien clearly isn’t the only one to take inspiration from World War II for The Lord of the Rings. The movie’s dialogue seems to be a conscious effort to invoke not just the war, but this one influential segment of one of Churchill’s great speeches.
That line isn’t in the book, as far as I can tell. And it’s not the only time the writers pull from this one speech. They use the word “the enemy” often, as Tolkien had the characters do in the book when they wish to speak of Sauron without naming him. Replace “Sauron” with “the enemy” in this little soliloquy of Galadriel’s:
- Atlas Shrugged—Friday, April 22nd, 2011
“The only power any government has is to crack down on crime and criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, then one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kinds of law that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted and you create a nation of lawbreakers—and then you can cash in on their guilt.”—Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged)
I saw Atlas Shrugged last Friday. While I’ve heard bits and pieces of the story, and have long had that quote from the book in my quotefile, I’ve never read the book. I’ve only read one Ayn Rand book, The Fountainhead. It was very enjoyable, taking a world to extremes to make a point, but not to unreasonable extremes. And for the most part, the characters in the book were believable with human flaws, and they succumbed to human temptations. Having gone forty years only hearing about Rand rather than reading her, I was surprised by how good a book it was.
That said, my pile of books to read is huge, and I haven’t added any more to it yet.
With the exception of one Mysterious Guy wandering around at the fringes, the movie was uniformly well-acted. The politicians and other smarmy beltway hangers-on were very well-acted and frighteningly close to real life, and the two main characters were very natural, and their lines were translated well to the movie.
I hear that the Mysterious Guy is the director; I hope that he either gets a lot better or gets a better actor for part 2. He wasn’t in this movie for more than a few seconds at a time a few times, but my understanding is that he has a bigger role in the next part. I’m guessing it’s going to be important that he have believable dialogue and acting. It wasn’t just the wooden acting; the dialogue, which I suspect worked great in writing, could have been a lot smoother without changing its meaning.
Despite his acting skills, his directing was good. I don’t think you can get this natural of a delivery from actors without being a good director.
There’s a beautiful sequence with a train; very enjoyable. I could quibble with the direction a little bit—I thought the shots were more appropriate for an older, Hogwarts-style train than for the ultra-modern, sleek train they used—but it was a good bit.