Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Essential Cinema - 26

The Seventh Victim

Tom Conway
Jean Brooks
Isabel Jewell
Kim Hunter
Evelyn Brent
Erford Gage
Ben Bard
Hugh Beaumont

Mark Robson

DeWitt Bodeen
Charles O'Neal

Nicholas Musuraca

SYNOPSIS: A young orphan in a boarding school leaves to find her older sister, who has mysteriously disappeared.

CONCEPT IN RELATION TO THE VIEWER: Uncovering the lives of others and the fear in finding things you never expected. A psychological thriller that is very subtle in tone and feel.

This is one in a series of films produced by Val Lewton for RKO pictures. Lewton's work is supposed to have a hint of terror and fear. I have the entire collection of Lewton's work and this is the first one of the series that I have screened.

This is a short film (only 71 minutes) that is full of film noir imagery, with light streaming through venitian blinds, dark hallways and alleys with long shadows.

This is a good example of how entertaining cinema can be without all the bells and whistles that are thrown into films these days. The viewers interest is held by the writing and the imagery. There is a tension and anxiety in this film that is always just beneath the surface and the ending is not predictable until you reach it. And it is a strange ending, to say the least.

The actors are all competent in this film and it is fun to watch Hugh Beaumont (Leave It To Beaver's dad) acting in a dark psychological thriller.

It is films such as this that makes me lament the current state of cinema in America. Like the "Maltese Falcon" and "Out of the Past", this film shows a world that was more hip, dark, intriguing, dangerous and exicting, than anything the youth of today could ever imagine.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Resistance is Futile

Soon There Won't Be An Off Switch

Since I don't drive much, I get to observe a lot more of what is going on around me these days. One of the things I have observed has me puzzled and just a little bit nervous.

If you haven't seen Star Trek recently, there is a race of aliens on the show called "The Borg". They are part human and part bio-machine. They are interconnected via an electronic network and think and act as one unit known as the collective. The Borg are not nice people, because they have no conscious, free will, or emotion. They are simply a force of nature that live to 'assimilate' all other life forms into their existence. They are like a living cancer.

Much like the child in the film 'The Sixth Sense' who utters the phrase, "I see dead people!", on my way home, "I see Borg People!"

Almost everywhere I go, I see and hear people talking on their cell phones. Some have the Bluetooth headsets that hang in their ears like hearing aids and some actually hold the cell phone to their ears. Regardless, they are all chatting away, but they aren't saying anything. They aren't asking for directions or informing someone of an upcoming event. Their conversations are not finite and they never have a conclusion. They just talk, non-stop, about anything and everything.

It is apparent to me, that there is a large segment of our population that has anxiety issues. These people seek each other out and continually talk to one another just to feel safe and relieve their fears. I suppose in the old days, they used to have long conversations over the back yard fence or on the front porch. But now, they do it everywhere, while driving their car, while riding the bus, while eating lunch. There they are, just jabbering away about how Leroy is selfish, or Barbara didn't come to a bridal shower, or that Jack is a lazy SOB.

It gets even worse. Since marketers and corporate executives know these people are out there, they actually market to them. I could never understand why some wireless companies would have plans for 6000 minutes a month, until I started noticing these people. The concept of jabbering on a cell phone for 5 hours a day is a poor man's alternative to psychiatry. Telling your problems and fears to a sympathetic ear at a cost of just $199 a month? Hey, that is pretty cheap mental health counseling.

These cell phone Jaberwalkies are nothing but the modern day Borg with a twist. They don't want to assimilate anyone, they are just feeding an uncontrolled and unbridled appetite for attention and anxiety relief. They contribute little to society, except to stuff the pockets of ATT and Verizon with cash. Orwell was right. There is a Big Brother, but he isn't quite the same one that George envisioned for 1984.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Essential Cinema - 25

The Mission

Robert De Niro
Jeremy Irons
Ray McAnally
Aidan Quinn
Cherie Lunghi
Ronald Pickup
Chuck Low
Liam Neeson

Roland Joffé

Robert Bolt

Chris Menges

Jesuit missionaries struggle to build and protect a mission in the Amazon jungle during the late 1700s.

Often times, good does not triumph over evil. But it is still worth the struggle.

This is a very good film. It won the Grand Prize at Cannes and also won an Oscar for best cinematography for obvious reasons. According to the opening credits the story depicted in this film actually happened.

The acting in this film is somewhat low key with the story and the scenery taking center stage. Having watched this film several years ago, I was struck by my slightly different perspective after this viewing.

The real focus is the turmoil and suffering of the Viceroy that is sent to administer the will of the king and not the fate of the native peoples or the Jesuits that are sent to show them salvation. The Viceroy, played by Ray McAnally, gives the best performance in the film as the ex-Jesuit Priest who now obeys the king and not the teachings of the church. In the end he is a shattered man, having done his duty against his better judgment.

This film is about the difference between doing what is right and doing what you are told. The struggle we all have between being obidiant or following our heart. This is a dilemma we all must face at least once in our lives.

The mercenaries and profiters try and comfort the Viceroy at the end of the picture by reaffirming that, "This is the way it has to be. So is the world made." To which the Viceroy responds, "No, So have we made the world." Even after 300 years, somethings never change. That is why this film still carries such profound meaning.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Coming Apocalypse

Who's Your Daddy?

First there were these billboards telling you to question your girlfriend when she tells you she is 'knocked-up'. I mean genetically question her. You never know if that dumb bitch has been sleeping around with your buddies in the 'hood'. When I first saw them, I couldn't believe it. Women slept around that much to not even know?

Collect Call from Inmate #2187900-h...

Then on the way home the other day, I spotted this sign. My first thought was, "Damn, another business opportunity LOST! Why didn't I think of that?". Then it sort of sunk in, that if there are that many folks trying to call out of prison things weren't looking too good for society.

...will you accept the charges?

Never mind that this sign was stuck in the ground outside a grade school. I suppose if you are old enough to read, you are old enough to know where daddy really is (assuming he passed the paternity test).

Mommy, You Look Different...

The last straw was this article I found on the web at my favorite celebrity gossip site (I have guilty pleasures just like everyone else). The shear thought that there are enough women out there having liposuction, nose jobs and breast augmentation to warrant a picture book for children explaining why 'mommy looks different' just sort of floored me.

The brakes are off and society is picking up speed as it careens down the steep slope of the future. If that wasn't bad enough, they are converting to Windows Vista in my office this week. So, if you don't hear from me for a while that may well be the reason. We are all doomed.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Shifting Positions

Liberal or Conservative?

If you are like me, you are old. I turned 51 this year. Geezzz, AARP and Social Security are just around the corner. The years have taught me a lot. What they have taught me more than anything else is exactly how much I don't know. Life is a learning process and some of us learn pretty slowly.

When I was a child (which means under the age of 25) I thought I knew everything. Bravado and the self assurance of youth makes us think we are omnipotent and indestructible. Now at the age of 51, I 'think' I know about 80% of things, but I could be wrong.

Along the way I have made the transition from Liberal to Conservative and at present I am probably somewhere between the two. I suppose that puts me squarely in the middle of the bell curve of the American statistical landscape.

When I was young, carefree and wandering the halls of higher education I thought that individual rights were obvious. We should all be able to do what ever we want. Drugs, money and sexual freedom were our birthright. We wanted it all and there shouldn't be any laws to impede us.

There shouldn't be a war on drugs, there should be taxation and legalization. Substance abuse was a victim-less crime. What ever folks do in the privacy of their own home shouldn't be any of the government's business. Government should be small, and opportunity should be endless.

Then I left college and reality set in.

My first job was as an insurance claims adjuster. This job meant I had to go to people's houses and interact with them. I looked at their damaged cars, their burned out sheds and the locations where their neighbors had slipped and hit their head.

Many of these people were dysfunctional alcoholics. They were living in a drunken stupor, spending their days in curtained rooms, with a cheap bottle of vodka waiting for their next welfare check. They are basically consumed by past demons and waiting to die. They are victims of their own guilt and frailty.

After five years I got sick of the claims business and got a job in government. This career path was as an insurance investigator with the State of Arizona. This job opened up a whole new set of wonders regarding the public mindset. Most importantly, it showed me the legion of the mentally ill.

It seems that government attracts people with mental illness. They tend to see government as a maternal figure and expect it to do things for them. Much of my time as an insurance investigator was taken up with hour long phone calls from consumers trying to convince me that Allstate Insurance was spying on them from a van parked across the street (no joke, this was an actual phone call). After one such nut-case left a jar of gasoline at the front desk for me (as evidence in an insurance claim) I decided that it was time to move on.

My current job deals with the auditing of children who are in Foster Care. I have worn many hats in my current position, one of which was actually participating in the hands-on audits of the cases. During these reviews I got to interact with the parents of many of the children who are wards of the state.

After the interviews, it is no wonder that the state took away their children. Most of these parents are drug addicts. It isn't rocket science that if you are doing meth and have a 2 year old daughter, getting more meth is more important than getting food for your child. Most of these parents feign a desire to have their children returned to them, but in the end they choose the drugs over their offspring.

Seems that after all this 'learning', I am not quite as liberal as I once thought. There are no victim-less crimes. The victims are ourselves, our neighbors and our children. If government does not step in once in a while, too many drunken people wander into oncoming traffic, the mentally ill fall asleep on railroad tracks or Meth-Mom accidentally drowns her children.

I can't make up my mind if I want to live in a Right-Wing Dictatorship or a Liberal Welfare State these days. Based on the current election trends, it appears that most Americans can't make up their minds either.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Essential Cinema - 24

Dementia 13

William Campbell
Luana Anders
Bart Patton
Mary Mitchel
Patrick Magee
Eithne Dunne
Peter Read

Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola

Charles Hannawalt

Classic horror film where past mistakes and mental illness come back to haunt the present, literally.

Cinema history and not much else. A predictable tale of murder, retribution and mystery. When mental illness goes unchecked there can be deadly results.

I found this film in the public domain online and downloaded it. I had heard of it before, but never really knew what it was about. After the opening credits I was surprised to see that it was produced by Roger Corman and directed by Francis Ford Coppala (one of his very early films).

While the film starts out in an interesting manner, it quickly becomes a rather simplistic horror film that is straight forward and somewhat predictable. I suppose that this may have been an early attempt at a "thinking man's" horror film, but it is low budget and doesn't really hit its stride in the mental sense.

The acting in the film is a bit stiff and wooden and the dialog / screen writing is not really up to par. One interesting aspect of the film is the rather loud and clunky Foley work. The sound of footsteps and creaking doors is often times overpowering in some scenes and distracts from the action that is going on.

The two best performances in the film are turned in by the wife that drowns her husband in the opening scene and the family doctor that has a rather creepy edge to him. The rest of the cast is just going through the motions.

It is interesting to see where Francis Ford Coppola started, but needless to say, he could only have moved up from here. This might be good to watch on a dark stormy night with your teenage girlfriend, but hopefully you will end up necking on the couch before the final credits roll.

A Special Update: After this cinema review, I am going to make some changes to this series.

In the past, I have been watching and reviewing films that I have collected from various sources. Many have been on DVD, that I have recorded off of Turner Classic Movies, and some I have downloaded from the internet. That is going to change.

I have an extensive LaserDisc collection (that seems to keep growing thanks to ebay). For those that don't know what a LaserDisc is, they were the cinemaphile medium for film before the advent of DVDs. They look like DVDs but are the size of 12" LP records (if you don't know what a 12" LP is, I can't help you).

I am going to start reviewing my LaserDisc collection systematically. If I review one a week, I have enough to last me till my death, if not longer. I have that many of them. Most of these films are Hollywood classics and foreign films not genernally seen in the US these days. So if you thought my past reviews were obscure, wait till you see what is coming.

The added bonus for you the reader, is that I am digitizing most of these to play on my iPod (which is where I watch most of these films now-a-days). That means if anyone of you really wants to actually see one of these films, I can make them available for download via the internet. They will be in DIVX format which is a form of AVI movie. The free DIVX player is available online (

I hope to be posting a listing of my entire LaserDisc collection and can take some requests once I have it up on the net.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Happiness Is Relative

Union Pacific

Let me paint you a picture of a vast empty desert and a train.

My first job out of college was as an insurance claims adjuster. Like many jobs, this is one you don't want. Nobody starts out thinking they want to be a mortician, a garbage collector, a phone solicitor or a claims adjuster. It is a high pressure, low wage job and people tend to scream at you a lot. On top of this, I was stationed in Yuma, Arizona. Not exactly the place most 20-somethings want to live. There isn't a lot to do in Yuma except watch the Gila Monsters cross the road. But I had to start somewhere and I could only move up from here.

I often took my company car and drove the 120 miles to Tucson, Arizona just to get out of Yuma for the weekend. Interstate 8 is the highway that runs across southern Arizona from Yuma to Tucson. It is a long and desolate drive that parallels the Union Pacific railroad for most of the route.

On one such drive I was feeling pretty depressed. I hated my job, didn't have many friends, and life seemed a bit off track. I couldn't see my future really going anywhere. As I sped across the Sonoran desert, a large freight train slowly began to overtake me on my right.

As I glanced over at the four General Electric diesels pulling the mile long steel ribbon of commerce I noticed something. There, on top of the first boxcar behind the locomotives was a man. He was laying on his stomach with his hands grasping the leading edge of the car. He was propped up on his elbows with his hair flowing in the 80mph wind and diesel fumes. This young man was 'riding' the train like a bronco. Flying across the desert like some down and out Superman. I could see from the air-conditioned comfort of my Chrysler K-car that he was smiling.

I found it sort of strange, that I was sitting in a climate controlled company car, with a job, a rented apartment and a career, but at that moment the hobo was obviously much happier than I was. I had everything and he had nothing. But I realized what he did have. He had no cares, no worries, no bills, 4000 horsepower at his disposal and an endless horizon of opportunity.

After a few minutes the train pulled away and split off from the highway to find a different route to its destination.

I continued on toward Tucson thinking....something just wasn't right. The American Dream wasn't what I thought it was.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Great Puzzle - A Blog In Three Parts

Encanto Sunset, Olympus Digital

Part-3 - The Hidden Senses

Prolog - The Great Blue Herron
Part-1 - Indoctrination Into Our World
Part-2 - We Are All Disabled
Part-3 - The Hidden Senses

After mulling over the meaning of life and the fact that as humans we are prone to be distracted by a lot of things, it sort of dawned on me that this might all be some sort of test. Life might be an obstacle course that we have to run. If that is the case, how do we tell if we have successfully completed it?

If there is some higher order to the universe the assumption is we just can't understand how it all works. Some folks try and explain it with physics and some with religious dogma. Either way, we are distracted by the price of gas, war, hatred, envy and other perils of the human condition.

Then take into account that fact that we are always trying to trick each other into getting ahead. Marketers are selling you things you don't need. MTV shows music videos with over 300 edits in a 3 minute song (talk about ADHD), non-stop sex and violence in the media ignites our voyeuristic base instincts to watch and be distracted. An obstacle course indeed.

We have 5 senses; sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. When we loose one of these senses, our brains tend to compensate with the others. Think about the blind musician that appears to have more musical talent, the deaf person that has the keen visual eye and the mute that can express themselves in words far better than the rest of us.

We tend to see the world through our senses and assume thats all there is. But wait. Is it?

Science tells us that there are things we cannot perceive. Wavelengths of light that can't seem with the naked eye. Ranges of hearing that our dog has no problem with, but we are deaf to. Sharks can smell one drop of blood from miles away. As humans, we believe we can perceive all there is.

But what about Deja-Vu? The feeling of premonition and insight we all have once in a while. The concept of entering a room and feeling that you have been there before. The problem you can't solve, whose answer suddenly comes to you 2 weeks later. Is there something firing in our brains that is out of your ability to comprehend and control? Is there movement just out of the corner of your eye, but when you turn our head its gone?

All these things and all these questions have lead me to an idea. An hypothesis of sorts. The more I think about it, the more it seems to make sense no matter how skeptical I am.

What if there are senses that we just can't comprehend yet. What if this life is just an evolutionary step. Our great grandparents played baseball in dirt lots, our grandparents learned to build things with erector sets, as children we played with Rubic's Cubes and Tetris. Our children are learning to use a broadband computer by the age of 10.

If there is a higher power in the universe, they must know that we can't figure it all out in one lifetime. The earth may be an incubator of sorts. Once we are done here and pass on, we might 'graduate' into another plain where we have 15 senses, and then again to another plain where we have 25 senses? We couldn't handle them all now, but eventually we might move up the ladder.

Life might not end here. This may just be kindergarten, where we learn the basics. Some of us may move on while others may be held back a grade (lifetime). This isn't life. This is life with training wheels. And if I am right, this life is just the start of the journey.