Welcome to the Jungle

A series of unfortunate events had kept me from seeing Black Panther until last Tuesday. I was attempting to coordinate four tickets and discovered the nigh impossibility of getting two people on the same sheet of music, much less four, but eventually the planets aligned…for three of us, at least.  And since I had gone through all the trouble of getting three of us there and was feeling all jungle-y, I and son decided to go see Jumanji, too.

Yes, Jumanji, still in the theaters despite the Black Panther onslaught. I think that had more to do with February/March being sucky release months than anything. Verdict?

Go see Jumanji. It’s the much better movie.

Like everyone else with a pulse, I walked into Black Panther sporting great expectations. I mean, this was the greatest movie ever made, the greatest Marvel ever, 1000% ratings on all the sites, the movie that’s going to change all movies forever and ever, world without end. Golly. This should be good.

It wasn’t. It downright sucked.

The Amazing Lucas here does a much better job than I ever could expressing our mutual dismay, but I will add my two cents. First, the Black Panther from Civil War was the Black Panther I expected: a complete and total bad ass. Took on Cap and Winter Soldier and damn near did both of them in. Guy who can do that is no slouch. But the T’Challa of this movie wasn’t at the same level of badassery. Far from it. He was a vacillating, simpering, hesitant naif with a fraction of the combat prowess previously displayed. I guess he got a bad batch of purple flowers or something. He should have dispatched Man Ape

and Killmonger

on his way to breakfast. Yeah, yeah, they made him take the blue pill before the fights and maybe it’s a bit unfair to have a guy with the DTs defend his kingship. But that’s the way they do things in Wakanda.

Again, Lucas has done a much better job that I ever could criticizing the Wakandan Rules of Succession but, really? Really? One-on-one armed combat to the death? Not exactly a stellar means of government transition, is it? I mean, you can’t expect to wield supreme authority just because some watery tart threw a sword at you. How long has this been going on, three-or-four hundred years? No way. After oh, say, a week, the biggest and meanest Wakandan would have gathered up a few of his friends and taken the place over and spent centuries killing any other Wakandan who even blinked at him sideways. How do you think the English aristocracy got started?

Second, Wakandans are dicks.

Here they are, sitting on some of the most amazing tech and science in the universe, and they’re hiding it underneath a jungle holograph. What dicks. They have anti-gravity, cures for paralysis, can basically bring back the dead, and don’t forget, got those purple flowers, all of which they’re hoarding for themselves. What a dick move. This made me very sympathetic towards Killmonger’s political platform, although his methods seemed a bit excessive.

And they killed Klaw.

One of the most entertaining villains in a while, and they bagged and tagged him.

Dick move, Marvel.

So I was not in the best of moods when I walked out, but there was Jumanji next screen over, escapist light mindless fare, deliberately so, instead of the purposely mindless fare I had just watched. Okay, let’s go.

I am not a big fan of the original movie, nor of The Rock.

The first movie was fun but it’s a one-trick pony and exactly how many times can we watch the monkeys do something vicious to a townie and yeah, yeah, let’s get to the end of the game, shall we? The Rock is like Schwarzenegger; both are there to draw the crowds but don’t expect a lot. I can safely say I had not watched a single Rock movie up to this point. Unlike Ahnold, Rock’s movies sounded boring. That’s why they threw him in those, to get some ticket sales. But, I gotta say, both movie and Rock were pleasant surprises.

This Jumanji is not a remake or a reboot; it is a salute to a kids’ movie the director obviously loved. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and has as much fun with the original movie and the whole 90s video game scene as possible. You’ve seen enough of the trailers to get the gist of the plot, but it’s a lot more fun than even those indicated. Wait until you see Jack Black trying to teach a 14-year-old girl how to flirt, with disastrous results. Better, the worst first kiss in history, as interpreted by the Rock.

And the most refreshing aspect? It’s not about Jumanji, not at all. That’s merely the vehicle for teenage awkwardness and nerdiness and cliques and the hell that is high school. As for the Rock, the guy can actually act. And he doesn’t take himself seriously. It’s obvious he was having a ball, and you know how much fun it is when the actors are in on the joke, like George Clooney in O Brother Where Art Thou?

So, choose your jungle wisely.

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Drawn and Quartered

Another Lost Weekend Film Festival, another failure to hang. And this time Andy Gyurisin had actually made it easier to hang: one needed to attend only twenty-four of the twenty-eight movies to win accolades, admiration, and a nifty gold medal good for a ticket exchange next year. I could only do twenty-two. All right, let’s hear it: wuss, lightweight, girlyman, yeah, yeah, yeah. Everyone feel better?

It was, as usual, a well planned operation of chaos and mayhem. F’rinstance, when the launch team showed up in the morning to assemble swag bags, the voting ballots and other items had yet to be delivered. Yikes!

 

But, at the last minute, things arrived and the team swung into action:

Just in time because the lobby was quickly overrun by those wanting the best seats:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This relentlessly crazy person was first in line, by God:

 

And then the madness began: twenty-eight movies from Thursday through Sunday night, with about oh, say, ten or fifteen minute breaks thrown in here and there. It wasn’t a movie festival, it was a movie marathon.

The ones I saw:

  1. Borg vs McEnroe: proof that tennis is a snotty sport played by near-sociopaths who have managed to money their way out of prison and/or mental institutions. Good movie, though. I’d watch it again if nothing else was on.
  2. Good Time: proof that stupidity is all the way to the bone. This is one hugely entertaining calamity after another as Connie Nikas (played by the wondrous Robert Pattison) tries to get his mentally challenged brother Nick out of Riker’s Island after the two of them rob a bank. Connie’s idea, ya know; he wanted to buy a farm where his brother could roam free. He also interferes with his brother’s very beneficial treatment sessions. Connie’s one of those guys who conflates family loyalty with an excuse for all kinds of mayhem and mishap and, man, is there mayhem and mishap galore in this movie. Every thirty minutes or so, there is a complete new cast of characters engaged in Connie’s deranged plans. Definitely will watch it again.
  3. Rock Steady Row. This was the first of three secret screenings held over the weekend, the titles of which were more closely guarded than a FISA Court warrant. This is college. That’s all you need to know. It’s a running allegorical joke that only the guys who went to whatever college this is based on are in on. The saving grace is the delightfully maniacal performance by Logan Huffman as the head of the red fraternity, whose name escapes me. We all know a guy like that. Not a movie I’d watch again.
  4. Wonderstruck. One of those coming-of-age movies where you’re supposed to be short of breath and gasping at the Big Reveals. I was gasping from the urge not to vomit. Ben, a precocious youngster (they’re all precocious youngsters, ain’t they?) embarks on a journey by himself to find his father because his mother won’t tell him who his father is. Why? Who knows? There’s absolutely no reason presented as to why the identity of the father must remain this big dark secret. Indeed, the father turns out to be quite a good guy. What the hell, Mom? Can’t ask her because, you see, she died, carrying her incomprehensible and downright cruel reasons to the grave. So Ben has to move in with his aunt, who lives in a house right next door to his house, both on the same plot of land, apparently, and his house is bigger than the aunt’s so why didn’t they all just switch over? Got me. I guess it wouldn’t advance the proposition that Ben is Cruelly Treated by his Aunt and cousin, necessitating the whole running-away-to-find-my-father shtick. As if that wasn’t bad enough, superimposed over all this is a black-and-white sub-story involving Rose, a deaf girl who runs away to…well, we’re not really sure. Visit the museum where her brother works, I guess. See, Rose is also cruelly treated because her Dad doesn’t think 12-year-old deaf girls should run around New York City alone. And, get this, he wants her to learn sign language (why doesn’t she already know sign language?)! Yeah, cruel bastard, he. Oh, yes, Ben loses his hearing during a lightening strike, so I guess that connects the two stories even though there’s no reason why these two stories even relate…well, there is, but you don’t know that until waaaay later, long after you’ve lost interest. Oh yeah, the 1977 New York City blackout’s involved, too. What a godawful YA mess this movie is. I’d kick out my TV screen before watching it again.
  5. LA 92. This was a surprisingly good documentary about the 92 Los Angeles Rodney King riots, in the sense that it was not as political or polemical as expected, coming from National Geographic and all. Nope, just the stark facts, man. Except for one rather important fact, that Rodney King was drunk out of his mind and a felon driving under the influence which meant a parole violation for his armed robbery conviction and he simply did not want to go back to jail and refused, downright refused, to obey police commands. Was, indeed, actively fighting the police. Personally, I would have shot him. Would have saved 53 lives and billions of dollars in property damage. A movie that’s worth another look.
  6. I Kill Giants. It must be a symptom of my growing curmudgeon-ness because YA movies more and more irritate the crap out of me. This one was no exception. Overblown, over-dramatic and over-the-top treatment of an excessively self-absorbed ‘tween who magnifies her own sorrows beyond the very real sorrows of her family. I think a course of Thorazine would have helped. I will gouge my eyes out rather than watch this again.
  7. In the Fade. Wow. Just wow. Diane Kruger is an international gem. She portrays a woman whose life is devastated by a couple of a-hole wannabe Nazis who kill her husband and son. Bad enough, but she is re-victimized by a  court system more interested in impressing other lawyers and judges by their nuanced interpretation of an obscure statute or two than anything like justice. Seems the justices have sniffily dismissed the concept of vengeance as gauche and bourgeois. Got a state to craft in their own image, doncha know. What the justice system seems to have forgotten is that it was established so we could forgo vengeance in favor of a fair weighing of the facts and a subsequent fair recompense of the wrongs done us. When the courts decide they are vehicles for social engineering instead, what do you think will happen? Watch. This is a movie worth seeing several times. Diane Kruger deserves an Oscar.
  8. The Endless. The second secret screening of the weekend, this is a film by Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, two Film Club favorites for their previous titles Resolution and Spring. In this one, Moorhead and Benson cast themselves as two brothers who escaped from a cult decades ago, only to go back for a visit when they receive a video tape from a current cult member. Mind blowing story about time loops and other science fictiony themes handled in a low key manner. The only nit I pick is an important segment that is reliant on the film Resolution, so make sure you watch that before you watch this. I’d watch this one again as part of a Moorhead/Benson marathon.
  9. Along With the Gods. I love South Korean crime movies because they are over-the-top nuts. So, apparently, are South Korean fantasy/scifi movies because, Holy Hannah, this one is nuts. A South Korean firefighter dies on duty and must undergo a series of trials before he is allowed to reincarnate. Man, Buddhism is tough. And complicated. I thought my (WARNING! Shameless self-promotion ahead!) trilogy set in Heaven was complicated but this one wins. It’s a bit tough figuring out who’s who and what’s doing what to what but worth it. The CGI and swordplay alone make it worth it. Definitely would watch this again.
  10. The Vanishing of Sidney Hall.  This is a great movie ruined by its focus, its editing and its hubristic self-regard. Its focus is on the title character Sidney Hall, a 17-year-old writer of such power and greatness that merely glancing at one of his sentences induces orgasms. Or so we are led to believe. Sidney, who is a David Foster Wallace/JD Salinger amalgam gets a novel published through the machinations of his English teacher (yeah, that’s how it happens) and world peace and love breaks out until A Tragedy causes the wounded Sidney to become a hobo rail-hopping across the country and burning copies of his books in libraries and book stores…a hobo who owns a billion dollar exclusively-designed desert house, by the way. The Tragedy is what this movie should have been about, not the self-absorbed Sidney’s angst-ridden reaction to it. What dreck. What crap. This movie is full of contrived and artificially induced plot points, such as the stunningly beautiful girl across the street (Elle Fanning) who Sidney doesn’t even notice until months later. Right. Turns out she’s as insightful and brilliant and wonderful as he is, and she’s also a creative type, a photographer. Because everyone in La La Land is a brilliant writer or photographer, doncha know. There are no trash truck drivers or plumbers. And, of course, she is the subject of More Tragedy. Really, Sidney is a walking curse that society should jail for its own safety. Oh, yes, there’s ANOTHER brilliant writer involved in this, one whose words makes even Sidney Hall orgasm. La La Land has no dearth of brilliant writers, doncha know, all angst ridden and self-regarding except when they are regarding other brilliant writers. Really, we should all turn our lives over to them to manage. The eeeevil people are the parents, of course, and some vaguely right-wing politicians with a contrived censorship activity through which Sidney heroically suffers, because, you know, writers are Class Heroes Bringing The Truth (Christmas, does anybody involved with this movie actually live outside of a bubble?). One of those eeevil parents is the only intriguing character in this whole godawful mess: Sidney’s Dad who, in his silence, speaks volumes. I wish the movie had been about him. Nathan Lane is in this movie being Nathan Lane and has the best line in the entire movie: “It’s like throwing a party for Sylvia Plath.” Indeed, it was. I would not watch this movie again at gunpoint.
  11. Bombshell. It’s Hedy Lamarr (“That’s Hedley”). What more do you need to know? Definitely watch this again.
  12. Carpinteros.  Wow. Just wow. What a great movie about prisoners in the Dominican Republic and how they use a self-developed sign language to communicate across fence lines. The stunning Judith Perez plays Yannely, who you really don’t want for a girlfriend. Trust me on this. I can’t decide if her performance or that of Jean Jean as Julian Sosa is the better because they are both brilliant. Definitely will watch this again.
  13. Vuelven. Wow. Just wow. Another great movie, this one about the destruction wrought by the Mexican drug trade on the innocent, in this case a group of kids left homeless and orphaned by a local drug gang. Not only do they murder the kids’ parents with impunity, but they sell the kids into child sex rings. If it wasn’t for the orphans’ ten-year-old leader, Shine (wondrously portrayed by Juan Ramon Lopez) they’d all be dead or worse. Enter Estrella, a recently orphaned girl who brings with her three wishes, all of which devastate the orphans but bring a measure of justice, too. This is magical realism at its most tragic. Definitely going to watch this again.
  14. The Death of Stalin. The third and final secret screening, this was a light-hearted look at genocide, repression, police states and all the other amusing aspects of tyranny and enslavement. Gee, what’s next, Springtime for Hitler? How ’bout a rollicking comedy and musical about the Middle Passage? Or Pol Pot’s killing fields? Good God Almighty. I spent the entire movie appalled as Beria (Simon Beale) and Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) jockey to take over from the just-deceased Stalin, from the slapstick attempt to move Stalin’s body to working their limousines into the funeral procession. I guess this is funny to a generation which knows nothing about the horror show that was the USSR. Won’t watch this again, comrade.
  15. Annihilation. This was the movie to which I looked the most forward and it was disappointing. Just was. It turned into a CGI-fest, the psychedelia of which was supposed to substitute for a plot. Look at the pretty pictures and don’t ask any questions. The ending sequence was simply ridiculous, and I was left with a vague sense that I needed to take a bath. Don’t bother looking for an explanation beyond “there’s a fungus among us.” I’m not even inspired to read the book. I’ll watch this again only if there’s nothing else on, because it was pretty.
  16. November. This is a movie best watched while you’re stoned. Cow-skull helicopters kidnapping cattle, does that give you an idea? Estonia needs dentists. Estonia needs more attractive people. Does that give you more of an idea? I don’t get stoned, so I won’t be watching it again.
  17. Bad Genius.  Outstanding effin’ movie. Edge-of-your-seat tension along the lines of The Talented Mr. Ripley or Rounders, but much lighter. A genius high school girl, along with a genius high school boy, plan to cheat on an international exam. But, as you know, no plan survives first contact. Watch this one over and over.
  18. Small Town Crime. Outstanding effin’ movie, this time about a drunken ex-cop (Oscar-worthy performance by John Hawkes) seeking redemption. Sound like a cliche? Not in this case. The cop, Mike Kendall, manages to get his partner and a kidnap victim killed while drunk on duty, and it is a measure of the fabled Cop Protection Society that he is not spending twenty years in jail for manslaughter. He is, though, thrown out on his ear, earning opprobrium and contempt from his fellow cops and he becomes a world class drunk, parking his wonderful Nova SS in his front yard (through the picket fence, of course) and in the middle of fields, waking up a couple of days later. But see, once you’ve gone Brotherhood, you always go back and Kendall yearns to slap on a badge once again. He gets his chance when he discovers a woman’s body by the side of the road. This is a straight up story of blackmail and sleaze, no twists and maguffins, more Fargo than Chinatown. One of those movies to watch again and again.
  19. Oh Lucy. Third outstanding movie in a row, this is a tragedy that you do not know is a tragedy until it’s about 3/4 of the way through. Up until then,  you think it’s a comedy of errors. It’s not. Man, heartbreaking and very well done. Definitely a movie to watch again.
  20. Jane. Someone found a box of unused film clips that Jane Goodall’s husband, cinematographer Hugo van Lawick, had left in a box and decided to piece them together into another Jane Goodall documentary. You’ll see why van Lawick left them in a box because they are posed shots of Jane looking through binoculars, climbing trees, washing her hair, looking through binoculars, walking through the jungle, looking through binoculars, playing with a chimp, looking through binoculars, and looking through binoculars. Only reason to watch this again is an attempt to induce an aneurysm.
  21. You Were Never Really Here. This was never really a movie, at least, one that had a point. I think it was a way for Joaquin Phoenix to show how much of a badass he is, and he is. But badassery usually needs a reason to believe and this is aimless. Best I can figure out, Phoenix plays badass Joe, who might be a badass because of Aaarmy training, sir, not really sure, who is trying to overcome a traumatic childhood by rescuing kids from their own traumatic childhoods in a way guaranteed to traumatize the children he’s rescuing. There’s some baffling political shenanigans going on, too. S’kay, because you get to watch badassery. I’d watch it again just for that.
  22. A Fantastic Woman. A much better movie than I expected about a gay transvestite – yep, that is the proper term until they get a chopadickoffame then they become transsexuals – who loses her older lover and is cast out on his (her, whatever) own. It made no attempt to convert me or declare his lifestyle as normal. Indeed, Marina (or Marisa as everybody else kept calling her) knows he’s not normal and he’s fine with that. So I’m fine with it, too. He is quite a compelling figure who demonstrates far more maturity and empathy than does all the straights in this movie, except for his dead lover’s brother. Not sure if I’d watch this again because I’m not big into love stories, regardless of orientation, but I wouldn’t turn it off.

Rumor is the next Lost Weekend will have thirty movies. Ah, more chances to fail.

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R is for Rocket

Agog. That’s my reaction to the launch of the Heavy Falcon rocket by Space X. Did you see those two boosters RETURNING TO THE LAUNCH PAD???? In case you didn’t…

Hence, agog.

I don’t know if other segments of the population reacted with the same level of agog-ness, but I’m pretty sure a lot of us old NASA geeks did. The few of us left, I mean. A warming cockle of a distant heart, it was, a re-beating of a moribund spirit, a harkening back to naïve youth and the naïve belief in unlimited horizons and The Futuuuure! that we NASA geeks lived and breathed during the Space Race days.

It’s amusing to think of it now but, back then, we were all convinced we were getting jetpacks and would live on the moon. Indeed, one of my favorite picture books was:

which I devoured over and over and over when I was five or six years old, the odd drawings of young spacemen grinning at the little boy in a rather predatory manner notwithstanding.

We were going to live on the moon! And have jetpacks! Neat!

We said “neat” back then. “Cool” came later.

I was a little too young to remember Sputnik and the ensuing panic, but I clearly remember John Glenn’s Friendship 7 take-off from Cape Canaveral (as it was known then before it became Cape Kennedy then back to Canaveral so most of you probably are not aware of the name change) because every classroom in BC Swinney Elementary School in Lawton, OK had a television wheeled in and tuned to so we could watch. Which just wasn’t done, wheeling televisions into classrooms, that is, signaling to all of us pointy-headed kids that this was a Big Deal. It certainly was to me. I was thrilled, astounded, amazed…agog. And, yes, I know, Alan Shephard had actually launched into space a year before and I probably saw that, too, but there is something about the Glenn launch that remains better seared into memory. I guess because that launch was the first US orbit of the Earth and all we pointy-headed kids knew that the Russkies had gotten there first and we were going to fall under Soviet domination if we couldn’t match, nay surpass, their effort. So it was with great geopolitical relief that we kids watched the launch and splashdown and all breathed a collective sigh of relief that Western Values and the American Way were once again dominating…

Of COURSE we didn’t think that. We thought we were going to live on the moon. And get jetpacks.

At least my best friends and I did. This conviction was enthusiastically shared among the very small (about three, if that) group of dweebs and nerds I hung out with; we bought models of Mercury and Apollo spaceships and mounted them on displays for science fairs and had crappy little telescopes and joined the NASA Kids’ Club and got autographed pictures through the mail of astronauts in training like Mike Collins and Neil Armstrong (man, I wish I still had those) and knew when every launch was scheduled and begged and pleaded Dad to take us to Cape (then) Kennedy so we could see a launch and no, I’m not going to waste a bunch of money so you stupid kids can watch something you can watch on TV, even though we were living in LA (lower Alabama) at the time and the Cape and Cocoa Beach (where Tony and Jeannie lived) was about a four hour drive. Would have interrupted the servicing of his many girlfriends, I guess.

The astronauts were our heroes, the space program was our inspiration. War would end. Nations would unite. We would explore the galaxy. We would live on the moon.

What the hell happened?

A few things. The first was the slow disintegration and suddenly spectacular destruction of my family during the period of the Apollo program, which serves as inspiration for my (WARNING: shameless self-promotion ahead!) upcoming Frank Vaughn trilogy (Frank Vaughn Killed by his Mom, Southern Gothic, Looking for Don). I went from breathless excitement during Apollo 8’s magnificent 1968 Christmas Eve broadcast from the moon

to frantically squinting through my laughable 60 power telescope the night of July 20, 1969 to catch a glimpse of Aldrin and Armstrong cavorting on the moon to…not even watching the news broadcast of Apollo 17’s last moonwalk in Dec 1972. Didn’t care anymore. That whole “family destruction” thing.

And I wasn’t the only one. No one cared. There had been a national-level destruction to go right along with my personal one and we turned away from space programs and The Future to social programs and the Right Now and did not ask what you could do for your country but asked what are you doing for ME, man? We saw no farther than the bridge of our noses. We looked down at our shoes, not at the sky. We wanted to Get Ours, not Go Out There. And all that space stuff was silly and expensive and we’ve got more important things to worry about here like oil shocks and inflation and worldwide liberation movements and finding jobs and just getting by.

No living on the moon. No jetpacks.

And, now, look at this. Someone has revived it. The spirit stirs. And maybe you kids will get to live on the moon someday. Me, I’m too old.

But I’d still like to have a jetpack.

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B is for Bradbury

In the midst of this brutal cold we’ve been experiencing the last few weeks, a sunny spring-like day popped up. All the kids were out in all the playgrounds and it was delightful weather and I was reminded of a Ray Bradbury story, All Summer in a Day: the clouds on Venus part once every ten years and all the kids go outside for a few hours. I then wondered if anyone still reads Bradbury.

Do they? Or is he another one of those authors everybody knows but doesn’t read, like Heinlein and Asimov; you know, a nod of respect to the founding fathers of science fiction, but there’s newer and, admittedly, better writers out there like Daniel Suarez, Alastair Reynolds and such? We know the importance of George Washington, but only academics read his Inaugural Address.

And I guess that is the way of things and something I must also admit to: I do not read the classics anymore, or, more accurately, re-read them, because been there and done that and there is so much else unread. I’m in the middle of Dan Simmons’ The Terror right now, and then I’ve got to finish Suarez’ books and then Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Trilogy

and I subscribe to Clarkesworld and then there’s my own writing and there you go. I think the last classic I re-read was The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,

and only because I found a copy and bought it for my son…uh huh, yeah, read it before giving it to him. It’s not like I took a bite out of his hamburger, ya know. Don’t look at me like that.

But I make an exception for Bradbury. Whenever I find his books in some used bookstore or a Goodwill, whatnot, I buy it and read it, the last one being The Illustrated Man.

I’ve got an eye out for The October Country and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Not reprints, mind you, or at least not recent ones. It has to have the same cover from back when I first read it in the 60s or 70s and yes, yes, I know, I could order from Abe Books but that’s cheating; it’s far more satisfying to stumble across it the same way I first stumbled across Bradbury in the Ft. Rucker, Alabama library, when I was about 12 or 13. He quickly became my favorite author growing up, and running through one of his collections is the quickest way I now have to evoke the feel and the sense of possibility of those years. He quickly became my biggest influence, too. I try to copy his lyrical style…with little success, I must admit, although I write the same long and winding sentences that careen from one subject to another. I don’t have his poetry, though.

The first Bradbury I read was The Martian Chronicles.

I used to spend quite a bit of time in the library picking up Alan Nourse and Sheila Moon and Have Space Suit, Will Travel

and what’s this? A novel set on Mars? Cool! So I checked it out, not realizing it was actually an anthology of short stories with a Martian theme. Didn’t care, because the writing was magical and echoed that wistful sense of wonder which was (or should be) the background music of growing up.

After that, I picked up anything of his I could find. Fahrenheit 451, The Golden Apples of the Sun, S is for Space…all science fiction, but not hard scifi. Literary scifi, I guess would be the best description because Bradbury played loose and fast with the rules of science, like the clouds on Venus, which can actually strip you down to a skeleton in about five seconds flat. But getting all the hard science exactly right wasn’t the point. It was more important to capture a mood, such as the one in R is for Rocket,

which imbued the sense of excitement that we NASA geeks had back then. We watched the space program go from Mercury to Gemini and then, and then…that fabulous July night of the moon landing. And while the world Bradbury described in R was actually dystopian, it was a world that looked forward, like I did, to mankind’s ventures into space.

It was his horror writings, though, that affected me the most. Before I read The October Country, horror was all about ghosts and ghouls and bad guys getting their comeuppance like in some EC comic.

But Bradbury showed the horror that could exist in the everyday, such as a pedestrian out for a nightly stroll, and that horror is best conveyed simply, without slashings and over-the-top scares. One of the most frightening last lines I’ve ever read is from a story of his called The Whole Town’s Sleeping in Dandelion Wine

(which is not even a horror or scifi collection): “Behind her, in the living room, someone cleared his throat.”

Scared the bejesus out of me.

As did the Eliot family in The Homecoming,

as did the novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, although I did find the ending rather corny. Bradbury wrote poetry of fear; the things that scare us could be a lyric.

One day I’ll write like that.

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Punishment

I was never a big Punisher guy. He came along in the middle 70’s, which is about the time I lost interest in comics. All I was reading by then were Iron Fist, Shang-chi, Ghost Rider,  and Tomb of Dracula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martial arts and horror, those were my things. I knew about the Punisher because he popped up here and there but didn’t really pay attention until he showed up in some Spiderman cartoons in the 80s and 90s. I always regarded him as a Spiderman enemy along the lines of early Kraven: somewhat misguided but, overall, not evil. Yeah, saw the Dolph Lundgren movie, which was silly, and the dreadful Thomas Jane one but those didn’t move the needle.

What did was the Punisher in Season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil series. He was cool, and crazy. Punisher killed everybody, quite justified, IMHO. Jon Bernthal was an excellent cast choice, all broody and unpredictable and dangerous, just the way you think the Punisher should be, although Bernthal comes off as a bit denser and more uncouth than the comic book version. So when Netflix announced a stand-alone series, I was in. I finished it last week. Verdict?

It’s good. Damn good. Better than I thought it would be, given the way Netflix has screwed up the other Marvel shows.

The Punisher is Frank Castle, a man on a mission to kill the rotten bastards who staged the murder of his family in a botched attempt to kill him (BTW, you never see the actual murders of his family, just enough to know what happened. Which is an odd bit of restraint). The rotten bastards want to kill him because Frank is a former Marine Recon member of an assassination unit illegally set up by the CIA to take out terrorists in Afghanistan. Cleaning up the loose ends, doncha know. The CIA effs it up, leaving Frank Castle alive and berserk. Hoo boy, is he berserk.

Helped by an equally-savaged innocent bystander named Micro, Frank goes out to balance ledgers. And balance them he does. And it’s not pretty. Really, if you like your killings frequent and forensically correct, you’ll love this because every episode is murder porn and over-the-top violence with Frank taking and taking severe damage (which he recovers from in astonishing time, like he’s Wolverine or something). Add torture, great sex scenes, and various other forms of mayhem, and you’re in for an evening.

A lot of fun, but I don’t think murder and mayhem is what this series is about. No, it’s there’s no more justice. Not anymore. Not since the various government agencies discarded public accountability and became rogue departments with agendas and intents unto themselves, at the same time the courts became a way for lawyers to amuse and impress each other rather than the means of ensuring a just recompense for we Little People. Don’t you peasants know there are bigger Deep State and Elitist concerns than mere nuisances like your family’s murder? Yes, yes, regrettable, those murders, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. You peasants.

If your family is murdered in a regrettable but necessary covert action to cover up a government screw-up, you’re gonna have to get your own justice. You must become Frank Castle because it’s not that the police and the courts and the government don’t care as much as has other interests, like getting and retaining power and control, and your petty little bourgeois problems distract from that. Only DHS Agent Madani, played by the gorgeous Amber Rose Revah, wants to right the numerous wrongs, and she’s treated like she’s some kind of naïve idiot by bosses and other supervisors for so wanting. She eventually has to ally with Frank to get anything like justice done.

[An aside: Shoreh Agdashloo of Expanse fame, plays Madani’s mother. I declare my undying love.] 

Is this what we’ve come to?

Pish posh, no, it’s not, you say, this is mere over-the-top TV show exploitation of current events and besides, what Frank is doing is revenge, not justice.

What, exactly, is the difference?

Because the courts and the police and trials and jails were all developed to ensure passionate revenge was taken out of our individual hands to become dispassionate justice meted out appropriate to the crime and, more importantly, on the right person. Whenever someone does us wrong, from scraping the side of our car to murdering our entire family, our frustrated sense of outrage and lust for vengeance is mollified because these agencies resolve the situation, maybe not to our complete satisfaction, but as long as the result is reasonable, we’re usually okay with it. Until it is no longer reasonable. Until our concerns are given increasingly short shrift.

Consider, we now have agencies that spy on us without warrants or justification, that ruin us with innuendo, that apply the law to one class of people but not to another, and courts that let murderers go because of political ideology. We do not believe what the government or the press says about anything anymore. And the law abiding are increasingly blamed for the non-law abiding. I can see why people would go all Frank Castle on your ass.

And that ain’t good.

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The Darkest Hour. Also the Brightest

A hero arises at a critical moment and changes history…I think that’s a fairly decent summary of the Great Man Theory (spare me, feminists. That’s what it’s called). Either God raises a Great Man or society produces a person with the necessary characteristics, whichever, to save the day. I don’t see how one of those excludes the other so I shall add a corollary: at the right moment in history, someone nuts enough to take on everything shows up.

That’s the movie Darkest Hour: at what has got to be the worst possible moment in history, Churchill becomes Prime Minister of England. The government is dithering, Hitler is burning Europe, and no one in their right mind wants the job. It is the darkest moment; it becomes the brightest as we all with the benefit of hindsight now know and accept because Churchill saved civilization. Well, okay, the Americans helped but, if he hadn’t been nuts enough to take the job, there’d have been no England for us to help. We take this on faith. But if the movie is halfway accurate (and, apparently it is), it wasn’t all that cut and dried. Indeed, it was a Very Near Thing.

For a movie with little action, it’s incredibly tense. The five or six seconds here and there of bombs falling and things blowing up are actually a relief because, hoo boy, all the polite mannerly English drawing room talk which takes up about 95% of the movie has the atmosphere of a knife fight. That’s because Churchill was no one’s choice. For reasons not made clear, he is the only person acceptable to the political opposition when Chamberlain’s incompetence finally causes the just-as-incompetent Parliament to give Nev the boot. The king doesn’t want Churchill. His own party doesn’t want Churchill. Turns out he gets picked because the ever-so-smart sophisticates need someone to blame when Hitler invades England. Yes, when Hitler invades. The sophisticates have already given up. It’s a complicated, nuanced world you see, and we betters intend to negotiate a peace with Hitler after he destroys our army of commoners (poor blighters) on the beaches of Dunkirk because then the Fuhrer will be reasonable.

Yikes.

So, essentially, Churchill is set up to fail. His own cabinet, including Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, are conspiring behind his back to bring him down and force peace negotiations. And he’s the perfect fall guy. The son of scandalous parents, he’s broke and drunk all the time, incredibly difficult to work with, only his wife able to talk any sense into him (and she’s a piece of work herself), hated by his kids, laughed at by everyone from butlers to kings, and a colossal failure in his last wartime post (guy’s responsible for Gallipoli). If everything goes TU, then it’s obviously this guy’s fault. Except…

Except.

Churchill shares the one trait uniting all the other Great Men (and women. I’m looking at you, Margaret Thatcher) of history: he believes in doing the right thing. Oh, he shares some other unfortunate traits of Great Men and Women (still looking at Margaret): a jackass easy to dislike; not someone you want over to the house for Sunday dinner; loud and obnoxious and annoying and your opinion of him is shared universally with all the other Best People who are just simply appalled, but he’s going to do the right thing. He does not believe in a negotiated peace with Hitler. Oh no. We’re going to fight. On the beaches, in the streets, wherever, but we fight. We are going to get our boys off the beach at Dunkirk and we are going to defy the tyrant and remain England because that is the right thing to do.

He stands alone, is ridiculed, opposed by everyone. Even his faithful war minister turns his back. And he begins to waver, until that marvelous scene when Churchill rides the underground and asks the commoners, the serfs, if he should negotiate. Resoundingly, to a man, to a woman, to even a child, they say no. We fight.

Now, I could talk about production values and acting and writing and direction and lighting (and I gotta say, this is one of the most brilliantly lighted movies I’ve seen in years) like you’re supposed to do when reviewing a movie and yes, yes, all of that was great, but it’s not the point. It’s that the right thing is a function of the powerless, whose whole life consists of doing the right thing and who are not cynical nor jaded enough to accept fashionable opinions because, as Orwell said, there are ideas so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them. The powerless, the Great Unwashed, are laughed at and patronized and crushed by the sophisticates until events become critical and we’re all going to die and then the Great Man shows up and does the right thing, their right thing, which is counterintuitive, is always unpopular, and takes a man of great strength to stay on its course. I don’t think I could have, especially when such brilliant intellectual thinkers like oh, well, everybody else says how wrong you are. But Churchill did. And we’re not all speaking German today unless we want to.

Imagine. A leader arises who, despite the concerted and almost unanimous opposition of the elite and intellectual classes, does what the people want him to do.

Sounds vaguely familiar.

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The Last Jedi. Please.

 

There are only three Star Wars movies. Just three. They are numbered episodes 4-6, which is stupid because they’re actually episodes 1-3 because there are no other Star Wars movies. None. Any other movies besides 1-3 are not Star Wars movies; they are bad, very bad, amateur fan boy Lucas-needs-more-money homemade attempts (except Rogue One, which was purty good but is not a Star Wars movie, it’s a Star Wars Universe movie). I have repeatedly made these point to my son but he insisted I accompany him to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, episode…oh I don’t know what effin’ episode it’s supposed to be. I’d rather have red hot needles shoved in my eyes,but it was his birthday so I went. And I was not disappointed, meaning that I was as disappointed as I expected to be because it sucked.

Suckity suckity sucked.

It had a purty good opening battle sequence, the special effects hammering away because great special effects means a great movie because story? What’s that? George Lucas and the rest of the evil spawn know that the longer the laser shoot-em-ups, the later the gigantic gaps in logic and plausibility manifest, so let’s blow some crap up! And, boy, did they, depicting fearless big cojone pilot Poe Dameron disobeying orders to get hisself a dreadnought, getting the entire rebel fleet wiped out in the process, but, hey, it was still fun.

Now, on to the gigantic gaps in logic.

Rey is finally on Luke Skywalker’s island planet beach whatever and is finally ready to undergo Jedi training and Luke, after being a dick for some required period of time, starts training her and, five minutes later, she’s a full fledged Jedi Knight. No, really, five minutes, that’s all it takes. You just concentrate on feeling pretty good about yourself and, next thing you know, you’re juggling boulders. Which means, of course, Yoda was having Luke on during that whole somersaulting-through-the-swamps while riding piggy back in Empire Strikes Back (you know, the second real Star Wars movie?). Turns out Yoda is a dick, which seems to be a Jedi requirement because Yoda shows up in this one all shimmery and ghosty and does some pretty dick things.

Becoming a Jedi doesn’t even require your full attention because Rey and Kylo Whineface go through some baffling mind meld while Rey is undergoing her rigorous five minutes of Jedi training and talk to each other the whole time. Luke sends her off into the same tree cave that Yoda the dick sent him in to face his own fears and who do you think she’s gonna find in there, huh, who? Darth? Whineface?

Nope. Just some books, which Yoda, in a really dick move, ends up burning to ashes. Or did he?

At any rate, the Wonder Twins keep up their Professor X/Jean Grey telepathic link throughout the whole movie and you’d think people in telepathic communication across an entire galaxy would get somewhat of an inkling of each other’s intents but, nope. Because, see, Lucas is hoping you’ll be stupid enough to think this is going to be another “save Darth Vader” moment and you’re just waiting and hoping and, oh, no! Kylo Wineface has tricked everybody, including the Red Skull…er, Snoke. Snoke? What the hell kind of name is that for the leader of the Fourth Reich? Can you see yourself going “Hail Snoke!” without cracking up? Maybe that’s why Whineface wants to take over: “Hail Whineface!” has a better ring to it.

While all that’s going on, the three or four hoopdies that remain of the rebel fleet are being tracked through hyperspace by General Chucky Huxtable and his minions…wait a minute, you can’t track someone through hyperspace, unless someone on the rebel command ship is, oh, I don’t know, broadcasting? Five minutes after everybody figures that out, do they start looking for the obvious traitor on board? No, they decide to send Finn and a Japanese school girl one million light years across the galaxy to find a codebreaker who can breach the Death Star and turn off the tractor beam…wait, sorry, turn off the tracking device on Huxy’s command ships. Because, you know, that’s just sooo much easier than following the signal back to the traitor. I guess there was no other way for Lucas to recreate the Mos Eisley cantina scene and (a) add the required far left talking point about arms dealers profiting off the back of the cute little orphans taking care of the llama horses and (b) introduce Benicio del Toro, who talks with a stutter, either because of a defect or because he’s mocking everybody, and who must be a Jedi because he turns out to be quite a dick. At least we got to see a llama horse race-and-escape because Japanese School Girl used to be one of the cute orphans and knows llama horses. I think.

 

So when all of this predictably gets bollixed up beyond belief, Admiral Purple Hair pulls off one of the best kamikaze moves in history and blows the First Order fleet out of the sky, which makes one ask why in the blue blazing hell didn’t somebody pull the very same maneuver against the Death Star? Could have saved Luke’s hand.

So when all of that gets bollixed up beyond belief, everyone ends up on Hoth for a classic Star Wars Imperial Walker assault, complete with red soil so you can track the five or six rebels left as they launch a direct head-on slow speed counterattack. Sitting ducks, that’s the phrase you’re looking for, and they get systematically blown apart until…Luke shows up! By himself, with a light saber, right out front looking all menacing and Whineface has about the same reaction I do…shoot him. Every gun in the universe lights Luke up in a spectacular blaze of laser cannons, nuclear devices, phasers and photon torpedoes, you name it, red soil flying everywhere but, please. I turned to my son and did the shoulder brush and, three seconds later, Luke is making exactly the same gesture. Turns out Luke is doing the old Loki trick (“Will you never stop falling for that?”) to buy the three or four rebels left enough time to follow a bunch of cute ice foxes (who have suddenly become self-aware) out the back where Rey is juggling boulders.

Oy.

Next time, red hot needles.

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The Most Teenage of Them All

Marvel is taking over the universe. All’s right with the world, amen. But taking over the universe requires encompassing its tropes and stereotypes, including teenager-ness. Presented for your consideration, the Marvel TV shows The Gifted and Runaways, which are in a competition to be the most teenage of them all.

My vote? The Gifted, by several laps.

The Gifted is a slice of the distressingly effed-up X-Men Universe timeline, which was pretty much bollixed up beyond all recognition with the movie X-Men: Days of Future Past, a final stake put through its heart with X Men: Apocalypse. I have no idea anymore who is what and when, which is a good thing, I guess, because great liberties can be taken without bothering to reconcile story and time lines. In The Gifted, we have X-Force and X-Men and X-Factor and X-Wife characters all jumbled together in familiar mutants-versus-humans scenarios with familiar Trask and Sentinels and Registration Acts and prejudice and Brotherhood of Evil and Magneto versus Professor X…except there is no Magneto nor Professor X because the X Men are all dead or gone, can’t really say for sure, but the point is emphasized over and over so everyone can be assured this ain’t your pappy’s X Men. Which it ain’t. I mean, the only mutants I recognize are Polaris and Thunderbird and Blink. The rest are strangers.

 

Even more strangers populate Runaways of which, admittedly, I’ve seen only two episodes so I’m not really sure what’s going on. I have not read the comics, either, so even less of a clue but, so far, it looks like these kids’ parents are running some kind of weird cult that looks a lot like the Hellfire Club (which, oddly enough shows up in The Gifted) and from which the kids may…may…have derived some kind of powers, mutant or magical or something, not sure. So far, this does not look like the X Men universe. At all.

And maybe that’s why Runaways has, so far, managed to avoid the godawful teenagery of The Gifted because, if there’s one overarching X-Men universe theme, it’s being a Misunderstood Teenager. And, boy, everyone in The Gifted, even the adults, are Misunderstood Teenagers living Misunderstood Teenager clichés: oooh, we’ve got powers and the jocks and squares Don’t Get It and Mom and Dad are just so out of it and we’re in love and no one else has ever been in love before us and relationships are so much more important than, oh, say, trying to stay alive or out of jail or something. I mean, Polaris gets mad at her boyfriend Eclipse because he saves her life and the life of their unborn child (teenage pregnancy is so cool, especially when you’re in revolt against society and blowing up half of a city) by making a deal with an ex-girlfriend and grrrrr! I saw you two together! And this becomes more important than the fact that half the United States is trying to kill them.

Sheesh.

But probably the worst teenager of all is not a teenager but an adult, Kate Strucker (yes, THAT Strucker family), the non-mutant (so far) Mom of the Wolf Siblings, Andy and Lauren, who individually can rip metal apart and throw up air shields but, when joining hands, can rip holes in the space/time continuum. Actually Mom’s not so much teenager as a walking checklist, making sure they all sit down for a nice family dinner and do their homework and treat each other well and don’t speak to your Dad ― who, up until the revelation of his children’s status was throwing mutants in jail ― like that and my precious children will certainly NOT use their godlike powers to save everyone’s lives! They have a book report due!

You just want to slap her.

You pretty much want to slap everybody in this hormonal mess, from the unreasonable Polaris to the weepy Blink and their so-abused angst-ridden perceptions of everything. But, of course, that is the hallmark of being a teenager: it’s all about me.

Which, so far, does not seem to be an issue in Runaways. Yes, there is nothing more teenage than finding out your parents are evil jackasses, but this scenario is a level up and the kids are reacting rather normally to that revelation. Who of us wouldn’t want to get the hell out of Dodge when discovering our parents are bent on world domination? Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch certainly did. And this group of teenagers seems to exist within the tolerances; in other words, their overreactions and illogical conclusions are well within reason, not over-the-top self-regard to the point you risk killing everybody.

Got that, Polaris?

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Ragnarok versus Armageddon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of COURSE, I went to see Thor: Ragnorak. What did you expect? The surprise is that I also went to see Justice League because, really, it’s DC and I usually can’t be bothered. Apart from the natural antipathy we Marvel True Believers have towards DC (did you see the way they treated Siegel and Shuster? Did you?? It’s almost as bad as the way Marvel treated the King!),they don’t have any compelling characters. Superman? C’mon, Kryptonite or no, it’s no contest with that guy. He could thwack Thanos with his thumb and what’s the fun in that?  Besides, he died in the last movie. Batman? The Dark Knight trilogy, sure, but everything else? Meh. Wonder Woman?

Well, okay.

So Marvel is going to get my interest far and above any DC title so, yeah, Ragnorak first. And, it was good. Excellent. Superior. And caused me a bit of suspicion.

About a week before I saw it, I read an article (whose author and specific title now escape me) declaring that Ragnorak marked the end of the superhero movie because it was trying too hard to be funny. To wit:

1. Marvel and DC and all the rest have a fan base (see above) that loves them regardless. When the movies appeared, the fans went berserk and scarfed up tickets, even to such clunkers as Punisher: War Zone (which I rate as one of the worst movies I ever saw, superhero genre or no) or the very silly Batman Returns (except for Michelle Pfeiffer in leather. Or Halle Berry in leather). When Iron Man, the first real Marvel movie came out (I refuse to look at you, Ang Lee ) thought I’d died and gone to movie heaven. Here it was, my entire childhood, in cinematic splendor.

2. The General Populace, you know, the people who think The Fast and the Furious  is gripping drama and Vin Diesel is poignant, glanced over and said, “Hmm. Superhero movies. That might be cool” and also bought tickets in droves, sitting elbow-to-elbow with the fan base, and were duly impressed. Not by the fan base, who are still nerds, but by the production values.

3. All well and good. But, there have now been what? fifteen, sixteen Marvel movies, eight to ten DC ones, covering ever more esoteric superheroes like Doctor Strange and Suicide Squad? You know, the kinds of comic book characters only fanboys love? So, the fan base remains berserk but the GP shrugs and goes “Been there, done that,” and they’re off to see Fasterer and Furioser number 52, convinced Vin Diesel is going to win an Oscar this time. Ticket sales waver, especially for the much ballyhooed Justice League movie.

What to do, what to do?

I know, shouts some self-delineated brilliant movie guy, let’s make the superhero movies more appealing to the GP! Let’s make them…funny!

Oy.

As the article writer pointed out, that waters down the superhero and the fan base gets PO’d and stops coming, and the GP sees it as nothing but another superhero movie and gets in line for F&FMCMLXVII.

He (or she) is right.

Because, although I really enjoyed Ragnorak, thought the opening sequence was outstanding, after about a half an hour or so, I was going, “What’s with all the yuks?” It seemed like they were trying too hard, instead of letting the humor flow incidentally. You wouldn’t be faulted if you thought this was a buddy movie instead of a superhero one. I was not PO’d by the excessive jokesterism but, instead, vaguely disturbed, detecting a rift in the Force and wondering if a dumbing-down had been initiated. You know, like the NFL and the secret three-foot rule that’s been invoked for receivers and quarterbacks?God, I hope not, because the Avengers have my heart and we’ve got to get through the Infinity Gauntlet and to the death of Captain America intact, people!So, vaguely disturbed, I allowed my son to drag me into the Justice League movie (he bought the tickets), fully expecting to dislike it the same way I disliked Man of Steel, Batman versus Superman, and even Wonder Woman. I mean, c’mon, it’s Superman and, even more c’mon, it’s Ben Affleck, not Christian Bale. And, yes, Gal Gadot,but there was something…off…about Wonder Woman. Can’t really say what but I think it has to do with that whole Ares thing.

But, ya know? Justice League was pretty good.

I can’t figure out why it was so universally panned. It had a compelling story line: a disparate bunch of adventurers are brought together by Gandalf…er, Batman…to find the Ring of Power…er, Mother Boxes…er, Mutha Boxes…before Sauron can bring them together and open a portal to let the Chitauri in.Okay, I can see why it was panned.

But, really, you’ve got limited plot lines at these cosmic levels of superheroism. What else are you going to have Thor or Superman do, stop muggers?

That’s the Punisher’s job.There were some excellent moments, like the Atlantis reveal, and some pleasing surprises, like the general all around dick-headedness of Aquaman, and the upgrade of Wonder Woman’s importance. Even Ben Affleck convinced me he’s equal to the Christian Bale Batman role.

So which was better? Well, I’m going to commit sacrilege and give Justice League a centimeter more kudos primarily because I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Not that Ragnarok was a slouch, far from it; it’s a good movie, too, with enough Easter eggs, such as Thor’s umbrella, to gladden this old Marvel fan’s heart. But the excessive humor and the excessive fate of Asgard are a bit off-putting, as are what I consider some post-modernist interpretations: “Asgard is the people, not a place.” Yeah? A few generations of Vikings might beg to differ.

Besides, pleasant surprises generally outweigh expected ones.

 

 

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Outstanding in its Field

A few weeks ago, I listed the five best TV sitcoms in no particular order. I guess it should have been the top 6 sitcoms because I left out the Australian comedy, Rake. I’ll give myself an out by declaring Rake in a category by itself.

I don’t know Australian TV or Australian media overall. Mel Gibson and Nicole Kidman and ‘G’day, mate,’ and there you have it so how typical the show is, can’t say. A cursory look at reviews by knowledgeable persons, though, strongly indicates Rake is a delightful aberration in an Australian sea of mediocrity. Most of the reviewers seem stunned that Australia TV could produce this gem. I’m stunned that any TV anywhere could produce it; certainly American TV has struggled to give us excellent comedies (see previous post). But even a sewer will occasionally produce a diamond ring.

Rake follows Cleaver Greene, a morally challenged defense counsel (our equivalent, anyway)

defending some of the most reprehensible people ever born. The couple who enjoys sex with their Rotweiler serves as one lesser example, so be prepared. And “morally challenged” is an understatement: Greene is a series of disasters, a plane crash into the side of a volcano as a tsunami takes out a pre-school, but not in the typical way TV usually presents such reprobates…see, look how BAD they are? Isn’t that funny? No, usually it’s pathetic. Like the Kardashians.

Cleaver Greene’s reprobate-ness is of a different character because he really, really doesn’t mean for things to get so out of hand. And to hurt so many people. And ruin so many other lives. And he knows it’s all his fault, although getting him to admit it is nigh on impossible. Instead, he charms his way through, negotiating with leg-breakers about how much of a beating to give him over this week’s vig; trying to keep his best friend from finding out he slept with best friend’s wife; and moving back in with his long suffering ex-wife only to find his son is sharing a bedroom with Cleaver’s ex-prostitute girlfriend. In all of this, Cleaver gives off a wounded air: how can all of you people react so badly to my bad behavior and do exactly the same things yourselves? Don’t you learn from my example?

It’s a scream.

And not in the slapstick/laff trak/pratfall type of scream that most TV considers high art. It is complicated and layered and based on logic and reason and good writing. The best parts are Cleaver waxing poetic over social foibles, such as people who push the already-lit elevator button.

The cast is unbelievably good. I’ve seen Richard Roxburgh, who plays Greene only once before, in that dreadful Van Helsing movie

but that is no example of his brilliance. The guy actually makes you like Greene, even as you are shaking your head in disbelief. And are all the women in Australia this beautiful?

Booking my trip now.

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