Category Archives: Movies

Strings, Ultron, and Professionalism

Dr. Z
Robert W and I had a debate about Age of Ultron a few weeks back (long before I had seen the movie).  I should know better than to enter into the ring with Robert on anything comics related, but I was taken with the use of the old Disney/Pinocchio song “I’ve Got No Strings.”

The use of the song is clever  It reflects one of the positives of massive corporate mergers–a willingness to share otherwise unavailable intellectual properties.  (Ten years ago, the notion of a Disney song promoting a Marvel production would have been as strange as–well it would have been strange.)

Spoilers ahead?  I’m not sure.  Read at your own peril. Continue reading Strings, Ultron, and Professionalism


Dr. Z
I spent the weekend wallowing in horror–channel surfing through classic camp to SyFy CGI.  One of the most painful was  House on Haunted Hill (1959)–supposedly the film that cemented Vincent Price’s career.  I am not enough of an aficionado to know how accurate that claim is. I ended the weekend with Thirteen Ghosts (a remake).  Both are ghost stories–but they are not in the same genre.  They are not the same type of movie.

Haunted Hill and its genre (1950 ghost horror flicks) parallels the dystopian films–like Terminator.  It is as if the directors and more importantly the audiences (money) return to some genres as if they are therapy patients working through an issue.

Robert W
Priice was doing quite a bit of horror films before then though, but House on Haunted Hill was the breakout role of Vincent Price’s career acting in the horror genre.Frame watching that film in a 1959 world instead of a 2014 world. Horror didn’t really work the same way in the ’50s than it does now or even in the ’70s and ’80s. It was in a way the Blair Witch of it’s time. It was supposed to get you hyped up without showing you too much. Continue reading Horror?

Leadership, Professional Development, and Anakin Skywalker

Back in ’77, watching Obi-Wan fall to Darth Vadar horrified me.  At fourteen years old, I saw in Obi-Wan my grandfather, my father, Msgr. Garcia.  I saw all of the father figures in my life being pulled down by the faceless forces of evil surrounding me.

Lucas cannot select actors.  His plots struggle.  He undermines his own genius. (The list continues.)  But he knows his archetypes. And he taps into them, mining us for the symbols lurking deep in the recesses of our shared unconscious.  I was shaken because the film captured the struggle of my world.

Years later, after having seen the prequels, after having studied literary theory, after having endured countless battles as a padawan, a Sith Lord, a Jedi Master, and a Greedo, I see the other side of the archetype. Continue reading Leadership, Professional Development, and Anakin Skywalker

Claude Rains

Dr. Z
Angel on My Shoulder (1948) was on TCM this Sunday.  I had some emails to send, so I left it.  The plot was much less interesting than the casting of Claude Rains as Nick.

Rains is captivating.  One of his most recognizable roles is that of Captain Renault from Casablanca (1942).  He moves from a despicable opportunist who uses his position to extort money and sex to the archetype of a loyal friend in the last few minutes of the film. The progression is convincing and, in retrospect, unsurprising.

The role encapsulates his career (perhaps with the exception of Hitchcock’s Notorious).   Whatever the part he plays, the same qualities are there: a cool, calculating distance always within the context of gentility and humor.  Whether hero or villain, he is the same.

Morality is not a definitive part of his character.  Like the color of his hair, it can shift without changing his identity.

He is a character from an Abercrombie or Martin novel.

(I love the subtext of the scene.  Never ever try to quick draw with an American.)

Truman and Jim Carrey

Dr. Z
I came home after a rough Monday.  (How is that for starting off with a cliche?) Retreating upstairs with a link of leftover Corkscrew sausage, I turned on the TV.  The Truman Show was playing.

It’s one of the Jim Carrey movies that moves me.  Majestic and Bruce Almighty are the other two pieces of that trilogy. Much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Border Trilogy, these movies form a part of a single work: a study or journey through a shared theme.  (Liar Liar might be included, but it is overshadowed in parts by Carrey’s manic.)

The characters in the movies are not the same.  Truman is the optimist.  Peter Appleton the realist.  Bruce the jaundiced cynic. But they share a commonality.  A desire to find, live in their dignity.  It moves beyond a desire to a quest culminating in an open struggle for dignity, for identity.  Each battles for a place in a world that notes their struggle only as a part of TV programming,  political grandstanding, or corporate infighting.

The world is not openly hostile–just aggressively indifferent. Perhaps the most telling scene in all of the movies is when Truman looks in the bathroom mirror, leaping into a brilliant piece of improv–a man landing on the moon–and then winks at the camera, assuring his unseen audience, “That one’s for free.”  His defiance is rooted in humor, love, and self, but it goes unnoticed.  The techs have turned away.

Carrey may not be a Tom Hanks or a Humphrey Bogart or a Richard Burton.  But his contemporary versions of Huckleberry Finn, Samuel Spade, and Jake Barnes are mesmerizing. His audacity as a comic transforms the tragic into the heroic, the mundane into the mythic.  He sees the hopeless and laughs, making nihilism irrelevant.  “In case I don’t see you.  Good afternoon, good evening, and good night.”  No need to read Waiting for Godot.

The audience cheers and cries for him; that though is irrelevant.  He is an Aurelius who has defined himself, exiting the stage into an unseen world and taking the show with him.

Silent Hill and A Broken X-Box

I am not a gamer, but I do enjoy a good first person shooter.  When our X-Box died last fall, I was told that the entertainment budget had gone for the new Brooks saddle on my Felt.  Although I vaguely miss the online combat of Halo, I was not willing to give up an overhaul on the cross for a new system (especially since my son is no longer around to protect me from the hordes of angsty teens).

Right now Silent Hill: Revelation is on SyFy. Silent Hill just finished.  Before that, Resident Evil.  Something about these horror/suspense game based movies fascinates me.  It is not the acting.  Nor is it the plot.  Although both are superior to the CGI fare SyFy rolls out on bi-monthly basis, neither is worth wasting a Sunday afternoon.  I think it is the setting.  The same worlds that draw gamers into exploring and doing battle with hordes of monsters pull me into the film–for a bit.  15 minutes.  Half an hour.

The settings are complex; they are meant to be explored.  The gore and the graphics and the monsters add life and urgency to the exploration.  But the place of the film holds a secret, and that is the trick.  The special effects and blood lettings falter in the face of the uncertainty of the unexplored passages.  But that is the basis of good horror.  Stephen King does not show us.  He suggests what is lurking around the corner.  The balloon in the library is one of the most terrifying scenes I have ever read.  Something is there.  (I was in graduate school researching a paper in the library’s basement the weekend after I had read It.  Deep in the stacks, I suddenly realized how empty the place was.  The scene came back to me, and I bolted.)

Like an epic which retains its oral roots even as it is read from a Norton critical edition jam packed with footnotes, these films retain their heritage, relying on the techniques that captured the gamers.  The creatures are fixtures of the settings; they do not exist independently of the place. They are defined.  The protagonist encounters them as she moves through the setting.  Her goals, her motives, are secondary and uninteresting.   There is more to the world than we will see.  That is why we are there.  To solve the puzzle of the place.  Tolkien viewed that as a key element in effective fiction–a world that is never fully explored.

Of course, I have stopped watching the film now to write this.  The exploration bogged down in exposition, a vague attempt at character development, and (shudder) a commentary on evil. (20 minutes, and now back to TCM.)

Dr. Z