tom moody

Archive for the ‘films’ Category

the burglar, 1955-7

photo via IMDb

Following up on a run of reading David Goodis novels, checked out his self-adapted film version of The Burglar (he wrote the screenplay, the director was Paul Wendkos). Made in '55, it sat on the shelf until '57, when the career of Jayne Mansfield took off with The Girl Can't Help It. She is physically miscast here but her acting is good. Dan Duryea plays Nat Harbin, a gloomy burglar who heads a small, dysfunctional crime family, consisting of himself, a fence, a heavy, and "Gladden," a girl he's looked after for years as a de facto sister. In an extended flashback (better in the book, too sketchy in the movie) we learn about Nat's past as a destitute orphan adopted and mentored by a professional thief named Gerald Gladden. Gerald dies during a botched robbery and tells Nat he must always look after his daughter, who is simply called Gladden. Nat wrestles throughout the story with his loyalty to a dead father-figure and the exploitation of Gladden as part of the burglary team (she cases potential locations).

Nat's angst is less compelling in the film than the book. We don't really get a feeling for the horrific grind of his youthful poverty before Gerald "rescued" him, as conveyed in Goodis' captivatingly anguished prose, nor do we really understand why Nat seems so conflicted about Gladden. We see Duryea resisting the advances of the ultra-sexy Mansfield, but in the film he looks twenty years older than she does. In the book the characters are close in age and Gladden isn't a bombshell, but a "thin" young woman who could be a sister, friend, or lover, if the two could only get their feelings straight and stop being haunted by Gerald's ghost. In both versions, Nat and Gladden separate and dally with other partners, leading to a dark conclusion.

- tom moody

July 9th, 2017 at 10:57 am

Posted in books, films

cuckoo's nest crit from the internet (before the Combine takes it away)

drawing by Ken Kesey from a 2002 edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Re-reading Kesey's classic after many years inspired a rush of pleasure and then a rush to the Internet for some other perspectives.

Let's start with the "villain," Nurse Ratched, who gets under the skin of the "good guy," Randle Patrick McMurphy, and also the skin of the reader. If you experience the novel as a teen you've encountered the Big Nurse archetype in schools but you have no idea how much she (or he) will persist as a feature of American life, in the workplace, politics, and social realms. Because Kesey made the character female the book will be seen as un-PC today but the author reminds us he also had a female nurse in the story who wasn't a didactic power-freak. From a NYT article, published the year he died:

...Mr. Kesey noted that his novel included another, more positive female character, "along with the big castrator of a nurse and the two prostitutes." "She was an Asian nurse who worked in the hospital's electroshock room.

"She is just as tough and snappy as anything," he said. "It is good to have one positive woman there."

Nowadays when most people think of One Flew Over it's the film version, which Kesey had issues with:

Mr. Kesey said he never saw the 1975 film version of his book, directed by Milos Forman and with Jack Nicholson as the lead, R. P. McMurphy. "It has been the smartest thing I never did," Mr. Kesey said, "because Jack Nicholson is great but he is not McMurphy -- he is too short." He added that Mr. Nicholson also seemed too shrewd for the character.

Nicholson may have been shrewd, but director Milos Forman significantly dumbed down the material. Ironically he was hired as an outsider (Czech art film director) but made the ultimate Hollywood good-vs-evil schlockfest, and became a Hollywood power as a result. His incomprehension of Kesey's complex story stands out in a 1975 Village Voice interview:

I asked [Forman] about his decision, implemented in the screenplay of Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, to treat the story objectively rather than through the eyes of the Indian, Kesey’s point-of-view character.

"I didn’t want that for my movie," he said. "I hate that voice-over, I hate that whole psychedelic ‘60s drug free-association thing, going with the camera through somebody’s head. That’s fine in the book, or on a stage, which is stylized. But in film the sky is real, the grass is real, the tree is real; the people had better be real too."

"You know, I’m glad I didn’t know the reputation of the book when I read it, so I didn’t have this artificial reverence for the ‘cult classic.’ And I think it’s much better that it was made now than in the ‘60s. After a certain time, all the distracting elements fall away, all the transitory psychedelic stuff. And we can follow what it is really about. My film is very simple."

You know, transitory psychedelic stuff such as the book's brilliant but unreliable narration, via Chief Broom, whom Forman relegated to a bit part. Perversely, Forman's take on the story is based on an uncritical acceptance of McMurphy vs Nurse as a clash of primal forces, which was a paranoid schizophrenic's view. Take the Chief out of the equation and you have a comic book story instead of a multi-layered, critical story. Even the CliffsNotes-type sites on the Net understand this better than Forman did. Bright Hub Education has a nuanced theory about the Chief:

Bromden’s suffocation of the catatonic McMurphy ends the novel, and is popularly understood as a mercy-killing of a man whose soul has been stripped away. Yet a much darker reading of the novel shows the patients discarding a symbol they no longer have use for. McMurphy was the epitome of rebellion and subversion against the systems of control set in place. The patients are content to ignore his flaws and stand behind him against the equally-abstracted Ratched. Yet when the battle is over, when those that could help themselves have done so, the defeated form of McMurphy is left behind. He destroys himself to redeem his friends, and they in turn destroy him because he was never seen as a person at all, but an outmoded symbol.

Literary criticism of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has attracted both its share of accolades and controversies for its depiction of a hospital ward as a place of domination and control, and a rambunctious patient who encourages acting out instead of conforming. What makes this story so critically interesting is that it is not simply a polemic against institutional forces. Rather, it is an ingenious portrayal of fantasy and how people [got] caught up in the grandiose and lost sight of humanity. We sympathize with Bromden, the fake deaf-mute for his understanding, but at the novel’s end, we are forced to question that he may truly be the most blind of all.

And here's CliffsNotes itself, to tutor the hapless Forman on his perch atop the Hollywood food chain:

Perhaps the most telling difference between the film and the novel is the ending. The novel contains an episode missing from the film wherein Chief observes a dog sniffing gopher holes from the hospital window. The dog is distracted by a flock of geese forming a cross against a full moon. The dog chases the geese toward a road where it is implied the dog will confront an automobile with the inevitably tragic result that machine will triumph over nature. Coincidentally, this is the same course the Chief follows when he escapes from the hospital, giving the novel's resolution a degree of uncertainty as to whether the Chief will succeed in the outside world or succumb to a worse fate in a world increasingly overrun by dehumanizing mechanization. The film's conclusion, however, depicts Chief running from the hospital toward what the viewer assumes is happiness and liberty.

AV Club (which ultimately thinks the movie has "aged better") notes the Chief's contribution to the narrative:

The novel lays out its case with borderline religious fervor. In Bromden’s eyes, McMurphy is practically superhuman, a giant of a man with a great booming voice and seemingly inexhaustible lust for life, an avatar for all that is individual and righteous and masculine (yeah, we’ll get to that) in the world. His battle against Ratched for the soul of the ward plays out like an epic showdown between two brilliant, near-mythic opponents. Even the glimpses we get of McMurphy tired or acting in self-interest have a Christ-like feel to them, a certain garden of Gethsemane vibe. He struggles because whether he wants it or not, he’s responsible for all of them; and in the end, he has to sacrifice himself to free them.

Contrast that with the movie, where most of the running time has McMurphy acting like any reasonable person might if they were thrown into the nuthouse...

Chuck Palahniuk also weighs in that it's a three-way struggle, not a two-way struggle (with the Chief as angelic third party), and why this is important:

And of course we have rebels, loud and dashing, but they'll be silenced when they become too much of a threat. Arrested or lobotomized or wrongly accused of molesting children and thereby discredited. But always lost, killed, left bereft.

That's the pattern. That's always the pattern. But we're never stuck with just two choices.

With any luck, the rest of us will see what's happening and choose to find a third option. Instead of reinforcing a social system by rebelling or conforming, we'll become the Big Chief, and escape into some beautiful vision. A future that's not a reaction to or an extension of any mental ward where we find ourselves trapped at the present moment.

By losing the Chief, as Forman did, you also lose the Chief's paranoid-but-perceptive vision of The Combine, the larger system of social control for which the asylum is just a branch office. James Wolcott gave special attention to that in his 2011 evaluation of the novel:

It’s tempting to consign One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest to a souvenir piece from the dissident 60s, its protest energy, trippy prophecy, and twitchy paranoia bridging the marijuana grove between the Beats of yore and the hippies ready to sprout. [Argh, this Vanity Fair style of writing --tm] But when I reread it, it seemed more (curse the word) relevant than ever, the oppressive forces it mutinied against having only gotten more immersive and influential in our lives since McMurphy got zapped. Big Nurse has been supplanted by Big Pharma, the pilling of America fulfilling the novel’s vision of weaponized medication: “Miltowns! Thorazines! Libriums! Stelazines! … Tranquilize all of us completely out of existence.” And the Combine, the novel’s metaphor for the silent machinery of social indoctrination, manipulation, and management, stands as a rough draft for the Matrix, the vision of modern existence as a holographic fraud, a covert information grid operating on its own agenda.

Wolcott wrote this pre-Snowden -- the Combine's biomechanical tendrils have only grown more pervasive in the last half-decade. Kesey's favorite version of the play incorporated the Combine into the production, according to the NYT:

[The Gary Sinise version of the play] was not [Kesey's] favorite production, he added. That designation he reserved for a production he saw 15 years ago at a Sacramento high school, staged so that an elaborate display of grinding cogs and gears appeared in silhouette between scenes to illustrate the play's sinister ''Combine,'' a metaphor for society's grinding machinery.

...and it would be interesting to see a remake of the film with the Chief's "hallucinations" woven into the story.

- tom moody

May 22nd, 2017 at 10:18 am

Posted in books, films

better watch out

I made this DVD cover as a thought experiment (previous example). Whereas Hellman's film Cockfighter will never get the Criterion treatment for an absolute certainty, because of animal rights activists and general distaste for southern cracker entertainment, this 1989 entry in the yuletide nightmare franchise might actually... nah.

silent_night_deadly_night_3_hellman

It's a pretty good effort, rather droll and arch as it delivers the goods to the teenage date market. The protagonist is a cute blind girl with psychic powers; the bad guy is the serial killer from previous films (I think) who was revived from the dead by a well-meaning (!) scientist, played by Richard Beymer (later Benjamin Horne in Twin Peaks). More future Lynch actors show up: wifebeater Leo from Peaks and Laura Harring, twelve years before her breakout role in Mulholland Drive.

The serial killer wears a transparent plastic dome on his head that, as the movie progresses, shows clearer and clearer views of his exposed brain matter underneath the plastic. By the end, we even see reddish fluid sloshing around in there. Ick.

The film is never boring but moves slowly. Shots are carefully framed, especially closeups of the heroine, who looks like a Seventeen cover model and is smart, resourceful (at least when she's not walking up to the killer and touching his face), and surprisingly acid-tongued. An early scene with a shrink establishes that she's full of anger over the loss of her parents and that's why she keeps insulting everyone with rude one-liners throughout the movie.

Unless you are an IMDb commenter ("I feel that this is the absolute worst" etc), you can tell this movie was made by a slumming auteur. It's too smart, and the camera work and editing too assured, for the cheesy '80s series that launched with a topless Linnea Quigley running from an ax. In turns dreamlike and sarcastic, SNDN3:BWO is Two Lane Blacktop with decapitations.

- tom moody

May 20th, 2017 at 8:28 am

Posted in art as criticism, films

Dead Mountaineer's Hotel

...is a Soviet-era genre-bending novel by Boris & Arkady Strugatsky, one of their more memorable efforts. A ten-little-indians style mystery with an oddball assortment of characters snowed in at a mountain lodge. Just how oddball is gradually revealed to a by-the-book police inspector.

An Estonian film version, "Hukkunud Alpinisti" hotell, with script by the Strugatskys, showed up on YouTube. Made in the late '70s, yet it looks like an '80s film, with aggressively modern set design, an electronic score, and stylish costuming. Touches of Kubrick and Argento, as much as the budget allowed. The Strugatskys somewhat truncated their plot and characters but the story works, especially the surprisingly emotional ending.

Hukkunud_Alpinisti_hotell

- tom moody

May 19th, 2017 at 9:40 am

Posted in books, films

The Last Emperor factoids

Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Byrne appeared in person at the Quad Cinema Saturday to discuss their music for Bertolucci's The Last Emperor (1987), which the Quad screened before the talk. Both charmed the audience; Sakamoto, in particular, told many funny stories about his career and the filming.

Below are some facts I learned from the screening and reading around the internet:

1. Sakamoto noted that Byrne wrote the non-Western sounding themes for the score and Sakamoto wrote the Western-sounding themes. This seemed counterintuitive, but sure enough, the Main Title is Byrne (similar to the world music he was doing in the Bush of Ghosts era) and the heart-tugging string and brass tunes in the middle and end are Sakamoto. Both had assistance from professional scoremeister Hans Zimmer.

2. Sakamoto acted in the film, because his screen presence in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence had impressed Bertolucci. He doesn't consider himself an actor and wasn't too happy about playing a "fanatic fascist" in back-to-back films. He was contacted later about doing the score. Both Byrne and Sakamoto were hired as composers on short notice. Sakamoto was given a week to write his "cues" (themes), he asked for two weeks, and presented 64 cues at the end of that time (about half of which were used).

3. Bertolucci thought Sakamoto smiled too much in personal conversation and at the beginning of the filming, began speaking curtly to him to toughen him up for his role as a fanatic fascist. When Sakamoto met John Lone, who played the emperor Puyi, Lone said "you are my enemy" and also treated him callously. Oy, these method people.

4. The film has held up over the decades, and continues to garner critical praise despite some sniping about Eurocentric tourism, orientalism, and so forth. The Chinese government of the '80s imposed very few limitations on the script and production. They asked that one scene be removed where a camel drops a mound of dung on the young Puyi, saying it was not fitting treatment for an emperor. This explains a couple of shots of camels in the film that seem to be given more significance than they merited (e.g., a reaction shot of the emperor's face).

5. Victor Wong, an American actor of Chinese descent, plays a mentor to Puyi, but he doesn't do much mentoring. According to the Wikipedians, Wong got in arguments with the director over historical accuracies, and Bertolucci cut many of his scenes. The Wikipedians imply some cause-and-effect there but I couldn't find any support for it. The movie may have just been too long.

6. Bertolucci wanted Sakamoto's character to commit seppuku (harikiri) after the Japanese defeat in the film. Sakamoto refused to do it, so Bertolucci had to settle for an after-the-fact self-inflicted gunshot scene.

- tom moody

May 16th, 2017 at 11:30 am

Posted in films

my am*zon reviews in html

A minor ingrate on the former dump.fm ridiculed the sidebar link here, "my amazon reviews, '98-'03" -- it was supposed to be a joke, oh well. These reviews were written in the innocent days before Jeff Bezos emerged as a totalitarian Sauron turning the American workplace into a high-tech surveillance hell.
The reviews were an experiment in attempting "pro" culturecrit in an unpaid environment and ceased when one of them had wording altered by a staffer.
Rather than continuing to link to the black evil that is am*zon, I've saved the reviews as an HTML file.

- tom moody

May 13th, 2017 at 9:50 am

notes on cockfighter

I made this fake DVD cover as a thought experiment. Like Magritte's non-pipe, this object could not, and will not exist. This is one Monte Hellman film that will never get the "Criterion treatment." Some reviews of the film from internet sources (below) suggest why. A "real" DVD cover (or poster, or something, also found on the internet) is at the bottom of the post.

cockfighter_tasteful

MartinTeller:

Frank Mansfield (Warren Oates) is one of the most respected "handlers" on the cockfighting circuit. He loses an impromptu match against his rival Burke (Harry Dean Stanton) and thus puts himself out of the running for the coveted "Cockfighter of the Year" award. He rightfully blames the incident on his big mouth and vows not to say a word until he's won the prize. Not to his family, his partner, or even his girl.

As in the earlier Two-Lane Blacktop, Monte Hellman takes a long look at people competing at the fringes of society, misfit drifters trying to prove themselves -- and make a buck -- in an edgy niche. Frank and his associates are participating in a cowardly, brutal, sadistic "sport" where their only concerns are the odds and the payoff. Frank gets by quite well without his voice because he has little to say that doesn't involve negotiating the terms of a fight. He's an unusual subject for a character study, as he seems to lack much character. And yet, Oates turns in an excellent facial and physical performance that conveys Frank's thoughts, and manages to imbue him with a shred (just a shred, mind you) of something resembling humanity.

The fights are pretty visceral and the film doesn't flinch. I was prepared to be disturbed and offended, but hell, I had chicken strips for dinner last night. I couldn't work up enough hypocrisy to get too worked up by it. [Nestor] Almendros also films them with a hypnotic beauty, abstract flurries of beaks and feathers and blood.

On the whole I prefer Two-Lane Blacktop, but as a single performance, this is the best I've seen from Oates. Although you occasionally get to hear him in voiceover or flashback, for the most part he plays it silent, and does so very effectively. His gestures communicate to the other characters, and his eyes communicate to the audience. I also really enjoyed Richard Shull as Frank's partner, a fun and glib character who provides some of the film's lighter moments. As I've said before, Stanton doesn't do much for me but he's okay here.

This was a tricky movie for me. For a large part of it I had kind of a blasé "so what?" attitude about it, and then it dawned on me that I was actually enjoying it. It gradually grew on me to the point where I was really invested in seeing what this offbeat -- and largely unsympathetic -- character would get into.

Cult Reviews:

Cockfighter is an extraordinary film from more than just one viewpoint. Charles Willeford‘s authentic script and Hellman‘s carefully researched preparations catapult you straight back to the gloomiest regions of the contemporary America’s deep south, where sleazy Georgia locals gather around, cheering and money-waiving, to witness two animals fight to the death. It’s basically a repulsive topic, and also one of the main reasons why the film was a tremendous box office flop at the time, but only through actually making the effort of watching Cockfighter, you will notice the film does not primarily thrive on animal cruelty and clandestine sports. Cockfighter depicts the story of one man’s obsession and how he will stop at nothing to accomplish a pre-determined goal. Frank Mansfield is a natural born cock-fighter. Throughout all of his life, he trained cocks and was considered the best in business. A couple of years earlier, he became overly haughty and lost his biggest prize fighter over a stupid and meaningless bet. Since then, Frank took a vow of complete silence and dedicates his entire existence to the training of new cocks so that he will eventually regain the medal of best cock-fighter. His obsession slowly costs him everything, including the house where his brother lives, his old friends and even the love and respect of the one woman he cares about.

Cockfighter_poster

- tom moody

May 9th, 2017 at 1:03 pm

Posted in art as criticism, films

monte hellman quest

Monte Hellman teaches film at Cal Arts when he's not making movies, which is often, through no fault of his own. Or perhaps it is his fault, if sticking to safe subjects is considered a virtue. From a 1988 interview:

Kris Gilpin: After Easy Rider, the industry was selling Two-Lane [Blacktop] as the second coming, what with the screenplay publication in Esquire and all. Do you think it was a case of over-hype which caused its initial “failure” at the box office?

Monte Hellman: No, it was a case of a different philosophy. I think Easy Rider was a film which was not offensive to the status quo because what it put down was a part of the status quo that everybody condemned. It wasn’t critical of the way studio executives live their lives; it was critical of Southern bigots, so everybody could get behind that. Two-Lane Blacktop was critical of middle-class morality – for want of a better term – it was critical of the way the average person lived his life, and the studio executives were offended by it, and they killed the film. It didn’t die a natural death, it was murder.

Anti-bourgeois themes, socially unacceptable subject matter (e.g., cockfighting), willingness to sign onto crap projects to "keep working" (while at the same time struggling for authorial control), inspires a corpus that's both intriguing and tragic, a de facto avant garde variation of a "directorial career" in a hugely dysfunctional system.

Hellman is known principally for Two Lane Blacktop and, even after it was "murdered" by the suits, it was slow to be recognized in the VHS/DVD era because the copyrights to certain songs kept it out of circulation. Other projects have bubbled to the fore from various rights and production hells (hmm, "Hell-man"), so that a picture emerges of an auteur who didn't deserve his fate, regardless of whatever "attitude" he may have had, especially when a total hack such as Steven Spielberg gets to indulge every crappy cinematic whim. Below is the Wikipedians' raggedy compilation of Hellman's work, with one consumer's viewings (mine) being updated in bold.

Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)
Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) [uncredited post-production footage; for some reason the Wikipedians omitted this film while including other second-unit-type work by Hellman --tm]
The Terror (1963) (uncredited; with Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Hill, and Jack Nicholson) [Hellman says: "I made the last version of the movie; there’d been several versions before but I made the one that finally got released." --tm]
Back Door to Hell (1964)
Flight to Fury (1964)
The Shooting (1966)
Ride in the Whirlwind (1966) [some thoughts on Shooting and Ride are here --tm]
Two-Lane Blacktop (1971)
Cockfighter (1974)
The Greatest (1977) [uncredited; post-production "doctoring" after director Tom Gries died --tm]
China 9, Liberty 37 (1978)
Inside the Coppola Personality (1981) (short)
RoboCop (1987) (uncredited second unit director) He directed several action scenes.
Iguana (1988)
Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989)
Reservoir Dogs (1992) (executive producer only)
Trapped Ashes (2006) (segment "Stanley's Girlfriend")
Road to Nowhere (2010)

Road to Nowhere joins the films-about-films canon that includes Irma Vep, Mulholland Drive, Living in Oblivion, and Shadow of the Vampire, with its own brand of angst stemming from Hellman's fifty years' personal experience with snafus, compromises, and unfinished projects. The somewhat lame actor who plays the "inner" film's director is of a piece with Hellman's checkered career; in fact, almost any flaw could be said to be intentional, feeding back into the continuum of low budget reality that Hellman massages into fine art. Shot when Hellman was 78 years of age, Road makes an excellent career bookend to his first film, Beast from Haunted Cave, a horror cheapie where the characters wax philosophical on themes of compromise and life-accomodation (the costs and benefits of gangster molldom, urban rapacity vs. the self-employed life in a South Dakota cabin) while being stalked across the Badlands by a giant hairy cobweb creature.

Update: Am*zon has a terrible print of Cockfighter that appears to have been rendered from an old VHS tape. This fits the subject matter, a Southern almost-mockumentary depicting an activity that is currently a felony in 33 states. Hellman names it the least favorite of his films, not because of the bloodsport but because Roger Corman didn't give him enough time to rework the script completely.

Update 2: More bookends: The Terror and Stanley's Girlfriend each feature a supernatural femme fatale and a pair of men attracted to her against their better judgment.

Update 3: Another sexual triangle occurs in China 9, Liberty 37. The numbers refer to mileages on a directional road sign in the old (Spaghetti) west, not a sports score. Handsome gunfighter Fabio Testi vies with grizzled homesteader Warren Oates for the affections of Jenny (Logan's Run) Agutter. Very engaging story and moving (pun intended) ending. Music by frequent de Palma collaborator Pino Donaggio. Seeing a good print is a crapshoot but for some reason Am*zon streaming has one at the moment. As noted by commenter M. Britton:

Its UNCUT and anamorphic widescreen!!! Been looking for this version for years!!!! Great film from Monte Hellman.

NOTE: THIS REVIEW IS FOR THE AMAZON INSTANT VIDEO STREAMED VERSION (there are a few so make sure you choose the correct one). This is the uncut longer version (not the shortened 93 minute version) us fans have been looking for!! It is anamorphic widescreen 2.35 and looks pretty good (compared to copies and dupes of the pan and scan version) but could look better with a proper restoration from the likes of Criterion (who love Monte Hellman films). This is a cult classic starring the wonderful Warren Oates, Fabio Testi and Jenny Agutter (her scenes are back in!) and has some great cinematography. Just wished Amazon offered this version to purchase instead of renting. I have been waiting a LONG time to finally see the uncut version of this great western and would kill to have this in my video library! This is the only version you should seek out and not the others (since there seems to be no legit widescreen DVD of this cut).

- tom moody

May 4th, 2017 at 6:24 pm

Posted in films

belter history

The cable channel formerly known as the Science Fiction Channel has a new series, The Expanse, which is pretty adroitly done, despite overuse of the trope of "blowing people away" (via pistol, railgun, or airlock), which occurs with as much regularity and emotional impact as a Moe/Curly face slap. The series adapts books by two sf late colonizers writing under the name James S.A. Corey. When it's time to borrow, borrow from the best, and the Coreys owe a large debt to earlier writers for their conception of "the Belt" (as in, asteroids) and Belters.

Larry Niven used "Belter" in the '60s, mostly in short stories in his "Known Space" series. Wikipedia's summation:

The Sol Belt possesses an abundance of valuable ores, which are easily accessible due to the low to negligible gravity of the rocks containing them. Originally a harsh frontier under U.N. control,[citation needed] the Belt declared independence after creating Confinement Asteroid, a habitat with spin gravity that permitted safe gestation of children, and Farmer's Asteroid, the Belt's primary food source. Almost immediately a lively competition began between the fiercely independent "Belters" and the technology police of the U.N. Several years of tension and economic conflicts followed, but soon settled into a relatively peaceful trade relationship as the Belt has so many resources that the UN and the Earth need.

C.J. Cherryh also had gritty Belters in her books Heavy Time (1991) and Hellburner (1992). Wikipedia, again:

[The novels] are set in the Sol system at the beginning of the "Company Wars" period in the 24th century. Heavy Time introduces ASTEX, a division of the Sol Station Corporation, ... engaged in asteroid mining for minerals to support the Earth's economy and the war effort. Disputes over mining rights, corporate corruption and economic exploitation are key plot elements in the first novel.

Both Niven and Cherryh depict Belters as scrappy, independent operators, comfortable in tight spaces and hard vacuum suits, mining the rocks and constantly struggling with more sedentary Earth bureaucracies. The whole concept is basically bunk since radiation exposure and bone density loss make it impossible for humans to live in space for long periods, but as long as romantic conceptions are dying hard, might as well acknowledge the early dreamers.

- tom moody

March 18th, 2017 at 10:33 am

Posted in books, films

alex on film -- three reviews

lineup5

Alex on Film addicts the casual websurfer film fan with incisive analysis of plot holes, behind-the-scenes connections, and other lesser-considered aspects of movies.
His beat encompasses classics as well as genre trash you'd never watch (e.g., the Predator series).
Lately he hit three films I'd seen in the last six months, so the jackpot is... a blog post.

The Lineup (1958). Lesser-known rough gem from the great Don Siegel (see Alex on Film's screenshot above).

Le Samouraï (1967). Agree this is style over substance, and one might add, the ending makes no sense. The police procedural aspects and Inspector Javert-like cop add spice to the tale of a loner who would eventually be better-incarnated as Jim Jarmusch's and Forest Whitaker's Ghost Dog. Lastly, Jean-Pierre Melville isn't really new wave, more like proto-new wave, although this film came at the height of that era.

The Witch (2015). Spoiler: The witch did it.

Also, in a review of Coma, an appreciation of the under-appreciated Geneviève Bujold (who I celebrity-spotted in a NYC bookstore once -- the clerk who was helping her obviously had no idea he was assisting royalty):

Geneviève Bujold . . . well, she could have been a star. As David Thomson puts it, she “is so remarkable in [Coma] that she makes one conscious of how a steady career has neglected her real virtues.” Or per Pauline Kael: “There’s no way to sanitize this actress. She’s like a soft furry animal and she’s irreducibly curious; she snuggles deep inside the shallow material.”

She was in fact a star, Hollywood-career-arc-wise, from King of Hearts through Anne of a Thousand Days through Tightrope, roughly, but let's also recall the auteur types she worked with: Brian De Palma (Obsession), Alan Rudolph (Choose Me), and David Cronenberg (Dead Ringers).

- tom moody

March 7th, 2017 at 9:03 am

Posted in films