The Perfect Drug

I just finished watching both parts of the newest motion picture iteration of Dune, and I had fun.

I got to thinking about the spice melange, what it was and how it worked.

Sidebar: if you read the Frank Herberts Dune books in high school, please go somewhere else. I’m not up for a “but in the book” debate.

In The Underestimated Importance Diagram, I wrote, “27th century dynamic Third Eye is saturated with a powerful psychotropic drug (PPD) that yields perfect perception.”

Wow. “Perfect perception.” Am I a genius?

Dune’s spice melange is a reddish, sparkling powder, but I had in mind that PPD would be clear, contain all flavors, all scents, and is so complex that it actually contains a couple of substances that only exist in the future, even it’s future. It is so transparent that you actually can’t see it, and that wouldn’t matter anyway, since you are looking into the future.

CBS turned this on his head in a show called Limitless, when a professional douchebag named Brian takes NZT-48, a miracle drug that gives him access to every neuron in his brain. The series wasn’t great, though Abby and I watched the whole thing and had a lot of fun. (Abby and I could watch grass grow and have fun if we did it together.)

NZT was dangerous and would eventually kill you, but PPD does not. Like the spice melange, it extends life and health, though unlike melange, it doesn’t make you trip, doesn’t color your eyes, and cleans up your terrible grammar.

The most beautiful thing about PPD is that it never wears off. This is because perfect perception is completely transcendent of time.

xHere is a simulated sample of one millionth of a gram of PPD. I can't show actual PPD because the tidal effects on the brain being exposed to perfect perception without actually experiencing perfect perfection quickly cause insanity. The sample is held in a special psychomagnetic field designed to enhance its quality and lustre.
Here is a simulated sample of one millionth of a gram of PPD. I can’t show actual PPD because the tidal effects on the brain being exposed to perfect perception without actually experiencing perfect perfection quickly cause insanity. The sample is held in a special psychomagnetic field designed to enhance its quality and lustre.

 

 

Movie Reviews: Airport, Airport 1975, Airport ’77, The Concorde… Airport ’79, and Airplane!

I recently wanted to switch off, tune out, and relax, so I picked one of the least threatening movies in my DVD collection, Airport. As it happens, I own the “Terminal Pack” of airplane disaster movies, a box set of four of these films that also includes Airport 1975, Airport ’77, and The Concorde… Airport ’79, and I also own Airplane!, the parody of them all.

Dean Martin plays the airline captain, and Jacqueline Bisset is the head Stewardess who he's gotten pregnant. In one scene they discuss getting an abortion (though they avoid that word), and Martin says he believes Sweden is the best place to get one.
Dean Martin plays the airline captain, and Jacqueline Bisset is the head Stewardess who he’s gotten pregnant. In one scene they discuss getting an abortion (though they avoid that word), and Martin says he believes Sweden is the best place to get one.

A quick word about these names: during that era, we lived in a world that thought the 1970s was so modern, and shows like Match Game sounded the coolest when it became Match Game 75! that year.

The senior film of the bunch is easily the one of the four that seems to have a legitimate story to tell, in which various intertwined plots (seven, in fact) flow around a busy fictional international airport in Chicago. It’s somewhat formulaic, but in many ways, it created this formula, the so-called “disaster” film.

Abby and I watched this film together, and typical of her, Abby fell in love with the elderly stowaway played by Helen Hayes. I loved the film for its campy self-importance and overblown drama, and, of course, for the aviation angle.

One of the best performances of the show (as Abby always called movies) came from Maureen Stapleton as Inez Guerrero, wife of suicidal passenger D.O. Guerrero. Her urgency and utter dismay that ends in learning her husband was dead is completely believable.

Air traffic controllers and pilots actually have some realistic conversations, including the tense, foreboding “PAR approach” near the end of the movie. A PAR approach, which is a type of ground-controlled approach using precision approach radar to provide both vertical and horizontal guidance for an aircraft, is never used any more except maybe by the military for combat training.

There are some charming and funny scenes, but none more that Dean Martin bullshifting a nosey young passenger…

Schuyler Schultz: [pointing out the window] Before, Virgo and Leo were right there, sir. Now I’m beginning to see Ursa Minor and Cassiopeia. We MUST be turning around.

Capt. Vernon Demerest: You have a young navigator here! Well, I’ll tell ya, son… due to a setslow wind, Dystor’s vectored us into a 360 turn for some slow traffic. Now, we’ll maintain this board and hold until we receive a Forta Magnus clearance from MELNIX.

Dana Wynter sold her role so hard in dialog with Burt Lancaster that I wanted to divorce her myself.
Dana Wynter sold her role so hard in dialog with Burt Lancaster that I wanted to divorce her myself.

Of course, some of the characters are flat, like the airport manager’s wife, who is monotonously hateful for most of the movie, and George Kennedy, who, well, is George Kennedy.

An interesting and tragic side note to this movie is that Lancaster’s romantic interest, Jean Seberg, killed herself in Paris in 1979.

I was saddened to learn that Jean Seberg killed herself in 1979. We liked her performance in this movie.
I was saddened to learn that Jean Seberg killed herself in 1979. We liked her performance in this movie.

Airport is the pick of the litter, but when I was a kid, I fell in love with Airport 1975. Sure, the writing, acting, and directing are clumsy and insincere, especially between Charlton Heston and Karen Black, but it has a 747 in it!

Okay, yes, you read that correctly. Heston and Black’s utter romantic miscasting remained unrivaled until the chemistry between Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis made our libidos shrivel to nothing in Top Gun.

It's a little unfair to pick on Linda Blair, who was just 14 at the time, for her role in Airport 1975, since the script and direction are stacked against her. It has been parodied time and again, but it really does a stand-up job of parodying itself.
It’s a little unfair to pick on Linda Blair, who was just 14 at the time, for her role in Airport 1975, since the script and direction are stacked against her. It has been parodied time and again, but it really does a stand-up job of parodying itself.

One direct effect of Airport 1975 when I was 12 was to immerse me even deeper into aviation, and I decided then, and kinda believe to this day, that the Beechcraft Baron is the coolest, sexiest airplane ever built.

The plot is pretty unrealistic: a giant airliner is flying across the country when ATC tells them the “entire coast is socked in, but Salt Lake is available.” Meanwhile, the gorgeous Baron (which doesn’t bear the tail number of the aircraft in the dialog) ends up wildly out-of-control because Dana Andrews’ pilot character has a heart attack.

Yes, I know. ATC has radar, and they would vector the jumbo jet away from the twin, but I guess maybe, uh, reasons.

Before I continue: if you thought the infidelity and womanizing in Airport is bad, Airport 1975 is absolutely appalling, especially the mercilessly sexist, demeaning “flirtation” toward the flight attendants by the second officer, played by Erik Estrada.

The twin crashes into the jumbo, with hilarious results! Okay, maybe not intentionally hilarious results, but between the crash-test-dummy first officer being sucked out of the hole in the cockpit, the ketchupy blood on Efrem Zimbalist Jr., the fact that we have a critical kidney patient (Linda Blair!), and Heston saying “damn!” every 40 seconds, it is a non-stop parody of itself.

My sister Nicole does a hilarious impersonation of Karen Black at the controls of the stricken 747.

I would never describe Karen Black as a great actor, but she really bottomed out reading the lines from Airport 1975.
I would never describe Karen Black as a great actor, but she really bottomed out reading the lines from Airport 1975.
I asked my sister Nicole to send me a photo of her impersonating Karen Black in Airport 1975, and she had generated this in about 20 minutes. Um, are those corn dogs?
I asked my sister Nicole to send me a photo of her impersonating Karen Black in Airport 1975, and she had generated this in about 20 minutes. Um, are those corn dogs?

So, yada yada yada, dramatic midair suspense, and we land in Salt Lake City. But, wait, “Damn! Brake pressure’s dropping!” Heston screams, and we crash into a utility shack at the end of the runway.

It really isn’t a very put-together movie.

Predictably, the next two in the series, Airport ’77, and The Concorde… Airport ’79, are even less watchable, to the point of being insufferably pointless.

It’s kind of a shame Jack Lemmon got connected to Airport ’77, because just a year later he was excellent in The China Syndrome. Watch this space for a review of that hidden gem.

But then, a new hope dawns on the airliner movie scene: Airplane! If you felt unclean after attempting to watch the Airport series, you will feel literal pain from laughing so hard at Airplane! It takes something from every Airport movie, plus a few others that take themselves way too seriously, like The High and The Mighty, even Saturday Night Fever, and crams it into 88 minutes of irreverent, and often inappropriate, humor that, if you can lower your offendable defenses for a bit, will have you pausing it just to catch your breath from laughing so hard. It makes fun of everybody in a way movie makers just can’t do today.

Airplane! is probably not the movie for the millienial/woke set.
Airplane! is probably not the movie for the millienial/woke set.

Movie Review: Solaris (2002), My First Netflix Movie

My wife Abby and I had only been married a couple of months when, for Christmas 2004, her daughter Chele bought us a subscription to Netflix. At the time, the Netflix model was to send you three movies on DVD to watch at your leisure, then each time you returned a movie in the prepaid envelope, they’d send you another based on a list you made on their website.

Will somebody please get George Clooney a towel?
Will somebody please get George Clooney a towel?

Among our first movies was Solaris, the 2002 version by Steven Soderbergh. (I don’t recall the other two). We based this choice on the idea that we would pick movies we thought we’d both like, and we had both liked Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape from 1989, and liked at least some of Ocean’s Eleven.

Solaris is beautiful film. The photography is spectacular, and, in most aspects, offers realistic depictions of an epic space adventure, and the score by Cliff Martinez is both off-scale amazing and definitely unusual.

The scene of Chris Kelvin, played by George Clooney, arriving at Solaris in the Athena is possibly one of the most elegant, beautiful, and engaging in the history of science fiction. I have watched that scene over and over, and it’s amazing.

I love all the actors and all the performances; George Clooney, Natascha McElhone, Viola Davis, Jeremy Davies, and Ulrich Tukur. It was well-cast, and well-acted.

I wish I could say the whole movie is amazing.

We start with Kelvin, a psychologist, living in a bleak, unfriendly near-future city. He trods around in the rain and gloom, quietly, woodenly dealing with his patients, obviously unhappy. The only reason given at that point is McElhone’s voice saying, “Chris, don’t you love me any more?”

Early in the movie we seem to hear characters refer to the psychological fallout from 9/11 in a way that doesn’t age well, with Kelvin’s patients saying they saw something that “took them back” to that day, “like a commemorative t-shirt or something on the web.”

Mysterious representatives arrive to deliver a video message from Gibarian, a friend of Kelvin’s, in the fashion of a 1960s French espionage movie: they let us know that they’re not going to let us know much. Gibarian’s message is even less clear: “I need you to come to Solaris, Chris,” but at this point, we don’t yet know if Solaris is a galaxy, a code name for a new video game, or a brothel.

The representatives call it a “ship,” but we learn in the next scene that it’s a space station, not a ship.

Kelvin boards the station, finds a blood trail, and discovers his friend Gibarian is dead. He is then lead by the sound of Insane Clown Posse’s Riddle Box to a crew member named Snow.

Sidebar: when naming your characters, find a way to make their names clear. When someone says, “I’m looking for Snow,” is he looking for a ski lodge? Even when Kelvin finds him, all he says is, “Snow.” Is he asking for a line of blow? Maybe a better way to write would be, “Are you Snow?”

Riddle Box and the eccentric performance of Jeremy Davies bluntly suggest he has gone at least a little insane during his stay on Solaris.

Snow tells Kelvin that “security forces showed up” and killed a crew member named Coutard, but we never get any more information about how many in the security force, and what happened to them. Kelvin asks Snow point blank, “Can you tell me what’s happening here?” but Snow is completely evasive in his answer: “I could tell you what’s happening, but I don’t know if that would tell you what’s really happening.”

As we move along the slow-paced plot line, we see shots of the space station and out its windows showing Solaris, which looks more like a star than a planet. One of the trailers, obviously made early in the production schedule, shows it as ocean, but in the movie, it seems like a blue supergiant star with giant prominences.

We never really get an explanation about what Solaris is.

Kelvin finds the commander, Dr. Gordon, who, like everyone so far in the movie, is completely evasive about what is going on, saying, “Until it starts happening to you, there’s really no point in talking about it.”

And what is happening? I appreciate letting an audience uncover and figure out a mystery, but this narrative is just being difficult. Very gradually, we find out that each crew member is seeing and interacting with “visitors.”

We never get to see Dr. Gordon’s visitor, but based on the noises coming from her quarters early in the movie, and just who I am, I think it might not be a person at all, but a beloved pet.

From Kelvin’s dreams and memories, we flash back to a time when he was falling in love with and marrying McElhone’s character Rheya. All the scenes on Solaris are toned in cold blues, and all the flashback scenes are very warm-toned. Obvious, but effective.

Sure, okay, fine, we’re orbiting an enigmatic stellar body. But where the movie fails is (spoilers) that Solaris turns out to be a stellar or planetary dream weaver ad/or wish machine that lets, or forces, crew members to interact with their absent loved ones. Magic. Fairy dust. Feel good. As one of the trailers says, “How far will you go for a second chance?”

As the movie progresses and Kelvin interacts with Rheya, Solaris seems to turn from blue to pink. I know this is supposed to represent something, but the symbolism is nebulous at best. More dreams, more memories, more awareness? Or is Solaris expressing a change in gender? Maybe we’re just meant to think it is changing.

Misdirected scene: when Kelvin first wakes up to discover his apparently alive dead wife there in the room with him, he leaps up and runs to the other side of the room, facing away from her, slapping himself in the head, then slowly bracing himself with both hands and finally looking up at her. But no human in history has ever reacted to a potential threat or radical unknown in this manner. He might fight or flight, but the way he played it, it isn’t consistent with human reaction to surprise.

Martinez might be the real star of this movie. Between the way he is so gentle in the musical narrative of Kelvin and Rheya falling in love, to the urgency of the idea they need to hurry up and board the Agena and go home, it stands as one of the most unusual and convincing musical narratives ever.

Some of the “science” is just technobabble nonsense…

“Are they or are then not made of subatomic matter?” Everything is made up of subatomic matter.

“Solaris has been taking on mass exponentially.” From what?

And, of course, our characters use too much power, which leads to a crisis with a deadline.

And the punch line of the movie doesn’t live up to even the little hope we built as we watched. Loud noises, blinking lights, Solaris kind of swallowing the space station. Then, Kelvin is back at home, which is probably supposed to be in Solaris dream space, kissing his alive dead wife. The end.

Okay, okay, sure, I should read the book. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe it’s even stupider than this movie.

But, I keep putting the DVD back in and watching it, despite all its flaws. The ultimate saving grace for Solaris is that it is beautiful. My favorite quote from the movie, which translates so well into real life, is, “There are no answers, only choices.”

Sometimes love is so strong it can pad a 44 minute script into an hour and a half.
Sometimes love is so strong it can pad a 44 minute script into an hour and a half.

Best Pictures I Have Seen and Liked or Disliked

Unlike some movie fans, I still have a fair amount of content, good and bad, on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Unlike some movie fans, I still have a fair amount of content, good and bad, on DVD and Blu-Ray.

My sister reported watching and hating Reds, maybe my all-time favorite movie. It got me thinking about the best movies I have seen, and the movies I have seen that were highly touted, yet I didn’t like. Here are some the Academy Awards for Best Picture, ones that I have seen, and ones I thought should have been the Best Picture for that year instead.

There are years in which I saw very few movies, so they aren’t all listed here.

1953: From Here to Eternity. Amazing film.

1957: The Bridge on the River Kwai. The plot of this film is riveting. Runner-up: 12 Angry Men.

1959: Ben-Hur. I know this is supposed to be a classic, especially the chariot race, but this is the most closeted home-erotic film of all time. Should have won: North by Northwest.

1962: Lawrence of Arabia. This is a top ten film for me.

1966: A Man for All Seasons. I love this film for a lot of reasons, especially the intelligent, elegant dialog, and the idea of a man standing up for his beliefs no matter what befalls him. A dent is this script is its revisionist absence of Thomas More’s cruel persecution of heretics.

1970: Patton. Love the story, the cinematography, the acting. Great film.

1976: Rocky. Should have won: All the President’s Men. Marry this with The Post, and you have an evening of truly engaging stories about journalism. But then there’s Taxi Driver. It was a good year for films.

1977: Annie Hall. My wife hated Woody Allen for his personal life, but I never turn down the chance to spend the evening with Annie. Also of note: this was the lowest-grossing Best Picture of all time.

1978: The Deer Hunter. Coming Home was a close second. But I don’t feel engaged by either of these films. Their biggest flaws was my inability to relate to any of the characters. Should have won: Interiors, possibly my number two favorite movie. It’s not an easy movie to love, but I relate to every character.

1979: Kramer vs Kramer. Should have won: Apocalypse Now.

1980: Ordinary People. Maybe in my top five list.

1981: Chariots of Fire. This one might go in my bottom ten list. Should have won: Reds.

1982: Gandhi. Also in my top five list.

1983: Terms of Endearment. Almost unwatchable. Should have won: The Big Chill or The Right Stuff.

1984: Amadeus. Watched and was engaged, but wasn’t the best that year, especially the way it let Tom Hulce be just a little bit 1980s. Should have won: The Killing Fields.

1985: Out of Africa was a long, boring masterpiece. Should have won: The Color Purple, which is also kind of a long, boring masterpiece.

1986: Platoon. I considered Platoon as one of my favorite war movies for years, but it hasn’t age well, especially tainted by the presence of Charlie Sheen and his wooden narration and 80s haircut. Should have won: Hannah and Her Sisters.

1987: The Last Emperor. Meh. Should have won: Broadcast News.

1988: Rain Man. This movie made a huge splash, but I might have watched it one more time. Should have won: it wasn’t a great year in film, so maybe Colors or Wings of Desire. Die Hard was fun, but isn’t really “great.”

1989: Driving Miss Daisy. I am one of the few who are really bored by this film. Should have won: Dead Poets Society.

1990: Dances with Wolves. I reluctantly accept this win, with the caveat that I despise Kevin Costner’s bland, monotonal narration.

1991: The Silence of the Lambs. It has its moments, but given a choice, Slacker is the 1991 film for me.

1992: Unforgiven. Abby and I both loved it.

1993: Schindler’s List. This isn’t, as a film critic friend of mine recently pointed out, a fun film to watch, but it merits its Best Picture standing. Unfortunately, it competes with The Age of Innocence, another movie in my top ten.

1994: Forrest Gump. I never liked this movie. Should have won: Pulp Fiction. Duh.

1995: Braveheart. I am really bugged by this movie’s revisionist history, and it’s too long. Should have won but surprisingly is not even nominated: Heat.

1996: The English Patient. Long and boring. Should have won: Fargo.

1997: Titanic. This movie might be at the top of the “Worst Best Pictures Ever” list. My girlfriend in 2000 wouldn’t shut up about it. Should have won: maybe Good Will Hunting, but it wasn’t a very good year in film.

1998: Shakespeare in Love. Should have won: The Thin Red Line.

1999: American Beauty. This movie takes us down a dark path, but it’s masterful.

2000: Gladiator. I love this movie, but often turn it down in favor of something easier to watch.

2001: A Beautiful Mind. This might be Russell Crowe’s best work.

2002: Chicago. Should have won: The Pianist.

2003: The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King. Abby and I gave the Lord trilogy its day in court, and found it guilty of boring us. Should have won: hmm. It wasn’t a good year.

2004: Million Dollar Baby. This movie was great, but so difficult to watch at the end. Should have won: The Aviator.

2005: Crash. Should have won: Brokeback Mountain, maybe another near the top of my list. An interesting aside is that people who don’t understand relationships or society very well called this “a gay cowboy movie,” but is really about how the difficult pursuit of happiness is, and the consequences of adultery.

2006: The Departed is a pretty solid choice, but I also liked Letters from Iwo Jima, the companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers, also a great film. It’s a toss-up.

2007: No Country for Old Men. Abby never turned down this movie, so we saw it a dozen or more times; it’s a great piece of cinema.

2009: The Hurt Locker impressed me on the first pass, but re-viewing revealed it’s flaws. Should have won: Inglourious Basterds.

2017: The Shape of Water. This might have been more of a political win. Should have won: Dunkirk.

2021: CODA. Should have won: Don’t Look Up!, just because it is SO funny.

In constructing this list, I looked at a lot of lists of movies, and I felt very discouraged at the state of entertainment. There are too many sequels made just to sell tickets, and too many showy special-effects movies that don’t have good plot or characters. Many nights, it’s smarter to read a good book.

Is entertainment what separates us from the animals?
Is entertainment what separates us from the animals?

Movie Review: Purple Rain

I first saw Purple Rain in about 1987, during a period when girlfriend Kathy and I were renting movies about four times a week. She loved the movie at the time, but I think she would agree that it has aged poorly.

Purple Rain is an attempted fusion of a concert movie with a biopic. The concert part works great, but the plot? I wonder if the plot was needed at all. Maybe it was a studio formula that said, “you have to have a plot. It can’t just be a concert.”

The biggest flaw in the plot is when the manager and his ilk are talking about The Kid not having the sound any more and needs to be replaced. Truth: if you saw a show half as good as The Revolution’s show in this movie, you would simultaneously cum and shit your pants, then need hospitalization to have your smile removed.

Other thoughts…

The “girl show” Morris puts together with Apollonia 6 isn’t sexy it all. It’s clumsy and unmusical.

If it was Prince’s intention to spell out to us what a bastard and egomaniac he was in real life, well done.

The music, though not performed live for the film, was mic’d and mixed to have a concert sound to it.

On my second watch-through this week, it dawned on me that much of the bad acting is due to the rotten script. “It’s all I dream about. What about you? What do you dream about?” It feels like it came out of my tenth grade journal.

In conclusion, I find this movie poorly-written and filmed, but the concert footage is as good as the album. When I watch again, I will fast-forward through all the dialog to get to the performances.

Purple Rain is an eye-catching, trendy, 1980s-era film that has aged poorly in many ways, but the music is as good as ever.
Purple Rain is an eye-catching, trendy, 1980s-era film that has aged poorly in many ways, but the music is as good as ever.

Thoughts about Top Gun: Maverick

The hottest movie topic in 2022 was Top Gun: Maverick.  I am sorry, my friends who loved this movie, but…

The biggest problem I have with this film is the same problem I have with the final three Star Wars films in the saga: rehash.

  • The same title card and Faltermeyer/Loggins intro music.
  • The same fighter jet porn in the intro.
  • Goose’s son wears Goose’s exact same mustache.
  • The fighter pilots are approached from behind in an ambush-introduction.
  • The motorcycle scene with his girlfriend (even riding in the same direction as the original scene). Same jacket, same motorcycle.
  • The stupid sunglasses they all wore in the first movie and in this movie; they were on-point stylish in 1969.
  • The mission is almost identical to the mission the rebels undertook in Star Wars: A New Hope… a very small force is tasked with skimming a narrow canyon to hit a small opening in the enemy base, and the mission is saved at the last minute by an arrogant pilot who was not part of the original plan.

Also…

  • He steals an F/A-18?
  • The ultra-sonic test jet flying over North America? Never happen. Supersonic flight of any kind is done over the sea.
  • The task group fires a spitload of Tomahawk cruise missiles at one runway. Each one of those costs about two million dollars, and just one of them would be adequate to take that airfield out of the fight.
  • Or, you could use the Tomahawks to actually do the mission.
  • No one with bitter feelings about the instructor would even be assigned to the mission, no matter how skilled he or she is. Direct conflict of interest.

Also, this job doesn’t really seem like a job for the Navy and carrier-based warplanes, but an Air Force task with something like the B-2 Spirit long-range stealth bomber. And why are these jets attacking anything without air superiority, like a real-life mission the Israeli Air Force did in 1981.

By the way, Iran is the only nation in the world to have any F-14 Tomcats in service, so duh, it’s Iran. But of course, the presence of the F-14 was shoehorned in to get Tom Cruise back into one for the final scene, and, of course, with Goose’s son in the back seat.

A note about G-forces: this happens when an aircraft is experiencing a lift vector that changes the attitude of the aircraft. The instant an aircraft stops that vector by leveling off, regardless of the direction it’s nose it pointed, the G-force falls back to normal. We see these F/A-18s pull out of the attack, and the pull-up maneuver is what creates the Gs. An aircraft climbing straight up or diving straight down is not experiencing high G-forces.

The bottom line is, for me, that Top Gun: Maverick is easily the most over-rated, over-anticipated movie in the last five years. I didn’t really enjoy it.

Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick

Movie Prop Mistakes

Updated December 2022 to include a note about the movie Die Hard.

Often when watching movies, I will simultaneously look up the background of them on Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB), or, if the film has guns, the Internet Movie Firearms Data Base (IMFDB).

I did so recently when I was rewatching the 1995’s excellent Heat, starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. It has a lot of interesting firearms in it, and I wanted to learn about them.

This shot shows a combination of an accurate depiction and a glaring mistake. I actually owed both of these radios and one time or another. I love how they have been temporarily mounted in the vehicle with clear packing tape.
This shot shows a combination of an accurate depiction and a glaring mistake. I actually owed both of these radios and one time or another. I love how they have been temporarily mounted in the vehicle with clear packing tape.

What I found, however, was an interesting mistake, and one that I see over and over in movies about crimes and cops: a shot showing us a signature rifle muzzle device also happens to show us two police scanners. One of them, the top one, is a Radio Shack Pro-2030. The display on it reads 000.0000, meaning it was never programmed, or it was reset at some point and never reprogrammed. Either way, it isn’t working.

The lower scanner, a Radio Shack clone of a Uniden 500 UBC9000XLT (Probably the
Realistic Pro-2036.), displays 470.5375, which is the correct frequency for Los Angeles Countywide police dispatch.

In the movie Die Hard (IMDB), (IMFDB), on the other hand, the TV reporter, a one-dimensional character played by William Atherton, is on the phone when he hears a panicked police call from an LAPD sergeant played by Reginald VelJohnson. I assume this scene takes place in the fictional TV studio, since there do seem to be at least a couple of reel-to-reel audio tape decks in the background, but the scanners supposedly picking up the call are junk fished out of the back of the props department.

Two of the radios appear to possibly be Radio Shack / Realistic Comp-100s or maybe similar Bearcats. Both are early 1970s tech, and use crystals to set each frequency. Neither of the radios in the scene appear to be receiving anything, though, since the red LEDs on the front panel continue to track and don’t stop on a channel. The other radio is hard to make out, but might be a higher-end communications receiver or all-mode amateur radio transceiver. It appears to display something like 145.890 Mhz, which is an amateur radio frequency, not a police frequency.

Some movies try harder than others, while some, like the big-budget, action-packed Die Hard, don't. The scanners in this shot look like the first thing the props department came across the had flashing lights on them. I guess we're lucky they weren't CB radios.
Some movies try harder than others, while some, like the big-budget, action-packed Die Hard, don’t. The scanners in this shot look like the first thing the props department came across the had flashing lights on them. I guess we’re lucky they weren’t CB radios.

Also, the characters repeatedly interrupt each other while talking on two-way radios, which we all know is impossible since you can either receive or transmit, not both at the same time.

For what it’s worth, the movie with the most accurate and believable radio communications that I’ve seen is End of Watch. Jake Gyllenhaal clearly studied and practices with real police and how they use radios for this film. Props.

 

Most Highly Recommended: The Vietnam War

A Bell UH-1 Iroquois "Huey" helicopter is shown in this screen shot. Of the 16,000 variants of this helicopter built, about 5000 went to the Vietnam War, where nearly half of those were lost in combat or abandoned.
A Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter is shown in this screen shot. Of the 16,000 variants of this helicopter built, about 5000 went to the Vietnam War, where nearly half of those were lost in combat or abandoned.

I am a fan of several movies about the Vietnam War: Apocalypse Now and its companion piece  Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Coming Home, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, We Were Soldiers, and even The Post.

There are also some not-so-great movies about the Vietnam War: Born on the Fourth of July, Hamburger Hill, The Boys in Company C, The Green Berets, Casualties of War, and Good Morning Vietnam, to name a few.

But standing head and shoulders above all this fiction, good and bad, is The Vietnam War, by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

This ten-part series originally produced for PBS is a definitive work about the Vietnam War.

I first got a taste of this in 2017 on Netflix, where it was a limited run, but recently bought the DVD box set and rewatched it, and it is amazing. It is unflinchingly candid about the war from start to finish, and brutally honest about how horrible it was. Yet at the same time, it seems fair and unbiased, an even and difficult account of what might have been one of America’s darkest chapter.

Never mind that the main musical score is by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Never mind that there is a full-screen view of my newspaper in Episode 4. Never mind that it took 10 years and $30 million to complete.

It hits so hard that despite wanting to, I couldn’t unhear some of the most difficult things human beings can utter, like, “My hatred for them was pure. Pure.  I hated them so much. And I was so scared of them. Boy, I was terrified of them. And the scareder of them I got, the more I hated them.”

I’ll leave that last quote un-cited because it is so brilliant, true, and universal.

Part of the difficulty in watching a series like this is that it becomes tedious and difficult to watch through to the finish, especially since it is so densely packed. This is ironic, because everything about the war itself was tedious and difficult to watch. Are we so weak and shielded from human nature that we can’t watch depictions of what our fellow human beings actually did?

After a full watching the second time through, though, I have to say that The Vietnam War goes near the top of my recommendations list.

This is a front page from my very own Ada Evening News, shown in episode 4 of The Vietnam War.
This is a front page from my very own Ada Evening News, shown in episode 4 of The Vietnam War.

Song Review: Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand

“I’ve been downhearted, baby, ever since the day we met.”

The song Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money in My Hand is an excellent example of one of the dirtiest tricks the record industry played on us music-hungry fans: find an artist with a quirky, catchy song, have him or her record it (with a record producer’s finesse), then fill the rest of the CD/Album with his real talent, no talent at all.

I loved this song when it came out, and that’s no small compliment in the midst of one of the most creative, liberating, and musical periods – the mid-1990s – in entertainment. I heard it on the radio, which, of course, is much less likely today in the age of streaming.

I remember riding somewhere with a fellow newspaper staff member. When this song came on, I told him I liked it, and he added, “This guy is that one-man band.”

This song is moody, has thought-provoking lyrics, and has some edgy elements added to it, especially the church bell (or whatever bell) in the background offbeat. The beat and the doot-doos invite you to bob your head slightly when it’s playing, and even play it again once its done.

So I own a CD for this song, filled elsewhere with filler, songs that bring to a sharp point why we have one-hit wonders: talent is chance, success is chance, commerce is chance.

When I got this challenge, I grabbed the CD, which I bought when it came out, and put it in my car's CD slot, displacing the legendary Switched-On Bach.
When I got this challenge, I grabbed the CD, which I bought when it came out, and put it in my car’s CD slot, displacing the legendary Switched-On Bach.

Once a Creep, Always a Creep

Updated in December 2021 to include a review of Creep by Radiohead

Around the dinner table with my Norman, Oklahoma friends (a group known at the time by several names, such as The Thirty Something Group [despite the fact that they weren’t 30-something any more], The Breadmaker Group, and The Bohemian Continuum) in 2009, I revealed a not very secret secret that those closest to me, like my wife, already know: I look at women’s hands, kind of obsessively. I related a story about having these feelings in third grade, explaining to them that when Mrs. Dzialo was at the front of the room, I stared at her hands. They looked really sexy to me.

When I was done with this story, Thea said, “So, you’ve always been a creep?”

After the laughter died down, I said, “Yes. Yes I have.”

Thus, even those closest, and presumably most understanding, to me were inclined to label and judge me. And thus, when Dan Marsh challenged me to review the song Creep by Radiohead, a song I already loved, it seemed obvious.

When I was younger, I usually felt like an outcast, and this feeling was never more apparent and powerful than when I was a young teenager, without a clue how to act around girls my age, who, in my view, shunned and mocked me. This perception imprinted deep into me, creating the idea that I really was more awkward and less attractive than the girls were.

It was manipulation that, as an adult, I realize was far from accurate. I think about the girls that age who I meet and photograph all the time as a news photographer, and I realize that they are the ones who are awkward and mannered, not me. How do I know this? I am completely comfortable socially is all settings, unless I am talking to a teenager. There is friction, and it comes from them. I can see it in their eyes and hear it in their incomplete replies.

So the song Creep tends to strike a chord.

“I want a perfect body, I want a perfect soul…”

Then the perfect, and most revealing lyric, is sung: “What the hell am I doing here?”

What, indeed, Creep? How dare you be an oddball, an outcast, a nerd?

Creep is layered densely. You can’t listen to this song without going deep.

And in the end, of course, the voice is NOT the creep, and doesn’t “belong here” because of the special someone who has us all psyched to imagine she’s perfect. She’s not perfect, and his desire is as honest as anything she has to offer.

I love this song, but I love High and Dry and Fake Plastic Trees just as much. Radiohead rules!

“They’re the ones who’ll hate you
When you think you’ve got the world all sussed out
They’re the ones who’ll spit at you
You will be the one screaming out…” ~High and Dry

All that said, the only reason I know anything at all about Radiohead is due to Napster, and the Apple friendly app Macster. Yes, that’s right, I stole all the Radiohead I own.

Me, a creep? Maybe you're looking in the wrong mirror.
Me, a creep? Maybe you’re looking in the wrong mirror.

Song Review: Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden

Soundgarden has a bit more polish than it’s contemporaries. It is more densely layered than Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

In Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun, I am reminded of Alice in Chains: driving, deep, super-masculine vocals, harmonic, dynamic instruments, and a song structure that narrates and navigates us through the story.

The lyrics are brilliant. If Nirvana wrote lyrics to fill the space between the music, Soundgarden writes and sings lyrics with a purpose unto themselves.

I was guardian of a teenager once who wanted nothing else than to play Black Hole Sun on the electric guitar we got him.

I would say if you are not familiar with Soundgarden, give it a try.

Never ever confuse Soundgarden with Savage Garden. I dated a young woman in 2000 whole loved Savage Garden with all her heart, and wow, it was so lame. Boy band lame. Should be labeled Toxic, Do Not Play, Impotent and Lame in All Respects!

At that time in music history, I was flying a lot, and I listened to a huge amount of Brahms and Grieg, usually preferring the more flowing composition that resembled my feelings about flying.

Your host flies a spiffy Cessna 150 named "Old Gomer."
Your host flies a spiffy Cessna 150 named “Old Gomer.”

2020’s Most Relevant Movie: 2011’s Contagion

Though similar to scenes in the movie Contagion, this is actually the fallen-down remains of a building in rural Pontotoc County.
Though similar to scenes in the movie Contagion, this is actually the fallen-down remains of a building in rural Pontotoc County.

As I have noted in a couple of previous movie reviews, futurism – the fictional depiction of how the future might look for humanity – is notoriously inaccurate. But what about fiction that is set in the present, but accidentally depicts – with alarming accuracy – actual events that come to pass?

Contagion is just such a movie.

When the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 exploded into the world, many of us took the news sideways, reacting in half-steps with half-information. At first, we cowered in our cars, closed schools and restaurants, and bought up all the hand sanitizer. When it got much worse, we went back to school, we went back to sporting events, we stopped masking and social distancing. You get the idea.

Contagion has pretty much everything the real pandemic offered: a dangerous virus, panicky people, concerned scientists, a quack blogger, even the kidnapping of a WHO epidemiologist. It even shows the zoonosis from bats to domestic pigs to humans, similar to the 2019 zoonosis.

“Cover your mouth please,” results in, “fuck off!”

“We are only able to give 50 doses today,” results in a rush and riot at a pharmacy.

Some things this movie missed, at least to some degree…

  1. The weird coprophelial toilet paper hordage in early 2020
  2. The crushingly disappointing political scene in 2020
  3. The silly, childish anti-vax, anti-mask scene masquerading as personal rights advocacy or patriotism
  4. In most places, vaccine distribution is sensible (first to need, first to get), not by lottery as depicted in the movie
  5. Society stayed mostly ordered, with the glaring exception of January 6

This movie was based on the 2002-2004 SARS epidemic, and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, after which Steven Soderbergh hopped into a time machine to today, made some notes, then went back to 2011 to start filming.

This film was gripping when it came out, but is over-the-top relevant today. I highly recommend it.

Your host, Photographer Richard R. Barron, rolls up his sleeve to receive his first dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 at Pontotoc Technology Center. There was no lottery for eligibility, just a polite invitation when my group came up. The entire process was cordial and easy.
Your host, Photographer Richard R. Barron, rolls up his sleeve to receive his first dose of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 at Pontotoc Technology Center. There was no lottery for eligibility, just a polite invitation when my group came up. The entire process was cordial and easy.

The Utopian

40 years ago, I was a freshman college student at the University of Oklahoma. I had yet to buy my first Nikon camera. I lived in Adams Center, the older of the “tower” dorms at OU. My roommate was Jeff, who had switched rooms, without being invited or even asking, with the kid I was assigned to live with at the beginning of the semester.

My friends and I had some distorted priorities. We were way too invested in audiophilia, the devotion to “hi-fi” stereo and all it entailed. We spend way too much money on cassette tapes – sidebar about that here (link).  We stayed up way too late at night. We skipped way too many classes.

But today I am talking about Jeff’s raison d’etre, the band Utopia.

By start of 1982, he had a tinted banner at the top of the windshield of his beloved (more so than any human) Pontiac Trans Am that said “Utopian.”

His parents correctly called him out about this, but he, and we, were loathe to listen. We knew it all, we thought, and parents are just old people who just wanted us to be “normal.”

He and several other friends also had rebel flag front license plates (though I did not). In the 2020s, most of us recognize what this actually represents and how offensive it was, but to Jeff and his ilk, it represented freedom and rebellion, not racism.

I never enjoyed much of Utopia, formed by Todd Rundgren in 1973. Whole albums of theirs seemed unlistenable to me, though I was able to cull out a few songs I kind of liked: Love Is the Answer [immediately covered by England Dan and John Ford Coley], The Road to Utopia, Set Me Free, Overture: Mountain Top and Sunrise/Communion With The Sun, and Singring and the Glass Guitar (An Electrified Fairy Tale).

Overall, however, Utopia suffered from what too many bands do: it wasn’t very musical. Most of their tunes scratch by semi-tunelessly, striking no pleasure centers in the brain or conjuring empathy.

And although Todd Rundgren couldn’t sing, I liked much of his solo work: Hello It’s Me, I Saw the Light (a song that, for me, is about Abby), Can We Still Be Friends, and practically all of his albums Healing and Hermit of Mink Hollow.

When Jeff and I were roommates in 1981, we quickly learned to hate each other’s musical tastes. His Utopia decidedly clashed with my Pink Floyd, James Taylor, Dan Fogelberg, Phil Keaggy, and so on.

The question for me, though, has always been: why was Jeff so mentally and emotionally obsessed with Utopia? Jeff owned close to 100 record albums when we were roommates, but I can’t seem to remember any other band he liked. It makes him seem shallow and single-minded, like Rush Guy (link).

By January 1982, Jeff flunked out of college and moved back to Lawton. He killed himself in May. You can read about that year and Jeff’s suicide in an entry I called That Dark Season Underground (link).

Allen, Jeff and I pose for a photo on the night the three of us had a barbecue at my parents house in Lawton, Oklahoma, in August 1981, as a college going-away party. The thing that intrigues me the most about this photo isn't the pose (although it is noteworthy that Jeff took those kinds of chances all the time), but that I have no recollection of owning a "Boomer Sooner" belt buckle.
Allen, Jeff and I pose for a photo on the night the three of us had a barbecue at my parents house in Lawton, Oklahoma, in August 1981, as a college going-away party. The thing that intrigues me the most about this photo isn’t the pose (although it is noteworthy that Jeff took those kinds of chances all the time), but that I have no recollection of owning a “Boomer Sooner” belt buckle.

Good Songs Become Bad Songs Become Good Songs

My friends and I pose for a photo in my dormitory at the University of Oklahoma in early 1983. The image was made on Kodak Ektachrome Infrared slide film, and the scan is labeled "Dorm Rats" on my hard drive. You will notice behind me a collection of phonograph albums. At that time, it was mostly Pink Floyd, Kansas, and Journey.
My friends and I pose for a photo in my dormitory at the University of Oklahoma in early 1983. The image was made on Kodak Ektachrome Infrared slide film, and the scan is labeled “Dorm Rats” on my hard drive. You will notice behind me a collection of phonograph albums. At that time, it was mostly Pink Floyd, Kansas, and Journey.

Dan most recently challenged me to review Rearviewmirror by Pearl Jam. Dan’s really getting into 1990s grunge/garage recently, and I approve of this message.

It took me a while to get down to listening, but I am now, and I like it. It’s got that “I don’t care what the record producers says, let’s jam” sound to it.

It also got me thinking about what music we like, and why, and how that changes from one decade, year, month, day, and hour to the next.

What music did I think was the absolute ultimate when I was in college, for example? If you had asked me in 1982, I probably would have said Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. I played the album into vinyl extinction, then played the CD over and over, usually in my headphones at fighter-jet loudness levels. These days, I have little desire to hear it.

If you’d asked me when I was a young journalist in the late 1980s, I might have said With Tomorrow by This Mortal Coil. By December of 1992, I know I would have said Wild Horses by The Sundays (a cover of the Rolling Stones song.)

How much if this is what we construct between our ears, and how much of it is how we are born and raised? My wife Abby, for example, can’t get enough Garth Brooks, but his sound just bounces off me.

My musical taste is fluid, however, and I wonder how much of that is because the global cadre of music is ever-enlarging. If you turned on the radio in 1940, for example, how many contemporary songs even existed at that point?

Then today I turned on the radio, the actual FM radio in the truck, and heard something – um, wow, millennials, this is music? I can’t even describe how artificial and monotonous it sounded. Kids these days.

Oh, and FM radio? You’re doing about as good a job reinventing yourself as newspapers are. “92.2, The Pump! Cranking out your favorites from the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, 2010s, and today!”

You can tune a tuner, and you can tune a piano, but you can't tune a fish.
You can tune a tuner, and you can tune a piano, but you can’t tune a fish.

Song Review: Moon Over Bourbon Street by Sting

In Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Diane Keaton plays a neurotic New Yorker named Mary Wilke. On the night Mary and Woody’s character meet, she and her date discuss the “Academy of the Overrated,” an imaginary collection of musicians, intellectuals and entertainers whose work isn’t nearly as great as they are generally regarded.

Musician Sting, the former frontman for The Police, might be in the top ten of such a list I would author. Too polished, too packaged, too careful, too 80’s, then too 90’s.

A music-critic I once dated called him “Stinj,” because she thought the very name was lame (although she happily got on board with U2’s “The Edge.”)

My friend Dan Marsh asked me if I would review a Sting song, and I mistakenly said yes. I had forgotten that Sting’s superstardom didn’t agree with me, and that I don’t like his music.

For this review, I listened to the song, Moon Over Bourbon Street, and the two CDs we own of his music, If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, and The Summoner’s Tale. Ick.

It is especially hard to review this song after heavy doses of Nirvana and Stone Temple Pilots in the last few days.

Sorry Dan.

Q: What is more homoerotic than the volleyball scene in Top Gun? A: Sting in the 1984 version of Dune.
Q: What is more homoerotic than the volleyball scene in Top Gun? A: Sting in the 1984 version of Dune.

Band of Brothers and The Pacific

In The Pacific, Eugene Sledge curses out Lt. Mac when the latter berates him for disobeying a cease-fire order. "We're here to kill Japs, aren't we?"
In The Pacific, Eugene Sledge curses out Lt. Mac when the latter berates him for disobeying a cease-fire order. “We’re here to kill Japs, aren’t we?”

I grew up watching b-grade war movies. My dad was a war movie fan, but never wanted to spend the money to take us to the cinema. He would sit up many nights watching “Five Star Treater” (on channel 5), and the station didn’t have the budget for top-tier films. Some of the titles we saw over and over were Battle of the Bulge, Anzio, To Hell and Back, Hell is for Heroes, The Big Red One, Merrill’s Marauders, The Guns of Navarone, and Sergeant York.

As a young adult, I was lukewarm about war films until I saw Platoon, Oliver Stone’s 1986 flawed but gritty, engaging movie about the Vietnam War.

By 1998, technology and budgets had improved and increased enough to bring us movies like The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan, both amazing and sobering fictionalized tellings of World War II events.

2001’s Band of Brothers makes a couple of awkward missteps, but is, overall, a better show to watch than 2010’s The Pacific.

It’s easy to say that The Pacific, the follow-on of Band of Brothers, paints a grimmer, more horrible picture of war and its inherent cruelty. The Japanese are shown as mindless, wild animals with absolutely no regard for humanity, military or civilian. They surrender, only to pull grenades to kill MPs and medics. They shoot or booby trap civilians. They poison all the drinking water they leave behind.

At one point we see an American Marine torturing a Japanese soldier with his bayonet, only to have another Marine throw him to the ground and execute the prisoner with a .45 shot to the head, “to put him out of our misery.”

An interesting scene in Band of Brothers: Ssgt John Martin asks Private David Webster, who speaks German, what the captured soldiers are saying. "He's telling me that they're Polish." Martin responds by saying, "Bullshit. There ain't no Poles in the SS."
An interesting scene in Band of Brothers: Ssgt John Martin asks Private David Webster, who speaks German, what the captured soldiers are saying. “He’s telling me that they’re Polish.” Martin responds by saying, “Bullshit. There ain’t no Poles in the SS.”

In other scenes, a lot of them, actually, we see Joseph Mazzello’s character Eugene Sledge look back toward us with breathless disgust at the horrors he has either seen, prevented, or, in the end, perpetrated.

So in a way, while we mostly like and cheer for the Band of Brothers as they march across Europe, fighting “the good war,” we eventually hate everyone in The Pacific.

But then we see episode 9 of Band of Brothers, Why We Fight, in which the 101st Airborne liberates a concentration camp near Landsberg. The depiction of the horrors there is soul-blackening. When my wife watched it (only once), she cried out loud through whole scenes.

If you like war movies for their realistic depiction of combat, both are at the top of the list. But The Pacific shows us that it is non-stop, chaotic, filthy, and, much of the time, without purpose, whereas the battles in Band of Brothers mostly seem to at least in some way try to win battles and the war.

A marine nicknamed "Snafu" (left) is one of the characters we learn to hate early and often. At right is Eugene Sledge, a real hero in the Pacific, but someone whose very soul is poisoned by the cruelty of war.
A marine nicknamed “Snafu” (left) is one of the characters we learn to hate early and often. At right is Eugene Sledge, a real hero in the Pacific, but someone whose very soul is poisoned by the cruelty of war.

A big plus for Band of Brothers was that it was made at the end of the 20th century, when some of the actual soldiers were still alive, and each episode includes interviews with these men. The accounts are honest and moving: imagine the toughest human that training and character could create, reduced to tears by a 60-year-old memory.

Imagining the Future: The Andromeda Strain

Is the future really this red?
Is the future really this red?

Imagine it’s 1971. The Apollo Program is wrapping up its missions that the public has come to regard as commonplace and expensive. Star Trek‘s three short seasons are done, and it is in reruns. Television has moved into the era of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and All in the Family.

Futurism is a tough nut to crack. Would we have flying cars by 1982? Would we be in space by 1999 like in the show Space 1999?

As I rewatch the 1971 drama The Andromeda Strain, I think of these things.

  1. Everything is clean. Even in actual NASA clean rooms, there is tape and clutter and more clutter. The real future remains untidy.
  2. Everything is austere. Despite the nature of people and the necessity of work, futurism seems to think we have room for huge rooms containing almost nothing at all.
  3. Everything is made of stainless steel.
  4. Clothing is all the same, usually a one-piece outfit in a bland color, or made of foil.
  5. Doors slide open and closed automatically.
  6. There are many unlabeled, seemingly similar lights and switches.
  7. Food is in pill form.
  8. There is a huge amount of chatter about technical things. (Unfortunately for The Andromeda Strain, literally all the chatter is nonsense.)
  9. All important information is shared by lazy, barefoot, overweight teenagers using small video monitors, and all that information is true to the viewer.   (Oh, wait, that’s the actual future. Never mind.)

I actually like the original 1971 film The Andromeda Strain, and I have read, and like, the book.

How does YOUR future look?
How does YOUR future look?

Midway vs Midway

Midway vs Midway
Midway vs Midway

For decades I have been hoping that a big Hollywood studio would remake a couple of my favorite, but achingly terrible, war movies, The Battle of the Bulge (1965) and Midway (1976).

In 2019, one big studio made one of my wishes come true: they remade Midway.

My first criticism is a big one: why does this film start long before the events it is depicting? Was it really necessary to bloat this picture with hash and rehash? Start at the beginning of … The Battle of Midway! The actual battle went on for three days, so why would you need to pad your runtime with other events?

The special effects work well in this piece, since all the effects in the 1976 version were practical effects, and not very effective, in many instances made using a technique known as back-projection, in which the performers and props are placed in a studio space with a film of the exterior projected onto a screen behind them. It was far cheaper than Star Wars’ inlaid matte paintings, and well before the time of motion capture and digital chroma key.

Midway’s showy special effects are fun and eye-pleasing, and even engage fans of war films, but remain an example of buying content rather than mastering it. $100,000,000 buys a lot of eye candy, but like all candy, it’s not very nourishing.

So how does Midway (2019) compare with Midway (1976) in terms of theatrical nourishment? I definitely prefer the new version, and though it isn’t brilliantly written, it tell its story.

The Heston version gets bogged down in a pointless sidebar story about Captain Garth’s son, a navy pilot, falling in love with a Japanese-American Hawaiian island resident, both so we can have some reason to care about him when he gets badly burned carrying out one of the attacks, but also to show us that Americans had outgrown anti-Japanese racism and resentment by the 1970s. “Don’t give me any of that racial bigot crap!” Heston growls.

Both films feature star-studded ensemble casts. Both films are too long.

The final insult from the 1976 version is the crass, obvious reuse of stunt crash scenes from 1970s far superior Tora! Tora! Tora!

So, finally, I am happy that big Hollywood remade Midway, and I have watched it several times. It’s not great literature, but it’s fun and engaging. I recommend it.

It's hard to call this an "effect."
It’s hard to call this an “effect.”

Song Review: Big Empty by Stone Temple Pilots

A song like Big Empty by Stone Temple Pilots summons nice memories of an era of music that was a lot freer than more recent genres. They were free to scratch along a warbly guitar, free to write lyrics that mixed sleaze with perfection, free to go from quiet introspective to bridge to chorus without following – or even knowing – the rules of music.

That era was grunge/garage, started in the 1990s in the crucibles of Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, and even Smashing Pumpkins. Music was finally willing to chuck the bone at big record producers and just play and sing what they wanted to play and sing.

It was one brief, shining moment in music history, lasting just long enough for some oily record executive to figure out how to make money from this creative firestorm.

Orbiting the barycenter of this giant moment in music was Stone Temple Pilots.

Big Empty is a very involving song, one I never turn down or turn off, and one I enjoyed playing again and again as I thought about this moment in music. No synth. No drum machines. No “millennial whoop.” They just jammed.

Song Review: Mofo by U2

I was watching MTV in my rooming house in college in 1984. A U2 video, probably Sunday Bloody Sunday, came on. One of other roommates who happened to be in the room said, “They’re so concerned.”

U2 has done a pretty good job of reinventing themselves as the years have gone by. That’s pretty rare. Even rarer is when bandmates can stay together. Everyone from Pink Floyd to The Beatles parted ways with a fair amount of hostility. U2 seems to stay together with no hint of infighting or “creative differences,” and I wonder why?

But back to the review of Mofo. Or forward to the review. This is an odd song. I know it’s trying hard to be driving and edgy, but for one reason or another, every time I tried to listen to it all the way through, I found a distraction, usually another song in my library. I’m trying to like this song, I really am.

I hate to be one of those guys who thinks they know everything about music and what’s good and what’s bad, because hey, I’ve never sold a million copies of anything. But I give Mofo a thumbs down.

I miss The Unforgettable Fire.

I'm not a huge U2 fan, but it might do me some good to throw a few of these CDs in my car and listen when I have time on the road.
I’m not a huge U2 fan, but it might do me some good to throw a few of these CDs in my car and listen when I have time on the road.

Song Review: Shades by Iggy Pop

Your host makes a triple-exposure self-portrait on the floor of my Shawnee, Oklahoma apartment in 1986.
Your host makes a triple-exposure self-portrait on the floor of my Shawnee, Oklahoma apartment in 1986.

Shades by Iggy Pop (whose actual name is James Newell Osterberg Jr.) shares a lot with the 1980s sound: primitive gated reverb drum tracks, that ringing rhythm guitar, the obvious and predictable bass line (blum, bluh-blum), and the exactly-in-1986 lyrics. And do I hear a keytar in there somewhere?

I guess there were certainly worse songs produced and performed in the mid-1980s, but this song hits almost every 80s point, right down to being produced by David Bowie. Once you learn that Bowie produced it, you can’t unhear his hand in it.

I really like the lead-in and lead-out guitar and the “whoo-hoo”s.

I know there is a place in the music salon for tunes like this, but checking another “no thanks” box for me is how instantly and vividly it brings back that time for me. In 1986, I was 23, and dating a tomboy named Kathy. Kathy and I spent late nights watching videos on TBS and MTV. She was a huge U2 fan. It was a very intense relationship, one I can almost still smell on me, and it didn’t end at all well.

If I can set aside those criticisms, though, I found myself enjoying this song. It’s a catchy tune, dressed up with just enough synth and glitz to keep it complex and interesting to the ear.

Also, 80s? What’s with the chain link fence fetish?

This Wikimedia image of Iggy Pop is from 1987.
This Wikimedia image of Iggy Pop is from 1987.

 

Reviews: Carnage Visors and Scentless Apprentice

See through.
See through.

I challenged my writer/blogger friend Dan Marsh to review a song, and he counter offered by suggesting an additional song for us both to review.

The song I suggested, Carnage Visors, is a 27 minute instrumental musical orgasm of darkness that was offered as a cassette-only b-side recording by The Cure in 1981.

The music is hypnotic and repetitive, but never boring, built not on lyrics, but on a grimly constructed bass line that keeps teasing us and tempting us to let go into an abyss.

It is entirely plausible to put this piece of music on an endless loop and play it in hell; not the seventh circle of hell, but the nicest parts of hell (Nine Inch Nails reference).

Carnage Visors is the opposite of the high school cheerleader, the opposite of the public relations spokesmodel, the opposite of the nuclear family. Carnage Visors elicits honest tears of loss, of fear, of humiliation, of regret.

How many secrets must we keep in plain sight?
How many secrets must we keep in plain sight?

If Carnage Visors is an orgy of blackened souls, Dan’s suggestion, Scentless Apprentice by Nirvana, instantly sounds like the chaos Jewish children created when asked to draw pictures of their homes after World War II.

Musically, Scentless Apprentice hits hard.

For as acidic and oddly tuneless as it is, and with all the screamed lyrics, you might think this song is trying to get you to stop listening, but as I fired it up to play for the second time, the third time, the tenth time, I couldn’t stop listening. I couldn’t even turn the volume down. It was injecting some kind of musical drug into my ears. I found myself bobbing my head and shoulders to the driving rhythm, and almost getting chills during the dirtiest of the screams.

Yes, Kurt Cobain’s dirty screams hit my ears with a desperation that can’t be faked. Were these the sounds of a dying drug addict? No, not at all. The dying and drug addiction followed the downward spiral (Nine Inch Nails reference) Cobain had been building since he could talk, and this song is following it as well.

Much of this song is aimed at expressing chaos; chaos in a tortured soul, chaos in an unfair world, chaos of intimacy gone wrong.

In an odd way, Scentless Apprentice invites me to reinvent my past, only as a dirt poor roadie fan crashing as many Nirvana concerts and appearances as I could. It invites me to be a photographer at the gates, held back by security men, trying to get the truth of this mess, but at the same time, filled with the desire to be a part of the band.

Unlike the often sophisticated lyrics of Nine Inch Nails, Cobain keeps his words relatively simple… “Hey, go away, go away, go away, go away, go away, go away, go away…”

The downside to songs like this is that they invite you to go to a similar dark place, a place we all have inside us, filled with rage and fear, a perfect place where it all seems simple. I learned this lesson decades ago when I listened to too much Nine Inch Nails, and let it take me down with it.

On the other hand, it definitely washes the Sarah McLaughlin from your mouth.

You can wash your face, but can you wash your soul?
You can wash your face, but can you wash your soul?

Tapes, Decks, Sound and Fury

Eye-catching and intriguing, these TDK MA-XG audio cassette tapes are the last in a long line of such tapes I owned over the years.
Eye-catching and intriguing, these TDK MA-XG audio cassette tapes are the last in a long line of such tapes I owned over the years.

Much of the sanctimonious preaching I do on my teaching blog is meant to emphasize the idea that artistic substance, not shallow devotion to technology, is the right direction to lead our creative energies. I preach that you can’t buy mastery, you have to earn it.

The more controls you put on the face of a device, the more I want it because using it makes me feel like I am piloting the starship Enterprise of the Apollo Command Module.
The more controls you put on the face of a device, the more I want it because using it makes me feel like I am piloting the starship Enterprise of the Apollo Command Module.

I thought of this core concept as I began to assemble tonight’s entry, which itself is struggling to find substance in the midst of exploring what might be considered one of my shallowest enterprises: audiophilia.

Wheels started turning in my head when I posted my last entry, about making mix tapes. The piece was well-received, with several people leaving very positive comments.

One message we might take from all this, albeit a not-particularly comforting one, is that despite the endless cost demanded of us by the industrial/mercantile nature of modern life, in the end the technology benefits us in that it allows us to use smaller, lighter, better products for less money. An excellent example is this cassette tape next to this iPod Shuffle, to which I listened the entire time I made these photographs and wrote this entry. For only a small increase in cost, the iPod gives me almost 400 digital songs, all in precise digital format, against the 20 or so a cassette might hold.
One message we might take from all this, albeit a not-particularly comforting one, is that despite the endless cost demanded of us by the industrial/mercantile nature of modern life, in the end the technology benefits us in that it allows us to use smaller, lighter, better products for less money. An excellent example is this cassette tape next to this iPod Shuffle, to which I listened the entire time I made these photographs and wrote this entry. For only a small increase in cost, the iPod gives me almost 400 digital songs, all in precise digital format, against the 20 or so a cassette might hold.
My JVC TD-V531 cassette deck featured a CD-direct input so you could copy CDs without insertion noise from the rest of your stereo.
My JVC TD-V531 cassette deck featured a CD-direct input so you could copy CDs without insertion noise from the rest of your stereo.

Several commenters on the mix tape blog entry said they still possessed their mix tapes, but no longer had any devices on which to play them. Hopefully they migrated the music if not the mixes themselves to newer media and didn’t lose anything truly valuable. It did remind me, though, that I actually still own two very nice cassette tape decks, a Sony TC-KE500S, and a JVC TD-V531. In addition to having incredibly pretentious model numbers, these machines had several vague, probably meaningless, feature descriptions printed on their faces, like Closed Loop Dual Capstan Mechanism, Half Shell Stabilizer, Headroom Extension System, Ceramic Cassette Holder, and Two Motor Transport Mechanism. I assume these were displayed on these tape decks to give them showroom appeal, so you could be impressed by these features without having to talk to a salesman.

Better cassette tape decks had three "heads," the magnetic inducers that altered the metal oxide or metallic coating on the surface of the tape. The one on the far left is the erase head; in the center are the closely-set record and playback heads. Separate record and playback heads improved audio because they were aligned and calibrated differently.
Better cassette tape decks had three “heads,” the magnetic inducers that altered the metal oxide or metallic coating on the surface of the tape. The one on the far left is the erase head; in the center are the closely-set record and playback heads. Separate record and playback heads improved audio because they were aligned and calibrated differently.

Who Were They? Stereo store salesmen, and they were almost always men, were, like auto parts clerks, only in the business because they were devoted to the mechanics of their craft, and were universally impatient snobs who just wanted to tell you how much more they knew about audiophilia than you did. It is doubtful I ever met anyone in a stereo store I liked or who knew anything about the soul of music.

One reason I bought the Sony TC-KE500 tape deck was that I liked its display. Often when listening to tapes, I would watch the display dance to the music.
One reason I bought the Sony TC-KE500 tape deck was that I liked its display. Often when listening to tapes, I would watch the display dance to the music.

I got into the stereo scene in my senior year in high school, when I started hanging out with kids who were heavily into both home and car stereo. When they talked about it, they always talked about equalization curves and bias settings, sometimes arguing about them, but never about well-written lyrics or amazing guitar licks. Their stereos were badges of validation, not vehicles for being moved by music.

One reason it is so fun to photograph these TDK MA-R and MA-XG cassette tapes is their transparent cases, which allowed me to shine colored light through them.
One reason it is so fun to photograph these TDK MA-R and MA-XG cassette tapes is their transparent cases, which allowed me to shine colored light through them.

I carried much of this devotion to the audio scene into my adult life, though as time went by I was less and less interested in the machines, and more into the music. As I write this, I am tapping my foot and bobbing my head to the newest (and last) Third Eye Blind album. I don’t care how it was recorded and on what machines using what microphones. I am listening to the music and its message.

In addition to looking neat and feeling sturdy in hand due to their metal frames, the crazy-expensive TDK MA-R and MA-XG tapes featured a switchable erase-prevention tab. With every other cassette you just broke off the tab to prevent re-recording.
In addition to looking neat and feeling sturdy in hand due to their metal frames, the crazy-expensive TDK MA-R and MA-XG tapes featured a switchable erase-prevention tab. With every other cassette you just broke off the tab to prevent re-recording.

In the present day I listen to music using the machinery of the current tech, without thinking about it much. I don’t particularly crave the latest Sennheiser headphones, or speakers with clean bass. In fact, I never play music over loudspeakers. At work I plug into my computer or my iPhone’s MP3 player. At home, Abby and I either watch movies or just talk, though when I am at work she likes to play country and western music on a boom box next to her recliner, since I don’t care for the genre.

This is a Phillips MC-10 combo player. Originally purchased in the 1990s so I could listen to music in the darkroom at work, I brought it home for Abby, since I hadn't used it in years. It will play CDs and cassette tapes.
This is a Phillips MC-10 combo player. Originally purchased in the 1990s so I could listen to music in the darkroom at work, I brought it home for Abby, since I hadn’t used it in years. It will play CDs and cassette tapes.

Recently I have pondered getting something that would allow me to listen to music while I mow. Presently I use earplugs. I would entertain suggestions about that.

Abby is away this weekend, which is one reason I was able to spend time digging these tapes decks and tapes out of the attic and photographing them, which was very fun. It was also fun thinking about the nature of the way I listen to and enjoy music, more or less every single day of my life.

I took the time to rewind these TDK MA-R cassette tapes so they would look more orderly. Photographing them and their tape deck partners was a fun way to spend a couple of hours.
I took the time to rewind these TDK MA-R cassette tapes so they would look more orderly. Photographing them and their tape deck partners was a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

The Child is Grown, the Dream is Gone, and I…

My first LP was Led Zeppelin IV. My first CD was Peter Gabriel’s So. I don’t know what my first download was because my first downloading experience was during the Napster era, and it was a little like looting a liquor store after an earthquake: we grabbed anything our bandwidth could carry.

In 1979, Michael, my girlfriend Tina, and I discovered Pink Floyd’s The Wall. We listened to it and got emotionally involved in it. It carried us places no music had before. That was at the core of my becoming a Pink Floyd fan. There are a lot of amazing songs on The Wall, but many of us liked to think that Pink Floyd wrote The Wall just for us, and the song for me (and a lot of kids like me) was Comfortably Numb. We stayed up late in our dorm rooms or crashing at some buddy’s place, or driving with the guy who had the best stereo, listening to Comfortably Numb and becoming comfortably numb, whatever it meant to each of us personally.

I spent late, late lonely nights, playing Comfortably Numb on my headset at rock concert volume levels, being moved to tears by the images it conjured inside me.

For years after that, if someone asked me, “What music do you like?” the first band on my list was Pink Floyd. I saw the movie The Wall and became a fan of it, although by then I had built so many stories in my head to go with the music of The Wall that the movie didn’t deliver my fantasies to me.

Last week Pink Floyd released The Endless River, a collection of mostly-instrumental music culled from the cutting-room floor of the last 20 years or so. It has been met with decidedly mixed reviews, and I can’t disagree with the critics.

Pitchfork wrote that The Endless River “is quintessentially and self-consciously Pink Floyd, for better or for worse … it proves to be one of the few Pink Floyd releases that sounds like a step backwards, with nothing new to say and no new frontiers to explore.” Mikael Wood of the LA Times gave the album 1 out of 4 stars and called it “so excruciatingly dull (even by Pink Floyd’s often-dull standards) that the band’s name on the cover feels like a straight-up bait-and-switch.”

But I also see a real value for me in nostalgia for Pink Floyd, and The Endless River works for me in this capacity.

I've had some of these Pink Floyd CDs since the day they came out, and the older ones replaced LPs that I owned the day they came out.
I’ve had some of these Pink Floyd CDs since the day they came out, and the older ones replaced LPs that I owned the day they came out.

In the years after Pink Floyd front men Roger Waters and David Gilmour parted ways, with Gilmour claiming Waters wasn’t part of the band and Waters claiming the band wasn’t Pink Floyd without him, it got harder to care about the band. The music lost its narrative, its genius, it brilliant messiness. I think this is because they were both wrong, and Pink Floyd wasn’t a group of members, it was a moment in music.

I always sensed that post-Waters Pink Floyd were always saying, “We’ve got to be the smartest, the most amazing, the most enigmatic, the deepest.” and that fact sometimes kept them from being themselves.

The Endless River is supposedly the last album from Pink Floyd, since keyboardist Rick Wright died in 2008. I am listening as I write this, and the music has some real strengths. But I’m no different than the rest of the fans who compare it to the music we grew up hearing; Meddle, Animals, Atom Heart Mother, Wish You Were Here.

Of course, I’ve already bought it on iTunes. I am, after all, a fan.

Bad Ink, Rush Guy, and the No-Repeat Playlist

Robert and I pose in a mirror at the store at Clines Corners, New Mexico, April 2011.
Robert and I pose in a mirror at the store at Clines Corners, New Mexico, April 2011.

Years ago, circa 1987 as I recall, Robert shared an apartment with about five other guys in Tulsa. I went up there for a weekend to hang out, and while waiting for Robert to return from work one morning, I met one of his roommates. I don’t know his name, but I will never forget him, because the only thing between his ears was the rock band Rush.

I came into Robert’s kitchen for a bite of breakfast to find this guy sitting at the kitchen table with a boom box. It was covered with Rush stickers, and he was wearing a Rush concert tour dates “wife beater” t-shirt.

I sat down with some cereal and he launched into a 40-minute diatribe about Rush; how great they were, how no drummer could touch Neil Peart, how Geddy Lee’s voice was a vocal orgasm, how he’d gotten ahold of the super-rare Japanese import of a certain album, about how I had to hear this song (which he played), then that song, then another, and so on.

It was an oddly sobering experience about how the other half – the half whose existences are one-dimentional – lives.

I think about this guy sometimes when I see young people who have tattoos. What could I have possibly been into when I was 20 that I would want on my body now that I’m 50? Camaros? Foreigner? That girl I had a crush on? The Doobie Brothers? Mannheim Steamroller? My journal? Sheesh. Message to young people: if you have to mark yourself, get a piercing. At least you can change out the message.

Thoughts about this came about because I am currently working on a fun little playlist challenge.

This challenge came about because in addition to a USB port for an iPod car, there is a CD slot, which will play an audio CD or an MP3 CD.

The challenge, then, is to assemble an MP3 CD, which typically holds about 145 songs, with no more than one song per artist.

This is harder than you might imagine, particularly if you have a huge iTunes library and have, as I have, been collecting music for a lot of years. At the same time, I am having fun doing it.

The advantage to something like this is that it forces me to listen to some music (or at least access briefly before skipping) like (I cite as example because it is playing as I write this) Me and Bobby McGhee by Janis Joplin. I love this song, but seldom listen to it.

• • •

Now that it’s finished, I will say that it was a fun playlist to create, but it wasn’t easy. It ended up being 144 songs. I challenge you to try something similar.

Film camera self portrait with headphones, circa 2000; of note is that the controller clipped to my hoodie is for a portable minidisk player.
Film camera self portrait with headphones, circa 2000; of note is that the controller clipped to my hoodie is for a portable minidisk player.

Film Review: Lost Horizon

When I was ten, my family and I saw Lost Horizon at the Vaska theater in Lawton, Oklahoma. For former Lawtonians, the Vaska is a legendary landmark, and mention of it for them will surely stir some memories.

The film, which I found and started watching on YouTube over the past few days, is often regarded as one of the top 50 worst films of all time. It tells of travelers who find a hidden utopia, and shows their struggles with their desires, particularly their desires to sing terrible Burt Bacharach songs. The utopia depicted in the film is a little like an airport executive lounge or a suburban California country club, with everyone relaxing around card tables or potted plants. Internet reviews note that there are no blacks in Shagri-la, and most of the Asian people are silent and seem to do all the work, so really it’s a utopia for rich whites.

Sally Kellerman plays a character named Sally, a neurotic waif who hates her life back in the real world. Seconds after this screen shot, she bursts into song - and not a good one.
Sally Kellerman plays a character named Sally, a neurotic waif who hates her life back in the real world. Seconds after this screen shot, she bursts into song – and not a good one.

When we came out of the theater on that night in 1973, my sister and I were singing the songs, and thought that we had just seen a masterpiece, while mom and dad were probably rolling their eyes and talking about how they’d never get those two hours back.

While re-watching it over the last couple of days, I have to say that the music is mostly an embarrassment to my past, although I can kind of see how one or two of the pieces might have been catchy to a ten-year-old.

I vaguely remember as a child having something of a crush on Liv Ullmann, but now as I watch it, I find Sally Kellerman’s portrayal as a neurotic waif much more fetching. Of course as she gets happier and better-adjusted as the movie progresses, she gets less attractive. (How I managed to marry a non-neurotic woman remains a complete mystery.)

Also of note is this: why did anyone ever cast George Kennedy in any movies? He is one notch below Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman in terms of talent, and rivals Ernest Borgnine in looks. His character builds an irrigation system to “improve” paradise, which in the long run would have the unintended consequence of making the inhabitants fat and lazy, but in 1973, that would be difficult to foresee.

Also also of note: John Gielgud as “Chang”? I suppose that in 1973 the world was desperately short of real Asian actors, so an English actor had to step up.

The saving grace of this experiment is that on YouTube, I can skim forward to skip all the songs. At the end of the day, it was a fun little blast from my past.

In addition to seeing "Lost Horizon" at the Vaska, we also saw one of those weird X-Files-esque "documentaries" that concluded that UFOs were attracted to Earth because they were annoyed by the vibrations from jet engines.
In addition to seeing “Lost Horizon” at the Vaska, we also saw one of those weird X-Files-esque “documentaries” that concluded that UFOs were attracted to Earth because they were annoyed by the vibrations from jet engines.