In Fact, The Hunt for Red October is Awesome.

I am largely unfamiliar with The Toast, but it seems to have a Buzzfeedy kind of feel, except it has articles instead of gifs. But I haven’t hit upon any obnoxious political content, so it can’t be Huffington Post. I started with one kind of article, and then I found Movie Yelling with Nicole and Mallory: The Hunt for Red October.

And it’s definitely watching two girls be very silly and hyperbolic about a movie. But it’s a great movie, and they’re right on a few key points:

  1. Alec Baldwin is, in fact, the greatest Jack Ryan that has ever been. I’m not a tremendous Alec Baldwin fan, either. In fact, I can’t even think of another movie I’ve seen him in that I would watch a second time (wait, he was in Beetlejuice, wasn’t he? I always forget that). But he nailed this one. The Harrison Ford Jack Ryan movies are kind of plodding by comparison [In fact, If I’m being honest, I don’t much like Harrison Ford outside of his particularly narrow Han Solo/Indiana Jones oevre. He’s got too much anti-hero, too much fuck-this-shit-in-particular in him, to really be an earnest heroic type, yet for some reason he kept trying to be that, and it sucks. The only real exception to this is Witnesswhen he plays a cop charmed by the Amish, and even then he gets romantic with an Amish woman. Because of course he was. And before anyone mentions The Fugitive, that movie is entertaining because of Tommy Lee Jones and his gang of misfit cops, and for no other reason.]
  2. The cast in this movie is pretty damn good. All actors you’ve seen in other things, and none of them are embarrassing or off-putting. Tim Curry is completely believable as this great big true-believing Soviet dupe, but then Tim Curry is believable as pretty much everything he ever did. Dude had range. I rather enjoy Scott Glenn myself. The “Hey, I think someone fired a torpedo at us!”-“No shit, Buckwheat, get the fuck outta here!” exchange gets me every time. Also, he’s pretty badass with the whole “hardest part of playing chicken is knowing when to flinch” business. Which brings me to…
  3. Endlessly. Quotable.

    “And the singing, Captain?”
    “Let them Sing.”

    “I would have liked to have seen Montana”

    “When I was 12 years old, I helped my daddy build a bomb shelter in the backyard because some idiot parked a dozen warheads 90 miles off the coast of Florida. This thing could park a couple of hundred warheads off the coast of New York or Washington and no one would know anything about it until it was all over.”

    “That kid spent six months in traction, and another year learning to walk again. Did his fourth year from a hospital bed. Now it’s up to you, Charlie, but I might consider cuttin’ the kid a little slack.”

    “They’re pinging away with their active sonar, but they’re running at almost 30 knots. At that speed, they could run over my daughter’s stereo and not hear it.”

    “Then tell it right. Pavarotti was a tenor, Paganini was a composer.”

    “A Russian don’t take a dump without a plan.”

    “Oh yes it was. The man was patronizing you, and you stomped on him. In my opinion, he deserved it.”

    “Remember, chief. That torpedo did not self-destruct. You heard it hit the hull. And I…[shows identification]…was never here.”

    “Yuri… You’ve lost another submarine?”

    “Next time, Jack, write a goddamn memo.”

    That’s just off the top of my head.

  4. It’s perhaps the last great Sean Connery performance. He did stuff in the 90’s, but it was mostly big-budget schlock like The Rock. This had a taciturn passion to it, a real dramatic arc and gravitas. And If I wanna get meta for a second, I feel like getting a Scot to play a Lithuanian has an odd kind of logic to it. He is both utterly ensconsed in and utterly removed from the empire he serves, making him deeply dangerous to friend and foe alike. Which brings me to…
  5. No film gets the Cold War better than this one. Yeah, all you Dr. Strangelove fanboys, I said it. Come at me. Strangelove is a satire, and rather a low one. It has nothing to say beyond “Nucular weapons are Teh Dumbz LOL”. The joke is that these generals and statesman are tap-dancing around the End the World button, and woops! they step on it. Red October does the military and political leaders of both the USA and the USSR the courtesy of treating them like grownups, like men keenly aware that a false move means the end of the world, and trying to prevent that by any means necessary except giving the enemy an advantage. The paranoia, the sorrow at the labyrinthine nature of the conflict juxtaposed with the pride in playing it so well, the mutual fear and fascination with which Russians and Americans regarded each other for almost the entire second half of the last century, it’s all deftly woven into this potboiler action movie with nuclear submarines.

But that’s my point of view. It’s nice to see the younger generation appreciating it, too.

Kevin Smith is Still Alive. Huzzah.

The last Kevin Smith film I saw was Clerks 2. It was pretty good, by the standards of an unnecessary sequel made years after the movement of relevance, which is to say I was pleasantly surprised by it. The last Kevin Smith film I was excited to see was Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, which was a big silly profit-taking enterprise that knowingly exploited the title characters. Since then he’s been making weird horror movies that tend to get bad RottenTomatoes scores, which may or may not have anything to do with their quality. I’d have to rewatch his earlier films to decide where he “peaked” in my eyes, and right now that seems like a giant waste of time.

I haven’t cared a damn about his Ubergeek/Comic Book Man persona, because the commodification of comic book/”nerd” culture is tiresome as hell. I don’t know who wants to watch grown men in hockey jerseys share their opinions about comic books, but it isn’t me.

But this also seems like a big waste of time right now.

Kevin Smith is 47 years old. I’m 41. That means that Kevin Smith is not much older than me, and he’s made a slew of feature films and built himself an empire. That means what I think of his work and life is utterly and completely irrelevant. By any standard, commercial or artistic, he wins.

Because he’s created. Because Clerks caught the zeitgeist like a bottle rocket, because Chasing Amy was a sincere meditation on love, because Dogma, for all its twitting of the institutional Church, was far less an attack on the value of faith and the goodness of God than Silence was. And because Mallrats and the aforementioned Jay and Silent Bob are great ways to waste an afternoon.

Godspeed, Kevin Smith. Make a bunch more movies, or podcasts, or whatever the hell you want. Haters gonna hate.

Star Trek Beyond Trailer Causes Trekkie Rage

J.J. Abrams Executive produced this one, and, as the trailer indicates, it was directed by the guy who did Fast & Furious 8.  So, there’s that.

In the comments, they are NOT taking it well. And I definitely see why they wouldn’t. Star Trek was not supposed to be an action-movie franchise. It was supposed to be a serious rumination on humanity’s future in space.

But it hasn’t ever really been that. At least, not on the big screen.

Let’s look at the Star Trek movies, shall we?

Star Trek: the Motion Picture (I) – Decent but unexciting trip through the dark heart of the future as-imagined in the 1970’s. It’s like a long “Space 1999” episode with a poignant ending.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Star Trek as Moby Dick, with Kirk as the Whale and Spock as Vulcan Jesus. Lots of violence and brainworms.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – In which we resurrect Vulcan Jesus, and we blow up the Enterprise. Also, Kirk gets a good reason to hate Klingons, which will be important later. Much later.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – Many Trekkies actually like this one a lot, because it bears the closest resemblance to a Trek TV episode, right down to the lame time-travel plot. It’s also suitably weird, and seems to involve whales saving Planet earth. Whatever.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – Spock has a brother who’s a creepy mesmerist/cult leader looking for the location of God in space. Hilarity ensues.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – My personal favorite, and more of a political intrigue/murder mystery than anything else. I suppose it fits the ideal, though.

Star Trek: Generations (VII) – Indescribably ridiculous first foray to the Next Gen series. Not even Malcolm McDowell can rescue it.

Star Trek: First Contact (VIII) – Straight-up militarist action Borgwar movie. Even has a tiresome time-travel plot and a Moby Dick reference. I remember Trekkies complaining about this one for the same reason they dislike this new trailer, even though it was miles better than the previous film.

Star Trek: Insurrection (IX) – A long TV episode, and in fact, a rip-off off an actual Next-Gen episode, except this time every character does the opposite of what they would normally do. And then Picard does some swashbuckling.  Watch this Mr. Plinkett takedown for further elucidation.

Star Trek: Nemesis (X) – In which the Next Generation goes full Goth in order to slip several plot devices from Wrath of Khan past us in the hopes that we won’t notice.

We tally this data together, and how many of these fit the Rodenberry mold of what Star Trek was to be about? And how many of those are worth watching?

Maybe Star Trek should leave the movies to Star Wars. Just a thought.


Absinthe and Posers

Yesterday I spent with the baby, who is still below that blessed age when she can process what’s on the television, so I can watch whatever I want. What I seemed to want was documentaries. To wit:

1. Absinthe, a film that labored like a stevedore to take away everything bohemian or dangerous about the namesake liquor. Apparently, the stuff was a purely regional drink in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and Franche-Comte, until Belle-Epoque Paris got hold of it. Due to a blight on French grapevines, absinthe was actually cheaper than wine, and far stronger. Unfortunately a great many bootleg distillers, lacking the patience to make real absinthe, made various ersatz toxic versions and sold them dirt-cheap to the proles. Hysteria ensues.

The debunking of which is well and good, if only for the thought of sad hipsters coming to terms with the fact that no, they won’t be dancing with any green fairies. But there was a particular interview subject who seemed determined to fit the classic French stereotype: unable to discuss absinthe for more than three sentences without whining about McDonald’s and Coca-Cola and their sinister plan for world blanding. He even worked it into the discussion of legalizing absinthe: why if the liquor were legal, there would be one major approved producer, maybe two, three at most, and all the variety would vanish. Flavors, he said, would be lost, just like with Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.

To which one can only reply: What. Utter. Horse. Dumplings.

First of all, we don’t only have McDonald’s in America. We don’t even only have McDonald’s and Burger King. We have McD’s, BK, Checkers, Chik-Fil-A, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sonic, Five Guys, In-n-Out Burger, and that’s just off the top of my head. It may look like all we have is McDonald’s, by market share, but that’s just a damn statistic. Every other fast-food joint is running a profit, and if you can’t taste the difference between their various fried sandwiches, then I have no faith in your taste buds.

The same is true of liquor. Again, if you when by market numbers alone, it would seem like Americans drink nothing but Budweiser. But all you need to do to dispel this fallacy is step into any liquor store anywhere from sea to shining sea. The beer coolers explode with variety, color, and flavor. How many microbreweries are there? How many micro-distilleries, each working to craft a unique whiskey, rum, or vodka? There are two distinct American absinthe manufacturers mentioned in the film alone, and absinthe just became legal again here.

That is what a free market does. The scouring of the market to two or three producers would only happen in France, where the  government has its fingers into every industry, and world-weary graduates of L’Ecole Polytechnique decide the national carriers. Because despite all of our efforts in WW2, it seems the fascists won anyhow. Somewhere Mussolini is laughing his ample ass off.

2. Burroughs, a Man Within. I have a peculiar curiosity, not to say fascination, with William Seward Burroughs. Being an afficionado of vintage punk rock must explain some of it — God knows I’ve read enough Lester Bangs to feel like I’ve absorbed something of Burroughs by sheer ripoff osmosis. But I still can’t make it more than ten pages into Nova Express without wanting to throw the book across the room after lighting it on fire. Everything about it reads like a deliberate insult to the reader. You don’t know who is doing or saying what or why. I thought I hated Tropic of Cancer, for its lame content-less rambling, but at least Miller gave me a scene.

I have this problem with a lot of the Beats. Howl not aged well. The original scroll of On the Road remains deliberately unfinished, about 5-8 pages from the end, because I do not want to read the weezy petering out that I know awaits me. Beyond the shock, which is not shocking anymore, what else is there?

So I went into this film with the faint hope that someone would explain to me why the “cut-up method” is a better way to tell a story than, I dunno, any other way. I get the mechanics of it, and can conceive of how it would help you throw ideas together in a free-writing kind of way. I’d even concede that you could right some decent poetry with such. But to write an entire Trilogy of novels that way? I’m sorry, you need to sell me on this idea.

Instead, I got the usual documentary circle-jerk, endless spasms of just how important and genius and rebellious he was, liberally sprinkled with audio and video of a boring old man saying boring old man things (“How do you know you’re not dead already?”) with other boring old men (Allen Ginsberg, looking like he just missed appearing on To Catch a Predator, Iggy Pop reminding us that he used to be in the Stooges before he let Bowie pimp him out, the worn-out shell of Andy Warhol,etc.). I couldn’t make it past the obligatory oh-those-horrible-oppressive-1950’s without uttering the Willow Cry.

It’s super-relevant references like this what makes this blog such a hit.

Can we lay the Leave-It-To-Beaver myth to rest already? The 1950’s were not the Inquisition shoved into a suburban rec-room. Howl came out in 1956, On the Road in ’57, Naked Lunch in ’59. Their authors were not tarred, feathered, and sent to Moscow on a rail. They became famous and celebrated, if not rich. The stultifying middlebrow bourgeois bought this crap up by the truckload, because the middlebrow wanted nothing more after 20 years of depression and war than to recover the pleasures of buying a bunch of new crap, and the more outrageously outrageous the new crap was, well, the more pleasure you got from buying it. I first flipped through Naked Lunch in a goddamn public high school library. Get over yourselves, posers.