I Want Him Dead (aka Lo Voglio Morto) (1968) – Civil War cattle driver Clayton (Craig Hill, who bears a remarkable facial resemblance to Daniel Davis of TV’s The Nanny) just wants to take his savings and buy a ranch. Instead, his sister (who appears to be half his age and bears him no resemblance) is raped and murdered at random, so Clayton goes on a quest for vengeance, which ultimately puts him in the position to foil the plot of a war profiteer trying to disrupt secret negotiations to end the Civil War.
There are plot holes big enough to accommodate a good-sized cattle drive, Clayton gets the snot beaten out of him on a regular basis and walks it off without any swelling, and director Paolo Bianchini is apparently under the impression that cowboy boots are silent on wooden floors as people sneak up behind Clayton three times… but on the other hand, it looks nice. So there’s that.
Wonder Woman (2017) – As this movie relies almost entirely on the actress playing the titular character, the producers of a DC Comics movie finally made a good choice: Gal Gadot exudes both feminine appeal and physical strength, the latter characteristic being one that Lynda Carter simply never had. She also portrays Diana with a perfect combination of intelligence and innocence bordering on naivete.
The rest of the movie? Well, it’s a superhero movie. I appreciated the change of setting from World War II to I, both because it makes more sense with the idea of defeating Ares, god of war, in the first great global war, and also because it defused any criticism that we’ve already seen a recent movie with a superhero running around Europe wielding a shield during WWII. The human villains were underdeveloped, as seems to be the common failing of almost all superhero movies, and the attempt to give a koan-like moral to the final scenes falls as flat as a fortune cookie.
Still, I won’t be surprised if, in twenty years, the powers-that-be at Warners still say, “Remember that time when we made a really good superhero movie?”
Antibody (2002) – Lance Henriksen is one of my favorite actors, and I never fault him for taking what work he can get. However, he’s been in far too many movies whose only positive is that it provided him a paycheck, and Antibody is one. For the first 20 minutes, it’s the tale of an FBI bomb expert (Henriksen) stymied by a terrorist’s nano-triggered explosive which levels a consulate building in D.C.; a year later, he’s a private security consultant in Germany, when another terrorist with a similar nano-detonator busts up a conference he’s securitizing. When the terrorist gets himself shot by friendly fire during the rescue, suddenly the movie becomes a pale shadow of Fantastic Voyage, in which Henriksen is inexplicably made part of a team that will pilot a miniaturized sub through the terrorist’s body to find and defuse the detonator before the terrorist’s death triggers a nuke.
Henriksen acts as if he were handed the script as he was stepping in front of the cameras, and can’t bother to work up any emotion at the rates they’re paying him anyway. Which is kinda good, I guess, since his totally by-the-numbers which shrinkification scientist chick Robin Givens (38 years old at time of release, compared to Henriksen’s 62) is squicky enough. Mediocre CGI, supporting actors emoting through thick Eastern European accents, and a shoehorned-in shadow of a subplot regarding Henriksen’s footloose daughter all add up to a movie that can’t really justify its existence.
[I posted this yesterday on Facebook. It got absolutely no reaction. This makes me sad.]
These are waters I don’t often wade into. Nothing in what follows is meant to be a rah-rah for any sociopolitical side, and there should be something to make anyone uncomfortable. Because everyone should be uncomfortable today.
I’m in the apparent minority in today’s shouting culture, because I DON’T KNOW what can or should be done about our culture and its violence. What I do know is that the violence isn’t the problem per se (and the guns, being the implement of the violence, are even further downstream from the actual problem). There is a rot in the soul and the souls of our civilization, of which mass violence and suchlike are perhaps the most headline-grabbing manifestation. And I think I found a perspective on it inadvertently a couple of weeks ago, in a video I saw about a demonstration against cultural appropriation or imperialism or something of that ilk. The right-leaning person behind the camera asked a white male demonstrator about whether the culture being thus protected was somehow inherently better than the culture from which the white male demonstrator came, and the white male demonstrator bellowed, “We don’t HAVE a culture! We don’t HAVE a f***ing culture!”
I’m not sure what the demonstrator thought he meant. But I’m starting to see what that actually means.
John Adams famously said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Lesser known is the line he penned two sentences before this one: “[W]e have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion.” My takeaway from these lines isn’t that only a Christian or Bible-believing society can enjoy the blessings of liberty, but that a society which depends on big-G “Government” as its only governance is doomed to failure. A society without the rigors of standards, of mores, of ethical integrity not just as an abstract concept but as a foundation of a worthy character, will find itself growing an overarching external scaffolding to provide a poor substitute for the skeleton it no longer has.
America has often been described as an experiment in self-government. That doesn’t just describe a system of representative republicanism; it also denotes an experiment in self-governance and self-control. When the extra-governmental culture provides a full suite of commonly accepted standards and strictures, the government only needs to build the roads and collect the taxes to pay for them. If, however, “we don’t HAVE a culture,” then the most over-regulatory nanny-state can never compensate for the lack.
And all of that is exquisite and high-falutin’, but the real question on the ground today is, “What do we do about the guns?”
Unlike perhaps many people who lean right, I don’t believe the Second Amendment itself is something sacred, except as it is in an expression of the Rule of Law, of which I am a VERY big fan. The Constitution is the axiomatic foundation of all governmental authority in this country. It also contains the means by which it may be modified, which means have been exercised before. If the conditions set forth in the Constitution are met, then the Second Amendment could be abolished, modified, or recast. Otherwise, there is simply no legitimate way to circumvent it while also maintaining the claim that this is a country governed by law.
But if the Second Amendment were abolished or weakened, it would sadden me immensely. Not because I own guns – I don’t – but because it would be an explicit admission that we are no longer a nation of self-governance. We (by which I mean, “a not-insignificant fraction of us”) don’t have the moral wherewithal to be adults in any meaningful sense. We don’t have a culture; instead, all we have is its weaker cousin, government. Nor do I think that those who would work most energetically in the cause of weakening government recognition of the right expressed in that amendment, even if doing it out of compassion and a desire for the safety of others, would be doing it with an eye toward stiffening the nation’s moral fiber and then returning that right “when we can be trusted with it again,” as those forces doesn’t seem to ever want to temper their pity with responsibility, their inclusiveness with standards, their empathy with expectation. The moral skeleton would continue to atrophy under their compassion.
So what should we do? What CAN we do?
I’m going to have a Mormon moment here, so bear with me.
You don’t have to believe this, but you do have to understand it: The Book of Mormon presents itself as a thousand-year history of an otherwise unknown culture, compiled from primary records by Mormon, last in a long line of historian-prophets. After documenting and redacting his civilization’s rise, its golden ages and its cycles of wars and pride and tribalism, Mormon then gives an account of his own era, when the constant wars are a sign of the to-the-core depravity of both halves of the polarized culture. And there’s a point where Mormon looks at when and where he lives and realizes, It’s not going to get better. It’s just not. He continues to push back against the rot of his society, but he knows that the forces of darkness are going to collapse inward on him all the same. And they do.
More and more, I understand Mormon’s realization of a tipping point already past, of a downhill acceleration for which no braking is sufficient. I don’t pretend to be a prophet, and I hope that I am wrong. But I can’t bring myself to entertain that belief deeply or consistently. I suspect, more than I want to, that the cultural soul is too decayed to ever be brought back. Uphill from the guns, uphill from the will to violence and rage, is a font too mucked up to ever flow pure again.
Please, America. Prove me wrong.
I end with this, the recent single from my favorite band, Marillion. (It’s okay if you’ve never heard of them.) When the album which contained this single was released, I found it disappointing – too thin musically, too vapid lyrically. But with every incidence of soul-rot exposed in our country, it becomes more insightful.
I leave this not as a solution or a final pronouncement on the subject, but simply a comment in the conversation.
As is our family tradition on the Friday before Halloween, last night I lined up a bunch of spooky movies and kept going until all of us finally gave up or simply fell asleep where we were. Now that my children are all at least teenagers (and one doesn’t live here), there was no time when all four were present, but each spent at least some time gazing upon the marvels presented.
Matango (1963) – I much prefer the original Japanese title to the American Attack of the Mushroom People, since “Matango” really doesn’t mean much to most people, whereas “Attack of the Mushroom People” promises events which really only occur during the last five minutes. Seven people of various careers and levels of Japanese society (including a torch singer who provides us with two musical numbers), on a pleasure cruise on a private yacht, run into an unexpected storm that knocks out the radio and breaks the mast (this was made by Toho, so cue footage of a toy boat in the wave tanks that Godzilla would otherwise occupy); after several days of drifting, they end up on a deserted island with the wreck of a research vessel and lots of fungus.
On paper it sounds good, but the focus is so much on the soap opera of five men and two desirable women, there’s too much feel-good jazz-club music for the appropriate mood of apprehension, and as mentioned above, the “good parts” are almost completely confined to the final five minutes. On the other hand, it was refreshing to get the worst movie of the evening out of the way first.
The Tingler (1959) – Sure, several lines of dialog taken out of context are a hoot, and the titular Tingler is a silly rubber prop that doesn’t actually use its legs for locomotion, but Vincent Price is always worth watching and listening to (especially in a “Vincent Price with a hateful wife” plot, almost as common as a “Vincent Price takes revenge on people” plot), and William Castle was a master of keeping things interesting. You can tell how much fun seeing this in the theater or drive-in would have been. And now my kids want to watch Tol’able David (1921), the silent movie showing when the Tingler makes its memorable theater attack.
The Haunting (1963) – Proof that pounding sounds and some good terrified acting can convey fright far more than all the CGI in the world. This movie adaptation stays true to the heart of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, with wonderful editing solid performances (except for Russ Tamblyn’s one-note performance that made me long for the character’s death to be written into the screenplay) conveying the uncertainty and ambiguous core of both the haunted house and Eleanor (Julie Harris), the investigator the house focuses on. My daughter Sariah wanted a movie in this year’s batch that was honestly spooky, and The Haunting delivered. As did…
Tales From the Crypt (1972) – Five EC Comics stories of sometimes-supernatural comeuppance filtered through a British sensibility (by Amicus Productions, which produced the best Hammer-style movies not actually made by Hammer Films), which lends gravitas to the sometimes simplistic morality tales, and also takes out a lot of self-consciously corny aspects. The centerpiece is Peter Cushing’s wonderful performance as a kindhearted garbage man whose soul is slowly crushed by an uppity neighbor’s psychological campaign. The whole movie is good enough that you desperately want to ignore how Richard Greene’s character doesn’t fit with the conceit of the framing device.
Shock Waves (1977) – Featuring Peter Cushing again, looking even more dead than he did in the last movie — and he’s not even supposed to be a zombie! I always wondered why director/co-writer Ken Widerhorn never made bigger splash (it’s terrible to have Return of the Living Dead Part II as the high point of your resume), as this movie shows a great visual command; I’ve always loved the calm way the camera dwells on the immortal aquatic SS commandos rising from the waters…
It was probably a miscalculation to have Shock Waves as the fifth movie of the marathon, as it’s very distinctly not an energetic movie. Just after 3 a.m., I looked over to see that the two remaining children had fallen asleep, and even though it was only ten minutes to the end, I decided that I would rather be asleep.