Tuesday, August 31, 2021


(Mike Judge, 2006) The concept here is such an ingenious variation of the Planet of the Apes concept, that one wishes it were a better film.
An absolutely average Army recruit (Luke Wilson) is selected to participate in a cryogenics experiment (along with an average intelligence prostitute—played by Maya Rudolph
—as apparently there are no average women in the military?). Then, due to hierarchical mismanagement the program is abandoned and forgotten until the year 2505. During the course of 500 years, the process of natural selection reaches the conclusion of its "survival of the fittest" mode and sails right on past it with dire consequences. Higher IQ couples have been slow to reproduce (if they do at all), and are soon outrun in population by the lower IQ populace, who are always ready to procreate (whatever the hell THAT means) at the drop of a beer can. Or when the bar closes.
When circumstances are such that Wilson's recruit is finally awakened, he finds himself on a planet of morons, self-obsessed and ADD, the world is a corpochracy (clothing is made up of logo patches), dysfunctional, and appallingly apathetic.  He struggles through the legal and penal system (one dimly Kafkaesque, and the other startlingly easy to circumvent) to finally emerge as President of the United States...because he's the smartest guy in the country.
As right on as the satire is here, it doesn't take it to its cynical conclusion, which—if one is cynical enough already—one can see happening before one's very eyes.
I would be ecstatically happy if I thought that would really happen—that people would vote for the smartest guy. But I've been through enough election cycles to know that people (whatever their intelligence) are not most likely to vote for the best and the brightest—they would probably resent the more intelligent candidate, voting against them. People don't vote for seeming intelligence or competence, they vote for likability—they want someone "they can have a beer with" or "who talk like I wanna talk." God help us.
On top of that, the inherent cynicism of the concept, brilliant though it is, has no follow-through, and is merely circumvented to reach an end-point. That, and the cheesiness of the production-design (which I could actually buy given a corporate mentality and an apathetic consumer-society) work against the film, which starts out so promisingly, and has flashes of ingenuity throughout. I just wish it might have gone farther, and opted for a less easy way out.
Still, every few years it would be good to look at the film just to see what new similarity has become a reality.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Don't Make a Scene: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The Story: Another Sunday. Another scene. Another mourning. Another example of grief.
But, we've moved out of the graveyard and out into the realm of the living...where life goes on. 
Mildred Hayes is stuck in the "Anger" phase of the Kubler-Moss Model and is striking out at the lack of progress in finding out who murdered her daughter. She has taken her inner protesting public and unmistakable and impossible to miss. She will not suffer in silence.
And then, life shows up. And Nature. And Mildred is taken aback by the "you-don't-see-that-every-day" aspect of it. And it disarms her enough to talk...as if the fawn could understand her. Mildred doesn't quite understand herself, either. But, it's a moment of peace in a world of grief, and she talks.
Now, currently, I have encounters with deer on a regular basis, and my attitude towards them is they're just calmer dogs. And I've had occasion to escort them away from tasty things that are the source of my boss' income and off into Nature which offers a more diverse menu. The deer, when they first notice my efforts to "shoo" them, give me a look like "What?! I'm just standing here, eating..." But, they do eventually walk, or hop in the direction I'm maneuvering them to. I don't see them as a source of wisdom or reflection. They're just the near-occasion of deer, as Nature seems to be moving in where development encroaches, and people do their little dance depending on their incomes.
Life goes on.
The Set-Up: Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is on a mission: her daughter Angela was raped and killed months before, and the investigation by the Ebbing police department has completely stalled. In protest, she has bought three billboards with the words "Raped While Dying" and "Still No Arrests" and "Home Come, Chief Willoughby?" And every day, she goes out to her fonted howls of rage to tend and maintain them.


MILDRED fixing flowers in pots at the billboards, making them look nice. It’s a beautiful, blue-skied day;
pretty birds mooch around,  
and out of nowhere a fawn suddenly appears. 
MILDRED stays dead still, breathless at the beauty of it, watching as it almost appears to look up at “AND STILL NO ARRESTS” and cock its head at the question. It spots MILDRED suddenly and is startled slightly, but stands its ground. 
MILDRED Hey baby. 
...still no arrests. How come, I wonder? 
Cos there ain’t no God and the world’s empty and it don’t matter what we do to each other? 
Ooh, I hope not. (pause) 
How comes you came up here outta nowhere, looking so pretty?
You ain’t trying to make me believe in reincarnation or something, are ya? 
Well, you’re pretty, but you ain’t her. 
She got killed, and now she’ll be dead forever. 
I do thank you for coming up, though. 
If I had some food I’d give it ya, 
but I’ve only got some Doritos 
and I’d be scared they’d kill ya, they’re kinda pointy. 
Then where would we be? 
The fawn finally decides to amble away, off towards the hazy sunset horizon. 
She almost cries but doesn’t quite. 
(CONT’D) Oh Mildred.
Words by Martin McDonagh
Pictures by Ben Davis and Martin McDonagh
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Fox Home Video.

Friday, August 27, 2021


(Zak Knutson, Joey Figueroa, 2013) The title would be referring to John Milius of the notorious USC Brat-pack, pal of Coppola, Lucas, Spielberg, Scorsese, Zemeckis, and writer/director/producer of some good films—like Dillinger, The Wind and the Lion, Big Wednesday, Conan the Barbarian, Red Dawn, Farewell to the King—those he directed. He wrote (or co-wrote) 1941, Jeremiah Johnson, Dirty Harry and Magnum Force, Apocalypse Now, and contributed to little projects like Jaws (the U.S.S. Indianapolis speech) and The Hunt for Red October (Sean Connery liked him, which makes me suspect he worked on The Rock, too). One suspects he was the model for Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski—even this documentary does—but, that might just be speculation.
I was recording a commercial once with a football player and he said he'd just come back from making a movie. "Which one?" I asked. "Conan The Barbarian," he replied. "Oh, I want to see that one," I said. "Oh, good," he smiled. "You a Conan fan?" "Not particularly," I said. "But I really like John Milius' movies." His smile tightened. "Man," he said. "That guy's nuts."
Maybe. He is certainly a maverick in every sense of the word. A burly, gun-loving raconteur who talked big and loud and often preposterously, but with a twinkle in his eye. He is a romantic who hates love scenes, a historian of the John Ford school ("If the legend becomes fact, print the legend"), and has a fine sense of the absurd. 
He doesn't make little movies. The ones he makes are about brio and talking big and having big dreams. His movies swagger, but his characters don't, and they have an old-fashioned movie-showman sense to them that bring a smile to the face, even if you're shaking your head at the loutishness of it. He wanted to do Apocalypse Now because Orson Welles had tried (and failed) to make a movie of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." As a script-doctor, he was more of a script-puncher, pushing movies places that they'd might not intended to go. But, one could ignore the theatricality...or avoid the temptation.
The movie takes a look at Milius' career—the tag-line "Man/Myth/Legend" is appropriate—with his film-making compatriots, all of whom have obvious affection for him, even if it's a rueful "That's John" smile. At the time of the film—2013—Milius was battling back from a debilitating stroke that had interfered with his speaking—the brain was functioning but he was having difficulty speaking and writing—which leaves you on a tragic note. Spielberg almost breaks down: "That's the worst thing I could imagine happening to a story-teller."
One wishes him well. One does not want the story to end.