I think I speak for nearly everyone on the planet when I say that this year has not gone as expected. It has been utterly insane on a global, local, and personal level. I try to keep everything - my work life, my family life, my blogs, and writing - running smoothly. It helps to keep busy. But sometimes it gets to be a bit much. Last week, I wrote this article and then forgot to publish it. To be fair it was my wife's birthday weekend and I always prefer her to writing movie reviews, and then on Sunday just as I was about to publish, our power went out for a few hours and by the time it came back on I had forgotten about this article altogether.
But that's just another example of how 2020 is getting to me on a daily basis. What I'm trying to say it that I'm going to take a break. The idea of Five Cool Things has always been to spread a little joy into a world that desperately needs it. In an internet full of negativity, I like highlighting a few things each week that I've enjoyed. I want to continue that but for now I need to walk away and catch my breath. So enjoy these cool things this week and then you'll be on your own for a bit.
The Paranoid Guy
When I was in college, way back in the mid-to-late 1990s, my buddies and I were always screwing around with my friend Charlie's camcorder. We made lots of ridiculous movies like Attack of the Killer Peanut Butter and a documentary about Charlie's addiction to Coca-Cola. The first one we ever made was The Paranoid Guy. It was such a rousing success (amongst us and the few other we showed it to) that we made several sequels. The basic idea was there was this guy who was paranoid. He'd inevitably think something terrible was happening to him and that would lead to a long chase sequence. Someone would approach this paranoid guy, he'd freak out and run. Eventually, the approacher would catch up and ask for something mundane like the time, or indicate that he'd dropped his wallet.
They were all quite short and very dumb but we loved them. Well, Charlie has turned that silly idea into a pretty cool comic book. He's added in a therapist, a love interest, and some actual bad guys. I'm obviously biased towards it but I think others might enjoy it to. So if you dig independent comics and like the idea you can get yourself a copy here.
I'm in the middle of reading 11/22/63, the Stephen King book about a man who finds a time portal that takes him back to 1960 where he hopes to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating President Kennedy. This has led to me doing more research on the assassination and inevitably to this Oliver Stone film from 1991.
I first watched JFK not in theaters but soon after it came out on VHS. The film caused quite a stir upon release and watching it that first time I was blown away. Oliver Stone shoots it with a kinetic energy, layering conspiracy upon conspiracy theory, editing in real footage with fictional shots and throwing in flashbacks upon flashbacks. It is based upon the investigations of former New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (a terrific Kevin Costner) who believed that Oswald was not the lone assassin, but a patsy put forth by the mob, the CIA, the industrial-military complex, and a host of others. If you don't know much about the assassination (and I didn't that first viewing), it presents what feels like a solid case against the lone-gunman theory.
I couldn't believe our country's top agencies were involved in the murder of a president and its continual coverup. I remember at the time there were a lot of news stories being done on the assassination and the film and they all seemed to come to similar conclusions, that there was at least someone or some organization involved in the assassination other than Oswald. I bought so much into that I remember being irritated at Quantum Leap when they had Sam leap into Oswald's body and concluded that he was the lone gunman.
This was all before the Internet was really a thing or at least a thing that everyone had in their household so fact-checking was difficult. Many years later, I watched the film again, but this time I had done some research. I no longer completely bought into the conspiracy Oliver Stone was selling. That viewing I could see his hand manipulating the facts, leaving out the things that didn't fit his story, and adding in things that did. Yet I still felt it was an incredible bit of filmmaking.
Watching it this week, it was hard to look past all the stuff he's made up. Having done even more research and having it fresher in my mind, I realize that the film makes up large swaths of information to fit it narrative. The real case was mostly based upon the testimony of someone who only testified about the conspiracy after he'd been liberally plied with a "truth serum" by Garrison and led toward his "truth". This person was turned into the made-up character of Willie O'Keefe (played marvelously by Kevin Bacon - the entire cast is made up of A-class actors at the top of their game) who is not drugged but only seeking the truth.
Throughout the film, Stone's inserting conspiracy theories that are at best loosely based on fact and often he's completely making stuff up to fit his narrative. It is still a really well-made film in terms of style, acting, and editing. I still find myself swept up in it, especially that final scene where Kevin Costner delivers a long monologue filled with entirely new information that seems completely damning of the official story and yet in reality is mostly nonsense BS.
So yea, great film, but more fantasy than truth.
Based upon the book of the same name by Nancy Springer, this Netflix film follows the titular Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) as she looks for her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) who has disappeared. Enola is the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes and shares some of the famous detective's intellect and adventurous spirit. The film is slight and there are some plot problems but it is sprightly paced and Brown is a delight. I love her in Stranger Things but it is really nice to see her in a role that allows her to do more than look dour and stretch out her hands so the special effects can do the work. Here, she is charming and sweet, and so very funny. Henry Cavill as Sherlock doesn't get nearly enough screen time but he fills it magnanimously every time he does.
Ride the Pink Horse
There is this used bookstore we like to go to in Tulsa. They basically converted a strip mall into one giant store. It is the sort of place that has books filling every square inch of space. It is organized but in such a way I find it hard to find anything in particular. It is broken down by genre but they've also sorted the hardbacks from the paperbacks and there are numerous "special author" categories, which basically break down to popular artists they can't keep in stock. Because of the shape of the space, the genres wander down the walls into hallways and into other rooms. I have great fun wandering about looking for something interesting, but whenever I want to find a single particular book, it takes me ages going from category to category. Mostly though, I go in not looking for anything but stumbling onto something awesome.
It reminds me of when I was a teenager going to the library. I was late to the reading game. My mother bought me a copy of Silence of the Lambs on Christmas break when I was 14 or 15. I had loved the movie and I devoured the book. I desperately wanted to find other books to read. But I didn't have enough experience to know what I was looking for. I'd go to the library and just wander down the aisles hoping something would pop out at me.
It is the same now in that store. It can be frustrating as there are so many books to look at. I now have lots of favorite authors and genres but it's still frustrating to find something new that sounds interesting. A while back I went into the store and couldn't find anything. I'm a big fan of hard-boiled writers like Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet so I googled "hard-boiled fiction" and spent entirely too long looking for books from the authors I found there.
Dorothy B. Hughes was one named that popped. She wrote The Lonely Place, which was made into a great Humphrey Bogart movie. But the bookstore didn't have that one. She also wrote Ride the Pink Horse, which was also made into a movie, but I haven't seen it. The book was there on the shelf and I picked it up.
With that title, I expected it to be about drugs. "The pink horse" sounded like a funny drug name. But that's not it at all. It is about Sailor, the right-hand man to a corrupt Chicago senator. There was a murder and it got botched and now Sailor is looking to get out. But first, he's looking for a little blackmail money from the Senator. He follows him to a tiny little border town where he hopes to confront the Senator and flee to Mexico City.
But there are problems. The town is filled to the brim with tourists who have come for the fiesta. The hotels are booked, leaving Sailor no place to stay. The Senator is hard to find and when they do speak, he doesn't shake easily. There's also a Chicago detective in town hoping Sailor will spill what he wants to know.
Hughes writes like a cross between Hammett and Cormac McCarthy. The story is gritty and taut, yet filled with these great philosophical passages straight from the apocalypse. Sailor finds himself spending a great deal of the book not hunting the Senator or escaping the cop, but talking to the locals, both Mexican and Indian. He meets a kind man who runs the merry-go-round and is kind to a young girl. From nearly the first sentence, you know it is going to end badly for Sailor, but by the last page, you're really sorry that it does.
Doctor Who: Human Nature + The Family of Blood
As I've mentioned many times in these articles, my family and I watch Doctor Who every Friday night. Sometimes, we hit up the classic stories but mostly we just work our way over and over again through Nu-Who. For the last few weeks, we've been watching Series Three with David Tennant as the Doctor and Freema Agyeman as his companion Martha Jones. It isn't my favorite season of the series and Martha is far from my favorite companion but it does contain some of my favorite all-time episodes. Mainly "Blink" and these two.
The Doctor is on the run from the Family of Blood, a group of aliens who can suck out his life force. Without it, they will shortly die and so he decides to hide until this happens. He transforms himself into human form and transfers his essence and memories into a fob watch. He and Martha then travel to a small English village in 1913 where the Doctor becomes school teacher John Smith and Martha is a maid at the same school.
The story has a lot of fun with the Doctor as a human who doesn't remember being a Time Lord and Martha scrambling to take care of him. The Family make for good villains and their scarecrow minions are quite terrifying. Tennant and Agyeman are terrific and it concludes with a sequence that turns the usually quite charming 10th Doctor into something quite a bit more terrifying.
I know nothing about Dune other than it is considered one of the great science fiction stories and that David Lynch's 1984 adaptation is generally derided. Also, there are apparently giant sandworms. It is one of those books I've always meant to read but never gotten around to. Now comes Denis Villeneuve with a new adaptation. I'm a huge fan of his films so I'm all on board with this film. Especially now with this trailer which has the look of his Blade Runner film and some great actors including Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Charlotte Rampling, and Javier Bardem. I guess I should get to reading that book now.