Fundamental Apocalypse

The word in the title, “apocalypse,” has slipped its original meaning. It has come to  mean “dire circumstances.” And that’s what this movie is all about.

Hulu has produced a TV series based on Margaret Atwood’s book, The Handmaid’s Tale, from 31 years ago, and it’s right up there with any zombie apocalypse flick you care to see, made more treacherous by skillful understatement. It’s a tale of modern society gone horribly wrong. It’s about the people living through the fundamental apocalypse. Where have we seen this before?

What has happened is the Unite States government has been overthrown in a well-crafted coup d’état, carried out by a fundamentalist Christian movement. The coup is swift and decisive. The national government is decapitated in a single strike, eliminating all leaders of the national government, all leaders, that is, except perhaps some of the movement already in power. The coup is blamed on external forces, a monstrous false flag operation, necessitating the suspension of all civil rights. This is followed, of course, by the instigation of an authoritative and self-perpetuating rule and a state named Gilead. American law and American  society will now be based on biblical literalism. Almost to the letter.

Opening scenes show a family, husband, wife, daughter, from Boston, attempting to escape north across the Canadian border. They don’t make it. The husband stays by their stalled car while the wife and child dash through the woods toward the border, two miles away. Guardians, heavily-armed religious police, overtake the mother and daughter and carry the child away. Gunfire in the distance indicates the husband has been killed. The fate of the mother is worse.

The title derives from Genesis 16:

16 Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.

And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.

And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.

And that is about the sum total of the handmaid’s tale. Catalyst to the coup were multiple failures of modern society, one of which was a precipitous decline in human fertility. Genesis 16 was to counter this calamity. Fertile women were to be pressed into breading service, in almost exact accordance with the biblical passage. The wife, now given the name Offred (from Of Fred), undergoes a brutal program of indoctrination that renders her totally submissive and in perpetual dread of unpleasant death, at least superficially. She is placed in the home of a high level Commander, her only tasks consisting of daily grocery shopping and, once each month, spreading her legs so the Commander can penetrate and impregnate her. It is not a private affair. The Commander’s wife sits behind Offred and restrains her hands. Other members of the household observe. There is not a lot of love lost.

The first crack of the plot brings to mind Robert Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100, previously reviewed. Recall from that tale (“If This Goes On”), the country has devolved into a repressive theocracy, and desirable young women are pressed into service as concubines for the priests. Other similarities exist. Heinlein’s story incorporates secret police keeping watch on everybody, and also an underground movement to oppose and overturn the theocracy. There are also shades of 1984, with eavesdropping cameras all about and sudden disappearances of those only suspected of apostasy. A black van may come to a stop next to the curb on a busy street and a pedestrian scooped inside, never to be seen again.

Another scene recalls The Stepford Wives. The handmaids shop in pairs, each keeping an eye on the other. They move among the supermarket aisles like grown up dolls on trolley wheels, the hems of their frocks almost brushing the floor. Faces devoid of expression.

As Offred and her shopping partner Ofglen (Of Glen) return to their respective prison houses, they often pass alongside the river, where authorities have on display the latest reminders of what resistance brings. Homosexuals and Catholic priests are equally served.

The book is presented as a narrative, recorded by a woman giving only her handmaid’s name, Offred, in what may have been a safe house along the escape route to Canada. An epilogue is presented as a symposium on the history of the Gileadean.

Being a partial transcript of the proceedings of the Twelfth Symposium on Gileadean Studies, held as part of the International Historical Association Convention, held at the University of Denay, Nunavit, on June 25, 2195.

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (p. 299). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

The presenter describes the finding of a collection of audio cassettes, inside a container in a house, in no particular order. The book has apparently been constructed by compiling and assembling transcripts of the tapes. Atwood’s book is meant to recreate the haphazard nature of the narrative, moving, jumping forward and backward in time, as the woman calls to mind her experiences in Gilead and her life before.

In the book, her narrative ends precipitously. There is a ceremony featuring the execution by hanging of three people, followed by the unmasking of revolutionary elements within the ranks of the handmaids. The wife of Offred’s Commander reveals her knowledge of Offred’s perfidy, a sexual fling with the Commander, and Offred is sent to her room to await her fate. When the black van arrives to  take her away the Guardians inside are revealed to be rescuers with the rebellion, come to help Offred escape. Offred’s narrative ends at that point.

There is ample in  the book to make a reader’s blood run cold, but Hulu has added more. I am up to episode 6 in the TV series, and the creators have already introduced disturbing sub-plots. One episode features a visit by a trade delegation from Mexico. The trade ambassador is a woman, a complete repudiation of Gileadean culture. On arriving she quizzes Offred about her situation, in the presence of the Commander and his household. Offred is meek to the core, telling the ambassador the is satisfied. At a later, private, meeting Offred is candid. She is a prisoner, raped monthly in a vain effort to produce a child, doomed to death at the end of her tenure. The Mexican ambassador says she cannot help Offred. Mexico has the same fertility crisis, and the Mexicans are prepared to trade chocolate for some of Gilead’s handmaids.

Contrary to the book, Hulu shows Offred’s husband, Luke, having escaped to Canada and receiving a note from Offred, smuggled to him by the Mexican delegation. It is unknown to me how much further along this tangent Hulu will carry the story. Is there going to be a counter revolution? Will Offred (revealed by Hulu as June) ever see her daughter alive again? Or Luke?

Some Skeptical Analysis is in order. Here are a few points of note:

The inception of Gilead by means of a surgical coup d’état is uncharacteristic. The creation of a totalitarian theocracy out of the United States is too quick and too precise. Historical precedent is contrary. The Soviet Union developed with breath-taking speed from the Russian Empire, but there was merely one framework of suppression and brutality exchanged for another. Additionally, Russia’s abject military failures were a necessary caustic agent. Nazi Germany grew remorselessly out of a German monarchy that suffered humiliating losses in a war of its own making. And it was not overnight. Chinese communism and the current state of Cuba are additional examples. Look to Venezuela to see a modern state collapsing into oligarchy. Neither the book nor the movie display such a run-up to dystopia.

Gilead’s economy is failing, and it is not difficult to see why. With one half of the work force standing as armed guard over the other half, who is doing productive work? The book does tell of Colonies, where slave labor is producing food and maybe other products of the economy, but shortages are rife in both renditions of the story.

A core theme is modern society’s plummeting birth rate. Gilead attempts to remedy this through the handmaids, and readers (viewers, as well) recognize this as a reliance on scripture to solve a real world problem and also a mechanism that only contributes to it. It is obvious to the the casual observer that Gilead, perhaps the remainder of human society, is doomed to extinction from aging within two or three generations. Only the religious fanatics can fail to recognize this.

Yes, I can see a society that rides theocracy into its grave. We have only to look at:

  • North Korea—yes it is a theocracy.
  • The Taliban

These societies, and others so organized, cannot exist in a modern world without an infusion from the world they detest.

Watching, also reading, one wonders whether this is the vision we could expect under today’s theocratic politicians. How much power would it be required for them to have to bend modern society along these lines? We may be experiencing a small taste. Is the experiment already underway?

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Saw it before. Must have had the VHS at one time. Catching it now on Amazon Prime Video. It’s Sliver, staring that very hot (then) Sharon Stone. This came out in 1993, about the time Stone was still sizzling from Basic Instinct, to be reviewed later. It’s from Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

It’s based on the book of the same name by Ira Levin, and I’m guessing the title comes from the apartment building that’s central to the plot. It’s a sliver of concrete, steel, and glass that shoots up in a tony neighborhood in Manhattan. It’s a thriller, with emphasis on eroticism and suspense. Lots of people die.

Opening scenes show a striking blond woman, Naomi Singer played by Allison Mackie, entering the building and taking the elevator to her apartment on the 20th floor. Closed circuit television (CCTV) follows her every move. She goes immediately to her balcony, overlooking the city, and takes in the view. Another person, not identified, enters her apartment using a key. He comes up behind her and caresses her. She responds at first. Then she is suddenly and violently thrown over the railing to her death. Thus begins the drama.

The next tenant of number 20B is Carly Norris (Stone), book editor for a New York publisher. She bears a resemblance to the late Ms. Singer.

Carly is newly divorced, having shucked off a seven-year, miserable marriage. She soon meets a number of other residents of the building, some of whom are about to die. One is Gus Hale (Keene Curtis), who first notices Carly’s strong resemblance to the former tenant. He aims to tell her some things he knows before he goes off to Japan for an extended stay. Later we observe his body in the shower, as seen on CCTV. Coverage throughout the building seems to be unlimited.

Unlimited includes Carly’s bathroom. Somebody watches her bathe erotically.

Nothing and nobody are missed. CCTV seems to cover every inch of the sliver building.

One of the downsides of Carly’s promising career is a morass of pressure exerted on her by people in power. She advertises herself as fiercely independent, a person who likes to be in control. Her boss, Alex Parsons (Martin Landau) wants her to review a book by Jack Landsford (Tom Berenger). She does not like Jack’s books, and she does not want to review his book. Alex wants Carly to work with Jack. Jack lives in the sliver building. He has already noticed Carly moving into the building. He is brash and pushy, just the kind of person Carly does not like.

Carly throws a party, and Jack crashes the party, uninvited. Another tenant is Zeke Hawkins (William Baldwin), who also attends. Somebody has gifted Carly with a telescope, already set up on the balcony. Party goers take turns exercising some erotic voyeurism through the telescope. It remains a mystery how the telescope got delivered and installed.

It turns out Zeke was the donor. It also turns out he owns the building. Both Jack and Zeke put the move on Carly, but Zeke has more oil (as in oily), and his rude sexual overtures are successful. There is much steamy sex, as much as can be allowed without garnering an R (X?) rating. Here Zeke has left Carly the gift of sexy bra and panties. At dinner in a swanky restaurant he demands she demonstrate she is wearing them. That she does, to the alarm of an elderly couple sitting nearby. She has to demonstrate the panties by removing them and passing them over to Zeke.

But Zeke has wired his entire building so he can spy on everybody and everything. He invites Carly to participate. She is spellbound and cannot look away. Tragedy and depravity are played out in front of them. Zeke, from time to time, interferes with these dramas, in one case levying an anonymous threat against a child molester, forcing the creep to mend his ways. But there is no doubt who is creepier.

Carly’s friend Vida Warren (Polly Walker) has something to tell Carly about the late Naomi, but she doesn’t. She is shortly murdered in the stairwell, and Carly hears the commotion and spots Jack standing over the body. Jack is arrested, but released on bond. There is a confrontation. Jack has a gun. Jack accuses Zeke of setting him up to take the fall for Vida’s murder and wants Zeke to confess. Carly and Jack wrestle for the gun, and Jack is killed. Police stop looking for the root of the sliver building murders.

But Carly’s suspicions grow. She sends Zeke out on an errand and uses the interval to search for video tapes. She finds the one showing Naomi’s murder, a tape Zeke said did not exist. She also finds Zeke’s gun, and when Zeke returns early and sees she has the tape, Carly holds him off with the gun, from time to time shooting out one of the myriad TV screens. In a glimpse she catches the identity of Naomi’s murderer. It is not Zeke. He empties the pistol into various TV screens and leaves.

And that’s the end of the movie.

My first impression was that for a woman as Carly purports herself to be, having the need to be in charge, she allows Zeke to run all over her. I would consider Zeke’s sexual approach to be crude and doomed to failure had I not witnessed the same method work (not for me) on a number of occasions.

People, a hidden TV camera in every bathroom? Is there any reason the tenants have not already sued Zeke’s socks off and taken possession of the building for themselves? There is ample evidence that unauthorized entrance is being made to Carly’s and other apartments, and nobody calls the police to investigate, much less a lawyer.

Reality is not what this movie is about. Watch it for yourself, but beware your glasses are going to steam up.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Missed this when it came out in 1960. I must have been out at sea at the time. Good thing. It’s The Walking Target, starring Joan Evans and Ronald Foster, not exactly headliners even in those days. This was released by United Artists. I caught it on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.

After a very dramatic title poster, we see convict Nick Harbin (Foster) talking tough with the prison Warden. We are informed in no uncertain terms this is the California State Prison. The warden is talking tough right back. He lauds Harbin  for being such a straight arrow for five years, but there is a remaining account he needs to settle. That’s the matter of the $260,000 he and his gang stole in an armored car robbery. Harbin says no dice and walks out.

He walks into the arms of waiting ex-girlfriend Susan (Merry Anders). She is dressed to kill and there is no doubt she has in mind the 260K. Harbin gets physical with some pesky reporters, and he and Susan head off to his bungalow in the country.

Been there. This setting seems to have been shot in those hills up coast from Malibu, where a lot of studios still shoot rural scenery. Also at the cabin is Nick’s friend Dave (Robert Christopher). Doesn’t take much figuring to know lots of people are looking to snag the stolen loot.

Nick goes looking for an old sweetheart, Gail Russo (Evans). Way back when she ditched Nick and married Nick’s friend Sam Russo. Then Nick convinced Sam to go in with him on the armored car caper, and Sam got killed. But only after Sam and Nick sealed the cash inside a welded compartment of a car, now belonging to Gail. An old geezer, living in the late Sam’s garage, tells Nick that Gail has gone back home to Gold City, Arizona.

A flash back shows Sam bluffing his pretty wife, even as he and Nick make preparations for the heist.

The flash back shows the death of a third partner, shot by an armored  car guard.

When Nick gets back to the bungalow he finds old friend Dave and old girl Susan making out. The layout falls into place for Nick.

Other gangsters are after the loot, and they’ve contracted Dave to get it for a cut. Meanwhile, Nick tracks Gail to her diner in Arizona. She still has the car, and the money is still there.

The gangsters track Nick to the diner and put the squeeze on, threatening to work Gail over.

Guess who. The police have not been idle, and two arrive shortly. Both get shot, but one is only badly wounded. Nick prevails in a row with the gangsters, and he reveals his plan to return the money.

And everybody goes home.

Not a bad plot, if fairly straight line. Acting is about par, no great demands placed on the players. Some visuals don’t ring true.

The cops see what’s going on in the diner and they enter after kicking in the door. The first is apparently killed in the exchange of gunfire, and the second is badly wounded. He finishes out the movie without showing an ounce of remorse for his dead friend.

Nick meets Gail at the diner and tells her the money is in her car. The drive out into the boondocks where Nick cuts open the sealed compartment with a cutting torch. Five years before, there was ample welding and cutting equipment at Sam’s garage, but where is Nick getting the torch to cut the compartment open?

Interesting that Gail kept the used car for five years and never junked it or traded it in.

Nick organizes an armored car heist, no guns used, but two guards are clubbed senseless. Then one of the gang gets killed by the police. Usually that would mean a murder charge for Nick. He gets only five years. Of course, it had to be a short term, because there was no way Gail was going to keep the car forever.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

In 1889 the Brits set out to construct a rail line from Kenya to Uganda. This in competition with the French and the Germans. At the time the African continent was open to colonization, and European countries were invading en masse. During construction of a bridge over the Tsavo River the construction crew, mostly Africans and Indians, was beset by two man-eating lions, who would from time to time attack a worker, sometimes at night in his tent. At one time the Guinness Book of World Records listed this as the worst plague of man-eating lions at 300 killed. That has since been revised, and a figure of about a tenth that is now acknowledged. That’s the basis of this movie. It’s The Ghost and the Darkness from 1996 from Paramount Pictures.

British Army Colonel John Henry Patterson (Val Kilmer) is engaged to manage the project. He leaves behind in England his lovely wife, Helana (Emily Mortimer), pregnant.

Patterson teams up with construction foreman, Samuel (John Kani). Together they vow to finish the project on schedule. Samuel asks Patterson if he is married. Patterson tells him he is. Samuel tells Patterson he, himself, has five wives. He asks Patterson whether he loves his wife. Patterson tells him he does, very much. Samuel mentions he does not like any of his wives.

We get a preview of coming disaster, as tan forms move through the tall grass near the rail line.

The killings begin, as a worker finds himself dragged from his bed in the middle of the night and eaten by a lion.

Patterson has never seen a lion before, but he teams with fellow Brit Angus Starling (Brian McCardie) to stalk and kill the lion. At this, Patterson is successful, and all celebrate the vanquishing of the menace. Then the killings resume.

When Patterson, Samuel, and Starling stalk an attacking lion at the railway station, they spot another on the roof. There are two lions.

Patterson converts a railway car into a killing trap for the lions. A trap door will ensnare the lion, while accomplished killers from among the work crew will shoot from inside their protective cage. It does not work. These accomplished killers panic and fire wildly, hitting the cage bars and nary a lion.

Professional hunter Charles Remington (Michael Douglas) appears on the scene. Together, Remington and Patterson stalk the two lions.

 

They succeed in killing one of the lions and celebrate with champagne and a restful sleep. Patterson has a dream. His lovely wife and newborn son arrive at the railway station, and she waves to him. Then he sees a tan form charging through the tall grass, onto the platform, and attacking his bride.

 

Patterson wakes up and sees Remington is gone. He finds Remington’s body out in the grass, where the lion has left it. Patterson constructs an elevated platform from which to shoot the lion, and he baits the area with fresh kill. When the lion comes it is an even match, and Patterson ends up killing the animal up close and personal with two blasts from a large-bore, double-barrel weapon.

The construction workers, who had fled earlier, return to the job on the train, as well as Patterson’s wife and son. No tan nform stalks from the tall grass. And that’s the end of the movie.

The Remington character is fiction. Amazon movie credits tell that Patterson killed both lions. The movie spends a lot of time with Patterson and Remington tracking the lions and discovering a lion den cave with a cache of human remains. No.

The bit about the accomplished killers in the railway car trap is beyond absurdity, engineered to entrap viewers into some extra suspense and drama. Three armed men unable to shoot a lion through the cage bars is too much a stretch.

The bridge, by now nearly 120 years old, appears in the beginning and end credits of the movie.

Quiz Question

One of a continuing series

This is number 100.

Here is a cultural literacy test. Roy Rogers made it big, starting in the 1930s as a singing cowboy, patterned after Gene Autry, the original singing cowboy. He had a famous horse named Trigger and a pretty wife, Dale Evans, who often appeared with him in his movies. But Roy Rogers, for all it’s Hollywood alliteration, was not his real name. What was his real name? Hint: it’s not a name guaranteed to throb hearts.

Post your answer as a comment below.

Update and answer

Only one person took a stab at this week’s Quiz Question. Helen had it almost correct. Roy Rogers’ real name was Leonard Franklin Slye, not something you wanted to put on a billboard.

Hardly a westerner, he was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Ever since this came out in 2004 I’ve been wanting to see it, but I didn’t want to pay any money to see it. This week, April 2017, it turned up on Amazon Prime Video in conjunction apparently with the Easter holiday season. However, the film is not about bunny rabbits and Easter eggs, or even Easter. It’s an exotic bit of sadomasochism for adults, reflecting writer, director Mel Gibson‘s extremist views. It’s The Passion of the Christ, featuring Jim Caviezel as Jesus and Maia Morgenstern as Jesus’ mother Mary. The distributor was Newmarket Films. Details are from Wikipedia.

I’m not going to detail the plot. It’s whole cloth from the New Testament accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, otherwise unknown. None of these writers were present, nor likely even alive, at the time of the events. See Bible Gateway for the text.

Those brought up in a Christian  world already know the story. Jesus was a radical Jewish rabbi during the time of the Roman occupation of the region east of the Mediterranean, particularly Jerusalem. He came crossway’s with the Jewish authority, who, according to most accounts, kowtowed to the Romans as a means of maintaining their own position. Jesus preached unorthodox philosophies and was thought by many to be the promised messiah, the god-man come to save the Jews from oppression. This did not sit well with authority, neither the Jews nor the Romans, and when Jesus crossed the line by throwing a fit and wrecking a temple, the Jews, led by King Herod, saw their chance to get rid of him.

The Jewish authority paid one of Jesus’ disciples, named Judas, to finger Jesus, so he could be arrested by the Romans. This scene shows Judas, knave that he is, down on  his knees before the authorities, grubbing to pick up the 30 pieces of silver he has spilled. Too bad for Judas. Ever since, his name has become synonymous with duplicity and betrayal. Although lots of people get named Jesus these days (my neighbor down the street), almost nobody gets named Judas. Or Hitler.

Anyhow, the movie covers the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life, starting with the night of his arrest and culminating with his death by crucifixion the following day. Justice was swift in those days. We see Jesus and his disciples reposing in an olive grove, and it is dark. No street lights in those days. Jesus confers with a spectral figure in female form and gets a hint of his fate. The movie dialog is a mixture of Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew, languages I do not speak, so I can only follow the conversation through the subtitles. I’m guessing the specter informs Jesus he will  die and save all mankind from eternal damnation. But that’s just my interpretation.

Although the plot is  straight line with no parallel themes, there are flash backs in Jesus’ life to give perspective. Here he is in  better days, showing his mother a table he has built. He was a carpenter, according to biblical accounts.

Starting with Jesus’ arrest (Judas identifies him by kissing him on the cheek), the film is all about injustice and an escalating program of debasement, brutalization, and  torture of Jesus, ultimately resulting in his death. Famous characters from the biblical account are depicted in stereotypical rendition. Here is Roman Governor Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov), haughty and impervious. He attained a certain level of fame through the biblical account of his washing his hands after dealing  with the matter of Jesus. The movie shows the famous washing hands scene.

We see the Jewish hierarchy, standing so solidly with their Roman masters. The very picture of complicity. You have to dislike them.

The arresting soldiers begin by punching and kicking Jesus, putting him in shackles, then dangling him off a bridge by the shackles. The brutality is just beginning. The movie is all about this drum beat of brutal assaults. You have to wonder what kind of pleasure anybody has watching this.

Yes, Jesus must be crucified. The crucifixion to take place on a hill outside the city, and you have to wonder how come the crosses are not already set up there. History tells us the Romans used crucifixion routinely, and we don’t want to believe they constructed new crosses each time. Anyhow, it was a gruesome form of death, and it served to remind non-Roman subjects just who was in charge and what waited for anybody defying Roman rule.

However,  the movie has to follow biblical tradition, and a cross is constructed especially for him, in the city, and he has to carry it through the city gates and up the hill. Even though Jesus gets help (the Romans press an on-looker into service), it is an epic struggle, which is what this movie wants to show. Great injustice, cruel treatment to the extreme, the shameful killing of a hero of the people.

Here’s the part that a gaggle of true Christians are going to get off on. They lay the cross out on the ground and drive nails through Jesus’ hands to affix them to the cross arms. Then they drive a nail through his feet to affix them to the upright. That has got to be painful. It’s what crucifixion was all about.

Finally they stand the cross upright so Jesus can die by suffocation. The deal is, when you are hung by your hands, nailed in this case, you can’t breath, and suffocation comes eventually. Attaching the feet to the upright slows the process. According to history, the executioners would sometimes break a prisoner’s legs to hasten death. Believe it if you will, this was the humane thing to  do.

After Jesus dies great turbulence strikes the region. An earthquake destroys the temple, and a massive storm approaches. A soldier jabs Jesus in the chest with a spear to ensure he is dead, and then they all flee.

Friends and Jesus’ mother take down the cross and remove the body from it. There is a scene in the movie that exactly captures Michaelangelo‘s Pietà. A nice, if obvious, touch by Gibson. The body is placed in an ossuary in a crypt, a cave dug out of the side of a cliff. The crypt is sealed by rolling a large rock over the opening. The movie ends with the rock rolling back (presumably the following  Sunday) and Jesus walking forth.

No doubt, Gibson pulled out all stops depicting the brutality inflicted on Jesus. There is plenty of motion picture blood spurting in response to the nails being driven in. Tales of the Soviet gulags pale by comparison. The film is a reflection of Gibson’s ultra-religious views:

ibson was raised a Sedevacantist traditionalist Catholic. When asked about the Catholic doctrine of Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, Gibson replied, “There is no salvation for those outside the Church … I believe it. Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She’s a much better person than I am. Honestly. She’s… Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it’s just not fair if she doesn’t make it, she’s better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it.” When he was asked whether John 14:6 is an intolerant position, he said that “through the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice… even people who don’t know Jesus are able to be saved, but through him.”[162] Acquaintance Father William Fulco has said that Gibson denies neither the Pope nor Vatican II. Gibson told Diane Sawyer that he believes non-Catholics and non-Christians can go to Heaven.

Gibson’s religiosity would be difficult to detect from his earlier films. Previously reviewed are Mad Max and Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome. Then there was the Lethal Weapon series, Payback, and Conspiracy Theory. I have watched, but not reviewed, We Were Soldiers, which features Gibson as the deeply Catholic Lieutenant Hall Moore.

What kills this movie is not only the fixation on sadism, but the plot, or lack thereof. There is no plot. If this had been a movie about a nameless woman, scooped off the street and tortured to death by some religious fanatics, the largely Christian fans would not only not watch it, but they would demand that nobody else should be allowed to watch it. The fundamentalist Christian audience gives a pass on the brutality depicted, because this is a bit of fiction ingrained in their faith, of scarce veracity at that.

No eyewitnesses to the crucifixion of Jesus wrote any of this stuff down. Accounts from biblical scholars hold that followers of Jesus scattered following the Roman crackdown, and the story was subsequently recreated from legends. The existence of an actual Jesus character is also questioned. Biblical depictions of Jesus’ birth do not square with know fact, heaping considerable doubt to the rest of the Jesus story.

Details of the movie do not jibe. Scenes of Jesus hanging on the cross by way of nails through his hands are recreated by having an actor supported from below. A real person supported as Jesus is shown would come close to dying before the camera’s lens. Perhaps more so.

Not wanting to be indelicate, but the movie shows friends of Jesus having removed his body from  the cross. They apparently pulled the nails. Not so. These were substantial nails, and a real carpenter would recognize the near impossibility of pulling them, having been driven through a four-inch timber and then bent over from the back side. The body would have been removed by cutting the hands. Realism is not a matter of concern here.

I had trouble with the language. The Romans speak Latin, and sometimes Hebrew when talking to the Jews. I don’t speak Latin, but it sounds as though the Romans are speaking Italian. They even speak with an Italian  accent. The Jews seem to switch between Aramaic and Hebrew, two of the three Semitic languages of the region, the other being Arabic. Gibson loaded the burden of  having actors speak these ancient languages on top of the more mundane production tasks. Not much is gained.

If you are a soaked in blood Christian, then this movie is for you. If you have any sense of propriety, you will  want to skip this snuff film.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Hey! Number 100 in the series.

This is a limited release that came out in 2005, so I’m seeing it for the first time in April on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia. It’s A History of Violence, featuring Ed Harris and William Hurt.

The opening scene is a notable cinematographic work. It’s a boom shot that runs for about four minutes, focusing initially on a chair sitting beside a door, outside a single-story motel. Presently Leland Jones (Stephen McHattie) emerges, followed by Billy Orser (Greg Bryk). As Billy exits the door, he straightens another chair that’s standing next to the door. Billy gets into the car parked out front, and Leland tells him to drive to the office, Leland will check out. Billy drives and stops in front of the office, and Leland goes inside, returning presently and taking over the driving. He mentions he had some trouble with the maid. It’s one continuous boom shot, following Billy as he goes into the Motel office to refill their water jug. Inside, Billy observes the bodies of the manager and the maid, and when a little girl opens a door to take a look, he shoots her with his pistol. These are two really bad dudes without any redeeming qualities. Turns out they are not long for the world.

The are on a cross-country spree of robbery and murder, and their fatal mistake is stopping to do Tom Stall’s (Viggo Mortensen) diner (somewhere in Indiana) They overplay their hand. It’s closing time, but the crooks crowd their way in. When Tom advises Charlotte (Deborah Drakeford), the waitress, to knock off and go home, the pair reveal their intent to rob the place. Leland directs Billy to show these locals they mean business by raping Charlotte. For an instant Leland takes his eyes off Tom, and Tom throws a pot of hot coffee in his face. The gun goes flying, Tom takes possession and puts four through Billy, who crashes backward through the front glass door. Leland, now on the floor, stabs Tom in the foot with a knife, and Tom plugs Leland in the back of the head.

Tom becomes a hero, and that is bad news. Tom cannot afford to be a hero with his face appearing in newspapers all over, especially Philadelphia.

Presently Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) shows up at Tom’s diner with a henchman. Carl recognizes Tom as Joey Cusack. The two have a history. In their most recent encounter Joey messed up Carl’s face, and more.

Meanwhile, Tom’s son Jack (Ashton Holmes) is experiencing life changes of his own. A bully, Bobby Singer (Kyle Schmid), who has been bearing down on Jack since near the beginning of the movie overplays his own hand. He pushes Jack too hard in the hall  at school and insults Jack’s girl friend, Judy Danvers (Sumela Kay). Jack stomps Bobby’s buddy and puts Bobby in the hospital. Tom doesn’t think that’s a good idea, and he strongly remonstrates Jack. It gets physical.

Carl and two henchmen show up at Tom’s house with the intent of taking Tom/Joey away with them—likely not a round trip. Tom resists, putting the two henchmen down for the count. When Carl prepares to shoot Tom, Jack comes up from behind and blows Carl away with a shotgun blast. A history of violence seems to run in the family.

Tom and his lovely wife Edie have had an intense and highly sexual relationship, but it begins to fall apart as Edie becomes aware of Tom’s double life. Tom figures he needs to  settle things for good and drives to Philadelphia to confront his nemesis, his brother Richie Cusack (William Hurt). Joey previously trashed a well-placed mobster (read “made-man”), and this has crippled Richie’s future in the mob. The only way Richie can fix the matter is to have Joey killed, and he sets a killer with a garrote on him. But Joey defeats the killer and Richie’s other henchman. He finally confronts Richie and puts a bullet in Richie’s head without hesitation.

Tom returns to  his home in Indiana, where his daughter Sarah (Heidi Hayes) sets a place for him at the dinner table.

Yes, this is a good action movie. In addition to Jack’s tussle at school, there are three gunfights, and Tom wins two. He loses the second one, involving Carl, but Jack saves the day with his friendly shotgun. And that’s a bit much. On three separate occasions Tom turns the tables against overwhelming odds and receives minor injuries. This kind of stuff is legendary, for a reason. It does not happen in real life.

The opening scene is puzzling, as well. Leland and Billy have obviously spent the night in the hotel. Billy waits outside while Leland goes inside, presumably to rob and kill the manager. He kills the maid, as well. We hear no gunshots. His pistol does not have a silencer. We later learn he has a knife (in the diner). He must have knifed the two. That way other motel tenants don’t become curious. But Billy shoots the little girl with his pistol, making a lot of noise. Apparently they drive away unmolested.

There are any number of ways Leland and Billy could have been caught off guard by random people coming and going. Presumably they kill all witnesses, but why. They leave a trail of identity as they make their way cross-country. So, why kill witnesses? Makes for extra drama.

William Hurt appeared in a number of interesting productions, but I have only seen The Accidental Tourist, where he plays a travel writer with a dysfunctional family. Haven’t been able to catch this on the tube.

We remember Ed Harris from a number of notable works. He was John Glenn in The Right Stuff, Kristof in The Truman Show, and the German sniper in Enemy at the Gates.

Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

This is number 166 of the series, so by now readers are ready. You have been sure all the while that sooner or later this one was going to pop up, and here it is at last. It’s Sharknado, from 2013 out of Syfy Films.

I have to admit, I gave a lot of thought to searching this out. Nah, I thought. This is never going to show up on Amazon. I thought several times about checking, but each time it slipped my mind by the time I got around to firing up the computer. Today I was doing absolutely nothing (retired) and said to  myself, “Go right now to the computer and check whether Sharknado is on Amazon.” It’s there (as of 13 April), so I spun it up on the big screen, made some hot chocolate, and sat through it—about 87 minutes. Here it is. Wikipedia has the cast list:

  • Ian Ziering as Finley “Fin” Shepard, an ex-surfer who owns a bar.
  • Tara Reid as April Wexler, Fin’s ex-wife.
  • John Heard as George, a drunk man who spends all his time at Fin’s bar.
  • Cassie Scerbo as Nova Clarke, a bartender who works for Fin.
  • Jaason Simmons as Baz, Fin’s right-hand man.
  • Aubrey Peeples as Claudia Shepard, April and Fin’s daughter who feels left out.
  • Chuck Hittinger as Matt Shepard, Fin and April’s son in flight school.
  • Christopher Wolfe as Collin, April’s boyfriend.
  • Robbie Rist as Robbie, a bus driver.
  • Alex Arleo as Bobby, one of Matt’s friends in flight school.
  • Connor Weil as Luellyn, one of Matt’s friends in flight school.
  • Julie McCullough as Jonni Waves, a news reporter.
  • Adrian Bustamante as Kelso, a lifeguard.

With all that what you get is a spoof of all disaster movies. It’s junkyard Jaws and predictable to watch. What is not predictable is the opening sequence, a seamy drama that plays out in an empty theater.

A fishing boat is dodging a giant storm (hurricane) in the Pacific off the coast of Mexico. They are catching sharks, cutting off their fins, dumping the carcasses back. The aim is shark fin soup,  a delicacy in Asia. We see an Asian man negotiating money for the day’s catch. The captain and the buyer are miles apart on terms. The storm hits, guns come out. Topside, planning to keep the money, the buyer is eaten by a shark that blows aboard. Then the captain and presumably the remainder of the crew. The sharks exacting some revenge? Nobody knows, because nobody survives to tell this part of the story.

The hurricane moves north to California, and the scene shifts to Santa Monica Beach. Yeah, I can tell it’s meant to look like Santa Monica Beach, pier and all, but something tells me they shot this elsewhere and filled in with some views of Santa Monica Pier. Here is one shot that does remind me of Santa Monica Beach, at least Venice Beach. This one is for you, Steve.

Then the storm strikes. But first the storm drives sharks to the Beach, and the sharks start eating people. A comely lass on a surfboard makes a quick snack for a large shark. Fin decides it is getting too dangerous, and he closes his bar, ordering everybody out and to higher ground. Do they promptly get up and leave? No, not until sharks start flying through the front window. Fleeing down the pier Nova, who has had a previous, life changing encounter with sharks, blows one of the critters away with her weapon of choice.

The iconic wheel breaks loose, rolls down the pier, and crashes into a building.

A shark eats George, and the survivors, including Fin, Nova, and Baz make it to April’s (Fin’s ex wife) house in Beverly Hills. There they encounter Fin’s daughter Claudia and April’s boyfriend, Collin, an absolute jerk. You know he’s going to shortly get eaten by a shark, and you are not disappointed. He never makes it out of the house.

Fin’s son, Matt, is at Van Nuys Airport, and the survivors, including Nova, April, Claudia, and Baz head that way. They stop along the way so Fin can rescue some kids from a stalled school bus.

At the airport, Matt devises a plan to snuff the tornadoes that are tossing sharks all about. He will fly a helicopter into  the funnels and throw out home made bombs to deflate them. Nova goes along to toss the bombs,  but a flying shark snares the helicopter and consumes Nova whole.

The tornadoes are successfully quenched, but sharks are falling all over. One eats Baz. Fin faces off the last remaining, chain saw at the ready. The shark swallows him whole. But then we see Fin cutting  his way out of the shark’s belly with the chain saw. He reaches back in and drags out Nova, barely alive.

And that’s enough heroics for the day.

Special effects are overboard, but the plot is the definition of thunder struck. Fortunately, this was conceived as a comedy spoof, so everything is in its proper place. You want reality, go see Apollo 13.

I’ve been to Santa Monica Pier a few times, and I do recall the bikini bottoms, so that part is authentic. However, there is no building at the end of the pier for the giant wheel to roll into. That part is a small bit of fabrication.

Also, no home made bomb is going to stall a raging tornado. Compare an elephant and a mosquito in terms of energy dissipation, and you get the idea.

This production introduced a lively franchise, but this is the only one I’m going to waste my time on. Catch it on Amazon Prime Video or on Hulu.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

In 1898 British Lieutenant-Colonel John Henry Patterson was put in charge of the construction of a railway bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya. According to the movie, the schedule was tight, as Great Britain was in competition with the French and the Germans for dominance in the region. Presently the project was put in jeopardy by attacks from two lions. And that’s the basis of this movie, The Ghost and the Darkness. It stars Val Kilmer as the real-life Patterson and Michael Douglas as the fictional Charles Remington. I saw it before, and I may have once had a VHS. It is now available on Amazon Prime Video. This was released by Paramount Pictures in 1996. Details are from Wikipedia.

 

After opening scenes, showing Patterson being inducted into the project by Sir Robert Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson), we see Patterson on a train to the job site, along with Angus Starling (Brian McCardie), who plays fill-in roles in the plot, and who seems to have been injected primarily to add extra British flavor to an otherwise African story.

Together, Patterson and construction supervisor Samuel (John Kani) discuss how the construction will proceed. Samuel asks if Patterson is married and if he loves his wife. Patterson says he does, very much. Samuel reveals he has five wives, and he does not like any of them.

In a reveal, a scene shows a tan ghost moving through the tall grass near the construction site. Death is coming.

It comes in the middle of the night, as a lion drags a worker from his bed.

Patterson, who has hunted in India but has never seen a lion, takes up a rifle and hunts down and kills a lion face on. All want to think the lion menace is done.

But there are more attacks. Samuel and Starling team with Patterson to bait and hunt the attacking lion. As they stalk one lion through the train station,  they spy another on top of the building. There are two lions.

Patterson gets the idea from his experience in India of trapping and shooting the lions. He converts a rail car into a trap. A lion enters the open door. The door slams shut behind the lion. Experienced shooters inside, protected by a steel barrier, will then shoot and kill the lion.

It doesn’t work. The terrified shooters fire but hit nothing besides the steel barrier. The lion breaks free.

Enter professional hunter Charles Remington. He’s going to kill the lions. He’s brought along a platoon of Maasai warriors to help flush out the lions.

It doesn’t work. The lions to not respond as expected. The Maasai don’t understand why the lions are acting as they do. They call them the ghost and the darkness.

Patterson constructs a stakeout platform and proposes to lure a lion within shooting range. Remington is skeptical, but it works. A lion comes, there is great danger. Patterson kills the lion. One more to go.

Patterson and Remington celebrate their partial victory. Patterson dreams his young wife (Emily Mortimer) has come to visit with their new baby. As he rushes to greet her on the station platform he sees death racing through the tall grass. He can’t save her as the lion pounces. He wakes up. Remington is missing. A lion has killed him and taken his body out of the camp.

Patterson and Samuel plot to kill the remaining lion. The lion attacks in the night and pursues Patterson onto the partially completed bridge and then to a tree, where Patterson takes refuge. The lion follows. The double-barrel long gun that Samuel throws to Patterson falls to  the ground. Patterson falls, as well. The lion attacks. Patterson gets off a shot, wounding the lion. The lion persists. Patterson shoots him full in the face at point blank range.

The workers, who previously fled the lion menace, return, and the bridge is completed. And so is the movie.

Good drama, good action,  good acting, good photography. A whimsical plot. A few points:

Three experienced shooters confront a lion trapped inside the rail car, and they can’t get a shot between the slats of the steel barrier?

Nobody ever thinks to tie a few goats around the camp to give the alarm when a lion approaches in the darkness?

Patterson fends off a lion at close range? No way. A real lion would have been on  top of him in milliseconds. The director (Stephen Hopkins) stretched out the drama interminably. Gives us something to watch while Patterson  kills the lion.

Guinness Book of World Records, in an addition I previously owned, listed this episode as the world’s worst attack by man-eating lions. I recall the number 300, the movie, based on Patterson’s book, claims 135. Researchers think it was more like 28 to 31.

Quiz Question

One of a continuing series

A star actor’s career typically stumbles onto the scene as a bit part here with a screen credit near the bottom. Few know where most were before they gained momentum. Last appearances are more noted. And that’s this week’s Quiz Question. What was the last movie for the following? Film theatrical releases only. No TV.

Post your answers in the comments section below. Extra points for Peter Falk.

Update and answers

I’m going from memory here. Tania can weigh in if she wants. She probably knows them all. I have added the answers to the list above.