“The Shape of Water”: satire, period drama, and more than ordinary horror; in fact, a love story

Guillermo del Terro’s lastest auteur-isch tour de force, “The Shape of Water”, is indeed a cutting social satire of the social and political values of rival “power structures” in the 1960s.  It’s also good horror, and it’s a love story. And it is a period piece.  I worked at the old NBS in Washington DC in 1963-1964 (before there was a UDC) and it really looked like that in the underground tunnels.

The basic premise is a bit concocted. In a secret research facility near Baltimore, the military (read NSA at Fort Meade) holds a captured “alien”, a scaly biped creature with gills and lungs who has to stay under water, discovered in the Amazon, and maybe an extraterrestrial alien. I will accept nothing less.

Maybe the creature is superman. The US wants to send him into space. And at the height of the Cold War, the Russians (and their inside implants) want the alien dead.

The autocratic civilian head, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) plays his world of Trump-like powers.  Among his chargelings are two proles, janitors who bow down to him: Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and the mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins). Strickland treats them with racial remarks that even make a modern audience cringe, and (for Elisa) sexual harassment – and the movie was shot before the recent scandals.

One day Elisa finds the creature (Doug Jones).  After a series of mishaps, Elisa binds to him and the second half of the movie is taken up with her arranging his escape into the Chesapeake Bay, at high tide and after a fall thunderstorm.

Shannon plays well the typical bureaucrat who believes you get things only by intimidation and control. But so does the general  (Richard Jenkins), who near the end warns Strickland about winding up in an alternate universe of “shit” with his own future cosmic existence undone.  Bullies win in this world.

The film mentions other events in the geopolitical environment, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and Sputnik, but I didn’t hear mention of the Kennedy Assassination. So maybe the time is early 1963.

Back in the 1960s there was a late Saturday night movie program “Chiller”, of mostly monster movies, where typically you didn’t see the monster until two-thirds the way in.  I can recall “The Werewolf”, “Blood of Dracula”, and “Invasion of the Animal People”.  Or try “Donovan’s Brain”, or “the Undead” or “The Disembodied” (or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, a real classic). Then there was also “Creature from the Black Lagoon”.  This film doesn’t quite fit those, because you see the monster early, and he really isn’t a monster, although he fights back with his fingernails at Strickland.  So I could wonder about “Roswell” (1994, or even “Six Days in Roswell”, 1999), or “Fire in the Sky” (1993, about Travis Walton). I could also suggest that Terro could have taken a hint from “An American Werewolf in London” (“The Monster Movie” in 1982) or “Wolfen” and allowed Strickland a full decapitation at the end.  Maybe for a few seconds “you know you’re dead”.

The story is by the director and the script was written with Vanessa Taylor.

A Sense of Wonder from Mathieu Le Lay on Vimeo.

Before the show we were treated to Mathieu LeLay’s  “A Sense of Wonder”  The short appears to he filmed in the Canadian Rockies.

Name:  “The Shape of Water
Director, writer:  Guillermo del Torro
Released:  2017/12/18
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed: Angelika Mosaic, 2017/12/14
Length:  105
Rating:  R
Companies:  Fox Searchlight
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, December 25, 2017 at 11 AM EST)

“Downsizing”: Go get small

Downsizing”, directed and written by Alexander Payne (with Jim Taylor) seems like a modern telling of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, at least the Lilliputian part, with the same purpose, to poke fun at the way our political systems neglect global problems.

Some time soon a scientist in Norway discovers a way to “downsize” almost any organism by a mass of about 2500:1 with a single injection and heat chamber treatment. Soon companies are offering it to people with enough money, and setting aside “model train” communities around the world, somewhat hidden or perhaps “Under the Dome”, or perhaps like The Truman Show. It’s a way to save the planet from overpopulation (although the film doesn’t mention the whole problem of “the right babies” going along with population demographics).

Matt Damon plays an occupational therapist Paul Safranek working in Omaha.  He has lost out on the chance to go to medical school because he had to care for his mother. One day he and his wife see a former boss (Jason Sudeikis) like a doll on a table, and Paul asked why did you “go get small.” Pretty soon Paul and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) visit Leisureland in New Mexico (having seen the small people in a box on the flight down) and take the sales pitch. They can live like millionaires.

Paul takes the bait.  The scenes tracing the medical “downsizings” are scary enough.  Paul’s body hair is removed as well as the usual Army buzz cut, and his teeth are pulled.  The actual downsizing chamber part takes only a few minutes.  Paul wakes up, bald everywhere like a chemo patient and checks his private parts.  Then he gets dental implants with microteeth (because they don’t shrink and could cause his head to explode).  I’ve had implants myself, and companies like Clear Choice must be laughing at this.  Then Paul finds out that Audrey bailed out of the procedure and wants to divorce him.

The hair grows back, fortunately. A year later, after downsizing to an apartment on Leisureland and starting to date single moms, and after hearing about the political consequences of downsizing in the media, specifically the surreptitious trafficking of downsized immigrants (despite travel bans!) Paul finds out, from a housekeeper (Ngoc Lan Tran) that immigrants like her live in “barrios” for downsized undocumented immigrants.

As with his mom, Paul is very susceptible to moral pressure to give direct service to those in need, and finds himself as a “doctor” working in the barrio. Then the movie takes a turn to Norway, as a neighbor (Christoph Waltz) takes Paul on a trip to Norway to see the original colony.

And here comes the other political consequence: the Earth has reached its tipping point with the chain release of methane gas, so the little people in Norway have set up a “Noah’s arc” underground. Indeed, will the “normal people” become “the Leftovers”?

I did go through my own downsizing in a real estate sense, from inherited house to condo, recently. And I had full dental implants in 2013.  I have yet to undergo a forced shaving.

Also, ponder the fact that certain big cats underwent downsizing thousands of years ago and became the domestic cats, one of the planets most successful mammals. Sometimes it pays to “go small”.

There was a short film with another Marriott “Storybooked” artist, this time sculptor Felix Semper, who visits San Sebastian, Spain (I visited it in 2001), in the Basque area, and then Barcelona, which is dealing with a new Catalan separatist vote today.

La Concha Bay in San Sebastian (wiki).

Name:  “Downsizing”
Director, writer:  Alexander Payne
Released:  2017/12/21
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/12/22
Length:  135
Rating:  R
Companies:  Paramount (independent)
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, December 22, 2017 at 11:15 PM EST)

 

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”: Let Frances McDormand become “The Lobster”

As far as I can determine, Ebbing, MO is fictitious. I’ve been in the Missouri Ozarks myself a couple times, once in 1983 when I stayed in Joplin (later to be hit by a tornado) and visited the AOG headquarters in Springfield out of religious curiosity. In December 1992, after Clinton got in, I had flown to Memphis and driven up to Sikeston and west across US 60, where it’s flat until you suddenly encounter the gentle uplift of the Ozark plateau.

But Martin McDonagh filmed “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” in the foothills of the North Carolina Blue Ridge, perhaps near Brown Mountain, where the ridges look larger than they really would.  I like to see movies set in specific places really filmed there.  There are shots of a hillside quarry that I don’t recall seeing in my own numerous adventures in the NC mountain country.

By the way, I think I drove through Branson in 1983, and my mother and aunt went to a concert there once upon a time.

But let’s get to the movie, a black comedy that gets Lobster-wicked. Frances McDormand (the pregnant detective in “Fargo”) plays Mildred Hayes, a single divorced mom out for justice after losing a daughter to rape a few years back. Since the town police chief (Bill Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson [“Natural Born Killers”, 1994]) has failed to solve the case, Mildred coughs up multiple grands to rent three billboards on a “mountain” road outside town.  The early scene where she pays “Red” (a freckled Caleb Landry Jones) the bounty sets the tone for what follows. Soon she has a session with the dentist (“Little Shop of Horrors”) where she stabs the dentist in the thumbnail with a drill. Bill is ready to arrest her, but coughs up blood all over her and is quickly diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. (Lance Armstrong coughed up blood when his testicular cancer metastasized, and we all know about his spectacular recovery, his bicycle races, and his own fall.)  Now I get into spoiler territory, out of necessity. Bill ends his own life, not out of anger over Mildred, but because he doesn’t want to become a medical spectacle.

Then there is the angry gay cop Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who goes on a rampage and throws Red out the window, and does other stuff and gets fired.  Mildred thinks he torched her signs, and winds up torching toe police department herself. All of this set up an opportunity to solve the case and lead to a vigilante, extra-judicial (like Duterte) revenge conclusion. Bill writes post-suicide letters to a number of people, telling them their good sides.  Dixon, even fired, gets the idea that he can redeem himself, even though he is badly burned and disfigured when the police station is torched.  He goes into a bar (Ebbing isn’t big enough for a gay bar per se, and gay bars rarely have brawls compared to straight bars), and overhears a man bragging about raping a girl.  He thinks he finally found the suspect.  And even if he is the wrong guy, he and Mildred can enforce the death penalty themselves on someone.  Along the way, she pretends to date the dwarf James (Peter Dinklage) even if he isn’t physically he perfect “catch”. It gets Shakespearian.

Bill has two young daughters, whom he indulges, like on a fishing trip.  But Mildred’s kids are more adult, particularly Robbie Hayes, of college age, played by Lucas Hedges, who looks muscled up and buff for this role, ready to protect mom.  Lucas, as in all of his roles, talks like a polished, educated young man, better than the people in the surroundings that reared him.  It’s as if being a successful person were more about genes than mere upbringing and parenting. Mildred checks that he is sleeping soundly on the early morning that she goes out with Dixon to enforce extra-judicial capital punishment on the rapist,  because she knows her son would stop her from doing it.  But the movie declines to show the final execution that we know will happen, no questions asked.

My overall reaction was that this satire makes fun of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”, the poor white trash who rose up out of the politics of resentment to put Donald Trump in the White House, with the help of the Russians, who sent fake news to people like this.

The Amazon link above is for the screenplay script.  This one will be taught in classes.

The bar scene has curious musical accompaniment: the andante from Mozart’s Piano Sonata #1 in C, K. 279 (not the famous #15); the slow movement sounds almost like Scarlatti.  The film music score is vt Carter Burwell, whom I think I have heard of (maybe met) through the Metropolis Ensemble.

Bell Mountain in the Missouri Ozarks, Wiki.

First picture is Mother’s from near Branson; second is mine near Brown Mountain in NC (near the filming location).  And, oh, yes, in 2002 I almost wound up working for “the state” as a contract programmer in Jefferson City (per diem while I was still living in Minneapolis).

Name:  “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director, writer:  Martin McDonagh
Released:  2017/11
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark E Street, Thanksgiving Day, afternoon, fair audience
Length:  115
Rating:  R
Companies:  Fox Searchlight, Film4
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, November 23, 2017 at 9 PM EST)

“The Square”: vicious satire that starts out as a sermon on radical hospitality

This Sunday, I thought that a local church had a special service showing “13th”. a film I’ve already watched twice (Nov. 14, 2016 review — then I later saw the showing is Nov. 19). So I went to the one daily remaining showing of “The Square”, the new “morality play” and vicious (conservative) satire by Swedish director Ruben Ostlund; and, expecting an exploration of Christian personal values about other people, expected that to become my sermon and church, on a lively Sunday morning at Angelika Mosaic in Fairfax VA (there is a church service there in a rented theater).

The title refers to an exhibit in a Stockholm museum, the “X-Royal” (for a reason), a bordered white space you could step onto as a safe space, a “sanctuary of trust and caring”.

The lead is Christian (Claes Bang), an attractive slender married heterosexual man in his 40s with two young daughters, who espouses a Leftist philosophy of ultimate charity for the needy, particularly for street panhandlers.  But like many on the Left, he is not above wielding power for its own sake, especially sexually over women, as shown in one confrontation where one of his partners challenges him about the time he went inside her. The movie starts precariously enough (after an initial anti-establishing shot of a homeless man on the streets of the perfect EU welfare state), as he is about to speak publicly, and another woman toys with his chest hair to attach a microphone.  In this movie, you notice these things.

As far as the space, I’m reminded of a huge maze exhibit at the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain in late April, 2001, when I visited.  A young man from Brazil stood behind me in line and said that the whole point of this “sculptor” was to make you wait in line so you can “feel like shit.”

Very early in the film, Christian is robbed of his cell phone, wallet and cufflinks, in what seems like a setup confrontation in the streets.  (As I wrote this an fumbled my own iPhone its flashlight came on for the first time ever.)  Soon Christian is challenged to practice what he preaches. He inveigles his tag team hhsidekick Michael (Christopher Laesso) to support him, ultimately in a bizarre effort to hand deliver a letter to every family in a walkup apartment accusing them of the theft.

The film turns into a 140-minute sequence of skits, often with bizarre rhythmic sound effects, exploring the whole issue of how we personally treat people whom we perceive as weaker than ourselves. There is an experiment where museum visitors are challenged to prove they “trust people” by leaving their phones and wallets out in the open on the Square.

Whatever plot structure there is, gets driven by two attractive young male journalists (Daniel Hallberg and Martin Soder) who, in an early presentation, explain how you make content go viral, not only with original perspective but with some shock effect to get a visitor’s attention. So they come up with a video of a blond little girl holding a cat who gets blown up, with some Arabic warnings at the end. It seems that maybe this was hacked. But I was reminded of LBJ’s 1964 ad challenging Barry Goldwater with a mushroom cloud. That may cost Christian his job, which seems especially timely now.

But near the end there is a skit at a dinner, where attendees are challenged to do with “survival mom” type threats.  A man, his body completely waxed smooth (“thmooth”, he’s in the movie posters), comes into the dinner acting threatening, walking on all fours like a pre-human ape, with props. The guests are challenged to remain calm and inconspicuous so they can let somebody else take the threat (think about Las Vegas and Paddock Oct. 1)   But the scene winds up with attempted rape.

Somewhere in the middle there is a skit about the ALS ice bucket challenge. They have no monopoly on this “chain letter” which doesn’t even need a refrigerator’s ice maker.

Wiki picture of the actual museum in Stockholm.  I visited the city in Aug. 1972,

Picture: Occupy DC, December 2011 (mine).

Name:  “The Square
Director, writer:  Ruben Ostlund
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1  in Swedish, subtitles
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, Fairfax VA, 2017/11/12, Sunday morning
Length:  142
Rating:  R
Companies:  Magnolia Pictures
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2017 at 5:30 PM EST)

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer”: “Lobster” director plays again on our unspoken fantasies to build horror

The Killing of a Sacred Deer” opens with a beating heart, encased in a chest cracked open like “The Lobster” (May 22, 2016).  Then we see a surgeon take off his gloves and dispose of them.  We see his sleek hands (a line later used a few times in the script written with Efthymis Flippou), and that at least his forearms are still softly haired, as if the ultimate future of infection control were not yet in place.

I’m introducing the latest quirky horror comedy (or satire) from Yorgos Lanthimos, and it has a plot concept that feints of ephebophilia, and then plays on male fetish obsessions that have been frankly significant in my own life to build a plot and a rather horrific and tragic climax.

The music score, with Schubert, Bach, and especially Lygeti, underlines the urgency for the characters, but maybe it could have added Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder (“Songs of the Death of Children”).

Stephen Murphy (Colin Farrell) is the heart surgeon and cardiologist in a Cincinnati hospital. (The city looks sharp in the film, especially in multiple scenes across the Ohio river from Covington, KY.)  In his past, he once lost a patient at age 46 apparently during some routine bypass surgery. That deceased patient’s verbal teenage son, Martin (Barry Keoghan) starts showing up in Murphy’s life, mostly by self-invitation.

Murphy has built an impressive family in his palatial home, with wife Anna (Nicole Kidman) and gender fluid son Bob (Sonny Suljic) and teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy). At first, the daughter teases Martin about his lack of body hair (some teens would normally have more) and Martin pretends to be ill and shows up at Murphy’s office for a physical. There is a scene with a stress test, with eight leads, where Martin asks what would happen if he were hairy, and Murphy admits he would have to be chest-shaved, and that it could take a little while to grow back.  Murphy even gets into mention of “hormones” (reminding me of my own Ft. Eustis days). Martin even asks to see Murphy’s chest.  There’s also, as I recall, an odd line about replacing a grabby metal wristwatch with leather. Martin acts as if he believed the world had some sort of fascist conspiracy to eliminate less desirable men (like the Nazis did) as if this could be eroticized. For a little while, the film has you wondering if indeed Murphy is falling into an illegal relationship with the teen boy.

But at midpoint, the film takes a surprising twist. Bob, and then Kim, develop a kind of guillain- barre syndrome, with intermittent and then persistent leg paralysis, when medical tests can find nothing wrong. In a particularly arresting scene Martin threatens Murphy by suggesting that he (Martin) is causing the syndrome with some supernatural curse.

I’m not sure that the conclusion, which involves some vengeful violence against Martin and then a lottery to find the “deer” is necessarily all that convincing.  Some critics will say that Stephen gets his wish, to play god again. That’s a problem with setting up an erotic premise like this:  it is hard to find somewhere to go.

Wiki picture of downtown Cincinnati.  My visits: 1992, 2012.

Wiki picture of a Holter Monitor on a young adult male, underscoring Martin’s concerns.

Picture: Mt Vernon, Ohio, 2012, my trip.

Somehow the title and tone of this film reminds me of “The Killing of Sister George” (1968, Palomar, dir. Robert Aldrich, with Beryl Reid.) I;m also reminded of Judd Apatow’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (2005, Universal) with Steve Carell as hapless.

Name: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Director, writer:  Yorgos Lanthimos, wr with Efthymis Flippou
Released:  2017/10/27
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/10/29 fair crowd
Length:  116
Rating:  R
Companies:  A24, Film4, Hanway
Link:  distributor

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 at 8:30 PN EDT)

 

“Beatriz at Dinner”: a vicious moral satire, and a caricature of The Donald, maybe; and some alternate reality in the end

Beatriz at Dinner”, directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Mike White, may come across as a satire about a Donald Trump kind of person, and a very personal political and social conflict that develops with a person who indirectly works for him.

Beatriz (Salma Hayak) lives humbly with a lot of animals (“my pet goat”), works as a new age practitioner on nursing homes, and as a domestic in a real estate broker’s (David Warhofsky) home on the California coast. When her car breaks down as she is leaving, the family invites her to stay for dinner while waiting for the tow truck.

But when the “green boss” (that’s by childhood term) Doug Strutt, played by a creepy John Lithgow, arrives for dinner, the comedy becomes dire quickly. Strutt brags about his hunting exploits, where he killed a rhinoceros (remember Cecil the Lion).  Beatriz becomes unhinged, and goes to another room and looks up Strutt’s “online reputation” on the Internet, and finds loads of articles of how he has exploited workers all over the world.  When she comes back, she confronts him further, causing the party to break up.

The other guests release lanterns (like they do in Spain at the end of “The Way”) and the tow truck finally comes, but after a conversation where Strutts disavows liberal-do-goodism and climate change because the world will end in a few decades anyway (like FitzGerald’s Rubyiat).

The film then presents (by my count) three alternative endings.  With a couple of them, Strutts would not get a funeral in my world, because his end was for a political crime.  The we do see Beatriz’s own view of the afterlife.

I like the tagline, “She’s invited, but she’s not welcome”.

This movie is indeed a vicious moral and political satire, putting Jonathan Swift to shame.

Name: Beatriz at Dinner
Director, writer:  Miguel Arteta and Mike White
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85 :1
When and how viewed:  Shirlington AMC, 2017/6/24, small auditorium, full audience
Length:  87
Rating:  R
Companies:  Roadside Attractions, FilmNation
Link:  RA

(Posted: Saturday, June 24, 2017 at 10 PM EDT)

“The Circle”: satire as a super Facebook wants to rule the world and turn it into one group mind

The Circle” is actually a sphere that looks like a marble, and is a micro camera, something like Google glasses.  In this satire, directed by James Ponsoldt and based on the novel by Dave Eggers, the plan is to get everyone the planet to wear one and be continuously logged on to this new super reinvention of Facebook.  The color is red, rather than blue, so it is less inviting to color-blind people, for starters.

Emma Watson plays Mae, a bill collector (it seems like everybody works in collections these days as movies begin) who gets invited to join this new Silicon Valley company. She already has a good life kayaking and with a humble blue-collar boyfriend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane, whose recreation of his Mason persona from Boyhood is a little forced).  But her dad has multiple sclerosis and Mae (unlike me) has gone to the effort to get her parents to have some competence with tech.

Pretty soon she buys into the sinister aims of the company guru  Bailey (Tom Hanks) and COO (Patton Oswalt) to rule the world. Beyond super Amway attitudes, they goad all their employees into sharing everything all the time.  They want use The Circle to register voters and run elections, and to make every email everyone has ever sent transparent to the whole world.  I kept wondering how long before the 2016 election was this written, as the references to Hillary Clinton’s email scandal are pretty transparent.

They have a slogan, secrets are lies, and want to destroy all privacy completely.  In fact, they see all of humanity as one group mind, so you wonder if the film is a metaphor for distributed consciousness, dolphin style.

But you can also take the film as asking, whether all human activity ought to become eventually public and knowable by others, who may want to “connect the dots” the way I do.

Mercer wants to stay out of this, but is dragged in with tragic results.  Maybe he needs resurrection.

There is an odd scene early in the film were Mae is given a medical physical, and told to drink a prep (rather like for a catscan) containing nanobots, which communicate to her Fitbit watch (they also put electrodes on her upper chest. I wondered if employees were Holter monitors all the time.)

Jack Andraka wants to do a lot with nanobots, as these two stories show (Huffington and Telegraph).

There was sci-fi movie with the title Circle reviewed here June 6.

Fact table”

Name:  “The Circle”
Director, writer:  James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2017/4/29 Angelika Mosaic fair crowd
Length:  110
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  STX Entertainment, Europa (some financing from
Link:  official

(Posted: Saturday, April 29 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“A Cure for Wellness”: a bloated road horror satire about health nuts

A Cure for Wellness” (directed and written by Gore Verbinski with Justin Haythe) is another road horror film, but also a rather bloated (146 minutes) black comedy-type satire, with just average looks.

The film opens in a brokerage room filled with screens at night, and a stock trader has a heart attack and keels over. He’ll be replaced, but he’s apparently the only really sick one in the movie.

The movie shifts a boardroom (Trump style) after young trader Lockhart (Dane DeHann) is called upstairs. He is threatened with an SEC investigation (with a joke I know comes from Milo Yiannopoulos), and I thought about a moment in R, Foster Winans’s book “Trading Secrets”. But then the Trump-like chairman offers him an out: to find his old boss, Pembroke (Harry Groener) vacationing at a mysterious spa in Switzerland.

Lockhart goes, and I have to say that for Gothic horror the sets in this movie are just average. The film is shot in normal aspect 1.85:1, allowing simpler setups of the indoor scenes. The geography of this mile-high resort is rather hard to figure out – even if you’re supposed to compare it to the hotel in Stephen King’s “The Shining”. Lockhart at first finds the staff protective, and odd; but when his driver hits a deer on an errand to town, Lockhart breaks a leg and winds up a patient in the spa.

It’s not clear why they are here, but in time the bowels of the place are gradually revealed, with people inside floatation pods like in the movie “Altered States”. The doctors also have raised a school of eels to torment the patients.

There’s a homoerotic scene about an hour in, where Lockhart gets the first flotation treatment. His body looks immature and smooth, the kind that David Skinner wrote about in 1999 in the essay “Notes on the Hairless Man” in National Review.  But Lockhart is charismatic, and hardly fodder for a rich person’s cult.

The music score has a lot of Mozart and Beethoven in the background (like the second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony 2).

Structurally, the story resembles “The Ocelot the Way He Is“, the last “chapter” of my DADT-III book, in which the protagonist is invited by a charismatic young friend to visit a mysterious ashram while a terror attack happens at home.

20th Century Fox did not use ifs Alfred Newman fanfare to open the movie, unusual to this studio usually very jealous of its trademark. Fox did a “fake news” campaign to advertise the movie (ABC story).

Name:  “A Cure for Wellness”
Director, writer:  Gore Verbinski
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/2/19, afternoon, small audience
Length:  146
Rating:  R
Companies:  20th Century Fox, Regency, Baselberg (German production)
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2017 at 10:45 PM EST)

“The Girl on the Train”: stalking, voyeurism and fantasy turn into an old-fashioned potboiler

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Name: The Girl on the Train
Director, writer:  Tate Taylor, novel by Paula Hawkins
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2016/10/7, mid afternoon, light attendance
Length 112
Rating R
Companies: Dreamworks, Universal
Link: official

The Girl on the Train”, directed by Tate Taylor, adapted by Erin Cressida Wilson from the novel by Paula Hawkins, heavily promoted in previews and television ads, seemed tantalizing to me at first because it seemed to focus on fantasy.  A girl Rachel (Emily Blunt) rides a Hudson River commuter train every day and becomes fascinated with a woman, and her apparent marriage or life, in a home a few addresses away from her old place.

img11629

That could be a fascinating mystery of upward affiliation.  But soon we learn of a web of troubled, basically unadmirable characters and entanglements.  The movie is told largely in flashbacks of Rebecca, but also in two other female characters, so there is a question of the cleanliness of the “omniscient observer”.

We learn of her alcoholism, which led to her being fired from a public relations job in New York, which she pretends she has anyway. We also learn of her divorce from Tom (Justin Theroux), who kicked her out to live in her old mansion with a new bride, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).  Soon there’s a convenient plot coincidence: Anna works as a nanny for Megan (Haley Bennett) in the mystery house; Megan is married to Scott (Luke Evans).

The movie seems like it should be an exploration of voyeurism and stalking, maybe unwelcome flirting. But soon Megan is missing, and a detective (Allison Janey) is asking Rebecca questions and warning her to stop the stalking. Psychologically, this sounds like familiar territory.

Pretty soon we’re back into potboiler mystery territory (remember “Gone Girl”) and the trouble is to many of the other characters are, at best, examples of narcissistic personality disorder (especially Tom)  There’s a line about an unwanted pregnancy: “Get rid of it!”  Tom wants heterosexual mating without the baggage of propagating his genes like a real alpha male.

The film is shot up close, in traditional 1.85:1, with the trains making for a Hitchcock-like background.

The book, and movie, appeal for a mass audience by presenting aggressive, sexually self-serving characters and steamy fantasies of romance, although the film is no match for “Body Heat” (1980).  It’s possible to make mystery about sexual or erotic fantasy more subtle, which I’ve tried to do in my own screenplays – and I run into the problem that I need to present how the other characters (not just “me”) got there.

(Published: Friday, October 7, 2016 at 7:30 PM EDT)

“The Selfishness of Others” by Kristin Dombek, an “essay” on the moral aspects of narcissism

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Author: Kristin Dombek
Title, Subtitle: The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism
publication date 2016
ISBN ISBN 978-0-86547-823-7
Publication: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York; 150 pages, endnotes, seven chapters
Link: author


I saw the little book “The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism”, by Kristin Dombek, on display in bookshelves near the check-in desk at the Ace Hotel in New York City, on 29th St, ironically about six blocks where an explosion in Chelsea would happen later that day (and two blocks from where another device would be discovered).  I ordered it from Amazon.  At 138 pages, it is still just an “essay”.

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The book is quite abstract, and seems to be a philosophical discussion of narcissistic personality disorder in a year when Donald Trump is running for president. The last two pages of the book propose a new DSM clinical definition of “Narciphobia” as if it were a form of narcissism itself.

The book as seven short chapters, and starts out with a description of a young woman’s wanting to close down an entire street in Atlanta for her debutance or wedding party.  There are some references to Tara, the lost culture of the old South, as if Scarlet O’Hara had been the ultimate narcissist.

In the third chapter, “The Bad Boyfriend”, she seems to venture into philosophical homophobia.  She recounts Freud’s account of male homosexuality as a mirror (metaphor) where the man loves only what he would like to see himself as (and that fantasy has to be met perfectly, no flaws allowed).  That brings back my own days at NIH in 1962 (“How do you see yourself??”) – another way of putting George Gilder’s idea of “upward affiliation” (articulated in the 1986 book “Men and Marriage”).  Or perhaps we recall David Skinner’s 1999 essay in the Weekly Standard, “Notes on the Hairless Man” (see July 28 movie review for link).   I can recall Skinner’s getting into Marky Mark’s idea of “creativity”.  Finally, though, Dombek becomes appropriately suspicious of Freud himself. But not until (on p. 38) she proposed “When e grow up, we forfeit part of this early childhood narcissism – impoverishing our oceanic, boundless self-absorption in order to care and be cared about. Genuinely loving parents teach their children that it is safe to make this trade.”  It was Philip Longman, in the 2004 book “The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What We Can Do About It”, who wrote that a lot of people are too “self-absorbed” to beget children. Indeed. Bombek sometimes comes back with the refrain that experiencing straight love is a moral imperative.

Later, in a chapter on “The Millennial” (p. 70) she describes narcissism as an artificially “self-sufficient femininity”, and odd take on Rosenfels’s polarities.  (I also wonder about whether “acceptance” is supposed to be a sub-component of “Love” from Reid Ewing’s own Twitter feed.)  Then, she gets into a most interesting and disturbing paradox in Millennial life:  no group has been so self-absorbed, but no group is so willing to pimp out sociability and self-indulgent “go-fund-me” onto others.

“The Murderer” as a narcissist needs no explanation, but for “The Artist” she retells the Greek parable of Narcissus and Echo.   All these modern romance websites “invite you to be in the center of the world. Stuck in time, assessing the moral status of others, until love is gone.” Indeed, she notes in “The World”, a third of us freelance ourselves alone on the Internet – the “alone together” phenomenon.  Finally, on p. 135, she says “The selfishness of others is the feeling of your dependence revealed, as their gaze turns away; Your independence (is) laid bare as a myth.”

(Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2016, at 2:30 PM EDT)