Love and Mercy Will Be Available June 5th

In the United States anyway. Love and Mercy is the new movie about Brian Wilson (not the baseball pitcher with the silly beard).

It’s also the name of a song from his first solo album. The performance below, by members of Libera and the Boys Choir of Harlem at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2007, gets me every time.

In a Way, It All Turned Out For The Best (Wolf of Wall Street Edition)

Even for Netflix customers, curiosity sometimes wins out and it’s worth $1.28 to rent a DVD from one of those big vending machines at the grocery store. That’s how we ended up watching The Wolf of Wall Street the other night, instead of waiting to see how long a “Very long wait” would be. Unfortunately, the minority of critics who said The Wolf of Wall Street is a bad movie were right.

Maybe it was a good idea for Martin Scorsese to use the story of these crooked stock brokers if he wanted to make another Goodfellas. But he ended up with a movie that is ridiculously long (3 hours) and repetitious. It isn’t funny or suspenseful. It’s merely excessive. Since I never cared about the characters, I should have given up, like I did with Scorsese’s Shutter Island. But since I’ve seen almost all of his movies (all the way back to 1967’s Who’s That Knocking At My Door), I kept watching (in three installments), partly out of respect and partly to see if it would get better. It didn’t. It was just more of the same.  

If you’re open to watching a movie about terrible people who look like they’re having a wonderful time, consider watching Goodfellas again. But not The Wolf of Wall Street.

Needing to return the DVD to the store in order to avoid being charged another $1.28, I figured I’d use the trip to buy some more milk. The wait at the express lane wasn’t too long, but the best part of the transaction was when the clerk handed me the receipt and announced that I had just saved $1.40 on my purchase. Simply by using my A&P customer card. 

But wait! That meant my rental of The Wolf of Wall Street and subsequent visit to the store had returned a profit of over 9%! Not bad at all!

Of course, there was the time spent traveling to the store, the cost of gasoline and three hours of weak entertainment that could have been better spent. But if you put all that on one side, and balance it with the curiosity I satisfied, the knowledge I gained and that 12 cent profit, it all turned out pretty darn well. 

Plus, if I convince just one of you to skip The Wolf of Wall Street, our collective life on Earth will be a little bit better (“saving the world since 2012”). Unless you could have made a profit.

Nebraska in Black, White and Gray

Since I recently expressed great disappointment with Gravity, one of the movies nominated for Best Picture last year, it’s only fair that I express great appreciation for one of the others: Nebraska. That’s the one in which Bruce Dern plays a cantankerous, confused old man who thinks he’s won a million dollars from an outfit that’s pushing magazine subscriptions.

It’s an old-fashioned picture, beautifully filmed in black and white, with some wonderful performances, especially by Dern (a healthy 77-year old runner in real life) and June Squibb as his extremely outspoken wife. Their performances were both nominated for Oscars, as were the screenplay, directing and cinematography. 

I had a little problem with the premise of the movie — hadn’t Dern’s character ever gotten one of those “We are authorized to award you one million dollars!” notices in the mail before? And when his wife and sons try to convince him he hasn’t really won anything, don’t they point out the very big “if” in the small print?

Putting that quibble aside, Nebraska is the most consistently enjoyable movie I’ve seen in months. I don’t know how a young person would respond to it (a lot of old people, plus black and white?), but the characters and relationships in the movie resonated with me. My parents didn’t age gracefully, I had an uncle who wouldn’t stay put, and I’m wondering what kind of old man I’m turning into. Contented, grumpy, quiet, outspoken, wise, befuddled? Probably all of the above.

NEBRASKA

How Can You Miss Me If I Won’t Go Away?

My urge to save the world one post at a time waxes and wanes. Lately, it’s waned.

Its waning could be a response to the daffodils blooming:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

                               — William Wordsworth

But did you know that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) strikes some of us in the spring or early summer, not in the dark days of winter?

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

                               — T. S. Eliot

Life in itself 
Is nothing 
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs, 
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, 
April 
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

                              — Edna St. Vincent Millay

But first, these messages:

Gravity was nominated for seven Oscars and 97% of the critics on Rotten Tomatoes liked it, but it’s not a good movie. They spent millions and millions making it look great but seem to have thrown the script together over a long weekend. One miraculous escape after another eats away at the suspense. And that capsule should have landed on a giant heap of corn.

it’s a simple fact of arithmetic that one person’s vote hardly ever matters. How many elections are decided by one vote? Since voting makes no sense from a practical perspective, we need to stop thinking of voting in practical terms. Instead, we should view voting as a democratic ritual. Ritual behavior doesn’t have to be practical. If everyone in this country – at least those of us who don’t have to wait in line for hours to vote – treated voting as a symbolic celebration of democracy, something that every citizen just does as a matter of course, we in the majority (those of us who favor less military spending, for example) could make a difference. Accepting that voting is impractical but doing it anyway would be a very practical thing to do.

Glenn Greenwald is one of the journalists selected by Edward Snowden to receive those secret National Security Agency files. Greenwald now has a website called The Intercept. The site includes links to “top secret” documents. For example, there’s a set of slides from the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) called “The Art of Deception: Training for Online Covert Operations”. It suggests ways to discredit people or organizations by applying “The 4 D’s: Deny / Disrupt / Degrade / Deceive” (apparently, the NSA and GCHQ don’t merely listen; they also manipulate). There are also some light-hearted internal blog posts, like this one from the NSA regarding SIGINT (Signals Intelligence):

So, SIGINT is downright cool! As much as we complain about our “Big Data Problem”, collection/processing issues, dismal infrastructure/outdated browsers/OS’s, our ability to pull bits out of random places of the Internet, bring them back to the mother-base to evaluate and build intelligence off of is just plain awesome!

In conclusion, please don’t expect too much from Gravity, remember to vote, and visit The Intercept. As for everything else, I’ve got nothing (as of now anyway).

Farndale Daffodil Field

Kubrick and Sellers Collaborate for the Second Time

Stanley Kubrick and Peter Sellers first worked together on Lolita. According to Wikipedia, Columbia Pictures demanded that Sellers play four roles in Dr. Stangelove: the title character, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley and Major T. J. “King” Kong, the B-52 pilot eventually played by Slim Pickens. 

Sellers died from a heart attack at age 54. His last movie was the classic Being There, which looked and sounded like a Stanley Kubrick movie, although it wasn’t. Kubrick died at the age of 70 after he made Eyes Wide Shut, not one of his best but still worth watching, as all his films were.

Sellers was great and died too young. But off hand I can’t think of any artist whose death was as much of a loss as Kubrick’s, even though he’d already had a long career. 

These are two of my favorite scenes. The first is Group Captain Mandrake with Keenan Wynn as the wary Colonel Bat Guano (“if that really is your name”). The second features President Muffley on the phone while Peter Bull as the Russian ambassador and George C. Scott as General Buck Turgidson make faces. 

(Now, back to writing “A Guide To Reality, Part 10”.)

Whatever You Do, Please Don’t Watch This Movie

It was Friday night and I was open to some mindless cinematic entertainment. That’s my excuse. But having wasted almost two hours of my life watching Olympus Has Fallen, the only thing I can do to partly redeem myself is to warn anyone who might be open to some mindless entertainment not to make the same mistake I did.

If only my curiosity about how they would end this thing hadn’t gotten the best of me.

The premise is that a bunch of well-armed, oddly-motivated Koreans take over the White House with the help of an ex-Secret Service agent who has “lost his way” (that’s an understatement). Their goal is to somehow reunite North and South Korea while destroying the United States. Lots of people are killed in the attack. Furthermore, the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – the three people who know the passwords that will blow up all of America’s nuclear missiles – happen to be at the White House and end up as hostages in the presidential bunker. There’s only one intrepid Secret Service agent left standing. Not only does he kill every bad guy he meets, he rescues the President and the President’s son, after which he stops the countdown to nuclear catastrophe with only seconds to spare.

It’s stupid, exceedingly violent, poorly-written and cliche-ridden, but it’s only a big-budget action movie. What bothered me was the idea that some people’s lives and suffering are much more important than everyone else’s. The President gives up secret codes, jeopardizing the whole country, in order to protect two people. The Speaker of the House (the Vice President is a hostage too) orders the Army and Navy to withdraw from South Korea, accepting the idea that he’s probably starting a war, in order to save the President’s life. Bodies are strewn all around the White House and the District of Columbia, but the President and his Secret Service pal crack jokes as they walk outside. The brain trust in the Pentagon’s command center is so happy when the President is rescued that they all stand and applaud, despite the fact that they’ve presided over the worst breach of security in the nation’s history, during which scores of innocent people were maimed and killed and the lives of millions of others were unnecessarily put at risk.

Really, if you’re a senior official who’s taken hostage, consider yourself expendable. You can be replaced.

By the way, Netflix claims that 900,000 people have given this epic an average rating of 4.2 out of 5, meaning the average viewer really liked it. Some people loved it. From the comments, some people even took it seriously. I’d tell you to judge for yourself, but that would be wrong. 

Revisiting the Overlook Hotel, Again and Again

Stanley Kubrick is my favorite director. Like Roberto Clemente, John Lennon, Andy Kaufman and many others, Kubrick died too young – even though he was 70 when he finished his last movie.

If you’re a Kubrick fan, or if you love what he did with The Shining, or if you enjoy a good cultural mystery, or if you are a student of human psychology, you should consider watching a documentary called Room 237

Did you know that people have spent a whole lot of time looking for hidden meanings in The ShiningDid you realize that there are 42 cars and trucks in the parking lot of the fictional Overlook Hotel? Have you ever thought about watching The Shining backwards and forwards at the same time? Have you pondered the possibility that the astronauts bounding around on the moon were actors in a government-sponsored, made-for-TV movie directed by Stanley Kubrick, who later used The Shining to spill the beans? 

Room 237 covers all this and more. Even if you don’t find any of the theories convincing, the clips from Kubrick’s movies and many others are fun to watch. It’s a documentary that will make you laugh and also make you think.

And remember, whatever you do, stay out of room 237.