Based on a recommendation, I’m finally watched At Close Range (1986). Here’s IMDB’s tagline:
Reunited with his career criminal father, tough teen Brad thinks he’s found his ticket to an exciting life of crime, only to find out he’s wrong.
It started with music that stabbed me in the heart, which continued throughout the movie where the music had to be subtle. The cast is phenomenal but young. So was I in 1986, so it brings me back even though I’ve never seen it before.
As for the movie itself, it’s a sad tale about a kid with no discernable future becoming mesmerized by his absentee father, and the wad of hundred dollar bills he generates from his criminal exploits. As one might expect, everything falls to pieces. It’s based on a true story, though I have no idea how far it drifts from reality.
A few of weeks ago, I saw The Northman. I loved it but understand that it isn’t for everyone. It’s a Norse tale, which means it doesn’t fit the formula for what sells in Peoria.
The cast was great, but this post isn’t a review. The movie, like several others before it, got me thinking.
I didn’t study mythology because of my interest in 1st Edition D&D (“1e”); it was the other way around. Mythology (and dinosaurs) got me into 1e in the 1970s. I thought, “Wow! I can tell my own stories within these settings and characters?!” However, whether it’s D&D, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, or Bulfinch’s Mythology, western literature tends to sanitize the characters and their stories. The “good-aligned” deities are often presented as noble, loving, and helpful. There are certainly some exceptions — Zeus was an asshole — but the sense of right and wrong have been aligned at least to some extent to what the modern audience thinks as “good.” We really do make the gods in our own image. The Northman reminds us that the “good guy” is not someone you’d want to marry your daughter. Life was brutal and uncaring back then, and being that way yourself was an effective survival strategy.
That said, there’s a reasonableness to garnering lessons from these myths. In a very narrow, personal way, I relate rather strongly to the protagonist’s backstory (appropriately discussed today). I would never handle our similar predicament in the same way, but the character’s backstory loosely parallels my own. If you dig through the primitive details of the specific culture at hand, you can find some universal truths, or at least something to which you can relate (no more than vaguely, I hope). After all, people take from stories whatever message they want to hear. We tend to cut out the brutality from these stories, and thus also ignore how those that wrote them applied them to real life.
So no, you wouldn’t want to invite any of these ancient people to dinner.
Yeah, I know the history. I saw the 1977 version of this movie on TV as a kid. Then I saw the 1996 version, which is the subject of this post. I know of the disasters that befell the production of the remake. I know that Marlon Brando created a bizarre version of the titular character just to piss off the director. I don’t care. I like this movie and thought Marlon Brando’s interpretation of Dr. Moreau was brilliant.
The doctor was insane, SPOLIER ALERT! genetically experimenting with ordinary animals and turning them into anthropomorphic monstrosities. Well of course he wore an ice bucket on his head. His eccentricity is exactly what you’d expect from such a maniac. His eccentric intensity was hilarious. “Forcefully, forcefully!”
Another scene I loved was SPOLIER ALERT! the one in which he dies.
It demonstrates both his manipulativeness and his arrogance. Rather than panic at the site of his creations in his home, he remained calm waiting for his device that would incapacitate his “children,” distracting them by giving credence to hyena’s random selection of notes banged out on the piano. The look of surprise on his face when SPOLIER ALERT! the device didn’t work was priceless. The conflict between Brando and the director is what gave us the perfect performance for this character.
On top of that, the tension between Kilmer and Brando gave us a great scene where Kilmer ridiculed Brando, which is exactly what you’d expect from an alcoholic, disgruntled employee. Art imitated life here, and it was marvelous.
The lead, played by David Thewlis, was terrible. Thewlis isn’t a bad actor, but he was much younger then, so maybe it was his fault, the screenwriter’s fault, or both. Either way, I agree that his performance was a weakness, but that’s all I’ll concede.
And with that, my streak of posting on consecutive days dies at 374.
This is an appropriate day to be discussing monsters and things that should die.
Sundays now are lazy days for me. I either post something silly or other people’s work. Usually both. Today, I move away from the for a short commentary because of an anniversary. Two years ago to the day, I published a long post arguing that Nebula’s character arc in the MCU was the greatest redemption arc in cinematic history. In it, I specifically pointed out how brilliant Karen Gillan‘s performance was in the second scene of Avengers: Endgame. While Robert Downey, Jr.‘s performance was typically wonderful, Gillan acted circles around him and yet doesn’t get the credit she deserves for that scene. I also pointed out that Gillan has the chops to win an Oscar one day (for whatever that’s worth).
A couple of weeks ago, I came across an article in which Gillan states that that entire scene was improvised. I point this out only to say that the jobs both of them did are all the more impressive.
Over a week ago — I’m waaaaay ahead of schedule on writing my posts — I finished a massive and tedious binging of Boston Legal. I had never seen the show before, but considering my love of so many of those actors, and the occasional scene hitting my social media streams, that’s surprising, but I’ve remedied it.
To start, I’ll say that I’m most certainly not one of those people that complains how badly movies and TV shows get things wrong. I have a physics degree. I’ve worked in software engineering for almost a decade. I have a law degree, and have worked as an attorney for more than twice that time. Some of you have medical degrees. Many of us have practical, professional experience that makes us experts in our respective fields. Every single expertise seems downright ridiculed by entertainment media, and sometimes experts get uptight about that. I don’t. I get it. Most people are not experts in any given area, so most people don’t notice the ridiculousness in any given show. That means that, even if what’s presented is utterly ridiculous, most viewers won’t know or won’t care. Moreover, experts in one area will be annoyed by only those shows getting their expertise wrong, meaning that they’ll usually wind up in the category of not knowing or caring. It’s about playing the odds, and the odds are stacked in favor of drama over reality. That makes sense. There’s nothing wrong with it.
But c’mon! Sneaking firearms into court and firing them off, and not getting disbarred and thrown in jail!? Are non-attorneys not annoyed by that?! Really?! There were just so many insane things that happened that would land these “lawyers” in jail long before the state bars could disbar them, though that would happen eventually.
But okay, okay! It’s fine. It was a fun show. The political pontificating was annoying at times, but it helped me relive the emotion of those days which are over a decade behind us. It genuinely triggered my nostalgia. Having my favorite actor, William Shatner, as one of the main characters certainly helped.
A couple of days ago, I pointed out two, unassuming songs that filled me with dread for some unknown reason. Today, I’m going to try to remember the movies for which the trauma they caused to me endured the longest.
The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)
This is the earliest movie I remember generating a long-lived fear. We saw it in the theater upon its release. For the life of me, I don’t remember a single frame from this movie. I could watch it in its entirety on YouTube, but I doubt it’s worth two hours of my time. I still haven’t watched Archive 81 or the final season of Ozark. I have higher priorities. Here’s the entire movie.
The Fly (1958)
This was the one movie that traumatized me the most and for the longest period of time. I was fine throughout the entire movie, but this final scene is what wreaked havoc on my elementary school psyche.
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
This movie is perhaps not as bad, but it road on the coattails of The Fly. This scene was the kicker.
Do you know how you handle a monster like this? Shoot it in the head. Problem solved. But nope, “once it escaped, there was no way to stop it.” This has to be the dumbest one on this list, but I was 13. I sincerely thought that there was no way to stop it. I remember trying to calm my nerves and fall asleep after watching it, but I heard breathing from under my bed. (There was nothing under there but dirty laundry.) Here’s the trailer. Try not to laugh at it or me.
Exorcist III (1990)
At this point, I was too old to be afraid of movies, but I’ll be damned if this scene didn’t freak me out. Go to 0:40.
Seriously, the only scene that made me uncomfortable was an elderly lady crawling atop the roof unnoticed. I guess that it’s because I’ll never feel safe knowing that elderly ladies are capable of kicking my ass.
I also remember seeing a TV documentary on astronauts and suddenly being afraid that gravity would stop working. I didn’t want to float off into space. And while the Alien franchise didn’t particularly scare me even as a 9 year old watching it for the first time at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC, one of my few recurring dreams are nightmares of the Xenomorphs chasing me. Some things just stick with you.
I wish I know what made each of these movies scary for me. At some point before I was 9 years old — I remember I was still living in Silver Spring, MD — being the rational intellectual I always was, I realized my fear was irrational. I said to myself, “Even if such a creature exists, how would it know to come to my house to kill me only after I saw a movie about it? Why didn’t it show up last week? In the case of a phenomenon, why would it not manifest until I was made aware of its existence? That makes no sense. So, be afraid. Eventually you’ll fall asleep, and when morning arrives, you’ll wake up alive and well, showing you how stupid it is to be afraid of such things.” I was between 5 and 9 years old when I thought about this, and it kept me from being afraid of the dark for most of my childhood. But these movies still rattled me. There’s got to be a pattern, and it’s clearly not as simple as bugs (or even animals generally). It probably involves immediate circumstances of the time lost to my memory.
But it’s okay. Unlike the songs, these movies no longer have any effect on me. In fact, I find them (and all horror movies) silly considering the relatively primitive movie-making technology they use (not to mention the premise and execution of horror movies generally), but there you go. That’s what made me uncomfortable.
Again, I should see a shrink. if for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity.