rationalizing

Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s not-a-prequel to the Alien stories (but, c’mon, it’s totally a prequel) left me cranky and exasperated. Writer Damon Lindelof sets up an artificial opposition, just as he did in “Lost,” of science vs. faith, but it seems clear that he doesn’t understand, y’know, how science actually works: by wedding strict protocols and routines (to foster reproducibility and objectivity while protecting both personnel and irreplaceable samples) to unfettered creativity of intellect and appetite for knowledge.

That’s hard to reconcile that with the scientists of Prometheus, who fluctuate wildly between dull-eyed incuriosity and appalling recklessness, who seem to have little sense of the magnitude of the work they’re undertaking, and who are colleagues and equals only in the sense that they are all equally incompetent.

As we watched, I came up with several geeky [non-spoiler-y] ways to rationalize the stupidity and endless bungling of Prometheus’ entire scientific task force:

1. Realize that these people are scientists the way that Giorgio Tsoukalos of “Ancient Aliens” fame is a “scientist.” (“I’m not saying it was aliens, buuuuuut…. it was aliens!”)

2. Remember the B-Ark from Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the massive spaceship full of incompetent, inane, unnecessary, and otherwise ineffectual bumblers who were packed up together and shipped off to a distant wasteland, all the while believing themselves to be boldly striking out as the vanguard of a whole planet’s survival? Yeeeeeah, the “scientists” of the Prometheus might as well be so many telephone sanitizers.

3. Peter Weyland, the posthumous underwriter of this bajillion-dollar expedition, was the Howard Hughes of his generation: brilliant and driver, but also tragically unbalanced and fantastically wealthy enough to do anything he wishes. His obsessions were fed by the poorly researched, blinkered speculations of the archaeologists who shape the mission, and the entire scientific team is selected with the same slapdash passion-above-protocol agenda. Any scientist likely to interfere with the mission by insisting upon, I dunno, following established procedure or maintaining rigorous standards during this monumentally historic event is summarily rejected in favor of a bunch of bungling pushovers.

4. Maybe arising from those cryo-suspension pods is like rousing from an long midday nap: you wake up all muzzy-headed and disoriented, and as often as not, the rest of the day is shot to hell. (Though that doesn’t explain why the flight crew, who also underwent cryo-suspension, appear to be thinking clearly and sensibly.)

5. They have developed SPAAAAAAACE MADNESS. Or maybe just a really bad (and highly transmittable) case of space-dumb.

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license to ill

It’s Thanksgiving. The Fella, who has been terribly sick for days, is juuuuust starting to feel a bit better. His instructions for today: DO NOTHING, just rest. I’m drinking coffee and getting ready to make our two-person feast. A preview for a Bond-movie marathon plays in the background.

Elsa: I’ve never seen the Timothy Daltons.
The Fella: They’re not very good. It’s not Dalton’s fault.
Elsa: Dalt- No! I’ve seen the Daltons. The other one. The — the — Brosnan? There’s a Brosnan? PIERCE!
The Fella: There’s only one good one.
Elsa: I might be sick, honey.
The Fella NOOOOOO!
Elsa: [stricken] I confused my Bonds!

update: OH NO, it’s worse than I thought. This whole time we were talking/I was typing, I’ve been confusing Lazenby for Dalton. I might be REALLY sick.

The Warriors: come out to plaaaa-aaaay

So, um, I finally watched 1979′s The Warriors, a touchstone flick referenced endlessly in MST3K, “The Simpsons,” and other pop-culture strip miners. From what little I knew about it (an eerily empty and blighted New York City subway populated only by roving gangs of, y’know, warriors; a seemingly eternal night of guerrilla warfare; a half-shirtless cast clad in leather vests), I assumed The Warriors was a post-apocalyptic gangland epic, a Mad Max set in the NYC subway.

But it ain’t. The Warriors takes place in then-contemporary New York… which accounts for the squalid atmosphere. (Yeah, the 1990s clean-up campaign was overly aggressive and rife with systemic abuse of authority, but, y’all, 1970s New York was a sewer.) In the film’s opening, every street gang in the city is called to the Bronx for an uneasy summit meeting. The staggering proposal: since gang members vastly outnumber police, an intergang truce would allow them to rule the city unchallenged.

Unfortunately, the movie drops the intriguing idea of class warfare and kleptocracy (and the social and philosophical questions it raises). Instead, the Warriors are wrongly implicated in a gang slaying and have to hustle their way home to Coney without getting jumped by rival gangs. That’s right: the film offers the possibility of total social upheaval, then bait-and-switches to the epic adventure of some guys getting lost on the the subway.

Aaaand then it plunges from the merely tedious into the absurd. Among the gangs The Warriors have to evade:
– The Turnbulls, a reasonably realistic gang in reasonably realistic garb (jeans, bandanas) bearing a reasonably realistic range of weapons (chains, knives, two-by-fours, and — a little outlandishly — a great big school bus that they cling to);
– The Orphans, a weedy-looking bunch in monogrammed drab-green t-shirts;
– The Baseball Furies, a band of bat-wielding soldiers in full face paint and old-timey baseball uniforms;
– The Hi-Hats, suspendered tights-wearing mimes in top hats and, again, full face paint (why doesn’t it get smudged in combat?);
– The Lizzies, a tough all-girl gang who (OH MY GOODNESS) might not be as beguiled by The Warriors’ sexual magnetism as they let on;
– The Riffs, who habitually perform some sort of martial-art/standing yoga en masse in shortie bathrobes;
– The Hurricanes, who all sport porkpie hats;
– The Punks, strapping guys in overalls and rollerskates who all dress like oversized Chucky dolls, which is not nearly as scary as it might sound.

And about ten other gangs too ridiculous to describe or keep track of, though The Fella and I have tentatively identified a few, whom we’ve named:
– The Referees (in vertical-striped black-and-yellow shirts);
– The Benatars (in horizontal-striped jerseys, snap-brim fedoras, and sassy-short feathery haircuts; c’mon and hit them with your best shot);
– The Traffic Cones (in blaze yellow satin jackets, not super for evading your enemies in the dark streets),
– and The Buffetts (in Hawaiian shirts).

I don’t know what’s more bananas: seeing the gangs get more and more hilarious, or trying to suspend my disbelief when it turns out that these world-weary rakes and streetwise criminals can’t read a damn subway map, or watching Dexter’s dad (James Remar) strut around shirtless, threatening to rape women and unleashing homophobic taunts on his fellow gang members, or both of us saying at the same moment, “Hey, is that the less memorable sister from ‘Too Close for Comfort’?” (It is.)

[This review is cross-posted to The Video RePort.]

Les Diaboliques: a review

In the first shot of Les Diaboliques, a rattletrap truck putt-putts its way through wet streets. As it enters the shabby grounds of L’Institution Delassalle, the truck runs through a deep mud puddle, crushing a small paper boat left drifting there. In that moment, master director Henri-Georges Clouzot (Le Corbeau, Wages of Fear) presents the two themes at the film’s core: that we should watch the waters, and that we will see the fragile and the frivolous crushed underfoot.

M. Delassalle (Paul Meurisse), the headmaster of this rundown boarding school, treats his students and staff with equal (and crushing) disdain, but he saves his true sadism for his women. His brassy mistress Nicole (Simone Signoret) first appears wearing sunglasses to hide a bruised eye. After his delicate wife Christina (Véra Clouzot) cannot force herself to choke down the spoiled fish served in the dining hall (as “an example” for the students), we hear her pained squeals as Delassalle administers her punishment.

The early minutes of the film show us that Delassalle is loathed by all, from the tippling teacher he humiliates at the dinner table to the dawdling student he confines to school for the weekend vacation, so when the two women who’ve suffered at his hands for years team up and hatch a scheme to rid themselves of the brute, it’s no surprise. But trust me: Les Diaboliques does have plenty of surprises for its audience.

At its release in 1955, the film caused a sensation, and it remains a spine-chilling classic of suspense cinema. Les Diaboliques‘ pervasive influence on generations of thrillers to follow may make its twists and turns feel familiar, but it is just as haunting on the 20th viewing as on the first; the film stands as a masterpiece of mood and tension.

The pervasive corruption of the story is evident in every aspect: the muddied splash of the truck, the untended and grassless school grounds, the stagnant swimming pool, the spoiled fish, the slightly grubby hotel room to which our heroines repair, the broken-down laundry basket upon which an early suspense scene turns. The dirty waters of the first scene hint at the insinuating, encroaching quality of creeping evil. Water seeps into the film at every turn: stale in the streets, spitting from the sky, banging through pipes, trickling down drains, and spilling every which way.

Even the sweetly timorous Christina, whose long shiny plaits, gingham dress, and winsome half-smile make her look like a barely-grown Dorothy Gale still in a daze from her trip to Oz — even she is blemished; her weak heart is a metaphor for her moral weakness. If Christina can sink to the depths she does, the film seems to ask, who in this world can stand against moral corruption?

“I love you.” “I know.”

This Han Solo role-playing pillowtalk I’m laying down is getting nothin’ from my husband. Go figure.

Obviously, I went for the iconic and the easy corruption: “I love you”/”I know,” “I’ll make ya do the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs,” and so on.

But there are so many Han Solo lines that lend themselves to pornification with no alteration at all.

[note: it gets a little salty after the jump.] Continue reading

OBEY


After years of watching television exclusively on DVD, we’ve recently had cable hooked up (for The Fella’s exciting new freelancing gig at The A.V. Club’s TV Club).

Two thoughts:

1. Suddenly swimming in this surge of commercials, all squawking about my weight candy bars my hair burgers my credit online shopping my bowels my skin fast easy loans my sex drive antiacids my kitchen floor the power of cheeeeeeeeeese, has stirred in me the desire to rewatch 1988’s They Live.

2. Conveniently, They Live is on one channel or another once a day.