Blinded by the Light
His Dark Materials
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I looked all this stuff up on Wikipedia the other day; I don't remember why. My whole life, I'd known at least vaguely of who Patty Hearst was. I'd seen that picture, that famous picture, many, many times. I'd read the old [i]Doonesbury[/i] strips on the subject. I'd laughed hugely at her portrayal of Wanda's Mom in [i]Cry-Baby[/i]. And, eventually, I pieced together at least some of the story. As much of the story as most people know, I guess, and more than most people my age, almost certainly. But until a couple of weeks ago, I honestly had no idea why the group that kidnapped her was called the Symbionese Liberation Army. In my head, I vaguely paralelled it with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a looming presence of my politically-aware childhood. I was never sure, however, what group the Symbionese were. (For the curious, it's a word invented by Donald DeFreeze, the group's original leader, based on the word "symbiosis.")
This documentary really starts with the first major action of the SLA, the assassination of Oakland school superintendent Dr. Marcus Foster and wounding of his deputy, Robert Blackburn. Two SLA members went to prison for this shooting. Following that, on 4 February, 1974, the SLA kidnapped heiress Patricia Campbell Hearst, granddaughter of William Randolph Hearst. The SLA told the family that they would free her if the imprisoned members were released, which of course the family could not do. Then, they demanded that the family distribute enormous amounts of food to the poor, a program that didn't really work. Eventually, the tapes that they released from Patty had her declaring her rejection of her family and society and her taking the new name Tania. It was after this that she took part in the Hibernia Bank robbery, the group's most famous activity. Later, five SLA members (including DeFreeze) were killed as part of a firefight in Los Angeles. Eventually, Hearst was captured, tried, and convicted for her role in the Hibernia Bank robbery. She later had her sentence commuted by Jimmy Carter and was pardoned by Bill Clinton.
The film takes essentially no stance on Hearst's claims that she was brainwashed by the SLA. While her story is used as a frame to hold the story together and her name features prominently in one of the titles under which this was released, there is little detail about Hearst herself mentioned. The details of the SLA's activities rate more mention. Hearst is not among those former SLA members interviewed, though I doubt she would have agreed to be so if asked. There is, at the end, a brief shot of a young, clean-cut Patty Hearst beaming at the camera after her commutation; this, I think, serves to remind us that no other member of the organization received such favourable treatment--though Russell Little, one of two men convicted in the Foster murder, was eventually acquitted in a retrial in 1981. He [i]is[/i] one of the ones interviewed.
Groups like this frustrate me. They put so much effort into their bank robberies and their gun stockpiling. In fact, it was impulsive shoplifting on the part of member William Harris that indirectly caused the deaths of DeFreeze, Nancy Ling Perry, Angela Atwood, Willie Wolfe (after whom Stephen King named his infamous rabid dog--his [i]nom de guerre[/i] was Cujo), and Patricia Soltysik. The sequence of events is hard to follow and harder to believe, but it's true. Yes, the SLA got some poor people in California fed, but since the food distribution was poorly organized, the distribution in one area led to violence and all of it was shut down. Other than that, I am curious as to what anyone thinks they accomplished. The only member most people can name these days is Patty Hearst, and she has long since rejected their values if she ever really espoused them in the first place. Surely that effort could have been put to better use elsewhere.
If Hearst has never shown real remorse about her crimes, it's hard to consider the others to have done so, either. In the disc's special features, there is footage from the Sacramento courthouse where four of the SLA members pleaded guilty to the murder of bank teller Myrna Opsahl, killed in the Crocker Bank robbery, where Hearst allegedly drove the getaway car. William Harris expressed the opinion that putting him in prison wouldn't solve anything--possibly true--and that it was a great hardship on his family, even comparing it briefly to the hardship Opsahl's family suffered upon her death. It's really horrible. Even if they do feel remorse, none of them went out of their way to ensure that they would make amends to the family for it.
The thing is, wanting to end a war and supporting an enemy are not reliably the same thing. It's also not the same thing as not supporting our soldiers. There may well be overlap, but there isn't always. There are some people you can't convince of that--but there are always people who make it harder to try. This is, of course, true of both sides. On the one hand, you got the people who called Vietnam veterans baby-killers. The people who openly consorted with the North Vietnamese government and claimed that all stories of atrocities committed by the Viet Cong were exaggerations at best and probably flat-out lies. Those people polarized the debate. However, so did the people on the other side, the ones who declared that anyone opposed to the war was a traitor, the ones who claimed that all stories of atrocities committed by US soldiers were exaggerations and best and probably flat-out lies. There were, of course, nice, sane people on both sides of the debate, but, as in any contentious situation, it's the lunatic fringe that gets noticed.
[i]Hearts and Minds[/i] seems sane and rational, though I'm told the filmmaker, Peter Davis, read a message from the North Vietnamese government as part of his acceptance speech. So there's that. And it's certainly a biased film--the contrast of General Westmoreland explaining that "Orientals" don't place the same value on human life as Americans being intercut with a Vietnamese funeral and the grief connected to it kind of shows that, I think. Most of the film is intended to show the problems of our occupation of Vietnam. Many of those interviewed are veterans, but mostly the kind of veterans who were protesting the war. The few others are primarily used as contrast.
Now, Westmoreland claimed to have been quoted out of context, and there are those who say that Davis trapped him into making the statement. However, I have to say that I can't think of any context that would have made that statement less reprehensible. I also can't see how anything Davis said would have forced Westmoreland to make that kind of statement. Likewise George Coker, a former American POW, declares that Vietnam would be a very pretty country were it not for the people. Now, I can understand Coker's not being the most happy with the Vietnamese people, especially of course the North Vietnamese. On the other hand, he is committing the falacy of tarring the entire population of the country with the same brush.
It is also true, of course, that the film shows only the American atrocities. We see Phan Thị Kim Phúc, the famous girl photographed running naked down the street, horribly burned by napalm. (Richard Nixon, apparently, believed the photo, and presumably the film of the same event, to be faked.) We see that funeral. We hear veterans talk about the horrible things they saw. But we never actually hear Coker talk about what happened to him. We don't get told how either side treated their prisoners, really. We hear a lot about napalm, but nothing about the Hanoi Hilton. It is a biased film, though I'm kind of curious as to how much of popular culture at the time was biased the other way.
I will admit that I do not much approve of the Vietnam War in retrospect. To be fair, I wasn't there for it. The war is considered to have ended in 1975, more than a year before I was born. I'm not best thrilled with the current war, either, though I'm sure none of you are surprised by that. I like to think that we've gotten better at presenting an unbiased view of things, but I know that we haven't. Then again, hardly anyone in history ever has. We consider our current reporting of World War II to be unbiased, but how often do we consider the perspective of anyone but ourselves and Hitler?
And It Only Got Worse From There
For some reason, Rotten Tomatoes shows two versions of this movie, one of which is only some twenty-five minutes. I didn't think there was a twenty-five minute version of this, but it's clearly intended to be this movie--it has this movie's poster. I am, therefore, going to assume that it's screwed up in the way certain of the things in the review system are still screwed up even all this time after the "improvements" were put in place. I've come across similar problems several times, which leads to the fun, fun game of "now, where do I put this review?" IMDB, for example, goes directly to the page for this one if you enter its title into their search criteria. So if this review is in the wrong place, I'm sorry; blame the vagaries of the website.
At any rate. Filmmaker Emile de Antonio starts with the French occupation of Vietnam. He uses no narration, only primary sources. The imagery is complex and varied, though shown almost entirely from the US perspective. Even when people are speaking in favour of the North Vietnamese government, they are all Americans. This seems rather to make even the people speaking for the Vietnamese paternalistic, and the people speaking out about the Evil Communist, Ho Chi Minh, are obviously so. The phrase "the Free World" comes up with depressing regularity; there is, naturally, ranting Tailgunner Joe McCarthy. There are all sorts of the more determined Republicans interspersed with the Vietnamese dead, wounded, and captured, including a woman with distraught eyes and a group of Americans destroying rice rather than let it fall into enemy hands.
Now, it's good that de Antonio admits to his bias, because it's pretty obvious. (I note he's also done a movie about JFK and that ignorant idiot, Mark Lane.) However, I suspect he doesn't notice his bias toward American source material. There's an interview on the DVD wherein he says that the Vietnamese don't speak English, but obviously, some of them do and did. You get Americans saying how the Vietnamese tell them this or that, but no one seems to talk to actual Vietnamese people. I'm not saying the average Vietnamese person spoke English; at the time, the more popular second language was French, given how long the French were the invaders. However, there were certainly plenty of English-speaking Vietnamese, and there's probably stock footage of them.
There is this belief, in the US, that not wanting to be in a war means hating the people fighting in it. For some people, of course, the Military is a symbol of The Man and all that is evil with the world; we don't actually have to be at war for that to be true. However, I think most members of peace movements in any war are actually supportive of the actual people. There's the recurring theme of "support our troops; bring them home." How much body armour they had or needed wouldn't be an issue if they weren't somewhere getting shot at all the time. (Though studies indicate that hardly any soldiers actually fire their guns, not if they can avoid it.) However, I think that ties into an American need for all issues to be black and white. The reason a lot of Democrats are considered weak is that they're able to see more than one side of an issue. Also to change their minds upon further information, which we look down on as well.
The film cuts off in 1968. I am curious as to how de Antonio might have dealt with later developments. There is footage of a North Vietnamese prisoner being beaten, but I think John McCain would testify, has testified, that the North Vietnamese were not exactly nice to their own prisoners. (Indeed, John McCain was actually a POW when the film was made.) And, after driving the Americans out, the Vietnamese turned on their own, with purges not uncommon in Communist countries. There was Nixon's "secret plan" to get us out of Vietnam, so secret that he didn't tell his advisors. He shows the collapse of Dien Bien Phu; he does not mention that hardly any of the French soldiers survived to return to France. Slowly but surely, the American people turned against the war, and he doesn't really touch much on the anti-war movement anyway. It wouldn't mesh with his point, I suspect.
Lauren Bacall and Brian Krakow
First, let me tell you one thing--IMDB lies. Under "Filming Locations," it informs us that this was filmed (at least in part) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) on Wilshire Boulevard in LA. This is, I can most assuredly promise you, not true. At all. LACMA is housed in a very modern-looking building, I believe from the sixties, and looks nothing like the classic architecture of the museum presented herein. (Which is also not at all like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which it's implied to be and which it is in the book, but is obviously not because of how obviously the movie was filmed in LA and not New York.) I happen to know, in fact, that the long case the kids walk past a couple of times does not house art. In point of fact, it houses a coelocanth. This is because the museum shown isn't actually an art museum at all. It is the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, which is in a much lovelier building. The part of the building they show most often was built in 1913. I also happen to know that the entrance they show the kids using most often assuredly does not open onto the street. No entrance of the museum does; it's in the middle of a park. This is why the walk sign wobbles visibly. It's a fake.
Claudia Kincaid (Jean Marie Barnwell) feels put upon. This is largely because she very clearly is. She has two brothers, the older Steve (Devon Gummersall) and the younger Jamie (Jesse Lee Soffer), but it is Claudia who seems to do all the housework. One day, she decides she's had enough of this, and she makes up her mind to run away. She brings Jamie along as part of her plan, largely because the little bugger's such a cheapskate that he has managed to save up quite a lot of money. (In the book, it's about $24, but it's clearly much more here. Inflation, you know.) Claudia has decided that the best place to run away [i]to[/i] is the museum. There, she can live in comfort. There's no danger. There will be a roof over her head, it will be warm, and there will be access to all the amenities to which she is accustomed. Jamie, who wants to live in the woods, is hugely disappointed. (They'd have to travel an awful long way to get to the kind of woods he's imagining anyway.) However, when they get to the museum, Claudia becomes fixated on a statue of an angel that may or may not be the work of Michelangelo Buanarotti.
This is, frankly, a dreadful adaptation. Oh, I heartily approve of the casting of Lauren Bacall as the eccentric titular character, for all she's too beautiful still. Most of the rest of the casting is pretty good, too. However, for one, I am deeply annoyed that Mrs. Frankweiler puts in an appearance so soon in the movie. As in, before Claudia and Jamie. Admittedly, she's the narrator of the book, and Claudia knows about her quite early in their stay at the museum, but she doesn't physically appear in the book until (in my copy) page 125. Certainly the ridiculous scene where Jamie rescues her from stepping on gum in the museum is unnecessary. The angel looks nothing as described in the book, not least being that it's too big. (The quarry mark under the statue's missing the "M," too.) The children leave Mrs. Frankweiler's files a mess. There's the pointless addition of the nosy guard (M. Emmett Walsh), who seems to be on duty at all times. And the parents get too much time.
Honestly, the museum layout doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense, as is not surprising given that none of the exhibits belong in that museum anyway. We pass on the notion of Amy Robsart's murder bed--it's so described in the book and may well be so described in the museum as well, for all it's ridiculous. Amy Robsart, first wife of Robin Dudley, fell or was pushed down a flight of stairs and did not die in bed at all. However, the contents seem all crowded together without any kind of order. The line to get into the museum and the line to see the most prominent new exhibit are the same line. The drawers and such of the furniture aren't fastened in any way, despite the fact that a museum director would know the public's insatiable interest in knowing what's in those drawers. Even though, logically, there shouldn't be anything. (Do they expect to see poor Amy Dudley's underwear?) Oddly, it seems implied that there are only two bathrooms in the place. Movie-Claudia also fails to note any possibility of security beyond the guards, who are frankly kind of incompetent.
I also happen to know that, at least at the time this was filmed--I understand there's been some remodeling since--one of the galleries was just one big vault which is sealed off at night. More than that, I'll admit, I don't know a lot about the security, and I suspect how museum security works now and how it worked in 1967, when the book was published, may well be different. Actually, I've walked the halls of that museum--and, as it happens, LACMA--over and over again. You see, my mom has memberships to both museums. I was pretty sure, early in the movie, that it was the natural history museum, but when they showed that lovely statue of three of the Muses, I knew. It's unmistakable. I have always loved that statue, ever since I was very small indeed, and it has always amused me how many cities they've pretended it's in over the years.
Disney Parenting Strikes Again
Gene Siskel walked out on three movies in his entire career; this was one of them. I present you with this fact in minor astonishment. Doubtless if we searched his past reviews, we could find much, much worse movies. Indeed, the relevant review does not appear to be available online, more's the pity, because I would really like an explanation. I have Roger's review around here somewhere, though it isn't on his website, either. People are more than willing to tell me that it's one of the three, and they're certainly willing to link me to his review of [i]Black Sheep[/i], the last of the three (you may have seen it before, when it was called [i]Tommy Boy[/i]), but I am unable to find an explanation on this one, just the bare fact. It perplexes me, because while I cannot in honesty call this a good movie, I've seen worse, and I've seen worse from Disney. Possibly there is worse from Dean Jones--I haven't seen [i]The Ugly Dachshund[/i] all the way through in some time. But no, this is it.
It is true that Our Hero, Professor Albert Dooley (Jones), is a rather unpleasant sort. When he was young, he dreamed of all he could accomplish, all the fame and glory due to an up-and-coming young scientist in the field of behavioural research, perhaps missing that there is very little glory in the field of behavioural research. At any rate, he is now married to Katie (the eternally dippy Sandy Duncan) and the father of a son, Jimmy (Lee Montgomery). It's not that he doesn't love them. It's that they're spending beyond his means. A friend of Jimmy's offers him a dog--for $50. Jimmy does not understand that this is more than the budget will stand--but Katie later says a dog can't eat more than a duck, so it probably runs in the family. At any rate, there is that duck, a former research animal in Albert's lab. It is stupid even for a duck. It fails its last test, and Albert takes it home rather than have it killed. Only the duck has been irradiated in such a way that it now lays golden eggs. Hilarity, poor spending habits, law-breaking, and bad parenting, in no particular order, ensue.
The thing is, Jimmy has one each of a type of bad parent. Because Katie is just so dumb, he can get away with a great deal. She is ferociously devoted to her child, and woe betide he who gets in her way, but she is still awfully dumb and pretty permissive. On the other hand, despite his claims that he and Jimmy are best friends, Albert seems more interested in his work and, later, the duck. Midway through the picture, Katie says that he should close the window, because it's getting cold in Jimmy's room and they don't want "him" to catch cold. Albert agrees, closes the window, and covers the duck. This is supposed to be the ultimate sign, I think, of how the idea of fabulous wealth has filled Albert's mind with avarice and made him have the wrong priorities. We are, for one, supposed to think of "Charlie" (the kid doesn't seem to get that only girl ducks lay eggs and refers to it as "he" throughout) as being just a kid's pet, but by age ten, I had a pretty clear view of being poor, and if I had a duck which laid golden eggs--well, the cats would have killed her. But you get the point.
More worrisome to me, actually, was that both women in this movie--and there are really only two--are total dingbats. Albert and his friend, Fred Hines (Tony Roberts), take it for granted that Katie can just go into a refinery office and inform them that the gold was laid by a duck, and while they'll think she's crazy, it won't seem out of character. She shows a minor trend for malapropism which seems just a kicker on her wackiness quotient. Similarly, we have Eunice Hooper (Virginia Vincent), wife of grumpy neighbour Finley Hooper (perpetually sour Joe Flynn), who cannot understand that there might be a cause for the reactions she sees her husband have. There are a couple of stupid teenagers (Arvin, played by Jack Bender, and Orlo, played by Billy Bowles), and they're good for a minor laugh in their hippie teenage ways, but mostly, we're laughing at Katie--there are no women who are not jokes.
You know, for all its failings, it's a harmless little movie, really. I don't think most people would even notice what is arguably anti-feminist subtext. And, of course, the Wadlow brothers are just Disney hippies, throwing the term "bigot" where it isn't appropriate because someone is doing something they don't like. Not to mention how they recklessly put Jimmy in danger, and not just by driving him around on their terrifying dune buggy. When I was seven, though, I thought this movie was incredibly funny--though I think I still recognized the stupid lack of foresight on the part of the Wadlows. If you look too closely, it's offensive, but if it were that which drove Gene out of the theatre, there should have been far more movies which did. It's dumb, but even without trying, you could produce a very long list indeed of even dumber movies between 1971 and 1999. (Notably [i]Black Sheep[/i]!) I honestly cannot determine any reason for the severely negative reaction which could not have been produced by dozens of other movies, often in similar combination to what we have here. Maybe he was just allergic to apples or duck feathers or something.
I don't have a lot of sympathy for the belief that this film puts too much emphasis over the television marketing end of the story. It's true that there was more to the story than that. It's true that the movie even hints at some of the other aspects of the campaign but not does spend much time on them. However, that's because the other parts of the campaign are not the story that the movie is telling. This is not intended to be the story of the whole of Chile's progress back to democracy. It isn't even the story of the whole of the referendum which made democracy possible. It is the story of the television commercials. That's it. The whole story would be much busier than the narrower aspects of it that we have here. That's okay; most human stories are large and complicated, especially when they involve as many people as this story inevitably would have. However, there are other arguments to be made against this film, and we'll get to them.
It is 1988. For fifteen years, Chile has been under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet following the coup in which he and other military officials overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. Now, the junta has agreed to hold an election with but one thing on the ballot--will Pinochet remain in power for eight more years? The "yes" side has the support of the government. The "no" side has the support of the seventeen political parties hoping to take over if Pinochet steps down. Each side will get fifteen minutes a night for the twenty-seven nights before the election to present its side on national television, and then, there will be the vote. The "no" side recruits commercial director--and son of a man who went into exile--René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) to make their series of TV spots. Saavedra has to fight against the various leaders of the political parties to get commercials that he thinks will actually help.
The more cogent argument against this film is that it glorifies the commercial makers, not the people making things different. And if convincing people to vote is making things different, which of course it is, why did a TV commercial--or series of them--have so much influence? The spot which makes Saavedra decide that he will help them after all is a somber series of declarations about the evils of the Pinochet regime. They are, of course, all true. Doubtless most of the viewing audience was aware of that. The issue is not so much convincing people about how to vote; it is convincing them to vote at all. The implication is that it is not apathy but fear that will prevent it, though apathy doubtless also plays a part. It really, really bothers me that Saavedra's commercials probably overcame more apathy, and it worries me that they might have overcome more fear. The study of the influence of media on voting patterns is worth doing, though that isn't the point here.
The way we can tell that the only point of the movie is the commercials is that we barely even dip into Saavedra's own past. We know his father is in exile, because that gets used several times as something which adds weight to his position as the right person to make the commercials. It seems there is some history between the regime and the mother of Saavedra's child (Simón, played by Pascal Montero), or anyway that's who I think she is, but it isn't completely clear. It is, in fact, probable that each and every person who is part of the No campaign knows someone who has disappeared, who is in exile, who is actually known to be imprisoned or executed. (That last possibly the most rare, given what I know of the Pinochet regime.) They know that know few of the people watching have had similar experiences, but they also know that those are not the people who need convincing. At least, not those who would be convinced by a simple TV commercials.
I still have not seen [i]Amour[/i]. However, I was slightly disappointed when it won for Best Foreign Language Film, because I wanted this to win. Not that I had seen any of the nominees, and indeed, I still have not seen any of the others. Foreign Language Film is one of those categories where it is hard to see the nominees before the ceremony. It often takes a very long time for them to be available in this country. This often leads to a certain amount of fuss that other films, ones actually available on DVD, are not nominated. The nomination procedure for Foreign Language Film is complicated, possibly to the point of being arbitrary. Still, I do at times wish that we'd start being more interested in films about other countries' histories. After all, the events in [i]Argo[/i] were in some ways not so different from the events in this film, or anyway plenty of parallels can be drawn. In filming style, too, come to that; if I were to talk about that, it would be about the effort made to make the film look to be filmed in 1988, not just set then.
Only So Much You Can Say
I think this movie exemplifies most the difference in how I see the world versus how the filmmakers see the world. Despite the awful nature of some of what is filmed, I really still see most of what appears in this movie as inherently hopeful. Maybe I'm romanticizing. It wouldn't be the first time. However, I see beauty in much of the environment shown in the film, even the urban landscapes that we're probably supposed to see as inherently less than the natural ones. Yeah, there are also some places that are pretty awful--mines and so forth. It's not even as though I think there's something great to just the sight of seas of neon. What struck me about it was more the fact that we are able to create beauty out of things that aren't necessarily beautiful on their face. We are able to find beauty in places that aren't beautiful by themselves. Even if it's only for a moment.
As with the other "Qatsi" films, there's no plot to summarize. It's all about imagery and music. The imagery in this one is mostly human, ranging from the Serra Pelada gold mines of Brazil to Mombasa to Cuzco to Cairo. Some of it is a bit depressing, like for example those gold mines. An injured man is carried out on the backs of his fellows. In the film's only staged shot (which was just repeating something they'd seen but not caught on camera), a boy walks by the side of the road and vanishes in a dust cloud as a truck passes him. There is a boat, possibly a dhow, with a beautiful, multicoloured sail. We see African villages, mosques, and people praying by the banks of the Ganges. The film primarily focuses on the Third World, but there are also shots of people such as Christie Brinkley and John Paul II. There aren't the financial landmarks of [i]Naqoyqatsi[/i] or the sweeping panoramas of [i]Koyaanisqatsi[/i]; this is, I think, the most human of the trilogy.
However, my viewing of the trilogy is out of order and over an extended period of time. I must confess that I can't really compare them with any degree of certainty. It's a powerful series, but I've seen four movies of this ilk, if you include [i]Baraka[/i], and after four movies, remembering exactly which one any specific moment is from, assuming I can remember specific moments, is far from a certainty. And that's leaving out the fact that I see something like four hundred movies in any given year, counting movies I watch and don't review, either because I had nothing to say or because I've already reviewed it some time in the past. The images are floating in my head somewhere, and I've loved the music of [i]Koyaanisqatsi[/i], at least, since something like seventh grade. But perhaps because these are non-narrative films, they don't remain in the brain in the same way. This is not to say that they're forgettable; I watch a lot of forgettable films. But they are a lot more disjointed than other films.
I suppose the theme I see in the Qatsi trilogy is that humans must find their place in the world, and what that place is must balance somehow. We cannot take everything out of the Earth and put nothing back. We cannot take everything from each other and give nothing back. Our lives in the industrialized world are built on the backs of those men in Brazilian mines, for example. The third movie of the trilogy, as I mentioned in my review of it, features the Enron logo. This one is, I believe, the only one of the three not to feature a mushroom cloud. As I said, there's a pretty negative attitude toward progress through the series. The movie seems of the opinion that all progress is necessarily at the expense of the natural world and the balance of humanity. I'm reasonably sure that the very idea that technology could improve the life of those miners would be shocking to the filmmaker, but I'd certainly prefer a machine to lifting all that dirt out of the pit by hand.
I am a firm believer that there is a balance between science and nature. I believe that we need both. Filmmaker Godfrey Reggion felt guilty about using high-tech cameras to make this movie and had to convince himself that technology is just a part of our lives now. I find that perspective a little bewildering. Technology has been part of our lives as long as we've been recognizably human. We may not call it that, but even when it was just stone tools and control of fire, we were using technology. I am reminded of [i]Cave of Forgotten Dreams[/i], actually. Werner Herzog built his own 3D camera to film in a cave that had been important to people who were among the first to capture imagery using paints. The people who decorated the walls of that cave wouldn't have recognized the tools Werner used, but I believe they would have recognized the drive to do it. The same is true of flint-knappers and the people we see in one of these movies building cars on an assembly line. There's a difference between roast mammoth and Twinkies, but it's all the same drive.
This Is What All the Fuss Is About?
When I pick up my library holds every Tuesday, I go to the counter to check out instead of using self-check out, because I like talking to the librarians about any particularly interesting item that I've gotten that week. I'm pretty sure they like talking to me about them, too; when they haven't seen me in a while, they ask how I'm doing and where in the alphabet I am. This week, the librarian who checked me out looked through the pile and told me that he'd never seen this movie, because it's a scary movie. I told him that I didn't get scared by movies, ever, and he looked surprised. However, even if I did, I don't think I would have been scared by this. It isn't just my generation's curse--I saw the [i]Simpsons[/i] episode first--that caused that, either. It's that I found the movie silly instead. And I'm going to be giving spoilers, because when the big reveal came, it simply didn't make any sense.
The Freeling family has been living in the pleasant subdivision of Cuesta Verde for years. Father Steve (Craig T. Nelson) is, in fact, a salesman for the company and has apparently sold nearly half the homes in the subdivision for them. Mother Diane (JoBeth Williams) takes care of the three kids--Dana (Dominique Dunne), Robbie (Oliver Robins), and Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke). Then one day, a storm comes. In the storm, for reasons, are dark spirits. They take Carol Anne into the realm between the living and the dead. Her parents call in Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), a parapsychologist. She tries to help them, but it's beyond her capabilities. She, in turn, summons Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein), who has more experience in such matters. Together, they work to find a way to bring Carol Anne back into the world of the living and the care of her parents. While they are preparing for it, Steve finds out the secret of Cuesta Verde.
Or at least part of it. The part that we discover at the very end is that it is not merely that the land where the housing development was built used to be a cemetery. It is that it basically still is. Steve cries in shock that they moved the headstones, but they didn't move the bodies. (Which were real skeletons, because real ones were cheaper than good fake ones.) This is, bluntly, stupid and impossible. I mean, take a look--how deep is the foundation on your house? Okay, subdivision in probably California means these houses probably don't have basements, but the first sewer line they ran? Heck, the pool that the Freelings are having dug is deeper than six feet at its deepest point. It would not have been possible, even if it were legal, which I'm pretty sure it isn't. This doesn't work. I know I'm probably not supposed to think about that, but I'm not sure how I'm supposed to avoid it. It was so obvious and stupid that I don't know how it was possible to miss it, and one of you who managed not to think about it should let me know how.
And then there's the claim that the production was cursed. I'm not buying that, either. Supposedly, it's because they used real human skeletons in the climax (they were actually cheaper), but if that's true, [i]MythBusters[/i] is similarly cursed. Anyway, it is true that Dominique Dunne was murdered by her abusive boyfriend. Heather O'Rourke probably died of completely preventable causes. I'm given to understand that a couple of people who were in later movies also died, but you know, both the parents are still alive. The younger brother is still alive. Heck, the film was produced by Steven Spielberg, and unless you want to argue that the Academy's hatred of him is part of the curse, he's doing just fine. Director Tobe Hooper is still alive. No, this is like the alleged Curse of King Tut; it's grasping at straws to make a story more interesting. I feel for the O'Rourke and Dunne families, but I still don't think there's any such thing as curses.
This is another film I watched solely to check off the list. There are a lot of those. There continue to be a lot of them and will for some time. Yeah, okay, the list of classics I've never seen actually does get shorter, even if my list of movies I actually want to watch doesn't. My definition of "classic" is pretty specific, and there aren't as many new ones made every year which will one day become classics as I watch in a year. I don't even find out about all that many new ones. Even as I examine more countries' films, I don't learn about as many that I would consider classics as all that. So that's one list in my life that actually gets shorter, and I've knocked another one off it today. (It will not surprise you to know that the sequels don't make it onto the list.) I sometimes feel that my library project is particularly quixotic, because the catalog has more than doubled since I started. But since I don't backtrack in the library catalog, at least the end of that one is in sight, too.
But Really Understanding the Bible Is Hard!
Someone once told me that Catholics don't ever read the Bible. Leaving aside that Bible readings are part of the mass, my church gave Bibles to every Sunday school class in fourth grade. It's true that I doubt half my classmates ever read theirs, but I have no certainty that most Protestants read their Bibles, either. I know too many stories of Protestants who were ignorant of basic details of the Bible. In practice, this means that Catholics and Protestants alike--and probably the various Orthodox faiths, and Jews, and Muslims--are ignorant of what the book actually says. They follow it, but they rely on other people to tell them what they're following. They don't know enough to know for themselves what the Bible says on any subject, and I think that's part of the problem. I hope that this will be rectified, and sooner rather than later, but I am inclined to doubt it.
Ky Dickens went to Vanderbilt University because of a weird fixation with Southerners based on things like reading [i]Fried Green Tomatoes[/i]. However, there's more to the South than that, and Vanderbilt is notoriously conservative. So when she came out to her closest friends, she was surprised and I am not to discover that they rejected her because of it. Without fail, they told her that the Bible supported such rejection. Hurt and sad, she decided to find out if that was true. She sought out the opinions of literally dozens of religious figures around the US, asking if they believed the Bible, interpreted correctly, considered homosexuality to be a sin. All the people she interviewed were heterosexual. She only found two who went on record stating that the Bible really said that, one of whom was Fred Phelps. The film is cute animation and serious conversation with her religious figures, including Phelps. She also does some "vox populi" interviews to find out what the average person the street thinks.
Oh, I find it very surprising that she only found two. I can name a few others she should have spoken to; I don't think she interviewed any Catholics, for example. However, I do think that even a Catholic, upon reading the actual history of those seven quotes, would be forced to concede that the quotes do not say what a lot of people think they do. Of course, it gets into the murky history of Biblical translation, and I think that's where Phelps goes wrong. At least one of the other people I think she could have spoken to knows that history and has consciously rejected it, going on record to say that the King James Bible is clearly the right one even with its known history of translation errors. (Which she wouldn't have gotten from a Catholic.) Still, she says nothing about her qualifications for considering people to be interviewed for the piece, which is one of several places where I think the documentary should have been longer than its bare hour.
A point worth mentioning, which she does, is that homosexuality as we know it today was literally inconceivable to the people who wrote the Bible. They were more discussing the Greek model, where an older man took a younger one under his wing and also expected sexual favours for it. A homosexual relationship of equals was as impossible to the people who wrote those verses as, in most cases, a heterosexual relationship of equals was. The problem isn't the sex, and even if it were, the Bible leaves lesbians out entirely. The problem is that a homosexual relationship was one in which one of the men ceded the power that he held by right of being male. That's entirely different. The idea of any marriage as a partnership of true equals was not one that was held by most cultures in history. This is where you get into concepts like "complementarianism," which is one that horrifies me. That's where men are men and women are women, and they have very specific roles, and how can you have a complementary gay marriage?
I have to say, though, I always tear up at these images of gay couples' finally getting married. We have a clip here from the moments when a Massachusetts minister performed her first legal gay marriage ceremony, and she has to pause for cheers when she announces that it is by the authority vested in her by the commonwealth. Just the idea that these people are able at long last to celebrate their love, especially when the couples have been together for literally decades, fills me with delight. The minister says that she trembled, not with nervousness but with joy. The idea that these people have suffered so much for their love, for their very identities, and are having it at least somewhat validated in one glorious moment to be shared with everyone they love? Great stuff. Great for all of us. We need to be reminded, now and again, of how important love really is to people. The moments of pure joy thrill me every time, and I am glad for them every time.
No Bodices Were Harmed in the Making of This Film
You can tell that this wasn't an American film. No American film of 1948 could have had the same plot, even though all evildoers are appropriately punished. The background of the film would have been forbidden, much less anything that actually happens onscreen. One of the main characters is an illegitimate child. If two of the characters don't commit adultery, they commit fornication. (I'm not sure of the timeline.) And so forth. For 1948, this is quite shocking stuff. To a modern eye, probably the most shocking part is the portrayal of Gypsies, though I doubt most people even notice. (Discrimination against Gypsies seems to be considered more quaint and old-fashioned than an actual problem these days.) All the stuff that appears in this movie might easily be in the chintzy romance novels my mother spent so much time reading when I was growing up.
Blanche Fury (Valerie Hobson) is the impoverished daughter of an old, established family. She has been failing at a number of the kind of jobs a woman like her would have had. Finally, she receives a letter from her uncle Simon (Walter Fitzgerald), who says that, now that certain other relatives have died, he wants her to come to the family estate and be the governess of his granddaughter, Lavinia (Susanne Gibbs). She will be a servant, but she will have a home. Also in this position is Philip Thorn (Stewart Granger), the illegitimate son of the former owner of the estate. He believes he should have inherited the estate, believes his parents were married in Italy. This fuels his resentment against his Fury cousins, which isn't helped when Blanche marries Laurence (Michael Gough in one of his first roles). Things get worse, and Blanche must face the fact that she is in love with Philip, not Laurence. Laurence seems to know this and decides to take control, which of course doesn't end well for anyone.
It's awfully melodramatic, is what I'm saying. To the point that it's silly. Obviously, we shouldn't expect chemistry between Blanche and Laurence, but there isn't really any chemistry between Blanche and Philip, either. Lavinia spends most of the movie forgotten, I think; she arrives again when we need her to be the heir, but she has no part in the story until she needs to be in danger to keep the plot, such as it is, going. To be honest, I have no idea how she connects to the rest of the family anyway. Okay, she's Simon's granddaughter. Who were her parents? Was Laurence widowed? How were the families related? Blanche's father and Simon were brothers, but how was Philip's father related to the others? Are all three first cousins? It's entirely possible that the movie said this and I missed it, but it is kind of important information, right? Why do so many movies let important plot points slide like that? I feel like I'm saying this sort of thing a lot.
And I mean, it's badly filmed, too. The colour's being muddy may be the fact that this movie is more than sixty years old, and Netflix Instant Play may not have a copy in the best condition. (This is another thing that I would like fixed before Netflix goes to all-streaming; a lot of the older movies are not in good shape.) However, Netflix couldn't make the actual shots worse. (This is not getting into the fact that Netflix has recently acknowledged changing aspect ratios on some films; this is too old to have it be an issue.) The director doesn't seem particularly skilled, in my opinion. I actually turned off a movie last week that he'd directed, because it did even less for me than this one. Also, I was watching it earlier in the day. But the point, here, is that the movie isn't good enough in a technical perspective to rise above the plot problems it has. Some movies do; this one does not. Which is fairly common, so I'm not really all that peeved about the whole thing.
My mother read the books that she did because she knew she could put them down pretty much in mid-sentence and pick them up again considerably later without missing the plot. While there are a lot of details that I missed, the general thrust of the story was pretty predictable. I've never really agreed with my mother on the subject. I'd rather read something interesting, even if I have to reread a page back upon picking the book up again, but I do see my mother's point. To be fair to my mother--or perhaps not, depending on your perspective--she mostly read Harlequins and so forth instead of the dippy historical ones. So this wasn't the sort she was most likely to read. However, it does still have its similarities. It's not unlike the books I read when I was pregnant the first time, because my roommate had a ton of them and I was reading everything I could get my hands on. However, this is certainly no more the kind of movie I'd watch a second time than I bothered reading most of those books a second time.
Back When Geek Meant Something Totally Different
One of these days, I will go looking for the etymological history of the word "geek." Apparently, the book on which this movie is based is the first use of it in the "carnival attraction" sense; we don't quite know where the word comes from, and the site I use for etymology doesn't seem to know how we went from the version of it in this to the version of it in [i]The Breakfast Club[/i]. It's interesting to consider, but since it's slang, it's probably much harder to do the research. The etymology of slang is extremely difficult, which is why it's not something I've ever considered doing for a living. So, you know, the day when I track the history of the word "geek" is not going to come any time soon. But it is a thing that I think about occasionally, especially when I read articles about how maybe we should stop pretending that "geek" is an insult that automatically means "Anthony Michael Hall."
Stan Carlisle (Tyrone Power) has just started working for a carnival. One of the things he does is help Zeena Krumbein (dear Joan Blondell) and her husband, Pete (Ian Keith), with their psychic act. Zeena and Pete used to have an even better one, but Pete has become a drunk and isn't capable of keeping it up any more. Through a series of events that don't entirely matter, Stan helps Pete drink himself to death. He joins Zeena in her act, and they're doing just fine, but he ends up in a shotgun wedding with Molly (Coleen Gray), and they go off to do the psychic act in a nightclub, because psychic acts were the big draw in nightclubs in 1947, I guess. The act is definitely better in each incarnation, but still. Anyway, he goes on to hook up with a psychiatrist, Lilith Ritter (Helen Walker), and use her files to improve his act. And then, he basically sets himself up as a guru, I kind of missed how, and from there, things just get weird.
Joan Blondell was forty-one when this movie was made, and she is treated as old by pretty much all the characters. She pairs up with Molly's father, Bruno (Mike Mazurki), to force the wedding, though we are clearly shown that it's because she is bitter about the fact that Stan convinced her that he was interested in her and then went off with the younger woman. Yes, okay, Tyrone Power was eight years younger than she was, but of course Coleen Gray was eight years younger than Tyrone Power. It just kind of irks me, in no small part because she doesn't look middle aged. Heck, she was in [i]Desk Set[/i] in 1957, and she didn't look middle aged then. I'm not sure she looked any older then. I could understand why you'd be interested in Molly instead of Zeena, but that's because of personal taste, not because Joan Blondell looked too old. And anyway I'm quite sure Tyrone Power would be able to keep playing a romantic lead well after Joan Blondell could, because that's how the film industry works.
A bigger problem is that, and let's face it, the story did not make any sense. I had no idea what was going on half the time, or I suppose more accurately, I had no idea why it was happening. It isn't just the whole "I don't know why psychics are supposedly a popular nightclub act" thing--I mean, how did Stan and Molly go from working in a carnival to working in high-class nightclubs anyway? But I wasn't sure why everyone seemed so determined that he and Molly should get married. I'm not sure why he basically killed Pete; he wanted to get his hands on the code that Zeena and Pete used in their act, but was he really that awful a person? I do not understand. We don't really develop his character enough in order for the film to really work. Once again, it's theoretically possible that this would have made more sense if I'd read the book. I often assume this to be the case, especially under the Code, where there were limits on what you could spell out. But really?
Probably the most interesting part of the movie is the lingering dread of being the geek. It's obviously something that the character in this movie has with the characters in [i]The Breakfast Club[/i], even if their definition of the word is not quite the same. I have a lot more sympathy with the people afraid of being this kind of geek. This is a genuinely scary kind. They never actually show us the geek, is the fun thing. The geek is the dark secret of the carnival; if there turns out to be a geek act, they can all go to jail, or at least the carnival will be shut down. We get to see the accuracy of cold reading, which is an important thing to know, and we get to see that, if you make the wrong decision, you can end up in a bad place. Probably your bad place will not be biting the heads of chickens; it really doesn't happen to that many people. However, being the geek is, for these people, the prime example of your life ending up in a bad place. This is just another way of showing how different their lives are.
Finding Yourself in the Legitimate Theatre
It's easy to forget how very young she was then. This was her third movie, her first Oscar. She was twenty-six then and could still pass for younger. She was ninety-six when she died; for my entire life, she was old. For as long as my mother can remember, she was middle aged. But there was a time, long ago, when Katharine Hepburn was young. In some ways, I think she was very like the character she played here--earnest and determined beyond the average. Wanting very much for everyone to be aware of how talented she was. She mellowed, with time, and I suspect her relationship with the more down-to-earth Spencer Tracy probably contributed to that, deeply messed up though that relationship was. However, part of me still likes young and earnest Katharine Hepburn, even when I find the characters she's playing to be more than a little embarrassing. I sympathize with them more than I really want to admit.
Ada Love (Hepburn) has come to New York to be an actress. She has begun called herself Eva Lovelace, and she wrote George Bernard Shaw to tell him of her admiration for him--and got a letter back. She is waiting in the office of Louis Easton (Adolphe Menjou), a theatrical producer (I think), in the hopes of auditioning for one of the plays he's putting on. He works with up-and-coming playwright Joseph Sheridan (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), who is strangely captivated by Eva, even if she is brash and callow. She's lovely, and he can see that she has more talent than the kind of sophisticate so frequently cast in Easton's plays. Eva also befriends Bob Hedges (C. Aubrey Smith), an experienced actor who is also enchanted by her. Her pride will not let her admit just how much help she needs. She will not admit that she is broke and hungry, for example. However, Bob sees through her and goes out of his way to help her, even when she doesn't want to let him.
Of course, Eva is a lot luckier than hundreds, if not thousands, of others. Most young women who come from small towns to act in New York don't befriend producers' mascots. Mostly, they starve. Or go home. Or find a way of making a living that isn't acting. Now, that isn't as popular to watch. We want to see the underdog succeed. All the better when she is played by someone like Katharine Hepburn, who was never truly an underdog in her life. She was never going to have to worry about starving. Most of those women trying to come to the attention of producers and playwrights are not Bryn Mawr graduates. Still, there is something to her in these early performances, when she played a common woman. Eva Lovelace is from a small New England town. She did local theatre, and she tried to improve it. Despite the fact that young Katharine Hepburn instead met Margaret Sanger and fought for suffrage, you can still see her in the different kind of earnest nature of Eva.
That said, the movie itself isn't terribly good. It goes on a bit despite also being quite short. It's really more of a character study than anything else, but instead on focusing on what's genuinely interesting about the character, we hammer in a tiny amount of a romance between her and Sheridan. And only a very tiny one that I'm not sure is two-sided. I think Eva is as much in love with the theatre as any human, and there is at one point the implication that she believes she is about to begin an affair with Easton. And she's perfectly willing to do it, in part because she thinks it will help her career and in part because she thinks it's the sort of thing that that great actresses all have in their pasts. This is the thing that I don't think we bring out enough in Eva--her beliefs in what a great actress should do. We focus rather more on the men than we do on Eva, and I don't think that helps the movie, whether in plot or character. It's an unfortunate trend in movies that has not much changed.
And, yes, it was her first Oscar. I wasn't hugely fond of [i]Lady For a Day[/i]--and just didn't bother writing a review of its later remake, even if that remake did star Bette Davis in the role that didn't win an Oscar in the original. I haven't seen [i]Cavalcade[/i]. But I can't help wondering, given that there were only three nominees in the category that year, what other, possibly better, performances went unrecognized. Don't get me wrong; I love me some Katharine Hepburn. I have a great distaste at the idea that Meryl Streep will someday tie her record and win a fourth acting Oscar, though I take some comfort in knowing that at least one of hers was for supporting, while Katharine Hepburn never got a supporting nomination in her life. Still, I often wonder, in situations like this, what other performances might have been worth noting. It was in the silly first few years of the ceremony, where the eligible period was longer than a calendar year, so I don't know, alas, what was missed.
Obsessively Quoted by Geeks Everywhere
I have a friend who has never seen this movie. Okay, there are lots of people who have never seen this movie. However, she's started to watch it several times. The problem has been that, every time she goes to watch it, she does so in company with a large number of people who have already seen it. Invariably, they spend the entire movie quoting the movie they are watching. The worst of it is that they quote scenes that haven't come up yet. My friend finds the whole thing so deeply frustrating that she's never bothered to finish it, and I don't blame her. I first saw it when it was airing on Comedy Central (or possibly one of its earlier incarnations) when I was in high school, and that's bad enough. However, to see it in circumstances like those? Intolerable. I've told her she should watch it with me, because I won't do that, but she's a bit burned out on the subject.
This is, at least vaguely, the story of Arthur, King of the Britons (Graham Chapman). He is gathering knights to join him at his castle at Camelot. They are also going in search of the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper. He gathers several knights--not too many, because it's hard for them when they all have to appear in the same scene. But there is Sir Lancelot (John Cleese), Sir Galahad (Michael Palin), Sir Bedevere (Terry Jones), Sir Robin (Eric Idle), and Sir Not Appearing in This Film (William Palin). They have adventures--Sir Galahad finds Castle Anthrax and its Grail-shaped beacon; Sir Lancelot slaughters pretty much an entire wedding party; Sir Robin bravely runs away. There are musical numbers. There is animation. There is the fearsome rabbit. There are the taunting Frenchmen. There are, most shockingly of all for a Python film, female characters actually played by women. There isn't much of a plot, and there basically isn't an ending.
I've said before that the Pythons are the only group I can think of who preferred their experience filming in Tunisia, and having read some of what went wrong on this one, I can understand why. At least in Tunisia, they weren't wearing wet wool and staying in a hotel with an inadequate supply of running water. Graham Chapman had the DTs. John Cleese filmed one scene standing on a cliff where, if he fell on one side, the drop could have killed him. If he fell on the other, "it could have maimed me." It's true that Camelot was only a model, because the Scottish Department of the Environment refused them permission to film in any of its castles, which is most of the castles in Scotland, because the script was "incompatible with the[ir] history and fabric." They were given this with two weeks' notice, so they had to use two privately owned castles over and over and just hope no one noticed. I won't say everything that could go wrong did, but quite a lot went wrong, and less did in Tunisia on [i]Life of Brian[/i].
People forget, or else don't realize, that the only Python without an "Oxbridge" education is Terry Gilliam, the American. (Who went to Occidental, not itself a bad school, even if it isn't in quite the same league.) This means that they are versed in all sorts of things that make it onscreen in surprising ways. A knight running from a rabbit is a common medieval symbol of cowardice, for example, and so Sir Robin runs from the rabbit in our film. Of course the monks are chanting in proper Latin; as [i]Life of Brian[/i] would later show, the Pythons know their Latin. But more specifically, they are singing ecclesiastical Latin, an excerpt from the rites for the dead. Even having Frenchmen in England is probably a reference to things like the Battle of Hastings. The story isn't quite as full of historical parody of [i]Life of Brian[/i], which was full of nuggets about first-century Palestine, but there's still enough to keep a history major amused.
I don't have as much of a problem with people who obsessively quote this movie. After all, I've seen it, and the quotes aren't spoiling anything for me. What I do have a problem with is people who quote the movie in place of being funny themselves. Someone I knew when I was in grade school did "the Holy Hand Bouquet of Antioch" at her wedding, and that was funny. Randomly quoting from this movie is less so. The issue with Yvonne's wedding was the context. She got a friend to read from an enormous book, and they went through the whole thing. It wasn't as funny as it was during the movie, but it was funnier than someone who just quoted those lines for no good reason randomly during a conversation about something else. It is true that "Pythonesque" is a real word in real dictionaries, though not the one my browser uses. I've heard an argument that its very existence means that they failed at their humour, and I don't accept that, but I do believe being funny is more than just being a parrot, alive or dead.
Ghibli on Conservation Again
Okay, how many of you, when I say that this film is Not For Little Kids, assume that I'm doing so because of animated raccoon scrotum? (Actually, they're a form of canid; raccoons, after all, are New World animals!) And, yes, the whole animated scrotum gets seriously weird; late in the film, one of the characters makes his scrotum into a ship, and literally dozens of raccoons sail away on it. Other characters attack the cops with theirs. However, that's not actually my reason. The fact is, this gets seriously dark in places, more so than I was expecting. Studio Ghibli is seldom all sunshine and flowers; even [i]Totoro[/i] has the background of the girls' mother's hospitalization, after all. Still, there's some pretty frightening stuff in this one, and while some kids will be fine with it, not all of them will, and parents should be aware that it's there going in.
Two tribes of tanuki have been at war with one another. This means, in part, that they are too busy fighting with one another to notice that the farms and forests where they live are disappearing. They are near Tokyo, you see; Tokyo, like most other cities, is expanding. A suburb is scheduled to be built where their forest now grows. Old Oroku (Tress MacNeille) brings the situation to their attention, and they decide that they must do something about it. As it happens, tanuki are one of the three kinds of animals believed in Japanese folklore to be shapeshifters. (The other two are foxes and "some cats.") Not all the tanuki are capable of shapeshifting, but those who can practice until they are good enough to use their abilities to convince the humans that their forest is haunted. They also recruit expert assistance from more rural areas to teach them the ins and outs of shapeshifting and human superstition. However, the people of Tokyo really do need the extra housing, so superstition only gets so much weight.
Okay, why do they get called raccoons if they're a different species entirely, if raccoons don't even live on that continent? It's because I watched the Disney dub again. "Raccoon" works better with the movement of the characters' lips, apparently--not to mention that Americans are not, for the most part, aware that "raccoon dog" is a thing. I wasn't, come to that. And I've looked at pictures of tanuki, and they do indeed look like raccoons. If I'd thought about it, I would have known that it was a mistranslation, because I know that they're native to North America. However, I am only somewhat familiar with Japanese folklore, and while I knew about shapeshifting foxes, for all I knew, tanuki were an invented animal. Or even something invented for the movie, though I suspected that wasn't true. However, I'm willing to go along with the term for the sake of convenience, if nothing else. I do think they might have just left the name in Japanese, though.
The shapeshifting isn't just to convince humans that there are spirits in the forest, either. One thing that struck me as interesting was that the tanuki have several different appearances. There's the generic anthropomorphic "funny animal" appearance--in fact, there are two, though the differences between them don't stand out in my head all that much. However, there is also the more realistic portrayal. When the tanuki are acting like animals, they are [i]drawn[/i] like animals. When they talk, they are drawn to look like the animals in animated movies. It's a way of reminding us, I suppose, that there really is a species called tanuki, and they really do live in the fields and forests of Japan, and their homes really are threatened by development. It's not a bad way of pointing that out. It's also not a bad lesson to learn, and the use of the realistic drawings makes certain of the moments more poignant. It also struck me that the other shapeshifting animal was drawn more in the style of traditional Japanese art, which was also interesting.
There are plenty of moments of whimsy to the story. I'd say we're working at about seventy-thirty whimsy to pathos. It isn't quite as packed with star voices as a lot of Disney dubs; Maurice LaMarche is, of course, distinctive as the narrator, but probably the biggest name is J. K. Simmons, who isn't that big a name. This is, in many ways, a lesser Ghibli. For one thing, it isn't a Miyazaki. I didn't dislike this movie, but it doesn't interest me as much as many of the others. We own about half the Disney Ghibli releases, and this is pretty low on my list of ones we don't own that I feel we ought to. (We really need to pick up [i]Totoro[/i] at some point, for example.) If you're a completist, you might as well pick it up, but if you're a completist, you'll get it even if it's lousy. This isn't lousy. It isn't great, either, but I've seen much worse kids' movies--even ones that don't have giant scrotums that can be turned into boats and things.
The First Feature of an Icon
The other day, I read a comment along the lines that it was a good thing [i]Argo[/i] beat [i]Lincoln[/i] for Best Picture, because it prevented everyone from going on about how obvious the win would have been. After all, the Academy loves biopics and historical dramas and Spielberg. And the Academy does love two out of three of them. For some reason, though, they really don't like Spielberg. We were talking about it last night, and the theory now is that it's his history as a genre director. The Academy really doesn't like genre pictures. Now, of course, this picture wouldn't have come to the Academy's attention; it was originally produced for ABC, though it then aired theatrically in Europe. However, the first ten years of his career as a film director were spent doing action and sci-fi, and the Academy just doesn't seem to consider those worth awarding, though they'll get nominated occasionally.
Our story here is simple. David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is driving through the wilderness of California. He is trapped behind a fuel truck that spews exhaust, and he passes it, mostly to get away from the emissions. However, the driver (Carey Loftin) seems to take it personally and then passes David. It then slows down, of course, apparently to make a point. And then, when the driver waves him forward and encourages him to pass, it is into the path of an oncoming vehicle. It quickly becomes clear that the truck driver is playing a lethal game with David as his prey. He tries to just speed away, but that doesn't work. He stops at a cafe, but as soon as he drives off again, there is the truck. He tries to call the police, but he is in one of those stretches of the California desert where there are basically no town, no people--nothing. And when he does manage to find a phone, the truck smashes the phone booth to pieces, nearly killing him--and the owner of the gas station as well.
This film was shot in twelve days using as many camera tricks as Spielberg could think of to extend the footage. Yes, that was two days over schedule, but it's still the shortest film time Spielberg ever took for a full-length movie. I would say, though, that if I hadn't read it, I would not have been able to tell the amount of film trickery involved. He was twenty-five at the time, and while he'd dabbled in TV and made a few shorts, one would expect this to be a considerably lesser work than it is. Okay, so there are several points where he wasn't careful enough about lines of sight, and if you know where to look, you can see his reflection in that phone booth. However, there are some shots which are better than any shot I've seen in the film of some directors who had been working for decades. Okay, the body of the truck rising out of the dust was pure luck, especially given that they only had one chance at the shot. However, you can see a skilled director already in this film.
I think I take a fair amount of grief for how fond I am of the films of Steven Spielberg. It isn't fashionable. And okay, not all of them are good, I admit. However, even his genre pictures are usually better than their reputation. I didn't finish [i]1941[/i]; it was just that bad. But only about fifteen years after this film, he was making [i]The Color Purple[/i] (my first piece of evidence that the Academy hates Spielberg). And even in this, there's the tension and suspense. Now, that isn't hurt by screenwriter Richard Matheson (the reason I put this on my queue; so, it seems, did quite a lot of other people), who knew how to write a good story. However, I think we've seen plenty of evidence over the years that not everyone can put a Richard Matheson story on the screen well. I've seen all three versions of [i]I Am Legend[/i], or whichever name you want to use. Spielberg managed to keep the tension onscreen despite what is, to be honest, a fairly repetitive story.
I can't work out why the only genre director beloved of the Academy is Woody Allen. (As far as the Academy is concerned, comedy is a genre.) While there are basically no women in this movie, there's no place for them. There's no place for anyone but David Mann and the truck driver. That's okay; that's really as it should be. And okay, it took Spielberg a few years to really make female characters that resonate. But Woody Allen has been working even longer, and he still hasn't written a realistic woman. Okay, at least he's stopped playing the romantic lead in his movies, but I don't think he could get a performance out of anyone like the one Spielberg got out of Sally Field in [i]Lincoln[/i]. Heck, Dennis Weaver only has to hit a very few notes in this, but it's still an impressive performance. I really believe that movie acting is, at best, a collaboration between the actor and the director, and Spielberg is one of the best directors for that--and he obviously really loves film. Why doesn't the Academy reward that?
What Was the Point of All This?
Every once in a while, I am stuck watching a movie not because it interests me, particularly, but because I'm working under a time constraint. Hence this one. I got it from Netflix because the plot description sounded vaguely intriguing, but by about fifteen minutes in, I knew that I didn't care all that much. However, fifteen minutes in was still putting me well after nine, and I have that thing about getting reviews in before midnight. (I spent my evening watching [i]Perry Mason[/i], because there was no one on the hold list yesterday, and when I went to renew it today, there was. So it's overdue.) This meant that I didn't really have time to start something else, because I try to be done with my movies by eleven so I have an hour to write the review. Sometimes, it only takes fifteen minutes, but better safe than sorry. So we're getting a review of this, even though I'm not sure how much I have to say.
May (Angela Bettis) had a lazy eye when she was a little girl and played by Chandler Riley Hecht. She was lonely and had no friends, and her mother (Merle Kennedy) told her that she should make her own and presented her with a doll. That was, naturally, in a glass case and not something May was allowed to touch. May grows up as much a social reject as you figure, given that back story. She works in an animal hospital, where the receptionist, Polly (Anna Faris), is constantly hitting on her. May does not notice. She does notice a guy who goes to her laundromat, Adam (Jeremy Sisto), and gets weirdly obsessed with his hands. Only May is so out of it that she doesn't know how to initiate a relationship, and once she's sort of in one with Adam, she doesn't know what to do about it. She actually manages to do a little better with Polly, but Polly does not appear to be the monogamous type, and May doesn't know how to deal with that, either. Oh, and the doll is talking to her, so there's that.
Polly, naturally, is a Movie Lesbian. It's not that she obviously just needs the Love (or something) of a Good Man to become straight. It's that she's pretty and flirtatious and probably promiscuous. She's the kind of lesbian that men are interested in watching. Which goes badly for her, given the kind of movie we're dealing with, here, but consider this. She hits on May even though she has no real reason to believe that May is even bi. Now, I think May is just desperately lonely and is willing to go along with anyone who pays attention to her, but it's not like that's something healthy. It doesn't seem to me that Polly has any interest in knowing what May is really like. It's how we the audience are supposed to know that Adam is a jerk, but I think we're still supposed to find Polly appealing. They're equally self-centered, and they're equally dismissive of May without realizing it, but it's okay when Polly does it, because lesbians.
I'm not sure this movie really knew what it wanted. It reminded me most of [i]Brimstone and Treacle[/i], that weird movie I watched years ago where Sting might or might not have been the Devil. The plots bore little resemblance to one another, inasmuch as either movie can really be said to have a plot, but they both had the same feeling of unreality. Not the kind I think they wanted, either. Both movies had moments where I stopped and demanded to know if the thing that just happened had really happened, because it didn't make any sense or seem to follow from what went before. The whole thing with May and the blind kids didn't work for me at all. I'm not entirely clear on what the deal was with the guy May picks up at the bus stop; I think it might be to convince us of how weird she is, if even that guy thinks she's weird. But let's face it; if the film hasn't convinced us of how weird she is by that point, it has failed, and you have to wonder what it's been doing with itself all that time.
Obviously, the question is not if May is crazy or not. May is definitely crazy. But is her crazy believable? There was at least one scene that I was utterly, utterly convinced had to be a dream sequence or fantasy or something. This was for two reasons. First, because it was so out of left field. Second, because you can't stab someone with scissors like that. Really, there were several places in the movie that convinced me that no one involved really knows how sewing works. (May sews with her presser foot up!) Sewing scissors are sharp, but not, in general, that sharp at the point. Heck, mine aren't sharp at the point at all, because there's no need for it. But anyway, the film never really established anything. Is the doll really talking to May? It seems as though it might be. On the other hand, it might be a delusion. There's no way of knowing, and it simply isn't interesting enough to leave us talking about it afterward. Note that I'm much more interested in May's presser foot--and how many of you even know what one is?
Making It Real
It doesn't get discussed much, I think, but every time you add a minority to the list you fit into, your life gets harder. It's hard to be black. It's hard to be gay. But being black and gay? Even harder. What's more, I'm pretty sure it's worse than just adding the two together, because of course you're often outcast by the groups you're theoretically part of, so even among outcasts, you're an outcast. So, you know, a documentary about black drag queens will be about a fairly insular group, because it has to be. They have to be. This is probably why so many critics found the movie sad. These people have created their own world, because there really isn't another one they fit into. On the other hand, there is the sheer joy in doing what they want to do, even if one of the categories to dress up as is "the gay basher who beat you up on the way here tonight." Which, yeah, that part is depressing.
Filmed over something like seven years, this documentary is an examination of the "ball culture" of black New York drag queens. There are many categories of competition; some are, yes, what we think of when we think of drag--flamboyant gowns and so forth. However, the term "drag" here pretty much applies to any sort of costuming. There is the drag of the military, of Wall Street, of those aforementioned gay bashers. It's all to do with how Real you are at it. There is also how well you strut your stuff, how well you do your little turn on the catwalk. (Or, in this case, basketball court or similar.) We go more in-depth with some of the people than others. These are people living complicated lives. They have normal hopes and dreams, but not in an ordinary way. They also detail various aspects of the culture, because they know we won't know about them. They know that they are a very narrow subculture, and it's hard for them not to.
It's another one of those movies where I spend half my time wondering what happened over the years to them. One of them, in fact, was beaten to death shortly after filming was finally completed. And, yes, of the few whose lives I can detail afterward, most of them died of AIDS. To my great astonishment, Dorian Corey, an older white drag queen who is onscreen quite a lot of the time, not only died of AIDS but was discovered to have someone else's mummified, murdered remains in her apartment. I mean, that would be astonishing in anyone, drag queen or not, right? Especially the mummified part. That's insane. I was getting all set to be depressed about the effects that the AIDS epidemic had on the culture, because it really is disheartening. But how can I give the same speech that I've given in half a dozen other reviews when I encounter that little tidbit? Equally fun is the fact that Wikipedia specifically lists the victim's name, and an alias as well, and doesn't actually tell us who he was in any realistic sense.
I'm a little disheartened, too, about the fact that a lot of the clothes and so forth for the balls are stolen. Dorian Corey laments that it's all about the labels these days, and you can't get away with making your own clothing, and all that. Certainly it's true (though less awful that [i]murdering someone and leaving their corpse in your apartment to mummify[/i]), but part of the problem there is that designer clothes are extremely expensive. We see a "simple black dress" that is marked at over five hundred dollars. I mean, these are not wealthy people. We are told that many of the costumes are financed through hustling, and many of the others are just stolen. And they'd basically have to be. Few people are able to afford the kind of clothing that seems to be the standard here, and I'm rather alarmed that it became such. Okay, not everyone is capable of sewing the kind of impressive costumes that are the standard in other circles, but at least that rewards a kind of talent.
By the time this movie was actually finished, the concept of voguing was no longer just in the balls. It wasn't even just in gay dance clubs anymore. Madonna had found out about it, you see. (Though I've read that it had previously been on its way out, and she just brought back its popularity.) Still, it's always, to me at least, worthwhile to document subcultures. Anthropology, you see. This, for what it's worth, is one of those things I shared with Roger, who spoke out more for documentaries than just about any other film critic out there. He gave this one three stars; the movie, by a novice filmmaker using National Endowment of the Arts money, got two thumbs up and was duly hyped because of it. Another interesting thing worth noting is that, if you read the list of "very special thanks to" at the end, one of the people thanked is dear Werner Herzog. I don't know why, but I'm not sure it matters anyway.
I Must Admit It's a Nice Car
This movie was rated PG on its initial theatrical release. I find this fascinating. I mean, think about it. The main character's love interest has the dream of being a prostitute on the grounds that "every amateur eventually goes pro." Would you get that in a PG movie today? Now, I assume the MPAA just missed the implication that someone late in the movie was also propositioning Our Hero for a spot of prostitution, because the person who brings it up is male, but still. You try to get away with that in a PG-rated film today. It's weird to me what standards have changed and how in ratings from today versus thirty-five years ago. There isn't much swearing in this, but there is a lot of what has begun to be called "adult language." Even though the movie is in theory about a Boy and His Car, in practice, there's a lot of it that's about sex instead.
Kenneth W. Dantley, Jr. (Mark Hamill), is a high school senior who is taking an advanced shop class. He and his classmates tour a junkyard, and Ken sees the shell of a Corvette Stingray just before it is crushed. He and the others completely rebuild it, including installing a right-hand drive. It is a thing of beauty, and the class takes it out so they can all drive it after they have finished their work on it. While Kootz (Danny Bonaduce) is getting sodas for everyone, the car is stolen. Ken is heartbroken and refuses to accept that anyone would chop a beautiful car like that into parts. He is told that someone saw it in Las Vegas, and he hits the road. He doesn't have a lot of money, so he hitchhikes, which is how he meets up with Vanessa (Annie Potts). She is going to Las Vegas to be a prostitute. She invites Ken to be her first paying customer, even. However, all he cares about is the car. His first lead was wrong, but before he can hitch back to LA, he sees the car and decides to stay in Vegas until he finds it.
I'm curious as to what the school's original plan for the car was, to be honest. It seems that they mostly scrounged the parts, not bought them, and the shell couldn't have set them back very much, given that it was about to be crushed before they bought it. They probably got a lot more out of it than they spent, all things considered, and the car is expressly said at one point to be the property of the school. So, what? They sell it, and the proceeds go to fund the next year's advanced shop class? The movie never explains this, probably because most people don't care, but it's a thing that kind of struck me. The shop teacher, Ed McGrath (Eugene Roche), says he never would have expected Ken would fall so in love with that car, but I honestly assume that has to happen most years. No, he's not into girls; he's into cars. And, of course, it's possible to be both, and it isn't uncommon. So, what? Do they hope one of the kids can afford to buy the car? I'm really curious, and the movie isn't.
I wasn't thrilled with the whole Vanessa subplot and how her life goal is to be a Las Vegas prostitute. The movie jokes about it, but it is often a pretty grim life. I'm also kind of curious as to why she decided that Vegas is the way to go. Possibly she assumed that it's a better life for Vegas prostitutes than LA ones? Again, the movie isn't concerned with this, even though it's the kind of thing that does actually matter. It also bothers me that a woman going from promiscuous to prostitute is some kind of wacky plot. I don't in theory have a problem with prostitution, but I have a problem with how this movie treats it. It's also worth noting that we have no reason to believe that Vanessa ever successfully turns a trick, and she is the only prostitute we see except for Ken's two minutes of looking for her when he thinks she's "working" and before he finds out that she is, indeed, working--at a burger joint. The only money we see her take is Ken's two dollars.
There are worse movies out there, but the only reason anyone still remembers this one--indeed, the only reason I watched it myself--is the Mark Hamill connection. It isn't a notably better or worse movie than some of my summer tradition films; it's silly and low-quality, but so are some movies I love a great deal. There's not a whole lot of payoff in the movie, and there's one of the silliest explosions I think I've ever seen, and that's pretty much it. This movie is very much of its era, for good and ill. I don't think Mark Hamill has anything to be ashamed of, here, but I also don't think it's all that surprising that it did not launch his career beyond Luke Skywalker. Carrie Fisher did no movies between episodes four and five, and Harrison Ford did [i]six[/i], including [i]Apocalypse Now[/i], and he followed five up with [i]Blade Runner[/i]. Mark Hamill keeps himself busy these days, but no one knowing him from only this movie would think he had star potential. It's just not that kind of movie.
Keeping Murder in the Family
Someone actually observes in this movie that murders and pretty girls seem to follow Nick Charles (William Powell) wherever he goes. I actually have a perverse fondness for that kind of self-reference in detective fiction, especially when the detective either isn't a professional or else is and is still as likely as not to just sort of stumble over a body somewhere. The second sheriff on [i]Murder, She Wrote[/i] made the observation once, and the cops on [i]Detective Conan[/i] have made the observation repeatedly. I mean, it is a fair point, isn't it? The more so with [i]Detective Conan[/i], which is starting to reach the point where you wonder if anyone in Japan is left not dead, in prison, or a cop. [i]Murder, She Wrote[/i] lasted twelve seasons, which is a lot, but [i]Detective Conan[/i]
has about seven hundred episodes. This is, what, the third [i]Thin Man[/i] movie? And most of them take place in big cities.
Nick and Nora (Myrna Loy) are home from San Francisco, back in New York. They have brought their baby, Nickie Junior (William A. Poulsen). They are called out to Long Island to see Colonel MacFay (C. Aubrey Smith), who had been a partner of Nora's father's and still has something to do with Nora's fortune. Naturally, the colonel is murdered. The first suspect is Phil Church (Sheldon Leonard), who says that, if he dreams someone's death three times, the person dies. Not, of course, that Phil himself kills them. But he dreamed the colonel's death three times, he says, and now, the colonel is dead. As usual, Nick ends up investigating the murder, whether he wants to or not. Nora, on the other hand, is enthusiastic about the idea of investigating the murder, and she's actually starting to get better at it. Not as good as Nick, but you know, that's the difference between a cop and an heiress. And the plot does tend to thicken.
One of the things I really like about these movies is the relationship between Nick and Nora. Okay, yes, they frequently pretend that they don't love each other--that they mostly just put up with each other. Nick pretends to have married Nora for her money, and it's hard to say why Nora married Nick, if you listen to them. On the other hand, a cop tries to make Nora jealous of Nick's past, and while she seems more curious than anything else, she spends the entire rest of the movie dropping the names the cop dropped to her, apparently in the hopes of getting Nick's side. When they run into each other in a nightclub, having gotten there independently while following two separate leads, he scares of a bevy of young men by asking if she's really supposed to be out of quarantine. Nora, gamely, goes along with it. After all, aside from the person who's got a lead for her, the only person she really wants to be with is Nick--though she's pretty confident she could have gotten the money to pay her informant from one of those men.
This movie also seems to spend less time insinuating that Nora is a completely unskilled investigator, which is possibly my least favourite running theme in the movies. Okay, yes, she misses her contact at the nightclub and ends up dancing with a gigolo, but she did get to the nightclub on her own in search of that tip. Which she turns out not to have needed, because the guy she was looking for just kind of came in on his own. Okay, it's while she's trying to extricate herself from that gigolo, but if she had just waited at that table a few more minutes, she wouldn't have needed to pay the informant at all. She's unskilled, but at least part of that is because Nick isn't willing to train her. This, I think, is because Nick really prefers being retired, but he keeps getting involved in these cases in spite of what he really wants. He's intrigued by them as puzzles, I think, and sometimes, he is investigating the deaths of people he knows and maybe even likes.
There's also the whole thing about Nick's bevy of underworld contacts. One of them, "Creeps" (Harry Bellaver), first tries to rob them, and when he finds out whose apartment it is, he decides instead to throw a birthday party for Little Nickie. And someone heard you couldn't get in without a kid, so he borrowed one from someone, because he wanted to go and didn't have a kid of his own. And so forth. I think the difference between that whole aspect of things and the way Nora is constantly shown to have no practical sense is that the movies are never mocking Nick. He is privately making fun of these people in his head, and it just so happens that they don't notice. Nora generally tends to, but one of the things I like about her is that she doesn't say anything. She is as unfailingly polite to people like "Creeps" as she is to the colonel or her own aunts and uncles. It is, I think, one of the things that Nick really likes about her, though he never says it--Nora has class.
French, but Not as Weird
If I've got the beginning of this film right, the woman is supposed to be about six months pregnant. We know this because she laments the idea of having to spend six weeks in bed, and the doctor tells her that pregnancy last nine months, not seven and a half. I think. It could be only seven months, which would put her five and a half months pregnant. But she is huge, and the baby has a much better chance of survival if she gives birth early than it would in real life. This, as you can imagine, bothered me quite a bit. It irritates me how seldom media gets pregnancy right, given how many chances there are to get it right. There's a Stephen King novella wherein he claims that Lamaze (though it isn't called that in-story) produces completely painless labour, which is ridiculous. I've always wondered why Tabby, who's always the first person to read his books, let him get away with that one.
But the idea that even a young and healthy woman like Nadia Pierret (Elena Anaya) might end up on bed rest at the end of a pregnancy. She has a hard time taking it easy, but her husband, Samuel (Gilles Lellouche), is determined. However, while he is at work, he helps save the life of a man, Hugo Sartet (Roschdy Zem), who has been hit by a motorcycle. It turns out that Hugo is a member of a crime family, and since he's in the hospital, he won't be able to escape being arrested. In order to force Samuel to get Hugo out of the hospital and away from the police, they kidnap Nadia and tell Samuel that, if Hugo isn't freed, Nadia will be killed. And, of course, there's the risk that she will lose the baby. Samuel frees Hugo, all right, but he then sticks to him like glue to ensure that Nadia will be freed--alive. And it turns out that he's right not to have gone to the police, because the man who insists on handling the case is a bit on the corrupt side.
I'm not sure I go along with certain aspects of this plot, at least not completely, but it makes a heck of a lot more sense than most of the French movies I've watched. It's a pretty straightforward thriller, all things considered. The twist of the kidnapped pregnant wife is new, but the idea of an innocent man's being forced to help a criminal in order to protect something he loves is hardly unfamiliar. Stories of police corruption are pretty commonplace. How the corruption plays out is what doesn't entirely work for me, but I'm not surprised by its bare existence. So far as I know, the French police are not as notorious for corruption as, say, those of Chicago or Los Angeles, but there is no reason to believe that they're all completely innocent. Corruption happens everywhere. The form it takes here isn't even completely unheard of. I can name a few examples of it, and they aren't all limited to countries where you just assume the cops are corrupt--or cities where you assume it, either.
One of the things you're just supposed to take for granted in movies of this nature is that, when called on to do it, everyone is capable of things like leaping from rooftop to rooftop and standing off against armed thugs. This is not a Weird Damn French Crap trope; it's an action movie trope that appears to be independent of country of origin. I've seen it in movies made from the US to France to Korea. The person in the unusual situation still knows exactly what to do. It isn't a [i]Bourne Identity[/i] kind of thing, where Our Hero has amnesia and had actually once been trained for that sort of thing. It's implied that everyone--male or female--has that inside them, and when the moment arises, they will know what to do. Somehow, I suspect that this is seldom actually true. I think people who have watched too many action movies just end up getting themselves hurt in the unlikely event that they end up in this kind of situation at all.
Still, I enjoyed this movie inasmuch as I ever really enjoy action movies, which I must confess isn't a whole heck of a lot. I will say that what happens to Nadia throughout the picture is almost enough to make me doubt that she really needed to be put on bedrest in the first place. She goes through a lot over the course of the movie, and I think it's just about enough to send any woman into a miscarriage or premature labour or whatever you want to call it. I do like that they show a woman who has no compassion for another woman's pregnancy. We're considerably more used to the stereotype of the sisterhood of women. All women are sympathetic to all other women's problems, kind of thing, and that simply isn't true. Let's leave aside the existence of sociopaths, which we shouldn't. I'm not sure women are any more likely to sympathize with one another than men are, even though I think we like to think they are. That's one thing this movie does get right.