Movie Diary 6/15/2010

Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010). (full review 6/17)

Vengeance (Johnnie To, 2009). Johnny Hallyday holds down the center of an ensemble film, which clicks together very neatly indeed.

Ondine (Neil Jordan, 2009). Right in Neil Jordan’s zone – maybe too exactly in Jordan’s zone – but this Irish fairyland tale leaves a very pleasant afterglow, and Colin Farrell acquits himself well. (full review 6/18)

The City of Your Final Destination (James Ivory, 2009). The literacy rate is high and the locations are tasty, but the hand on the till is slack in this indifferently-cast Merchant Ivory production. (full review 6/18)

Gravity (Maximilian Erlenwein, 2009). Some promising moments in the German comedy-drama about a bank officer who loses his grip after a bankrupt client commits suicide in his office; awash in blue-gray colors and uneven tone.

Morning Departure (Roy Baker, 1950). British submarine picture, with John Mills and Richard Attenborough leading the cast. All the usual submarine conventions, which is good, and an eerie fade-out.

1976 Ten Best Movies

Zischler and Vogler, Kings of the Road

Despite the much-vaunted excellence of Seventies U.S. cinema, a quick look through the offerings of 1976 proves it wasn’t all gold, despite the strong offerings of a few of that era’s leaders (Scorsese had Taxi Driver, Hal Ashby did Bound for Glory, and DePalma had a good year, with the perhaps overrated Carrie and the perhaps underrated Obsession). But Bogdanovich and Altman had down years, Coppola and Friedkin were missing in action, Spielberg and Lucas were off building starships, and Peckinpah had run out his streak of luck.

The best American film of the year was the still-remarkable All the President’s Men, Alan Pakula’s wisely stripped-down journalistic equivalent of a policier. My #1 slot came down to a battle between the clean classical virtues of that title and the sprawling, noodling glories of Wim Wenders’ Kings of the Road, a three-hour road movie and hang-loose ode to cinema. Im Lauf der Zeit – in the course of time, as its German title has it – is not quite like any other movie, and it’s one of those long-form things that cast such a mysterious spell you don’t actually realize how much time they are taking.

The only other up-there contender is The Marquise of O..., part of Eric Rohmer’s mid-career break from his usual survey of contemporary relationships. The ten best movies of 1976:

1. Kings of the Road (Wim Wenders)

2. All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula)

3. The Marquise of O… (Eric Rohmer)

4. Robin and Marian (Richard Lester)

5. Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter)

6. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)

7. The Devil’s Playground (Fred Schepisi)

8. The Man Who Fell to Earth (Nicolas Roeg)

9. Carrie (Brian De Palma)

10. Small Change (Francois Truffaut)

Close calls for The Tenant (Polanski) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (Eastwood), and Fassbinder made a couple of movies that are aggressively minor, although when you watch them again you can see how wickedly well-crafted they are: Satan’s Brew and Chinese Roulette. Some older directors came up (and in some cases bowed out) with unusual titles, the best of which is probably The Shootist, Don Siegel’s John Wayne tribute; also Family Plot, Hitchcock’s final picture; The Last Tycoon, Kazan’s last movie; The Innocent, Visconti’s lush swan song; and Mr. Klein, an interesting late Losey film.

Alongside the bloat of Bertolucci’s 1900, the virtues of something like The Bad News Bears begin to look pretty good. But none of this really matters all that much, because the Oscar went to Rocky, which – while very far from the worst example of an undeserving film winning Best Picture – put the writing on the wall.

The A-Team Emergency (Weekly Links)

Best film of 1960; see radio link below.

Reviews I wrote for the Herald this week.

The A-Team. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

The screenplay for “The A-Team” is a brilliant gem of literacy and dramatic depth, but the action sequences leave something to be desired.

Just checking to make sure you’re paying attention. Of course I’m kidding, but sometimes my fingers get weary of typing the reverse: hey, here’s a big action blockbuster, the script sucks, but things sure blow up good.

In “The A-Team,” a testosterone inflation of the 1980s TV series, the script at least shows signs of life, and the action scenes are crazy-go-nuts. The result is an enjoyable popcorn picture, as long as you’re willing to suspend disbelief about every realistic component of what the human body can survive as punishment.

There’s a storyline, which director Joe Carnahan and his co-writers don’t seem to have taken seriously. A dandy opening sequence cements the line-up of the Special Ops, undercover group known as the A-Team: leader Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson), Face Peck (Bradley Cooper), B.A. Baracus (pro wrestler Quinton “Rampage” Jackson), and “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock (Sharlto Copley).

It’s hard to argue with the casting: Neeson brings his authority (and the new butt-kicking image he got from “Taken”), it makes perfect sense to put a pro wrestler in a role once inhabited by the ineffable Mr. T, and “Hangover” star Bradley Cooper, who radiates vanity and a certain oily charm, is well-cast here.

The other name may not be familiar, but Sharlto Copley came out of nowhere to play the lead role in last year’s “District 9,” the hit South African sci-fi epic. His off-kilter style fits his role. (For a couple of cameos, stick around to the end of the end credits.)

The Team gets involved in international intrigue that stretches from Bagdad to Germany, some of which is connected to a CIA operative (Patrick Wilson), some of which has to do with Face’s ex (Jessica Biel), an Army captain.

The giant set-pieces include an attempt to “fly” a tank that has fallen out of a plane, and a cargo ship that spills its containers all over our heroes. Carnahan seems to think that since this kind of stuff is unbelievable anyway, he might as well shoot the moon and drop his characters from planes and skyscrapers without them incurring bodily harm. Also, I didn’t mention the truck that barrels out of a tunnel and falls off a cliff into a lake. They survive that, too.

The odd thing is, Carnahan does have a talent for super-macho dialogue scenes—for instance, a hilarious sequence here involving a gun, the CIA guy, and a prisoner (co-writer Brian Bloom) in a car.

With a few more scenes like that, “The A-Team” might have been more than a guilty-pleasure summer movie. But you know the drill: so many things to blow up, so little time.

The Karate Kid. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

Among the lessons learned in “The Karate Kid” is that if you project stillness, your opponent may be frozen with stillness himself, in unconscious imitation.

That could explain what happened to me while watching the new remake of the 1984 hit. The movie’s glacial pace lulled me into a nearly comatose state.

The tip-off was the extremely slow build-up to a two-hour-plus running time. This “Karate Kid” takes a roundabout approach to creating momentum.

Hark back, if you will, to the original, where Ralph Macchio received karate lessons and life wisdom from teacher Pat Morita. The new one takes young hero Dre (Jaden Smith) from Detroit to China, where his mother (Taraji P. Henson) is newly employed.

Pedantic types will note that the Chinese setting would properly make this “The Kung Fu Kid” or something, because karate is associated with Japanese martial arts. Listen: the brand is “The Karate Kid.” If the remake took place in Scandinavia, it would still be called “The Karate Kid.” Get over it.

Dre gets bullied at school, seeks to learn self-defense, and falls into the capable hands of the maintenance man at his building, Mr. Han. This gentleman is played by Jackie Chan, who supplies the movie with whatever measure of grace it summons up.

With only a couple of fighting scenes, Chan goes about creating a real character with Mr. Han, and his stooped posture and vaguely irritated manner are nicely drawn. The movie’s a reminder of how infrequently Jackie Chan has been asked to act in his Hollywood vehicles.

Jaden Smith, the son of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, is a likable enough kid although quite a bit younger than Macchio’s character was. He’s so young the movie lacks a certain adolescent urgency (but this may have been deliberate, given the PG rating and a release date timed to catch grade-schoolers starting summer break).

When we finally get to the actual training sequences (after endless scenes of Dre outrunning the bullies and befriending a violin-prodigy classmate), the gears do begin turning, and of course the story builds to a climactic competition in which young Dre will take on his bullying nemesis.

I won’t disclose how that comes out. It wouldn’t be fair to, you know, the children. But the memory of the original and the diminishing returns of a series of sequels has left the “Karate Kid” franchise without any new place to go, except maybe a coma.

Bass Ackwards. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

Seattle-based filmmaker Linas Phillips is nothing if not industrious: he’s put out three features since 2006, a better record than many filmmakers working above his micro-budget level.

“Walking to Werner” chronicled his determined trek (on foot, mind you) from Seattle to Los Angeles in the hopes of meeting his hero, director Werner Herzog; “Great Speeches from a Dying World” delved into the lives of members of Seattle’s homeless population.

The new one, “Bass Ackwards” (which just played at the Seattle International Film Festival), ventures into a more fictional realm than those two films. And yet, here’s Linas Phillips, on screen, playing a character named Linas.

All right. But this time there’s clearly a fictional through-line carrying the character Linas along: he’s just seen the end of his affair with a married woman, he’s been gently kicked out of a friend’s house after freeloading for a while, and he doesn’t seem to have a job.

More or less by accident, he comes into possession of a Volkswagen “Shorty”—a version of the VW van that looks like it middle section has been taken out. And, once in possession of this intermittently-functioning vehicle, Linas decides to drive across the country to visit his family in Boston.

The journey that follows is as uneven as the van’s performance. Some of it is amusing, some of it is self-indulgent, a lot of it looks improvised out of thin air.

If you’re a fan of that kind of breezy, digressive movie, which trundles along the road in hopes of finding something interesting along the way, you’ll probably be in the relatively small audience that digs “Bass Ackwards.”

It’s nicely photographed (by Sean Porter) and Phillips proves he has a keen eye for a running gag. The VW van itself is the film’s secret weapon, a freakish thing that can’t help but elicit a chortle every time you see it (same with Phillips’s increasing exasperation as the van’s engine gets weaker and weaker during the trip).

The movie doesn’t aspire to anything as ambitious or definitive as “Easy Rider,” instead settling for the value of rambling. Not such a bad thing.

Living in Emergency. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

You’ve surely heard of Doctors Without Borders—those physicians who venture into war zones and disaster areas to supply emergency medical relief.

But seeing the documentary “Living in Emergency” makes the actual hands-on work of MSF (the initials from the original French name of the group, Medicins Sans Frontieres) much more understandable. If anything, the disaster areas are even worse than you might have imagined.

This film was mostly shot during a couple of MSF missions in 2005. One goes into the heart of darkness that is the Congo, another into Liberia in the aftermath of a horrible civil war.

What we see are doctors improvising in dire situations, sometimes with patients injured by violence, other times with people who simply have had no health care for many years. There’s no discreet cutting away from surgery or bullet wounds, so be advised.

We focus on a few people in particular, and watch their progress. On the one hand, there’s an Australian doctor, Chris Brasher, who’s been in the MSF ranks for nine years; like a character out of “MASH,” he’s developed a thick skin and a way to keep his equilibrium in the midst of war zones.

At the other end is another Aussie, Davinder Gill, who is on his first mission at age 28. Exiled to a far-off Liberia outpost, the high-strung Dr. Gill seems on the verge of losing it, overwhelmed by his frustration at bureaucratic problems and lack of necessary supplies.

There’s also a Tennessee surgeon, Tom Krueger, who left his lucrative 20-year practice so he could do something with MSF. He seems to be adapting the right philosophical attitude to weather the vagaries of working in a constant state of crisis.

Director Mark Hopkins’ emphasis in the movie can be questioned—by focusing on the doctors, it continues a long tradition of telling stories about the visitors to Third World countries, not about the people who live in those places.

Still, this portrait is vivid. So vivid it is difficult to watch at times, and not just because of the explicit surgical gore. Among the heart-rending scenes is a girl who recovers from surgery on her broken arm only to remember that her parents have been killed in an attack. As a nurse says, “Now it is not just the pain, it is the sorrow.”

This film will certainly make you think more about the ground-zero world of disaster areas. As one observer puts it, there’s a sameness to the temporary missions MSF undertakes: wherever you go, you see “civilians who are terrified, and some people who enjoy killing other people.” Which is why the group is needed, unfortunately.

Notes on the final weekend of the Seattle International Film Festival, here.

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talked with Marcie Sillman about the movies of 1960, and how they changed the landscape; archived here. The movie bit kicks in with the Psycho strings at 14:08 into it.

Movie Diary 6/10/2010

The Karate Kid (Harald Zwart, 2010). Jackie Chan makes an admirable effort to do a little character-making within this otherwise stillborn remake, which stars Jaden Smith in the role that made Ralph Macchio the anti-Christ. (full review 6/11)

Trash Humpers (Harmony Korine, 2009). Watching a Korine film, there is always the anxiety that someone is going to be killed onscreen while you’re watching it. That doesn’t happen here (I think), which is a relief. It would be easy to revile this movie if it didn’t have some sound cinematic ideas in play, dammit. (full review 6/18)

Movie Diary 6/8/2010

The A-Team (Joe Carnahan, 2010). The usual Merchant Ivory crap. (full review 6/11)

Miss Nobody (T. Abram Cox, 2010). American indie with a black comedy vibe, notable for rounding up some top-notch actors in its ranks – some of whom are around just long enough to be dispatched, Kind Hearts and Coronets style. (screens at Seattle International Film Festival – world premiere – 6/10, 6/12)

Living in Emergency (Mark Hopkins, 2010). Admirable study of some of the physicians involved in Doctors Without Borders, with an emphasis on how grueling the work is for them. This probably couldn’t help but be depressing, and it is, though it gives a concrete shape to a program that might have seemed mysterious. (full review 6/11)

Movie Diary 6/7/2010

The Devil and Daniel Webster (William Dieterle, 1941). A real oddball movie that leaves an impression if glimpsed during childhood. The impression in adulthood is that it’s a neat picture that would’ve been smarter at 85 minutes instead of 105, and that the lefty inclinations of many Hollywood artists of the 1930s were still expressing themselves here. Dieterle brings in his Expressionistic heritage at various points, but not as many as you might expect. Made at RKO same year as Citizen Kane; Bernard Herrmann did the music.

Get Low (Aaron Schneider, 2009). It doesn’t much matter that Robert Duvall has done many a coot in his time, not when he has it down pat, and Bill Murray hits just the right notes here. (screen at Seattle International Film Festival 6/13)

Hipsters (Valery Todorovsky, 2009). This will very likely be somebody’s cup of borscht. Soviet youth singing and dancing in the 1950s. Overall, though: WTF? (screens at SIFF 6/10, 6/12)

Angel at Sea (Frederic Dumont, 2009). Screwed-tight, somber little study, mostly proving how strong all the important technical aspects of a movie can be within the Euro-system, even when the film itself has problems. (screens at SIFF 6/13)

Lazybones (Frank Borzage, 1925). Great visualization of a small-town world, nice central performance by Buck Jones, final third a letdown if only because at that point the conventions of the storytelling get the upper hand over the sunny atmosphere (it’s the other way around in the first 2/3 of the picture). Still awfully good.

1996 Ten Best Movies

Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos: Comment je me suis dispute...(ma vie sexualle) (That's the French title.)

It would be the responsible thing to re-visit my #1 title of 1996, but it’s one of those film-watching experiences – a single viewing at the New York Film Festival in 1996 – that sit in the memory as a kind of perfect collision with  a movie, and in some strange, admittedly absurd way I’m almost hesitant to trample on that. Despite its elusive, discursive structure, How I Got Into an Argument…My Sex Life had me utterly hooked within the first couple of minutes, and after its 178 minutes (178 minutes? seriously?) had passed, I had that uncanny sense that time had been suspended for the duration. Director Arnaud Desplechin did that again with Kings and Queen, which ended up atop my 2005 accounting.

Desplechin spoke at a press conference after the NYFF screening, and he pinpointed what is moving about this wildly funny film: that the characters aren’t deep, but their effort to be deep is touching. And he noted the French-ness of making a film consisting of grad students, philosophy professors,  conversation in cafes, aimless sex lives: “For a French guy, this sort of film is like a Western for Americans.” And in America, naturally, the title was switched to My Sex Life…or How I Got Into an Argument.

Other first encounters: I was instantly pro-Breaking the Waves, a typically divisive Lars von Trier offering, which I have re-visited and which is just as alive and crazy-like-a-fox as it was on first viewing; Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket was plopped into a small Seattle screening room without advance festival hype (something that would never happen today) and played like a lead balloon to an audience of critics who would probably love Anderson’s subsequent films; Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s A Moment of Innocence wouldn’t be distributed in the U.S. for at least three or four years after it was minted, but when it finally arrived it proved to be an amazing experience.

And some pretty good titles in the middle-range, too. The ten best movies of 1996:

1. How I Got Into an Argument…My Sex Life (Arnaud Desplechin)

2. Breaking the Waves (Lars von Trier)

3. A Moment of Innocence (Mohsen Makhmalbaf)

4. Fargo (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen)

5. Bottle Rocket (Wes Anderson)

6. Flirting with Disaster (David O. Russell)

7. La Promesse (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

8. Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh)

9. Waiting for Guffman (Christopher Guest)

10. Portrait of a Lady (Jane Campion)

Campion’s film is not perfect, but seems widely misunderstood, and takes a precise approach to the vast Henry James novel, using the art of fine cinematic distillation to aim at the book’s achievements. Just missing the list is Dan Ireland’s The Whole Wide World, Nicole Holofcener’s Walking and Talking, Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh, and Hettie McDaniel’s tiny gay coming-of-age picture, Beautiful Thing, which has a real buoyancy to it.

Barely missing the list: Citizen Ruth, Alexander Payne’s first feature, and The People vs. Larry Flynt; two uneven and politically-minded comedies that present unpleasant protagonists and make us, weirdly, root for them.

Kind of a classic year for comedy, if you look at some of those titles. And also factor in these titles: Jerry Maguire, Love Serenade (this is a hilarious and sinister Aussie thing, please see it), Albert Brooks’s Mother, Swingers, the uproarious first half of Kingpin, and Beavis and Butt-head do America.

The English Patient won the Oscar, and I actually thought the movie was just fine. Cronenberg’s Crash and Altman’s Kansas City were hard films to warm up to, but not duds; Hate and Ponette added to the French honor roll; and Sling Blade felt like a genuine American original. Plus, David Twohy rolled out The Arrival – what’s not to admire about a year like that?

Splice Him to the Greek (Weekly Links)

Guess which twin has the mutated gene? Delphine Chaneac, Sarah Polley: Splice

Reviews I wrote for the Herald this week.

Get Him to the Greek. “Ham-handed.”

Splice. “A couple of mildly kicky twists.”

The Living Wake. “Credit for sheer chutzpah.”

And a batch of capsules for the Seattle International Film Festival’s upcoming week. (Dead link; article below)

Recommendations for the upcoming week at the Seattle International Film Festival.

“Blessed.” A heavy-going Australian drama that divides in half: the first part looks at lost youths getting into trouble; the second follows their mothers, who have their own problems. Watchable mostly as an acting showcase for powerful talents: Frances O’Connor, Deborra-Lee Furness, and Miranda Otto. Today, 6:30 p.m., Pacific Place; Saturday, 4 p.m., Pacific Place.

“A Tribute to Edward Norton.” SIFF’s big career tribute goes in the direction of this widely-admired actor, whose debut in “Primal Fear” in 1996 brought him instant acclaim. Tonight Norton sits for a Q&A and also introduces his new film “Leaves of Grass,” in which he plays twin brothers. Today, 7 p.m., Egyptian.

“Imani.” A film from Uganda that threads together three storylines, all of which will end with a terrible bargain being made. This rigorously-plotted scenario doesn’t flinch from presenting the difficult systems of life in Uganda today (director Caroline Kamya is scheduled to attend). Today, 7 p.m., Harvard Exit; Sunday, 4:30 p.m., Harvard Exit.

“Agora.” Rachel Weisz takes the lead role in a peculiar but effective historical drama set in 4th-century Alexandria: she plays the celebrated ancient scholar Hypatia, who ran afoul of religious authorities while pursuing science. Thanks in part to Weisz’s performance, the film shakes off its initial toga-clad stiffness and turns into something passionate. Today, 7 p.m., Neptune; Sunday, 4 p.m., Neptune.

“Fight Club.” As part of the Edward Norton tribute, one of his most notorious films gets a late-night slot: David Fincher’s clever 1999 movie about men who prowl the nocturnal world looking to experience something, even if it means beating each other up. Today, midnight, Egyptian.

“Garbo: The Spy.” A heckuva true story: how a Spanish double-agent fed the Nazis misleading information and single-handedly affected the outcome of WWII (among other things, “Garbo” convinced the Germans that the D-Day invasion was merely a diversionary tactic and the real attack would come elsewhere). This documentary lays out the facts in somewhat distracting fashion. Saturday, 11 a.m., Pacific Place.

“The River.” A great and beautiful film, shot on location in India by the legendary director Jean Renoir (“Grand Illusion”). It’s based on a novel by Rumer Godden, and aside from being about the adolescence of an English girl, it’s also about the rhythms of life, death and experience—all of which inevitably emulate the flow suggested by the title. A restored print is promised. Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Harvard Exit.

“Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, Rebel.” This documentary take on the notorious publisher is a bald attempt to re-configure Hef’s reputation away from smut and toward his history as a First Amendment and Civil Rights proponent. And mostly it succeeds, although you can’t escape the feeling that it’s very much an authorized bio (despite the presence of a couple of critical voices). Saturday, 6:30 p.m., Egyptian; Sunday 1:30 p.m., Egyptian; Wednesday 9:30 p.m., Egyptian.

“25th Hour.”

“West Side Story.” The great Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim musical makes for a memorable movie, if badly miscast in its lead roles. At the very least, the chance to see the dance numbers in widescreen is a treat. Sunday, 1:15 p.m., Harvard Exit.

“First of All, Felicia.” A sleeper from Romania, a slow and patient study of an ordinary situation (a woman visiting her parents in Bucharest misses her flight and must figure out an alternative). It might not sound promising, but the dry humor and keen observations are right on the money. Sunday, 11 a.m., Harvard Exit.

“American: The Bill Hicks Story.” Unusual approach for this documentary look at comedian Hicks: no experts or talking heads, just friends and family members narrating the life story of a rule-breaking comic who had to chase away his own demons before really breaking through to his best stuff. Thursday, 6:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema.

“The Sentimental Engine Slayer.” Decidedly strange directing and acting debut for Omar Rodriguez Lopez, the musician behind Mars Volta; the story goes along various tracks in El Paso, which looks pretty surreal here. It might not add up, but at least an interesting attempt is made in this largely experimental work. Thursday, 9:30 p.m., SIFF Cinema.

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk to Steve Scher about the monster-movie aspects of the BP oil spill, and other things: here. The “Cultural Moment” bit starts around 14 minutes in.

And the Magic Lantern program at the Frye Art Museum gets a name-check in the Travel Channel’s anointing the Frye as one of the Top Ten free museums in the U.S.: here.

Movie Diary 6/3/2010

Agora (Alejandro Amenabar, 2009). Rachel Weisz being smart as Hypatia, the ancient scholar, who met her fate at the hands of Alexandria’s Christian population. Like many historical epics of nowadays, its digitally-constructed world makes it seem wrapped in a layer of seamless, blemish-free polyurethane.

The Wildest Dream (Anthony Green, 2010). An IMAX feature shot on Mt. Everest, probably because it’s there. If it doesn’t live up to the astonishment one hopes for, that may have something to do with the bar being raised really, really high.  (full review 8/6)

Last Train Home (Lixin Fan, 2009). At times startling documentary about the annual migration of low-paid workers to and from their homes in China. Like the Mt. Everest doc, you marvel at how they got their cameras where they got their cameras.

Amer (Helene Cattet, Burno Forzani, 2009). The conventions of the Italian horror film are deftly rendered in this didn’t-miss-a-trick homage. And it gets better as it goes – rare for this kind of project.

Culture Notes: Oil Spill Monster

As the days went on and BP kept failing to contain the Gulf oil spill, the disaster’s cinematic predecessor became all too obvious: every monster movie in which a man-made accident spawned an (almost) unstoppable creature. (The “almost” part of the BP spill remains to be seen.) From giant ants in the Southwest desert to Godzilla to the Blob, the stages of the scenario in those movies (official fumbling, attempts at cover-up, initial efforts involving Army men with guns, then the heavy artillery that falls uselessly to the ground, and finally crackpot schemes that at least look sort of cool) are a prediction of the BP catastrophe and its slow-winding aftermath, complete with helpless public looking on from the sidelines. The Army men with guns will have to be taken as a metaphor, but you get the idea. Especially important, in both fiction and reality, are the men of business/science who failed to plan an adequate exit strategy.

Even B-movies (especially B-movies?) can operate as rehearsals for public anxieties, and those monster movies were doing their job. I talked about this phenomenon on KUOW’s “Weekday” program this morning with host Steve Scher, along with a few other topics. The talk is here, and the movie  bit begins around 14 minutes in. (If the Marvin Hamlisch references sound like non sequiturs, he was the – awesome – guest during the previous hour of “Weekday.” Actually, the references are still non sequiturs, but that was the inspiration.)