THROWBACK (Curtis Hanson, R.I.P.)

I somehow missed ever seeing Wonder Boys or 8 Mile, both of which look as though they are right up my alley. And, despite some fine acting, I didn’t care for his inevitable Oscar winner, L.A. Confidential. There was no way to root out James Ellroy’s fundamental fasciscti stench (I’m not speculating, Ellroy owns it and thinks anyone who doesn’t agree with him is an idiot), without taking the juice out of the thing.

But Hanson made his reputation with a trio of superb modern thrillers–The Bedroom Window, Bad Influence and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle–all made between 1987 and 1992, and all neo-Hitchcockian in the best sense. They had plenty of modern edge and even nastiness, but somehow avoided the nihilism that has bedeviled the genre since just about the time of the Master’s own demise. The Bedroom Window has been on my shelf for years and never wears out. I’ve been meaning to revisit the other two for a while and this will give me a spur to get on with it.

Perhaps even more than that, however, I value his thoughtful, civilized commentary in the documentary feature that accompanied the 50th Anniversary DVD edition of The Searchers. As Hanson himself noted, it was a measure of how far John Ford’s influence reached that it touched so deeply on a filmmaker who made films which, superficially, could not have been more different. I’ll be watching that tonight in his honor. One can only wonder if his streak of obvious decency kept his filmography smaller than it might have been, here in this paradise we’ve made.

Hope he’s found better tonight.

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DIAMONDS IN THE SHADE (Johnny Bush Up)

“Daddy Lived In Houston”
Johnny Bush  (1972)
Not released as a single
Recommended source: Bush Country (Vinyl Only)

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Country music is in one of its periodic funks these days. So my ears tell me.

This funk will last. So my common sense tells me.

Traditional music forms need traditional cultures to survive. When there’s nothing to affirm there’s nothing to rebel against either. And vice versa. Take away the limits tradition imposes and pretty soon you are pushing air.

Pretty soon after that you are sucking oxygen in a Brave New World.

In human terms, this might not be entirely lamentable. No one could envy the narrator of Johnny Bush’s “Daddy Lived In Houston,” as he describes, in gimlet-eyed detail, his father’s abandonment of his rural family to chase money (and, doubtless, women as well) in Houston’s war-time shipbuilding yards.

That is, no one could envy his material circumstance. This is a song nearly any good country singer of Bush’s generation, or any generation that preceded it, could have sung with conviction. No singer of the current generation could sing it without taking a leap of the imagination. Even in the previous generation (the one that succeeded Bush’s), it’s hard to identify anyone but Patty Loveless who ever felt anything like the pinch of real poverty, which might be why Loveless’s voice predicted Appalachia’s current epidemic of meth-fueled White Death by a generation even as her New Nashville lyrics espoused conventional aspiration.

Surely that’s a good thing, though. No one wants anyone to starve. No one wants any child to have to clear rabbit traps every morning just so his family can eat.

Of course, you have to be careful what you wish for. A world without pain or want has ended up being mostly a world where people imagine new forms of victimhood. That’s what all the angst you hear on the modern radio–including modern country radio–is about. Look at me. Or, if you like, Listen to me. Isn’t my pain real? Here, if you think it’s not, I’ll take another deep breath and add twenty more rounds of melisma just to prove you’re WRONG!

“Daddy Lived in Houston” is a great record not least because its lyric does not preclude the notion that Bush’s narrator has grown up to be just like his daddy. Call it a blues. Half talking, half opera. Muted pain and guilt, then, and a thousand times more powerful than anything you’ll hear on the radio today, when pain can only be faked and guilt isn’t even a concept.

Bush, a good candidate for the most under-sung great country singer ever, had hits through the late sixties and the seventies, a long if mostly modest run, including a definitive “You Gave Me a Mountain,” and records as monumental as “You Ought to Hear Me Cry” and “Undo the Right.” This, never released as a single and, so far as I can tell, unavailable on CD, was his masterpiece. A sigh of relief that we don’t have to go there anymore….and a reminder that all of nature–including the human part–abhors a vacuum.

I HAD A DREAM…

Now that I’ve recovered from my recent illness, I’m happy to say that I’m able to pinpoint the exact moment when I reached bottom…and then began to bounce back.

Things had gone very far south when, after several days of being on a fast track to the bathroom every time they showed a cheeseburger on the TV screen, which I couldn’t turn off if I wanted to take my mind off my misery (endless images of face-eating zombies or spiders crawling from black holed skulls were not a problem…the sight of grilled meat was an eruption bringer), I found myself pulling into the parking lot of a seedy looking motel in Decatur, Alabama.

To my knowledge I had never previously visited Decatur, which is somewhere up around the north end of the state. It was late in the evening, maybe past midnight. A rather nondescript clerk (short, dumpy, swarthy, grumpy) took my information and grunted a room number while he handed me a key.

I didn’t catch the name of the place.

Exhausted, I stumbled to the room and fell on the bed without really paying much attention to my surroundings.

At eight o’clock the next morning, I awoke, amazingly refreshed. Best night’s sleep I’d had in years.

When I looked around the room, I found that it wasn’t really so much a conventional motel room as a sort of lounge, not unlike the one my dad and I slept in the second year we traveled back from North Florida to paint the Orlando-Seminole Jai Alai fronton in the summer of ’76.

Lots of open space. A sort of lounge couch which I had slept on. Some books and CDs and stray articles of clothing strewn about.

After I oriented myself, I started gathering up the stuff, which all seemed to belong to me, though I couldn’t imagine why I was traveling with it, or why I had spread it all over the room like that. I was in the process of doing this when a chubby, Jheri-curled black kid in a janitor’s uniform peeked in through the front door, which I suddenly realized was made of see-through plate glass. I waved for him to come on in, figuring maybe he needed to clean the place, but he just smiled and waved back and then walked away.

Nonplussed, I went about gathering my stuff. In the process I realized one of the CDs I had brought with me was this one:

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I looked around to see if the room had a CD player, and, naturally, this being a flea bag motel in Decatur, Alabama, with a flickering sign and a half-paved parking lot, they had a state of the art one. Standalone. With built-in speakers that beat anything I have at my house.

I immediately set about trying to discern how it worked, and, in no time at all, I had the Impressions blasting loud and strong.

“It’s all right, have a good time, say it’s all right…”

I kept gathering up my stuff, still in a humming, singing mood, though getting a little bit frustrated because it seemed the more I gathered, the more stuff there was. Eventually, I found some plastic bags and dumped as much in them as I could and started transporting stuff to my car, which was parked right outside the plate-glass door.

For a while, as I carted the endless bags, I noted that mine was the only car in the parking lot.

Somewhere in there, my eye fell on one of those clock/calendar things (Was it on the front of the CD player? An electric sign by the street? The memory hazes.) and I discovered that the reason I felt so good was that I had slept through an entire day and night and awakened on the morning of my second day at this little establishment.

“I’m so proud of be-ing…lo-o-oved by you…”

Very soon after that, I cottoned that this might be a problem, because I had no cash and, though I had enough gas to get home, I knew I only had enough money in my bank account to pay for one night at the motel with my debit card.

True, I couldn’t remember asking how much the room was. But I was sure it had to be more than twenty dollars a day.

The thought of calling someone to wire me the money crossed my mind, but I knew that, realistically, all my friends and family are even broker than I am, and, anyway, I didn’t remember any of their phone numbers and didn’t want to ask the office about phone usage, so that wasn’t really a good option.

After that, it was pretty clear that I had to make a getaway.

I’d send ’em a check, of course, once I was safely home and, you know, out of the state of Alabama.

I certainly intended to check the name of the place before I drove off. I had no intention of cheating anybody!

I would have headed straight out, but first I had to retrieve my Impressions’ CD from the state of the art standalone player that was still blasting away in my room.

“You must be-li-e-e-ve me, no matter what the people might say, you know, it just didn’t happen that way…”

Back inside I went.

There I found that the CD player had transformed itself into a cheap cardboard box that couldn’t possibly play anything, not even when I took the cover off and found a fake reel-to-reel tape player inside.

“But the music’s still playing,” I thought.

How could that be?

Because I had transferred the disc to the CD player in my car. That was how!

“A-a-a-a-men…A-a-a-a-men…”

Back to the car!

Only the car wasn’t there.

The music was still playing…the Impressions were moving right along through the sixties. “People get ready, there’s a train a’ comin’.” But my car was gone.

In its place was a monster pickup which was hauling an Airstream trailer that stretched across the whole parking lot. I had to walk around the back end of it to see the office and whether or not my car had been moved in that direction.

It had not been. It was gone.

Just then, a man with a long red-haired pony tail came around the side of the pickup and I asked if he had seen my car.

“Little black one?” he said.

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Oh yeah, I moved it down to the other end there.”

Right about there, things started to get a little strange.

I wasn’t worried yet. Just a little disoriented. It didn’t seem like that parking lot had been so big that I would have missed my car if it was there.

But, sure enough, when I walked back around the Airstream, I saw that the rest of the “parking lot” was lot bigger than I had previously imagined because the end of it ran off into a sort of half-hidden junkyard, not unlike a few I visited back in the late seventies when I was scavenging parts for my ’71 Maverick.

Well, that wasn’t too intimidating. Surely, my car wasn’t so old that it wouldn’t stand out amongst all those junkers.

“I’ve been trying…to understand why…can’t I be your only man…”

So I set off to track down my car. The music had gotten really loud and I started wishing it was a little softer, because then it wouldn’t sound like it was coming from all directions and once and it would be a lot easier to locate my car via the CD player.

I kept thinking about that a lot as I searched fruitlessly through the ever-expanding junk yard, which turned out to have a lot more than cars in it, but nothing resembling my car.

Before I got too involved, I went back up and fetched Pony Tail, who professed bewilderment in the snatches of conversation we were able to exchange over the volume of the music–“The woman’s got soul and everybody knows”–which was now so loud we could hardly hear each other.

Got to be here, he kept saying, as he led me through a maze of ever more industrialized wastelands, which began turning from junk yards into chop shops. Not chop shops for cars so much as spaceships. Spare parts anyway.

I kept thinking, Jesus, if the music just wasn’t so loud, we could at least figure out if we’re going in the right direction.

“I’m trying hard to forget, that you been cheatin'” was making my ears bleed!

Pony Tail finally ran off with some dudes who were playing football with a small, metallic spare spaceship part that developed a second skin while it was being thrown. I couldn’t figure out the purpose of the second skin but it was clear Pony Tail’s new friends didn’t want me to play and were starting to kind of sneer at me in that “We’ll at least we ain’t lost” manner that you sometimes find in hillbilly places when you are looking for your car in a junkyard where you clearly don’t belong.

I did some calculating and managed to find a path back to the parking lot. I had to step across a pile of dry manure and wedge myself between a wire fence and a concrete wall, but the roaming band of rough boys who were patrolling the outskirts of the more conventional open field approach gave me the proper incentive and I soon found myself back in my room, which had now been taken over by a group of middle-aged cleaning ladies who called me “Hon” and swore they hadn’t seen my car either.

I asked if I should maybe call the law. They gave me a very sad look that said I definitely wasn’t from around there and fully qualified as a certifiable Poor Thing.

I could still hear the music, but it wasn’t as loud.

“I can’t satisfy, your love…”

I could almost hear myself think again.

Well, whatever happens, I thought when I was back in the parking lot, still wondering if it would be worth tackling the junk yard again, “I’m gonna need to know the name of this place.”

Hey, my car had to be there somewhere. I mean, “We’re a Winner” was starting to pound.

I walked around the other side of the office and finally found the motel sign.

Ladiez41NightOnly it read.

Just then I looked up and saw an Alabama Sheriff, complete with broad-brimmed hat and mirror shades, approaching with the clear intention of making polite inquiries into my status in his town.

He was just about to speak, when it hit me.

Oh, Thank God, I thought. This has GOT to be a dream!

And when I woke myself up, this was playing in my headphones…

…just as it should have been if I’d drifted off to sleep with The Anthology playing half an hour earlier.

Look, this used to happen to me about three times a week. These days, it takes sixty loose bowel movements in seventy-two hours to make me dream this way.

I call that progress.

And I note that the music had kept me sane through it all. So it was kind of a metaphor for my entire life.

I started getting better from that hour.

Regular blogging to resume soon.

THE ART OF THE POSSIBLE….HALL AND OATES REACH BACK (Found In the Connection: Rattling Loose End #83)

I’m feeling better each day but now have a killer makeup work schedule the rest of the week. Hoping for a nice long “dream sequence” post in the next day or two (for who among you does not want to read about a good old fashioned diarrhea-induced dream?) but, for now, I wanted to share this good old fashioned jam session at Daryl Hall’s house on the O’Jays’ “Backstabbers.” It’s minus the paranoia, of course, but it shows what you can do with enough talent married to enough hero worship and a penchant for getting carried away with yourself. Track proper starts around 2:04:

UP AND RUNNING…

Just wanted to let everyone know that all’s well. The storm did considerable damage a few miles south of me but I got nothing worse than some rain and moderate wind, plus a couple of power outages. Everything seems back to normal now and the sun is shining. Dodged another one!

QUICK UPDATE….

I just want to let my regular readers (and anyone else who may happen along) know that I am, for now, sitting dead in the oncoming eye of Hurricane Hermine. It ain’t here yet, but it probably will be in the next twelve hours. I’m a Florida boy and my long experience with ‘canes is that, at a minimum, the power goes out for half a day or so, sometimes considerably longer. If you don’t hear from me and, especially if there’s a delay in responding to a comment or email, rest assured I’ll be back up and responding asap….

SPOOKS, REAL AND IMAGINED (Monthly Book Report, 8/16)

This month’s offerings are both from the world of pitch-black secret ops: a re-read of Kingsley Amis’s fantastic sixties-era spy novel, The Anti-Death League, and, Compromised, Terry Reed’s account (with John Cummings) of his days triangulating between the gun-running, money-laundering and dope-dealing elements of the eighties’-era CIA and the multi-generational power struggle for political control of the U.S. government that ensued, the effects of which linger on.

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Compromised: Clinton, Bush and the CIA (Terry Reed and John Cummings, 1995)

“There’s a lot goin’ on here besides patriotism.”

(C.I.A./D.E.A. operative, Barry Seal, shortly before his murder, which occurred right after a judge “misguidedly” ordered him kept in plain sight, where his enemies could find him.)

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Terry Reed was a mid-level CIA asset in the eighties who, through a combination of misguided self-will, cruel luck and the peculiar brand of stupidity that often strikes intelligent people in the name of patriotism, got his ass caught in a muddy sling during the “Iran-Contra” phase of American decline-and-fall. This is his story, told with co-author John Cummings (a veteran journalist who had cut his teeth covering the mob), so, of course, you have to discount some inevitably self-serving elements.

That said, a book like this isn’t really about what’s “true.” In the real spook world Reed and Cummings describe, in sometimes excruciating detail, truth is a commodity and “facts” are the most uncertain things of all. It depends on who’s telling the tale and all that. The real issue is whether any given story is credible. Not, did it happen just this way, but could it have happened pretty much this way.

On that level, I found Reed’s account credible to the point of mind-numbing obviousness.

It’s not an easy read. Neither Reed nor Cummings seems to have possessed any knack for story-telling and a good editor could have probably cut two hundred turgid pages out of this nearly seven-hundred-page affair. And, of course, this is hardly a book that will be worth the slog for anyone who carries even a single drop of water for any member of the Bush or Clinton families.

For the rest of us, this is chilling stuff

Compromised‘s very mundanity makes the book’s tales of the Security State’s kudzu-like growth and rapacity in the go-go eighties all the more throat-grabbing. Get deep enough inside something so very much like the most reasonable assumptions behind the otherwise inexplicable rise (and rise, and rise) of the Bush Empire in Texas, the Clinton Empire in neighboring Arkansas, and the Security State everywhere, and you don’t know whether to gag or just stop breathing. The condemnation is thorough-going. If this thing had any style I might have just slipped into a bathtub about half-way through and opened a vein.

To put it in shorthand: This is as close a look as we’ll ever likely have at the exact machinations used by the sometimes competing, sometimes cooperating, Bush and Clinton cabals, to turn Texas and Arkansas into full-fledged Banana Republics, on the way to doing the same for the good old U.S. of A.

The point man running the game in between what, at that point, were the Vice President’s office in Washington D.C. and the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas (then home ground for a secret base training Nicaraguan rebels), was a wide-eyed, gung-ho C.I.A. operative who Reed knew in his operational days as John Cathey. His real name, of course, turned out to be Oliver North, the modern era’s Edward Lansdale.

This was a fact Reed discovered about the same time everyone else did, long after he had gotten an up-close-and-personal look at how the Clintons and Bushes each thought they had used the C.I.A. to get dirt on the other, only to discover that the Security State, of which the C.I.A. was/is only the most visible tip, had used their own mendacity (which, in Clinton’s case, had included the incredibly stupid move of skimming from the C.I.A.s cash-laundering operation embedded in his state’s banking system) to get a vice grip on them in turn.

Wild-eyed notions to be sure.

But, knowing what we know now, nothing in this book–a virtual, organic sequel to both Alfred McCoy’s The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia (better, as it happens, than McCoy’s own update, The Politics of Heroin), and The Quiet American, Graham Greene’s fictionalized account of Lansdale’s early career in Southeast Asia–seems the least bit outlandish. If it does no other service, it certainly debunks the old notion that “wild-eyed” conspiracy theories are just that because, in the land of the free, there’s NO WAY you could ever hush a thing like that up!

If you believe that, Compromised should be mandatory reading.

That being the case, the appropriate response to the shrill phrase “this country,” so prominent in any political season, and nauseatingly so in this one, is affirmed yet again by this tale of days supposedly gone by.

What country?

The Anti-Death League (Kingsley Amis, 1966)

He was handed the transcript of a wireless message announcing Jaggers’ arrival by helicopter at the exact moment when the machine could be heard taking off from the meadow. No further information was given.

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I know I swore off Sir Kingsley a while back on the basis of life being too short to spend any more time with his world-weary nihilism, even if he still made me laugh.

But I wanted to re-read this, after a quarter-century plus, to confirm or deny my suspicion of its atypicality.

Consider my suspicion confirmed. Perhaps the cover of genre was good for him.

In The Anti-Death League, Amis pulled off the impossible and applied his trademark acerbic wit to a genuinely riveting, even moving, spy novel. Spy novels rivet and move–when they do–by casting small men (they seem to always be men) as improbable movers and shakers in large events that sweep over them and leave them, and us, scarred by the experience. There probably haven’t been more than ten really good ones, all, so far as I know, by Brits or adopted Brits (like Joseph Conrad and Henry James, whose heart-stopping The Princess Casamassima qualifies directly, even if you don’t accept the proposition that all his best novels qualify indirectly).

I have no idea what prompted Amis the Elder to adopt, for the length of this one novel, the view that human beings might be a source of something other than misery and crapulence, but the evidence that he managed it is on every page. In addition to an engrossing spy-narrative (rare in itself), he manages a fine love story and a real philosophical treatise on the nature of God and the Universe, all so beautifully interwoven that you can forgive a bit of awkwardness in dove-tailing his several plots and even his inability to keep nature from taking its course on a thud of a last page where he can’t help killing a dog, of all things, to prove how meaningless it all is here, among the humans he had, for once, so fiercely and painstakingly evoked.

THE LAST TEN MOVIES I WATCHED…AND WHY I WATCHED THEM (August, 2016 Edition)

…Not including Grease, which I wrote about here.

I’m not sure if I’m going to make this a regular feature or not, but some people liked the last one a while back so I thought I would look at my last ten every now and then and see if they made anything worth writing about.

Seemed to be the case this time. It wasn’t depressing at least. That must be worth something these days!

Anyway, here goes, again in reverse order (30 days, 10 movies):

(NOTE: “Umpteenth Viewing” means I’ve seen it more than five or six times and don’t feel like counting up exactly how many.)

August 29–Escape From Fort Bravo (1953, John Sturges, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For the strongest evocation of cavalry life in the west outside of John Ford…and for going places Ford didn’t.

For William Holden, at his hard-bitten best, becoming humanized by love and death. For Eleanor Parker being lovely and unique, yet again. For the role of William Demarest’s  lifetime, a lifetime in which he was never less than formidable and rarely less than perfect.

Also for John Sturges’ first foray as an action master. As iconography, that aspect of his career climaxed a decade later with Steve McQueen jumping a fence in The Great Escape. But, for pure mounting tension, he never bettered this. No one did. A good movie all around, especially for its rare look at Yankee/Confederate relations during (as opposed to after) the Civil War. In that, and most other respects, it’s about a thousand times better than Sam Peckinpah’s Major Dundee. But it’s most valuable, I think, for having what may be the best scenes ever filmed regarding the intricacies, terrors and pure hardships of actual Indian fighting.

So, at last: For its very Fordian reminder that the West was not won–or lost–easily. And that it was won–and lost–by people, not demography.

August 28–The Peacemaker (1997, Mimi Leder, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For its clear-eyed look at the pulp future we are now living in. Forget the absence of chemistry between George Clooney and his leading lady (in this case a snappy Nicole Kidman). Except for Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight (filmed in that serendipitous eye-blink when she could set a match on fire by looking at it), that’s been a given and here, for once, it doesn’t really matter. Just wait for the great action sequences (there are four of them–trains, cars, helicopters, a ticking bomb) and the burning climax, where this man…

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…says “It is now.”

For that, I’ll watch it until “now” is no more…which I know won’t be in my lifetime.

August 24–Kaleidoscope (1966, Jack Smight, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Warren Beatty in a heist flick that’s almost as good as 1970’s Dollars (about which I’m sure I’ll have more to say some other time).  For an impossibly daft and gorgeous Susannah York, saying, “Oh no. You came out of nowhere in a little red sports car and no mummy and no daddy. I’d hate to find out that you were real.” For Susannah York saying  a lot of other things.

What else do you need? An ingenious and original plot? Scotland Yard mixing in? Jane Birkin trying on clothes? A crime lord who bonds with York over their shared Napoleon obsession?

Don’t worry. It’s got all that, too.

August 20–Gone With the Wind (1939, Victor Fleming (and others), Umpteenth Viewing)

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For the story of Scarlett O’Hara, which, believe it or not, is what the movie is about (I mention it because, the way the pearl-clutchers go on about all the “baggage,” you’d never know her story was worth telling). And for too many other reasons to count, the whole kit-and-caboodle deserving its own post some day.

For now, I’d just like to point out that Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett launches more assaults than Indiana Jones. I always start out promising myself I’ll keep count of how many times she punches or whips or dirt-clods or hair-pulls somebody. I always come up with some number between ten and fifteen. But, like the movie, and Leigh’s unmatchable performance, it never feels quite stable or exact.

August 13–Strangers on a Train (1951 Alfred Hitchcock, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For the two truly great scenes that open the movie, the first played between Farley Granger’s chump and Robert Walker’s psychopath, the second between Granger and Laura Elliot, playing the chump’s hard-bitten, soon-to-be ex-wife.

After that I always slog on, hoping it won’t all fall apart again. But the psycho always ends up killing the wife and that jars because, as played by Elliot, she’s the kind of girl who, in real life, would eat him for lunch and have the chump for a side. You get plenty of Hitchcockian dream-scapes after that, but these haven’t stood up as well as his best. I’ll lay aside the “logic” of trying to win a life-or-death tennis match in a certain amount of time (which can never be guaranteed) instead of losing it in a certain amount of time (which can). But I keep hoping The Master at least won’t have a policeman shoot at a carousel full of children this time around and kill the operator by mistake, with no discernible consequence except putting all the kiddies in mortal danger.

Alas, it seems to happen every single time.

I’ve usually enjoyed this, and I’m sure it’s some sort of formal “masterpiece.” But I have to confess that, each time around, it’s putting me to sleep a little earlier.

August 7–White House Down, 2013, Roland Emmerich, First Viewing)

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Caught it on TV and stuck with it to remind myself how worthless this world we made can be. I’m willing to bet Hollywood didn’t make a single major studio movie between 1930 and 1960 that was this bad. Today, I take its crappiness for granted and give it six out of ten stars or whatever. I mean, it didn’t make me kill myself. That’s something, right?

August 6–The Naked Prey (1965, Cornel Wilde, Third Viewing)

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For the glorious African landscapes, never bettered, even in documentary footage. For its stark reminder that civilization is a very thin veneer. For its refusal to accept that barbarism is civilization’s antidote and its simultaneous admission (in its slave-raiding scenes) that “civilization” is not always easy to define.

For Ken Gampu’s watchful, burning eyes.

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For the uninitiated, the story involves Director/Star Wilde transferring John Colter’s famous run from the Blackfeet to a white hunter’s escape from the Zulus. Not recommended for anyone sensitive to realistic scenes of animal slaughter, human torture or Man’s grasping nature.

August 6–Midnight Run (1988, Martin Brest, Fifth Viewing)

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For its reminder that I like De Niro better as a comic actor than a dramatic one (and I’ll grant that he’s a fine dramatic actor even if I don’t think he’s quite what others make of him…and I’ll also grant that I’m not one who thinks comedy is harder…but he’s still a truly great comedian). For making me laugh harder than any other movie made in the eighties….or anything else that happened in the eighties. For Dennis Farina’s best role. And for its one scene of heartbreak, played with De Niro’s estranged daughter, where the weight of all those Scorcese pictures lands gently, gently, without smothering the scene or letting anyone off the hook.

August 3–The Major and the Minor (1942, Billy Wilder, Umpteenth Viewing)

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For Ginger…at all ages. I especially like the way she swallows a cigarette.

Oh, and for Billy Wilder’s first Hollywood directorial effort. She got it for him. He thanked her the usual way. He didn’t.

August 2–5th Avenue Girl (193, Gregory La Cava, Third Viewing)

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This one wobbles a bit.

Still: For Ginger. For the Straight-From-the-Depression lessons in the ethics and ethos of New Deal capitalism.

And for: “Oh why don’t you mind your own business!”