Being There

Being There

  • 1979 Comedy/Satire
  • 2h 10 min

It’s been a tough time politically around these parts, so maybe that’s why Being There comes off as eerily prophetic.  This comedy/farce from 1979 predicts the rise of an incompetent fool to extraordinary power by the virtue of simply “being there”.

Chance, a simple-minded gardener, has lost his job and home after his wealthy Washington D.C. benefactor dies.  Because of his mental delays, he only understands gardening and television, which he watches for hours in his down time.  Kicked out of the townhouse he has always lived in as the gardener, he begins to wander around town wearing the fancy hand me downs his boss gave him to wear.  So, basically, because he dresses nicely and is a white man wandering around D.C., he is assumed to be important.  And because all he ever says are quips he repeats from his favorite television shows, he ends up becoming influential in politics.

Hmmm.  This was filmed as a farce, and Peter Sellers is hilarious as always.  But… this movie is SCARY.  Chance is an absolutely terrifying character, not because he is evil but because he is listened to.  If he decides to break bad… All the characters around him, meanwhile, either suspect he is simple or are so deluded they cannot be bothered.  Either way, what a prescient, disturbing comment on our society and beliefs. 

Whatever your thoughts are about this current political mess we are living in, this is worth a watch.  And oh man Peter Sellers is freakishly good at the acting thing.

The Godfather, and The Godfather Part 2

The Godfather

  • 1972 Drama/Crime
  • 2hr 58 min

The Godfather Part 2

  • 1974 Drama/Crime
  • 3hr 22 min

Hey Happy New Year!  Let’s get it going by reviewing the best movie combo of all time.  Oh, no pressure or anything…

The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2.  Just hearing the opening chords of the theme song gives me chills.  I’m not kidding.  These two movies are the two parts of my favorite film of all time.  Always has been, probably always will be.

But… why?  It’s a question that, given my dorky obsession with all things movies, I’d surprisingly never really asked myself.   This review is going to be a bit more personal then, because my answer is so intricately tied to who I am and why I love film in the first place that I can’t think of writing about it any other way.

The Godfather came out two years before I was born, The Godfather Part 2 on the year of.  That means that I was at least thought about during the first movie and became a reality in the second.  Fits the theme of the movies, if you think about it.

Anyway, because I am as old as these movies I grew up watching them, over and over.  I come from a family of immigrants, and my generation is the first born in America, so there was a natural kinship between my family and all the characters.  It helped, too, that the immigrant revenge fantasy vibe was strong in both the movie and the people around me.  It is rough to have pride and know your own intelligence and self-worth yet be forced to acquiesce to people who do not deserve that acquiescence. 

Yet the Godfather is not an immigrant’s film.  It is mine, an American’s.  Michael Corleone did not grow up the way his father did, never had to perfect the art of fake humility.  Quite the opposite.  Michael growls at the slightest offense like the spoiled rich kid he is, piling up grievances at the same time as he piled up his power. 

Michael Corleone and his family then, both the literal and the figurative one, are as American as apple pie.  They both believe in the American myth and learn to cynically subvert it, like every other CEO, politician or gang member.  I think it was that sense that made this movie feel so different than any other.  It was a movie that, despite my young age, I understood quite well.

To answer my question then, The Godfather movies are my favorite because I grew up seeing myself and my people in those characters.   That is so rare, really, for a movie to be able to do that.  The Godfathers spoiled me, because I got to see at a very early age what a good film can do if done correctly.  It created a world I love going back to, over and over again because it is so familiar.   There is a reason these movies are always played around Christmastime in these parts.  We are a country of immigrants.  You will always find a part of yourself in these films.  

Zodiac

Zodiac

  • 2007 Thriller/Mystery
  • 2hr 42 min

After 51 years, one of the Zodiac’s ciphers was recently decoded.  And just like that, the elusive boogeyman we all grew up with is back.  Did he ever really go away?

No.  This is what this movie gets so perfectly about its subject, and why it is worth a revisit.  The Zodiac, a very real, human serial killer, became a supernatural vampiric monster by the simple fact that he was never caught.  He is unseen, even when doing unspeakably evil things.  He manages to end the life of innocent people in terrible ways, and then to slowly drain the life away from those who make it their mission to find him. 

The terror of his presence, then, is matched by the terror of his absence.  This is the idea the film sets out to convey, and it does this by stacking up the actual crimes in the beginning of the film.  Within the first few minutes, there is a random murder, followed by a brutal stabbing scene in broad daylight without the camera once moving away.  It is ugly, pointless and cruel. 

Ah, but then, just as the audience prepares for the usual cat and mouse set up this type of story features… the murders stop.  No more onscreen gore.  Nothing, in a movie almost 3 hours long.  Like the novel Lolita, which promises all sorts of salacious scenes in the beginning only to never deliver them, the audience is left missing something it never wanted to see in the first place, something it shouldn’t want to see, so that there is nothing left but dread, vague disappointment and a sense that there is something wrong with you for wanting to follow the story to its logical conclusion.  It is the rabbit hole that leads to obsession. 

Zodiac is a true horror film.  I really wish more directors approached the subject from this angle. Often, the scariest stories are about looking in the mirror and not recognizing the thing that’s staring back at you.

That’s the point of Zodiac. His power is in his ability to make you obsess over his evil.  A vampire does not have to be supernatural.  The Zodiac, if you let him in, doesn’t need fangs to drain you.  Even 51 years later, after the killer himself is probably long dead, the draining continues.

The latest deciphered message from Zodiac

The Cyborg Tinkerer

The Cyborg Tinkerer

  • 2020 Meg LaTorre
  • iWriterly LLC
  • Romance/Steampunk/Sci-Fi/Space Opera/ LGBTQ+ Lit

When I first started writing my novel in earnest a few months ago, I looked up writing stuff on YouTube and found Meg LaTorre.  Back then she was still working on publishing her first novel and making videos about it in real time.  It was helpful to be taken step by step through the self- publishing process, and in such a fun, encouraging way.  It was brave of her to go through that so publicly, so hats off to her for that.

Needless to say, I’m a fan of the gal.  So it feels weird to write what will ultimately be a negative review.  Especially because I think it took serious balls to write such an out there story.  The Cyborg Tinkerer is described as an “LGBTQ+ steampunk romance set in a deadly Treasure Planet-esque galaxy”… Oh yeah, and with a polyamorous subplot and a fairy tale mash-up vibe. Whoa.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a hot mess.  It could have worked though.  The concept is so crazy you can’t help but be intrigued, yet… very little of what is promised is actually there.  For example, the subtitle to the book is “The Curious Case of the Cyborg Circus”, yet there are no scenes featuring any of the circus acts.  One of the main characters is an acrobat with a cyborg hand yet you never see what she can do with it. 

There are so many missed opportunities like that.  Instead of focusing on the “deadly competition” that ultimately feels forced and unnecessary, more focus should have been placed on the circus and the strange, potentially fascinating world it is set in.

I think the biggest issue is that the book needed at least two more serious edits.  There are too many tonal inconsistencies, and the bonds between the characters never quite feel earned.  Also, there is at least one Scooby scene I can think of where the villain explains the evil plan out loud for no apparent reason. 

Bottom line, there is too much telling going on.  It weakened scenes that could have been fun had they been shown, particularly the background stories of the cyborgs. 

That said, I liked the humor and smuttiness of the main character.  I can see how opening a chapter with a line like “Heart heavier than a large woman’s tits…” is maybe not for everyone, but it made me laugh out loud when I read it.  I’m not entirely sure if some of the humor is intentional or not, but this book is hilarious and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is what’s fun about it.  As an adventure sort of story, it does work.  The action scenes are exciting, the romantic scenes seductive (except for the random food disorder that came out of nowhere… what was up with that?) and the horny scenes are hot.

Ultimately, while there is something interesting here, it still feels fuzzy and unfinished.  The world promised on the cover is only outlined in the book, it’s not quite filled in yet.  If Book Two can color it in better, like bring the circus and the cool flying ships to life, I think this series will be worth checking out.  In the meantime, I will continue to watch Meg’s videos.  She’s cool and gives great advice.  If you’re a newbie writer I recommend her channel.

The Night Before Christmas – In Texas That Is

The Night Before Christmas – In Texas That Is

  • 1952 Leon A. Harris
  • Illustrated by Meg Wohlberg
  • Pelican Publishing Company

One of our very first neighbors gave this book to the kiddo back in the baby days, after finding out my husband and I were both raised in Texas.  We’d never heard of it before, but after our kid’s first Christmas it’s become a tradition to read it every December.  Apparently, it’s also a song by Gene Autry, as I just found out when I looked up the book today, so now we’re going to sing it every year too!

The illustrations and the colors are so good in this thing, like the graphics or whatever.  It reminds me of Argento’s Suspiria in a way, with the bold dashes of reds and very deliberate color tones.  I know it’s weird to compare a wholesome ‘50’s kid’s Christmas book with ‘77’s Suspiria, but there you have it.  It’s especially surprising considering how corny the ‘50’s aesthetic was in general, then you get this angular, sharp looking Christmas book.  It perfectly captures the look of winter in the desert, too.  The color choices feel cold and hard and sandy.

The poem inside has that Kenny Rodgers vibe.  It’s cute without being too darling.  So familiar too, for those of us that grew up knowing an old rugged cowboy or two.  Maybe it’s a Texas thing.

Anyway, if you’re looking to read something to your kiddo that is traditional yet not done to death, this old book is a good choice, and looks great on your bookshelf.