For my money only three series in the history of television can be called masterpieces — The Twilight Zone, Upstairs, Downstairs and Breaking Bad.

The Twilight Zone, being an anthology show, is the most uneven of the three, with many different writers and directors and actors contributing content over the run of the series.  It featured several types of genres, from sci-fi to the supernatural.  Even so, the quality of the work is consistently high, and quite often brilliant.

Almost all of the episodes, of whatever genre, deal with subterranean modern anxieties, centering on the themes of personal isolation and the inherent, bewildering threats of advancing technology — themes that continue to haunt contemporary life.  These themes give the series a rough sort of coherence and an enduring relevance.

You can buy the whole series in a wonderful new Blu-ray edition, packed with supplements.  It belongs in every civilized home.



Excellent Read

I was first introduced to Lloyd Fonvielle and his writing through his website, which I try to visit as often as possible. It is always full of engaging and interesting content. After following for a while, I read Fourteen Western Stories and thoroughly enjoyed it. Missouri Green was next up and I again had a wonderful time reading it. A short, but concise story with wonderful characters. I especially enjoyed the dialogue throughout this western tale. It is a great read and I look forward to digging into more of his work in the future.

Go here for the review and book details — Missouri Green.



The director André de Toth had a brilliant eye for composing shots that suggested great spatial depth, and for choreographing magical movement through those shots. That made him an excellent choice to direct House Of Wax, one of the first 3D films made by a major studio — Warner Brothers, in 1953.


He seems to have had a lot of fun making the picture — it’s one of the most entertaining of the 3D movies released in the 1950s.  de Toth generally avoided gimmick 3D effects — objects hurtled towards the camera to create a shock — but when he did use them he used them effectively.  One of his gimmick effect shots made me jump halfway out of my chair as I watched the film on TV in the new Blu-ray edition.


That edition is not ideal.  The original 3D negative elements have been lost, so the Blu-ray is derived from dupe prints of those elements.  The result is overly grainy in many sequences, which tends to undermine the 3D illusion, but not enough to destroy it.

All in all, the 3D Blu-ray is wondrous — well worth watching if you have a TV capable of showing it.  Its images are captivating and often extremely creepy.



This film is a standard romantic-domestic melodrama, with one curious quirk — there is almost no expository dialogue. You have little idea what the precise issues are that push the characters together or drive them apart . . . yet since such issues tend to be generic, tiresomely familiar in real life — “She completes me” . . . “He loves me for who I am” . . . “He doesn’t listen to me” . . . “I’m losing my self” — one really doesn’t need to have them spelled out in order to appreciate the emotional ecstasies or miseries they reflect.


The result is a radical experiment in cinema, which tries to analyze romantic love through the spaces people traverse together, through the spaces between them, through the landscapes that embrace or isolate them, through the light that softens or exposes them.


One’s reaction to the experiment will depend a lot on one’s need for precise narrative information. I myself found the narrative perfectly legible and powerful. It is a profound insight to see love as a sort of cosmic reorganization of space, as a transformation of the world from a plastic environment defined by the position of one’s own body moving in it to a plastic environment defined by two autonomous but sympathetic bodies moving in it.

Redbud_Day16 (402 of 347).CR2

The elation of romance is thus seen to proceed not just from physical or emotional intimacy but from a redefinition, a re-charting of personal space — feeling one is there where the loved one is, wherever the loved one is, feeling that a fifth dimension has been added to one’s physical perception of the world.


Dance, including dance in movies, has often been able to express this insight, and much of the power of romance in the more naturalistic genres of cinema has to do with the  suggestive choreography of lovers in space, but Malick is going after it here without the formal disciplines of dance or conventional exposition.


Malick is a religious, specifically Christian artist, and he understands the physical transformation of space by love as a form of grace — not as an expansion of our own love of creation but as a sign that creation loves us.

Redbud_Day20 (327 of 143).CR2

There is an isolated priest peripherally involved with the main characters who serves in the film primarily to demonstrate the spiritual claustrophobia of a life lived without participation in the somatic existence of other people.


The priest understands his isolation and the symbolism of the bread and wine (somatic intercourse) theologically, but he still inhabits a small and constricted space in the world, despite his desperate peregrinations through it.  The lovers at the center of the film inhabit a universe of infinite space, even when they go their separate ways, because they have shared not just a vision of a merciful creation, but an actual, physical journey through it.


In Malick’s view, cinema can record this physical recreation of the world by passion or supernatural grace, and thus can record the practical workings of love.  It’s about as extreme a claim for movies as has ever been made.

Click on the images to enlarge.



I worked in the Hollywood film business on and off for about a quarter of a century. Jim Jacks, who just died at the shockingly young age of 66, was one of the only Hollywood producers I ever met who cared more about what audiences thought than about what his peers in the business thought, who cared more about making cool movies than about his place in the pecking order of the industry.


Jim’s place in that order was nevertheless pretty high because he had a pretty good idea what audiences wanted, having come, like the rascals who created Hollywood, from the world of distribution. It was fun to talk to him about movies, fun to collaborate with him making movies.

I suspect that there were more people like him in the business before my time in Hollywood — I’m glad there was at least one person like him left by the time I got there.



If you’re the sort of person who thinks it’s cool to force young people to kill each other for sport . . . well, The Hunger Games is going to seriously mess with your mind, because, as Facebook friend Robert Dunlap observes, it condemns that sort of thing in no uncertain terms.

This is a way of saying that The Hunger Games is platitudinous tripe — like a film that soundly and earnestly condemns Nazis and the holocaust.

Still . . . it can’t be dismissed quite that easily.

Film-Hunger Games-Director

And that’s because it revives and gives new life to the image of Diana the Huntress, with her impeccable, potent virginity and her skill with a bow and arrow.  The Greeks were canny and wise — they created the image of Diana for a reason, because they knew that civilization could not depend entirely on the unfailing competence of men.


They understood that times like our own might arise, times in which male competence might be hard to come by — and they wanted to reassure us that female competence would not vanish, that it would be there to take up the slack of male collapse, if it had to.


The image of Katniss Everdeen’s prowess with the bow is thrilling and consoling, even in this dreadfully bad movie — as the image of Diana the Huntress was thrilling to the Greeks and to other cultures through the ages.  If the survival of our species, if the vitality of our civilization, were dependent solely on the competence of men, life would be a dodgy proposition at best.  But women have got our backs — Katniss and the Greeks assure us of this, and of the fact that all will be well in the end.



This is a very curious film — a love song to the French New Wave, and to the films of François Truffaut in particular, but to a phase of Truffaut’s work which is not much celebrated today, the phase in which he abandoned his revolutionary edge in order to churn out generally bland but agreeable domestic comedies.


Frances Ha and its protagonist are utterly bland and agreeable, like the people and stories in Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series after Les Quatre Cents Coups. Like those later Doinel films, Frances Ha has some substance in its sweetness, its genuine affection for Frances, who is ditzy to the point of stupidity but good-hearted and dogged in pursuit of her slightly off-kilter, generally misdirected ambitions.


This is not something to complain about. Truffaut’s later Doinel films offer us a wonderful portrait of a particular time and place and an object lesson in the simple pleasure of watching an artist lavish love and understanding on his characters. The same can be said of Frances Ha.  The character of Frances in the new film owes a lot to the character of Doinel created by Truffaut and actor Jean-Pierre Léaud.  Like Doinel she is a feckless dreamer, prone to lying and rarely competent but hard to dislike.


The homage is quite explicit — at one point a friend offers to introduce Frances to a guy who looks like Jean-Pierre Léaud, the Frances Ha soundtrack incorporates many cues from Truffaut films and the film is shot in a freewheeling but semi-classical black-and-white style that evokes the Nouvelle Vague.


What’s curious is that contemporary film artists want to emulate not the cutting-edge era of the Nouvelle Vague — not the daring experimental mode of the young Truffaut but his lapse into middle-aged contentment.  It’s a question to ponder — why today’s young cinéastes are enchanted by the memory of a time (in Truffaut’s career at least) when the need and urge to take bold chances had passed.



I’ve always thought that Chris Christie was a mean-spirited sort of jerk, but I’ve never hated him the way many progressives seem to hate him — until now.

There’s something about the George Washington Bridge scandal that nauseates me. It’s just so shabby, so arrogant, so petty, so ugly. I realize it doesn’t rise to the level of misconduct of a Barack Obama, but there is something magnificently, grandly evil about Obama’s attempt to gut the U. S. Constitution during the course of his two terms in office.


Even the Tea Party’s willingness to wreck the U. S. economy rather than accept political impotence has a kind of expansive lunatic folly to it that is impressive. But the GW Bridge scandal is just sad, pathetic, the work of people who have the souls of insects.  The whole thing sickens me.



Cowboys in the Badlands, 1887.

Eakins based this painting on studies he made during a ten week trip to the Dakota Badlands in 1886, following his dismissal as an instructor at the Philadelphia Academy Of Art.  He was dismissed for presenting totally nude male models to female students at the academy, and went West to recover his spirits.

Click on the image to enlarge.



I’m drinking my last egg nog of the season, about to unplug the lights on my Christmas tree. My 63rd Christmas has all but come and gone, which is 63 more Christmases than anyone deserves — enough to last me forever.

Click on the image to enlarge.