Impossible missions

Don’t let go of that plane, Tom!

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the Mission: Impossible films, with Tom Cruise as super-agent Ethan Hunt. This is considered to be a rarity among movie franchises in that most people think the series got progressively better. I’m not so sure. The later offerings (and the series is still ongoing) have been slicker productions and more expensive but they’ve also been more generic. They have nevertheless, always been entertaining in a Hollywood blockbuster sort of way. Here’s the line-up:

Mission: Impossible (1996)
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Lockdown

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to dominate the news.

It really is remarkable, and a bit depressing. Every day is like Sunday, with the streets nearly empty and most of the stores closed or only open for reduced hours. School has been suspended and I wonder what the kids are doing. Are they all online? I think they must be.

I don’t know if all of the precautions that are being taken actually work. My sense is that they’re less effective than we’re led to believe. For example, I had to go the bank yesterday. They had cut back the hours of service so it didn’t open until 10 (the other bank I had to go to opened at 11). In addition, people were only being let into the bank proper one at a time. The waiting area was the vestibule with the ATM.  Because of the reduced hours and the one-person-at-a-time rule a bottleneck was created so that more people were packed together than usual, in a smaller space, waiting for longer just to get in. I couldn’t see this as being helpful except as a way to discourage people from coming to the bank in the first place, which really wasn’t helpful at all.

I’m not that worried about catching COVID-19 myself. What does worry me is the amount of damage this is going to have on the economy (meaning people’s jobs) and how long it is going to last. I had a dentist appointment this week that was canceled and they asked if I wanted to reschedule in three weeks’ time. I asked, in some amazement, if they really thought this would all blow over in three weeks. They could only respond that this is what they’d been told. The public library system has also said that they will be closed for three weeks. I think it’s going to be a lot longer.

Falling down, falling down

Does the name Mike Banning ring a bell? You’d be forgiven for finding it the generic and forgettable name of a Hollywood action hero, which is the Mike Banning I’m thinking of. He’s the presidential bodyguard played by Gerard Butler in the trilogy Olympus Has Fallen (2013), London Has Fallen (2016), and Angel Has Fallen (2019). There are plans for more but I think I’ve had enough. Already I have trouble telling them apart. The perfectly generic and forgettable vehicles for a Mike Banning.

Broken promises

From The Day of the Locust (1939) by Nathanael West:

Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, war. This daily diet made sophisticates of them. The sun is a joke. Oranges can’t titillate their jaded palates. Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies. They have been cheated and betrayed. They have slaved and saved for nothing.

From Notes of a Native Son (1955) by Richard Wright:

In America, though, life seems to move faster than anywhere else on the globe and each generation is promised more than it will get: which creates, in each generation, a curious bewildered rage, the rage of people who cannot find solid ground beneath their feet.

Kids in the corn

Just a kid. Looking out of the corn.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the almost totally undistinguished Children of the Corn movies. I say “almost” because the first movie isn’t bad, and in later episodes you can catch Charlize Theron’s debut and Naomi Watts in a leading role before she was a star. But mostly these movies are awful, which shouldn’t be surprising as they were being produced by the same company driving the Hellraiser franchise into the ground. Apparently Stephen King didn’t even keep track of how many there were. Though I guess he was getting paid since he usually received a credit for coming up with the title of the series (if nothing else).

Bottom line: the first movie is still worth seeing, but I would avoid all the others.

Children of the Corn (1984)
Children of the Corn II: The Final Sacrifice (1992)
Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)
Children of the Corn: The Gathering (1996)
Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)
Children of the Corn 666: Isaac’s Return (1999)
Children of the Corn VII: Revelation (2001)
Children of the Corn: Genesis (2011)

Gaslighting 11.0

None of these fellows has read the transcript. But they bought the t-shirt.

Much has been said about the presidency of Donald Trump and his gaslighting of the American public. Indeed whole books have been written on the subject. The results have been truly incredible, leading me to believe that it’s probably true that Trump could, as he boasted, shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.

Of all the many examples of this that there have been, I think the most dramatic has been his command to “Read the transcipt!” Sometimes in all caps. This has turned out to be such a winner of a line that it’s even been printed on t-shirts for his followers to wear at rallies.

The reason I find this bit of gaslighting so remarkable is that there are no transcripts to be read. What Trump is referring to is the summary report of the phone call he made to the President of Ukraine. This is not a transcript. But apparently that doesn’t matter, any more than the fact that the Mueller Report, which Trump claimed as “total exoneration,” concluded that it could not exonerate Trump from the charge of having committed a crime.

What makes the “Read the transcript!” line even stranger though, and what dials it up to 11 on the gaslighting scale, is the fact that the only person stopping anyone from reading the transcript is . . . Trump himself. He could release a transcript of the call, but apparently it’s been locked down on a secure server somewhere. So the command to read the transcript is impossible, and impossible precisely because Trump has made it impossible.

I’d like to think the line was meant as a joke, but I’m afraid it may be part of a new reality.

Angry voters

Over the last few days I’ve been watching the ESPN Films documentary O.J.: Made in America. All of that craziness went down nearly twenty years ago and I can still remember it clearly. I think if you are of a certain age it will always be with you. It’s hard to imagine another media event capturing the world’s attention to that degree again. Nearly 100 million people in the U.S. watched the highway procession (not a chase) in the Ford Bronco. And then there was the trial. Or trials. I was actually in Los Angeles during the civil trial. I waited outside the courthouse but there was a lottery to get tickets to go in and my number didn’t get called.

The documentary is a solid bit of reportage, and kept me interested throughout it’s almost 8-hour running time. The only part where I turned against it a bit was at the very end, when Simpson is given the last word, pleading with his fans to remember the good O.J. This struck me as being false, or at least ironic, since O.J. seems to have never changed. So what was the good O.J.? The football player? The celebrity? The idol? However you slice it, I didn’t get the sense that the good O.J. was the real O.J.

What I found most interesting though was the way the politics played out in ways that really foreshadowed the rise of today’s anti-elite populism, only from a different perspective. From interviews with jurors it’s clear that sides were taken early on, and that no amount of evidence was going to change anyone’s mind. African-Americans in Los Angelese saw themselves, with justification, as a group oppressed by the system, leading to feelings of cynicism and even nihilism. The game was totally rigged and no facts presented by the Man, no matter how clearly demonstrated, could be believed. Acquitting O.J. would even be “payback” for a history of racist law enforcement.

Today we usually associate this kind of attitude with Trump voters, so it’s instructive to see how it has played out in other contexts. Either way, people were voting angry. The results speak for themselves.