27 April 2020

The Strangler

Its sleazy, lurid opening shot (the reflection in the strangler’s eye of a nurse undressing), immediately followed by some ripe degeneracy (the strangler strangles the nurse, then compares her corpse to a child’s doll, takes doll home, strips doll naked and sweatily orgasms!) promises a great sicko classic. Alas, the remainder of the film is a fairly routine early serial killer flick (quickly shot in 1964 to cash in on the real-life Boston Strangler hysteria).

The Strangler is saved from becoming a complete yawn fest by Victor Buono’s performance as the troubled protagonist. Buono (if remembered by anybody for anything it’s as King Tut in the campy Batman TV series) is a grossly obese, prissy, egotistical hospital lab geek with a doll fetish and a smothering, nagging, bitter, sickly mother (badly played by Ellen Corby, who would go on to her most notable role as the humorless grandmother in The Waltons).
The strangler’s psychological profile could be sketched as proto Edmund Kemper, and Buono plays it with a fair degree of creeper skill, mixing in periods of morbid ecstasy with child-like innocence (the fat man is most happy and at ease when playing games at an amusement arcade). The rest of the cast's acting skill is best described as low-grade wooden, with the notable exception of Diane Sayer, who has a dirty bed sheet sparkle as the bad girl co-worker of the strangler's wholesome arcade girl crush.
Besides Buono and Sayer, the film's other saving grace is that all the strangler's victims, for some reason, strip down to their bra and panties just before meeting their maker:
[An interesting thing about the above picture of Diane Sayer (and if you remember her at all, you probably don't remember her name, but if you ever watched Leave It To Beaver, she was the red hottie Wally had a crush on in one episode, but she turned out to be way too fast for the sXe Cleaver boy): she's been dead for almost twenty years, if she were alive today she would be in her eighties, but here she is in this photo, and in this moderately successful motion picture, in the full bloom of youth. So full of the life force, as you watch the moving pictures fifty-six years later, and as you are stirred, her stinking carcass is rotting six feet under—there's just something so. . .so. . .I don't know, so quantum about it. . .the bittersweet entanglement of the past and the present.  Sadly, cruelly, she died of breast cancer.]

Anyway. . .and that's kind of a bummer, I know, to include in a movie review, but anyway, yeah, The Strangler, not the worst movie ever made, in fact, better than most of the garbage Hollywood sets on the curb today, and an eternal celluloid flame burning in memory of Diane Sayer, Victor Buono and all the other extinguished stars of the movies. . .
[Free with minimal ads on bargain bin streamer Tubi]

25 April 2020

Kansas City Confidential

A bitter ex-cop who has been forced into an early retirement with a paltry pension devises an ingenious plan to set up a trio of sweaty losers and one patsy flower truck driver in a bank robbery, and then turn them in for the reward money and the hero status of *catching* them. Kansas City Confidential is a pretty clever little heist/noir flick (many elements of the script became standard movie fare) with plenty of double and triple crosses, but the film’s hard edge is marred by a wimpy ending.

The trio of sweaty losers provide most of the flick's energy and are played by three young actors, now long-dead, who would become veteran Hollywood heavies: Jack Elam (so young he was still skinny, looking like a 1950s Steve Buscemi), Lee Van Cleef (so young he still had the tip of his right middle finger) and Neville Brand (who has the movie’s best line: when confronted with his cop killing past, he monotones without the slightest trace of regret I don’t like heroes). The rest of the cast, including the male and female leads, are only mediocre, excepting Dona Drake’s cock-teasing Mexican hotel waitress. Decent entertainment if you can get past the 1950s cheap-looking sets and pretend gun violence (nary a bullet hole is visible in any of the sweaty loser’s corpses) and the half-a-sissy ending. [Free with minimal ads on bargain bin streamer Tubi]

23 April 2020

The Hustler

One of the All-Time Greats of American Cinema, The Hustler is the redemption story of Eddie Felson, a god with a cue stick in his hand, a born loser without.  The film opens with a (rightly) legendary 40 minute pool sequence as the cocky young hustler Eddie challenges the reigning pool king Minnesota Fats (memorably played by Jackie Gleason).  During the course of the marathon contest, the victory Eddie's magnificent pool shooting ability seems to have earned is slowly lost in a torturous fall that reveals his many character defects: vanity, ego, recklessness, selfishness.  After pitifully begging Fats to continue the match, a pathetic Eddie ends up collapsing to the floor in a drunken, exhausted heap, a broken, beaten man.
After his humiliating defeat, Eddie sneaks off from his manager.  He stows his gear in a locker in a bus station, and then happens across a solitary woman in the station diner.  They quickly bond over their shared penchant for drowning their sorrows in a liquor bottle.  It is at this point The Hustler splits into two great character studies: Eddie and Sarah, a kind of yin and yang of American losers. Eddie is good-looking, Sarah is plain.  Eddie is physically gifted, Sarah is crippled.  Eddie is callous, Sarah is hyper-sensitive.  Eddie is cocky, Sarah is timid.  Eddie is disinterested, Sarah is a searcher.  They are brought together by desperation, loneliness and alcohol, and it's a match that can only end in tragedy. Paul Newman's performance as Eddie is rightly regarded as one of the best, but often overlooked is Piper Laurie's Sarah.  Laurie, just ugly enough not to be pretty, and just pretty enough not to be ugly, gives an equally brilliant performance as the fragile bookworm Sarah, who is as reckless with her heart as Eddie is with his pool talent.  Sarah's love is trampled under Eddie's selfish desire to take one more shot at Minnesota Fats.  Casting his lot with the unscrupulous gambler Bert Gordon (George C. Scott in a typical blowhard performance), Eddie neglects Sarah in her hour of need, abandoning her to drink her way into a degrading encounter with Bert, and a suicide with a short, painful note scrawled in lipstick on a bathroom mirror:
Sarah's suicide is a self-sacrifice that pierces Eddie's callous, selfish exterior and leaves him with a guilty conscience.  Sarah had answered his cry for help when he was at his lowest, and his refusal to do the same for her produces the self-abasing humility he needs to secure his victory over Minnesota Fats in their rematch.  Compared to the lengthy, dramatic opening encounter, the final match is anti-climatic, and rightly so, the result not nearly as relevant as its catastrophic cost.  The Hustler remains sixty years after its release cinematic drama at its finest.

21 April 2020

The Stendhal Syndrome

The first seven minutes of this Dario Argento slasher are inventive and riveting.  Argento's daughter Asia, playing a Rome policewoman, hunts for a serial rapist in Florence's Uffizi Gallery and thereupon falls victim to the film's eponymous syndrome, hallucinating under the influence of the gallery's magnificent art work.  Any cinematic sequence that ends with the leading lady making out with an ugly fish has to be given credit for its bizarre originality:
Unfortunately, the remaining one hour and fifty-one minutes are not nearly as interesting, and this one falls far short of Argento's earlier giallo gems Deep Red and Suspiria.  Like most Argento films, The Stendhal Syndrome has a spontaneous generation plot: shit just happens, for no apparent reason.  Also like most Argento films, young women are raped and mutilated in vivid detail (though directing his own daughter in two violent rape scenes does seem a bit extreme, even for a celluloid sadist like Argento).  But unlike vintage Argento, this one is largely missing his trademark moody style, the intense colors, bewildering camera work, and carefully composed and ultra-lurid faces of death.  There are bits of it here and there, but also long stretches of pretty mediocre slasher nonsense, most of it in the film's absurd second half, when, after dispatching the serial rapist and finding relief from the Stendhal Syndrome, Asia Argento's character suffers an entirely different sort of breakdown and the film meanders on for another hour pursuing a second mystery to its pretty predictable conclusion.  The only really interesting moment in film's second half occurs when post-Stendhal Syndrome Asia tries to rape her wimpy cop boyfriend, other than that not much happens except for Asia wandering around in a cheap blonde wig and initiating an obviously ill-fated romance with a French boy named Marie (don't ask).  The longer the movie goes on, the farther away the first seven minutes seem, and the disappointment grows and grows.

17 April 2020

Virus TV

Roku offered a 30 day free trial of something called Epix. . .is it a channel, a network?  I don't know.  Anyway, this Epix thing offered Season One of War of the Worlds, an updated version of the H.G. Wells classic.  The first two episodes, set in England and France, were pretty good, they framed the extraterrestrial invasion and the ensuing fear and panic quite nicely, but it went quickly downhill from there, the show ruined by one dimensional diversity characters (though we must acknowledge a diversity ground-breaker: a character who is the offspring of brother/sister incest!) and a slow-moving script filled with giant plot holes.  It was a struggle getting through the last 3 or 4 episodes, and I can't imagine anybody not housebound by the virus bothering to do so.  The acting is pretty underwhelming and features a cast of mostly Limey/French nobodies, but it's actually the two most well-known names (at least, probably to Americans) who deliver the worst performances: Gabriel Byrne and Elizabeth McGovern.  Byrne plays a neuroscientist obsessed with his ex-wife, but his performance is simultaneously inept and wooden, as if he so resented having to show up for his paycheck, he deliberately tried to give a shitty performance.  McGovern plays the ex-wife, and if you ever wondered what a sixty-year-old anorexic looks like, well, here's your once-in-a-lifetime chance.  McGovern is a wrinkled stick figure so emaciated she looks like she wouldn't need any makeup or costume to be cast as a skeleton in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie.  Her acting range consists of one note: shrill.  The ET killer robots project more warmth and humanity.  

Amazon Prime's got Under the Silver Lake, a kOOk flick about a grimy, unpleasant LA stoner dude who tries to unravel a mystery/conspiracy about some rich people who want to ascend to a higher plane of existence.  This is basically David Lynch Lite material. . .and, really, it's not a half-bad movie.  In fact, it would probably be a pretty good movie, if it weren't for the stoner dude being played by Andrew Garfield, a decent actor in roles that require overly earnest do-gooders (The Amazing Spider-Man, Hacksaw Ridge), but here he stumbles badly trying to play a literally and figuratively greasy paranoid slacker gOOfball.  His acting lacks that redeeming degree of snarky unwashed charm his character demands, and so you don't really care what happens to him as he wanders from one red herring to the next, interacting with several competently acted and amusingly surreal characters who serve as archetypes of LA's corrupt entertainment industry (in particular the Songwriter, a centuries old musical wizard who is the ghostwriter for every hit from Beethoven's Ode to Joy to Kurt Cobain's Smells Like Teen Spirit and who tells the stoner dude that everything he thinks is genuine about himself is just a fabrication he absorbed from the decaying culture around him).  This is one of those frustrating It Could Have Been movies, a fun house mirror's reflection of LA grotesque that just misses the mark of Cult Classic.

Hand of God (Amazon Prime): If you ever wanted to see Ron Perlman butt-naked in a fountain speaking in tongues, this is the show for you! Perlman trades his biker jacket for a judge's robe in this lunatic story of a man who believes he sees visions from God sending him down a path of vigilante justice.  This thing goes in about ten different demented directions, with crater-size plot holes. . .it reminds me of some of Jim Thompson's bad pulp novels, but even bad Jim Thompson is entertaining, and so is Hand of God, with its cast of crazy characters (meth head pastor, flirty fisher choir girl, rapist cops, emo corporate hit man, reformed skinhead Christian hit man, saintly software developer, saintly high class escort and even a black mayor named Bobo) and bizarre conspiracies.  Added bonus: Dana Delany plays Perlman's wife and has got to be the hottest sixty-year-old bag on TV.  She looks even better than fifty-year-old Marisa Tomei.  Popcorn entertainment at the highest levels of Grand Guignol. 

Tiger King (Netflix): Frankly, I don't understand what all the fuss is about.  Is it because white trash aren't supposed to be faggots and toothless rent boys?  Otherwise, what's the appeal of watching hour after hour of petting zoo oddballs ranting and raving at each other? It's like a five hour long episode of the worst moments of Live PD.  

The Sinner, Season 3 (USA): Easily the best season of this show, as a high school teacher watches his life slip into smothering conformity, and has his cry for help answered by an old college buddy—who just so happens to be a suicidal/homicidal nihilist.  Watching Bill Pullman's repressed homicide detective Harry Ambrose trying to keep up with the high school teacher spiraling into full-on Nietzschean madness offers plenty of psychotronic thrills and a decent philosophic critique of contemporary society.

Dare Me (USA): LOL! "Cutthroat world of competitive high school cheerleading. . ."  OK.  Did you ever think you'd see cutthroat and cheerleading in the same tagline?  But. . .this gauzy teen hard body soap opera does have a, er, certain appeal.  OK.  For real, though.  It's a little like Friday Night Lights told from the point of view of an S.E. Hinton cheerleader squad.  OK.  All right.  But, if the Emmy Awards had a category for Best Jailbait Melodrama, this thing would win, hands down.      

11 April 2020

Church Is Closed? Work Out Your Own Salvation!

1 Corinthians 16:19: Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

Yup.  That's how they did it in the beginning.

Church was actually in somebody's house.

They didn't all go to some sterile building with a coffee nook and a five piece band to get you warmed up. . .

And when they were done, they didn't rush you up to the altar to grab a tiny cube of bread and thimble of grape juice (hey, maybe that's how Jesus fed the multitude?  Yo, everybody, gather round, just chip off a scale from this fish, and pass it on to your neighbor. . .) and then rush you out the door.  No, they took their time, had a real meal and actually spent more than 45 seconds contemplating the significance of the Lord's death and resurrection.

Do this in remembrance of Me. . .

Do we really think we are partaking worthily if we take communion like we're at a drive-thru??

It may be we're better off this coronavirus Easter just staying put and having church in our own home.

It may be we're better off not warming some pew, paying half-attention to somebody who's more interested in saving The Economy than in saving our soul. . .

But when He had turned about and looked on His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind Me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men. And when He had called the people unto Him with His disciples also, He said unto them, Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

The visible church in America tends to savor the things of men a little too much.

It might just be a blessing this Easter Sunday to sit at home alone, or with family members old enough to have an adult conversation, and consider the state of our soul.

The virus has caught the world's attention. . .a large part of the world has been snapped out of its routine.  In truth, we see the world in a Panic!®.  It's easy to laugh at Trump and say he's been all over the place with this virus crisis, but everybody else has, also.  The world is thrown out of order, and nobody knows the right way to put it back. [Let's hope they put it back different, but that's a topic for another day].  

An opportunity is being missed. . .

I doubt the people who are a few hours away from being bound to a ventilator are wondering when they should go back to work. . .

Let's be honest, the Panic!® ain't coming from the folks with tubes down their throat. . .the Panic!® is from those who are thinking about their future in this world.

Money. . .when do we go back to work?. . .what about these bills?. . .how long can we afford to lock down?. . .all the businesses that might fail! 

What a waste of Panic!®.

I'm sure the ventilator people are in a panic, also. . .but their panic don't carry very far, and it ain't part of The Panic!®.  

The ventilator people, before they lose their reason, before they are put in a medically induced coma as the last pause before the grave, their panic is the panic of death, and I would wager a goodly amount that a fair number of them were not contemplating the things of men, but were wondering after their own souls.

I may die.  Is there anything after?  Was this all there was?

You can't convince me that many of the ventilator people did not ask after God.  Death is bigger than them, so they seek something bigger than death.

That panic is not part of The Panic!®.  The ventilator people are only factored into The Panic!® as a number in the death column that hangs as a black cloud over the living, and as a burden to Panicked!® *health care workers.*

Let's not pout this Sunday if we can't go into one of the offical church buildings for the Easter ritual. How many sermons would have been about soothing our panic, but it would be The Panic!® of the things of men.  God is faithful to restore our job, our household, our America.  We don't need to hear that. . .

We don't need to be reassured about the future of America.  The future belongs to the Kingdom of God. 

We have a chance this Easter Sunday to have church in our own homes, to sit alone or with our adult family members and try to locate our lives.  We might not have many more chances before the world starts up again and swallows our souls. . .

Let's sit under that shadow of death and ask ourselves what we know about our future.  

Is there anything after?  Is this all there is?

If we believe there is a Kingdom of God, what do we know about it?  Is there a place for us in it?

I would wager most of us haven't spent an hour in the last year, in the last ten years, thinking about it.

Most would laugh at such a suggestion, but since The Panic!® hit, perhaps the laughter is cut with just a bit of nervousness?

Back in the days when people didn't know any better, when they actually wondered about eternity, the apostle Paul advised:

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. 

Most of us will survive The Panic!® and return to our lives with a sigh of relief.  Yet a week, a month, a year later, some private panic is certain to infect.  But if we knew that Jesus was risen and that we had a place in His Kingdom, we'd be immune.  So let's not pout this Sunday if we can't go into one of the church buildings for the Easter service.  Let's stay at home, alone, without the interference of the ritual.  Let's dust off our souls and take the time to work out our own salvation. . . 

04 April 2020

The True Panic!®

It seems among the class of Americans called *conservative Christians* there are a fair number who decry government-issued stay-at-home orders, chiefly, it seems, for fear of damage to The Economy. . .

Some of these *conservative Christians* even allege a Media and/or Government created Panic!®, that the virus pandemic has not and will not generate enough corpses to warrant the shut down of The Economy.

[Ironically, it is lost upon these *conservative Christians* they are creating their own The Economy Panic!®.  They posit by shutting down The Economy, when the virus runs its course, The Economy will have been so devastated *life in America will never be the same!*  It won't be worth living, we'll all be too poor!  We'll be like those others, in those dirty countries, those others who don't get to live soft lives on credit!  No, we can't shut down The Economy!!  Well, as Jesus truly said: where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.]    

The *conservative Christians* reason: we don't shut down The Economy because of the flu, which kills 30000 - 60000 people every year, so. . .  

Thus, The Economy is definitely of more value than 30000 - 60000 lives.  How many people must die in order to make a shut down of The Economy justifiable?  We have not seen one of the *conservative Christians* offer such a number, we only know that it must be above the 30000 - 60000 flu mark.

In fairness to *conservative Christians,* then, let us be honest and state their position thus:

The Economy is worth x number of lives. . .

Of course, this contradicts the gospel of Jesus (Luke 12:15-21, 15:4, 18:18-25, Matthew 6:24-34, etc., etc.).

A Christian, Jesus tells us, shouldn't worry over The Economy.  That's what infidels do.  If a Christian worries about The Economy just like the infidels do, then how do we distinguish between Christian and infidel?  

Let's always remember about our Lord:

He commanded people to leave The Economy and follow Him in preaching the kingdom of God.  Let the dead bury their dead.  The Economy is not paramount.  The work of God's kingdom is of more value than The Economy.

What is the work of God's Kingdom during a virus pandemic?  Is it to serve The Economy or the sick?

What do we make of these *conservative Christians* and their fear for The Economy? 

Above all, we must always remember these *conservative Christians* are, in reality, only self-proclaimed Christians.  

This is little understood in the United States, where most of the religious folk believe if they declare themselves Christian, they are in fact Christian.

The truth is, we have no proof there is a single Christian on earth. . .  

I also am a self-proclaimed Christian, but I understand my saying it doesn't make it so.    

It is clear from reading the Gospel of John chapter 5 that the Lord Jesus Christ is the *Decider.*  Only those Jesus proclaims to be His sheep are Christians.  Many of our self-proclaimed Christians will be told by Jesus:

I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.

The visible church in America, all those Christians who proclaim themselves Christian, for the most part resemble what we can call the visible church of Jesus' day, and operate in the same spirit.

The visible churches of today and Jesus' day operate within the Material World Orders of their respective days.  As such, they have a degree of influence:

And even more importantly, they make a LOT of money.

The visible churches of today and Jesus' day both seek primarily to increase their influence and bank accounts, and thus when faced with social issues which cause conflict between their supposed faith and their influence/bank account, will always choose influence/bank account.  In other words, they will serve mammon rather than God.

If they serve mammon rather than God, are they not then anti-Christ?

Of course, the anti-Christ spirit was more easily evident in Jesus' day.  Jesus thoroughly criticized the spirit of the visible church of His day (see Matthew 23), and warned the visible church if it did not change its way and follow His way, it would be destroyed (there shall not be left here one stone upon another).  Of course, we know the visible church rejected Jesus, crucified Him, and, given a second chance to repent at the resurrection, refused, and instead OFFERED DENIAL/CONSPIRACY MONGERING:

Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done. And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers, Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole Him away while we slept. And if this come to the governor's ears, we will persuade him, and secure you. So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.

This desperation to hold onto influence and money, to serve mammon, holds true UNTIL THIS DAY.  We see the same denial and conspiracy mongering today in the *conservative Christians* of the visible church in America.

The gospel of Jesus values life over money, but the *conservative Christians* of the visible church of today only preach that gospel when it doesn't threaten its influence or bank account.  It therefore preaches against abortion, but, revealing its true anti-Christ spirit, otherwise supports war and an economy that oppresses far more than it liberates.

Today in the virus crisis, many self-proclaimed conservative Christians tell you the economy is more important than saving life. . .the very sanctity of life they shout about in the case of abortion, they quickly forget if it will cost money or influence.

They will even resort to the same ludicrous conspiracy mongering as in Jesus' day.

In our current virus crisis they will tell you the virus is *just the same as the flu,* that the new virus threat is a hoax being used by sinister anti-Americans to scare Americans into abandoning The Economy, and that they are giving up their *freedom* which they believe derives from *the constitution* and which the same issuing government now wants to take back.

How little they understand. . .

As if freedom is somehow something a government can give. . .

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

We cannot claim to know who is a Christian and who is merely a self-proclaimed
Christian (which is just a pretty way of saying a servant of sin). . .but we can heed Jesus' advice:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

Judge for yourself the fruit of The Economy Panic!® of the *conservative Christian.*

Ask yourself what does the True Christian have to lose if the American Economy were to fail?  Nothing of any eternal value.  

The self-proclaimed conservative Christian, by bowing to The Economy, seeks to preserve his life in this world. . .

The self-proclaimed conservative Christian sets aside the principles of the gospel preached by Jesus in His sermon on the mount, and pathetically clings to his little America and America's little economy, refusing to seek first the kingdom of God. . .

Thus the foolish self-proclaimed conservative Christian swears by the gold of the temple, and indicts himself as a Laodicean. . .