Friday, July 30, 2021

Hits and contract killing


The following from the August 2, 2021 issue of the New Yorker, page 8, written by Richard Brody:

"Film Forum's ongoing Humphrey Bogart series includes the idiosyncratic 1951 film noir The Enforcer (which is also streaming on many services). . . the movies originality is in its script which gives Bogart the role of a district attorney named Ferguson who -- hours before Mendoza (Everett Sloan), the head of a murder ring, is set to be released without charges -- searches his investigation files for overlooked evidence.  As Ferguson's interrogations of garish underworld characters are shown in flashbacks, the action that they relate is seen in flashbacks within those flashbacks.  The intricate structure lays bare a tentacular network of killers for hire whose members are driven literally mad with fear of Mendoza, but the movie's frenzied psychology is also historically fascinating: Mendoza's chilling and cunning criminal enterprise is presented as an innovation -- as are the terms 'contract' for killing and 'hit' for a victim."

I'd like to read a more extensive discussion of these matters.  It seems we have an assassin genre within the film noir genre nowadays -- maybe the term "film noir" needs to be abandoned.   Just last night I watched Ava.  Simon (Colin Farrell) is the current "head of a murder ring."  The previous head, Duke (John Malkovich) in a subordinate role runs the assassin Ava (Jessica Chastain). 

Ava's "sin" is that she questions the people she is about to assassinate about what they did that elicited someone to order a hit.  This sin is unforgivable and Simon orders "hits" on Ava, but they don't succeed.  Finally he attempts to kill her himself and is instead killed by her.  The ending suggests that there may be a hierarchy above Simon.  As Ava in the last scene walks away to go into hiding, Simon's daughter, an assassin in training follows her."

The acting in Ava struck me as excellent.  I did initially question whether the 5' 4" fragile looking Jessica Chastain could pull it off, but she does.  Collin Farrell 5' 10" but in their fight scene they seem comparable somehow. 

Despite being an alcoholic and drunk when Simon enters her apartment, Ava manages to fight him to a draw.  His phone rings to alert him that the police are on their way, so he doesn't resume the fight.  He merely tells Ava that if he ever sees her again he will kill her.  Ava however, knows better than that so she assembles her gear in a matter of seconds and hurry's after Simon.  His gun was dismantled during his fight so he is unarmed.  She catches up to him and shoots him in the head. 

Even though at the end when Simon's daughter follows Ava, one doesn't (at least I didn't) assume that she will be successful in killing Ava, if that is what she intends to try to try.  Ava has conducted 41 successful contract hits and Simon's daughter has yet to conduct her first . . .

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Campfire Middens

    When we were few
    We would say, see
    That blind man, our poet?”
    And over there, the man with
    One leg, our warrior, and if
    You listen carefully you will
    Hear from the trees, Glisten,

    Our singer who sings
    Each time we gather
    To listen to the poet’s
    Tales and the warrior’s
    Wars, but now there
    Are ten-thousand who
    Write as well,

    A hundred thousand who
    Fight and a million
    Clamoring to be heard.
    Does this burgeoning
    Never end?  And if it does,
    Who will tell the tale,
    Who sing?

Currying Flame


    The fiery wind,
    Swerved -- a viper
    Rising to strike
    Just where they thought
    They’d found
    Security from
    Nettling distress.

    They shed desires,
    Fortunes deserved,
    Praise they’d coveted.  
    Everything was hot
    To the touch.  The air
    Scorched each thought,
    Not stopping at what

    It revealed
    Throughout the day:
    This attack against
    Beings Ill-prepared to
    Deflect the searing
    Sword from their
    Stumbling numbers.

Helen at her window

    Helen knew the look
    And feel of her
    Trojan archer; yet
    Set aside as she was,
    Relived her steps:
    Menelaus’s treatment,
    Paris’s tempting salvation.

    Guilt some said,
    And she’d accede to
    Some. Yet being
    Abandoned she
    Felt betrayed, left
    While Greeks played
    Their games, left

    Again while Paris
    And Hector fended or
    Fell.  Set here like
    A precious vase there
    Was no one to witness
    The apprehensions
    Clouding her vaunted brow.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Media studies and Gunpowder Milkshake


An obituary on Fiske is available from U Wisconsin:

I had not heard of John Fiske nor was I aware that the media was being formally studied.  I have however for a long time suspected that Hollywood had a lot to do with my desire to enter the Marine Corps.   Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941 when I was seven.  I don't recall timing or details but can still recall the emotional content of some of the war movies.  I recall being pumped up by them.  I tried to enlist in the Marine Corps in 1951 when I was 16 and the war in Korea was still active.  The USMC found out how old I was and told me to come back when I was 17 if I could get my mother to sign for me.  My step-father insisted that I finish High School first.  Thus, I enlisted in July 1952 when I was almost 18.  By the time I got to Korea truce talks had begun.  I was over there for the last two battle seasons and on Cheju Island next to a prison camp shortly after North Korean prisoners were released and some climbed Cheju mountain instead of making there way back North.

Thinking back I don't have any regrets. The Marine Corps was part of my education.  Even though I didn't see actual combat, I was trained for it and before I got out was a rifle instructor training others:  grammar and high school from 1939 to 1952.  USMC from 1952 to 1955.  College from 1955 to 1959.  Engineering from 1959 to 1998.  Retired from 1998 to the present.   Susan once commented that one of our nephews especially looked up to me because I was the only one in our families that was squared away, or something to that effect.  In thinking back, any squaring originated in my desire to follow examples I found on the silver screen.  I set out to become a Marine and became one, but I didn't really want to become a career Marine and so got out and went to college. 

So you can see that I've given one particular media a lot of thought over the years.  In more modern times I've noticed that "Hollywood" [if that is a proper term in media studies] has been busy creating larger-than-life women heroes ["heroines" appears to be a moribund term].  I just the other day watched Gunpowder Milkshake -- tongue in cheek, follows Wick a bit but women are shown as being able to do it all.  Good stuff.  Back in 1952 in Boot Camp we were ushered out onto the side of a hill one night where we were shown High Noon -- also good stuff.  I wonder if Marines going through boot camp today could benefit from being shown Gunpowder Milkshake instead . . . or in addition.

Thus, without ever having studied any of this, I have been aware of movement. I can't bring to mind any complaints at present.  I do enjoy a good "shoot-em-up" movie or TV series, and if it involves some larger-than-life heroine, I can root for her as well as I once did for Gary Cooper.  Good stuff :-)

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Wilmington, fourth of July, 1942

    I’ll tell you something else
    If you hold still, quit wriggling:
    Time was there was a lot
    More going on in that old town:    
    Old Fourth of July festivities
    For example: the banners
    Parades, everyone coming out

    To play the games, win a
    Stuffed animal or two.
    Back when my family
    Lived in that small
    House owned by Joe Denni
    Who also owned the drug store
    Down on Avalon.  We walked

    Over to Avalon, south
    To Anaheim; then down
    To I street where the town
    square was host each year
    To dreams – didn’t even need
    To say good-bye back then --  
    Lots of quick ways to die,

    But not if you worked in
    “Vital” Los Angeles Harbor
    Industries: our fathers who
    Drank their way to sixty,
    Seventy and beyond.  We on
    The other hand were too young
    To evade the draft and drifted away.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Heinlein and The Tomorrow War

This is a pretty good movie; however, it doesn't match in power Heinlein's Starship Troopers in my opinion.  The writers of TTW will disagree saying the father/daughter/grandfather Foresters have power not seen in Heinlein.  But Heinlein does a much better job in hypothesizing what such a war would realistically involve from a military standpoint.   ST resonates for anyone who has been in the Marine Corps or Army infantry.  If you've only seen the very-bad movie, Starship Troopers, then you won't know what I'm talking about. 

Heinlein's novel deals with a galactic war.  The aliens, which are pretty much like the aliens in TTW, are unstoppable by normal means. [Although the aliens in TTW are more like the aliens in the Aliens movie and not like the Predators who use the aliens for sport.  Presumably the creators that operated the space-ship that crashed into a volcano in the Middle Ages were a bit more like the Predators].  So the humans have invented suits of armor and weaponry that movie-makers haven't found the means to simulate.  Heinlein's aliens defeat humans on planet after planet until human scientists find a way to kill the alien queens.  After that the war turns in favor of the humans.  Alien queens on TTW are much tougher than in ST, but I suspect Heinlein's queen is closer to a conceivable hive-organism.  Queens don't need to know how to fight. 

In Heinlein's novel, the humans are organized by a bureaucracy that trains and functions much like the Marine Corps.  And like the Marine Corps, one must volunteer and then go through a difficult boot-camp in order to fight.  In TTW, there is a vague conspiracy-theory-type military-scientific organization "drafting" appropriate humans to go into the future to fight the aliens.  Somehow all the Tomorrow War draftees, without boot-camp type training (glossed over in the movie) by instinct fight as though they've been properly trained.  I don't believe humans can or would do that.  

As I began watching TTW I wondered if movie makers had been influenced by the recent acceptance, seemingly, that there are a tiny percentage of UFO sightings that can't be explained.  Perhaps the writers were stirring up a martial spirit just in case the aliens were hostile.  However the movie soon disabused me of that idea.  It seems to have also (at least in the fight scenes) have been influenced by zombie apocalypse as well as Predator and Terminator movies.

The acting in TTW is very good, better than in the other movies I've mentioned or alluded to.  And the action moves quickly enough so that one doesn't have time to compare this movie to movies very much like this one that were made in the past. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

The Good

    Something we all decide
    Blank-slate style
    Or something our forbears
    Fresh from the trees
    Evolved hanging with
    Early wolves?  We now
    Are inclined to find

    Their furry faces
    And wagging tails
    An immense delight.
    And if we don’t
    We are aberrant
    As are thieves
    And other deceivers

    Preying out of twisted
    Passions.  But each
    Generation stores
    Stories that the rest
    May see
    And choose the good.

Friday, July 2, 2021

A Visitation

    The other night Susan
    Came up next to me
    On the sidewalk.  She took
    My left hand and kissed
    It over and over.  “I’ve
    Missed you so.  It’s been
    So long since we looked
    In each other’s eyes. We
    We are so much in love.”
    She looked about, seeing
    Jessica.  “I see you finally
    Got your Irish lass,”
    She laughed and Jessica
    Danced her delight.

    Susan, searching,
    Came along side
    And entered my longing.
    I dreamt too much joy
    To see her go as I woke
    And hear her once
    Again breathe “goodbye.”                

The Parrot

    There is a parrot established next
    Door full of ill-taught squawks.
    He watched me with one eye
    As I raked leaves.  He has an
    Aviary up against our common
    Fence, joining family dogs who
    Paid him little mind, except
    The smallest and most
    Alarmed who found a hole
    And squirmed through into
    Our yard where Jessica waited.
    Seeing her he screeched and
    She in delight chased him
    In terrified circles round about.
    The neighbor hearing
    Called him through the
    Hole and back in his yard,
    With apologies.  Jessica
    Pleased and panting watched
    Him go.  The parrot squawked
    Amusement and sneered contempt.

On Knowing

    What is it they know
    Or think they know
    Never having taken
    Up Arrow and bow, for
    Even a twelve gauge
    Would kill with a blow
    Were it pointed by

    Anyone really knowing?
    Covey-of-quail sorts-of-fright
    Out near the fringe of what
    He had or thought he had.
    Someone had crept
    In during the night
    Exercising the rights

    They thought they had.
    They came athwart his
    Legal standing far back
    Up the hill, frowning his
    Displeasure and consternation –
    Too far away to threaten more
    Than anger and fiery words.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Another Hot Day

    Here in the heat of day
    We watch, my dogs and I,
    The branches sway above
    Ground squirrels playing.
    I’ve counted their round
    Eyes staring as they stand
    Stock still on stone tops.
    There are holes punched
    By the frantic bouts our
    Dogs on both sides of fences
    Use to declare allegiances
    We watchers, some of whom
    Shout commands, don’t
    Understand.  Whenever

    I walk outside into a
    Fiery day I always look
    About to see if perchance
    In this one particular one
    Is a means of escape.  Each
    Time, however, I return
    To my cherished snares.