Sunday, February 16, 2020

Chris finally watches THE THING (2011)

There is a tradition I never fail to keep: whenever I get snowed in and can't go anywhere, I turn down the lights and crank up the sound and watch the 1982 movie The Thing.  Maybe that says something about my baseline state of mind.

John Carpenter's now-classic film of horror and paranoia at an Antarctica research base might not be appropriate viewing for when one is tempting real-life cabin fever.  But if Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then The Thing is the perfect wintertime follow-up.  And it's a darn nearly perfect movie in every other possible way: the story.  The casting.  The pacing.  The practical effects (which still hold their own against any CGI today).  The cinematography.  That score by Ennio Morricone.  And that building-up of tension as the men of Outpost 31 grow increasingly mistrustful of each other...

So yeah, I'm a huge fan of The Thing.  And I've read the original novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.  As well as watched 1951's The Thing from Another World.

And then there is the 2002 video game The Thing, which followed the events of the John Carpenter film and received both commercial and critical acclaim.  Partly because of the innovative "trust" element.  I'm going to always have fond memories of playing that game, and unfortunately it seems the physical release is the only one out there.  Maybe will have it for sale sooner than later.  Anyway...

I've seen and read and played just about everything Thing-ish.  But one item had been out of my zone of interest: 2011's The Thing.  Meant to be a prequel to the 1982 film, the 2011 entry was intended to reveal the story of the Norwegians who first discovered the alien vessel and its malevolent cargo.

Helmed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.and with a cast led by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, The Thing '11 was an idea that I just didn't care about once the initial details started coming out.  And it wasn't just the notion of depicting the events of the Norwegian camp: something that was perhaps better left to the imagination (the "less is more" school of thought).  When MacReady and Copper begin exploring the burning ruins of the base, and then they come upon the radio operator who had slit his wrists, well... it's just like Copper said: "My God, what the hell happened here??"

"What?", indeed.  I first saw 1982's The Thing when I was ten years old, and every time I've watched it since my imagination gets sent reeling in wonder about how it went down among those poor scientists before they unleashed extraterrestrial death upon the most desolate wilderness on the planet.  What led up to the final survivors shooting at that dog from a helicopter laden with kerosene and grenades?

Did I really want or need to see that portrayed?

And then there was the casting.  It screamed "modern American film gore" with an emphasis on "American".  Look, we've had a Thing movie from an American perspective: it was The Thing of 1982.  A prequel about the Norwegian camp should have a cast of entirely Norwegians.  Having it headlined by an American actress with fellow English speakers: it just didn't seem right.

Then there were the effects.  Doubtless it was going to be largely accomplished by some CGI rendering engine pushing pixels.  I didn't doubt that the transition from the brilliant work in the 1982 film would be a jarring one.

Maybe it's the weather lately.  At this time of winter in this location, it should be at least one major snowstorm already this season.  Here in mid-February that's looking less likely.  So without a proper occasion upon which to watch 1982's The Thing, I thought that maybe... just maybe... I could give the 2011 film a fighting chance.  So that's what I did last night.

What did I think?

The Thing (2011) is a gruesome waste of a premise that had strong potential. There is so much that went wrong with this film.  In some ways it is admirably accurate to the 1982 film (the coda where we see the Norwegian helicopter flying off to track down the dog is especially good).  But other details are unforgivably ignored (didn't the boffins from Norway already use their explosive charges to blast away the ice from the alien ship?).  That's a bigger lingering plot problem than anything from The Rise of Skywalker... and that's sayin' something.

As I'd feared, The Thing 2011 edition tried too much to be a modern "American" horror.  Maybe the boys in marketing thought that a pretty young American female among all those Scandinavians would increase the commercial appeal.  Instead it distracts from the spirit of the 1982 "original".  There would have been nothing wrong with a cast completely comprised of Norwegians, Swedes, and Danish.  In fact, I would have preferred it that way.  And have the dialogue composed entirely of Norwegian (maybe with English subtitles... or not).  As it is the cast of Norwegian characters is woefully under-employed in this movie.  A tragedy because they seemed to be taking this project especially to heart.  One of the Norwegians is well played by Kristofer Hivju, who went on to portray Tormund Giantsbane in HBO's Game of Thrones.  Had I been the one in charge of the project, that's the approach I would have taken.

And it must be said: no modern CGI can outdo Rob Bottin's practical effects work in scaring the hell out of the viewer.  Even when the staff of Outpost 31 was looking at the remains of the creature, with it just laying there on the table, not moving at all: that static horror said it all.  That kind of slow appreciation of the monstrous isn't there in The Thing 2011.  There isn't a single creature in this movie that is as memorable as the Norris-thing.  It's all moving too fast and furious.  It all looks too shiny.  And going back to "if it was me making this movie" I would have tried to replicate the lighting and film grain of the 1982 film.  Yeah, film grain is important.  It needs to be consistent across a series.  It's one of my major complaints about the Star Wars prequel trilogy and it's a major complaint here.

 But most of all, I found myself incredibly disappointed with the failure to adequately arouse the kind of paranoia that made John Carpenter's 1982 movie such an enduring classic.  The sense of growing mistrust among the Norwegian base staff is so lacking that it seems almost tacked on.  There isn't a single scene that comes anywhere close to Blair (Wilford Brimley) going berzerk with that fire axe:

There is so much else that could be said.  This is definitely a prequel that became something we never needed.  Which I hate to say, because in other hands The Thing (2011) really could have been a very terrific movie.  Instead the film ended and I was just very, very disappointed.  It's going into the pile of other movies that were made but I'm going to pretend were never produced (Alien 3, anything past the final scene of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the inevitable sequel to Joker).

And so it is that whatever happened at that Norwegian camp will remain open to speculation.  Which is probably just as it should always be.  Besides, it's more fun that way.

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Today's Google Doodle is one I can respect

Some of Google’s ”doodles” either fly over my head or make me cringe in disbelief.  A lot of them are about historical events and people that at best are extremely obscure or else make me wonder "What the hell are they smoking over there?"

But the one they have for today is as good as it gets and I recognized it immediately.  Give credit where credit is due: Google was really thoughtful about this one and how to convey it:

A depiction of the four North Carolina A&T students who sat down at the segregated lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro (the big city near where I’m from). That was sixty years ago today.

 This is how to SERIOUSLY protest a wrong. Peacefully and respectfully. Nobody was hurt, nobody was insulted, nobody was arrested because of violent behavior. These young men simply went in, sat at a whites-only lunch counter, and politely asked for service. They were denied.  So they just went back the next day and asked for lunch again.  And again.  And again.

The word spread, there were other such protests and it wasn't long before Woolworth’s ended its segregation policies. Other businesses soon followed.

We could learn a lot from the Greensboro Four, even still today.  Come to think of it, especially today.

\Well done Google, well done.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Various thoughts about the Trump impeachment

As I write this it's 1:35 a.m. and it's all over but the cryin'.  Sometime in the next eighteen hours will likely come the final vote on Impeachment 2020 and the end of this mess.  Donald John Trump will remain President of the United States for another year and quite possibly more than that.

I've never doubted the outcome.  Trump had this in the bag on a party-line vote alone.  But I never thought that the final days of this fiasco would be such a bewildering demonstration of both brilliance and ignorance.  This impeachment will be studied for generations to come about how not to impeach, as well as how to effectively counter one.

So, admitting that I only took time to watch the trial proceedings itself during the past few days, here are some sundry musings...

1.  "Abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress" are not impeachable offenses.  I don't even know what the hell "obstruction of Congress" is supposed to mean in this context.

2.  There will be a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth in coming days and weeks about the issue of witnesses during the Senate trial phase.  Namely, about the House impeachment managers wanting John Bolton to testify.  They are forgetting that witnesses had already testified during the impeachment hearings.

3.  The trial is based on testimony and evidence already presented and entered into record during the House impeachment proceedings.  The Senate trial is absolutely not the place to introduce new witnesses and evidence.

4.  The House managers betrayed a lack of faith in their own case by demanding new witnesses this late in the game.

5.  The table at which the Trump counsel sat looked neat, dignified, corporate, razor-focused and serious.  Meanwhile the table of the House managers resembled a cram session of some college frat house, all that's missing are the boxes of cold pizza.

6.  Speaking of Trump's legal representation, any reputable law professor should make required viewing of the performance of Sekulow, Dershowitz, Philbin et al.  They have 10000% been the model of what competent attorneys should be in regard to the interest of the client.

7.  In stark contrast, the House managers' case has been very little apart from retread of the past three months, excruciatingly drawn out, absent any fresh or sound legal argument, and loaded with weary political rhetoric.

8.  Okay, this one sticks out like a sore thumb to me.  During this final day of Senate questioning I heard Adam Schiff and the other House managers insist that they want a "fair trial", hence more witnesses.  They were completely ignoring the basic underpinnings of how the trial process under United States law works and has always been intended to work.  The American courtroom is an adversarial arena, prosecutor versus defendant, and the onus is on the prosecutor to prove beyond reasonable doubt the guilt of the defendant.  Schiff, Pelosi, Nadler and the rest of the managers have instead all along played this as if it's up to Trump himself to provide evidence and testimony that he's guilty.  Trump has not done this.  Neither is any other defendant under American law obligated to so testify against himself or herself.  I think during the second half of the impeachment trial when it became glaringly obvious that theirs was a lost cause, the managers dropped even a semblance of pretending they wanted a "fair trial" and began attempting to rig the game.  Hence, trying to bring John Bolton into the mix.  That alone screamed how much of a sham this impeachment has been from the beginning.

9.  The House managers should be really thankful that they didn't get witnesses during the Senate trial.  Not I, or any criminal law expert, or sane American for that matter, would not think for an iota of a moment that the Trump team would NOT pounce and begin calling witnesses of their own.  And it would be an unprecedented fiasco.  Indeed, potentially calling Hunter Biden to take the stand, and maybe even Adam Schiff himself, the "whistleblower", former Vice President of the United States Joseph Biden... the Trump counsel would find any and every reason to have them sworn and testify on the stand.  And the result would be a crippling blow to the Democrat Party from which it might never recover.

10.  I am chuckling at the ignorance many are radiating tonight, that in the event of a 50-50 tie on the witnesses issue, how Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will cast the deciding vote.  Roberts is not a member of the Senate.  He represents an entirely separate branch of government.  If fair is truly fair, then Vice President Pence will break the tie and some will say that Trump himself would be entitled to the vote.

11.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will go down as the conductor of the sloppiest, most mismanaged prosecution effort in the history of anything.  Had this been a criminal proceeding, the jury would have spent five minutes before returning a "not guilty" verdict.  She had her eyes on the prize but had no vision whatsoever of how to achieve it.

12.  I expect that this coming Tuesday night's State of the Union address is gonna be a LOT of fun to behold.

So much else that could come to mind, but it's late already.  Maybe better legal minds than mine can remark on whatever I've missed here.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Just came out of seeing 1917

George MacKay in 1917
This won't be so much a detailed review as it is a gut reaction to something barely prepared for.  1917 isn't a movie you'll want to read too much of warm.  Just go into the theater and for the next two hours be assaulted by the horrors of hell as few things have done in recent cinema history.

But it hit me on the drive back from the theater tonight: that the two most technically innovative films that I've seen over the course of the past year or so, have each been about World War I.  Maybe They Shall Not Grow Old will prove to have sparked a renaissance of interest in the Great War: an event that resonated harder than many might appreciate and indeed still resonates with us today (the ongoing morass in Iraq being but one example).  World War I has long been overshadowed at the cinema by its bloodier sequel, and that is unfortunate.

Sam Mendes and his team have done their part in rectifying that (if such a thing can be said) with 1917.  Shot and edited to be essentially one long continuous take, the film follows two young British soldiers (played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) on the front lines in northern France, at the war's height in 1917.  They have been tasked with crossing the strife-torn landscape with a message that could mean life or death for more than sixteen hundred of their fellow soldiers.

This is a brutal, brootal motion picture.  1917 is an almost merciless meandering through the fog of war.  There are no clear edges or "episodic" flow in this movie.  There is rarely time to recover from one horror only to be assaulted by another.  And another.  And another.  This is war in all its horror, heartlessness and during at least one unforgettable moment, lack of honor.  It is a magnificent traipse through the fallen world's garden of malevolence.  It'll be a few days before I'm really "over" this one.  No doubt the many who saw it during the same screening will be the same.

Will definitely recommend catching 1917 during its theatrical run.  This is one of those movies that really does deserve getting beheld on the screen writ large and encompassing.  Expect loads of awards for this one as the season plays out.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

This is the way: "New Beskar Steel" wrapping for your iPhone!

Disclaimer: Adam Smith is a friend of mine.  He's not paying to advertise his product on The Knight Shift and I didn't ask for any compensation whatsoever either.  I'm only sharing this because... well, because it's kewl!  And sharing cool stuff is just how I roll on this blog.

Inspired by the hit Disney+ series Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Adam has forged the "New Beskar Steel" iPhone Case and Cover.  Imitating the much-coveted metal sought by the tribe and just about everybody else, the New Beskar Steel case looks like a real ingot of Mandalorian alloy.  And it will probably do just as well in protecting your iPhone from anything shy of an E-Web blaster cannon.  Complete with rich lustrous sheen and stamp indicating its previous imperialish possessor.  Admittedly it won't make for much of a full-metal pauldron but if you need a real pauldron anyway, you've got bigger problems.

The case is available for every model from the iPhone 4S on up through the latest iPhone 11.  Click here to visit the product page.  I have spoken.