Life in the Upside Down

So how was your week?

Did you know the fourth (and final?) season of Stranger Things dropped on Netflix?

What about that sequel to Top Gun, the trashy, watchable and massively popular 1986 film starring Tom Cruise that I never quite liked (Note: Oh, who cares, Chair?!) but yet managed to be moved by (Spoiler Alert:  I can’t reveal that moment but it’s as cheap, effective and mind-numbingly obvious as anything to come out of the 80s).

Anyway, do you know that Top Gun: Maverick (2022) is having the biggest opening of any Tom Cruise film EVER this Memorial Day weekend, grossing upwards of $260 million internationally?

Everything old is new again

I bet you didn’t know THAT.

But even if you did, who cares, right?

Because none of it truly matters when you’re livin’ life in the upside down.

If you don’t get that reference, the Upside Down is the crazy underground alien world we were first introduced to in the first season of Stranger Things.

It is an evil, ruthless, violent dystopian place where anything can happen and you will more likely than not, not survive.

Think of it as, well,  an American classroom in the midst of a school shooting.

Too soon? 

I don’t think so.

Might as well just cut off the top of the pole

I can tell you that episode one of ST’s fourth season opens with a short sequence that ends with a series of cuts to the maimed, bloody corpses of a group of pre-teens at the hands of…  Oh, well, why spoil the fun?

Just know that the Duffer Brothers once again have their hands on the deadening pulse of America. 

So much so that several days ago there was a warning card inserted right before the episode began that lets us know this season was shot a year ago, and that we’re saddened by the recent blah, blah, blah, etc. etc., etc….

But talk about prescience.

It’s like Eleven could sense… the most predictable thing

On the other hand, maybe these images, cuts and, well, shots are just the kind of thing we take for granted these days.  And what are writers anyway except a delivery system of artistic truths for the masses to see and contemplate and feed upon?

At least that’s how I talk about us when I’m at my most cynical.

And this would be one of those times.

There is no sense to be made of the shooting deaths of 19 children and two of their teachers at an elementary school in the small town of Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday because one can’t make sense of the insane and nonsensical.  That’s what makes us categorize those events as such.

Senseless

And yet there is no lack of would-be sense makers trying to deny the obvious with lies, tortured statements and contorted half-truth answers to the obvious.

Here is a list of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S, over the last two decades.

The majority of these were done with military style weapons like the AR-15, the gun of choice for that 18 year-old shooter at Uvalde.  The gun the NRA backed Republican Party refuses to ban. (Note: Heck, they don’t even want universal background checks).

And there is a reason for that.  This gun can shoot a bullet a second, eviscerating the flesh, bones and organs of its human targets like no other weapon in our history.

It’s speed and efficiency has made it BY FAR the most popular and PROFITABLE  gun out there.  And that’s quite an accomplishment since at this point there are way more guns than people in the U.S.

You read that right.

Who else is mad as hell?

No wonder the shooter bought two of them in the course of a week, along with more than enough ammunition to kill all those kids two or three times over.  And no background check required,  you can’t even get two handguns until you turned 21 and, anyway, these AR-15’s are much quicker, faster and FAR more fun.  Speaking from the merely logical perspective of an 18-year-old, they are the best and most efficient way to achieve your goals.

And yet we’ve got the Texas governor (Abbott) and senator (Cruz) on TV mansplaining to us all sorts of things.

– It’s single parent families and a lack of religion that has helped create all this.

– It’s mental illness (Note: Duh) in the last 20 years, especially because you used to always be able to buy rifles at age 18.

– It’s a excuse to take away everyone’s guns, a Democratic hoax to take over and politicize every single awful thing in the world to their favor rather than address the issues real Americans care about.

– Only good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns.

Of course, in reality Texas ranks last of all states in the country for money allotted to  mental health services and effectiveness in treating them.  It is also one of easiest states in the country to buy and possess a gun thanks to recent legislation signed by Gov. Abbott that vastly expanded gun rights.

The fact is, you can buy and carry pretty much any type of gun anywhere at any time. 

As for that final statement, more than a dozen police officers, all of them presumably good guys with guns, stood inside that elementary school on the opposite side of a classroom door where a bunch of children 10 and under lay bleeding, screaming, terrified and begging (Note: via recorded 911 calls) to be rescued.

Make it make sense

But the good guys were wrongly ordered to stand down by their supervisor when they should have gone in, or so it’s being said right now.  This was a different story than was announced on Tuesday.

 And it might get even worse by next Tuesday.

But suffice it to say, there is nothing simple about this story that any good guys vs. bad guys scenario might possibly address.

As much as the top elected officials in Texas and in the world of Republican politics want to make this into a simplified tale of life in the wild, wild west.

It is nothing of the sort.

This is life right now.

And as long as we remain the RIGHT side of the aisle up, we will stay forever in the upside down.

Lady Gaga – “Hold My Hand” (from Top Gun: Maverick)

Now Playing: MEH

A friend of mine recently posted about being disappointed in the current crop of movies and pondered whether his expectations were simply too high.

I thought:

I used to feel this way about people until years of therapy educated me to the fact that since you can’t expect anyone to behave in the absolutely perfect way you would in any given situation, well, you can’t quite fault them for it.

But art is something else and movies are really something more than that.

If you can’t depend on a chunk of the films in the last three months of the year to be really great, or at least really, really good, what hope is there for the future of the country/world?

Even my pessimism is working against me

Or to put it another way:

What else can THEY take away?

THEY get to fill the majority of movie screens most of the year with super heroes, escapist action and the mindless romps of cardboard characters that pass for humor.  Surely the little sliver left for us adults, or people of any age with some discernment or taste, would not go undisturbed.

Would it?

Oh Chairy, you make me laugh

Well, I quickly diagnosed the condition.  The U.S. film industry has entered a state of artistic global warming and it’s going to take generations of action to reduce the trend and it’s effect on the world.  That is, if it’s not too late already.

Of course, this makes sense.  We have for a while been the #2 polluting country worldwide, responsible for 15% of the planet’s greenhouse gases/carbon monoxide emissions (Note:  Only China bests us at 30%)  Not to mention,  we recently pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord.

So if the choice comes down to huge corporate profits vs. the safety of the planet, be it from pollutants in the air, sea or mind, um, there is only one choice.

Money TRUMPS everything. 

You know I loathe to use the word!!!

This is not to say we’re doing nothing about pollution or that there are no good films to see.  We do and there are.  Though it sort of reminds me of the quality of work I did when my divorced working Mom assigned me my daily household chores.

Never did I NOT get the job but not once, EVER, did I achieve anything spectacular as a final product.  The amount of sheer commitment, single-mindedness and self reflection on the importance of the request that in turn would produce the ultimate load of uber clean and perfectly folded bathroom towels to please Mom could not be further from my #1 priority.

Listen… it was hard work!!

What I wanted was to do it my way, get my allowance money and not have to deal with what was clearly unwarranted and unjustified negative feedback.  We made a deal and I more than fulfilled my end of the bargain.  In fact I did a damn great job of it given all the amount of commitments I had to juggle and guff I was up against as a latch key teenager.

To not to see it my way was clearly ignorance, an inability to truly understand the task at hand with the funds available to me and the overwhelming nature of the job I was tasked with.

Or, so I thought.

See:

It’s not that The Irishman isn’t interesting or well made.  It’s just that, well, it’s a bit of a slog.

I think I aged 20 years watching this

It’s not that Marriage Story doesn’t try.  It’s just that, given the many (Note: So Many) problems in today’s world, it ultimately comes off as superficial, self-important, over-praised and naval gazing. 

It’s not that Knives Out isn’t fun and has nothing to say.  It’s just that, well, it’s not nearly as great as the first two and a half minute trailer and that’s a problem in an almost two hour spoof of an/all Agatha Christie film. 

and a criminal underuse of miss jamie lee

It’s not that Parasite doesn’t have a cool point of view and doesn’t subvert our much too comfortable expectation of “cinema.” It’s just that, well, it’s screenplay is far from seamless and it requires us to accept way, way too much fantastical stuff for a non-genre film.

It’s not that Jo Jo Rabbit is not entertainingly fantastical and welcome-ingly strange.  It’s just that, well, when reinventing the comic Nazi archetype en masse one needs to be much, MUCH more clever and A LOT more specific (Note: See Inglorious Bastards).

It’s not that Hustlers doesn’t have a really and truly quite compelling pole dance by an age-defying Jennifer Lopez and literally countless seductively glossy film montages.  It’s just that, well… an anthem of feminism and/or female empowerment?  R-R-R-Really?  No……really?????

OK but… how many de-aging cameras are on her?

I could go on and if you catch me in person I’d be glad to.  You might not be interested or glad about it, though, and certainly I’d understand that.  After all, there is enough disappointment, bitterness and anger in our overly polluted world already.

The point is, really, where are today’s cinematic equivalents of:

Citizen Kane, Singing In the Rain, Giant, All About Eve, The Graduate, A Clockwork Orange, Rosemary’s Baby, All the President’s Men, E.T., Sophie’s Choice, Do the Right Thing, Working Girl, Boyz in the Hood, Schindler’s List, Mulholland Drive, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Moonlight and yes, La La Land??

You said it Chairy!!

They (whoever they are) say that we get the best art in the most difficult of times.  Judging from the movie art this year this means either the times are going to have to get a lot worse or filmmakers and the industry at large need to figure out a way to go from the satisfaction of good/really good/highly profitable to the exhilaration of great/risk it all fantastic/not trying to thread the needle of commerciality and art and thus achieving both incredible.

No pressure.  At least no more pressure than past generations of filmmakers and their needy, more than willing to go on a journey, audiences ever felt.

Hozier – “Take Me To Church”