Further Proof We Do (Or Don’t) Live In The Matrix

Apparently there is a group of people who sincerely believe that we all live in a real-life version of The Matrix.

That is, they think that humans participate in a computer simulation of reality when, in actuality, our bodies are somewhere else — perhaps providing energy to power robotic overlords who are fighting real humans to the death, as in the movie.  Some billionaires who subscribe to that view are funding an effort to break us out of the simulation.

hugo-weaving-agent-smith-the-matrixLet’s suppose for the sake of argument that you thought we might live in a real-life matrix.  Wouldn’t this year’s presidential election cause you to conclude that we couldn’t possibly be living in a matrix?  After all, the whole idea of The Matrix was that the world the computers created was so plausible that humans never suspected it was a sham — and you’ll recall that the early versions of the matrix were too happy and carefree to be accepted by human beings as real.  Wouldn’t this year’s ludicrous presidential election cause people to question whether what we have previously accepted as reality is just a really bad dream?  C’mon — who’s going to accept a presidential election in which Donald Trump is one of the major party candidates?

But wait . . . maybe The Matrix believers think that’s all part of the plan.  Maybe they think Agent Smith and his fellow rogue elements are out there, messing with the seamless perfection of The Matrix, as part of an effort to tear it all down so they can escape.  Maybe that’s why we’ve got this appalling electoral choice, and why we’re seeing these weird reports of random clown sightings and attacks.  Maybe it’s all part of a crazed plan to cause our perception of reality to crumble and leave us gasping for air in our energy pods.

It’s as good an explanation as any.

The Magnificent Seven

On Sunday Kish and I went to see The Magnificent Seven, the Denzel Washington-led reboot of the ’60s classic.  It made me realize, again, how much I enjoy westerns — and how infrequently Hollywood produces them these days.

The original The Magnificent Seven, which itself was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, is one of the best westerns and best ensemble movies ever made.  In that film, Yul Brunner recruits seven gunslingers who try to help some hapless Mexicans protect their village from the depredations of a ruthless gang of bandits.  In the current remake, the general storyline is the same, but the bad guy is an evil mine owner who has no problem with gunning down people in the middle of the street and setting a church on fire to try to intimidate the peaceful townspeople into selling him their land for a pittance.  (When somebody intentionally burns a church, you can be pretty sure he’s a bad guy.)

nesokb1uksa3vy_1_bTwo of the townspeople find Denzel Washington, a quick-draw bounty hunter, and convince him to help, and Washington then recruits the team.  As in the original, it features a diverse collection of western types, all of whom have split-second reflexes, can shoot with awesome precision, and have the military training from their Civil War service to develop a plan to defend the town that is worthy of Robert E. Lee.  (It being a modern movie, there’s got to be some dynamite and explosions in the plan, too.)  We learn some of the seven’s back stories during the recruitment and the training of the townspeople, but this movie, like the original and so many other westerns, is all about good versus evil.  We know that everything is pointing toward the final, inevitable showdown with the evil mine owner.

This film isn’t as good as the original Magnificent Seven — that would be holding it to an impossible standard — but it’s an enjoyable romp, and the western scenery that is a big part of the appeal of any western is gorgeous.  Washington capably fills Yul Brunner’s shoes, and the rest of the cast play their parts admirably, finding their inner heroism as they fight, and sometimes die, to free the rustics from the yoke of the evil mine owner.  It’s a fine, well-made story that strikes many of the enduring touchstones of American mythology.

So why don’t more westerns get made?  At our screening there were only three other couples in the theater.  I guess that’s why.  In a world of superheroes and CGI, maybe stories about human beings, horses, and guns just can’t compete.  That’s too bad.


We need a hero every now and then.  Chesley (“Sully”) Sullenberger, the pilot who somehow guided his damaged plane to a landing on the Hudson River on a cold day in January, 2009, allowing every one of the 155 passengers and crew on the plane to survive, is definitely one of those.

mv5bmjm5nje2mti1nf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnzuymjc3ote-_v1_ux477_cr00477268_al_Sully, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks as the heroic pilot, tells the story of that fateful day . . . and a little bit more besides.  Interestingly, the focus of the movie isn’t on the “forced landing,” as Captain Sullenberger calls it, but on the aftermath, as Sully the man struggles to deal with sudden fame and the potential ramifications of a National Transportation Safety Board investigation of the incident.  For while the rest of America was celebrating Sully as a hero, the bureaucratic investigators were looking at whether he could have, and should have, gotten the plane back to LaGuardia or to another nearby airport.  If the investigation determined that Captain Sullenberger was at fault — a scenario the movie presents as a real possibility — he could lose his job when his family could ill afford it and also see that sudden celebrity turn to ashes in his mouth.

Sully is a well-made human interest story that packs a touching emotional punch.  The highlight of the film, of course, is the abrupt flight of US Airways Flight 1549, the bird strike that crippled the plane, and the quick and calm decisions of Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot, and the flight attendants.  The depiction of the incident is absolutely convincing and astonishingly realistic, and a testament to just how far Hollywood special effects have come.   The viewer is on board, in the cockpit, and ultimately with the crew and passengers as the doomed plane begins to sink into the frigid river, water gushes in, and the survivors huddle on the plane’s wings and safety rafts hoping to be saved.  It’s a harrowing experience, even when we know that it will all turn out all right.

sully-trailer-810x540As the events unfold, you can’t help but identify with the desperate passengers who know that something is wrong and then hear the Captain say:  “This is the Captain.  Brace for impact.”  (Those are words I hope to never hear on my travels, no matter how calmly they might be spoken.)  But the passengers were in the hands of angels that day, because somehow the captain and crew kept them alive.  Sully later says, “we were just doing our jobs,” but we know that there is more to it than that, and he’s just been appealingly modest about having done something tremendous.  And equally uplifting are the immediate responses of the ferry boat captains, diving units, firefighters, and police officers who keep the passengers and crew of the sinking plane from drowning or dying from hypothermia.  There were many, many heroes on the Hudson that day.

Hanks is terrific as Sully, the man.  We feel his anguish as he is tormented by nightmares of what could have been, and we feel his surge of joy and pride when he is finally told that every one of the people on the plane under his charge survived.  He knows in his gut that he made the right decision, but it’s not clear that the administrative state will agree with him.  When the formal NTSB hearing finally occurs, and Sully’s years of experience allow him to show that the computer simulations and the human simulations are dead wrong, we know that he has saved the day once again — by keeping a true hero from being unjustly maligned and allowing his reputation to remain, as it were, unsullied.

I encourage everyone to go see this film.  And stay in your seats while the credits roll if you want to get an extra feel-good treat.

Hollywood On Gay

Gay Street is abuzz!  Trucks have rolled in, the street is crawling with production assistants, and the crucial porta potties have been delivered.  The word is that they will be filming scenes from a Bruce Willis movie here, and that maybe The Die Hard Star himself might show up.

Say, do you suppose they might need an extra to portray an old guy who walks to work every day?

Dirty Harry

The other day Kish and I watched Dirty Harry, the 1971 thriller starring Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan, the .44 magnum-toting cop who eschews political correctness, believes in using maximum force in bringing down criminals, and doesn’t care a bit about breaking the rules to do so.

146909The movie still holds up well, 45 years later.  In many ways, it’s superior to the current Hollywood product, because it doesn’t rely solely on car crashes and shoot-outs to sustain the plot and pace.  There’s a suspense element to it, from the initial scene where the Scorpio killer uses a long-range rifle to shoot and kill a woman on a rooftop swimming pool, to the later scenes where Scorpio tries to carry out his threats to kill others in order to be paid a ransom, to Harry’s long jog around San Francisco to reach different phone booths so he can deliver a ransom before a young girl hostage is killed.  And while Harry obviously is the best cop around, the rest of the police force and the mayor aren’t ridiculous caricatures or light comedic foils — which is standard fare in later cop movies — but competent people who obviously are trying to do their best to deal with a crazed killer.

The writing is good, too.  We all know the famous scene where Harry has a shoot-out with bank robbers while eating a hot dog that ends with him asking a wounded robber who is considering going for his gun “well, punk, do you feel lucky?”  But there are other pieces of crackling dialogue, too, such as the scene where Harry rescues a potential suicide standing on a window ledge by making him so mad that he physically attacks Harry, or the interaction between Scorpio and the guy he pays to beat him up and make his claim of police brutality by Callahan more plausible.

One of the more interesting elements of the film, considered against the ensuing 45 years of action movies that followed it, is that it doesn’t try to answer all of the viewer’s questions.  Sure, he’s probably called Dirty Harry because he does all of the dirty work in the department, but it just might be because he’s got a bit of peeping Tom in him, too. There are no flashback scenes to show us exactly how Harry got the way he is, and no effort to give Scorpio a back story or explain why he has decided to kill random strangers.  He’s just a disturbed lunatic, presented matter-of-factly as an unfortunate reality of modern life.

The fact that some key points are left for the viewer to wonder about is refreshing.  You can imagine people leaving a theater after watching Dirty Harry and actually talking about some of these issues, and others.  How many modern action films that you’ve seen in the past few years could you say that about?

Hopeless Hollywood Sameness

Yesterday Kish and I decided to go see a movie.  It’s been hot as blazes in Columbus recently, and humid, too, and the idea of sitting for a few hours in an air-conditioned movie theater watching an interesting film was very attractive.

We haven’t been to the movies in a while because, candidly, the array of films offered this summer hasn’t been very appealing.  We have a narrow window of consensus — Kish can’t stand sci-fi and superhero movies, and I groan at the idea of sitting through some deep study of dysfunctional families — but we thought we’d give Jason Bourne a shot.

rs-jason-bourne-ea2bec70-27d1-4c0a-abc0-dcd61b987aa9Several hours later, after we’d been assaulted by loud, chaotic, and grossly improbable non-stop action, we emerged with the realization that Hollywood apparently has run out of ideas.  I think I may have seen part of an actual Jason Bourne movie in the past, but I’ve definitely seen this movie before — over and over and over again.  The film is so trite and formulaic that it immediately seemed like I was watching a rerun.  Even Matt Damon, who typically makes interesting films, couldn’t salvage it.  If you’re considering going to watch it, save your money.

Take every car chase scene you’ve seen since The French Connection, Bullitt, and The Blues Brothers movie, make them louder and longer and more destructive, and move them to Athens and the Vegas strip.  Input a rote, duplicitous bad guy with absolutely no redeeming qualities as the evil head of the the CIA and expect the audience to root for him to be killed.  Take an ambitious female agent with ambiguous loyalties off the shelf.  Add in an unbeatable hero with superhuman intellectual and physical capabilities and have him tracked by another apparently unstoppable cold-blooded killer who he has to fight at the climax.  That’s the plot.  Sound familiar?

The summer movie season used to feature inventive, different movies, like Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars and Forrest Gump.  That’s no longer the case.  Now we get sequels, remakes, and canned, tried-and-true formulaic crap.  It’s no wonder that the box office receipts are down this summer.  What we’re getting from Hollywood these days really sucks.

Blazing Saddles In A PC America

Tonight the CAPA summer movie series screens the Mel Brooks epic Blazing Saddles.  I’ll be joining a group of guys from the firm who will be going to watch the film that features the greatest fart scene in the history of American cinema.

blazesaddle129It’s pretty amazing that CAPA is showing the movie in this day and age, because Blazing Saddles has to be one of the most politically incorrect films ever made.  Released in 1974, and written by Brooks and Richard Pryor, among others, it tells the tale of an ex-slave in the post-Civil War American West who is appointed sheriff and, with his drunken gunslinger sidekick the Waco Kid, works to save the aghast and unappreciative townsfolk of Rock Ridge from the depredations of a carefully recruited gang of thugs — all as part of a deep scheme to drive the people out of town and allow a corrupt politician to cheaply buy land needed for a railroad.  Along the way, Blazing Saddles manages to skewer every racial and sexual stereotype, insult just about every ethnic group and sexual orientation imaginable, and hilariously spoof all of the hackneyed elements of the western movie genre.

I think Blazing Saddles is one of the funniest movies ever — which undoubtedly says something about my sophomoric sense of humor — but it’s hard to imagine it being made today.  Our modern time seems like a more brittle, more easily offended America, where colleges have speech codes, comedians are being censored on campus, and people often seem to be actively looking for ways to scale new heights of political correctness.  Perhaps the America of 1974, in the twilight of the ugly Vietnam War/Watergate era, was just more willing to enjoy a hearty laugh at the expense of racist townspeople and gassy cowboys.

So tonight, as Lili von Shtupp cavorts onstage with dancing Germans, Mongo punches a horse and later expresses feelings for Sheriff Bart, the ungrateful people of Rock Ridge list their preferences for different ethnic groups, and a brawl in cowboy movie spills onto the sound stage of a musical featuring prancing, tuxedo-clad dancers, I’ll be mindful of the audience, too.  How many of the people in attendance will laugh at one of the stereotype-bursting lines — and then look around with a guilty conscience for having breached the invisible wall of modern political correctness?