Thursday, June 4, 2015

Dr. Strangelove - A Review

 This blog has been like a neglected child.  Abandoned to Facebook.  Here is a movie review that I wrote for film class. 

A Review of Dr. Strangelove (1964)
May Contain Spoilers

            This is the way the world ends Not with a bang but a chuckle.  That is certainly what Stanley Kubrick, Director of  Dr. Strangelove, would have us believe.  And there is plenty to chuckle about, even with the dark cloud of  imminent thermonuclear war hovering over the proceedings.  This British production of a screenplay Kubrick co-wrote, based on the novel, "Red Alert," never disappoints or becomes tedious.  On the contrary, Kubrick bombards us with   so much sexual and political innuendo, zany characters, and absurd situations that we can't take our eyes off the screen, not even to text.  It is a dark comedy.  To make that extremely clear, Kubrick films in black and white at a time when color was all the rage.  But monochrome photography was not enough, he extensively uses darkness, effectively keeping the situation gloomy and the characters dimly lit.  Even the weak attempt at special effects with an obvious model of a B-52 is droll.  Kubrick seems to be winking at the audience throughout the film.         
            It is a relatively simple and, sadly, somewhat plausible premise that insane and paranoid General Jack Ripper (Sterling Haden)  launches 34 nuclear laden B-52s at the Soviet Union.  And that is where the hilarity begins.  He can't do that?  Oh, yes he can because there is an emergency war pan, called "Plan R," which gives the lower level of command presidential authority to do so in time of emergency."  Ripper is so bat-guano (also a character) crazy that he claims the Red Menace is poisoning our water with Fluoride (a real mania at that time) and even blames his own post-coital tristesse on a "communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids."    Ripper has also isolated his planes and the base he commands, Burpelson AFB, from contact with anyone, even President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers).  Doesn't sound funny yet?  There is more.  The Russians have a "Doomsday Device" that will eradicate all life on earth should the Soviet Union be attacked.  But, the truth is that Dr. Strangelove is uproariously funny.
            Much of the  humor is that the cast is deadly serious while delivering to us inane lines:  "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!" and the difficulty of President Muffley to communicate via telephone with assumed intoxicated, Soviet Premier Kissoff is Bob Newhartish buttoned-down comic genius.  .          
            Peter Sellers masterful performance as three separate and diverse characters led to a well-earned 1965 Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor.  One of four nominations, including Best Picture.  But alas, that year brought us Rex Harrison and My Fair Lady, winner of eight Oscars, including both of those mentioned.  In addition to the title role, Sellers also played President of the United States, Merkin Muffley, and British RAF Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (the only rational character in the movie).  Well, it is a British production.   
            Seller's performance somewhat overshadows an amazing turn by George C. Scott as the hawkish General  Buck' Turgidson: "Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks."   For me, his  facial expressions are the funniest elements of the film.
            Space does not permit me to relate all of the reasons you should see this movie, but it is impossible to give a reason not to.  Dr, Strangelove is timeless, 50 years and the same problems are still with us.  It appears near the top of any list of great films, not simply great comedies.  I give it 5 stars without reservation.     

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

No One Would Believe Him Anyway - A short story

I was assigned to write a short story for my Creative Writing Workshop.  I took a flash fiction idea I had abandoned some time ago and revised it. This is what I came up with: 

No One Would Believe Him Anyway
            Jacob was ten when he realized that not everyone could see the future.  He had known that he had that ability ever since he could remember, but didn’t think much about it until that fateful year.  He had thought his ability to know the future was like his sense of smell or taste; the capability always existed but he only noticed it when something smelled or tasted really good or really bad.  He simply knew things that were going to occur.  He could not control when it happened.  It just happened.  But it always happened.  Sometimes it was just a little thing, like knowing the phone was going to ring and who was going to be calling or that his mom would break a glass in the kitchen.   Other times it was a more meaningful event, like a neighbor’s dog getting run over by a garbage truck, what he was getting for Christmas, or an earthquake in India.  Though he didn’t know exactly where India was, other than far away, he could feel the terror and see the destruction of the quake as if it was in his Brooklyn neighborhood
            The mistake he made was telling someone.  One evening, just before bedtime, he frantically warned his dad not to drive to the 7-Eleven for a pack of Marlboro's.  "You can't go dad! The man is going to rob it.  He has a gun. He will shoot you.  Please, don't go!" Jacob screamed.    
            His dad laughed and as he grabbed his car keys from the cluttered breakfast bar and was walking out the door he said, "you have a great imagination, Jake.  I will be fine. You can stay up until I get back.  I'll bring you some ice cream, chocolate chip?"    The door slammed before Jacob could answer. 
            Less than an hour later the Korean store clerk's body was encircled with a chalk outline  and  his dad was in an ambulance with a bullet wound in his shoulder and a confused look on his face.  The police were equally baffled when they apprehended the shooter the next day based entirely on Jacob’s detailed description; including the license plate number of the getaway car and the scorpion tattoo on the robber's neck.  His dad, being in shock, much of which was not gunshot induced,  could provide little information to the authorities, but could clearly identify the culprit from a police lineup. 
            From that moment on, everything was different.  Jacob was talked about on the news.  They used his soccer team picture in the broadcast.   He hated that picture.   It looked like  he was picking his nose.  Maybe he was.   People were calling his house day and night, wanting to know who would win a ball game or what numbers to pick.  No one understood that it didn’t work that way.  Random Images would just appear to him, as real as life.  He had no control over when or where.  It could happen in a dream, at the dinner table, or in the classroom.  Sometimes he would go weeks without a premonition.  Other times they would come so fast and frequently that it gave him a headache. 
            The kids at St. Rita's  suddenly noticed him, where before he had been happily invisible.  They called him a freak and a weirdo.  One kid, Evan, that he had thought was his friend stole his Han Solo lunchbox and hid it, saying, "if you are so smart, you will know where it is."  Jacob never found it.  But he knew that the boy had an uncle who did things to him that Jacob didn't even understand but which made him feel sorry for Evan.  Even the teachers, who were mostly nuns, looked at him warily and he was sure he heard whispered devotions and saw lots of hurried crossing as they passed by him in the halls.  But the worst part was the way his parents looked at him.  It was never the same again at home.  He felt that they actually feared him.  Father O'Shughnessy once told him in Catechism that Catholics feared "anything they don't understand."   Jacob hoped that mom and dad didn't regret adopting him.   
            Mrs. Howard, the school counselor, was not a nun and seemed more interested in his “gift” than afraid of it.  She met with his parents and it was decided that he would undergo some trials to verify his ability, though she admitted being skeptical that this type of power (she called it ESP) actually existed.
            Jacob was very nervous on the day he was to be probed.  He didn’t know what sort of exams he was going to be given, but he hated tests of any kind and just wanted to forget the whole thing.  But as his grandpa once said, "You  can't put toothpaste  back in the tube, son."  He thought that was funny but didn't understand exactly what it meant until now.    For one of the assessments, Mrs. Howard held up cards with symbols on them; stars, circles, triangles; and he was supposed to guess which figure was on each card.  He knew, just by seeing the look on the therapist that he was not getting them right.  In fact, he failed all the tests, but he did know that Mrs. Howard’s heart was going to stop working very soon.  He decided to keep that information to himself.  No one would believe him anyway.   His advance knowledge about the shooting was explained away as coincidence or happenstance.  That was fine with Jacob.  Mrs. Howard concluded that Jacob was not gifted with second sight and things at school soon returned pretty much back to normal.  Things at home never did.  There was always an uneasiness and his dad seemed to always have a beer in his hand and his Marlboros were replaced by something that smelled worse.  Life went on, but not for Mrs. Howard.  When his mom told him that Mrs. Howard had died suddenly, he acted surprised.  He had learned to fake a perfect look of astonishment.
            That was twenty years ago.  Both Jacob's parents had died of cancer in the last two years, with no foreshadowing.   He was now a successful New York stock broker, working in an office with an exquisite view of the Manhattan skyline.  Though he never learned to harness his ability, he heeded his intuition enough through the years that he had made some very successful investments for both he and his clients.  A type of insider trading that no one would ever believe, nor prosecute him for. 
            When he met Sherry, the first day of his senior year at NYU, he knew immediately that she was the woman he would marry.  He had learned never to doubt his insight.  He had also discovered that nothing he could do could change the future.  Life was a story that was already written and any attempts by Jacob to edit it always failed.  The fact that she was totally out of his league and had absolutely no interest in him did not bother Jacob at all.  He ignored her right back.  They married a week after graduation.  
            When Sherry told him excitedly a few months later that she was pregnant, he had to expertly feign surprise and avoid letting it slip that it was a boy, Abraham.  Jacob's "gift" was the only secret he ever kept from her.  Well, the only important secret.  The facts that he hated the hideous sweater she bought him for Christmas and a woman in his office had tried unsuccessfully to seduce him that same Christmas would die with him.          
            Sometimes Jacob was amused by the inevitability of his ability.  When he and Sherry went to Dr. Gobel's  office for her sonogram.  Dr. Gobel  said, "everything looks fine," and asked, "do you want to know the sex of your baby?"
            "No," Sherry quickly replied.  "I want it to be a surprise."
            Jacob added, "that is fine with me.  She has names picked out for either. I have no say."
            "Yes,  Sherry said with a grin. "Esther if it is a girl and Bradley if it is a boy."
            Jacob smiled inwardly.  "Her mind is made up."
            When she was eight months along, she excitedly met him at the door as he arrived home from the city, "I want to name him Abraham, if it is a boy.  We can call him Abe."
            "What made you think of that?" Jacob chuckled.
            "I was just thinking what a strong name it is.  I started to hate Bradley, but still like Esther.  What do you think?"
            "I think it is perfect.  Abe it is........or Esther," he whispered as he kissed her.  He could almost taste the happiness on her lips.
            Tonight, six year old Abe awoke from a terrible dream and crawled into bed with his parents, shaking uncontrollably.  As Abe related the detailed horror of the dream, Jacob realized that as he had sometimes suspected, but prayed was not true, his son shared the burden of premonition.  Jacob had experienced the identical horrible vision that his son had  recounted while looking out his office window that very afternoon.   He had told his middle-aged assistant, Helen, to take tomorrow off, telling her only that they had worked hard on the Anderson account and deserved  a break.  She started to remonstrate, until he revealed that he, too, was taking a personal day to spend in his Connecticut home with his wife and son.  In all the time she had worked for Jacob, starting as a temp two years ago, he had never taken a day off, nor offered her one.  She accepted it without protest.  "See you on Wednesday, boss."  Helen hugged him and he feigned a convincing  smile.               
            Jacob woke early from a fitful sleep and eased out of bed as not to disturb Sherry and Abe, who had finally dozed off.  He went to the kitchen and poured himself a cup from Mr. Coffee, strong and black.  He sat down at the hardwood desk in his paneled study.  He looked at the blotter calendar where he had circled today’s date, September 11, 2001.  He had not told anyone what was to come.  They would not believe him anyway.  He sipped his hot Folgers and waited for the world to change.                                      

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pony Tale - Lyrical Poem

I was required to compose a lyrical poem for English 301.  I wrote this piece for my personal trainer.

Pony Tale

She steps onto the belt
activates and adjusts 
speed and incline,
as Pink implores her
through her earbuds
to "Try." She does. 
A few nonrhythmic steps,
then the perfect cadence,
as her sorrel ponytail
becomes a pendulous
windshield wiper,
brushing unseen schmutz
from her shoulders.
A silken metronome,
now keeping time,
As Eminem urges her   
to "Lose Herself." She does.
Flowing free
Restrained only
By a satin scrunchie
and four-four time, 
swaying smoothly as
the plait of a champion
Dressage horse.

"The War That I'm Waging" - A Villanelle

I was tasked to write a Villanelle for creative writing class.  Through the years I have met a lot of Vietnam vets who  returned damaged.  I decided to write this poem as  a tribute to those soldiers.  Though I tell the story here of a Vietnam vet, the wars are interchangeable.  The one constant is the warrior.    .  

The War That I'm Waging

When I close my eyes I can still see
Can't shake the memories that my mind embraces
The war that I'm waging is inside of me

Sleepless nights, husband, father,  in absentee
Unable to forget unforgettable places
When I close my eyes I can still see

Two tours of changing good men to debris
Through the crosshairs, exploding yellow faces
The war that I'm waging is inside of me

Mekong flowed red to the North China Sea
Filigrees of horrors that no time erases
When I close my eyes I can still see

A long ago war that  I can never break  free
Jack Daniels and VA meds temporarily displaces
The war that I'm waging is inside of me

The hell that I'm living forever will be 
No Lord's Prayer can earn me God's graces
 When I close my eyes I can still see
The war that I'm waging is inside of me 

by Rick Wainright