Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lucky and Marshall

                                         Truths and/or Consequences

                                                      Reviews by Ken Burke

                                                 Lucky (John Carroll Lynch)

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Lucky’s a very old man living in a small Arizona desert town with a daily routine that suits him just fine no matter what anybody else thinks about anything he does; he’s quick to offer his opinions as well, such as his anger at a lawyer whom he thinks is taking advantage of a friend of his, a man aggrieved by the loss of his long-time-pet, a giant tortoise.  While there’s not much going on here that would be ruined by any further “revelations” about this atheist confronting his own mortality, I’ll be true to my “no spoilers” premise by just saying that Lucky’s played by Harry Dean Stanton in what’s likely his penultimate role prior to his recent death, a fitting finale to a long, remarkable career of indelible-on-screen-performances.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)


If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.  OK, continue on if you like.
                  
What Happens: Ornery old Lucky* (Harry Dean Stanton) lives in a small town somewhere in the Arizona desert, seems to have been there for years, has a consistent daily routine (wakes up; shaves; drinks part of a glass of milk, puts the rest in the refrigerator; brushes his teeth; does some yoga; smokes the first of many cigarettes; dresses in his uniform of a plaid shirt, baggy jeans [not trendy-intentionally-baggy, just a size a bit big for his skinny frame], boots, cowboy hat; walks to Joe’s café for coffee, time to work his daily-newspaper-crossword-puzzle [resulting in Lucky’s large vocabulary] while trading amiable insults with Joe [Barry Shabaka Henley]; ambles to a small grocery store for more milk and/or smokes; walks home to watch afternoon TV game shows; walks to Elaine’s bar to banter with Elaine [Beth Grant], her husband Paulie [James Darren], and close friend Howard [David Lynch—no relation to the director, although you might know this other Lynch as a supporting actor with a long career {111 listings but outpaced by Stanton’s 199}with his first notable film role being Norm Gunderson in Fargo {Joel Coen, Ethan Coen; 1996}—speaking of extensive listings, go to the Press Kit section of the official site {1st under Related Links for Lucky far below} to get the fullest string of credits you’ll ever see for this film {even more than IMDb’s, as it includes the full list of “Wish To Thank …” honorees}] while drinking Bloody Marias [a Bloody Mary made with tequila rather than vodka]).  On day 2 of this story, though, he suddenly falls over in the morning (off-camera, we hear his grumbling response) so he’s soon seeing Dr. Kneedler (Ed Begley Jr.) who finds nothing wrong with him, says he’s such in reasonable-enough-shape for a man of 90 there’s not even any point in him giving up smoking; frankly, he’s just old (a point atheist Lucky knows well, although the thought of fading into the abyss of nothingness has begun to trouble him).

*An ongoing-nickname he acquired in the Navy during WW II assignment to the Philippines because as a cook he didn’t have to be directly involved in combat (unless the ship was attacked, of course).

 Really, not much else happens during the duration of Lucky, except for a cluster of finely-written-scenes (by Logan Sparks, Drago Sumonja) that include Howard in the bar lamenting his giant tortoise, President Roosevelt (as in Teddy), wandering off when he left the gate open (Lynch gives a grand speech about the significance of this animal—“He affected me”—as it drags its future coffin around throughout its extended life; refer to the beginning of the Bottom Line Final Comments section below to see this clip), Howard meeting with lawyer Bobby Lawrence (Ron Livingston) to draw up a will leaving everything to the reptile with Lucky lambasting Lawrence for taking financial advantage of his friend, even challenging the lawyer to a fight in the parking lot; waitress Loretta (Yvonne Huff) visiting Lucky in concern for his earlier fall (he confesses his fears to her; they watch old footage of Liberace on TV, sharing a joint); Lucky having a bit of a reconciliation conversation with Lawrence after first refusing to talk to him, as the lawyer tries to convince Lucky to draw up his own will for peace of mind only to have our grizzled protagonist shoot him down with the remark that a will doesn’t prevent death; Lucky having another café conversation, this time with WWII vet Fred (Tom Skerritt) who also served in the Philippines; Lucky being invited by grocery-clerk Bibi (Bertila Damas) to her son’s birthday fiesta which he attends, then surprises the Hispanic celebrants with an a cappella rendition of “Volver, Volver”* in Spanish (a sad song—especially for a 10-year-old’s party—in which the singer speaks of lost love, longing for reconciliation [“You were very right I listen to my heart And I’m dying for going back {…} I know how to lose I want to go back, go back, go back”], but it’s enthusiastically-received by the celebrants); Lucky bantering with Elaine about not being able to smoke in her bar, then boldly, briefly lighting up one night just before leaving.⇐ 

*I don’t have a clip of Lucky singing it but I can offer one by Vincente Fernández, who seemingly is the author; if you’re as monolingual as I am you might benefit from this English translation at a site that also has a link to the original Spanish lyrics as well as another video performance of the song by Freddie Fender, Flaco Jimenez, and Willie Nelson (with terrible-quality-video but the audio’s fine).

 Within its relatively-brief-88-min.-running-time this subtly-elegant-film contains some very poignant moments such as Lucky telling Loretta not only about his fear of death (with his visions of empty blackness, something’s that haunted him since he was 13) but also about the guilt he continues to carry over an incident when he was about 8 shooting an unreliable-aim-BB gun intended to just scare a mockingbird but ending up killing it.  (A sin against a beautiful voice of nature as we should know from lawyer Atticus Finch explaining such to his children Scout and Jem in either the original Harper Lee novel of To Kill a Mockingbird [1960] or the exquisite film adapted from it [Robert Mulligan, 1962] with Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, and Phillip Alford in those Finch family roles—in the press notes director Lynch offers another connection to … Mockingbird in characterizing Lucky: “He walks around town every day and everyone has feelings about him. Even though he has little or no feelings about them. Like Boo Radley in a way,” speaking of the book/film’s reclusive character who performs a heroic—although violentact at the end.)  Another such pause for reflection comes during Lucky’s talk with former-Marine Fred who shares his still-disturbing-memories of how defeated Japanese in the Philippines committed suicide because they feared torture from their American captors, based on how they were trained in their own succeed-or-die-culture.  All of this somber reflection’s lightened throughout, though, by some very humorous interchanges—based on Lucky’s sardonic nature—along with a somewhat-obvious-yet-effective-ending as Lucky’s walking along through his cactus-strewn-landscape, then smiles directly into the camera before walking away (everyone involved assumed this would be Stanton’s finale [or close to it], so it was written to reflect aspects of his life—including Navy service, no marriages or children, the “You’re nothing” greeting exchanged every morning between Joe and Lucky), at which point President Roosevelt finally appears, slowly wandering across the frame as Lucky's already receded into the background.

So What? If you’re aware of my previous reviews (or wish to see what I like as catalogued in the summary of Two Guys reviews link to be found in the Related Links section far below), I rarely go above 4 stars because, much as I might respond to a specific cinematic experience, I try to reserve my topmost numbers for films that have either proven their value as recognized classics or clearly have the potential to become such in future years.  Thus, I’ve previously awarded 5 stars only 5 times (only 1 recent release—Fences [Denzel Washington, 2016]—with the others being re-released past triumphs), along with only 4 in the 4½ range (by chance, almost 1 per year since this blog’s inception skipping over just 2014), which now gets its 5th member with Lucky, not as part of a sentimental tribute to Stanton (who died recently, September 15, 2017) but in recognition of how this seemingly-simple-film carries so much sweetness, beauty, and sorrow in its brief on-screen-existence.  For those who’d question why I’d find this sparse, laconic story to be in the same league as the much more complex, intense inclusions in my restricted 4½-star-group, let me answer by showing you something else that succeeds with powerful-brevity, a 3-min., 2-projector slides-and-soundtrack-show, Intersection, about the 1963 JFK assassination, made many years ago by Todd Gipstein, a marvelous photographer/media producer/scriptwriter for National Geographic (this link offers a small version of this video  transfer but it still carries the power of the conception/execution, or you can zoom in to enlarge your screen display if you prefer)—in fact, if I were reviewing Intersection, I’d give it 5 stars, just as it won a crystal “Ami” award (the top prize level) at the Association for Multi-Image International’s worldwide competition in 1985.  (Full disclosure, I was the Head Judge of that festival from 1980-1996, but it was a team of other judges who chose this award for Todd, one of many he received from this group, but I totally concur with their decision.)

*Intersection’s in QuickTime download format on the American Places Films section of Gipstein's website (this homepage gives you a link at the bottom for acquiring QuickTime if you need it).  You might also be interested in his X 100: 1 Mile, 1 Year, 1 Lens project demonstrating his intense skill as a photographer, even working under restrictive conditions.  (More disclosure: Todd’s my old friend/respected colleague, but if you decide to buy anything from him I benefit not at all excepting for having connected you to a superb talent, exemplified by his fabulously-meditative X 100 show.)

 However, in addition to Lucky’s subtle commentary on deeper issues of existence, unobtrusive cinematic approach, and collection of compelling characters, the film also benefits from inclusion of autobiographical aspects of Stanton’s life and career, with Lucky almost an extension of his acclaimed Travis Henderson character from Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984) who wandered out of the desert of west Texas seeking to reunite with his young son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), and wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), but in a heartwarming-yet-melancholy-ending the mother and child are brought back together while Travis simply drives away;  Lucky seems an avatar of Travis, back in the desert again but with no family (like Stanton himself, despite many romantic entanglements over the years, as well as time spent in the Navy).  Further, he also has connections with fellow-actor Lynch—more well-known as a director—having appeared in a few of his films as well as the recent Showtime revival of a famous early 1990s TV series with Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) where Stanton had a role in several episodes as trailer park manager Carl Rodd (with the additional link of Rodd playing/singing "Red River Valley" [1:09, episode 10], corresponding to Stanton playing that tune on his harmonica as part of Lucky; Rodd’s also in Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me [1992] film, an after-the-fact-prequel to the original Twin Peaks' blunt challenge to traditional network TV programming).*  It’s very clear in that final shot where Lucky finally gives us a quick smile before shuffling off (this mortal coil, as it turns out) both J.C. Lynch and Stanton saw this film as a career finale (although we’re scheduled to see Harry Dean one more time, as Sheriff Lloyd in Frank and Ava [Michael Oblowitz; still in post-production, not sure of an intended release date] about the stormy relationship between movie icons Sinatra and Gardner), further adding on to its compelling impact.

*One scene in Lucky even feels like it was directed by Lynch—David, not John Carroll—when our protagonist wanders out into the alley behind Elaine’s to be confronted by the loud music from an adjacent night club with its back door open so we see its deep red walls contrasted by the green light of an EXIT sign; Lucky walks up to this entrance, bathed in the dual lights, as if to portend something otherworldly about to happen in this isolated environment, but nothing further comes of it (shown above, but when I massaged the image to bring out the detail I lost the green of the sign).

Bottom Line Final Comments: Just like Howard is troubled by the disappearance of his tortoise (2:10), so am I “affected” by the sublime power of this film, as noted in my previous comments (in honor of a structure not intruded upon by too much extraneous background music, except for some recurring harmonica which sets us up for Stanton’s rendition of “Red River Valley” later on).  But what about the rest of the critical community, even if their opinions don’t matter nearly as much as mine?  Well, those surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes give Lucky a magnificent 97% positive reviews, while the folks at Metacritic (normally expected to come in with a lower number) offer a 79% positive score (one of their higher marks for the year, based on films both they and I have reviewed), although such support hasn’t translated into much income yet for this decidedly-independent-offering with only about $362 thousand in the tank after 3 weeks in release (however, that’s based on a tiny option of 60 theaters in the domestic [U.S.-Canada] market, so it’s yet to be seen what larger coverage, increasing audience response, or possibly [?] even a posthumous Oscar nomination for Stanton might be forthcoming).  However well Lucky does financially, though, it’ll always be a hit with me, so I heartedly encourage you to see it if you can or at least track it down on video when that becomes some kind of option for you.  Rather than try to make more of it verbally when it’s all in the nuance of the steady pacing, Stanton’s weather-beaten-visage, sly humor, and the barren desert reflecting the conversations about health, loss, fear, death, I’ll just wrap this up with my choice of a Musical Metaphor speaking in its own matter to issues and elements of Lucky, although I’ll let the director set up what I’m about to play in his description of Stanton’s portrayal of aged, intriguing Lucky: “He is a loner. A lover of puzzles and games. He prides himself on his self-reliance and thinks of himself as a master of his fate. He knows he's the smartest guy in the room even when he isn't.  [...] confronted with his vulnerability, his first instinct is to rail and return to the illusion of self-sufficiency. But that comes at the price of connection. As it does for us all I think.”

 One valid choice for my closing Metaphorical song would have been “The Man in the Moonshine” (Foster Timms), directly about Stanton himself, played under the closing credits, but I can find no version of that to share with you so instead I’ll start with something I’ve used before but find to be just too appropriate here to avoid in Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting for a Train” (on his 1975 Old No. 1 album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2KKgfX1g_w (from a 1977 PBS Austin City Limits broadcast) with it’s references to “Red River Valley,” a grandfatherly-guy beloved by the singer as “an old school man of the world [… living with the younger singer in an existence] like some old western movie” (which I’ve seen this film compared to in some other reviews, although Lucky can't mirror my Metaphor with a younger admirer of the old man), as well as a general sense of nostalgia for a life now gone by, but a film this good deserves another song so here’s something else from my long-ago-Texas-memories that’s also quite appropriate to Lucky, Steve Fromholz’s “Man With the Big Hat” (from the Frommox [a short-term-partnership with Dan McCrimmon] 1969 album From Here to There) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhAp4JQA3Bc (written in 1968, Fromholz says when he was in Cave Creek, AZ where some of this film was shot in 2016), especially with its final verse: “Now the high-llnes chase the highways, and the fences close the range And to see a working cowboy, that’s a sight that’s mighty strange But a cowboy’s life was lonely, and his lot was not the best, But if hadn’t been for men like me, there wouldn’t be no west.”  Lucky wasn’t truly a cowboy, but I think this song sounds like just as much about him as the actual guy who inspired Steve's tribute; may they both rest in peace (along with Fromholz, who was sadly killed in a 2014 hunting accident, silencing one of the great poetic voices of my generation; if you’d like to see him in action singing "... Big Hat"—although as more up-tempo [from 1990]here he is).
                
                                                     Marshall (Reginald Hudlin)
              
A film based on history but with some swagger/humor-enhancement about the 1941 trial where future-Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, working for the NAACP, comes to Connecticut to defend a Black chauffeur against rape charges from his White employer but has to drag in unwilling-co-counsel Sam Friedman because Marshall’s not licensed in this state.

Here’s the trailer:


        Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
                     
What Happens: Once again we’re in “Based on a True Story” territory (as several of my recent reviews have been), this time following an episode in the early career of Thurgood Marshall (who later achieves fame for successfully arguing against “separate but equal” segregation in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education trial [1954], ultimately winning 29 of 32 presentations to the U.S. Supreme Court, later becoming the first African-American appointed to that Court [1967]) back in 1941 when as a young lawyer establishing a stellar career (graduated from Howard University’s School of Law in 1934 after being denied entrance to his preferred University of Maryland [due to his situation of being intelligent while Black], later successfully sued in the Maryland Supreme Court to outlaw such law school discrimination at that university) as the only African-American lawyer working for the NAACP; Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) found himself traveling all over the country defending innocent Blacks, leaving wife Vivien “Buster” Burey (Keesha Sharp) alone in their Harlem apartment (although when home they partied with notables from later years of the Harlem Renaissance such as Langston Hughes [Jussie Smollett] and Zora Neale Hurston [Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas])The trial here involved a rape charge against Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a chauffeur, accused by his employer, socialite Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson).  The deck seems stacked from the beginning, not only because of racist assumptions about the “depraved” nature of “Negroes” even in supposedly-more-enlightened Greenwich and Bridgeport, CT but also because of the arrogant attitude of prosecutor Loren Willis (Dan Stevens), frequently supported by stern judge Carl Foster (James Cromwell) who refused to allow Marshall (with no law license in this state) to be certified for this trial so all of the courtroom actions had to be done by barely-willing-insurance-lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), with Marshall as his not-fully-silent-courtroom-partner.

 Despite Friedman’s hope for whatever plea bargain might be forthcoming from Willis, as well as initial hesitancy from wife Stella (Marina Squerciati) about her husband risking his reputation on such a seemingly-unwinnable-case (with plenty of prejudiced hatred already emerging in the local public), intensified by angry disagreements with Marshall over evidence gathering, courtroom tactics, and general hesitancy to push this apparently-biased-judge too far, both lawyers (with Thurgood’s argument about Aaron speaking for Moses during the Exodus as a simile for him likewise directing Sam’s public speeches) finally come to see Spell actually had consensual sex with Mrs. Strubing, then when driving her around to clear her state of guilty agitation she had him stop the car so she could so a panic-jump into a reservoir, but after he fled she swam to shore, climbed up to the highway, stopped a passing motorist, then concocted her tale of rape, kidnapping, and attempted murder.  Friedman really gets on board after a night when both he and Marshall are separately attacked by local bigots, although wiry Marshall (aided by a shotgun-toting-bartender) is able to resist his attackers better than Friedman, whose thugs run away only when a car pulls up at the scene of that attack.  ⇒Through intense courtroom testimony it becomes clear Strubing was a lonely (although wealthy) woman in an abusive marriage who welcomed the attentions of Spell (no Boy Scout himself, with a dishonorable Army discharge, some theft charges, and prior marriages including his current one, but still not guilty of the crimes he’s now charged with).  Marshall’s called away to another case in Mississippi, leaving a newly-confident Friedman with a rehearsed strategy to sow enough doubt in the jury’s mind that they return a not-guilty verdict, so all ends well for those we’re eager to support (although Buster has a personal crisis with a miscarriage, leaving Thurgood guilty for being at the trail rather than home with her), while the lying Eleanor faces a miserable future with her gruesome husband, John (Jeremy Lowell Bobb).⇐

So What? What makes Marshall work so well is its tone, which mixes fast pace, occasional humor (in the manner by which Thurgood verbally battles with all who attempt to belittle him as well as how Sam attempts to push himself away from a situation that has no upside for him, admitting he’s not a criminal lawyer but just a guy pulled into this situation by a Black former classmate who’s already made lots of arrangements—without Sam's knowledgethat are difficult to back out of especially with Thurgood insisting there’s no longer any choice), a true tag-team-effort with its male protagonists so even though this movie’s called Marshall it’s just as much about Friedman with the prejudice he faces as a Jew in a community largely run by wealthy Christians along with the subtly-alluded-to-comments about the horror for Jews in Europe as WW II’s atrocities are building, and a clear sense of connection to successful cinematic-courtroom-stories of the past, the ones that ended in victories for the innocent (12 Angry Men [Sidney Lumet,1957], Judgment at Nuremberg [Stanley Kramer, 1961], The Verdict [David Mamet, 1982]) or even those where the trial decision was wrong (Inherit the Wind [Kramer, 1960], To Kill a Mockingbird) but we’re still treated to a sense of honor in the defense attorneys, respecting what they stand for, finding nobility in their arguments even when it’s clear the juries may too easily swayed by the limits of existing community prejudices.

 Marshall also works by allowing us to experience a grand figure of history within a context where he doesn’t yet have to present himself as semi-saintly so his ego, pride, anger, passion (professional and sexual) are all on display to make him as compelling as any fictional character without yet having to be so honorable as Nelson Mandela in Invictus (Clint Eastwood, 2009; Morgan Freeman as Mandela) or Martin Luther King in Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014; review in our January 15, 2015 posting; David Oyelowo as King).  Further, by being set early in Marshall’s career, when his activities aren’t so detailed and repeated in endless Black History Month reports, Boseman’s given more freedom to expand upon the presentation of his character rather than the constraints he faced with his excellent portrayals of Jackie Robinson in 42 (Brian Helgeland, 2013; review in our April 18, 2013 posting) or James Brown in Get On Up (Tate Taylor, 2014; review in our August 7, 2014 posting), giving this rendition of Thurgood Marshall a bit of the swagger Boseman’s now in the process of creating for a new member of Marvel’s Avengers superheroes-collective, Black Panther.

Bottom Line Final Comments: If you need some historical context to help put the highly-entertaining Marshall into perspective you can consult this article from the Smithsonian Magazine about the actual Strubing-Spell trial (which gives the sense this movie’s not all that fictionalized except in its likely enhancement of the characters’ characteristics) as well as this extensive summary of Marshall's accomplishments and this documentary (a good investment of your time, even at 43:27) about his life, all of which take a more traditional, consistently-serious approach to information about this famous lawyer/judge.  However, whether you care to be historically-well-informed or not, you probably do want to know more about how Marshall’s functioning in its own right as a movie competing for critical and popular attention during this contintious-autumn-to-winter-run-up-to-the-Oscars-timeframe; all I can say to that point (at this point) is Marshall’s coming across as more successful with some of us than with others.  My 4 stars indicate a cinematic experience worth your time and money, with this one having the further advantage beyond excellent acting by all concerned—supported by a wealth of high-gloss-technical-values—of a powerful indictment that helps reinforce how ingrained racism’s always been in our society, no matter the geographical location nor the social class of people involved.  It’s an indignity that’s forever been there, there are no justifiable excuses for it, it's been—and continues to be—an extremely repulsive, difficult stain to eradicate from our cultural fabric.  The critics surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes mostly agree with me, in that 86% of those film reviews are of a positive tone.

 However, Marshall’s not playing to universal acclaim, as evidenced by the markedly-lower average score of 66% at Metacritic, with David Ehrlich of IndieWire, for example, offering a mere 50 of 100 (or at least that’s how his comments have been interpreted by the MC scorers, although he gave it a C which could easily be understood as 75 in traditional academic context so I remain uncertain how these numbers are assigned in MC tallies except where it’s an obvious translation of, say, 4 of 5 stars which should be 80 even though they often tweak it to a bit more or less than that) who said: “…the problem with this hokey courtroom drama isn’t that it says the right thing in the wrong way, the problem is that it ultimately doesn’t say anything at all.”  He also thinks something called Marshall gives too much focus to Friedman, as if it’s the old problem of “we need a White perspective on this Black story” when Friedman’s place in this tale is historical fact plus the director’s intention seems clearly to be the inclusion of White allies in a Black struggle (especially the Whites facing their own history of violent exclusion, also still being manifested by Trump and Bannon’s “nationalists” today); he also wants more context on the Black-Jewish-relationship, another common complain about history-based-movies, that they never seem to cover enough details to satisfy all interested parties even though running times beyond 2 hours usually create problems for audiences, studios, and theaters, as evidenced by the tepid response to the near-3-hour Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve; review in our October 12, 2017 posting), with a worldwide gross of about $158 million in worldwide income after 2 weeks in release, barely enough to cover its huge production budget let alone the extra millions used in marketing any movie today.  

 Marshall’s still in a negotiating-phase with audiences, though, playing in just 821 domestic theaters in its first week, bringing in about $3 million thus far against its $12 million budget so we’ll see over the next few weeks whether it catches on and expands or slowly fades away as more heavily-promoted-filmic-fare increases our moviehouse competition with the annual-prestigeous-product-rollout occurring even as the impending MLB World Series along with new games from the NBA, ongoing ones from the NFL continue to offer other entertainment options for potential audiences.

 With all of the above under consideration, my chosen Musical Metaphor for Marshall is Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” (written by him in 1967, first recorded by The Band for their 1968 debut album Music from Big Pink, later found on various Dylan albums including Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II [1971]) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCg4LJnmBUk (a 1999 live performance, location unknown to me), a song which I’ve used before a couple of times (I try not to over-indulge in any particular choice so as not to bore regular readers of this blog, all 12 of you—although our ongoing monthly total’s still in the realm of tens of thousands so thanks again to all of you wonderful worldwide readers who continue to find Two Guys in the Dark in your Web searches even with so many other film critics—including grumpy ones such as David Ehrlich—to choose from; we very much appreciate your patronage [and, to emulate a Groucho Marx comment, I hope you appreciate being patronized]) but I just find its intent to be too useful to Marshall's tale of overcoming racial (or any other type of) prejudice, especially with the verse about “Standing next to me in this lonely crowd Is a man who swears he’s not to blame All day long I hear him shout so loud Crying out that he was framed [all of which could be seen as defense of people such as Joseph Spell or seen as a cynical rejection of those who falsely claim injury—with their spurious arguments of “fake news”—when they’re truly the oppressors, so at best we can all hope for eventual deliverance because] I see my light come shining From the west unto the east [whatever that cryptically means; maybe the sunset of outdated ideas illuminating the misguided past they’ve caused] Any day now, any day now I shall be released.”  As Thurgood (who, unlike Lucky, really was the smartest guy in the room most of the time) says in the film, “The only way to get through a bigot’s door is to break it down”; at its most optimistic, this song looks forward to a day when those doors have been eradicated, a clear hope even when so much that was wrong in 1941 continues to contaminate our world today.
             
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
             
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Here’s more information about Lucky:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uW7-_ibnXm8 (34:38 interview with actor Harry Dean Stanton from a few years back so there’s nothing here about Lucky but you can easily see how similar his character is to the actual guy, constantly smoking and all [host Harper Simon reminds me of the star-struck-interviewer formerly played by Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live, {“Do you remember when …”} especially given the laconic responses by Stanton—Clint Eastwood could easily portray him in a biopic, so, Hollywood execs, if anyone moves forward on this idea don’t forget to send me a finder’s fee]; at 27:40 he sings “Cancion mextica” [“Mextic Song”—from the soundtrack of Paris, Texas where it was sung by Stanton] and plays harmonica)



Here’s more information about Marshall:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOuDFjbjyvA (32:08 interview with actors Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad [begins with the same trailer as just above])



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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*YouTube keeps deleting links to this Eagles performance so I keep putting a newer version back in but you’ll just find dead links in our previous postings prior to October 19, 2017, so don’t be confused.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
              
OUR POSTINGS PROBABLY LOOK BEST ON THE MOST CURRENT VERSIONS OF MAC OS AND THE SAFARI WEB BROWSER (although Google Chrome usually is decent also); OTHERWISE, BE FOREWARNED THE LAYOUT MAY SEEM MESSY AT TIMES.
                 
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 20,757; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 and Short Takes on Victoria and Abdul

                   History Not Exactly Repeating Itself (for the better)

                                                           Reviews by Ken Burke

                           Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve)

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): 30 years after the events of the previous Blade Runner film, Earth is even more devastated than in the earlier story (or at least the larger LA area is, as that’s all we see in either film) although rebellious replicants have now been replaced by a new generation of these androids who cooperate with humans in terminating the remaining remnants of previous incarnations of this quasi-homo sapiens-"species."  However, when our replicant-blade runner-protagonist K accidently makes a discovery of a long-buried-replicant’s bones it leads to a critical need to answer what seems to be an impossible mystery, even though the continuance of the world’s remaining humans may well depend on how it can be solved.  That’s really about all I can say without getting into verboten spoiler territory, so maybe you can just trust me (and a solid majority of other critics) to see this fascinating film for yourself, a worthy sequel to Blade Runner in concept, story tension, visualization, and after-the-fact-ruminations despite the somewhat negative stories calling its debut a bit of a failure for bringing in a “mere” $86.5 million worldwide in its initial week on screen, based on expectations that it’d make an even bigger splash.  Yes, it’s long (2 hrs. 43 min.) but well worth it unless pessimistic futuristic sci-fi is a genre you really have no interest in.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)


If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: ⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.  OK, continue on if you like.⇐
              
What Happens: As is clear from the title, this film’s set in 2049, 30 years after the events of the original Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) where we’re left—depending on which released version you see—wondering if LAPD cop/replicant (android) killer Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is himself a replicant, whether he really escaped miserably-polluted Earth to an off-world-paradise with sensuous replicant Rachel (Sean Young), as well as whether new-model-Rachel actually had an indefinite life span or is destined to die after just a few years as do the renegade replicants in that earlier seminal work of dystopian sci-fi (if you need to know anything further about the original Blade Runner you could start by looking at the links noted at the beginning of the next section of this review).  Assuming you now have a context for what transpires in the new film, you’ll see from pre-action-intertitles that the replicant Nexus 6 models Deckard previously had to kill have now all been eliminated to prevent any further rebellious moves on their part while their replacement Nexus 8 models (Was Rachel supposed to be one of those?  I forget.)—with indefinite lifespans rather than the built-in-4-year-termination of the Nexus 6s—are also now deemed inconsistent with human cohabitation (again, see below for explanations if needed) so they’re in the process of being hunted down and killed by a new generation of these androids from the Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) Corporation (the previous Tyrell Corp.’s now as dead as its founder, given all their previous replicant calamities), engineered to be subservient to humans to preclude any further attempts at revolution.

 LA cop/replicant K (short for his longer serial number) begins the new action by traveling to a dusty farm (the crop is insects, a protein staple in this miserable future world; the farm’s rendered in brown and yellow rather than green as the first vision in this film of consistently fantastic images, a sure contributor to the $150 million budget) in what’s now the central CA valley to confront replicant-in-hiding Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista).  Morton talks of “a miracle,” but soon the 2 are locked in mortal combat as the larger, more muscular Morton (Bautista’s a former WWE wrestling champ) seems to have the advantage over later-model-K (just as Deckard once struggled mightily against his non-human-adversaries), although K prevails.  As he’s about to leave, though, he sees a couple of flowers near a dead tree outside, then uses a scanner to locate a buried box.  He reports all this to his commander, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright), back in LA who sends him home, with a crew to get the box later.  At his apartment he’s comforted by an A.I. “woman,” Joi (Ana de Armas), whom he surprises with an eminator-device giving her enough 3-dimensionality so she can see (feel?) the ever-present-light-rain when they walk out onto the balcony, but we know she’s still a bit transparent, not a true physical presence to offer an actual level of comfort to K as these 2 non-human-entities provide a melancholy sense of how life’s devolved just a few decades from now.  Things get quickly complicated, though, when the contents of the mystery box turn out to be the bones of a female replicant who died 30 years ago during childbirth, the result of a caesarian section.  This is challenging enough in that replicants aren’t supposed to be able to reproduce, ⇒but when an ID number on a rib shows her to be Rachel,⇐ K’s set in motion because Lt. Joshi wants any evidence of the child to be destroyed in order to prevent total chaos if replicants find they’re not truly different from humans (they supposedly have no soul either, but there’s no proof) while Wallace wants to understand how Tyrell fashioned such a replicant birth ability so he can more effectively mass-produce these androids to support the ongoing colonization of 9 off-world-sites.

 Secretly followed by Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), Wallace’s lethal android assistant, K returns to Morton’s farm where he finds evidence of a date (6/10/21) matching one carved on a wooden horse he has memory of trying to hide from bullies when he was a boy (replicant memories are implanted to help give them a semblance of human emotions).  Researching data bases as best he can after much was lost during the Black Out (again, see the next section below if needed) he finds evidence of replicant twins (another seeming impossibility as they’re supposed to be created in a lab, not emerge from a womb) born that day with the girl apparently dead but the boy alive.  After he visits Dr. Ana Stelline (Carla Juri)—who lives in a large isolation chamber (due to immune problems) where she fills her time with holograms or creates memories for Wallace’s replicants—to learn replicants aren’t allowed to be implanted with actual human memories ⇒he comes to the conclusion (which we’re led to accept) he’s actually the son of Deckard and Rachel.⇐   Back at LAPD headquarters K’s no longer able to be reprogrammed back to his “baseline,” so he tells Lt. Joshi he’s destabilized because he killed the mystery child; she sends him off into hiding, knowing his baseline problems will mark him for termination, so he gets a radiation analysis from that crucial toy horse (he found it while searching for the missing child in a miserable orphanage in bombed-out San Diego) that leads him to the remains of barren Las Vegas in search of long-missing-Deckard.  ⇒They meet, fight (although “Dad” barely makes an impact on “son,” further undermining the assertion Deckard’s really a replicant—not to mention what kind of lifespan he has nor how he overrode supposed-replicant-programming not to kill other androids in the earlier film), make up over a drink,* then Deckard reveals he had to leave Rachel with the rebellious Nexus 8s to go in hiding while she was in labor, later  he scrambled the birth records of his children to help keep himself difficult to find.⇐

*While shooting this scene, Ford accidentally connected with Gosling's face harder than he was supposed to in 1 of the many takes, then offered him a drink in the latter’s trailer as appeasement but afterward left with the bottle as he didn’t feel like he needed to make that much on an apology.

 With K now knowing he’s not the “miracle child” he’s further burdened by the arrival of Luv and her troops (she killed Lt. Joshi, followed K’s tracker to Las Vegas [where we got to see some amusing holographic footage of Elvis Presley, Liberace, dancers, etc. during the Deckard-K fight]) who attack our heroes, taking Deckard prisoner while leaving K for dead after smashing his device that contains Joi (thus, our put-upon-protagonist notably finds no solace in either "love" or "joy").  He’s not finished, though, so soon he's rescued by the group of clandestine, rebellious Nexus 8s who tell him  Rachel’s surviving child is actually the female.  Back in LA Wallace wants Deckard to lead him to the miraculous offspring so he can understand and copy the replicant fertility process, suggesting Deckard was intended to fall in love with, then impregnate Rachel (another argument he’s a replicant created for a groundbreaking-mission, possibly also designed as a weapon against renegade androids [my speculation], but if he’s simply a nonhuman-sperm-carrier then the whole “inter-species” conundrum has no meaning, giving further substance to Ford’s argument Deckard’s human), even offering him a new Rachel (he refuses as she doesn’t have green eyes—although it's Young’s earlier image superimposed onto her current self and another actor), then sends him off with Luv to be tortured.  K intercepts them, has a brutal fight with Luv as tides rise around their airship, finally kills her, then, after staging Deckard’s death to throw Wallace off the trail, takes Deckard to meet his daughter, whom K's figured out is Ana (surely she’d have biological problems, given her mixed DNA), while K lies outside her quarantine quarters bleeding to death from wounds sustained in the brutal combat with Luv.  (Whether we’ll see Deckard and Wallace again in yet another sequel is the next mystery to ponder, as the box-office “votes” continue to be counted.)⇐

So What? While nothing in the original Blade Runner’s focused on the question of whether Deckard is a replicant or not, there’s been endless speculation since then on that question with Ridley Scott saying emphatically “yes,” while Harrison Ford argues “no.”  In case you’re not current on that dispute (or even on Scott’s film—in its several manifestations: 1982 theatrical release with studio-demanded film noir-like voiceovers from Deckard plus a happy-ending-escape to an off-world-Eden; 1992 director’s cut; 2007 final cut [only one fully commanded by Scott]), both of which eschew the VO along with the out-of-character-escape to a better life, so you might need some background material before being able to fully appreciate … 2049.  If so, here’s a short summary of the original film (4:26, of the story as it abruptly ends in the later versions), but you might also like this summary (6:52) which asks some pertinent questions about the older narrative’s intentions.  With those links as background you can proceed to this one (4:50) with its specific focus on Deckard as possibly a Nexus 7 replicant model not necessarily limited to the 4-year-life-span of Roy and the other renegades (if so, though, he must have been designed a bit more for identification skills of his kind than combat because he’s barely able to survive his battles with the renegades [needing Rachel to kill Leon to save him, just as Roy saves him again at the end just before Roy's own eloquent death speech {3:54}], although as mentioned in that previous link his ability to survive punishment in these  battles indicates at least a level of hyper-human-resilience).  

 Once you’ve digested all those considerations about the implications of the older Blade Runner you might also like this site, a 27:02 collection of 3 short films showing crucial events after 2019, prior to 2049 (Black Out 2022 [animation] about the data-destroying EMP [massive electromagnetic pulse after a nuclear explosion] event as a result of Nexus 8 models from Tyrell Corp. created with unlimited lifespans, leading to violent Human Supremacy movements [maybe led by the alt-right bigots, but that's not part of this storyline] and the resulting replicant sabotage; 2036: Nexus Dawn about Niander Wallace introducing the new obedient replicants after prohibitions against their kind as the result of that previous disaster; 2048: Nowhere to Run about Sapper Morton having to flee after killing a human while protecting a couple of abused replicants, setting up K’s assault on him in … 2049) as background to the new film (note some of the audio’s a bit low in these shorts, though).

 After all this Blade Runner education—as well as seeing the long-awaited-sequel (or just reading about it here, in an attempt to save some bucks)—you might then have some questions about implications in this latest plot; if so, I’ll steer you to this link where you can join in with speculations about aspects of … 2049, ⇒a primary one being if K is the replicant decoy made from Ana’s DNA that would lead anyone looking for this child (including K) to assume he’s the miraculous one rather than Ana (I make mention of this because that aspect of the story eluded me during my viewing—I knew we and K are supposed to assume he’s the “miracle child” but I didn’t register the part about him sharing her DNA).⇐   The real question to be asked, though, after ruminating on what occurred in the original film, becoming aware of the short films that fill in the 2019-2049 gaps, and wandering through the misery that appears to await the human race in the lifetime of my children—if I had any; I don’t think my cats will live another 32 years, despite their daily eating habits—(a real possibility if increasingly-ferocious-natural-disasters continue battering our planet [Which would be enough to make Earth near-unlivable even without the full holocaust of a nuclear war resulting from North Korea/Iran-trigger-happy-hostilities {no matter who makes the first strike}, even though it’s clear in the original book these films are based on {Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, 1968} such a disaster has occurred, but these cinematic plots veer away from other aspects of the novel such as mechanical animals, a mesmerizing-religious-cult, and Deckard as a human!]) is what appeal … 2049 has beyond the thrill of seeing Deckard again (especially knowing Han Solo’s now out of the ongoing Star Wars picture[s], coupled with the sense Indiana Jones is getting too damn old to keep snapping that whip in various jungles [which are disappearing due to deforestation anyway]) as well as wondering what’s to become of humanity when we keep on insisting to perpetuate some form of ourselves through replicants even though they seem intent on hastening our downfall.  (That hidden Nexus 8 crew certainly spells further trouble, but do we as an audience want to simply retrace a cinematic path already well-trod by the revived Planet of the Apes series with humanoids replacing intelligent simians in an ongoing war against our beleaguered species?)

Bottom Line Final Comments: In answer to my above question (or at least a noble attempt to address it), what really matters about this new version of Blade Runner is exactly the challenge that mattered about the old one:  What defines us as human?  Is it our unique biology—even with all its limitations and weaknesses—that seems to come with an identifiable soul (If that’s a reality either, not a conclusion agreed upon throughout our many cultures or even, if so, what becomes of it upon death of our bodies?) and a cluster of emotions that can’t (or so we assume) be replicated in any form of android or A.I. because that’s an aspect of our existence which is beyond quantification (supposedly).  Is it our ability to show sincere empathy with others of our kind (and other species when we’re not just using them for the burdens of manual labor)?  Is it our self-consciousness that’s so far allowed us to evolve to levels of awareness, abstract thought, creativity that exceeds what other animals on our planet seem capable of (although dolphins might argue with us on that point if we could devise a common language—yet, possibly they demonstrate superior intelligence by not even attempting to communicate with us, lest they get caught up in our cycles of denigration and warfare).  While the replicants in both Blade Runners and A.I. Joi in this one (who offers some complexity of “her” own in that “she” seems to be an off-the-shelf-purchase for anyonehuman or replicantwho needs her form of invested companionship, but this particular Joi's seemingly evolved into something very personal for K, invested in his welfare even though both of them are essentially machines) depend on humans for their creation, as they become more self-aware—and able to reproduce?—they'll challenge us as to how unique or even “superior” we are.

 Definitely it seems this particular Joi manifestation’s formed some sort of unique bond with K that can’t (easily or at all?) be replaced when Luv crushes “her” out of existence so this specific Joi (they seem to all have the same name, as with Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa) has evolved (?) into an individualized-mate for android K, each of them reaching for levels of emotion their baseline programming (intentionally?) doesn’t provide, even as the primary humans they encounter are either high-tech-egomaniacs (Wallace here but also Tyrell relative to Roy and his crew in the earlier film) or Deckard, the worn-out-killer (back in [1982] 2019 he even says in voiceover he’s called “Sushi”—indicating cold fish—by his ex-wife [? I've forgotten exactly who said it.]), none of whom offer the actual emotional depths Rachel, Roy, and Joi are willing to share with Deckard and K, respectively.*

*Joi even goes so far as give K a name, Joe, and arranges for a physical sexual encounter with him by letting a replicant hooker, Mariette (Mackenzie Davis), into their apartment so she can somehow merge with this almost-female for a sensual-sharing with Joe, reminding me of a similar scene in Ghost (Jerry Zucker, 1990) where Sam Wheat's (Patrick Swayze) spirit enters the body of the psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg), for one last slow dance with girlfriend Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) not long before he leaves our Earthly plane.  But, just as we see only the bodies of Swayze and Moore in this close embrace—no lesbo-implications with images of a Black female and a White female cuddling in this yesteryear-mainstream-romance—we’re given no indication if there are male versions of Joi for female replicants who might be interested in such considerations; however, given that all of these androids are programmed by humans, with the females mostly created for prostitution purposes—except for warriors like Luv—it seems heterosexuality has been established as a post-apocalyptic-norm in this society, or, if not, we see nothing to the contrary.

 So, with all of this philosophical depth in Blade Runner 2049 enhanced with enough action scenes (as K’s constantly fighting for his life to balance the solitude whether in the many desert environments he visits or the always-night-flying-car-shots over dismal LA [maybe I need to see the original again, but it seems there aren’t as many vehicles whizzing around above the streets this time; possibly that’s because the Black Out interrupted computer control enough so it’s mainly the police and high-end-corporate-vehicles gaining access to such technology in 2049]) to keep our adrenalin running hot while we’re intrigued by the mysteries of the plot, what’s been the response to this extremely-long-awaited-sequel?  From the critics’ standpoint (including mine with my lofty 4 stars, my usual-highest-plateau except for the exceptionally-rare-achievement of current fare or the re-release of a true classic) Blade Runner 2049 is a solid hit, with the reviewer-accumulator-site of Rotten Tomatoes offering 88% positive responses while the folks at Metacritic were equally enthralled with an 81% average score (one of the highest they’ve given to something I’ve also reviewed this year), but there’s some concern in bean-counter-land (as I noted far above) with an opening-weekend-take of “only” about $85.5 million worldwide (a bit over $37 million of that from the domestic [U.S.-Canada] market), which normally would be great cause for celebration but apparently the hope (after all the hype) was for a $50 million domestic opening weekend given the 4,058-theater-availability, so we’ll just have to see how momentum builds or falls in coming weeks.*

*If you’re interested, here’s an analysis of what went "wrong": too long of a running time both for audiences’ attention spans (as well as their bladders) and theaters’ abilities to schedule more daily showings; the original didn’t really bring in enough revenue to justify such a huge budget for this sequel; multiple-release-versions of Blade Runner have created plot confusion for the casual viewer; that aforementioned-budget’s too huge to anticipate much profit; the marketing fails because the trailers focus on stunning visuals rather than plot points; appeal is limited because of the need to understand what went on in a film from so long ago; the current competition (even My Little Pony: The Movie [Jayson Thiessen]) proved easier for audiences to digest (although there are still hopes for higher returns when … 2049 opens later in huge markets such as Korea and China).

 Well, after all that I’m just going to wrap up with a strong encouragement for you to see Blade Runner 2049 (easy enough to do, given its availability), although I don’t know if the 3-D format will be worth the extra bucks because the 2-D version’s stunning enough, so even if you just want to pay bargain-matinee-prices (but be sure and use the restroom as close as you can to the actual start time, even if that’s enough preparation; I did my due diligence but still squirmed a bit during that last 45 min.) I’d say do so even if for no other reason than the magnificent visuals (including those skyscraper-sized-billboards that were so effective in the original).  Recognizing my review’s getting to be as lengthy as the film I think it’s time to wrap it up with my usual choice of a Musical Metaphor to offer a final set of considerations but from the perspective of the aural arts.  For … 2049 I’ve picked George Harrison’s “What Is Life” (from his 1970 solo-debut-triple-album All Things Must Pass) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiH9edd25Bc, the official music video for the song in which a teenage girl’s happily dancing in various environments (including a graveyard) until she’s joined by a dancing teenage boy.  The simple energy shown of living joyously in the moment allows us to slowly appreciate how they relate to the deeper implications of the lyrics, which could also easily speak to the troubled relationships in this film as various characters whom we know to not be human (maybe including Deckard, but I agree with Ford the whole narrative becomes richer, more intriguing if he’s understood as one of us [Which is how Ford plays him, Ridley Scott be damned!] finding connection with what may indeed be an emerging new species in Roy and Rachel) still have yearnings for love, even as do the more ambiguous humanish-characters (Ana, maybe Deckard) so the lyrics of “What I feel, I can’t say But my love is there for you anytime of day […] Tell me, what is my life without your love Tell me, who am I without you, by my side” have resonance for me with all of these relationships, just as the ongoing repetition of these words keeps reminding us these Blade Runner stories are rife with fundamentally-intriguing-questions that leave the answers to our post-screening-conversations over a meal/drinks or Internet dialogues.  (Care to comment?)
              
SHORT (relatively speaking) TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
                
                      Victoria and Abdul (Stephen Frears)
                
Here’s yet another “Based On Real Events” movie (although it admits to aspects of fictionalization) this one focused on the relationship between England’s Queen Victoria and her Indian subject, Abdul Karim, originally intended to be a household servant but evolved via her interest in him into the role of secretary/advisor, much to the horror of the rest of her household.
              
Here’s the trailer:


        Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
                    
What Happens: In 1887 England’s Queen Victoria’s in the process of celebrating her Golden Jubilee, marking a 50-year-reign over the British Empire (since 1858 including India) so among the many gifts sent to her is a ceremonial Indian coin to be carried into a lavish banquet by 2 men from the city of Agra, intended to function as short-term-servants in the royal household, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) and Mohammed Buksh (Adeel Aktar).  Despite strict admonitions not to look directly at the queen, Abdul does just that (but it’s clear she rather likes what she sees in this young, tall, handsome man), then ingratiates himself when serving her lunch dessert pudding the next day by spontaneously kissing her feet.  To Mohammed’s horror—wishing only to return home, leaving cold, unwelcoming, “barbaric” England behind—Victoria’s growing fascination with Ahmed leads to their continuance at court where he eagerly ingratiates himself into her private life teaching her the Urdu language (called Hindustani by the Brits) and the Quran along with the fascinating beauty of Indian culture (as she’d never be able to survive the long voyage there herself, despite being Empress).  Admitting she’s a lonely old woman (on the throne since 1837 at the age of 18; her husband, Prince Albert, died in 1861), not trusting her close advisors nor her greedy children—especially pompous Prince Edward (Eddie Izzard)—Queen Victoria readily takes Abdul into her private sphere, a move which upsets Bertie (her nickname for the prince) along with her governmental entourage including Private Secretary Sir Henry Ponsonby (Tim Pigott-Smith), Prime Minister Lord Salisbury (Michael Gambon), and her personal physician, Dr. James Reid (Paul Higgins).  Despite the haughty attitude shown toward “the Hindu” (insults always countered by supportive Victoria), his prestige at court continues to grow as the queen becomes enthralled with all things Indian, further shocking her retinue by bringing Abdul along on a state trip to Italy as her Munshi (teacher, personal attendant).

 No matter what attempts Queen Victoria’s inner circle makes to dim her fascination with this “inappropriate intruder” she remains steadfast in her loyalty even when it’s discovered that neither he nor his family is as lofty in their accomplishments as Abdul indicated (he was simply a prison clerk, but given the constant procedural-protocols of the royal lifestyle along with such a ridiculous abundance of elegance in the Queen’s world I’m sure he felt the need to embellish his background) or that he yet has no children because of his gonorrhea (discovered by Dr. Reid upon a quick examination) or that he has a wife (Sukh Ojla) and mother-in-law (Sally Jokhan) back home he’s not previously mentioned; none of this fazes Victoria (she seems not to care about his heritage; simply tells Dr. Reid to treat the man’s illness; arranges for Abdul’s family to be housed in England despite their odd presence to Western sensibilities by wearing full burkas in front of anyone but Abdul), but when she learns the Indian Muslims revolted and aren’t supportive of her as Abdul claimed (in fact, she’s the target of a fatwa [death decree]) she initially decides to send him home, then relents with the idea of forcing his acceptance from her other advisors by making him a knight; this leads to a proposed mass-resignation by her staff then an attempt by Dr. Reid to have her removed as monarch because of insanity, but her resolute dismissal of these threats keeps Abdul close at hand with his eventual title a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, ⇒although his success comes to an abrupt end in 1901 with her death, followed swiftly by Bertie’s (now Edward VII) banishment of Abdul back to India along with burning of all evidence of connection between his mother and this perceived “usurper.”  His story essentially remained unknown until the discovery of Abdul’s diaries in 2010 (plus support from translations of long-ignored Urdu notations in Victoria’s own diaries).⇐*

*Between the trailer and easily-found historical summaries there’s nothing I can say that’s truly a spoiler, but this above aspect might be the biggest surprise for those who haven’t been exposed to the background about Abdul Karim as it comes a rude rejection of his presence just at story's end.

So What? Unlike the usual statement found before movies inspired by historical events this one honestly modifies its fictionalization by adding the word “mostly” up front, although based on what we see on screen vs. the facts as we know them (with differences summarized nicely in this Vanity Fair article or put into much greater detail in this extensive summary [if you can accept Wikipedia as a source; I easily can in this case—as well as with most everything else I’ve ever looked up in this massive informational storehouse—given the plethora of documentation]) I don’t see much of significance has been omitted, abbreviated, fabricated, or spun together to give us what appears in the script.  However, such accomplishments haven’t prevented Victoria … from being criticized as failing in another manner, that of being racist (at least in Bilal Qureshi’s opinion) regarding Abdul’s willing subservience to his queen rather than challenging her on Britian’s harsh occupation of his country (although I’m surprised Qureshi doesn’t mention Mohammed’s obscene tirade against Victoria’s minions in response to their attempt to find “dirt” on his colleague, in which the disgusted man [even though he’s been assigned to be Abdul’s servant] essentially tells an English aristocrat to shove his empire far up his ass [a clip I’m sad—but not surprisedI haven’t yet been able to find]).

 Within his complaints, Qureshi acknowledges Victoria’s son, ministers, and entire household all express racist condescension toward Abdul—only to be upbraided by the queen for acting in such an inhumane manner toward one of the few people she truly has much regard for—but, nevertheless, he finds “The film is elegant and warm and entirely misleading.  It’s charming inoffensiveness is at the root of its insidious politics” with Abdul as “an object of exotic eroticism” so that “This kind of shallow Raj revisionism is possible because of how little we’ve confronted the enduring and painful legacy of the British empire.”  While Qureshi has more of a personal (and probably historical) investment in the movie’s depictions than I do, I admit I found little of these objections in my own viewing of the story—augmented as it might be by the presentation of Abdul’s easy interactions with the monarch as well as his somewhat flirtatious manner with her before revealing the waiting wife back home—because, based on accounts I've encountered* of Victoria and Abdul’s relationship I’m not so sure that the depictions in this movie are all that exaggerated.

*This documentary (47:54, if you’ve got time to watch; if not, you might skim through it to get a sense of its information) seems to support much of what’s presented in Victoria ... more so than the criticisms cited above (including verification of his kissing her feet—noted by another source I’ve read as being recorded in her diaries—so this is no servile invention on the part of the filmmakers).

Bottom Line Final Comments: As noted just above (and in other negative responses to Victoria …, which you can find in both the RT [67% positive reviews] and MC [57% average score]) summaries, there are naysayers about this movie; yet there are also many vocal supporters who find charm in the story as well as Oscar-consideration for Dench’s outstanding performance.  As for the attitudes about romantic whimsy in this presentation, you’ll certainly find that in scenes such as the one in Italy where Victoria and Abdul dance privately or when he confesses she’s more important to him than his wife, but there’s plenty of rancor here as well, from Victoria’s self-admitted faults (enumerated in the trailer when she’s rejecting the attempt to declare her insane) to her retinue’s blunt dismissal of her Indian protégé as both racially and intellectually unsuited to the honors she wished to bestow upon him to his own prideful ambition to remain in her service for the benefit of his advancement (lying to her about himself as well as Indian Muslims, eagerly accepting whatever gifts she wished to bestow despite the truth of his inadequacies).  For those who find this movie cloyingly-romanticized (if not downright racist) I’d suggest—despite whatever faults it may have in conception—that it seems to reflect the essence of the historical record (if not all the minor facts) but perhaps presented from the perspectives of how the 2 principals want to see themselves: Victoria as a sad, lonely ruler almost drained of meaningful human contact suddenly revived by an interesting young man who seems more concerned for her welfare than for advancing an agenda on behalf of his fellow Indians (for whatever reason, but from what little I know that seems to be the case) while Adbul’s eagerly responding to the attentions of a powerful-mother-figure who’s offering him a level of material comfort and self-esteem denied to him otherwise in both England and India (he may also legitimately have respected his mentor’s royal office—even while she's an oppressor of his countrymen—but I’d have to do a lot more research to get better insights into that argument).

 On the whole, while the tone of this story may have been made more lighthearted in many scenes than a documentary would show, I get the sense of sincerity of overall depiction on the part of the filmmakers to the actual relationship of Queen and Munshi even if the result’s not as challenging to the status quo of the times as its critics (and Mohammed) would have cared for.  While the screening I attended was more packed than most I’ve encountered recently, audiences as a whole aren’t yet warming up to this movie as quickly as many critics have with a worldwide take of about $31.1 million (a mere $6 million of that domestically) after 3 weeks in release so as it expands onto more screens we’ll just have to see what attraction it offers for audiences who so far seem more attracted to Brits (and their U.S. allies) who save the world from destruction than those who set about colonizing it (Kingsman: The Golden Circle [Matthew Vaughn] has taken in about $253.7 million worldwide [$80.5 million domestic sales] in the same amount of time as Victoria …).  As for my Musical Metaphor for Victoria and Abdul I’ll go British there as well (influenced by occasional sitar on the soundtrack) once again with George Harrison, this time his “Within You, Without You” (from The Beatles’ 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album) at http://www.jukebox. fr/the-beatles/clip,within-you-without-you,uv8vu.html with its grand rhythmic Indian instrumentation accompanying lyrics about “the space between us all And the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion [… because] No one else can make you change [… so work to no be among] the people who gain the world and lose their soul [… don’t be] one of them [… because with clarity] you may find peace of mind is waiting” (no matter what it is your class, heritage, or ethnicity may be).

 As I write all this I’m very aware (from local news reports as well as smoke coming in my window) of people geographically close to me who’re struggling to retain their souls after losing most—if not all—of what they’d gained in the world in the horrible wildfires raging just north of San Francisco, yet another soul-searing-tragedy to ravage parts of the U.S., its territories, and its nearby neighbors in recent weeks, giving any of us not directly impacted by such crises reason to thank our lucky stars (and share whatever we can with those currently suffering) because we’re all “really only very small And life flows on within you and without you,” no matter how much control we think we have only to be awakened some early morning with flames roaring all around (for many—at least those who've survived this spreading inferno—leaving them in environments as barrenly-bleak as those in Blade Runner 2049).  Thus, when we’re safe (either now or after the disasters finally cool off a bit) we often turn to movies or other forms of diversionary entertainment to remind us of memories we carry about better times, almost-forgotten friends and lovers, storylines resolved as fiction usually triumphs over fact in giving us outcomes corresponding more to our dreams than our realities.  If a touch of that nostalgia might help anyone in any circumstances reading this blog, I’ll offer you a trip from Esquire to a set of photos from the sets of 25 memorable movies (including one of Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford from the original Blade Runner; by the way, the “unidentified film” with Woody Allen looks very much like Annie Hall [1977] to me), followed by another gallery of 25, this time key moments in film history.  (I thank my friend, Barry Caine, for alerting me to this site, just as I thank my friend/faithful reader/frequent collaborator Richard Parker for steering me to the Vanity Fair article about Victoria and Abdul.)  That’s all for now, but as those aforementioned Beatles collectively said in another song (from their 1964 A Hard Day’s Night album): “I’ll be back again.”
                 
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
                
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*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about Blade Runner 2049:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPn-xuifKFg (32:03 interview with director Denis Villeneuve)



Here’s more information about Victoria and Abdul:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87mTH8uquOg (4:48 interview with actors Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard, and director Stephen Frears—although the latter doesn’t say anything so you can hear from him at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Su-nzvz00Cw[6:03, although his interview goes only until 3:54])



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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken*

*YouTube keeps deleting links to this Eagles performance so I keep putting a newer version back in but you’ll just find dead links in our previous postings prior to October 12, 2017, so don’t be confused.

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
               
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