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Entries in dick cheney (165)

Monday
May012017

In Which We Live To Be Struck Down By Puritans

Snowglobe

by DICK CHENEY

The Handmaid's Tale
creator Bruce Miller
Hulu

Perhaps some day we will know the true story of what happened on the inside of Elisabeth Moss' marriage to Fred Armisen. The pet names, the sex, the types of sex, the frequency of sex, who prepared breakfast for who, who answered the door, kept the dog back from the mailman. Who stroked the hair of who. Who threw out the old bread, when Fred decided Elisabeth was maybe more boring than someone he could be excited by in a long term partner, when Elisabeth felt safe to criticize Fred's late nights, the smell of tequila on his breath, whether he smelled old, who was jealous, who showed it, who stopped the game, who started it again. Who fell out of love.

It feels like we will never know the real reasons that Offred (Elisabeth Moss) married her husband in The Handmaid's Tale. We are introduced to her family before all the events of the series happen in a scene where Offred, her husband Luke (O.T. Fagbenle) and her daughter (Jordana Blake) are watching the aquatic residents of an aquarium. It is an extremely well-trodden scene; it is meant to convey pair-bonding when there is no other connection between the people involved other than shared witness. It is the kind of empty stuff The Handmaid's Tale is full of; I never expected such a serious adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel.

The real villains of The Handmaid's Tale are either Puritan values or modern American sexism. Neither is identified openly, because doing so would mean this is a real critique. It is not. Attacking the Puritans seems a broadside woefully out of date, given that any philosophy that allows individuals to survive in the wilderness without mass death should be admired for its efficacy. The English were really a very enterprising people overall.

Modern American sexism, too, bears no real relationship to what Offred discovers in the Republic of Gilead. In Gilead, the main vessels through which Offred experiences violence and discrimination are other women. She finds sympathetic companions in the men of her household, even though they are the only ones who hold any power. Offred never experiences catcalls, she is not objectified for her sexuality. She is used in her role because not very many women are capable of carrying children to term. The survival of the species is a far better reason for subjugation than "she looks hawt."

In her previous job, Offred explains that she was an "assistant books editor." This is her desk:

What naive scrumpet would seriously believe that this lifestyle could go on indefinitely without consequence? Offred's nostalgia for her old life seems entirely misplaced. Did she truly think that people would go on buying books and allowing her lifestyle to persist indefinitely? "The future is a fucking nightmare," proclaims one advertisement for the series, a statement which appears to refer to all elements of what is to come, including the ubiquity of Apple advertisements that subsidize your viewing of The Handmaid's Tale.

It has been several decades since The Handmaid's Tale was published, and Gilead is starting to not seem so bad in some ways. Yes, forced sex with her commander (Joseph Fiennes) is a drag, but at least she has a supportive community of other women who are going through the same thing. Alexis Bledel steals the show as Ofglen, a lesbian molecular biology professor who, you guessed it, talks very much. Bledel and Moss have an on-set competition going on as to which one of their respective eyeballs can protrude more prominently into the mise-en-scene. Moss wins pretty much every time.

It is kind of sad to see an actress who usually plays such prominent feminist characters reduced to romping meekly through each scene, although I guess this is sort of the point. In one particularly boring moment, Offred plays Scrabble with her commander. They shake hands afterwards, but instead of feeling bewildered by the interaction, as we are meant to, we merely start to judge Offred for feeling upset and rebellious towards all of this. I mean, when I think of how much her attic room would cost to rent if it were an apartment in New York, I want to cry. She doesn't pay for food or utilities, either. Is there any way we can all be transported to this dystopian future?

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is the author of your current dystopian present.


Thursday
Apr202017

In Which Studio Ghibli Is A Top Priority This Spring

Family Time

by DICK CHENEY

Grandchildren are absolute garbage except if you are a younger-type dog. If you are older, dog or man, they do nothing but create noise. In order to sedate them during the week their parents are in Turks and Caicos, my wife Lynne has been screening the films of the Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli. I have been complaining throughout, although these empty days allow me to create content that you will enjoy. Here are my reviews of all the movies I have been forced to watch.

Castle in the Sky

The obsession with blimps begins in this first Ghibli feature, which concerns a militia pursuing powerful ancient technology that is carried around a little girl's neck. The animation was rough in parts and Castle starts with two excruciatingly long action sequences in order not to lose the kids' attention. The main female character was acting a lot younger than her age, which I guess made sense because she was a princess. James Van Der Beek turns in one hell of a performance as a tiny little boy in the English dub. I really wasn't too keen on this overall – too much of it came across as feel good nonsense to keep the audience from falling asleep. The sheer number of guns on hand was also quite shocking. C+

The Castle of Cagliostro

This predated Studio Ghibli. Really neat island setting that Miyazaki would return to. The dialogue is proto-Palladino and fun to listen to given that the basic plot is darker and more serious than most Ghibli films. Lots of nods to Miyazaki's own influences, and the feeling of a madcap caper. Could conceivably be a decent live-action movie without many changes, which you can't really say for many of these. Ultimately there was not a whole lot going on and I was bored halfway through, but a great example of how style can triumph over substance. B

Princess Mononoke

Art direction is majorly improved here. The long scenes in the forest are just gorgeous, while the relationships and setting are relatively underdeveloped in comparison. Maybe the most Japanese feeling of his movies due to the various references to Kurosawa and others. The titular female character is a bit sedate, but Miyazaki compensates through the presence of a much more entertaining antagonist. Really cool setup where you have three groups and none are completely wrong, they simply have different views. It's hard to think of another movie which is anything like that. Some great action and jaw-dropping scale, but the character work was noticeably weak. B-

Only Yesterday

Two hours of watching a 28 year old single woman apologizing for who she is. It's all explained eventually when she flashes back to her father slapping her. "He only did it the once," she cries out, in what may be her final lie. Some really great dark stuff here that you don't see in a lot of movies period, let alone animated ones. It was a little heavy-handed on the proletariat brainwashing, but maybe I just have an aversion to the idea that farmers are closer to nature than the rest of us. But who cares? This is a timeless message, that we can love ourselves and others at any time, and in doing so change our lives for the better. A+

Kiki's Delivery Service

Good god was this fantastic. Complete waterworks from everyone in the room. Imagine you had a cat you could talk to and one day it stopped talking to you just because you sucked. That actually happens here. Kirsten Dunst is excellent in the dub, and you really feel for this witch. It sort of avoids a stretch where it could have feasibly considered some more mature topics, but who cares? The city by the sea (Stockholm?) is such a lively setting and every single tiny house is a palace in my black heart. A better ending would have ascended this to Miyazaki's very best. A

Whisper of the Heart

Miyazaki wrote this for his protege, who promptly died from overwork. Ironically the teenage female protagonist falls asleep at her desk from pushing too hard on her novel. At times this young woman was genuinely unlikable and her ambition to write a story seems to come out of nowhere. She meets a guy who is a decent violin maker, and suddenly she is so jealous she can't shut up about herself. Just intolerable. Tokyo also looks like fresh hell, but a city has never been more realistically depicted in any medium. The scenes with an older man were kind of creepy, but I guess it's Japan so everyone magically becomes Santa Claus once they turn 60. As much shit as I could talk about it, the family dynamic is stupendous and the movie really stays with you. B+

My Neighbor Tortoro

Easily the best opening sequence of anything ever, after which it kind of falls apart. The neglectful father lets his children wander off, twice, and they're so ill-raised that they trust a furry beast who lives in their nearby woods. At least the girls take care of themselves and don't need some boy to promise to protect them. Art direction was incredible, stupendous, but there really is not much there, there. I admit I cried at times, but there is a weird coldness to this, like Miyazaki really wasn't connecting with these people and maybe even loathed them on some level. A-

Pom Poko

What a crazy movie. A prolonged, unnecessary voiceover explains the encroachment of the suburbia on the lovely habitat of a group of racoon dogs. The environmental message was left on deaf ears with me, and showing kids all those raccoon testicles was beyond the pale. At the same time you can't help but be astonished at the amount of work that went into animating this fucker, which is Isao Takahata's masterpiece. No fear at all about making a super-depressing movie: almost no one is ever happy, families break-up, heroes get all their bones broken or are left dead in the road. I can't even believe this was a cartoon. A

Howl's Moving Castle

Easily the worst thing Ghibli ever did. A boring local woman convinces herself that a witch cast a spell on her to make her look like she is 75. Feeling useless, she wanders into a castle and nominates herself to clean it. The concept of the elastic living space was completely overdone way before this, and Miyazaki has nothing really to add to it. The plot makes very little sense from any angle, and if you just view it as an art piece, the various cinematography and art direction is nowhere near good enough to carry the action. A complete waste of time unless you're on mushrooms. C-

Spirited Away

An extremely annoying main character becomes slightly less annoying by rescuing her parents from the spirit world. Sen, as she starts to call herself, is embarassingly immature for her age. Lots of great details in the diegesis you can watch again and again; can't even imagine how much work went into this. They were on the verge of some more interesting themes here that were sorted out in future films. An amazing achievement but is it on the level of a bunch of other movies which made me care a whole lot more? No. B

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

The monster that created this disturbing fable was Mr. Takahata. I was not a huge fan of the animation, but it worked for the subject matter. I appreciated the fact that everything in this was completely screwed up and unsalvageable; however there is something innately frustrating about watching people who do nothing to help themselves. I would not watch it again except by force. B+

Ponyo

There can never be enough movies about how wonderful your mother is. The concept of a five year old boy falling in love seems a little odd until you realize it was a substitution for the love denied him by his father. At the end he and his girlfriend's father also have this weird handshake that I loved. The water-flooded town was so much fun, this movie could have easily been like six hours and I would not have gotten bored at all. A

The Secret World of Arriety

You really never go wrong with tiny people, it is simply always great. This sick wimp goes to visit his grandmother, who has this really mean servant who lives in a cute apartment near the house. When the servant finds out there is someone lower than her, and it's tiny people in the walls (!) she goes crazy, which actually makes sense, because they are living in a nicer domicile than she herself. A lot more could have been done with the concept but since Miyazaki was working off a book adaptation they don't really get much farther than the basic theme of how much we can trust even the people who are closest to us. A-

We also watched Ice Age: Collision Course. It starred Neil deGrasse Tyson as a weasel.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


Friday
Apr072017

In Which We Forgive Her Almost Everything

Did You Morph Yet?

by DICK CHENEY

Power Rangers
dir. Dean Israelite
124 minutes

Rita (Elizabeth Banks) returns to American society in the year 2017. For 65 million years she has inactive in the deep sea, but a fishing net trawling the bottom of the Pacific Ocean finds her body. She was consigned to this bitter, watery fate by Dr. Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston). She subsists primarily on gold and water, so obviously a jewelry store makes a useful target. Before she presses a silent alarm, an employee at Jared offers her a variety of gold rings, which she consumes orally. When a single cop arrives he is armed with a shotgun, and when she does not turn around in sufficient time, he tries to put her down.

All I could think during this was how great all of it was. Power Rangers has tons of exciting moments, for example a black teenager (RJ Cyler) explains to his new friend Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the former star quarterback, that he is "on the spectrum." Someone actually was like, "We should make the Blue Ranger an autistic comedy figure!" and another person responded in the affirmative. This was a real moment that happened in our world. Once this unlikely pair discovers a underground cavern together, Bryan Cranston (Heisenberg) informs them they must save the world or at the very least, their small California town named Angel Grove.

In another equally fantastic scene, Kimberly Hart (the ravishing, important Naomi Scott) is explaining to Jason why she was put into detention. It emerges that the reason for her punishment is because she cyberbullied her friend for taking a nude photo and sent it to everyone. Jason registers this information with sufficient interest, before responding, "You should focus on being the person you want to be." It was unclear whether this meant more or less cyber-bullying, but I really did not care at that point. I was just so happy.

There are a lot of montage sequences as well. Such summaries were not the better part of this Power Rangers reboot, since they felt a bit forced and were composed mostly of Bill Hader one-liners – he plays an annoying robot. He wasn't as bad as in Trainwreck, but that is not saying much. Fortunately, Dr. Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston) is mentoring all these young people so he can teach them how to kill Elizabeth Banks' character. Hilariously, Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston) has zero faith in them whatsoever and spends all his time thinking about how he can materialize outside of being an aspect of his starship's AI so he can lead these hopeless fuckers.

After eating up that gold, Rita is sufficiently strong and she finds out there are all these new rangers around. (She used to be the Green Ranger and I guess in a way she still is.) You know how sometimes actors will just phone in roles they believe are beneath them, like Bryan Cranston in everything since Breaking Bad? Elizabeth Banks gives you your money's worth in every single scene, in what feels like a subtle apologia for how terrible Pitch Perfect 2 was. She tracks down the lesbian ranger (Becky Gomez) and almost chokes her to death, and then tracks her to find the rest of the Rangers. Within an hour she has imprisoned them all, and she even kills the autistic one because whatever.

This is not even the height of Banks' performance. As soon as she finds out that these new power rangers do not have the collective camaraderie to "morph", which is some kind of code for a communal sexuality which would allow them to display post-pubescent armaments and weapons, she is constantly being like, "Holy shit, you guys haven't even morphed yet?" and laughing hysterically. A great villain has emerged, and even when she is excommunicated from Earth at the end of Power Rangers and begins to freeze as she hurtles through the deep recesses of space, I began to feel seriously envious that I will never be Elizabeth Banks or even be able to get to know her in a casual, friendly setting like doubles tennis or carpooling.

It is not even Banks alone. The cast of Power Rangers is all completely perfect, even the irresponsible Michelangelo of the group, a Chinese-American teen named Zack (Ludi Lin). He is the Black Ranger, which seems a tad racist but whatever. I have never heard of a Chinese person named Zack, but that's probably more my fault than Zack's. That is what is so wonderful about Power Rangers. It is such an empty vessel that no one even cares what you put into it.

Director Dean Israelite has surely earned the right to make a sequel to this amusing film. I am not totally sure what it would be about, but I have some ideas. The pregnancy of the Pink Ranger seems imminent, and also could she at the same time be cyberbullying the Yellow Ranger? Could the robot played by Bill Hader be really into Grey's Anatomy? Could Jesus be the villain turned hero, and be made an honorary ranger? Where does Aaron Paul play into this? Could he be the Blue Ranger's Magic: The Gathering buddy? The possibilities alarm me in their vividness.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.