Movies and books

BANANAS (1971) is interesting to compare with Annie Hall inasmuch as the scenes with Woody Allen as a New York schlub (including getting mugged by Sylvester Stallone) aren’t very funny. The movie does, however, improve a lot when Allen’s Latin American vacation gets him embroiled in a revolution, ultimately ending up as the new president. More linear than Take the Money and Run, though it still has a number of sketch comic bits, including a Bergmanesque dream sequence that seems to foreshadow Allen’s later run of serious films. “From now on, my people will change their underwear every half-hour!”
THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3 (1974) has Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo and Robert Shaw hijacking a subway car, with transit cop Walter Matthau taking point on the efforts to stop them. When I first saw this right after Speed, it struck me as dreadfully slow by comparison; rewatching it, it works a lot better, though it’s real strength is less the hijacking than the panoramic view of NYC and the ability to infuse even the bit parts with some personality. “All four of them got off—so who’s driving the train?

TURN OF THE SCREW is Henry James’ horror classic in which a young governess becomes convinced two ghosts are trying to possess the children in her care and struggles desperately to prevent that. While I’m a big fan of the film version, The Innocents, this didn’t work for me as well (it seems to obvious the governess is delusional), though as someone who generally isn’t fond of Serious Literature, that may not be surprising.
Case in point, I also prefer the stage play The Heiress to James’ WASHINGTON SQUARE, about a plain your woman who becomes the object of a fortune hunter. This sedate social study could have used some of the dramatic energy the play had—but as I said, I’m not the right audience for James anyway.
BATMAN: DETECTIVE collects part of Paul Dini’s (the cocreator of the Batman: The Animated Adventures series), during which the Penguin became a nightclub owner and the Riddler turned private detective (the latter revision seems to have taken hold, probably because the Riddler’s so ill-fitted to the current dictum that all great Batman foes are Dark and Twisted). Dini does a great job, particularly the closing story pitting Robin against the Joker on Christmas Eve.
FALL OF CTHULHU is a Boom! Studios Lovecraftian series I’m growing quite fond of. In the first TPB, Fugue, a young man learns too late that he’s caught up in a war between Cthulhu and the great hunter Nodens, with Nyarlathotep playing a pivotal role; in The Gathering, Nyarlathotep recruits various unpleasant entities to carry out his personal agenda. By the nature of such a series, the gods come across more as Monsters than terrifyingly alien entitites the longer it runs, but it still works well.
THE BAVARIAN ILLUMINATI IN AMERICA: The New England Conspiracy Scare, 1798 by Vernon Stauffer chronicles a widespread concern in the late 18th century that the Illuminati—a shortlived Freemason style group advocating political reform—were responsible for the French Revolution and were now working in America. This became a catchall explanation for moral laxity, opposition to New England state churches and the XYZ Affair; what seems to have kept it from becoming the Red Panic of its day is that it broke along party lines (so antiFederalist papers poked holes in the stories) and the self-proclaimed opponents of “Illumnism” never found a target to witch-hunt, as they were reluctant to condemn Freemasonry as a whole (particularly given Washington’s membership in the Masons). Interesting, and shows just how long Americans have been worrying about subversive foreigners.

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  1. Pingback: Conspiracy theories of those who rule | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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