Showing posts with label Film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Film. Show all posts

Friday, November 29, 2019

Steve Ditko, Stan Lee, and Ayn Rand


Steve Ditko is Johnstown, PAs most famous author and illustrator.  He co-created Spider Man with Stan Lee in the 1950s.  I admit I had never heard of him until I started my book.  According to his Wikipedia page he was born here in 1927 and died in 2018 in New York City at age 90 which was a few months before Stan Lee passed away.

His page says that he split with Lee in the 1960s and did not speak to him for years.  Ditko seldom did interviews but his page says he was influenced by Ayn Rand's objectivist ideas which he expressed in his comic Dr. A.  She was interviewed by Phil Donahue in 1979.



It seems to me that Spiderman is at odds with Ayn Rand's objectivism.  I confess I'm not an avid reader of Spider-Man but in the movie with Tobey Maguire, Peter Parker (Spider-Man's alter ego) is told that "with great power comes great responsibility" by his uncle.  Spider-man becomes very altruistic leaving a note after his escapades saying "from your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man."  

I don't know Stan Lee's philosophy but many of his other comic book heroes could be thought of as altruistic.  I never read Mr. A but Ditko's page says he embodies Rand's philosophy.  Is Ayn Rand the reason Ditko and Lee parted ways?  Neither of them really ever said or ever will.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Game of Growing Up and Outgrowing Fantasy



I have been tied up with other writing assignments to post on this blog lately.  I saw this video on Facebook from Real Time with Bill Maher where he criticizes comic book fans and thought I should comment. I posted it on my Facebook and got one negative comment and one positive one.  The negative one said "The ironic part is that in a 100 years people will likely remember Stan Lee and others like George Lucas. But will not remember Bill what's his name. Bill M. has been and always will be jealous and condescending of things that are more relevant to others then he will ever be to them. I honestly don't know how he even stays on the air."  I responded by saying that "...thanks for your input. Will Rogers is still remembered last I checked.To which he replied "As he should. Along with Mr. Rogers."  

The positive comment was "Thanks Paul. The same childish culture elected DT.Well I don't know what percent of Stan Lee fans voted for DT (which I assume means Donald Trump).  I know at least a few of them didn't.  

I also notice that Maher criticized Marvel Comic movies like X-Men, Iron Man, and Black Panther. At the same time he did not criticize Game of Thrones which his own network (HBO) makes a lot of money off of from many of the same Stan Lee fans.  


Anthony Hopkins (the mad scientist who designed the park), and robots James Marsden and Evan Rachel Wood in Westworld
Westworld, HBO's other science fiction series, makes a point about how the division between fantasy and reality is becoming increasingly blurred.  It's about an western amusement park with lifelike western robots where guests can act out their wild west fantasies (however raunchy).  Later the robots all go berserk.

Science Fiction/Fantasy can be a way of shedding light on the modern world.  It can also be an escape from it.  I know several people who have or will be writing their own Sci Fi books.  The online poll for The Great American Read has, I am sure, received more votes than my Best Non-Fiction book poll.  I has received one vote since my last update.  Three of the top five vote recipients in the fiction poll were the SciFi/Fantasy books Outlander, The Game of Thrones, and The Lord of the Rings.  

I know the vast majority of Comic Con fans can distinguish between fantasy and reality.  There is the tiny minority who can't such as the man in Aurora, Colorado who shot up a movie theater during the showing of a Batman movie while dressed as the Joker.  It's not that different from John Hinckley being inspired by the movie Taxi Driver and the novel Catcher in the Rye.  The phenomenon is also similar to how millions of evangelical Christians give their money to televangelists in hope of finding spiritual or physical healing. 

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Johnstown, PA has Been Crawling with Documentary Filmmakers

Katie Couric enjoying  the Johnstown High-Bishop McCort Football Game
Since the 2016 election have been many documentary filmmakers here in my hometown, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  The most famous of these would be Katie Couric.  I never had the opportunity to be interviewed by Couric (but I'm available Katie) but I have met three other filmmakers who came here.  

With the rain from Siobhan Furnary on Vimeo.

Above is the documentary by Siobhan Furnary and Hunter Zepeda titled With the Rain.  They were students from Oberlin College who who filming here in town.  I met Siobhan while working at Sunnehanna Country Club and was happy to help her by giving her background information on the city and introducing her to my friend Catherine Anne McCloskey. In the opening scene you can see Fr. James Crookston saying mass.  Fr. Crookston was principal at my high school, Bishop McCort when I was there.  


Another documentary filmmaker I had the pleasure of working with was Gary Younge who is a writer at The Nation Magazine and Sugarfilms.  Whilst I never met Younge I did work with his associate Paddy Duffy showing him around town and giving him background information.  Above is an interview given by Younge to The Nation Magazine.  Their project was interviewing people from Portland, Maine to Louisiana about their economic situation.  I have yet to see the finished product.  It's being shown on the BBC channel four in Britain.



The third documentary filmmaker I met was Vince Grassi who is from nearby Bedford, PA.  His project is titled This Town Won't Die.  Currently he is done filming and is in the editing process.  A premiere date should be announced soon.  I was interviewed by Vince on election day when I was running for council.  I look forward to seeing the finished product.

These are the documentary projects that I know about.  There could be others that I don't know about.  It's a lot easier to make films these days.  The hard part is getting people to see them.  A lot of news people have also been here to see how a county that was once solidly democratic would vote overwhelmingly for Donald Trump.

As for this writer/amateur journalist I have a new piece on the new state laws taking effect.  More specifically 20 states have minimum wage increases this year and California is the seventh state to legalize recreational marijuana.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Will the Oscars Recognize Better Films


For the first time, I'm using a clip from The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore to discuss the lack of African American nominees from the Oscars this year.  Changes are being made to the Academy Membership to make it more representative.  Time will tell if these changes will make next years nominees more diverse.  The current nominees are being handicapped by the site Five Thirty Eight.  Even among avant guard white filmmakers the Academy has a long history of overlooking brilliant filmmakers and actors.

The blog sfgate.com has a list of what it believes were great films, actors and directors that the author believes were snubbed by the Oscars.  The best examples of this would be Alfred Hitchcock (the master of suspense), Peter O'Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, My Favorite Year, and 6 other films), Cary Grant (Notorious, Suspicion), Citizen Kane (the "Greatest Film of All Time" According to AFI, it did win best original screenplay for Orson Welles, his only Oscar), Marilyn Monroe (Bus Stop), and Harrison Ford (Witness).

There are others on the list which you may want to include.  It certainly is subjective.  Many believe that Martin Scorsese's film Raging Bull was robbed of an Oscar in favor of Ordinary People.  I personally thought the two films were about equal.  They struck a chord with me in different ways.

The reforms in the Academy membership may lead to a more representative set of nominees each year but will it lead to more films being nominated which challenge the status quo.  The film Straight Outta Compton (which I haven't seen) is said to be a blunt story of contemporary issues in the African American community.  The film 12 Years a Slave won the best picture award in 2014 which is a story of slavery which occurred 160 years ago that no one can do anything about.  Straight Outta Compton deals with issues that we can do something about.

What is a better measure of a films greatness than the Oscars is whether or not people are still watching and talking about a film years after it was made.  Straight Outta Compton, Concussion, and Truth may be one of those films like Raging Bull and Ordinary People (it is often sown on cable).  

The boycott by African American actors Will Smith and Spike Lee may have the desired effect next year Woody Allen has been boycotting the Oscars for years and has been nominated 24 times regardless.

Imagine if the four Best Actress and Best Actor categories were combined into two categories: Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.  Such a move would expose sexism in Hollywood as most of the academy voters are male and I believe that males would dominate the categories.  I'm not saying that separate categories for African American filmmakers and actors be established.  I am saying that this highlights the dilemma for Oscar voters.

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Two Investigative Films: Truth and Spotlight


Two movies out this holiday/Oscar season have similar plots but very different outcomes.  Truth tells the story of the 60 minutes II team (with Dan Rather played by Robert Redford) that put together an expose of George W. Bush's military record in the Texas and Alabama air national guards.  Strings were pulled to get him out of fighting in Vietnam.  There were indications that he did not show up for duty when he was required to.

After the piece aired in the summer of 2004 (during the election), questions were raised about the fonts in one of the documents cited in the report.  The claim from the right was that the font could not have appeared in a document typed in the late 60's/early 70's.  An investigation ensued and the end result was Dan Rather, his award winning producer Mary Mapes (played by Cate Blanchett), and the rest of the team being fired from CBS.  Regardless of the authenticity of the document, the veracity of the rest of the original report was never disproved.  Jon Stewart weighed in on it this way at the time.


Like the reactions to the original report, the reviews from the film were lukewarm with a metascore of 67 out of 100.  The review above was one that was not so positive on the film.  One of the complaints was that Redford does not look anything Dan Rather (he didn't look anything like Bob Woodward either in All the President's Men but he still played him and it's now considered a classic). Conservative film critic Michael Medved gave the film 2 stars because he said it was well acted but too biased against the Bush administration. 


The film Spotlight has been much better received so far.  It has received Golden Globe nominations for best drama and best director (but none for acting) and has a metacritic score of 93.  It is the story of how the spotlight team (headed by Michael Keaton and includes Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo, and another guy) at the Boston Globe is goaded to investigate sexual abuse by priests by the new owner and editor of the paper (LIev Schreiber).  Spoiler alert the team is successful in taking on the Boston Archdiocese getting Cardinal Bernard Law replaced and wins a Pulitzer Prize for their efforts in 2003.  Michael Medved gave the film 3 stars and also called the film one sided against the Catholic Church but said it was understandable due to the crimes that were revealed. 

The Spotlight team did a valuable public service in revealing church abuses but the film does skirt another issue, media consolidation.  Newspapers are having their staffs reduced as more and more of our media is in control of fewer and fewer individuals.  This is happening at many newspapers as well as broadcast outlets like CBS.  This makes it harder for news media outlets to challenge the powers that be with fewer reporters to do the investigating.

Both films show that with the right backing it is possible for investigative reporters to expose the crimes of the powers that be.  The outside media owners backed the spotlight team and Woodward and Bernstein and they were successful.  In the case of Dan Rather and the film Truth, Viacom, the parent company of CBS, sided with the critics and said that if that one document in the report may or may not be real then the whole report must be false.  The program 60 Minutes II ended soon thereafter.

There is a third film coming out called Concussion starring Will Smith as a neuropathologist who discovers a brain disease in football players called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.  He encounters resistance from the NFL on his findings but they eventually relent.  Will Smith has received a Golden Globe nomination for this role.  I haven't seen it yet so I can't comment any more.

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ambiguous Symbols in 2001:A Space Odyssey


When asked by the Mason’s to write about a symbol and it’s meaning, I chose one of the most enigmatic in cinematic history.  The film 2001: A Space Odyssey begins with a group of australopithecines in an African desert struggling to survive in finding food and battling with rival clans of their species.  Seemingly from out of nowhere a rectangular black monolith appears.  The australopithecines are confused by what they see.  Regardless of what they did see, after encountering the monolith they gained the capacity to use tools.  This made them better hunters and better able to fight off rivals.  This first part of the film is called The Dawn of Man as the australopithecines were the first primates to walk upright and are thought to be a link between chimpanzees and humans.

The film then leaves the earth as a US spaceship is flying towards the moon to investigate a strange sighting there at the US moon colony.  A cover story about an epidemic in the colony was created to keep the Soviets away.  When the people on the spaceship arrive at the strange sight we see that it is the same monolith that the australopithecines saw.  They discover that the monolith is sending radio signals to Jupiter.  In this segment, human’s use of tools has advanced greatly but groups of humans (represented by the US and the Soviets) are still in conflict with each other. 

After encountering the monolith on the moon, the US sends a top secret mission to Jupiter to investigate what it is sending radio signals to.  The spaceship is controlled by the ultimate human tool, the supercomputer HAL.  As the ship nears Jupiter, HAL malfunctions and kills all but one of the astronauts on board and lets the air out of the ship.  The lone survivor on the ship, played by Kier Dullea, has no choice but to investigate the monolith alone after disconnecting HAL. 

As Dullea approaches another monolith in orbit around Jupiter he has a psychedelic experience while being transported to a strange room where he ages rapidly.  As he approaches the end of his life he encounters the monolith and is then transformed into the star child floating above the Earth.  The ending is ambiguous and has had people debating it ever since.  When asked about the ending, the director Stanley Kubrick said “If you understood the ending, I failed.”

At every moment in the film where the monolith appears, the next step in human evolution is complete.  This seemingly inanimate object has the power to direct evolution.  The film 2010: The Year We Made Contact (without Kubrick as the director) addresses some of the ambiguities about what happened to Dullea’s character and why the computer HAL turned homicidal.  This time a joint US-Soviet mission returns to Jupiter and encounters HAL, Dullea and the monolith.  Exactly what the monolith is is not addressed to leave something to the imagination, and a possible sequel.  It could represent a supreme being, it could simply be a tool of a more advanced alien society to achieve some positive aim, or it could mean nothing at all.  This ambiguity is what makes the monolith so fascinating.

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