Posts by: "Lucy Steigerwald"

Burgess_Meredith_The_Twilight_ZoneWelcome to The Stag Blog’s new series dealing with portrayals of the end times through movies, novels, docudramas, documentaries, instructional pamphlets and films, songs, and memories. The focus will mainly be on nuclear fears during the Cold War, but we may branch out into some asteroids, aliens, or plagues. Let’s keep it loose.

Guests posts are particularly welcome on this subject — give me your best nuke movies, your memories of hiding under desks, or your childhood (or adult) worries over alien invasion.

This week, I was planning to write about On the Beach — the original movie, and maybe the novel and the 2000 remake in passing — but instead I thought I would talk about two Twilight Zone episodes that deal quite differently with nuclear annihilation. Be warned, I had many classic Twilight Zone episodes spoiled decades ago by many classic Simpsons Halloween specials, but I’d rather not be the ruiner of even 50-year-old TV shows. 

Forgive the lateness of the hour, but remember the Andy Warhol joke about going to Pittsburgh in the event of nuclear war — everything, you see, comes to Pittsburgh five years late.

Time Enough At Last, season 1, episode 8

You know this one, or you know a parody. This is one of the most famous Twilight Zones — maybe the most famous not starring William Shatner (who was actually in two episodes, on a sidenote!). This is the story of poor bank teller Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith) who seems good-hearted, if frustratingly absent-minded, and is the world’s biggest bookworm. A bookworm, but nobody in his life will let poor Mr. Bemis read. His boss’s scolding is one thing, but Bemis’ wife, portrayed with oddly-masculine coldness by Jacqueline DeWit, is simply sadistic. Who did she think was marrying, if not a be-speckled Burgess Meredith who only wants to lose himself in Dickens, poetry, and any other literature? I don’t think her husband was ever a dynamic, suave individual. Her fault, then, if she’s now unhappy. Indeed, you could write a whole story about Mrs. Bemis and what made her so cruel. The scene where she pretends to be interested in her husband’s poetry book is her peak of small, but sharp horribleness. The fact that he really believes she might be interested after God knows how many years of marriage is a testament to his infuriating fuzzy-headedness, perhaps, but his face when he sees what his wife has done to his book — blacked out every single word on every page — breaks the heart.

That scene is why the most upsetting part of this episode is not the destruction of everything. Yes, Mr. Bemis goes down to the bank vault and therefore survives what seems to the end of the world (though there must have been a few more people going into basements at just the right moment). The empty, H-bomb-wrecked world is a little tidy in it’s carefully-placed rubble, like a film set. But the producers did well for the times. It looks pretty bad, it looks well and truly destroyed. And Bemis has been portrayed and remembered and parodied as a character who is bothered by all the people around him, but he doesn’t suddenly adapt to this new, empty world. He is after all not really an introvert, so much as someone who needed time to read, and then meet some folks who shared his love of books. Didn’t they have book clubs in your time, Mr. Bemis?

Anyway, Bemis tries to cope. He talks to himself a little, finds some food, and mourns. Eventually, he very nearly commits suicide. With a pistol to his temple he tells himself he’ll be forgiven, considering the circumstances. Then he sees the books in the ruined bits of a public library! Suddenly it’s all turned around! After a few minutes of hopeful scenes where Mr. Bemis gathers enough stacks of books to keep him going for the next several years (assuming that rain and snow has stopped existing; find some shelter, Mr. Bemis), we get to the final, oft-parodied scene where Mr. Bemis breaks his glasses. In my case, breaking glasses would hinder my survival, but not my ability to read. Still, Bemis is probably doomed now. But worse still, it’s not fair. There was time now!

There is often justice in the twilight zone, but not always. Mr. Bemis didn’t deserve his fate, but irony chose him.

And the nuclear destruction is only incidental. The real tragedy is that what he asks for is so simple, and he doesn’t get it.

But at least his horrible wife is dead, I guess.

Third From the Sun, season 1, episode 14

Since the twist in this episode is much less commonly-known, I will again warn that readers wishing to remain unspoiled should proceed with caution.

I’m a connoisseur of well-crafted dread in movies or television that deals with subjects as heavy as nuclear war or worlds’ ends. It’s only so-so for most of this episode, perhaps because the character mostly speak of feeling it in the air. There’s a lot of tell, and the show of it is confined to Dutch angles and tight shots on nervous faces. It’s not unsubtle, but since the plot is fundamentally horrifying, I demand nothing less than soul-crushing. And it’s just not that. (Maybe the Richard Matheson short story it’s based on is that — I’d like to read it.)

The main character in “Third From the Sun” is Will Sturka a father who works at a military base on horrible weapons; we also see his wife, his teenage daughter, and a couple where the husband, Jerry Riden, works at the same plant, but on a secret spaceship. The antagonist is the boss,Carling, who seems to be a true-believer of striking first and watching what you say and think in such times as these.

What times? Well, the end times. Or nearly. Sturka and Riden know it’s coming. They plan to gather their families and flee. Their cover is an evening card game, during which Carling stops by briefly. Then there’s a whole lot of charged dialogue where everyone knows everyone else knows, but nobody says anything. Carling leaves, and the two families head for the base to steal away on the craft Riden has been building. At one point we learn that there has even been talk of other planets that contain people not unlike our characters. Riden and Sturka and their families hope to head for one.

When they reach the base, Carling is there — naturally — but the teenage daughter actually helps to save the day by smacking him with a car door.

We see that the ship looks an awful lot like a UFO, and we either get it now, or we don’t. The final shot is Sturka and Riden discussing how the ship is holding up (well), and if they can really image that there are people like them on this distant planet they’re flying towards. It’s third from the sun, and it is called Earth.

Is this a throwaway, “he was dead the whole time?!” type of ending? Perhaps, but no more than other Twilight Zones, which often dealt with the question of who was the real alien in various scenarios. (Man is of course, the real monster in all cases.) And in a greater context of Cold War terrors, it strikes a more effectively sinister note than all previous dialogue about man destroying man, and all the fear in the air; because if the same insane scenario of weapons build-up and worldwide suicide is happening on this other planet, what hope is there for little old Earth?

Walter M. Miller’s brutal and wonderful A Canticle for Leibowitz says humans will utterly destroy themselves not once, but over and over again through the course of thousands of years. With its twist ending, the more flawed but still thoughtful “Third From the Sun” suggests the same pattern can repeat across the galaxies. So much for Klaatu or other aliens coming to save us from our deadly impulses. Things are just as bad up in the stars.

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A terrible poster and tagline. Please ignore.

Welcome to The Stag Blog’s new series dealing with portrayals of the end times through movies, novels, docudramas, documentaries, instructional pamphlets and films, songs, and and people’s memories. The focus will mainly be on nuclear war fears during the Cold War, but we may branch out into some asteroids, aliens, or plagues. Let’s keep it loose.

Guests posts are particularly welcome on this subject — give me your best nuke movies, your memories of hiding under desks, or your childhood (or adult) worries over alien invasion.

Our first entry is the 1988 film Miracle Mile, starring Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham. It’s got some of the genre’s — or subgenre — conventions, but it’s got a different feel to it than many hyper-realistic movies dealing with Cold War terror. 

It’s hard to know how Miracle Mile would play out in the daytime. The majority of the movies takes place at night, and not just night, but the bleary-eyed, dead hours of 4 a.m. to just-about-dawn. And that’s the time to watch it, and let its atmosphere of dread and panic and strangeness take you over.

Romantic everyman and trumpet player Harry (Anthony Edwards) meets his dream girl Julie (Mare Winningham) at the museum. They have a date over ill-advised narration and a dreamy, synthy ’80s score. They make a plan to meet up at midnight after her shift at a diner. But Harry’s power goes out and he oversleeps, so he rushes to the diner at 4 a.m. There’s a cast of promisingly odd characters having their very early breakfasts, men who tell dirty jokes, a transvestite, a stewardess, and a 1980s businesswoman in a power suit. There’s also the cook/owner and another waitress. Harry calls and leaves a message of apology for Julie, and then the payphone rings. It’s a young, frantic-voiced man named Chip who thinks he is speaking to his father. He’s in North Dakota in a missile silo, and he’s trying to tell his father that the big one is happening. Nuclear war. The US will strike first, and then the Soviets will return it in 70 minutes.

The acting here is perfect. Harry has a quaver in his voice, but isn’t yet convinced. The voice on the phone is exactly right in its unhinged terror — a lot of post-50s and ’60s nuclear war fiction doesn’t have enough hysteria. (Even the hero should have a moment or two of terror, before they’re stoic again.) Chip realizes he has dialed the right number, but the wrong area code. He begs Harry to tell his dad he’s sorry for something unclear. Then a voice in the background, gunfire, and then, like a horror movie, the military man comes on the line and offers no apologizes for the hoax, no confusion over what’s happening, no gotcha!, just “forget everything you heard and go back to sleep.”

So begins the nightmare. Harry is so shellshocked he smacks his face into the diner door. At the counter, his food has arrived, and he stares at it as blood drips from his nose onto his overeasy eggs. After a few minutes of wondering if it could be true, he decides it is. He tells the other diner goers what has happened. A few minutes of argument later, a phonecall by the powersuit woman on her enormous, 1980s cellphone confirms that a mysteriously large number of important people in Washington are just now in South America.

Already, the understated, quiet dread that I am particularly partial towards in movies is leaving. Part of me wanted to stay in the cinematic possibilities of the 1987, 4 a.m. diner and its promising case of weirdos. But we’re going a different way. Everyone in the diner climbs into the owner’s van, while the competent woman — Landa — pulls in every favor possible, trying to charter a flight to Antarctica. Already, you, the viewer, should be thinking of the time and knowing it’s impossible that anyone will make it, but you’re caught up in the exhilaration of that slim possibility of survival.

Instead of sticking with the group, though, Harry needs to go and find his new love Julie. He’s on his own with that. But the diner owner won’t even slow down, though. He’s advised to tuck and roll and he does, taking the diner owner’s gun. Alone on an overpass, now with a cut head, Harry stops to tell himself this must be a dream. He fires the diner owner’s gun into the air and confirms that weight and heat of it, and no, it’s real. But alone, bleeding, carrying a gun, standing on a highway with the knowledge that it’s supposed to be an hour until nuclear holocaust. If that’s not a nightmare, what is?

Harry reluctantly highjacks a car driven by Wilson, who offers stolen stereos in exchange for his life. And so begins the part of the story where if Harry somehow is wrong about the call — well, some mistakes cannot be undone. They drive fast. They pull into a cabs-only gas station and bribe the owner for fuel. A cop car pulls up and demands that they lie on the ground because the gas station man has an illegal shotgun. Wilson squirts gas from the pump onto the female cop. She’s blinded and fires her gun. She catches fire. The fire spreads. The other cop burns. Harry and the criminal speed away in the LAPD cruiser as the gas station blows up. This is the first completely surreal moment. It should be cheesy. It somehow isn’t. They drive on.

Wilson drives off when Harry goes to get Julie. He manages to reunite her estranged grandparents in the process, and those two drive off to share a last breakfast together. Wilson is seen again, he crashes the cop car through a mall window. He is mortally wounded beside his girlfriend or wife who is already dead. Harry and Julie run in. At one point the Wilson his love and tries to walk up a down escalator. It’s still not funny, just troubling.  Even later when Harry frantically runs into an early morning gym searching for someone who can fly a helicopter isn’t funny. The bizarre ’80s workout clothes add to the surrealness, and you just feel a bit sick instead of amused.

“It was all a dream” is an awful cliche that nobody will dare use for another 50 years. But to say Miracle Mile is a nightmare isn’t to say there should be a moment of Harry waking up in bed, realizing he’s safe. There was supposed to be such a moment back when the screenplay was a hot item in Hollywood, and was going to be part of The Twilight Zone movie. Director and writer Steve De Jarnatt refused to include the relief of waking. He wanted it to be real.

The pacing goes deeper into a nightmare, with half a dozen versions of your worst one ever offered: there’s being chased — first by the police, then by a crazed man into a sewer; there’s hysterically trying to make someone else understand, trying to find someone who will help you; the fear that it was all a mistake, and now you’ve done terrible things and caused deaths for nothing; finding yourself the bad guy with the gun, yelling orders; the lonely panic of being the only one who knows the truth turning into the blind, crazed horror of the masses trampling each other in an orgy of fear, and the worst part, the clock ticking away and there isn’t enough time — there never really was enough time. The only hope of anything beyond Lovecraftian indifference and panic is the love Harry has found in Julie. But she’s only just been found, and being “the girlfriend” she never really has a compelling personality. (Maybe that doesn’t matter). All of this, though, may be less of a nightmare, and more of an insomniac’s waking, dazed horror while the whole world goes wrong around him and he must be getting it wrong, it can’t be real.

I won’t say how it ends, only that the uneasy pacing works, even when the quiet turns into the screaming, teeming mob in the morning. Instead of the myriad other versions of nuclear doom in movies, compare Miracle Mile to Signs. Signs isn’t necessarily unreal, or a metaphor for losing faith, or any of the other suggestions offered for the controversial/cop-out ending. But it has a quality of another world that isn’t quite our own. It doesn’t matter if Miracle Mile is “real” or even “realistic” in its portrayal of facing the end. Its lurching horror makes it a worthwhile and troubling watch — it feels more personal and more queasy in the guts than stern generals in war rooms ordering strikes against the enemy.

Tune in next Tuesday for what happens after those generals order those strikes in On the Beach, the huge downer of a movie that began my fascination with nuclear terrors. 

Officer Ramos demonstrating how his scuffle with Kelly Thomas was indeed "the fight of [his] life"

Officer Ramos demonstrating how his scuffle with Kelly Thomas was indeed “the fight of [his] life”

On October 14, a 52-year-old mentally ill man named Bobby Gerald Bennett was shot at four times by police in Dallas, Texas. His mother, Joyce Jackson, who he sometimes lived with, had called them after the two had an argument; she says she was told the officers coming to the house were trained in dealing with people like her son, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. But one of the officers, Cardan Spencer, shot Bennett in the stomach even though he wasn’t approaching the cops—a neighbor’s surveillance video shows that Bennett was holding a knife but standing 20 feet away from them. After that video came out, the charge against Bennett of assault with a deadly weapon on a public servant got dropped and now Spencer is suspended indefinitely and being investigated himself.

This kind of incident is depressingly common. On November 18, two former members of the Fullerton, California police department will go on trial for beating and killing Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia, back in 2011. Manuel Anthony Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Jay Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force. (Another officer who was present at the beating will go on trial for involuntary manslaughter in January.) Thomas had a long rap sheet for “interactions” with police that went back 20 years, as you might expect in the case of a homeless man with a mental illness. By all accounts the cops, who were responding to reports of car break-ins in the area, were aware of Thomas’s problems. Yet they still beat him repeatedly as he begged for help and cried out for his father (a former sheriff’s deputy who sued the police department and brought a lot of media attention to the case). Thomas eventually choked on his own blood because his throat was crushed.

The rest here

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Via mindthesciencegap.org

Government grades itself
Via mindthesciencegap.org

We have a long way to go before we get to Libertopia, much less Anarchocapitalistan. Even some kind of “good conservative” (if they still have those) nation where the federal fat is mightily trimmed seems impossibly distant on most days. But there has got to be somewhere we can start in building accountability, accessibility — something besides the same people becoming elected year after year and doing whatever they want with everyone else’s life, time, and money.

In the spirit of pessimism, here are two suggestions for the lowest possible standards in government that would be terrific if actually applied. Please offer your own suggestions in the comments for similar can’t we at least do that while we oppress everyone? (And no, we can’t.)

Speaking of Obamacare — as we have been these last few weeks of government shutdown — remember way back in 2009-2010 when the bill’s circa 2400-page length was one of the Republicans’ many sticking points? Well, that was a pretty fair point, regardless of shady motivations or GOP hypocrisy. Think carefully about the privileges granted to elected officials in Congress — they are permitted to vote on a document nearly two times as long as the entire Lord of the Ring without reading it. And that bill is supposed to become a law that affects potentially everyone in the country — or people in other countries, depending. Is it so much to ask that it be read by everyone who will vote on it? (Yes, yes it is too much.)

The PATRIOT Act was rammed through a cowed and anthrax-fearing Congress in October of 2001. It was a relatively slim 242 pages in length. Yet it was so colossally serious a subject that it warranted more debate than the everyday farm subsidy bullshit, not less. Certainly more than 72 hours of it. Certainly politicians should have been given any and all opportunity to at least not bother to read PATRIOT.

The average bill length is a measly 15 pages, but spending bills and others run much longer. Too bad. Too bad if you want to attach a million riders. You have to read the entire thing — and you have to be given time to do so.  Everyone had a good laugh over Herman Cain’s attempt at the 2012 Republican nomination, but his vow to veto any bill over three pages was brilliant. 

Even better, my boyfriend offered the suggestion that the Congressional researchers could make a quiz about the bill’s contents — if your legislative official scores a B or higher, they may vote. And if that worries you idealists, take comfort in the barely-over-a-page 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. After all, it’s not the size of the bill that matters, it’s the amount of power carelessly granted within.

On to number two on the bare minimum standards for officials. Not to sound like a certain breed of tiresome paleolibertarian who swears that every single libertarian employed inside the DC city limits is constantly hobnobbing at cocktail parties with elected officials, but really, the least we can ask of politicians is that once they are out of office we stop respecting them so much. Not saying we need to prosecute them for war crimes, or economic ruin, or 2 million people in jail. How about we just start with maybe stop giving them respect for the rest of their lives once they end their own particular brand of horror.

Henry Kissinger, LBJ, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, anybody in charge of a big war, or a disastrous domestic policy, or any fuck-up that took lives, fortunes, and freedoms gets to finish their term. And then they they get to fuck right off. No more pension, no more Secret Service protection, no more respectful titles, and yes, no more God-damned swanky parties for you. And no more turning to you for seasoned advice for the next big, bad idea.

We don’t do prosecution; we don’t do historical black marks even if you nuked two cities, locked up 100,000 citizens without charge, or militarized the war on drugs. Can we at least socially shun the people who use the suit-and-tie-sociopath’s excuse of “policy” as their reason for treating human beings like puppets? Can we not offer the slightest bit of disincentive for theft, murder, imprisonment ,and massive social engineering? Do we need to keep calling them “public servants,” too?

Via Wikipedia

Via Wikipedia

Last time I wrote about immigration for VICE, Breitbart.com used the piece as an example of VICE’s lefty bend. As a Republican who just wants to smoke pot and oppress the poor, that was surprising to me.

Fun fact: fewer people are sneaking across America’s borders than ever before, and net illegal immigration hit zero in 2012. However, that hasn’t stopped Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from following a “bed mandate” that says it has to keep an average of 34,000 people in custody in its 250 detention centers, as the Washington Post reported this weekend. We’re constantly hearing about how the federal government needs to cut costs, and even the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, said the quota could be easily reduced, yet House Republicans forced an additional $400 million of funding on the agency, mostly for border security and deportation. In spite of the constant panic over the US’s “unsecure border,”the immigration-control budget has nearly doubled since 2006 (the same year the bed mandate began) to $2.8 billion a year, even though illegal immigration is down mostly thanks to the financial crisis that devastated the US economy. Where is all that money going?

The Post story notes some of the pleasant features of a brand new detention center in Texas that houses immigrants waiting to see if they will win political asylum or be returned to their country of origin: detainees “sleep in air-conditioned, unlocked ‘suites’ with flat-screen TVs overlooking volleyball courts and soccer fields.” That doesn’t change the fact that these plush facilities are built by private corporations that lobby federal and state governments in order to assure they have plenty of building contracts. (The ACLU has extensively reported on what they see as a pattern of human rights violations in immigration detention centers.)

Even if you don’t support open borders, it’s natural to question the vast amount of taxpayer money being spent on policing the geographical movements of people who (generally) just want to get a higher-paying job in order to help themselves and their loved ones. According to ICE, on a single day in early September nearly 20,000 out of 34,000 detainees had criminal records—but in 2009 ICE found that only 11 percent of its detainee population had committed violent crimes.

The rest — including the Bad Cop Blotter — over here.

4657776_l21) TitanicOnce I would have said that James Cameron’s teen sensation blockbuster should be trimmed to a tight 45 minutes, but I am softening in my old age. Just trim every single piece of Cameron-penned dialogue. Remove scene-chewer Billy Zane entirely. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet can stay for the one lifeboat scene which demonstrates some acceptable eye acting. Kill all romance and implication that a making out couple distracted every single British sailor on deck watch right before they hit the burg. Edit out the tiresome Bill Paxton learns to love something more than mysterious lost diamonds subplot.

Oh hell, never mind. Just stick to the sinking. Pretend it’s the story of the myriad killer secondary characters and extras who make those scenes gut-wrenching. They are the reason I can’t fully advocate for tossing out Cameron’s film and going for A Night to Remember. The latter is much better overall, but Kenneth Moore is all too chipper as Second Officer Lightoller. It doesn’t hit the gut in the same way at all.

On a side note, someone British please, please, please make an epic miniseries about Lightoller. His life was one of those impossible adventure stories that you make a movie about if they happen once. His happened endlessly. The Titanic was just a fraction of a life that included an island shipwreck on a sailing ship, a diversion into nearly dying in the Klondike, and a late middle age moment of personally taking his beloved yacht across the channel to fetch 168 British troop badly in need of getting the fuck out of France before the Nazis caught them.

On a final side note, my two instances of what could loosely be described as fan fiction were about Charles Lightoller and  Titanic bandleader Wallace Hartley. I resented fanfiction.net for making me file them under the movie Titanic.

2) Straight to HellThere’s no way to edit a coherent plot into Alex Cox’s punk rock spaghetti Western parody, but editing out co-stars Dick Rude and Courtney Love and their method-whine acting would be a great start. Sy Richardson, some of the weird ’80s hotties Joe Strumer macks upon, Shane MacGowan, Elvis Costello, and director Jim Jarmusch in their bit parts can stay; definitely keep the off-kilter everything — like bad pacing that becomes funny — as well as the gory ending gun battle. But, just, trim off the annoying bits and focus more on sweaty, dusty Joe Strummer in a suit.

(Also, I find Jim Jarmusch, one of my hipster weaknesses if I must call it that, to be weirdly attractive. He can definitely stay. Also, the worst thing about his Coffee and Cigarettes is that he never got around to filming a vignette with Strummer!)

Turns out in 2010, Alex Cox released a new version of the movie, but they’ve only added five minutes of footage, some technical tinkering, and some CGI gore, so the above dream remains unfulfilled.

This is a terrible movie that I knew was terrible, even after searching Dormont’s (outside of Pittsburgh) Incredibly Strange Video for a VHS of it to rent (this is circa 2003). But either its humor holds up in spite of the no-plot plot, or sweaty Joe Strummer in a desert-covered suit is just that compelling.

3) The Towering Inferno: It’s been a while, but this movie was always completely dull for the first half hour. Cut to the fire — never mind the corruption and cost-cutting and bad villain — and cut out most everyone except Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. Sweaty Steve McQueen and Paul Newman are good for America.

I really want to share a sort of spoiler. Okay, are you ready? You have been warned — I used to say I knew this movie was awful because you could predict that at the end OJ Simpson would hand Fred Astaire a cat. But when I think about now, this movie is great because you can predict that at the end OJ Simpson will hand Fred Astaire a cat.

4) On the BeachThere’s no way to edit in even attempted Australian accents or radiation sickness, so let’s stick with just editing out the God-awful, over the top Ernest Gold score. Not so disturbing (or good) as the Nevil Shute novel on which it is based, this 1959 picture about the last remnants of humanity waiting to die after a worldwide nuclear war is still pretty damn bleak for its time. But whenever you start to feel that existential stomachache, the score aggressively demands your attention and heartbreak and sorrow, and then it’s all gone. Because it’s of course just a movie.

5) Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg: Maybe a pet peeve of mine, but I disliked this Swedish film’s choice of beginning with an attempt at a motivation for Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg’s beyond-heroic efforts in saving 100,000 Hungarian Jews. The movie has to show Wallenberg witnessing the bodies of Jews being thrown from a train in order to explain his decision to accept the diplomatic post in Budapest. Why? I seem to recall that Wallenberg met some Jews who had fled to Palestine in the 1930s, but crimes against humanity in the cinematic way wasn’t why he went to Budapest. The man was looking for some purpose in life and he found it. And he was really, really good at it. By all accounts, he got a certain rush out of some of his audacious actions — at least before the actual battle for Budapest began. The movie mostly focuses on those rough, later days, which is an interesting choice — his triumphs where he pulled people off of trains and saved them from death marches are seen briefly at the start — to spend the most amount of time with our hero when he’s reached his limit.

This is a good film, but I have never found its way of telling the story quite satisfying. You want your perfect Hollywood man, with an arc from would-be profiteer to savior? That’s what Oscar Schindler is for. Wallenberg was less obviously interesting, more of a cipher, but that makes him all the more a superhero. Superman versus Batman, maybe.

6) Signs: My dad forgives any old movie not filmed on a studio lot. I forgive any terrible ending when a movie has done such a kick-ass job building an atmosphere of subtle, claustrophobic terror. And aliens just speak to me in a, I am technically 15 years old but I cannot sleep right now, way. The part where Joaquin Phoenix is watching the news in the closet and it is supposedly home video from a Brazilian birthday party, and then you see the alien for a second — I have never before or since made an involuntary and loud noise of alarm in a theater. Also, Abigail Breslin is so great. The Culkin kid is Culkinish, but Breslin always strikes me as such a believable little girl.

The edits I would make? The ending — spoilers! — with the water. Maybe it’s a metaphor, maybe it’s fluoride or minerals or something beyond H2o, but people just couldn’t abide that aliens could be killed by a substance that covers 70-odd percent of the planet. And I get that. The whole everything was meant to be and leading up to saving the Culkin bit was so purposefully unsubtle that I never fully minded, because it seems like a picture of a different world than the one in which we all reside. But as much as I find this movie a net good, the fact is that it deserved something better. The set-up is funny, scary, well-acted, and eerie. The idea of a man who has lost his faith in God having to face (potentially-allegorical) extraterrestrials is terrific. I am not sure how I wanted Signs to end. But like many a Russell T. Davies-penned Dr. Who finale, the lead-up was so great that the ending had to be a disappointment — but it didn’t have to be quite that cheesy.

Have any of your own suggestions? Lay ’em on me in the comments or wherever you like.

policeIn which I am relatively soft on the police, but advise everyone to not just assume that shooting Miriam Casey was necessary. Never assume it’s necessary, because the cases where it shouldn’t have happened are mixed in and too often the cops are entirely uninterested in sussing them out.

When police officers in Washington, DC, shot 34-year-old Miriam Carey after she took them on a short, frantic car chase from the White House to the Capitol, the initial consensus was that cops performed heroically, that they saved lives from a gunman who might even have been a terrorist. But the first reports, as is often the case, were wrong. Though the spontaneous hustle for news of Twitter first used the hashtag #capitolshooting, the only shots fired were by the police, and Carey was unarmed—in fact, she never left her car. But even after all of that was public knowledge, thewidespread assumption was that the cops and secret service officers were justified in shooting at a woman who was recklessly and aggressively driving toward potential targets for terrorism and who refused to surrender to them.

On Thursday afternoon Carey, a resident of Stamford, Connecticut, drove up to a security barrier around the White House. When the Secret Service approached she turned around quickly, hitting the barrier and then speeding towards the Capitol building. In the course of this chase, two police officers were injured and a cop car crashed into a barrier. When the dust settled, Carey was dead and her now-motherless one-year-old child, in the back seat of the car, was put into protective custody by DC family services.

Now Carey’s two sisters—one of whom is a former New York City cop—are criticizing the cops, claiming they didn’t have to use lethal force on a woman who was probably terrified. There are certainly indications that, in hindsight, Carey was more of a danger to herself than anyone else. She may have suffered from postpartum depression with psychosis—there are reports that medications for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which she may have stopped taking, were found in her apartment. Carey apparently expressed various paranoid theories to police in December, including her belief that Barack Obama was spying on her. (Carey’s sisters dispute her ex-boyfriend’s claim that she suffered from delusions about communicating with Obama.)

Police say they are investigating the use of force, and the FBI is investigating Carey. Odds are the shooting will be ruled entirely justified even if it turns out the cops killed a woman who was merely confused and frightened. Carey’s driving would have been dangerous outside of DC, a town that just went through the Navy Yards shooting and is a ripe target for terrorists of all stripes.

It’s still alarming how quickly the situation escalated. What if Carey hadn’t meant to drive up to that first barrier outside the White House? What if she was freaked out by the Secret Service and sped away in hopes of avoiding a confrontation, and what if when she stopped long enough to have multiple guns pulled on her—seen in this video—she panicked?

The rest over here