Stop right there!

17 03 2013

Never happens.

As a fan of adventure/thriller/nuke films (which provenance ought to make clear are always of the B variety), I am willing to leap over any number of realities in order to join the fun, but I do have to retain some belief that there is ground at the takeoff point.

War Games: kid hacks into government computer (believable) and inadvertently starts countdown to nuclear war (leap). Red October: Soviet sub captain seeks to defect (believable) along with innovative tech (ehhh. . .) and American analyst figures this out in time to help him (leap). Peacemaker: corrupt Russian soldiers hijack a ten-pack of nukes to sell (believable) and only the Americans figure this out (ehhh. . .) in time (leap). The Sum of All Fears: Israel loads a nuke onto a plane during the ’73 war, which, after having been shot down, is left to be found 29 years later (skid to a stop at the edge).

The Israelis don’t recover a lost nuke? No. No no no no no no no.

The opening scene already doesn’t make sense—Israel is invaded and overrun, so sends aloft a solo-piloted fighter jet with a nuke, which is shot down when the pilot is distracted by a photo of his family and thus sees a missile too late—not least because no mention is made of the purpose or destination of such a flight. More to the point, that the Israelis would lose track of a nuclear missile and apparently just shrug their shoulders at the loss requires not a leap of faith but a stumble into stupidity.

Of course, once the viewer folds her arms and raises her eyebrows, the rest of the events can only be viewed with snorts.

It’s too bad, really, because loose nukes are a fine premise on which to build a movie; then again, The Sum of All Fears relies yet again on Nazis (Alan Bates, underused; et. al.) as the bad guys, aided by an amoral and cosmopolitan arms dealer (Colm Feore, also underused). This movie was released in 2002: do we still need Nazis as the Big Bads? And are all arms dealers sophisticated foreigners with a chilling accent?

They also stole a line from The Peacemaker (I’m not afraid of the man who wants ten nuclear missiles, colonel. I’m terrified of the man who only wants one):

President: Let’s see, who else has 270,00 nukes for us to worry about?

CIA Director Cabot:  It’s the guy with one I’m worried about.

I did enjoy James Cromwell as the president and Liev Schreiber as an apparently worn-out assassin-spy, and Ciarán Hinds has such a magnificent face how could I not want to watch him? Ben Affleck once again demonstrated his limited skills as an actor, although the role hardly demands anything of interest from him. And Morgan Freeman as Cabot, hell, it’s Morgan Freeman; I originally mistook him as the president.

A waste all around.

The filmmaker would have been better to take the lead from the ridiculous premise and jettisoning any relationship to realipolitik whatsoever. Ditch the Tom Clancy-solemnity and substitute a gleeful malice instead—now that might have been fun to watch.





It’s all about the peace, baby

6 11 2011

I love the move The Peacemaker.

Not as a guilty pleasure, not ironically, not contrari-wise. And no, not (just) because of this guy:

Devoe, Tom Devoe.

Or my general attraction to tormented Eastern Europeans:

Marcel Iureş , as Dušan Gavrić , the man who'd bring the Bosnian war to the US

Nope. I love The Peacemaker because it takes bureaucracy seriously.

Seriously.

Now, no, this is not a documentary and all the usual suspensions of belief—getting information at the last minute, getting out of the car/truck/church just before it goes up in flames/falls off a bridge/explodes—apply, as do the usual tropes of the roguish operative who clashes with the beautiful and smarter-than-he-is woman. It’s a combo spy-action flick, not Godard.

But unlike so many spy-action flicks, the hero and heroine (a likably brittle Nicole Kidman as Dr. Julia Kelly) work for and more importantly within agencies. She’s a part of the Executive Office of the President, thrown into the interim position as adviser to the president on nuclear issues; he’s a lieutenant colonel in the US Army Special Forces, and while both rely upon their wits and experience as they try to prevent 9 Russian nukes from ending up on the open market, their authority is clearly drawn from the positions they hold within their respective agencies.

Kelly discovers that the alleged accidental nuclear explosion was deliberate by looking at spy satellite photos provided by the NSA. Devoe gets information on the corrupt Russian officer from his contacts within government. They fly to Europe on a jet filled with staffers, and Devoe acts on the information he and Kelly find by calling the army and setting up a special op (which he commands, natch).

And then the crucial scene, at the launch site of the special op: three choppers would have to cross Russian air space in order to intercept the nuke-loaded truck before it enters Iran and almost certainly disappears. They can’t do it, however, without authorization. Devoe pushes, says, hey, at least let us get in the air, “it’s only jet fuel”:

Up he goes, to the border, and. . . waits. He waits! He doesn’t do the I’m-a-motherfucking-warrior-god and order the crews across, but sits on the border, however impatiently, waiting for authorization.

Which he gets, of course. Duh. (Around the 6-6:45 minute mark)

Kelly and her team trace payments to an address in Sarajevo, wherein IFOR (the NATO-led Implementation Force operating in the former Yugoslavia)—not some punk kid or homemaker-slash-freedom-fighter freelancer or burned-out ex-spy roused to one last sacrificial act—find Gavrić’s tape explaining his final act.

On the flight back to New York, the team notes that, again, they need authorization to shut down the airports. Once in New York, the military works with the city police to block off traffic (too successfully, as it happens). The team works with airport security to track Yugoslavian passengers, realizing they missed their man when an airport official notes that official delegations do not go through customs. At the hotel where Gavrić is staying, a State Department official cautions that internationally-agreed-upon protocols mean they can’t just barge into delegates’ rooms.

(The hotel scene also provides the biggest groaner of the film: Really, you have a man with a backpack nuke staying there, and you don’t think to cover all entrances and exits—including all elevators?!)

The Department of Energy tracks radiation concentrations, and a special agency (NES?) team is tasked to deal with they nuke. They get stuck in traffic, of course, so it’s up to our heroine to defuse the nuke.

Which she does, just in the nick of time. Of course.

Okay, so not a great movie, and one with more than a few flaws. But it’s grounded movie, one which tries, not always successfully, to remain tethered to political and bureaucratic realities.

And physical realities: In an early scene, Kelly is swimming when summoned to the White House by an officer. The next scene shows her at the office with her hair still wet. Not a big deal, I know, but one which rings truer than a scene in which an adviser to the president takes the time to dry and style her hair before responding to a nuclear emergency.

This is too much for what is, really, just a diverting B-movie, isn’t it? Maybe I am too overcome by Clooney and those tormented Eastern Europeans, and maybe I adore Armin Mueller-Stahl (as a scene-stealing Russian office) just a little too much. And yes, I do have a weakness for nuke movies.

But I also believe in the necessity of government and thus, by extension, of the necessity of the bureaucracy. I get all of the complaints against both—I’ve made more than of few, myself—but if you want government to work then you need agencies within the government to work. You need bureaucracy.

It’s nice to see a movie which gets that.





The monster mash

8 11 2010

Zombies give me nightmares.

Actually, scratch that: zombies onscreen give me nightmares. I read and enjoyed Max Brooks’s World War Z and have sketched out a short ‘story’ (basically, a fake journal article on zombies)  and nary a blip in dreamworld.

But put a zombie where I can see it? Shudder.

I don’t know why. I mean, in 28 Days Later—which jolted me out of my sleep for a week after, and then sent me lurching awake a full six months after viewing—what shocked was not the zombies (and really, not zombies, but rage-virused monsters) but the people. That military commander? The thought that one would become the rape-thing to a bunch of despairing soldiers?

Jesus, at least the monsters were just hungry, not evil.

And in the new show The Walking Dead, again, the forewarning that the problem will be with the people, not the zed-heads.

That’s what set this post off—the premiere to The Walking Dead. I watched it early yesterday evening on Hulu, figuring that gave me enough time before bedtime for me to forget it, but: no.

It wasn’t that scary, honestly, certainly not in comparison to 28 Days Later. And afterward, I thought, Eh.  Too soap-opery, too predictable, too somber, not scary enough. And the lead? Okay, so he needs to wear his sheriff’s outfit to keep himself in line, but is he really this innocent?

Dumb, actually. Or maybe not dumb, but not thinking. He needs gas, all those cars on the road, and he leaves the road to walk some ways to a gas station, which—surprise!—is out of gas.

He never heard of a siphon?

Then he ditches the car in favor of a horse, because, let’s face it, nothing makes more sense than leaving behind a steel-and-glass contained space (with storage!) for a pretty pretty equine bit of zombie bait.

Maybe if it all moved faster, carried some of the jangle that good B-movies like 28 Days Later or even the nausea-inducing Cloverfield managed to convey, I could enjoy rather than pick apart the predictability.

But nightmares for the boring? No thanks.

~~~~~

I should add that I enjoyed Shaun of the Dead, and that since it’s been so long since I’ve seen any of George Romero’s movies, I can’t remember if those gave me nightmares.

Anyway, it’s not just zombies. The Ring creeped me out, and I vowed never to camp in Maryland after The Blair Witch Project. Oh, and I recently made the mistake of watching the mediocre Event Horizon before bed—not a good idea.

I’m not generally a scary- or horror-movie aficionado, and have little patience for spatter movies, but I do enjoy a well-crafted bit of unease. (Okay, enjoy may be the wrong word; appreciate, perhaps?) The Others wasn’t scary, and even a bit somnolent, but I liked its meditative vibe.

The Sixth Sense and Signs? No.

I don’t recall any nightmares following The Road, but, then again, I don’t know that that would count as a horror film. It’s full of horror, true, but perhaps one reason my response was dulled was because I knew nothing would get better. The hope or possibility of escape or reprieve was gone, as with it the altertness that one holds on behalf of the characters. It was the end, that’s all, and I was sad for the characters, that’s all.

I had nuclear nightmares as a teenager, but as I had been experiencing those prior to seeing The Day After or Testament, I blame the miasma rather than the movies.

No, my worst nightmares when young were unrelated to anything I saw on t.v. or at the movie theatre—likely because my parents didn’t let me watch scary flicks. I’d already demonstrated the, ah, ability to scare myself shriekingly awake (Over vents. Don’t ask.), so I’d guess that they thought ‘Why tune her up even more?’

Still, there was that one episode of The Outer Limits, wherein the woman tried to vacuum up something in the corner. . . .

That probably set me off, too.

~~~~~

Still, I’m not eight and I don’t believe in zombies. In fact, I consider nuclear or environmental or even cosmic apocalypse, however unlike in my lifetime, still more likely than a zombiepocalypse. So why the scare at the latter and not the former?

Maybe because I don’t consider it likely at all, and thus don’t have the rational responses to the truly fantastical (the undead) that I do to the merely improbable.

Maybe there’s something about the uncanniness of the zombie: to be dead, but still restless, ravenous, recognizably human but demonstrably not.

Or maybe because I just keep watching these @#$!!$% zombie movies too close to bed. . . .

 





Waiting for Armageddon

19 05 2010

I do loves me some apocalypse—fictionally.

But actual death and destruction does not make my heart go pitter-pat, unless by ‘pitter-pat’ one means racing-with-anxiety-and-despair-not-joy.

Yeah, I have my moments of ‘fuck ‘em all’ and ‘people suck’, but I have no real sense that all humans should perish, or that by large numbers of us perishing the survivors will be redeemed. I don’t think we can be made clean or whole or without all the crap that led us to the apocalypse in the first place. Maybe the survivors would  chomp on one another, a la Cormac McCarthy, or maybe they’d*separate themselves into chosen communities and live-and-let-live; either way, it’s not at all clear to me how this is in any way ‘better’.

(‘*They’, not ‘we': I have a chronic disease which requires daily treatment; absent that treatment, I die. It’s possible that I could manage to stockpile the thousands of pills necessary to keep me going for years, but I doubt it. The apocalypse will have to go on without me.)

C. and I had a conversation about this the other night, and while I’ll desist saying much about her position beyond noting that she’s more optimistic about post-apoc possibilities than I, I will admit that I was a bit startled by her, mm, cheer.

I am not cheerful about humans, pre- or post-apocalypse. We’re greedy and self-centered and violent and far too willing to use one another for our ends. Sure, we have our good qualities—I happen to like that we figured out how to make wine, chocolate, and a comfy pair of slippers—but we’re not all that.

We are, however, all that we have.

Now, the godly among us might disagree, but except for the  world-hating of the god-believers, most of  the faithful admit there can be joy in the world.

In any case, this is our world: beat-up and weird and so, so complicated and ours. This world is ours, and we are who we are in this world. If this world ends, so do we.

And I think that would be a damned shame—again, not because we’re so great, but because we’re not, because we don’t have to be, because we can be beat-up and weird and so, so complicated. I’m pissed that we’re fucking our world over because in so doing we’re making it increasingly difficult to find out just how we can be human in the world. The possibilities we’re foreclosing. . . .

There are some among us, of course, who do revel in the foreclosure. Some may be secular (extremist environmentalists, for example), but it’s that minority of the godly who look forward to the end-times who grab the bulk of the attention.

Which brings us, belatedly, to Waiting for Armageddon. This short documentary, now streaming on Netflix, follows a group of dispensationalists who are straining at the confines of the world and looking forward to its end—an end which begins in Jerusalem.

It’s basic Bible-prophecy stuff: The in-gathering of the Jews in Israel is foretold in scripture, as is the rebuilding of the Temple, one-world government headed by the anti-Christ (and, for some pre-tribulationists, the early return of Christ), the rapture of the faithful, the tribulation (think ‘great wailing and gnashing of teeth’, ‘four horsemen’, etc.), and the millennial reign of Christ on earth. One hundred forty-four thousand Jews will convert and be saved, while the rest will perish, (along with almost everyone else), all as a prelude to the great cleansing and the springing forth of heaven on earth.

Great, huh? One guy said it was going to be a lot of ‘fun’. Well, y’know, he said, maybe not fun-fun, seeing as how so many will suffer and die horrible, horrible, deaths, but fun in that I was-right-and-I-get-to-watch kind of way.

Whoo-hoo! Totally not at all like the crowds cheering the lions ripping apart the Christians in the Coliseum.

Some of the folks at least managed to be chagrined at the thought of so much death, and most preferred not to dwell on how exactly the Al-Aqsa mosque and al-Haram ash-Sharif complex will be removed without utterly destroying the site of the putative third Temple—but hey, God will take care of all that.

What matters most of all of that these people are right, and if it takes the destruction of the world to prove them in their right[eous]ness, so be it.

Of course, they’d say it’s not about them, it’s about God, that they’re just following the Word. But they’re so God-damned happy about all of this, so God-damned sure that this is The Way, that it’s difficult not to conclude that this is less about God and more about them.

They don’t like the world, and they want to see it end.

Not coincidentally, those who are younger are less avid for The End. They want to marry and have kids and then maybe the end could come, as one young woman said, ‘When I’m 85,’ i.e., when she would end anyway. She doesn’t despise the world quite enough for it to end before she’s had a chance to enjoy it.

These dispensationalists are a minority even among evangelicals, who are themselves not representative of all of Christianity. The film was too short fully to engage cross-Christian talk on The End, nor even those who believe that we are in End Times and are pained by the prospect of the extermination of billions of people.

Instead, we are left with the smiling faces of those who want to see us all end.





Cloverfield

9 05 2010

Is it really too much to expect, when I pop a DVD into the computer, that the movie actually be watchable?

Jesus Christ, it’s been over an hour, and I’m still nauseous—and no, not in a French New Wave-existentialist way.





Dirty War

22 02 2010

I love war movies.

Spy movies, dirty tricks, government and intrigue—love ‘em!

Can’t say exactly why. Oh, sure, I have this ongoing affair with politics (don’t know why that is, either), but while I enjoyed West Wing and Dave, I don’t swoon for the up-front political movies the way I do for the backstage stuff. Even Bob Roberts, which was more backstage than on-, didn’t turn me on. A good—a very good—movie, but nothing I want to watch over and over again.

Unlike Dirty War. I saw this movie for the first time while living outside of Boston. I didn’t have cable then, either, but I did have a t.v., and PBS broadcast this HBO production over the freewaves.  I think I saw it twice.

Well, now three times, since I just watched the DVD from Netflix. Christ, if this movie streamed, I’d probably watch it once a month.

The set-up is simple: We’re shown nuclear smugglers in central Europe, and cops, fire fighters, government ministers, and terrorists, in London. We see radioactive material smuggled into London, cops trying to track down terrorists cells, a government minister who knows better nonetheless lying so as to reassure the public, and the terrorists themselves, as they meet, assemble the bombs, and prepare to carry out their allegedly divine task.

No, no spoilers here. Watch it for yourself.

Again, I”m not quite sure what the attraction is. The movie is well done, and, to this civilian, utterly plausible. The moviemakers note the research behind the movie, and while I can’t vouch for a smidgen of it, I’m still left thinking Yep, that’s how this could work.

I don’t worry about terrorism on a regular basis. I moved to NYC in 2006, aware that it remains a target, but not terribly concerned about it. I don’t know if it will be hit again, but were I afraid that it would be, I’d have moved somewhere else.

I don’t think of this as denial so much as the same kind of practical calculation that eight million of my neighbors have made. I want to be here, so I am.

Still, there is one possibility which, mmm, tweaks me a bit: the detonation of a dirty bomb.

I was the kid who had nuclear nightmares, who was sure that the world would end before I, well, before I’m the age I am now. This could have been the adolescent impossibility of imagining oneself at middle-age, the morbid outlook of a self-destructive depressive, and/or my rational political concerns mutating into nighttime irrationality.

I don’t have dirty bomb nightmares. But I do think, rationally, that if some group really wanted to fuck over a city, their best bet would be through a detonation of a conventional bomb packed around radioactive material.

A nuke itself would be too hard. Even if a group could manage to get its hands on one, there’s the matter of access to a detonator, as well as that of transport and concealment. Yeah, I remember the material on backpack nukes and worries over uneven security of the nuclear stockpile of various nations, but nuclear weapons, even thousands of nuclear weapons, are still relatively rare things.

What about biologicals? The issue here is one of predictability. Anthrax was used to kill a number of people and frighten a hell of a lot more in 2001 and 2002, but the total number directly affected was relatively few. That’s no comfort to the victims, of course, but as a weapon of mass death, biological agents leave much to be desired.

First, there’s the matter of accessing the biological agent. If it’s controlled, as with smallpox, one has to find a way to get hold of it; if it’s not controlled, one has to find a way to get it and control it before it kills you. Ebola is a nasty disease with a high mortality rate, but it is precisely its nastiness which makes it difficult to handle. Flu is capable of killing tens and even millions of people, but to create a flu like the one which hit the world near the end of WWI requires decent lab facilities and highly trained people—and even that is no guarantee that one could derive a virus both highly transmissible and highly virulent, which could then be released in a maximally controlled manner.

Radioactive material isn’t just scattered like pennies on the streets, but it can be culled from college campuses, hospitals, research facilities, and, of course, nuclear power plants. Further, to make uranium or plutonium suitable for a true nuclear explosion requires extensive processing; the cast-offs from low-grade processing can be used as is.

And it’s use can be controlled. Conventional home-made bombs are apparently not that hard to make (I wouldn’t know, not being the bomb-making or -throwing kind); once the radioactive material has been obtained, you steer your van or boat or truck to the location you want to hit and BOOM. Blast damage, fire, death, and mayhem. And long-term radioactive contamination.

My understanding is that New York City has a very good intelligence network (although in the wake of  the apparently mishandled investigation of Najibullah Zazi, the FBI might disagree), and that agents almost certainly are on alert for any and all kinds of bombs, be they dirty or clean.

So I mostly don’t worry. It’s not that I think the cops and intelligence agencies are infallible—hah!—but given that certainty isn’t possible, the best that can be expected is vigilance. Hell, even with the errors of the Zazi case, they did manage to  stop the guy.

But certainty isn’t possible, and bombs do go off.

It’s this sliver of knowledge that has worked its way deep under my skin. It doesn’t bother me on a daily basis, but sometimes, when a train is stopped too long on its tracks, or I notice all  the trucks in the Financial District or the boats in the harbor, I remember it’s there, and I wonder.





En garde!

19 01 2010

That old bastard Remy had a good death.

Surrounded by friends, at the lake he loved, nourished by old arguments, a last good-bye, and then a heroin slip into the after.

The Barbarian Invasions lacked the cruelty of The Decline of the American Empire, but given that the end was death, not disclosure, the wistfulness was appropriate.

It’s to be said that Remy truly was a rotter: He slept his way through Montreal, allowing his wife to believe he only indulged when travelling. She was true, believing in the best of him, even as he bedded her confidantes.

That’s pretty much the plot, such as it is, of The Decline: friends eating and drinking and divulging and screening their sexual lives.

And Invasions? Twenty years later, and the reprobate is dying in a seedy Montreal hospital, his hostile son spreading money over the layers of bureaucracy in order to procure his father some peace.

And heroin. I mentioned the heroin, didn’t I? It gave Remy peace in his last days of life, then carried him into death.

Not a bad way to go.

I no longer steady myself in plans of my death, but I do, nonetheless, wonder how it will be. Yes, we all die alone, blah blah, but before that last blip, how will it be?

Will there be friends? Wine? Arguments and laughter? Perhaps I’ll die in my sleep, in an apartment or hospital room or on a beach.

Come the apocalypse, well, I live in New York City: if it’s man-made, I’ll burst in the flash or fall choking from the bad air or waste away, abandoned to a pathogen.

But while I may think about this more often than others—and I don’t know if I do, given that American can-do spirit that says we can live forever, so best not to speak of death—I don’t think very long about it.

Not because it’s morbid or sad, but because it’s, mmm, boring. Death’ll come when it comes, and any control I’ll have over it’s arrival will likely be small.

And as for my worries about living my last days alone, the way to guard against that is not to live the rest of my life alone.

So wine and friends and arguments and laughter, now. If I take care of that, the rest will take care of itself.








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