Something that’s been bothering me about Christianity

Something that concerns me about contemporary Christianity in America:
 
I perceive an increasingly anti-intellectual trend. I’m not saying this to rag on the church. I’m a Christian myself (Albeit a potty-mouthed one who writes just weird, weird, weird stories that occasionally cross the line into theologically suspect areas).
 
The thing is that more and more of late I find us opposing things like Psychiatry, and Medicine and Science and Nuclear Power and Space Exploration and Genetically Modified Foods and realistic studies of History and so on. In essence, more and more we’re taking the hippie-shit view of things (I *SAID* I was potty-mouthed. What did you expect?). We’re more and more on the wrong side of stuff. We take the Promethean view that if we go too far with Science then God will get all vengeful on us, or we take the paranoid view that Psychiatry and Book Learnin’ are just the devil’s way of poisoning your mind.
 
Some years ago, the preacher in the church I’m nominally a member of gave a sermon in which he advised – insisted, really – that people on psych meds trust God and throw thaat stuff away. Now, having spent a lot of time around mentally ill people – it runs in my family, and I’m manic depressive myself – I recognize that as an incredibly wrongheaded thing to do. Much like saying “Play Russian Roulette and trust God will protect you!”
 
Well, no, that’s just dumb. Yeah, God healed people in the past, but He appears to have subcontracted that job out to us. We’re pretty good with these things called ‘Doctors’, and honestly it’s pretty egocentric to demand the God of the entire universe cure your flu when you could just as easily cross the street and get a vaccination at Wallgreens.
 
I am nominally a member there. I go rarely, usually for functions other than services. I haven’t been able to find a church I like better, and if I’m honest, I do kind of enjoy worshiping at St. Mattress of the Pillow on Sunday mornings. So, yeah, I’m lazy. I can’t blame it all on doctrine.
 
Still, our obsession with these things sometimes borders on the paranoid.
 
The Accelerated Christian Education school that my son went to for a while taught him that the sun is not nuclear. Why? Well, evidently the people who wrote that lesson couldn’t figure out why God’d need stars that last billions of years when the earth is only gonna be around for 7 or 8,000, so it must be something that’ll burn out. They cited fake evidence of it getting dimmer and smaller in recorded history. I dunno what it’s supposed to be powered by. Coal, perhaps.
 
Oh, and check this one out: The same curriculum said that God created the earth with a thin globe of ice completely encircling it, supported entirely by air! The ice broke, which fell to earth and caused the flood. Now firstly, that kind of structure violates the basic laws of physics, and would break up in less than a day, not however many thousand years there were from creation to the flood. Secondly, it violates the Bible itself, which says (Paraphrased) that God intended us to see the stars, which you couldn’t do through a mile of ice, no matter how clear. As to the compressed air that allegedly held this thing aloft, well, again that wouldn’t work (Physics!) but they claim that this higher oxygen pressure and protection from radiation from the non-nuclear sun is what caused people like Methuselah to live to be (nearly) 1000, and our puny short lives are because we don’t have it anymore.
 
Did you know that Jesus was supposed to come again in 1988? I did. I got taught that a lot in 1981. It has to do with a completely illiterate misrepresentation of a passage. And they did the math wrong, too. By a Jewish calendar it shoulda been 1987. Dopes. Oh, and NATO is the Antichrist. Or maybe it’s this Pope, I mean that next one, I mean the one after him. Nope, nope, it’s this one for sure. No foolin’! This endless – and illiterate – aggressive appetite for destruction gets tedious. I have a theory about it, but I’ve already rambled too long, so we’ll save it for another day.
 
The obsession with evolution: whichever side you take on it, IT IS NOT A SALVATION ISSUE. At no point does the Bible say “Believe, Be Baptized, and Renounce the Works of Charles Darwin.” We’ve wasted a century and a half on something that is not going to affect whether you get into heaven or not. It’s just silly. I imagine some of us are going to have a lot of explaining to do when we get to heaven.
 
St. Peter: “So you did missions work?”
Dr. Duane T. Gish: “Oh, yeah, tons of it.”
Pete: “Awesome. So, what? Smuggling Bibles into the USSR? Preaching to people in Africa? Building homes for the homeless in poor countries as a reflection of the love of Christ?”
Gish: “Better!”
Pete [excited]: “Awesome! Tell me about it!”
Gish: “I spent 70 years teaching people that they are not, in fact, a monkey’s uncle.”
Pete [Blinking in disbelief. Sighs heavily. Picks up phone] “Gabe? Yeah, it’s Pete. I got another one here that is in need of mandatory psychiatric evaluation. Can you please send over some orderlies? Thanks.”
 
Again: I’m not ragging on Christianity. I’m a Christian myself. I make no claim as to how this works in the rest of the world. Maybe Lutherans and the Revolutionary People’s Catholic Church in China have this stuff knocked and locked, I dunno. Good for them if they do. I don’t even claim to know how it works in the BIG denominations in the US: Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans, whatever. All I know is that in us puny denominations and independent churches, which I grew up in, and which I’m most comfortable with, we seem to have made a wrong turn, and are aggressively resisting backtracking.
 
Thoughts?

OBITUARY: Margo Hoffman

Margo Hoffman died yesterday. She’d been my friend and occasional boss for pretty much my entire life.

I first met her when I was five or so. I hadn’t started grade school yet, so it must’ve been around then. She was sixteen or seventeen, still in high school, and working for Don Bennett.  I have a preschooler’s memories of her, and meeting her from that period: she was a grown up and she was nice to me. Don called her a kid, but as an even littler kid, I didn’t see it, you know? She was doing unfathomable grown up things that I couldn’t understand, and was somewhat amazed by. In that regard, she was always ahead of me.

My dad had recently lost his job with NASA, and he ended up going to work for Don Bennett, who was a State Farm Agent. Changing your career at age 43 is tough, and Margo was invaluable at helping him through it, even though she was still too young to vote.

Eventually Don got promoted and my dad bought out his franchise. Margo became his personal secretary. We call that an “Office Manager” today. Whenever my dad hired additional staff, she was always in charge. My dad joked that he hired Margo because she “Came with the furniture” when he bought the place, but he was actually pretty open on how much he relied on her to keep the business running.

Somewhere in that period, she married Bob Hoffman, and they had a daughter, Jo Ann. (“Jo Ann” is one of those names I’ve always manage to misspell. I don’t know if it’s “Jo Ann” or “Jo Anne” or “JoAnn” or “Joanne” or “Joann” or something with four Ms and a silent Q in there. Even with my own aunt Jo Ann, I always managed to misspell it, so I’ll just admit up front that I have no idea how not to botch it. I’m sorry. No disrespect intended)

Time passed. Margo was always a good mother, always a good sister, always a good daughter, always very close to her family. Always good to me when I was hanging around the office after work, or sentenced to the purgatory of cleaning the place with my mom.

Changes happened. My dad moved the office, then again, then again. He hired more permanent staff, and Margo was always his trusted lieutenant in keeping the place running.  Eventually, when I was about as old as she’d been when she started working for Don, I started doing odd jobs for the office. Mostly inspections and other crap that my dad didn’t want to be bothered with. I’d come in, get my assignment from her, get the camera, the maps, the other info, head out, take pictures, come back, turn ’em in. My dad would slip me five or ten bucks – remember, this was back in the ’80s when gas was less than a buck a gallon – it wasn’t a bad gig for a high school student, even if it was pretty irregular work.

Afterwards I’d hang out and Margo and I would chat. She’d tell me about Jo Ann, and other stuff in her life, and ask me if I had a girlfriend yet (No, but not for lack of trying). She was always very nice and supportive of me.

More supportive than she realized, I think. My dad was a successful businessman by this time, but it was Margo that put him in a position where he could do that. I had an upbringing that wasn’t what you’d call patrician, but it was much, much, much better than it would have been if she hadn’t been there to help my dad. A lot of the ease of my youth was due to her hard work.

My mom was prone to illness, and was frequently bedridden, or nearly so. She was very depressed. My dad had to work, but there weren’t a lot of people he trusted to be around his ailing wife. He’d have Margo go over and hang out with my mom for a few hours every day, just keeping her company, talking about stuff, and so on. Most people have forgotten this – honestly, I’d forgotten about it until my mom reminded me the other day – but this went on for years. You can make a good argument that my mom wouldn’t still be here if Margo hadn’t nursemaided her for so long. Again: My life is better because she was in it.

Time passed, and I ended up working for my dad, which meant I was really working for Margo. I was a TERRIBLE employee. Lazy, unprofessional, questionably kempt, unable to keep the rules of the business straight, continually screwing up my work. Margo proved to be a saint in this period by resisting what must have been the hourly urge to murder me. That’s an entirely justified urge, by the way. I was a basket case, and everybody knew it.

After 22 years or so of working for my dad, and however long she’d worked for Don before, she’d grown tired of Insurance, and decided to go work for the City of Tarpon. She held a few other side jobs. She became a grandmother, which I know filled her with glee. She fell in love and spent the last of her life with the love of her life. Then she retired and the rest you know.

Yesterday she passed away.

There aren’t really words in English for people you have a family-level connection with, but that aren’t family. I call her a ‘friend,’ but that seems insultingly inappropriate. She was more like an aunt. Someone who was always there. Someone who cares about you even when you piss them off, and whom you care about even when they piss you off. Someone who’s always in your life, though maybe in a greater or lesser capacity at different points in time.  There were times – lots of them – where I know for a fact I infuriated her, and there were times when she got on my nerves too, but she was always there, forgive and forget, caring, overlooking peoples faults. Even people with SUBSTANTIAL faults like mine. She got me out of a lot of trouble when I was younger, and never told my dad about it.  After she quit, I could go for years without seeing her, but then  – bang – we’d bump into each other and immediately pick up where we left off.  When my dad died, she kept my mom company, visiting her and keeping her company, and helping keep her from sliding into suicidal depression.

As I said, there’s not really an English word for that kind of relationship, but I’m going to call her my aunt. My unofficially-adopted aunt. Assuming, of course, her family doesn’t find that disrespectful. I hadn’t seen her in a couple years prior to her death, but I loved her. How could you not?

There’s no need to talk about how things played out. Suffice to say she put up a very strong fight, and she died way way way too young. She leaves behind an unbelievably awesome daughter, a granddaughter that I really don’t know, but who seems pretty amazing by reputation, a fantastic sister, and of course, her one true love, whom I don’t know at all, but who must be an exceptional man to have won the heart of my unofficial aunt. She had a huge family besides, and God knows how many friends who feel about her the way I do, or moreso.

My prayers are with them, that God might ease their suffering in this terrible time. My prayers are also for Margo, that her soul finds peace (Which I have no doubts about), that she’s reunited with the people she’s loved and lost over the course of her way-too-short life, and that we’ll all meet her again in that place some day.

In the meantime, she made my life materially better in ways she probably never realized. That’s a debt I can’t repay. And though I didn’t see much of her in the last decade, I was always happy knowing she was still roaming around there, doing stuff, and realizing that at any random, unforseen moment I might turn a corner and there she’d be.

And now, well, knowing she’s not, knowing that I’m not, knowing that that’ll never happen again in this life is hard.  Much, much, much harder on people who were closer to her than me, of course.

For me it comes down to this: She made my life vastly richer by having known her, and now I’m much poorer for her absence.

MY DIARY: Day 18,263 (My 50th Birthday)

This will come as a shock to no one, but I am sad today. I’m not as bad as I was 2 or 3 days ago, where I was just a wreck of a human being, but I have started crying on two different occasions today, and started to tear up on another.  There was also a minor health crisis that made me freak out and go all hypochondriacal. I’ve done well with that of late. I haven’t gotten scared about being sick and dying for probably going on six months. Came back today, though. Better now, but, hey, what better way to celebrate your utter waste of a life than freaking out at a blister, right?  I think Ovid wrote about that. Or maybe it was that English/playwrite who wasn’t Shakespeare, but I can’t remember his name right now.

I suspect my recovery from decades of hypochondria comes from not really caring if I live or die. I mean, I’m not suicidal or anything, but…this is too personal to discuss in a public forum. I’m sorry. I’ve been deliberately wasting your time.

Bacon. His name was Bacon.

MY DIARY: Day 18,257 (Finishing Jim Graham’s Manuscript)

I’ve been overthinking this.
 
I just finished Jim Graham‘s incomplete manuscript for “Big Pharma,” which he asked me to finish for him a few weeks before he died. I cheerfully agreed to do it, and he was pretty happy, since he always said he liked my writing, and I was his first choice. That’s a huge honor, don’t you think?
 
It was also our last conversation.
 
I probably should have torn into the project the moment I got the manuscript and the notes, but I decided to hold off until the first of the year, during which time the specter of doubt had time to grow. Stupid, Randy, stupid. I generally work best when I leap before I look, getting something done before I realize how difficult (or easy) it was.
 
Now, “Big Pharma” takes place in the middle of a fairly intricate continuity involving three other books. I had to make sure I didn’t have a character survive who’s dead in the book that takes place after this. Likewise, I can’t add anyone of significance because they wouldn’t be in the later installments. I wouldn’t do that anyway, as it’s way too Mary Sue, but you get my point. I also can’t introduce any huge events that logically would be spoken about in subsequent stories simply because the subsequent stories are already written, and it’d be distractingly odd if, say, I blew up the galaxy in this book, and then in “Army of Souls,” the galaxy is suddenly back.
 
In our last conversation, I asked Jim how it all ended, and he said he didn’t want to tell me. He said that he knew how the book would have ended had he been around to finish it, but that it suited his present frame of mind to just hand it over to someone else and let them take it where they will.
 
Ok. No ending. Great. Still: I can do this.
 
So I started re-reading Jim’s books. I had to reacquaint myself with the characters, the events, the *feel* of the thing, right? And I took notes. Far too many notes. Far, far too many notes. You can get addicted to that sort of thing. As I said, I was overthinking this.
 
I worked my way up to the “Big Pharma” manuscript. I read it slowly. In my mind I went back to the beginning several times. I took days off. It was slow going, which just made the whole thing more intimidating, you know?
 
Well, just now I finished it, and I was certain that, yes, I can do this. And that I really *should* leap before I look, because I’m just better that way.
 
In the last few chapters of the manuscript, it changes from a 3rd person omniscient narrative to terse present-tense outline-styled notes on what happens in each chapter. There are also a few completed scenes in there which I can insert in the appropriate locations. The bulk of what happens in the unwritten portion is an action scene, and that’s cake, since I’m actually really, really good at actions sequences. I can do him proud there. And I even know how it ends! He actually did have that burred in the tail end of the manuscript!
 
So I’ve been overthinking this. Now I start actually *doing* stuff.
 
Here’s what happens:
 
– The writing starts very soon.
– I don’t think it’ll take me long to finish. It’s just shy of 90,000 words right now, and I can probably bring my portion in at 20,000 words or so. I work fast, so I can easily do that in a week. Maybe less if I get in a groove, which I often do when writing action sequences.
– I’ll send my portion (Approximately the last 20% of the book) to a British friend of mine who will help me convert any Americanisms into Anglicisms, and maybe suggest places where British slang would be likely to turn up.
– I will *probably* add a list of Dramatis Personae (There are a *lot* of characters in this book, some of whom are easy to confuse with others) and a glossary (There’s a lot of invented terminology in here, and it’d just be handy for the reader if he forgets the difference between a PIKL and an RAV).
– I would also like to include Jim’s map of Go Down City. He did such a wonderful job of realizing a nonexistent city that feels real. I think his fans would enjoy that.
– Then I’ll send my portion off to my editor.
– Then I’ll send the whole manuscript, including my portion, to Jim’s widow, for her to forward to his editor and do whatever else needs to be done to get it published.
 
And there you go. I don’t want to pin myself down to a timeline, but I think things should move very quickly from here on out.

MOVIE REVIEW: “Day of the Dolphin” (1973)

What a strange, laconic film this is! Seriously: It starts out relaxed, doesn’t move very far, and takes its own sweet time getting there. Also, it picks an odd place to end, proving Welles’ old saw about the difference between tragedy and triumph being where you decide to stop telling the story.

In a nutshell – and believe you me, it doesn’t take a very big nut to hold this film – we’ve got George C. Scott as a marine biologist living on an island off the coast of Florida with his surprisingly-but-not-inappropriately young wife, a bunch of interns, and a couple dolphins. The star of the research facility is “Alpha” (“Fa” for short), a dolphin born in captivity and raised by humans without any contact with his own kind. As a result, he’s “Learned to speak people talk” as they say in Pokemon. Specifically, he can speak English, a bit, though it’s kinda’ hard to understand. He can understand English, too. A good corporation is funding the research in exchange for the tax dodge it provides, while the evil Paul Sorvino is posing as a reporter trying to gain access for some nefarious purpose or other.

As Fa has hit puberty, they give him a girlfriend, “Beta” (“Bea” for short). George and Mrs. George (Played by his real-life wife Trish Van Devere) are called away from the island by the company, and one of the interns gets a call from George saying the dolphins are to be loaded on to a yacht that’s gonna’ show up soon. When George and Trish get back to the island, they find Fa and Bea gone, along with one of the interns. Then the evil Paul Sorvino appears and explains – in a pretty good twist, actually – that he’s not evil, in fact the company and the intern are evil. They’ve kidnapped the dolphins for some nefarious purpose, and Paul Sorvino was actually trying to keep them from it. In the second good twist of the movie, we find that Sorvino *AND* the Corporate Goons are both working for the US government, albeit opposing factions.

The bad guys train Bea to place a bomb on the president’s yacht, which will kill him. Fa escapes, and George explains that bombs are designed to kill, so Fa warns Bea. The two of them plant the bomb on the bad guy’s yacht instead, which blows up and kills them in what results in one of the funnier uses of the “S-word” in early 70s SF. The movie doesn’t end, there, however. We get about another fifteen minutes or so where our heroes – George, Trish, Paul, and the interns – realize that the corporate goons aren’t going to let them live because they know too much. Sorvino basically bails on ‘em as a plane carrying gunmen approaches. George and Trish drive Fa and Ba away, then go hide in the woods, waiting to die.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Wow, that’s kind of a downer, isn’t it? This would be a great kids film were it not so glacially paced, didn’t have profanity, and didn’t end with everyone dying and the dolphins coming across somewhat like abandoned babies in the wilderness. It’s a weird film. It really is. Really, I could have summarized it in less space, and if we’re honest the stuff of note that actually happens in each act is haiku length, but it’s padded out to 90 minutes.

Thing is: despite that, it’s an engaging film. The sedate qualities give it an almost verite feel, or maybe a documentary feel. Not exactly, it’s not intended to be like that, but everything just takes so long that you kind of feel like you’re waiting along with these people for stuff to happen. It’s not an art film, it’s not really taking the long Russian road, but even by 1973 standards it’s pretty slow. It’s not surprising it was a bomb.

There’s also an interesting disconnect between the sweet, adorable, baby-talking dolphin (Bea never learns to speak) and the generally misanthropic feel of the movie as a whole. George C. Scott is playing a man who doesn’t like men, and prefers the company of fish. His wife takes an even dimmer view of corporate America. Paul Sorvino – who’s great in the movie, but seems a bit like a straight Nathan Lane this time out – is a government spook who’s perfectly content with the fact that he’s sent out to kill other spooks, and that they’re coming after him. The idea being that there’s a sort of perpetual undeclared civil war in the government. I actually like that idea. It’s got some potential legs, even if it’s crazy 1970s paranoid. The fact that the government tries to kill the president, and then tries to kill everyone who found out about it is, once again, just crazy ‘70s. At one point George and Trish discuss the fact that they’ve made Fa like us, and kind of doomed him to our miserable sort of existence in the process.

As Prometheus myths go, it’s sort of interesting. Generally it’s “Don’t take fire from the gods because they’ll kick your ass.” In this case, it’s more like “The gods give you fire because they like you, but it just ends up hurting and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Sorry.”

In fact I sort of admire the movie for giving us a perfectly acceptable happy ending, and then spending fifteen minutes tearing it apart. I found myself wondering if saving the president *was* happy as it cost the good guys their lives, and wasn’t any too good for the dolphins. I guess the climax of the film is happy in that Fa and Bea survive, and they really are innocents caught in this, but their being released out into the sea is pretty jagged and heartbreaking. Earlier in the film, George said Fa only talked because he loved him and his wife, but in the company of others of his kind, he’d quickly stop, he couldn’t teach others, and that it required a lot of effort for him to do it. It’s not hard to extrapolate from that to the idea that a dolphin raised entirely by people isn’t going to survive in the wild. Perhaps Bea will take care of him, but I think the kids are screwed, really. Yeah, a chance for survival is better than certain death, but still…

The movie is interestingly nebulous with regards to animal sapience. George says that all he’s really got is a dolphin approximating human speech while responding to some verbal cues. It could be training. Clearly it’s more than that, but it may not be *THAT* much more. It can be argued that Fa isn’t much more than a dog that can say “I love you.” I do think we’re supposed to believe he’s intelligent, but the part that interests me is that he’s clearly not nearly *AS* intelligent as humans. He’s an adolescent dolphin, so he’s probably not going to get much smarter than he is, but he seems to think and act on the level of a three or four year old kid. Factor in the obvious environmental differences and all, and he’s still skewing very young and/or not amazingly bright. Like 50 IQ, or thereabouts? A genius for anything other than a human, but by our standards not much.

Acting is, on the whole, pretty good. Well, heck, it’s got George C. Scott, and apart from that sitcom where he was the president, I’ve never really seen him give a phoned in performance. He’s not always great, but he’s always fully engaged, you know? I’ve never really seen him play a smart-guy-scientist-type before. Makes me want to watch some more of his roles.

To my surprise, we actually still had a presidential yacht in 1973. It was the “USS Sequoyah” and it was sold in 1977 by Jimmy Carter. Man, we could have used some exploding dolphins in those days, huh? Anyway: the pictures I found make it apparent that the *Real* presidential yacht was a piece of crap compared to the one in the film.

Edward Herrmann is in this movie, basically being very young and very skinny. He’s best known from “Gilmore Girls” and “The Lost Boys.”

The motorboat that Scott et all use to get to and from the mainland is called the “Erewhon.” That’s a 19th century Utopian satirical novel that is so obscure I occasionally think I must have hallucinated it. Thus the name really popped out at me. I really should review that book here some time…

This movie was written by Buck Henry. Yeah, *THAT* Buck Henry. Mike Nichols, the director, is most famous for “The Graduate.” He’s also a stand-up comic. Furthermore, this movie was based on a French novel which was, allegedly, a comedic parody of the cold war. All of which strikes me as odd since the film is so doggedly un-funny (Apart from one really great bit of scatology referenced above.) Just weird.

On a personal note, I’ve occasionally mentioned how seeing things I used to like, but haven’t seen in 30 or 40 years puts me in the same room with an earlier version of myself, right? Well I used to love this film as a kid – cute talking dolphins, what’s not to love? – and it was on TV constantly. I assumed I’d be hanging out with young me in no time, but, no. Apart from “It’s hard for them to do it” and “Fa love pa” and the scene where Fa heads off Bea, I honestly didn’t remember a lick of it. Weirdest thing. Also, the parts I did remember are far, far, far, far longer in my memory than in the actual film. This makes me think I must have been crazy young, with a little kid’s kinda’ goofy time sense.

Bottom line: This is an interesting film, but only just barely. It’s not really worth putting any effort into finding, but if you stumble across at 3AM when you’re riddled with insomnia, you could do worse than watch it.

MOVIE REVIEW: “The Good, The Bad, and the Weird” (2008)

“The Good, The Bad, and the Weird,” is just about the most amazing Korean film I’ve ever seen. It’s a sprawling, insane love-letter to spaghetti westerns in general, and “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly,” in particular, as you’d expect from the title. It’s also strongly influenced by Raiders of the Lost Ark, and, believe it or not, The Road Warrior. (Which I suppose brings things full circle, since The Road Warrior is basically a postapocalyptic spaghetti western by design).

The plot only superficially overlaps with its more-or-less namesake. Basically, “Hey, there’s a treasure, lets go get it,” and three characters who can’t be trusted and don’t like each other trying to beat the others to it. It culminates in a three-way Mexican standoff. (Manchurian standoff? Despite being Korean, this movie takes place in Manchuria in 1939, very shortly before World War II breaks out.) That’s a pretty broad comparison, though, and most of what actually happens in the film has nothing to do with the Eastwood flick. For instance, at no point in this movie do we diverge from the plot for a half hour to help the Confederate army blow a bridge to slow the Union advance.

“The Good,” is a Korean bounty hunter who inexplicably dresses like a spaghetti western cowboy. Got the hat, got the duster, the awesome rifle, the quick-draw tie-down holster with six guns that never run out of bullets. He’s awesome. He’s also not in very much of the movie, as he’s, well, “The Good,” and Good isn’t nearly as much fun as evil or weird. If you haven’t seen TGTB&TU, Eastwood’s “Good” is only in relation to the other two. He’s not a nice guy. This film’s “Good” is, though, so he tends to be absent a lot. He’s an insurmountable badass, however, and has just about the most amazing gunfight ever a third of the way into the film.

“The Bad” is played by Lee Byung-hun, whom I’ve never heard of, but he just oozes “Movie Star.” Remember the first time you saw Chow Yun-Fat in “The Killer,” when he walks in with the suit and the sunglasses and the guns, and just *owns* the screen? I remember my wife saying “If he could speak English, he’d own Hollywood.” Well, Lee Byung-hun doesn’t quite have THAT level of grab-you-by-the-throat-and-force-you-to-pay-attention impact, but he’s darn close. He’s just flat-out evil here, and kind of inexplicably ’80s looking, with his New Wave haircut and his earring.

“The Weird” is oddly the main character. I know Eli Wallach got way more screen time in TGTG&etc than people remember, but his more-or-less equivalent here is the star: A not-very-bright crook with more ego than skills, occasional bouts of panic, cowardice, and an unexpected backstory that makes you wonder if his personality was real or just an act all along.

“The bounty on you is 300 Yon.”
“I’m only worth as much as a piano?”
“A used piano, at that.”

The movie deliberately bends time, with scenes that could come from any cowboy film, WW2 film, and chop-sockey flick playing side by side. It’s deliberately anachronistic, with the 80s rock star bad guy, cowboy good guy, and 1930s hobo comic lead, and this is deliberate, and a good choice.

Direction is very solid, though the steadycam gets a little too jittery in a couple scenes. Shot composition is nice. The action sequences are fantastic. There’s a fifteen-minute long chase sequence involving a motorcycle, a jeep, mongol horsemen, a gang of bandits, a cowboy, and the Imperial Japanese Army that just keeps getting bigger and bigger and more super-crazy-no-way gonzo over-the-top. It’s the kind of sequence that would make George Miller say, “I’ve wasted my life,” and start crying.

The score is gorgeous, too. It blends modern music, traditional East Asian stuff, and some very solid Ennio Morricone pastiches. It’s freakin’ awesome. I *WILL* find a copy of this for my collection.

My one caveat is that this is a pretty brutal film. Lots of blood, lots of splatter, some particularly vicious scenes with knives, two comedic-yet-really-gross skewerings. Not for the squeamish.

Just the same you guys, oh my gosh, this movie…! Wow.

Richard Hatch 1946-2017

So the word is that Richard Hatch – TV’s Captain Apollo from Battlestar Galactica – has died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 71. There’s a little debate as to whether it’s fake news or real at the moment, but I think it’s real.
 
I met him once, and learned a minor life lesson
 
See, I didn’t like him. Not to speak ill of the dead, but I just didn’t think he worked on the final season of The Streets of San Francisco, and I, like everyone else, preferred Starbuck. Hatch was reputed to be very afraid of typcasting, and refused to do interviews on set in his uniform. Apollo was always a bit of a schlub at that, even in the new show. So ultimately the star of the show got overshadowed by his own sidekick.
 
I’d heard he was increasingly hard to work with, and there’s a scene in a later episode where his lines and Starbucks have obviously been reversed (Starbuck is unusually analytical, and Apollo is unusually emotional) just for one scene. I later found out that he’d been bitching about his lines, so they just flipped ’em on the fly.
 
I saw him in a few things after that. A movie or two, a TV movie about Jan and Dean, I think he had a sitcom about a detective school for a while. I have no idea if he was a good actor or not. I do not know. He could be brilliant. All I can say is that I never saw him in anything that really showcased his talents particularly well.
 
And of course I’d always heard he was a dick.
 
So I met him once after his first appearance on the New Galactica, and oh my gosh, he was probably the friendliest non-stoned person I’d ever met. He was very nice, he was very modest. When I told him I liked Zarek on the new BSG, he seemed genuinely surprised, he went out of his way for me to get a picture with him, he was happy to just hang out and talk despite being very busy, gave me his autograph without asking for any money, talked excitedly about other projects he had going on (“Great War of Magellan,” which never materialized) and above all was extremely, extremely modest.
 
And I felt really bad about thinking he was a dick all those years, based entirely on 3rd hand reports from people who never knew him.
 
Now, granted, he could have been acting. He’d just had his biggest break in 20 years, and getting out there and being really friendly was a good move, even if you hate the people around you, but I don’t think he was. I think he was just a genuinely nice guy who hadn’t had the easiest of careers, but was still doing what he loved.
 
Admittedly that’s a pretty minor life-lesson, but it was in the right time and place and frame of mind to make a big impression on me. He was the first celeb from my childhood that I had really strong impressions about that turned out to be utterly false, and it made me revisit a lot of stupid opinions. I had a very similar instance some time later with Gil Gerard, but that’s for another day.

My Diary: Day 18,198: In which I realize I’m Overwhelming

I realized yesterday that I’m overwhelming. Not in the “Oh, he’s so wonderful,” sense, but more in the “Randy is exhausting, and I just can’t deal with him,” sense.

There’s any number of examples: I’ve been in and out of bands and writing songs and making music since 1988. Why? When I started out, obviously, I hoped I’d get a big break and be a rock star. Everyone does. By 1990 or 91 I’d realized that wasn’t going to happen, but I kept on doing it. Most of my friends had already given up on that sort of thing by then, but I kept going.

My goal? Never clear. Mostly, I think I just wanted to include a song or two on the mix tapes I sent my friends to let ’em know I was still doing this. I never did, of course, because making music and recording it are very different, and recording it in 1991 was way harder than now.

Oh, and let’s take the mix tapes, shall we? I made ’em. I made a lot of them. I was very interested in very many very different kinds of music, so I made mix tapes that I sent my friends. Two or three a year. If you were unlucky enough to be my girlfriend or on the shortlist of best friends, you got more than that. We called it “The Randy Records and Tapes Club.” Eventually I switched to CD.  I slowed down a bit, to one or two a year.

I got less and less response every time, and had to keep needling people to find out what they though of “Astronauts,” by “Desk,” featuring backing vocals by Aimee Mann, or a long-lost They Might Be Giants B-Side, or a Cold Water Army song or an unfinished Roy Orbison track or my Ska obsession or what have you. Oh, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins! I don’t think anyone on the planet likes him but me, and BOY was I vocal about it.

Finally, around 2007 I sent out a really good double-disk mix, and I didn’t hear back from anyone. Not a peep. When I pressed, I was angrily told that it was just too much, that we were all 30-ish now, and weren’t interested in hearing new crap, and please knock it off. Depressing.

So I knocked it off. I started actually recording my own music, and eventually started putting it on youtube and nobody cares. If I get 13 views, that’s exceptionally popular for me. Again, if I push people, they get mad. “Nobody wants to listen to your stupid songs about Ocelots, or your weird-ass instrumentals, Randy!” Depressing.

Oh, and I write. A lot. I always have. I was head writer for Republibot for five years, and no one cared. When I quit, it folded, and nobody cared. I have this site you’re reading, and I’d be surprised if 5 people read it a month. I also had a fanzine (“Rampant Boingophrenia”) and eventually another one for heretical religious matters called “Sacrilege, Ho!” (Obviously I put a few of these online eventually) and my endless movie reviews and chat rooms and stuff. Nobody cared about any of this. Actually, I was irritating and/or scaring them. Depressing.

Then I started writing books, and NOBODY wants to have anything to do with you if you’re self-publishing books. Seriously: your friends who’ve talked about that novel for 25 years, but never actually got around to it hate you. People who actually write ignore you because they’re busy writing. People who don’t care about such things find it pretentious. People who do care about such things generally have more interesting stuff to check out than my nonsense.

Yeah, you might get a couple people who will buy the first book out of politeness, and never read it, or skim it and give you a nice “It had a good beat, and you can dance to it” review on Amazon, but after that, you’re done. I’ve got, what, eight books, seven of which are pretty good, and one of which is terrible. (No, seriously: It’s my crappy poetry. Stay away from that one) I’ve got four more in various stages of completion that I hope to have out this year.

That’s a lot of stuff! Nobody cares. Depressing.

Added to which I am reputed to be (As one person put it) a “Vigorous conversationalist.” What that boiled down to is (As another person put it), “Requiring way too much energy to talk to.” I can see that. I probably am a lot of work. I never talk about normal stuff like sports. I’m always on about whether or not Saul of Tarsus was part of the Herodian Royal Family, or my latest project that no one cares about, or what I’d do if I was making Galactica for a third time.

So, bottom line: I’m overwhelming. I produce more stuff than people can keep up with. And people don’t want to keep up with it. They want to read Dan Brown novels and listen to whatever was popular whenever they were in High School, and not have me wildly speculating about theology, or the Apollo program, or why Venus is better than Mars for colonization.

AND I CAN NOT FAULT THEM FOR THAT.

Nor do I. Maybe 1 or 2 percent of people are really interested in the giddy thrill of thinking or experiencing or seeing or hearing new things after their 20s. We’re all pretty set in our ways by the time we hit 50. We’re actually neurologically wired to enjoy learning less by that point: We’re supposed to have learned everything we need to by then. I never felt like I’ve learned anything.

This is not arrogance or elitism on my part. I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else. I’m just a flibbertigibbet. I chase after any new shiny object or idea that catches my eye, and I talk about it. A *LOT* Way too much. It’s my failing, not theirs. I don’t have a lot of impulse control in that regard.

OH, and I forgot to mention my mood swings. My mania and depression, and frequent unpredictable behavior. That’s tiresome as well.

So the bottom line here is that I’m just exhausting.

I get that now. I really do. I’m not depressed about it or anything, I’ve just finally identified the problem, and I’m a little excited about that.

The question, then, is what I do about it.

I got no clue. Please sound off if you’ve got any ideas.