Like most people, I can't say I have a single favorite movie. But, if I had to make a short list of favorites, this would be on it. Mostly I am awed by the story in the original screenplay by David Peoples.
William Munny (Clint Eastwood) hears of a bounty offered for killing two cowboys who have cut up a prostitute's face. Though he was a thief and a killer in his younger days, Munny reformed and swore to his wife he would never go back to his evil ways.
But his wife has died, he has two children to care for, and his farm is failing. Also, the cause is just: the law (Gene Hackman) has compensated the owner of the brothel but has done nothing for the prostitute. Munny decides to make one last score.
A lot goes wrong. Through it all, Munny and his friend (Morgan Freeman) prove themselves deeply flawed men who behave with honor while carrying out a mission they don't believe in. Sometimes life is like that.
A bright light flashes in the sky. Shortly after, everyone's power goes out, and cars won't start.
When the neighbors on a suburban street compare notes on what might be happening, a teenager says he read a story about aliens who take over earth by first sending spies who look like humans to live among us.
His mother says those are just silly comic books, but people start to speculate whether any of the more eccentric residents on their street could be aliens. Things do not go well after that.
"The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" aired in 1960 as part of the first season of The Twilight Zone. Many episodes are scary. I found this one disturbing because it seems so familiar: unusual events are "explained" by a far-fetched theory and people start hunting monsters. If we re-wrote this to include social media, we would have a story from today's news reports.
This is what we call normal traffic on San Francisco's one-way streets. There are lanes for parking on either side. There are lanes for double-parking on either side. There is one traffic lane in the center.
San Francisco has pairs of one-way streets, one east bound, one westbound. The lights are timed to keep traffic moving at around twenty-five miles per hour. Used properly they would be efficient means of moving around a city with the worst traffic congestion in the USA (yes, worse than you, NYC).
They are not used properly. People try to drive forty miles per hour on them and end up creating stop-and-go traffic. And people double-park. Delivery trucks double park because alleys for making deliveries are extremely rare. Also, Uber and Lyft started here, seemed to assume they could double-park, and no one ever told them they couldn't.
When I call this "normal traffic," I am not exaggerating. Mid-day, you cannot drive more than three blocks in any direction without encountering the kind of situation shown here. Doesn't this make you want to ride an electric scooter on the sidewalk?
This is what I call a coffee shop. It has a machine for roasting coffee beans. Not surprisingly, it's called Coffee Roastery.
It doesn't look nearly as inviting as usual with the chairs and tables stored at the end of the room. When it is again safe to sit indoors together, this room will again invite patrons to linger while enjoying a cup of coffee.
Coffee Roastery has several locations around San Francisco. Each shop has its own machine to roast the beans used and sold in that shop. Does it make a difference whether the beans are roasted within hours of being brewed? It can't hurt.
Sudden Fear is classic mid-century noir. The men wear hats and suits and ties because men did back then. The women wear silk stockings and have elaborate coiffures because women did back then. People travel cross-country by train and the automobiles are enormous. It's all filmed in glorious black and white.
Joan Crawford and Jack Palance make a quirky romantic couple. She plays an heiress and successful playwright. He plays an aspiring actor. She fires him from her Broadway show. He seduces her and plots to kill her, aided by an old girlfriend played by Gloria Grahame.
Crawford's acting style recalls the silent films in which she started with close-ups that allow her facial expressions to reflect sequences of thought and emotion. Palance's style exemplifies modern realism. Grahame's acting transcends style.
Much of the film recalls Alfred Hitchcock's criticism of what happened initially when sound was added to movies: they became "photographs of people talking." However, in the final quarter of the film, when Crawford and Palance launch their deadly schemes, director David Miller and cinematographer Charles Lang put on a tour de force of visual storytelling that Hitchcock might have envied.
I thought twice about whether to review this movie on the Dark Stories blog because it's a documentary on current events. There are plenty of real dark stories in the news. You don't come here to read about them.
But I've written about another documentary recently, Three Identical Strangers (2018), and a docu-drama, American Animals (2018), because they are as suspenseful as any of the fiction on this blog. The Social Dilemma is too.
On one level, it's about white men around 30 years of age trying to put the genie back in the bottle. These are men who made social media what it is today: ubiquitous, addictive, powerful, and unregulated. They no longer work for companies such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
They know they created the most powerful propaganda tool in history and made it equally available to marketers and dictators. They relate their own struggles with setting aside their phones and explain why they don't let their kids have phones until they're teenagers.
A dramatization is threaded through the documentary. Mom, Dad, and three children all have different attitudes about cell phones. The oldest daughter worries about her younger siblings. The teenage brother is helpless without his phone. The pre-teen daughter knows people only through social media. It's an uncomplicated but effective illustration of the growing problem.
The suspense comes from the way each topic leads to the next as the former titants of tech testify to what they have done and what can be done about it. Tristan Harris, former Google Design Ethicist, is in effect the moderator of this discussion put together from interviews with the others. By the time you've heard what they say about each topic (surveillance capitalism, conspiracy theories, rising teenage suicide rates, etc.) you are desperate to hear them address the next.
Fact-based dark stories feel different from fictional dark-stories, but when well-made can be just as suspenseful and just as scary.
"Kluge" is word used by engineers to describe "a clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem." It's a gadget that works but is overly complicated and inefficient and prone to breakdowns. Psychologist Gary Marcus uses this word to describe the human brain.
Marcus cites many experiments in psychology to demonstrate the brain's malfunctions. For instance, if we are told something is true, we tend to see only evidence that proves it and ignore evidence that would disprove it. Similarly people who are told to go room 756 and guess the number of beans in a jar will guess higher than people told to go to room 110. These and other quirks are explained by the physical structure of the brain.
I've been reading books by psychologists recently. You can find my reviews under "Writing" on this blog. One of those books, The Confidence Man by Maria Konnikova, provided some research for The Con Man's Son.
The first three seasons of Search Party reminded my of how Twin Peaks felt when it burst upon the scene in 1990: scary, funny, surreal . . . So I recently watched the two-hour pilot, and sure-enough it feels as innovative as ever.
From the opening credits, which introduce the saw-mill town as a well-oiled machine set in a magnificent landscape, to the introduction of Agent Cooper as a guy who loves cherry pie and is looking for a clean reasonably priced motel, this show puts normalcy under a microscope.
And it finds lots of bacteria. There are the usual small-town diseases, corruption and adultery. And there are bizarre touches: the band at a biker bar plays a euphoric ballad, the local bad boys bark like dogs . . . what does it all mean?
I'm not a binge-watcher, but I think I'll wander through the original two seasons.
We always enjoyed seeing Movies at the Bridge. With its seating capacity of 350, it had the feel of a neighborhood theater. Around twenty years ago, we went to see The Station Agent one afternoon. While waiting to buy popcorn, we saw my brother-in-law and his daughter were there for the same showing. Love that small-town feel.
It closed in 2012, having operated as a movie house since it was built in 1939. Now the former auditorium offers baseball batting cages. Landmark was the last company to operate the Bridge as a movie theater, just as it was the last to operate the Clay Theater.
Enjoy this thriller as a typical heist movie with plenty of well-choreographed, MIssion-Impossible-style action sequences. The heist is pulled off (pulled off twice, in fact) by a crew of specialists played by A-list stars, headed by Robert Redford. There's plenty of straight-up entertainment value.
It's described as a "comedy caper," and perhaps it was in 1992, but nearly thirty years later some of it is not so funny. The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, so the movie contains references to an ambiguous relationship between Russia and the USA. The plot is complicated by conflicts among the FBI, CIA, and NSA.
Most of all, it's chilling how the film sees digital networks controlling the globe. As one character says, wars are no longer fought with bullets and bombs, but rather with ones and zeroes.
The movie was made before graphical user interfaces turned the Internet into the World Wide Web. The technology in the film looks primitive today, but the theme could not be more current. Recent events have turned this romp into a dark story. It has improved with age.
Yesterday the internet was full of photos of the ominous red sky over San Francisco at day break. I snapped a few but couldn't improve on the ones I'd seen.
Around mid-day, I ventured downtown and saw all the street lights on. This is what Market Street usually looks like around 6:00 pm in winter, not in the middle of a summer day.
The red sky at dawn and darkness at noon were caused by high-altitude layers of smoke from California's wildfires. No fires are near the city, but their smoke covers the state. Throughout the day, ash and soot rained down on everything.
Of the ten largest wildfires in California history, seven have occurred in the past five years. Why? 1. People living further away from cities and demanding, 2. suppression of small wildfires, which clean up "fuel" that accumulates in forests. 3. Climate change making the air warmer and therefore drier.
In Hitchcock/Truffaut, the first question Francois Truffaut asks Alfred Hitchcock is whether "the incident at the police station" is true.
Hitchcock: Yes, it is. I must have been about four or five years old. My father sent me to the police station with a note. The chief of police read it and locked me in a cell for five or ten minutes, saying, "This is what we do to naughty boys."
Truffaut: Why were you being punished?
Hitchcock: I haven't the faintest idea.
They begin Chapter Two by discussing The Lodger, which the master himself calls "the first true 'Hitchcock movie.'" It is about a man mistakenly suspected of being Jack the Ripper. Truffaut identifies this as "the theme recurs in almost all of your later works: a man accused of a crime of which he's innocent."
The psychology is obvious. As a boy, Hitchcock was put in jail, a punishment he did not deserve. He spent his career mostly making movies about characters falsely accused, chased and punished.
But he did not seem to be repeating himself. Although this theme is present in The Thirty-Nine Steps, North by Northwest, Vertigo, Frenzy and many more, each film has its own personality. I never noticed how consistent this theme is, until I read about it in the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews.
On the right, you can see people sitting at outdoor tables inside a blue fence with lights strung over head. Across the street you can see people seated in a similar enclosure. Each of these occupies two or three parking spaces at the curb in front of a restaurant.
The City of San Francisco began issuing permits for these temporary outdoor dining rooms in June. Restaurants had been closed since March, along with retail stores and most everything else. The idea was to give the owners a way to pay the rent and keep a few employees on the payroll.
San Franciscans are as eager as anyone to pay someone to prepare a meal. These have proven very popular, despite the climate here, which is . . . let's just say it's not like Southern California. Most afternoons there's a chilly wind off the ocean. As you can see both of these outdoor dining rooms have tall heaters.
We took a walk in Dogpatch yesterday. It's a neighborhood on the east side of the city, facing the bay. Recently it was an industrial area with a neighborhood of little houses and some dive bars. Now, the factory buildings are lofts for small shops and apartments.
There are also new apartment buildings, and, as in the rest of San Francisco, there are no bargains. Let's just say incomes of less than six figures need not apply. This is one of those newish apartment buildings. As you can see, it cozies up to a ramp.
As my co-pilot pointed out, it's not a freeway ramp, but rather a connector of a surface street in Dogpatch to a surface street on Potrero Hill. So the traffic and noise may not be too intense. Still, the rule applies: no bargains.
I'll admit I didn't call the rental/sales office to check. At a certain point, one stops checking. I suppose the units whose windows look directly at the edge of the ramp may cost less than those facing the street but not by much, I'll bet.
Season One of Search Party surveys the silliness of creative twenty-somethings in Manhattan and deftly turns the corner from social satire to noir suspense. Season Two turns that development into full-blown noir with our now-not-so-funny (but still entertaining) group of friends living with the horror of what they've done and struggling to keep it secret.
In Season Three, the secret is out and we turn from observing our anti-heroes under a microscope to looking at the world they live in with a wide-angle lens. That world of people who do not have secrets to keep is no less freakish than our heroes. And yet, like our heroes, those people are hilariously unaware of their own monstrous qualities.
This series has a lot in common with Dead to Me with a world view like something imagined by David Lynch.