Poem: The Waking Dead

Talking to myself is less lonely

or more, I suppose than silence

is a choking void, speaking like a robot

valium addict method acting a dopefeind

in a drama, directed by Arinofsky

on a sadness bender, under a shade

with sunglasses on, it’s from a Friedkin

script about the dead rising slowly

at first, and they’re weak so barely

any escape, and their disease is a curse

not contagious, so there will be no more

dead, the movie is ten minutes long.

Poem: The Waking Dead

Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Writer: Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, (novel by) Peter George

Starring: Peter Sellers, George C. Scott, Sterling Hayden

Dr. Strangelove is brilliant satire, and while it deals with themes of apocalyptic importance, it never fails to be riotously funny.  In 1963, burgeoning auteur Stanley Kubrick won the rights to adapt “Red Alert,” a serious-as-hell paranoid fantasy about the beginning of a nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia.  He and screenwriter Terry Southern struggled to adapt the novel, eventually coming to the decision that the events described in the novel were so terrifying that they could not be handled seriously.  So the two of them changed course, creating one of the most brilliantly hilarious pieces of political satire ever conceived.  In the film, an American base commander launches a surprise nuclear strike on many targets inside Russia, unwittingly triggering a Russian “doomsday devise” that could wipe out all life on Earth.  This film, brilliant as it is, could never have worked without the efforts of certified comedy genius Peter Sellers, who tackles three of the film’s central roles.

Using his native British accent, Sellers first plays group captain Lionel Mandrake, whose put-upon stammer provides the audience with its clearest surrogate.  This character is desperate, terrified, and absolutely professional.  Later in the film Sellers reappears as the eponymous Dr. Strangelove, using a ludicrous German accent and seemingly random vocal emphasis to portray the character’s madness.  His greatest performance of the film, however, comes in his portrayal of U.S. President Merton Muffley.  The sequence in which Muffley, on the verge of tears, explains the situation to Russian head Premeir Kissoff, is an absolute comedic masterpiece.  Though Sellers’ powerhouse performances dominate the film, three other brilliant and likewise hilarious performances are turned in by Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott, and Slim Pickens.

Slim Pickens plays T.J. “King” Kong, the American pilot ordered to attack Russia, and he fills the role with good-natured flair, portraying a man who, just by doing his job as well as he can, may end up destroying the world.  George C. Scott plays General “Buck” Turgidson, a towering buffoon who chews gum as if it owes him money.  Sterling Hayden’s performance as General Jack D. Ripper is hilariously stern and insane.  I’ve seen the film more times then I can recall, but I can never not guffaw when General Ripper speaks of “The international communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.”

Beyond these masterpieces of comic acting, Kubrick filles the screen with visual jokes as funny as any I’ve ever seen.  In the war room General Turgidson (Scott) sits in front of a binder labeled “World Targets in Megadeaths,” and as a large machine gun constantly fires, we see directly behind it a billboard that reads “Peace is our Profession.”  General Ripper pulling a gigantic machine gun out of his golf club satchel, and Kong (Pickens) describing the contents of his own survival pack (“…Two lipsticks, two pair of nylon stockings…”) all add to the comedically enhanced reality of the film.  Dr. Strangelove is satire at its highest form, saying important things about meaningful topics, and it makes me laugh every time I see it.

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Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

Dirty Pretty Things (2002)

Director: Stephen Frears

Writer: Steven Knight

Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Audrey Tatou

Streaming on Netflix

In America, illegal immigration is now the cornerstone of a certain and ultimately deplorable type of partisan rhetoric, but in Stephen Frears’ 2002 masterpiece Dirty Pretty Things, London’s problems with illegal immigration (far greater than America’s struggles) are tackled in an unvarnished, brutal, and ultimately heart affirming fashion.  The soul of this story is in the marvelously emotive eyes of its devastatingly handsome leading man, Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Talk to Me, Children of Men).  The soul of this story can be seen completely through Chiwetel’s fantastic, star-making performance.

The film revolves around Okwe (Chiwetel), an illegal African immigrant living in London and working as a taxi driver, a fancy hotel’s night front desk operator, and occasionally using his extensive medical knowledge to diagnose venereal diseases.  Okwe was a doctor in Nigeria, we are told early in the film, but the details of his history and the reasons for his exile are kept a mystery until late in the story.  Early in the film, he fixes a clogged toilet by reaching down its mouth and wrenches out a human heart.  From here the plot moves swiftly, bringing the audience through a fascinating panorama of London’s immigrant communities.

Chiwetel’s performance, remarkable as it is, is only one fragment of the fantastic cast this film brings together.  Audrey Tatou (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement) brings a complex ambivalence as Senay, a character who’s childish spirit and cheerful naiveté are clearly tempered with personal knowledge of the dark side of life.  Sergi Lopez (Pan’s Labyrinth) brings a seedy sense of fun to his role as the alcoholic hotel manager and black market organ dealer nicknamed Sneaky.  Benedict Wong, as Okwe’s closest friend and hospital crematorium manager, is unspeakably funny saying lines like “I don’t bring (organs) home with me, but I could, if I was weird.”

The thing that cannot be left unsaid about Dirty Pretty Things, despite its depressing subject matter, is how delightfully entertaining it is.  In the middle of the film’s central intrigue, a wonderfully unspoken romance blossoms between the two leads (Ejiofor, Tatou), and by it the story is given wings.  Stephen Frears (The Grifters, The Queen, Philomena) plays all these very powerful and conflicting emotions in perfect balance throughout the film, wrapping it all up beautifully and completely in its brisk hour and a half runtime.

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Dirty Pretty Things (2002)