Remembering Ray Bradbury

Remembering Ray Bradbury

I was recently looking for meteors when the moon was barely half-full. As I stood outside the front of my house, facing east, then southeast, looking for Orion’s belt above the horizon, my mind wandered back to an interview I once saw of Ray Bradbury. I was a college undergrad at the time, when I used to watch the Dick Cavett Show. As I stood on the moonlit sidewalk, I vaguely recalled how Bradbury summarized one of his short stories. It was about three astronauts who are stranded outside of their ship after catastrophe strikes their vessel. Unable to return to safety and lost in the middle of space, the story is driven by the conversation these men have, including their final goodbyes, before gravity thrusts them apart and to their certain deaths. One is cast toward the sun, while another is propelled toward Mars’s orbit. As for the third doomed astronaut, he’s propelled back toward earth’s atmosphere. The story then ends with a mother and daughter looking at the night sky, when the daughter suddenly says, “Oh, look Mommy! A shooting star!” Of course, for those who know Bradbury’s stories, they’ll recognize the general, albeit imperfectly drawn plot of “Kaleidoscope,” which appeared in The Illustrated Man (1951). As for why I thought about this story the other night, when I’ve searched the night sky for meteors countless time before without thinking about it, I have no idea. What I do know is that just before giving up my search and returning indoors, a shooting star suddenly flashed overhead.

“Haven’t you heard Mr. Beckett? The world is coming to an end.”

Ever since viewing ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, the name of Guillermo del Toro has conjured up images of nightmares turned into myth, eloquently retold in the nonverbal language of filmmaking. Del Toro’s Hellboy films, in turn, added humor to his occultist vision of humanity and its pretenses toward civilization. In the case of ‘Pacific Rim’, del Toro takes on the daunting task of making the Kaiju genre his own. In which case, the monsters of ‘Pacific Rim’ are compelled to be measured against such legendary figures as Godzilla, Gamera, and Mothra, creatures of mysterious origin, yet clearly children of the Atomic Age, complete with memorable personalities. Del Toro’s monsters, although artfully designed, are merely rampaging behemoths, targets in a multimillion dollar video game of a movie, in which a host of giant robots called Jaegers take turns doing battle with their Cloverfield-esque nemeses. While the battle scenes can be entertaining, largely due to their epic scale, the characters are relentlessly two-dimensional, relying heavily on a cacophony of arrogant American and Australian jocks. Supporting characters tend to just stand around as scenery, scarcely uttering any dialog, let alone doing anything critical to the plot. How on earth much of the story can take place in Hong Kong with no significant Chinese characters is incomprehensible. As for the one female main character, Mako Mori, she’s played more as a stereotypical “China doll”/”dutiful daughter” than as the soldier she’s supposed to be. Perhaps because the movie depends almost exclusively on special effects, the minimal storyline is overwhelmed by monstrous roars, crashes, and explosions. Also, I don’t want to fail to mention that although I liked the imaginative display of kaiju, no two looked alike, the Jaegers seemed too derivative of Transformers and Neon Genesis Evangelion. In fact, speaking of derivation, the latter third of the movie is little more than a noise-fest, similar to Transformers 2. Also, I didn’t think any of the attempts at humor paid off. I couldn’t even make myself grin at any of the jokes. And if you find Newton and Gottlieb appealing or, heaven forbid, funny, then you’re a much more generous person than I’ll ever be. So, in the end, while I can honestly admit to being occasionally entertained, the overall experience was a bit disappointing, especially coming from a director with such a copious amount of talent.

The Archetype of Teenage Revenge

The Archetype of Teenage Revenge

When Brian De Palma’s ‘Carrie’ was released in early November 1976, I was too young to see it, not to mention too broke in the first place to go to many movies. Yet, over the years, Carrie White came to stand as the exemplification of adolescent rage against one’s peers, society, and being relentlessly misunderstood, isolated, and unappreciated. As Carrie worked its way into our collective psyche, there was a point when you need not have actually seen the movie in order to know who Carrie was and what she did the night of her high school prom. Equally important, you need not have been raised as Carrie was raised, by an abandoned Bible-thumping zealot parent suffering from a profound fear of sex and sexuality, in order to know her loneliness, the kind of loneliness that can only come from feeling surrounded by bullying teenagers. The story of Carrie was cathartic, it was familiar, and it was an archetype that dwells in us all. Nearly four decades later, as I watched this movie last night (while others were out seeing the 2013 remake), I could still feel the dark joy of exacting revenge on everyone whoever made me feel less than, hurt, worthless, ugly and undesirable. At this point, of course, my perspective on Carrie’s story has changed, informed by age and experience, including more appreciation for my self-worth. Nevertheless, no matter how secure and accomplished I may feel, Sissy Spacek’s unforgettable portrayal of Stephen King’s anti-heroine still makes me want to take Carrie’s side and I still take pleasure from watching her set that gym on fire. And, of, those split-screen shots of mayhem and pandemonium!