Scott Ellington's Blog

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Smarter and more industrious folks than I am lead me to believe that the plan to detonate an atomic bomb above the unalerted Japanese city of Hiroshima was carefully devised because a more humane demonstration of overwhelming power might have failed miserably (with disastrous consequences to American military and political [not scientific] careers).

No prior warning was provided to anybody Japanese.  Civilians were commonly held to be every bit as hostile to American military action as were members of the Japanese military. 

The bomb was regarded as an unreliable means to persuade Japan to end the war; unreliable, because it might fail to explode and an humane warning would only serve the counterproductive purpose of calling attention to an American failure.

Civilian target.  No warning.  These choices were made to insure that American face would be saved if the demonstration of our power fizzled.  But the atomic device didn’t fizzle, it worked — and any pretensions of  our moral superiority were vaporized in each of the successful detonations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  911 outrage loses luster in this context.

The American government’s race to beat the German government to the creation of unparalleled destructive power resulted in the obliteration of lots of Japanese lives because the Japanese people were known to be incredibly loyal to their government.  Loyalty…bad.

Ken Burns’ The War and the BBC’s Oppenheimer haven’t helped me to an understanding of the pleasure we Americans took on VJ Day.  Both presentations strive to be fair, but the information they present doesn’t (attempt to) disguise unfathomable atrocity, instead they spread before me entire feasts of nauseating wrongs, American and otherwise.

Perhaps a more strenuous course of investigation (following lines of research previously covered in these two productions) will yield reason for more comforting evaluation of these facts.  Comfort…good.

31 Aug 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Lakeview Terrace

It’s an OrdinaryAmerican movie (as opposed to a CostumedSuperHero movie) that provides compelling evidence that With Great Power and vested responsibility comes ample, sanctioned opportunity to totally Fuck. You. UP!  

Both kinds of the mythic figures we celebrate in films deserve a great deal of thought and scrutiny, particularly OrdinaryAmericans, who are at least as whimsical and fabricated as ConstumedSuperHeroes.  There are no Ordinary Americans.  We’re all peculiar, idiosyncratic and constitutionally disinclined to unanimity; from person to person and from one moment to the next we’re eminently disagreeable, even with ourselves.

Samuel L. Jackson’s centerpiece character flipflops absolutely brilliantly between several sets of solid, plausible, whole identities; veteran top-cop, over-the-top-cop, martinet dad, neighborhood Watchman, maniac, wronged mastercriminal, self-fulfilling prophecy and utterly irRegular Guy.  Someone should jack up the whole Academy while calling the Nice Police to make a polite, euphemistic report to the commissioner on the state of the art of empowering creeps and making them.

Black racism has never received the kind of attention it’s always deserved, and this film goes exactly there with amazingly layered grace, gyroscopic equilibrium and a taste for relentless shock that makes it a singularly interesting monster-movie about worst-nightmares that live right next door (to one another).  An incredibly slow reveal of the matter/anti-matter spike in the punch.

Neither Training Day nor Hancock spent any effort in tilling the treasury of dark and abominable emotional explosives that Lakeview Terrace thoroughly ploughs.  And it does so with a delicate sensitivity that Pacific Heights never found.  (Specific Whites was a more eloquent name for that part of my home town.)

Abel Turner is an iconic monster whose deeply disciplined, compartmentalized life has been gradually and willfully, heroically pulled back from the brink of a disaster (he helped create)…until THEY move in, and the tidy compartment-dividers evaporate as polarized stuff in this guy’s several lives (that should never ever mix) is finally brought together under deceptively-high pressure with living wires and ancient resentments.  When Abel falls, he indicts his brother, while staring us dead in our collective face. 

A Slight Digression:  Compartmentalized psychic activity tumbles out of the special features of Top Gun.  It’s a way of visualizing the diversified competencies of elite Naval aviators, who tend to be renaissance men whose mortality and talents are designed so they don’t overlap.  So Spielberg opens War of the Worlds by installing Maverick at the controls of a shipyard crane, seemingly illustrating a top gun’s fall from grace into the world of middle-aged failures.  That association yanked my attention right out of the later film by telling me that Spielberg is far removed from my reality in which crane operators are the pay/responsibility pinnacle of industrial production, everywhere in the world except Hollywood.  The cocky Cruise-control that Maverick exhibited twenty years ago has been replaced by a motorhead flake whose failed marriage, doomed kids and total control of his crane-cockpit is deeply Hollywood Surreal.  It still strikes as a dumb fixation in the minds of the Spielberg entourage, but the MaverickToRay=failure illustration put an abrupt end to my confidence in the film scant minutes into the movie, which made it extremely easy to see, thereafter, that the war of the worlds was waged between human generations and the Martians were just for sex appeal.  If I’d been Ray, Robbie would have been dead by the middle of the first reel, and Rachel was on the bubble.  These thoughts about War of the Worlds came up while I read a cool interpretive treatment of that film at  Ending this digression now by pointing to the Martian tripods as though they carried cameras that targeted cameras. 

I streamed Lakeview Terrace, so I’m looking forward to the strong possibility of a commentary track to guide my further adventures in branded entertainment.  Not much credibility in studio logos, my brands are the names of writers, a few directors, and a limited number of onscreen interpreters of the ideas embedded in scripts:  Gilroy, Dobbs, Whedon, Scott, Tykwer, Jackson, Hoffman…guys (I’m sorry to see what certainly appears to be gender-bias in me) like that.

THREE DAYS LATER:  The DVD’s commentary track brings the director and lead actress forward to connect a few dots, like; Lakeview Terrace is the location in the San Fernando Valley where Rodney King played piñata for white, L.A. cops whose racebased, abusive brutality ignited black community violence (mostly against itself). 

That “seeing is believing” is a stupid motto is driven home early in the film, when Abel notices unfamiliar people moving into the vacated home next to his.  The black couple is slightly unusual in that the woman is considerably younger than her mate which probably raises the Turner hackles just as much as his powerlessness to screen the people who have just become his neighbors.  AND Able’s inital perception is soon proven to be deeply incorrect (not unlike eyewitness testimony) as his continuous scrutiny of the moving-in process reveals that the hired hand, a young, white man, is accompanied by his wife and her immaculately dressed father, which modifies the application of The Golden Rule to these newcomers, for both Abel and for the audience.  The shifting sands of context amplify the tension of making sense of details in the first few minutes of the film.

This introduction makes the very subtle point that Rodney King was not the world’s most sympathetic innocent brutalized by power-crazed maniacs for doing exactly nothing.  The film procedes to make the points that appearances can decieve the “objective” viewer, objectivity is mostly a self-delusion, preconceptions condition perceptual processes to an extent that can render them profoundly influential, subjective, ruinous.  These points apply to newsreel footage, eyewitness reportage and townhall meetings.

The success of this fascinating motion picture rests squarely on the mercurial talents of Samuel L. Jackson to confuse the preconceptions of his audience.  The deleted scenes lost valuable information concerning the careers of the married couple, which actually serves to humanize them by connecting the husband to an ostensibly altruistic corporation (not unlike Google) which firmly belives that newage retail corporations and mom&pop cornerstores can cohabit like friendly next-door neighbors.  The wife is trapped in an abusive relationship with her white, male philandering boss…a detail that sets the template for Abel’s confessional backstory in the friendly, neighborhood bar.  Adversarial differences in class, race and outlook come forward in the confessional scene.  They are not met with empathy, just that infinitely meaningless catchall abracadabra …”Whatever!”

The commentary and deleted scenes indicate that Will Smith, under other circumstances, might have taken Jackson’s role for himself.  Smith’s production company held the rights to the script — which was subjected to revision all the way to theatrical release.  Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson — I think Abel Turner was best-presented by the guy who took the role.  I also think the the film’s director and all of the secondary characters were significantly less in contact with the heart of the material than the actor who made it a revelatory and revolutionary advance in the further adventures of our national inability to get along with one another.

What might the Mattsons, the black&white couple, have done to deflect the point of Able Turner’s wrath?  Who might have prevented Iago from fabricating lethal conflict?  Why is the IMDb audience, reflected in several reviews, down on the end of Lakeview Terrace simply because of an irresolute ending?  I mean, that’s what Americans do, we move on to other topics without resolving anything, as though seeing were believing, as though problems go away the moment we stop watching them.  Abel’s irrational resentment is better explained than Iago’s vendetta against Othello.  These guys are not as rare as an optimistic view of humankind supposes, and films like Lakeview Terrace simply introduce the notion that catastrophic irrational resentment in the perfect, customized situation is lurking in every one of us in a nation that presumptuously thinks of itself as heroically “post-racist”.  Maybe we’re all just cameras, targeting one another; mirroring whatever.



19 Aug 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments


I think the authors of the script, Ngo and Gilligan, constructed an incredibly insightful blueprinted metaphor for the antithetical repulsion-continuum of Love/Power that was roundly overlooked by the folks who made the movie.  Charlize Theron, it seems to me, was the only above-the-line contributor who brought to the project a genuine sense of what the movie was doing in a picture dedicated to the annoying signature of Peter Berg, aka, CAPTAIN JIGGLE(cam).  I always like Will Smith.

The central conflict running deep in the film is the range of emotional and behavioral artifacts that accompany singular power versus those that come with intimacy.  Flowing from that deep and fundamental, antagonistic conversation are all the intricate subtextural elements that result in a film that opens with an hour-long view into the nihilistic existence of a pointless, alienated, derelict superhero whose loneliness in the second hour is redeemed by the discovery of his forgotten, immortal counterpoint.  The dynamic 180° switch is achieved with admirable wtf-abruptness, but the reveal of the supercouple filled my head with questions that remained unresolved while the film raced on at a new blistering pace to reach its own conclusion.  Sequel?

Remarks in the DVD’s special-features disk suggest that the interpersonal conflict of this immortal couple are now (and have always been) permanent, but nothing in the dialogue highlights irreconcilable differences, apart from Mary’s allegation that she is the more powerful of the two of them.  I think she believes that statement to be true because she chose to abandon her mate in Miami in 1928, while he (like a discarded puppy) eventually found his circuitous way back to her side.  I find that intimation fascinating because it goes to the heart of the intrapersonal polarity of proximal-intimate-vulnerability contrasted with remote-anonymous-immortality&singular power; not unlike superheroic blackburied Captains of Industry (moms&dads) who barely know their kids.

Oddly, there are previews on the special features disk for The International and Lakeview Terrace.  Having seen and enjoyed the former, I’ve queued the latter to find out whether Lakeview Terrace does a better job of treating intersexual race and the abuse of power.  Tom Tykwer’s made films I enjoy tremendously, and Handjobcock (like Dolores Claiborne) reaches deep into forbidden regions below the belt where it juggles our cultural balls and fumbles them slightly short of the goal that’s even (or FAR) more important than the particular story about which they’re told.  I lay responsibility for those fumbles on Taylor Hackford and Peter Berg.

In Hancock, Mary explains their immortal identities to amnesiac-John, “We’re gods, angels…now they call us superheroes…”.  I misunderstood her reading as,  “We’re God’s angels…”.  Without a copy of the script to make better sense of her vitally-important expository statement from written punctuation, I caught the theatrical release about six months ago and went with the second, theological reference.

 That’s exactly the kind of  confusion that’s directly attributable to the director/editor.  I went off on an utterly unnecessary tangent (involving Dogma, The Prophecy, Constantine, Devil’s Advocate…) because Peter Berg authorized an under-punctuated reading of God’s angels/gods…angels…Friday Night Lights is thrilling to me for reasons that sidestep the Peter Berg signature; Dekter-cam on steroids, sloppy diction, minced edits.  Hancock interrupts a ($91.10) liquor store hold-up in the second half of the film.  The bullet that penetrates his newly-vulnerable torso is whisked past by the camera in a way that confuses the reason for his registered consternation and the anatomical location of the wound, and an important moment that’s far more central to the story than Berg’s excessively-energetic camera moves.

Berg gravitates into material that fascinates me, but I think the projects he’s involved in suffer from his involvement in them.  He’s like John Hancock in the first half of the film.  It’s a tossup whether he’ll save the beached whale or scuttle the lovely ship.  Less Peter Berg PR is better.

Later:  Demeter is mentioned as one of Mary’s historic avatars.  It strikes me as almost self-evident that when Hancock is reintroduced in a custom-fitted black superhero suit, with caution-yellow piping and an eagle outline on the back…that Mary really should (as John’s bonded antitheses) get into the downtown knockdown-dragout with him in a classic, white, flowing ensemble.  They dressed her in black.  Red is the name of Hancock’s mortal antagonist, which suggests Jason Bateman’s motif really ought to be green (sustainable, life-promoting, freshly optimistic, yadada yadada yawn.)  Nobody in the audience needs a degree in classical literature to dress this movie’s most central characters in keeping with unsubtle mythological schemes, but while the filmmakers went to interesting extremes to think through (invisible) stuff like intricate decor-detail in the homes of the heroes, they kinda overlooked a few disturbing things.  Like Mary’s son, Aaron, practically disappears about 75% of the way into the film.  I’m not saying I missed him, but the offspring of  the divine EarthMother prototype and a quixotic, idealistic new-age public relations dynamo might have had SOME kind of mythic part to play in resolving his mother’s emotional dilemma.  Okay, maybe he wasn’t the product of immaculate conception…I’m just saying they made her an iconic soccer mom, then flushed her (son of man and god) kid down the cutting room toilet.  Mess with powerful archetypes, make a film with prescient vision.  Ya know?  You betcha! 

(I hope this Sarah Palin allusion makes sense to absolutely nobody real soon.)

Ngo’s idea is said to have spent years kicking around in development.  I think it could and should have been brought to the screen in a form that would have been infinitely more satisfying, especially to Dykstra.

Correction:  This is my fifth pass through the film, and I always forget that Mary is Aaron’s stepmother.  That invalidating fact smells like a duct taped patch that simply won’t stay glued.  I’m hopelessly stuck on the story they didn’t tell.  The film they made highlights sublime self-sacrifice and finds remarkable virtue in running away from love, like taking pride in your Monday morning commute back into the mouth hell…that puts bread on the table and the kids in boarding school.  It could also have been a whole lot worse.

If Redd Foxx made a catchphrase out of the threat to put one man’s head up another man’s ass, that would explain the choice to play the Sanford and Son theme through the moment when Hancock makes it happen.  If not, it’s a vaguely funny musical quote that’s mostly deeply sappy.

15 Aug 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

What If…

…Tolkien’s rings were all of the discrete entertainment platforms humankind finds precious, and the cinematic presentation of his trilogy represents the ultimate, inevitable, universal dissolution of proprietary claims on story-ideas and the physical manifestations that generate financial profit?  Is Mount Doom located in Santa Monica?  Does Henry Jenkins shave his feet?

Just a vagrant notion that arose from reading about the exploration of transmedia entertainment, here:

intellectual property, here:

and Lincoln’s “fire of invention” speech, here:

13 Aug 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Get Milch?

Wally Holland leveled a charge at David Milch at the end of the Q&A that concluded the mic’d conversation between Milch and David Thorburn at MIT’s Bartos Hall a few years ago.  Holland’s accusation was remarkably bold for flinging down the gauntlet of feminist underrepresentation in NYPD Blue at someone Wally described as an iconic, personal hero.  He flung it, nonetheless, with considerable clarity, charity and a willingness to listen.  Surprisingly, David Milch responded seriously, charmingly, and without much hesitation, but by the end of a long and unsatisfying dissertation in recognition of  The Place of Woman in American Culture, Milch, with breathtaking humility concluded that his female characters in every series for which he’s credited are comparatively hushed relative to “monstrous” males like Benedetto, Kelly, Sipowicz, Simone, Swearengen, most notably.  Sissy Yost wasn’t even in the oven.

I’ve been cruising NYPD Blue again in preparation for Deadwood.  Jason Mittell’s recent devaluation of the latter series deserves rebuttal, whether or not I’m qualified to provide it.  Revisiting this series is a seminar in humility largely because the density of telegraphic, nuanced information delivered onscreen is amazing in its economy, and also because the depth of complexity in human situations is unbelievably understated.

I think the underserved Det. Jill Kirkendall character was most representative and resonant for me of Holland’s claim that David Milch hadn’t written women as rich, depraved and complex as his men.  This evening I caught Yes Sir, That’s My Baby (S4E6 of NYPD Blue) in which Kirkendall is introduced and brings a wealth of female and parental expertise to a potentiated shotgun wedding objection raised by the prospective, reluctant groom that eventually result (by the end of the episode [note Sipowicz’ and Simone’s standing ovation delivered in droll statistical references]) in Kirdendall’s discovery of a stolen newborn infant and an unreported mother-murder in behalf of an unattractive girl whose brother killed the mother and threatens a local lothario with mayhem if the lothario doesn’t do the right thing by the killer’s unlovely little sister, who is now saddled with the lothario’s theoretical kid.  That wasn’t even a simple sentence.  I felt I never saw enough of Kirkendall, but upon reflection, I feel complicit in the oversight.  She may not have been given as much screentime as other people in the squad, but my willingness and readiness to evaluate the packets of information entrusted to her was not commensurate with the gravity and immensity that was packed in the lines she read.  Somebody failed to greenlight NYPD Pink.  I have a share of responsibility and remorse for that failure to listen more attentively, turn on the subtitles, watch for subtext and, most importantly, think through every last one of these shows.  They roll on law and order, but they spin with an English that’s more humanely explicit, culturally relevant and humanly universal than what passes these days for journalism.

Detective Lesniak’s failures in romantic relationships take a long time to “fully” reveal themselves.  In the fullness of time, they manifest in conjunction with everyman James Martinez, casting fascinating light on the peculiarity of her neurotic bond with turmoil that began in an earlier season.  Det. Russell’s ability to function is complicated by her upbringing, attractiveness, alcoholism, sham, sincerity and her vulnerability.

It’s presently 03:51 on a working Tuesday morning.  For now, it’s got to be sufficient to say that I wasn’t ready for the dynamic complexity of Michelle Obama in 1997 (season four of NYPD Blue), and judging from the vapid press she’s receiving in 2009, neither was the entertainment market.  David Milch gave eloquent voice to male characters who broke the mold set by Ozzie Nelson.  I think the ear we lend to his women characters is still in the process of evolving, and that people will one day be utterly amazed at the understated, subversive clarity with which Donna Abandando, Gina Colon and Sylvia Costas brought unflatteringly complex reflections of a blindered culture to the sacramental crucible of the confessional, NYPD Blue, where circumstantial evidence may influence the investigation, but the motherload of information, conviction and remorse for personal choices rests solely on interpersonal truth as revealed in conversation.

08:20  Omar Little’s television debut preceded his appearance on The Wire because David Simon’s Ferdinand Hollie (played by Giancarlo Esposito) showed up in the 1-5 Precinct in Hollie and the Blowfish (S3E17 aired 26 March 1996), preceding The Corner and The Wire which spun award-winning tails (tuxedo) of Baltimore streets from cotton picked from executive (and audience) ears by NYPD Blue.

I admire Wally’s courage in asking an honest question, and Jason Mittell’s statement of an equivocal evaluative opinion (while polling peers regarding the range of opinions about Deadwood — something in that mindset smells of decay).  I wonder how many generations of study will be devoted to the works (and influence) of David Milch in fields at least as diverse as those utilizing Shakespeare.  And whether we’re going to get Milch sufficiently to effect constructive change in our individual belief systems, our collective moral and cultural infrastructure, our personal precincts.  I think that whatever vital (engaging or must-see) aspects of human life are deemed conspicuously missing from the works of David Milch should be sought beneath the cotton in the ears of his detractors.

There’s also this phenomenally detailed and strenuous description of the discipline that results in LiebfrauMilch:

Six weeks later:  Detective Jill Kirkendall was portrayed by Andrea Thompson in NYPD Blue in 63(!) episodes from 1996-2000.  Thompson’s also worked quite steadily from 1986, a couple of seasons of Babylon 5…some of 24…through recent episodes of Heroes, according to IMDb.  If seasons 5- 12 of NYPD Blue are ever released on DVD, I’ll probably have a little more cockeyed stuff to say in this post that seemed reasonably well-informed and justified when I started writing it.  Now?…not even kinda.

04 Aug 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 3 Comments