The Rare Review

Movies, books, music and TV

The Critic Will See You Now, “Dr. Strangelove”

Peter Sellers is extraordinary with his triple roles in Dr. Strangelove (1964), and the movie—a Cold War black comedy—is still quite funny. Unlike five or six other Stanley Kubrick pictures, however, it is a failure. The jokes about male sexuality and military forcefulness are stupid when they aren’t vulgar, and the character of Dr. Strangelove, the German scientist, is silly. Satire should be more palatable than this.

In some ways DS is as brilliant as Kubrick’s 2001: consider the ironically lovely credit-sequence music at the beginning of the film. Still able to be seen as daring, the work is nevertheless presented from the same left-wing perspective that ultimately led the American people to deeply distrust the Democratic party regarding the Soviet Union. Liberals discovered that they can’t have everything.

Misogynist With “The Plan”

A short story by Sigrid Nunez, “The Plan” (2018) has as its narrator a horrid criminal—a serial murderer of women. The author harbors no sympathy for him—he wants more culture (i.e. the arts) in his life but also, on the last page, he strangles a whore because murder “was one of the things whores were for.” (He never learns anything.) Yet Nunez underscores the strange truth that a human being, like me and thee, is responsible for this wanton slaughter. Why? Is it not true that nothing human is alien to us?

“The Plan” is a propulsive fiction written with many short paragraphs. It is cruelly honest, as it should be, but does not descend to nihilism, cheap or otherwise. Maybe, just maybe, it gets close, though.

No doubt it is one of “the best American short stories” of the year it was published, found in the 2019 book of the same name.

Oh So Blue: “Blue Jasmine”

Jasmine in Woody Allen‘s Blue Jasmine (2013) had money, but no longer. She had a husband but, an appalling swindler, he committed suicide. She had, and has, family relationships, but they do not go well. Though the fragile woman tries to reinvent herself in San Francisco, where her sister Ginger lives, the walls are closing in. Many authentic tragic elements, and sparse rueful humor, are found in the film, which glides along acceptably on sheer emotion.

As everyone knows, Cate Blanchett is wonderful as Jasmine. Notwithstanding the film is is “a quietly respectful tribute” (critic Anthony Quinn) to A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanchett’s Jasmine is not Blanche DuBois. She is an independent character, a smart bourgeois. And she is ill-served by men. Not a great picture is this, but a good one. All the same, I found it hilarious when a Village Voice critic pointed out that the Sweathogs have a San Francisco chapter in Jasmine.

Catholic Meaning In “The Girls of Slender Means”

The “girls of slender means” in Muriel Spark‘s 1963 novel of the same name live in a London hostel during the virtual end of the Second World War.  Economically poor, they are also morally unformed—wayward.  But among them the Catholic Spark has fashioned a Christian character, Joanna, and a character who will become a Christian, Nicholas Farraday, a future martyr.

The two of them are self-abnegators who remove themselves, sooner or later, from the world of sex, Joanna doing so with a mild quirkiness.  The young woman teaches elocution of poetry, and as Ruth Whittaker has pointed out, “poetry for Joanna . . . takes the place of sex.”  For his part, Nicholas becomes acquainted with the hostel and moves from intermittently sleeping with the most beautiful of the girls of slender means—Selina—to Christian service in Haiti.  Both persons end up dying: they die with sacred faith.

The girls at the hostel are superficial, except that Joanna is not a girl of slender spiritual means.  Superficiality here essentially means self-seeking, seeking to satisfy the appetites for sex (Selina) and money (Jane). . . The Girls of Slender Means is another well-written, humorous success for Spark—and another short Spark novel, which is good since most of its sentences call for careful attention to determine the overtones.  And hooray for the overtones.

Cover of "The Girls of Slender Means"

Cover of The Girls of Slender Means

Reds In The Original “Red Dawn”

Would the Soviet Union, allied with Cuba, have initiated a third world war in the rural Midwest of the United States? I doubt it, but, boy, do we all know about Russian expansionism. In the 1984 Red Dawn, the Midwest is where the communists invade, and teenaged sons and daughters are the ones who aggressively engage them. Though far from a work of art, the film harbors themes: communist hostility and the global inevitability of invasion.

As an action movie, Red Dawn is reliable. Director-writer John Milius is an avid gun collector and it shows. Firearms here are rather distinctive, an attention grabber. War violence is framed in shots of surrounding mountainous beauty. Up to a point, though, the film is silly. Milius is a conservative who, despite the strengths in Dillinger, made poor choices as a moviemaker. But I say unhesitatingly that American cinema is more fun and interesting with him than without him.

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