The Films of 2020: Roped (dir by Shaun Piccinino)


Ah, the rodeo.

Though they’re not quite as ever-present as people up north seem to assume, rodeos are still a pretty big deal down here in the Southwest.  Now, I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about the rodeo, largely due to the fact that I spent the early part of my life constantly moving from the city to the country to the city and then back to the country again.  The city girl side of me looks at the rodeo and says, “That’s a silly tradition that’s dangerous to both the animals and the participants and there’s no way that I would ever let any future child of mine have anything to do with it.”  However, the country girl side of me hears the words “rodeo,” and shouts, “Hell yeah!”  Seriously, there’s nothing more exciting than watching a handsome cowboy try to ride a bull without getting killed.

And believe me, rodeos can be dangerous.  There’s an episode of King of the Hill in which Hank and Peggy take Bobby to the rodeo and Peggy mentions that one of her relatives was sent home from Vietnam because he was having rodeo nightmares.  I could believe it.  Rodeos are not petting zoos, despite what some people may think.  Bulls and broncos can be dangerous when they’re angry and a rodeo clown can only provide so much protection.  In fact, there’s some towns that have actually considered baning the rodeo.

Roped takes place in one such town.  City councilman Robert Peterson (Casper Van Dien) doesn’t want the rodeo coming anywhere near his home.  He argues that the rodeo is unfair to animals and that it corrupts the youth.  It’s kind of like Footloose, except instead of banning dancing, the councilman wants to ban a rather foul-smelling carnival in which people are occasionally killed.

Of course, what the councilman doesn’t know is that his own teenage daughter, Tracy (played by Lorynn York) is falling in love with a rodeo cowboy!  Colton Burtenshaw (Josh Swickard) is a up-and-coming star on the rodeo circuit and it’s pretty much love at first sight as soon as he and Tracy meet.  Of course, this means that Tracy is going to have to defy her father and Colton’s going to have to prove that the rodeo isn’t as bad as everyone thinks that it is.  It’s time for laughs, tragedy, love, and sheep.  Yes, you read that right.

Anyway, you can probably guess everything that happens in Roped.  This is a low-budget movie that’s designed for the “I wish they still made movies like they used to do” crowd and, for what it is, it’s not that bad.  It’s hardly a great or even a memorable film but it gets the job done and it’ll appeal to people who have nostalgic memories of the rodeo.  There’s not an edgy moment to be found in the film but people looking for edgy movies probably won’t be watching Roped in the first place.  It’s a nice-looking film and Lorynn York and Josh Swickard make for a cute couple, in both the film and real life.  (York and Scwickard married shortly after making this movie.)  Plus — hey, Casper Van Dien’s in the movie!  Van Dien’s always fun to watch, especially when he’s playing a well-meaning but misguided authority figure.

As I wrap up this review, one final word about the rodeo: it’s pronounced “roe-dee-oh.”  Don’t come down here and say you want to see a “ro-day-oh.”  Those clowns can turn on you quickly.

Eurocomics Spotlight : David Genchi’s “Castrovalva”


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

Projects that have complex and circuitous gestation processes and then emerge fully-formed into the world as something entirely other than that which they were originally intended to be are, as you’d expect, a hit-or-miss proposition, but when they hit sometimes they really hit : David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, for instance, famously began on paper as a TV pitch centered around Sherilyn Fenn’s Audrey Horne character from Twin Peaks ditching the Pacific Northwest for the bright lights of Hollywood, while Jack Kirby’s amazingly prescient OMAC evolved from a scuttled re-boot of Captain America that was to be set in the far future. The lesson here being, I suppose, to never let a “course correction” — or even several of them — get you down. If your central conceit is strong enough, it’ll be able to survive many twists and turns before taking its final shape.

Now, we can add to…

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The Films of 2020: The Trial of the Chicago 7 (dir by Aaron Sorkin)


The Trial of the Chicago 7, the latest film from Aaron Sorkin, is a fairly mediocre and rather forgettable film.  Because of that mediocrity, it stands a pretty good chance of doing very well at the Oscars later this year.

Aaron Sorkin specializes in political fan fiction.  He writes plays, movies and television shows that address big and controversial issues in the most safely liberal way possible.  Whenever Sorkin writes about politics, there’s not a single debate that can’t be won by one long, overdramatic speech, preferably delivered in an office or a conference room while everyone who disagrees nervously stares at the ground, aware that they’ll never be able to match the rhetorical brilliance of their opponents.  It’s a rather dishonest way to portray the ideological divide but it’s one that’s beloved by people who want to be political without actually having to do much thinking.  Sorkin is the poet laureate of the keyboard activists, the people who brag about how their cleverly-worded tweets “totally owned the MyPillow guy.”  (One sure sign of a keyboard activist is the excessive pride over rhetorically owning people who are ludicrously easy to own.  These are the people who think that Tom Arnold arguing about the electoral college with Kirstie Alley is the modern-day equivalent of the Lincoln/Douglas debates.)

The Trial of the Chicago 7, which Sorkin not only wrote but also directed, deals with a real-life event, the 1969 trial of eight political activists who were charged with conspiracy and crossing state lines with the intention of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  (Black Panther Bobby Seale was ultimately tried separately from the other defendants, leading to the Chicago 8 becoming the Chicago 7.)  Sacha Baron Cohen plays Abbie Hoffman, the fun-loving activist who delights in upsetting the establishment.  Eddie Redmayne played Tom Hayden, who takes himself and his activism very seriously and who worries that Hoffman’s antics in the courtroom are going to discredit progressives for generations to come.  Hoffman ridicules Hayden for being a rich boy who is rebelling against his father.  Hayden attacks Hoffman for not thinking about how his actions are going to be perceived by the rest of America.  Sorkin the screenwriter is clearly on Hayden’s side while Sorkin the director keeps finding himself drawn to Hoffman, if just because Hoffman is the more entertaining character.  Hoffman gets to make jokes while Hayden has to spend the entire film with a somewhat constipated expression on his face.

As is typical of Sorkin’s political work, the film raises issues without really exploring them.  We learn that the defendants were all arrested during anti-war protests but the film never really explores why they’re against the war.  It’s mentioned that David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch) is a pacifist who even refused to fight in World War II but at no point do we learn what led to him becoming a pacifist.  When Hoffman and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) talk about how they feel that the government holds people like them in contempt and that they shouldn’t have to fight in a war that they don’t believe in, Sorkin’s script has them speak in the type of simplistic platitudes that could just as easily have been uttered by a MAGA supporter talking about the war in Afghanistan.  If all you knew about these men was what you learned in this film, you would never know that Hayden, Hoffman, and the rest of the Chicago 7 were activists both before and after the Vietnam War.  You’d never know that there was more to their ideology than just opposition to the Vietnam War.  The film never really digs into anyone’s beliefs and motivations.  Instead, everyone might as well just have “Good” or “Evil” stamped on their forehead.

Sorkin’s simplistic approach is most obvious when it comes to Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).  With Seale, the film is more interested in how other react to him than in the man himself or his activism.  The film’s most shocking moment — when Judge Hoffman (Frank Langella) orders Seale to be literally bound and gagged in the courtroom — actually did happen but the film mostly seems to use it as an opportunity to show that even the lead prosecutor (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is disgusted by the government’s heavy-handedness.  Seale and the Black Panthers are used more as symbols than as actual characters.

Since this is an Aaron Sorkin film, the action is male-dominated.  It’s justified as the Chicago 7 and their lawyers were all men. Still, it’s hard not to notice that the only prominent female characters are an undercover cop who betrays the protestors and a receptionist who is frequently reprimanded by the men in the film.  One black woman in a maid’s uniform does get a chance to reprimand Hayden for not speaking out when Bobby Seale was gagged but she’s never even given a name.  As often happens with women of color in films like this, she’s only there to remind the white heroes to do the right thing.

Watching The Trial of the Chicago 7, I found myself thinking about how lucky Aaron Sorkin was to get David Fincher as the director of The Social Network.  A smart director with a strong and unique style, Fincher was able to temper Sorkin’s tendency toward pompousness.  Unfortunately, as a director, Aaron Sorkin is no David Fincher.  While Sorkin has definitely established his own style as a writer, he directs like someone who learned how to stage a crowd-pleasing moment from watching Spielberg but who, at the same time, never noticed the sense of playfulness that Spielberg, especially early in his career, infused within the best of those scenes.  It’s all soaring rhetoric and dramatic reaction shots and cues to let us know when we’re supposed to applaud.  As a director, Sorkin never challenges the audience or lets the film truly come to any sort of spontaneous life.  Instead, he adopts a somewhat cumbersome flashback-laden approach.  The story never quite comes alive in the way that the similar courtroom drama Mangrove did.  It’s all very safe, which is one reason why I imagine The Trial of the Chicago 7 is as popular as it is.  It’s a film that allows the viewers to celebrate the fantasy of activism without having to deal with the messy reality of all the complications that come along with taking an actual stand.  It’s a film that encourages you to pat yourself on the back for simply having watched and agreeing that people have the right to protest.

I will say that Sorkin made some good casting choices.  Langella is memorably nasty of the judge and Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a good job as the prosecutor.  Eddie Redmaye is a bit of a drag as Tom Hayden but Alex Sharp is likable as Hayden’s friend, Rennie Davis.  Michael Keaton has an effective cameo as Ramsey Clark.  The film presents Clark as being a bit of a wise liberal and the film’s epilogue doesn’t mention that Clark went on to a lucrative career of providing legal aide to murderous dictators and anti-Semites.  (Lyndon LaRouche was one prominent Ramsey Clark client.)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 will probably do well come Oscar-time.  In many ways, it almost feels like a generic Oscar movie.  It’s about a historical event, it’s political without being radical, and it presents itself as being far more thoughtful than it actually is.  That’s been a winning combo for many films over the years.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Edgar Allan Poe Edition


4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films is just what it says it is, 4 (or more) shots from 4 (or more) of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 (or more) Shots From 4 (or more) Films lets the visuals do the talking.

212 years ago today, Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts.  From his humble beginnings as the son of two struggling actors, Poe would go on to become one of the first great American writers.  (It’s been said that, when Charles Dickens first traveled to the United States in 1842, he specifically wanted to meet Edgar Allan Poe.  Unfortunately, it appears that popular story my not be true but it’s still a good story.)  Poe was controversial in life and even his death generated more questions than answers but no one can deny his strength as a poet and as a prose writer.  Both the detective and the horror genres owe a huge debt to Edgar Allan Poe.

Today, in honor of Edgar Allan Poe’s legacy, TSL presents 4 shots from 4 films that were inspired by the work of Edgar Allan Poe!

4 Shots From 4 Films

House of Usher (1960, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Floyd Crosby)

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Floyd Crosby)

The Raven (1963, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Floyd Crosby)

The Masque of the Red Death (1964, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Nicolas Roeg)

Music Video of the Day: In The Future To Come by Europe (1983, directed by ????)


In 1983, the Swedish heavy metal band, Europe, released their first album.  It was called Europe.  The first album is always the easiest to title.

In The Future To Come was their very first single and this was their very first video.  The video features the band performing on a windy plain and singing about the possibility of the world ending as a result of a nuclear war.  This was a theme to which they would return in the best-known song, The Final Countdown.  Joey Tempest was only 19 when he wrote this song and it very much reflects a 19 year-old’s worldview but, at the same time, Europe rocked.

For those curious, here are the lyrics for In The Future To Come.  It should be remembered that these lyrics were written at a time when many people agreed that nuclear war was an inevitability.  In the 80s, many believed it wasn’t a question of whether or not it would happen.  Instead, it was a question of when it would happen.

So many tears ago the people on this earth
They were laughin’
They didn’t think of anything else
Than love and peace
But generations failed to see
That they were causin’
Trouble for the future
They didn’t know that one single war

Would continue to increase
But I’ll be beside you
‘Cause I want to hide you

I’ll cover my pain
Or I’ll gone insane
Oh Lord where will it end
When tomorrow is done
Oh Lord can we stop to pretend
That we can survive in the future to come

As long as you can see
As long as you can feel
There’s no cause for alarm
As long as you can touch
As long as you can more

It ain’t too bad
But one day or another
This world would maybe
Be destroyed forever
A holocaust maybe be spread
And drive us all mad

Enjoy!