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A scene from Denis Villeneuve's "Dune Part 2".

The **** Must Flow: “Dune Part 2” and the Cult of Frank Herbert

Nothing screams dilettante more than Dune. A mere mention of Frank Herbert’s amateurism is enough to kill any conversation stone dead and infuriate the faithful. What follows is the usual pleading, the usual literary red-herrings about style, intention, politics and, last of all, art. Despite their protestations, people who like Dune don’t actually give a damn about art and what’s more, they resent those of us who do. So let’s repay them the favour.

If you don’t like Frank Herbert then you’re an elitist snob or some sort of fruit (by implication). That’s the thing now: egalitarian tastelessness. Why should you care about Dune? Because other people do—apparently, and often with a kind of religious zealotry reserved for the likes of Ayn Rand. Hell, even at her most table-thumping, Rand is a better prose stylist than Herbert the Hump.

I don’t care to get into the nitty-gritty of Dune and its lore. L. Ron Hubbard at least had a kind of Penthouse hilarity to his fiction. Comparatively, Dune suffers by dint of its own self-serious pretention. Ridiculous non-characters. Condescendingly naked historical allegory. Bullshit fake-orientalism. Someone obviously read Joseph Campbell and snorted a lot of coke. […]

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Rosanna Arquette smoking a cigarette in Martin Scorsese's "After Hours" (1985)

The Furious Fever Dream: Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” (1985)

Never has a statement been more pertinent (other than in Carnival of Souls itself) as it is in Martin Scorsese’s After Hours. Just what is daylight in relation to night? And why does everything seem out of the ordinary once the sun sets? Martin Scorsese’s After Hours is an outstanding film, but not for the conventional reasons one might think. On one hand, the story is simple—a man goes out late at night to presumably meet up with a girl, only for his rendezvous to not work out, and then, amid his continual bad luck, he is unable to get home. Trying, trying, he continues to fail. Moreover, as I write this, the world is readying for the 2024 eclipse, and news stations have little else to discuss. As result, people have become hyper-fixated, and a little distracted, somewhat like the characters in After Hours.

The film begins with Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) at work, training a new employee on his company’s word-processing system. Since this is 1985, the screens look archaic and appear much more difficult to navigate than now. ‘I do not intend to do this for the rest of my life,’ the trainee says (played by Bronson Pinchot from Perfect Strangers). Paul is only half listening, as we can tell he’s been through this many times before. ‘Hmm?’ he asks, more so out of politeness than concern. The trainee goes on to speak about starting a literary magazine and forum for intellectuals—which are big dreams for an entry-level word processor. Meantime, we see a disinterested Paul gazing off into a daydream until he excuses himself. […]

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An open sign with an unlit hanging lamp to stylize legendary poet Don Moss's short story, "Breakfast Stories: OPEN Sign".

Breakfast Stories: OPEN Sign

Joel knew brief little fantasies about other women, of real, but mostly of imagined ones. This one was real, had sat across from him in the same office. Aalis, might as well say her name, was one of four nurses he had to assign patients at the university. These nurses were remarkably organized, well beyond his slovenly habits. Aalis carried herself a little more upright than the others, meant what she said, was the only nurse practitioner among them. He’d not worked with all women before and her manner appealed to him from the outset. He soon learned her manner was polished from her years as a commissioned Army reservist, a Major, no less.

Aalis mentioned she had two young daughters and a husband named Mark. There was something about how she spoke of him that hinted they weren’t doing so well. She didn’t disclose many details, other than Mark was too settled with his job, not pushing for advancement at the insurance company. He was a good father to the girls, and he and family would manage them during Aalis’s Army weekends and when she had longer deployments. Joel had told her his own marriage needed to begin, a curious way of putting it, she thought.

Four years she sat across from him, but for the past two years she’d moved to another campus office, and he wished he saw her more often than an occasional lunch. […]

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A shot from Peter Mullen's "The Magdalene Sisters", depicting a young man and woman flirting.

Art As Issue: On Peter Mullen’s “The Magdalene Sisters” (2002)

I sometimes wonder how my life would’ve been if I’d been born 50 or 100 years before. Typically, these ponderings are answered by the sense of having made a narrow escape. Learning that the last of the Magdalene laundries was shut down just the year before I was born is almost surreal, having grown up in an Ireland experiencing its first flushes of wealth and donning a newfound secularism. The abuses of the church were becoming something to be taken for granted, rather than being trapped in whispers. Yet, the truth that Peter Mullen’s The Magdalene Sisters depicts is that mental freedom is much harder come by than the physical kind. I’ve heard the quiver that lingers in so many older people’s voices when they speak of the nuns that tormented them back in primary school—70 years on. The suspicions that they lacked the language to express, back then, about the parish priest’s strange behaviour.

Of course, most of these people remain devout Catholics. The label of “anti-Catholic” is typically tossed out as a lazy attempt to refute those who are frank about the abuses the Church allowed and facilitated. The Magdalene Sisters predictably got this same tarring, yet there is no condemnation of any religious doctrine here. In fact, it’s pointed out that many of the women retained their faith, as their real-life counterparts overwhelmingly did. The abuses depicted here are not solely the domain of those in habit and cassock, but are recognisable wherever complacency and fear allow cruelty to fester. […]

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A stylized set of portraits of R.B. Kitaj, who is being re-appraised by English painter Ethan Pinch.

Critical Mass: The Case Against R.B. Kitaj

To revisit the work of American artist R.B. Kitaj is to revisit the scene of a ritual murder. He is, after all, a painter noteworthy for being ‘assassinated’ by his critics—a grievous mantle which, though Kitaj has been dead for over fifteen years, has thankfully found no indisputable successor. What stands today as a classic fable of yellow press journalism is the account of a London Tate retrospective so viciously panned that it is now held to be the catalyst for Kitaj’s eventual suicide along with the tragically premature death of his wife, Sandra, from a stroke.

Kitaj had been, for most of his career, a sort of enfant terrible—so it follows that he should have been accustomed to some negative criticism, or at least journalistic vulgarity. Yet the ’94 Tate retrospective, an event intended to finally confirm his critical legacy, instead gave rise to one of the most vicious pile-ons in the history of broadsheet criticism. A ‘cyclone of abuse ‘. A ‘lynch mob‘.

But what’s the real substance behind all this tabloid melodrama? Could it just be another case of critical caprice? Of obstinance and snobbery? Or was it, as Kitaj loudly alleged, a case of antisemitic blood libel: of gentiles bashing and scapegoating an expatriate Jewish artist for the crime of merely existing? […]

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A black and white depiction of horses running amidst dust, as imagined in Jess Bowers's "Horse Show" (2024). [Featured image via SorcerySoap HocusPocus for Pixabay.]

Standing Horses: Review of “Horse Show” by Jess Bowers

We have forgotten the horse, and in doing so, are erasing our own history: the collaboration between horse and human extends into prehistory, and the effect of horses upon human civilization now extends into the width of our roads, our vehicles, and everything we have built that is predicated on that measurement—in truth, the width of a hitched team, the width of two horses yoked together. It is at our peril that we forget the horse, that we forget what we owe them for our civilization; any document of human history involves movement across land and the most formidable masses of moving humans were collaborating with horses. It’s not just us, although humancentric views are internalized as such.

The equestrian world, of humans and horses together, exists almost as a parallel reality to that which we know prosaically as modern society. Horses are large and require room to move about, they require land which is being erased by endless human rapaciousness, they are fragile and the hard corners of human habitation often are their undoing. Caring for a horse involves the muscles of your body and getting them their dinner before you get yours; it involves insect bites, dirt, feces, and a rudimentary skill as a medic. Horse habitat also involves complex natural ecosystems, and in many places has become the last retreat for too many species of wildlife. […]

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Tom Cruise smiling at his bar in Roger Donaldson's Razzie Award winner, "Cocktail".

The Wistful Longing Under the Drink Umbrella: On Roger Donaldson’s “Cocktail” (1988)

Imagine a guy whose life goals are to become a simple-minded millionaire and own a bar, albeit not necessarily in that order. How he gets there, though, is not by owning the bar, but by marrying a ‘rich chick,’ who will not only fund his shallow endeavors but also provide the down payment for the bar, or at least her father will, but we don’t know for sure. Do we care?

The 1980s spawned a plethora of bad films that rivaled the 1940s paint-by-number melodramas where the simple script is churned out with a particular star in mind. Enter in some friction where the guy goes off to hustle another woman for a while, but in the end love triumphs. After all, it’s not difficult to think you’ve met your soul mate while screwing for a week on the beach in Jamaica.

Cocktail stars Tom Cruise as Brian Flanagan (who I will just refer to as Tom Cruise throughout this review), a materialistic dullard just out of the service and desperate to open a bar and become a millionaire. He reads lots of ‘get rich quick’ books, but none work. He wants a high-paying job with influence, but his lack of a degree is getting in the way. Then he meets a seasoned bartender named Doug (Bryan Brown), who offers him a job. Doug also happens to be the only entertaining character in the film, and is full of lots of advice, like how a bartender is the ‘aristocrat of the working class.’ ‘The waitresses hate me,’ Tom Cruise says. ‘Wait till you’ve given them crabs. Then they’ll really hate you.’ Huh? […]

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A black and white photo photo of a Joshua Tree in the Mojave desert. Captured by Jay George from Pixabay.

Breakfast Stories: In a Box

“We will show them Our signs in the universe and within themselves…” — 41:53, Quran

Having no street legal car or bike to race, Rob and I were to race each other—not what we’d expected at this once noticed-in-the-mags, Ramona drag strip, aka, San Diego Raceway. We both knew Rob would likely win, his having the newer bike, better tires, but racing each other at least met the first rule of adventure: wasting time in a manner that could kill you.

And kill it might have had Rob not noticed that my front tire was nearly flat and a danger at speed, even in a straight line. No alarm, though, a pump was available and I was near certain the air would hold for the run. […]