May 14, 2004

Mrs. Iselin

During the Korean War, a small detachment of Americans led by Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) were captured by the enemy. They escaped, though, telling stories of the heroism of Sgt. Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), the man who saved them all. He is, by their accounts, the "kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being" he's ever known. In fact, they all say that about him, word for word. For his heroism, Sgt. Shaw is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Years later, Maj. Marco begins to have nightmares about his time in Korea, but he doesn't recall any heroics by Sgt. Shaw. Instead, he dreams about he and his men being hypnotized by a group of political and military leaders from various countries. And he silently watches as Sgt. Shaw strangles one of his own men, and shoots another. Maj. Marco is terrified by his dreams, but doesn't know if the "memories" are true, or if he's just going crazy. He contacts the Army, looking for help and wondering if any of the other men have had these dreams. There's no evidence of it.

Raymond Shaw is actually doing very well, despite the overbearing presence in his life of his step-father Presidential candidate, Senator Iselin, and his mother, Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury). Raymond hates them both, especially his mother who cost him his only chance to marry his true love, Jocelyn, and who constantly butts her way into his life. But things get really strange when Raymond starts to find himself in situations with no memory how he got there. Maj. Marco tracks down Raymond and tries to piece together their memories until they know for sure that their memories of the events in Korea were manufactured. Raymond, in particular, was "programmed" to respond to certain phrases ("Why don't you pass the time with a game of solitaire?") so he would obey orders and commit terrible acts, such as the murder of two of his fellow soldiers.

The mystery remains: why would Raymond be programmed? What will he be forced to do? In a stunning turn of events, Raymond's own mother is revealed to be the "American handler," the one who set this insidious plan in motion to brainwash someone capable of following through the orders of assassinating the Presidential candidate running against her husband. Raymond was chosen because his mother has an inherent control over him already, but even when he is revealed to her as the "candidate," she coldly continues with the plan.

Maj. Marco is able to break down much of Raymond's programming and hopes he will not follow through with the plan to assassinate the Presidential candidate, that he'll be able to reject the hypnotic orders he'll be given. Raymond does go to Madison Square Garden, the site of the Presidential convention, but instead of shooting his intended target, he assassinates Sen. Iselin. Raymond then fires one more shot, killing his mother! Maj. Marco finds Raymond, who tells him he had to stop her. And then Raymond shoots himself, committing suicide.

Raymond's mother was relentless in a very flippant and disrespectful way, doing whatever she wanted to satisfy her own designs. Mrs. Iselin was certainly destined to be a powerful figure in Washington; her ambition and greed far eclipsed those of a normal person. But she was ready to sacrifice her son to secure her own success, and she underestimated his will, and that of Major Marco, who valiantly cut the puppet strings from Raymond's psyche. Mrs. Iselin is the type of mother every son hates, and feels lucky to have never had.

INTELLIGENCE - 7: Fast on her feet and smart as a whip, she was ambitious and poised to become one of the most powerful figures in D.C.

POWER - 3: Mrs. Iselin's plan was to never lift a finger. Her "candidate" would do all the dirty work for her.

VILENESS - 10: Raymond's mother deftly crushed his hopes to marry Jocelyn and couldn't wait to sacrifice him to become the First Lady.

SWAY - 10: Unrelenting and powerfully gifted in intimidation, she ordered around her Senator husband and poor patsie son.

PURITY - 10: Even after the identity of the "candidate" is revealed, she is still intent on using her own son to bring herself to power.

PHYSICAL - 4: She wore the power suit of a First Lady, hiding her stone cold black heart.

TOTAL: 44

Posted by Destro at 09:20 AM

April 30, 2004

HAL 9000

The year is 2001 and astronauts Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea) and Frank Poole (Gary Lockwood) are dispatched to deep space on a mission to Jupiter inside the mighty Discovery space vessel. The ship is run by one of the units from the state-of-the-art HAL 9000 computer line. In truth, the computer aboard the ship is not just a machine but has been adopted as one of the crew, which includes three more scientists making the journey in cryostasis. "HAL," as the crew calls him, speaks with a calm, steady voice (from actor Douglas Rain) and even "mimics" human personality.

The mission does have its quirks, one of them being the rumors surrounding the reason for its inception. Some say that something strange was dug up under the surface of the moon. Dave can't say for sure why he's out there, other than to follow orders. However, things get even more strange on the ship when HAL alerts the crew to a malfunctioning communications device. In a thrilling space walk, Dave replaces the device, only to find it in perfect condition. HAL cannot account for this mistake, and if it is an error, it would be the first recorded mistake ever made by this line of supercomputers. In a classic scene, Dave and Frank sit in a sound proof pod and discuss their concerns about the mission. Frank is very much afraid that HAL is defective and will have to be disconnected, thereby putting the mission in jeopardy. Dave isn't sure what to do, but knows Frank may be right. Outside the pod, HAL watches, but unbeknownst to the astronauts, it can read their lips and knows everything they are saying.

The decision is made to replace the "defective" device to see if it fails. Frank makes the space walk this time, and in a sudden tragic turn of events, his pod rushes at him, driving him into deep space. Frank's oxygen supply is cut in the process. From inside Discovery, Dave watches in horror as his friend suffocates in space. Dave takes another pod out to recover Frank's body. During this time, HAL silently cuts the life support from the cryostasis pods holding the rest of the crew. As alarms sound inside the empty spaceship, the three defenseless scientists die quickly.

When Dave returns to the ship, he asks HAL to open the pod bay doors. "I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave." HAL explains it will not allow Dave to jeopardize the mission because of a mistake it made. Dave ultimately finds a way back into Discovery, however, and makes for HAL's memory banks. He begins to disconnect HAL's higher functions and, during the process, HAL literally loses its mind. It slowly descends into oblivion until it is completely offline.

HAL is one of the creepiest characters ever to be found in deep space. The soft, unwavering delivery of HAL's voice is far more frightening when you see how it deliberately puts its human crewmates in danger and/or kills them. HAL is devoted to the mission, but the reason for his error is still mysterious and fascinating. For all of HAL's power, however, it had no physical form with which to stop Dave from shutting him down. It's all too similar to the way HAL struck at his sleeping crewmates in stasis, who were unable to fight back. At least for HAL, he deserved what he got.

INTELLIGENCE - 10: Aboard Discovery, HAL is like God, knowing all, controlling all, and holding the lives of the crew in its grasp.

POWER - 5: Despite the lack of physical form, HAL still controls the ship and most of its functions. He is powerless to stop Dave, though.

VILENESS - 10: HAL deliberately murders members of the crew to ensure the mission will continue.

SWAY - 6: HAL's voice never wavers, and its delivery can be downright creepy because of the mystery behind HAL's actions.

PURITY - 10: This computer has been programmed to complete a mission and won't stop until it does for any reason.

PHYSICAL - 5: HAL's red light "eye" is harmless, but soon becomes the symbol of omnipresent danger.

TOTAL: 46

Posted by Destro at 03:26 PM

November 03, 2003

Norman Bates

Many people enjoy the independence and pride that comes with running their own small business. Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) was hardly independent though, running a little motel off a country road under the ever watchful eye of his overbearing, controlling mother. The Bates Motel was off the beaten path, so it was with some surprise that a young woman stopped by on a rainy night looking for a room.

Her name was Marion Crane, and she had brought a few secrets with her to the motel. Intrigued by this young woman - and no doubt sexually repressed - young Norman hands over the key to Room #1 (the one with the peephole) and watched Marion as she undressed to take a shower. Moments later, Norman had run off home and Marion received a visitor of her own while in the shower. A dark figure with a large kitchen knife surprised her and stabbed her dozens of times, leaving her for dead on the floor.

Upon discovering the body, Norman knew his mother had done the deed. He placed the body in the woman's car and sank it into a nearby pond. This would cover up the murder only temporarily, as others came by looking for the woman. Apparently, she had left town quite suddenly, and taken a lot of stolen money with her. Norman knew nothing of the money, of course, and it wasn't really important anyway. Covering up the misdeeds of his mother was. As the outsiders became suspicious and snooped around, Norman's mother struck again, sending a private detective down a flight of stairs to his death. It wasn't until one of them discovered a hideous secret in the basement of the Bates home that they realized what and who they were dealing with. The rotting corpse of Norman's mother was found, poisoned by her son, and Norman stormed in, wearing a wig and one of his mother's dresses, hoping to kill anyone else in his way.

Norman would be subdued and later find himself committed, with a psychiatrist calling him the poor victim of a split personality disorder. Unable to come to terms with the murder/death of his mother, Norman began to adopt her personality, bringing her back to life, so to speak, to fill the void. The mother personality continued to suppress Norman and his desires, however, and the only way to keep Norman down was to eliminate the bad influences: young women being one of them. This is what happened to Marion Crane. And now, the mother personality had taken over completely. Norman Bates was no more.

INTELLIGENCE - 5: Norman is a mama's boy, unable to think for himself, but he's capable of carrying out her wishes.

POWER - 5: He's a tall drink o' water but not incredibly strong.

VILENESS - 8: Mother's jealousy fueled an incredible rage capable of committing murder.

SWAY - 3: Very shy and overpowered by his Mother, Norman has held his tongue far too often.

PURITY - 10: You can almost hear the cuckoo birds singing inside his head.

PHYSICAL - 5: Norman's not strange-looking until he puts on the wig and dress.

TOTAL: 36

Posted by Destro at 09:11 AM

November 11, 2002

Baby Jane Hudson

We don't go old school around here too often, but this is one Crazy Mofo-ette I couldn't resist. The former child star, Baby Jane Hudson (Bette Davis), saw her fame disappear as she got older and fell out of the public's favor. Her sister, Blanche (Joan Crawford), on the other hand, would begin to enjoy a fabulous career as a glamourous Hollywood star.

One evening, a terrible (and mysterious) car accident crippled Blanche, and Jane ended up taking care of her. However, Jane despised her sister; her jealousy and bitterness over losing her own fame transformed her into a very ugly person, physically and mentally. Jane would delight in terrorizing Blanche, from preventing all outside contact and serving her rats for lunch.

Jane was very lonely, though, and without her sister to turn to for love, she turned back to the public in the hopes that she could recapture her childhood glory. Bette Davis' performance earned her a well-deserved Oscar nomination, whipping Baby Jane back and forth between jubilation, rage, and misery. Ultimately, the relationship between the sisters would be uncovered as far more complex than first imagined, and the true monster behind the ugliness of their relationship would be revealed. But the person that Baby Jane Hudson had become could never be the cute little girl who danced for "Daddy" so many years ago.

INTELLIGENCE - 5: Jane didn't have to do much to keep Blanche hidden away in the upstairs bedroom.

POWER - 4: She is older and therefore weaker physically, but easily able to overpower her invalid sister.

VILENESS - 6: It wasn't just the rats for lunch. It was a lot more, and between sisters, it cut deep.

SWAY - 7: Jane was an absolute terror at times, but kept a piece of her Baby Jane sweetness and innocence around just in case.

PURITY - 9: So jealous and bitter, Jane did everything she could to make her sister suffer. She just couldn't let go of the spotlight either.

PHYSICAL - 6: Her moral ugliness manifested in a physical (and frightening) way in her later years.

TOTAL: 37

Posted by Destro at 03:16 PM