Movie Reviews: The Favourite, Mary Queen of Scots, Schindler’s List

Finding myself with an unexpectedly free afternoon, I went to see The Favourite at the Arclight,

You rarely see elderly people in central Hollywood, but they’re there at the movies at 2pm.  While we waited for the movie to start, there was an audible electrical hum.  The Arclight person introduced the film, and then one of the audience members shouted out “what’re you gonna do about the grounding hum?”

The use of the phrase “grounding hum” rather than just “that humming sound” seemed to baffle the Arclight worker.  Panicked, she said she’d look into it, and if we wanted, we could be “set up with another movie.”

After like one minute I took the option to be set up with another movie because the hum was really annoying.  Playing soon was Mary Queen of Scots.

Look, I like a costume drama.  I’m above average interested in Mary Queen of Scots.  Just her name is fascinating.  I’m no expert on Elizabethan England and Scotland but I’d say I’m fairly informed on the life of Mary Queen of Scots. I’ve read one biography* of her.

The plot of this movie was confusing to me.  I don’t know what they were going for but for me it didn’t come together.

Reminded as I thought about it of John Ford’s quote about Monument Valley.  John Ford assembles the crew and says, we’re out here to shoot the most interesting thing in the world: the human face.

Both Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie have incredible faces.  It’s glorious to see them.  The best parts of this movie were closeups.  Other than that felt like there were whole scenes where it was like what is happening? why?  who cares?  There were impressive costumes.

One rule I’ve observed is that if there’s a period ball in your movie, there’s a high likelihood of disaster.  Heaven’s Gate, Waterloo.  Many expensive flops have spent a lot of money on costumes for ball/dance scenes no one ends up caring about.

Were I a movie executive I would shut down any director who wanted to film a historically-set ball or dance.

Next I saw Schindler’s List.

This movie has been re-released, with an intro from Spielberg, about the dangers of racism.

This movie knocked my socks off.  I forgot, since the last time I saw it, what this movie accomplished.

When the movie first came out, the context in which people were prepared for it, discussed it, saw it, were shown it in school etc took it beyond the realm of like “a movie” and into some other world of experience and meaning.

I feel like I saw this movie for the first time on VHS tapes from the public library, although I believe we were shown the shower scene at school.


My idea in seeing it this time was to see it as a movie.

How did they make it?  How does it work?  What’s accomplished on the level of craft?  Once we’ve handled the fact that we’re seeing a representation of the Holocaust, how does this work as a movie?

It’s incredible.  The craft level accomplishment is on the absolute highest level.


Take away the weight with which this movie first reached us, with what it was attempting.  Just approach it as “a filmmaker made this, put this together.”

Long, enormous shots of huge numbers of people, presented in ways that feel real, alive.  Liam Neeson’s performance, his mysteries, his charisma, his ambiguity.  We don’t actually learn that much about Oscar Schindler.  So much is hidden.

Ralph Fiennes performance, the humanity, the realness he brings to someone whose crimes just overload the brain’s ability to process.

The moving parts, the train shots, the wide city shots.  Unreal accomplishment of filmmaking.

Some thoughts:

  • water, recurring as an image, theme in the movie.


  • there are a bunch of scenes of just factory action, people making things with tools and machines.  that was the cover.  was not the Holocaust an event of the factory age, a twisted branch of Industrial Revolution and efficiency metric spirit?


  • reminded that people didn’t know, when it began, “we’re in The Holocaust, this is the Holocaust.”  It built. It got worse and worse.  there were steps and stages along the way.


  • what happened in the the Holocaust happened in a particular time and place in history, focused in an area of central and eastern Europe that had its own, centuries long, context for what you were, who belonged where, history, which tribes go where, what race or nationality meant, how these were understood.  Göth’s speech about how the centuries of Jewish history in Kraków will become a rumor.  I felt like this movie kind of captured and helped explain some of that, without a ton of extra labor.


  • In a way Schindler could almost be seen as like a comic character.  He didn’t start his company to save Jews. He starts it to make money from cheap labor.  He’s a schemer who sees an opportunity.  A rascal out to make a quick buck, a con man and shady dealer who ended up in the worst crime in history, an honest crook who finds he’s in something of vastness and evil beyond his ability to even comprehend.


  • There is a scene in this movie that could almost be called funny, or at least comic, when Oscar Schindler (Neeson) tries to explain to Stern (Ben Kingsley) the good qualities of the concentration camp commandant Göth that nobody ever seems to mention!


  • Kenneally’s story of how he heard about Schindler:

  • The theme of sexuality, Goth’s sexuality, Schindler’s, what it means to love and express your nature versus trying to suppress and kill.  Spielberg is not really known for having tough explorations of sexuality in his films but I’d say he took this one pretty square on with a lot bravery?


  • if I had a criticism it was maybe that the text on the little intermediary passages that appear on screen a few times and explain the context felt not that clear and kind of unnecessary.


  • I feared this movie would have a kind of ’90s whitewash, I felt maybe takes exist, the “actually Schindler’s List is BAD” take is out there, with the idea being that Spielberg put in too much sugar with the medicine which when we talk about the Shoah, unspeakable, unaddressable, is somehow wrong, but damn.  I was glad for the sugar myself and I don’t think Spielberg looked away.  The Holocaust occurred in a human context, and human contexts, no matter how dark, always have absurdity.


  • the scene, for instance, were the Nazis burn in an enormous pyre the months-buried, now exhumed bodies of thousands of people executed during the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, Spielberg took us as close to the mouth of the abyss as you’re gonna see at a regular movie theater.

What does it mean that Spielberg made a movie about the Holocaust and the two leads are both handsome Nazis?


*As a boy I was attracted to the history of Britain and Ireland as well as Celtic and Anglo-Saxon peoples in America.  The peoples of those islands recorded a dramatic history that I felt connected to.  They also developed a compelling tradition of telling these history stories with as much drama and excitement as possible eg. Shakespeare.

At a library book sale, I bought, for 50 cents a volume, three biographies from a numbered set from like 1920 of “notable personages,” something like that. 

These just looked like the kind of books that a cool gentleman had.  Books that indicated status and intelligence. 

One of this set that I got was Hernando Cortes.  I started that one, but even at that tender age I perceived Cortes was not someone to get behind.  The biography had a pro-Cortes slant I found distasteful. 

Another volume was about Mary Queen of Scots.

Just on her name, really, I started reading that one. 

Mary Queen of Scots’ life was a thrilling story, and this one was melodramatically told.  Affairs, murder plots, insults, rumor, execution. 

Sometime thereafter, at school, we were all assigned like a book report.  To read a biography, any biography, and write a report about it. 

Since I’d already read Mary’s biography, I picked her. 

As it happened, I overheard my dad confusedly ask my mom why, of all people on Earth, I’d chosen Mary Queen of Scots as the topic for my biography project.  My dad did not know the backstory, which my mom patiently explained. 

My dad’s reaction on hearing I’d picked Mary Queen of Scots, while not as harsh as Kevin Hart’s imagined reaction on hearing his son had a dollhouse, helps me to understand where Kevin Hart was coming from.  Confusion, for starters.  Upsetness.

At the time the guys I thought were really heroes were probably like JFK and Hemingway.  



Go Inside

They’re making progress on the dome/orb that will one day hold the Academy Museum (motto: Go Inside The Movies).

At neighboring LACMA the American Outliers exhibit is terrific.

The Great Good Man by Marsden Hartley of Lewiston, Maine.

Struck by Horace Pippin’s John Brown Going To His Hanging:

Pippin served in K Company, 3rd Battalion of the 369th infantry, the famous Harlem Hellfighters, in Europe during World War I, where he lost the use of his right arm after being shot by a sniper. He said of his combat experience:

I did not care what or where I went. I asked God to help me, and he did so. And that is the way I came through that terrible and Hellish place. For the whole entire battlefield was hell, so it was no place for any human being to be.

While in the trenches, Pippin kept an illustrated journal which gave an account of his military service.

How about this one, Miss Van Alen:

attributed to “The Ganesvoort Limner (possibly Pieter Vanderlyn).”

Generally untrained and itinerant, limners were a class of artists who helped shape the image of colonial Americans, securing the social status of their middle-class sitters in portraits that convey an air of refinement.

says The National Gallery.

Proposed motto for LACMA: Go Inside The Art.

The Helytimes California Voter Guide

Really impressed with the LA Podcast well-argued voter guide.  The LA Times has a thorough one.  Read a few others, and here I present my picks for anyone who wants to vote a straight Helytimes ticket.

GOV: Gavin Newsom

not psyched about it.  California should have a cool Governor.  

LT. GOV: Ed Hernandez

SoS: Alex Padilla



Not even sure why but I love Fiona Ma.

AG: Xavier Becerra

INS COMMISH: Ricardo Lara

State Board of Equalization 3rd: Tony Vazquez 

Going on @ONLX rec here, they both sound bad.  I admire the case for abstaining.  

SENATE: Dianne Feinstein

There’s a fine case for Kevin De Leon, Feinstein voted for the Iraq War and stuff.  But KDL took $5,000 from Cadiz Water Corp, which is trying to steal water from the Mojave National Preserve and sell it to Orange County.  Then he helped kill AB 1000, which would’ve stopped this.  To me, that’s just such a petty and direct corruption on an issue I care about.  I’m sure he thought he could get away with it. 

I guess I’m a one issue voter, which is letting bighorn sheep drink from Bonanza Spring

Dianne Feinstein has her things but to my mind she’s also fairly heroic.  I’d prefer a Senator not be a million years old, but then again the very word comes from the Latin meaning “old man.”  

US House of Representatives: Adam Schiff

For your state reps I’d ask LA Podcast, I voted for my local Dems:

BEN ALLEN for Sen,

RICHARD BLOOM was my only option for Assembly.


Went with LA Podcast for Appeals Judges.

NO on Corrigan, yes on all the others for Appeals

For Judges I went:

SAUCEDA  (LA Times says Coletta, they both sound good to me)

HUNTER (LA Times says Michel)



Superintendant of Public Instruction: Tony Thurmond

Both Times and LA Podcast went Thurmond.  

County Assessor: Prang

Sheriff: McDonnell

crazy contest with no good answer imo.  LA Times and LA Podcast split.  

State Propositions

Prop 1 – Bonds for Housing Assistance: YES

Prop 2 – Mental Illness Housing: YES

Prop 3 – Water Bonds: YES

this one’s a push, went with LA Podcast over LA Times

Prop 4 – Hospital Bonds: YES

Prop 5 – Property Tax Transfer: NO

Prop 6 – Gas and Vehicle Tax: NO

Prop 7 – Daylight Savings Time: YES

Prop 8 – Caps on Dialysis: NO

LA Podcast says don’t vote

Prop 10 – End Rent Control Restrictions: YES

Prop 11 – Ambulance Workers: NO

Prop 12 – Cage Free Animals: YES

LA County

Measure W (flood control): YES

LA  City

Measure B (municipal bank): YES

sounds like a stupid measure but whatever

Measures E and EE: YES and YES




Whenever I need a boost in either comedy or idyllic poetry I just call upon the muse Thalia


Santa Paula, CA Chumash mural

Santa Paula, CA Chumash mural

Re-resolve this Indigenous Peoples’ Day to return LA back to its original name of Yang-Na:



Guess how much Nestlé pays for the water in Arrowhead Water

Nestlé gets the water for Arrowhead in the San Bernadino National Forest, owned by you and me, the American people.

In 2016, Nestlé took 32 million gallons of water from the national forest, in an area not known for its abundance of fresh water.

How much did they pay for this?  I found the answer in a recent issue of High Country News:

$2,050?!  I feel like I’m getting ripped off!

More in the Desert Sun.

Swung by Lake Arrowhead this weekend: