RL178 - Action Movie Script Doctor

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: Deus Ex Valvina, referring to the current James Bond movie where Bond explodes a factory by just shooting a single valve from 200 yards

The show title refers to John having a calling of being an action movie script doctor.

Merlin sounds very clear today. He brushed his teeth, had two or three coffees and he had some Altoids.

As John got involved in local politics recently (it was a learning experience, see Run for office), he learned that all lawyers from a great wide demographic swath think like a lawyer first. If you go to law school and become a successful lawyer, you think like a lawyer before you think of anything else. You can fill a room full of lawyers from around the world and you are going to have one type of person, which is ”lawyer”. When you are looking for a spread of ideas, like an interesting bell curve of people, you should be looking out of the fringes in three dimensions.

Merlin had a Playboy with Grace Jones and Dolph Lundgren (here). In the early 1980s during the National Lampoon era, there was a parody Playboy, but they only made one issue. John got ahold of this parody and the centerfold was Princess Diana. They had superimposed Princess Diana’s head on a naked lady. At age 12 it affected him, but it was a little awkward, too, because princess Diana was a good girl, she was a candle in the wind and you didn’t want to defile her.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

Projecting emotions with your lips (RL178)

When Perl Jam first arrived on the scene, there was a great music video about a kid who kills everybody, ”Lemon Yellow Sun”. John didn’t have a TV then as now, but he saw this video quite a lot because MTV was still in its winning days of ubiquity. Why was Eddie Vedder showing his teeth so much? It was a style of singing that John didn’t know about prior to that. Later in the recording studio he tried it himself by peeling his lips back and he got all this aggressive energy into the song. He realized you can convey so much just depending on how you are forming your lips.

Smiling a lot (RL178)

Merlin’s mom was in real estate and she would smile when she was on the telephone with someone, because it transfers through the telephone and makes you sound happier.

When Merlin first moved to San Francisco, he was a bit thrown off by the fact that the mostly older people in his predominantly Chinese neighborhood did not engage with him. They very rarely talk to people or make eye contact. In North Florida and even in the rest of San Francisco, people would join each other’s conversations on street corners. San Francisco is a very social town! Supposedly it is not a thing for Chinese people to smile all the time. It is insincere or shows some kind of weakness. Some people smile more than others! People in Europe consider Americans as fairly insincere, not just because they smile artificially and for no reason, but also because they congratulate each other all the time and because they say things are good ideas while they aren’t and they generally blow smoke each other’s asses as a form of politeness. Particularly in Northern Europe this is considered a very American and untrue behavior.

Spitting on the street in Marrakesh, different unspoken codes (RL178)

John had a knife pointed at him in Morocco when he spat on the streets. Now he agrees that it is disgusting to spit on the streets, but he had a phase when he just spat a lot. He was in front of a public market in Marrakesh, negotiating with a guy over a belt. At some point in the conversation John spat on the ground, the guy reacted violently and it became a big fracas. He was 20 years old and didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground! That might have been the last time he ever spat in front of something.

When John moved to Seattle a couple of years later at the age of 22, he started drinking Lattes. He never had a coffee before, but somebody handed him this pint-glass full of Half & Half with a shot of espresso in it and John found it to be the greatest drink of all time! For 9 months he drank 4 pints of Half & Half every day and he was just hocking loogies everywhere until he realized that this was no coffee, but just a gateway drug.

The thing about English people, especially from London, is that, almost like in North Florida, there is a lot encoded in what people say and don’t say. A high level of apparent civility is masking a lot of aggression. There are a million ways to tell you that you didn’t do that thing particularly well. You go into a retail store and the people working in there are incredibly civic, but not very nice and not very helpful. That’s what you get used to!

It is all tied up in class, too! If you were born in earshot of a certain set of church bells in London, you have a very different take on it than if you went to the London school of economics. John can’t make sense at all of that insincerity, which in reality is deeply encoded class behavior. He has brought this up with really good friends in the UK, but they don’t even know what John is talking about. They are hearing it for the first time and it is kind of like a Hamburger Hamburger Bang Bang situation! It had never occurred to them that the actual words they were using and in some ways the tone didn’t line up with the meaning because it is so deeply ingrained in them! There are surely equivalent incongruities in the US, but because of the Wild West heritage and because of Andrew Jackson, they really tell it like it is in this country!

When you go to Japan on a business trip, you usually go for several days because it is considered very rude to talk about business on the first day. There is a lot of sitting in a hot bath together, talking about family and stuff, or a day of golf. That is the way we should do business in America: The first rule of business: Don’t talk about business!

Uncle Jack knowing George H.W. Bush (RL178)

There was an editorial review of Georg HW Bushes new autobiography in one of the big newspaper, maybe the New York Times. It was not a great timing for junior, because senior rips his son a new one and says what we have been thinking all along: Why seed too much power to Cheney who is a mad man! How could you be in a room with Donald Rumsfeld and be comfortable with that? Rumsfeld and George HW Bush had decades of history together. Rumsfeld was considered a real comer in the 1980 and was part of Nixon’s white house. He has acclaimed that it was plausible and possible that he should have been the president, which is part of his problem and why he belongs on the bottom of a salt mine. He went after George HW Bush in the 1970s and was really denigrating him. There was a lot of rivalry and they were shitty to each other, most of it coming from Rumsfeld who is very Trump-like. He looks like a composite-drawing of a bunch of successful, powerful people, he has this dad or grandpa vibe that makes him seem really committed and smart even when what he is saying is bullshit, which is a dangerous thing for men like him. John always felt like his back teeth were all made of wood and they were held together with bands of titanium.

When somebody asked Bush junior for a comment about what Bush senior was saying in his autobiography, his answer was that Cheney never said any of that in the 8 years that Bush was president or the 2 years where he was running for president. Bush was the president, he was the decider and Cheney didn’t get to do just what he wanted! Meanwhile Cheney got a 7-sided lighthouse made of dreams that is surrounded by machine gun nests. You couldn’t write a creepier super-villain! He had the Naval Observatory taken off Google Maps, because God forbid we would see his hedges or his man-sized safe! He didn’t understand how it works! The review was written by Marina Dout, who has been a great media critic for many years. She was wondering if this wasp family didn’t talk about this stuff at Christmas! If your father was president, your son is president now, you are not going to bring up the fact that these people are a bad choice? Both the father and the son went to war with the same middle-eastern dictator and they have never discussed it? That is such a distinctively wasp methodology.

It just really put an exclamation point on the fact that the Bush family never should have been in power in America. They are bad people and it was a bad decision that we have made repeatedly for reasons that history might never be able to fully explain. They are unsuited to rule by any measure except that they are aristocratic. George HW Bush at least was patriotic in the old mode and had a sense of honor and duty. He wasn’t going to say a bad thing about a woman and he wouldn’t do a stock deal where the SEC didn’t sign off on. His son was just a brat and a shit. It is still insane that he was president for 8 years and the fact that he was ever president makes John still mad. This is a non-partisan issue, it is not about Bush being a conservative republican, because John doesn’t even think that he is one. He is just a shitty frapple. It is kind of strange that there has not been quite the public explosion of outrage over what a shit-show that whole thing was.

John wants those people to be held accountable, he wants them to go into a shipping container in the desert that John has constructed and he wants to feed them psychedelic drugs in an environment that he can control. John still dreams of it (See RL189 in Dreams and Fantasies) and he wants to extend the franchise all the way to Lawrence Eagleburger, he wants them all! He wants every Neocon and he will take them over the course of months and years. It will be a very long con! John feels that Lawrence Eagleburger might be easy to grab, you just have to tell him that the University of New Hampshire offers him $35.000 to talk about the current politics in Riyadh and he will come. As he will open the door to the conference room there will be nobody there. Somebody will put a bag over his head and all of sudden he will be a shipping container in the dessert.

Cheney has already thought of that! Nobody is every going to put a bag over Cheney’s head, because he is a fucking penguin. Rumsfeld, too! They have got a man stationed at their sixth, so how the fuck do you get these guys? There is the fight club thing where they go to the bathroom at a Rotary Club meeting and all of a sudden Brad Pitt is there threatening to cut off their balls, but that is not going to work for these guys either, because the bathroom is secured before they go in there. Cheney and Scalia are wearing hip-waders while fly-fishing in some Montana stream. The hills are full of snipers, because they are not just going to take a truck out and find a river, but it is going to be completely perimeterized. What they don't know is that John has been waiting in the river for weeks. Every summer he will pick a different river, he will get his snorkel gear on and he will be in the river until that year when they pick the wrong river.

Wanting to go to Yale (RL178)

John’s uncle Jack went to college at Yale with George HW Bush and they knew one another. Uncle Jack was tapped for Skull & Bones and said No (see story in RL267). Not to out uncle Jack, but he did not like George HW Bush in college for all the reasons that we don’t like him now. He was a snob, he was a prick, he was exactly the preppy class-conscious rich kid that you would imagine, instead that this was 1948. He went with the GI bill after he came back from WWII as many others in his generations. This means there were some people in his class who had just turned 18 and were going to college as the war was over. Then there were others at 24 years old who had already become a first lieutenant in the Navy, had won the distinguished flying cross and had been shot down over Corregidor. The French government gave you the legion of honor, but you are taking the same philosophy class as that other guy who just graduated from High School. That had to be a crazy and weird time to pledge a fraternity.

Bush was the president of Delta Kappa Epsilon and graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 1948 with a BA in Economics. He was on an accelerated program to graduate in 2,5 years instead of 4 because the rich people can pay for anything. They can even get you on Phi Beta Kappa! The professor will not give you a bad grade if you are padding their nest, because everybody is on the take at Yale! It is not a meritocracy! By their very nature, 15% of the students at the ivy leagues are bought in by their folks. Hodgeman and Coulton were both nerds with good grades. Coulton is a legacy because both his father and his grandfather went to Yale, but he also grew up in a very weird small Connecticut town. Getting your kids into an Ivy League school if they are from New York is impossible unless you are rich, because they fill slots based on demographics and you have 17.000 applications from Park Slope Brooklyn. If you are the only person applying from a small town, you have a much better chance because you will help them to fulfill their demographic spread. John thinks that both those guys earned it, but how do you know that really?

John desperately wanted to go to Yale. It was the only college he wanted to go to! When he graduated from High School, he had not applied to any colleges, because the only college he wanted to go to was Yale. He knew he couldn’t get in, so what was he going to do? Go to the university of Pennsylvania? Fuck no! He wasn’t going to go to Middlebury and play fucking LeCross! He was not going to go to Rutgers. John is not a safety school guy, but he was headed for great things, so why settle for second best? Everybody knew he was going places, not to say that he literally graduated last in class in High School! You might be one of those 3-5% of ”Give this kid a chance and get him into Yale” If you really want a demographic spread, then every once in a while you have to pick a guy who not only graduated last in his class, but also didn’t apply to your school. That’s your demographic spread!

Unfortunately Yale just wasn’t wise enough. Maybe they didn’t have the resources to scour every High School. Maybe it was a rebuilding year and they were not on their game. Bad on them! John blames his uncle Jack. He is the Yale legacy and both his daughters went to Yale. They were all looking out for themselves and for each other, but when it was time for uncle Jack to call up the local Yale representative Bob Ely who was interviewing the kids in Anchorage, they were all contemptuous of John. John’s whole clan let him down! Uncle Jack and Bob Ely surely sat around, asking themselves if there were any kids in Anchorage who just should go to Yale. They looked at each other, they knew, and they checked the box ”No!”. They all wanted John to get into college on merit, which seems a little on the nose because they have such a narrow definition of merit! Grades, behavior, not looking at the bigger pictures which is light in the eyes, which is fucking triple-rainbow.

John’s dad hated nothing more than a preppy snob son-of-a-bitch. He had always been a man of the people, he was in the trenches with the unions and he was always rooting for the little guy. Once he was down in Palm Springs at a party with George Weyerhaeuser, the Boeings and all the old guard! Somebody walked over to him and says ”Hey David, nice to see you! How is the communist party?” Oh man, he was mad, because it was a little bit of a slur. He didn’t like a preppy son-of-a-bitch, but the best way to deal with them was to get into their club and then not be one of them, like getting tapped for Skull & Bones and say No, because you are not a snob!

John wanting to be an action movie script doctor (RL178)

John went to the new James Bond movie Spectre last night. The ”Nay dear” of James Bond movies was Skyfall, the worst James Bond movie by far! Even the worst Roger Moore and even the George Lazenby was better. It was awful, it was truly terrible, it is an abortion! In any case, because Skyfall was the bottom, Spectre couldn't be worse, so it had to either be on a plain with it or an improvement, but he wouldn't go in there assuming it is going to be terrible. The movie unfolds and it is better than Skyfall, but is still just dull. John was in a James Bond movie looking at his watch and because he was not going to think about the plot of the movie while he was in there, a fucking bell was going off in his head and he realized that he was put on this planet to be a script doctor for action movies!

John doesn’t want to script doctor a comedy, because a bad comedy is easy to recognize, but hard to fix if it hasn’t good bones. When a good comedy is happening, John is just swept up like anybody. Melissa McCarthy for example steals the movie ”Spy” and John had walked into it with his nose already crinkled up like he was in an outhouse. Certain people like Will Ferrell or Eric Wareheim are just funny! Their face being on screen is enough and they can make the shittiest things funny just by standing there. Melissa McCarthy is also just basically funny. The problem with funny is this: John Belushi made a lot of terrible movies, like 1941. Take the wedding movie Bridesmaids: It is funny all through, but there are 4 or 5 legitimately over the top set pieces that Merlin thinks are pretty classic. Spy was a good movie and while John understood and appreciated what was good about it, but he could not have done it. It felt like the script was written by a committee and one of the people on the committee was hilarious. 35% of the movie is hilarious and 65% of the time the joke gets set up, but doesn’t land - not because the actors aren’t landing it, but because it is a badly written joke. If you can do 35% so well, why don’t you just let that person write the whole fucking movie? Comedy movie doctor is not John’s calling!

Action movies are different: The basic foundation of all James Bond movies are good bones. There is always going to be good stuff in a James Bond script. Here is the spy and there is a bad guy. There is always an opening action sequence that sometimes isn’t even related to the film, but is there to remind you that James Bond was an incredibly gifted badass. At least in the classic James Bond movies of John’s childhood, the cold opening of the film was the end of his last mission before he begins the new mission. It could be a great 3,5 minute long adventure movie, like that wonderful scene at the beginning of Inglorious Bastards where they are hiding under the floor. It is horrible, it is so perfect! The rest of the movie does not live up to it, although it has moments. Bond made this a thing: You start off your action movie with something that immediately grabs you, it might be a non-sequitur, like in Batman, the Dark Knight: It starts out with a heist at the beginning. That was an example of a great non-sequitur that also relates to the rest of the movie because it established this new character.

There are all these things you can do in a James Bond movie, but it is still kind of the same each time: He gets to meet with M, he gets a visit with Q with some fun stuff in the background, he gets some gadgets and a car, somebody is going to say that he can’t do this because he is on suspension and somehow he has access to unlimited funds. A woman has to die and there has got to be sexy times. The bones are always there, but the question is just how to flesh that out! What’s great about Casino Royale is that it is all fleshed out exactly the way you want it. They have successfully made the transition to a grittier Bond and he is supposed to be younger, just after he got his Double-0 status. As John was watching Spectre, he was ticking off things like ”All you needed to do to make that scene work was this”, but they didn’t do it and John cannot even fathom how they didn’t! To chose anything else is to miss the entire game and to fundamentally not understand how James Bond movies work! They spent $245 million making this movie and the entire film hinges on a moment where James with his pistol shoots at 200 yards at an inexplicable valve that is connected to an oil refinery or something? Of course there is no explanation for its existence. Deus Ex Valvina!

Then you wonder why all of a sudden there is a scene taken directly out of Road Warrior II! Two seconds before it is revealed to be a solar powered facility, but then right in the center there is a valve on a pipe which causes the entire facility to explode into an oil fire when you shoot it? John is saying: Bullshit! They could have used something else, it doesn’t need to be that! There is a control panel inside and when you mess with that, the solar power gets out of control, because it is solar power! It redirects the sun’s rays into some kind of collector that overheats and that causes it to explode, just don’t fucking bullshit John with shooting a valve! There are 40 moments like this where all you needed was a script doctor. Skyfall had so much of this in it, you would just be Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong! The villain is great, but the entire film was all because he was mad at M? Because she was a bad mom? No! Have a better fucking idea at the center of the movie, it wouldn’t even take that much if you just think about it for another two minutes! He is a mad at something, sure! He is a villain, but he is not destroying the world because he is mad at his mom! He has to either be crazier than he is to justify this or the crime has to be worse. There was a lot of good stuff in this movie like the "rats in a barrel"-speech or the cyanide poisoning, but the whole homo-erotic thing with James in the chair, or all these mainframes, or the lady with the shotglas, John didn’t like those! Compare it with Casino Royale where they are literally torturing his balls in a way that legitimately feels like torture! That’s some fucking hard-core shit! At the end of Octopussy or Moonraker, the bad guy gets his comeuppance, like Jaws falls into the shark tank.

There certainly are a lot of Action Movie Script Doctors out there, but whoever they are, they are doing a fucking terrible job! Action movies are by and large terrible. They don’t have the snap and crackle where the script is alive. There is this sense that they can’t make it too smart, because they got to be at the 6-year-old boy level, except they will show incredible violence that no child should ever witness. When you see an action movie where the script does crackle, you are Thank you! Thank you! John could do that job, but the problem is that these people are not looking outside their patrimonial rolodex. It is a sickening professional myopia! None of them is listening to this podcast and if they do, they are not identifying themselves in it. They don’t know John is talking about them and to them! Michael Bay is probably listening to this podcast and wondering ”Did they just say my name? I’ve been a loyal Roderick on the Line listener from the beginning!” He is doing a shitty job making Transformer movies, but he doesn’t know what to do about it. He also did this pretty good Rob Corddry movie with The Rock (called ”Pain & Gain”). Rob took Merlin to the premiere which was pretty weird. Merlin saw Michael Bay there. He is not tall, but kind of dolorous and looks like Sam Elliott meets Werner Herzog, but sadder. He has got a heaviness to him.

Yesterday, Merlin took his daughter to see ”The Martian”. The theatre is usually literally dead like Trotsky (it has an ice pick in its eye), but this time the place was packed to the gills because almost all salons were showing some version of Spectre, it was crazy! John did see the martian and it was fantastic! The way it looks makes it feel like a new kind of movie. Merlin ate it with a spoon! They might have done the high frame rate thing, but that is for another show. The only problem for John is that they should not have cast The Talented Mr Ripley, but instead they should have used Matthew McConaughey. They can’t open a huge movie like that with an unknown actor at the center. Merlin thinks it was terrific, but in the book there was a lot more nerdy math which he really loved. There is a lot of arithmetic he needed to do! It was first math and then a decision, then math and then a decision. The idea at the center of this movie is that the reason he survived was thanks to being an optimist. At any point along the way, a pessimistic personality could have laid down and said that they just blew up the space station and they cannot rebuild it, so they are going to open their helmet and die. That is why it should not have been Matt Damon! His optimistic can-do Johnny-on-the-spot Navy-pilot mentality was the thing that ultimately saved him.

We do pick astronauts from this category of people who are indefatigable, who are thumbs-up can-do, who are in the world kind of annoying to work with or to be in relationships with, but they are a tool in the human toolkit, and we need to employ them. Part of why they shouldn't have used Matt Damon is because he isn’t actually that guy in his own life. He is communicating this hippie-skippie thing, but it was not in his eyes. The tension of the movie is not that you are pondering if you would know the math to do this, but what would you do 180 days in when you wake up one morning and say ”Well, I don’t have it in me today”? Anyone who was too conservative thinking about how to stay alive in the short and medium term would be dead meat! You have to think about what resources to sacrifice in order to make it in the long term. John buys Matt Damon in the Bourne movies or the talented Mr Ripley, but he doesn’t buy him as the pollyanna super-scientist. Merlin does not want to be in John’s script doctor meeting because John would throw cronuts at people! John wants to see it in his eyes that he never had a deep thought about ”Humans are pigs, what is the meanings of this?” in his life. Likewise in James Bond movies he wants to see it in all of their eyes! It would require that the script made any sense at all when they first ran through it. There are a lot of great actors in that movie that are pretty wasted because they have dumb shit to do.

Action Movie script doctor is a job that John would do if only the world was constructed in a way that would make them approach him. As he went to this billionaire party with Merlin, not a single billionaire asked him to be the CEO of their company. If Elon Musk is at all scrobbling through all the podcasts looking for Elon Musk references, just like Courtney Love did at a magazine stand in 1997, then he has to have listened to every episode of this program, or at least somebody on his team must have presented a list of references to him on papyrus. John is at a fucking surrealist party with him and he is wearing some kind of feathered head dress while John is just dressed like a normal person, which is ultimately the most surreal costume, and he doesn’t walk over? It is certainly because of the brogramming culture! John would do the first script doctor assignments gratis, just to demonstrate! He would let the director make a movie and show it to people, then John would remake it and they would do a little side-by-side. In Spectre there are too many pistols and James Bond should solve problems with other things than pistols. The thing his Aston Martin did was all from Thunderball. The climax of the film involves Bond in a moving vehicle shooting at a moving target over hundreds of yards with a pistol and we are meant to believe it because he shoots four times and doesn’t accomplish it. The fifth time he really aims and he puts a bullet into the mouth of a sparrow at 600 yards but it doesn’t kill the sparrow because it just comes out its butt. That is the implausibility of that shot!

Gun ownership (RL178)

It has got to be a hard time for gun enthusiasts right now. There is so much confusing stuff out there and John feels bad for gun owners! John says this as a gun owner, but he wants to make it very hard to own a gun in America! There should be a lot of hoops to jump through, there should be tests, you should get a license. Gun owners need some limitation to clarify the guns they really have to own. They should look at their guns and ask themselves if this gun brings them joy. If not, clean it out of your closet and just keep the guns that really bring you enough joy that it is worth it to you to go through what will probably be an onerous amount of rigmarole, kind of what you need to get a motorcycle license.

Going to see a psychiatrist (RL178)

John has gone to a psychiatrist twice, which is more than all the other times in his life put together and something he never admitted while he was running for office. At one point the psychiatrist said that you can only have 5 close friends and you can only know 100 people. John knows 1000 people by name and considers them friends, he knows 5000 people on sight and for 2500 of them he doesn’t know if they are a friend or not. If John is capable of having a close friend, then he has more than 5 close friends. The whole profession of psychiatry is a little cute. If you bend over and tie your shoe laces with you left hand, that means that your mother didn’t pet your knee when she was disciplining you. It is all TED-Talk shit! Merlin can run flat-out for a half mile before his hands start shaking, now why would he know that? Turns out: The pressure points in his feet are related each to another and to his mustache hairs.

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