Ishi, the Last Yahi, and a few more movies


Ishi, the Last Yahi

Streaming free on YouTube 

American history is the story of whites killing natives, and boxing the survivors into 'reservations' (a word invented to hide cruelties). This documentary is a one-man microcosm of that.

The Yahi was a splintered sub-tribe in California, and as the gold rush came in the late 1840s, whites came by the thousands, and the Yahi fled into hiding.

Soon white settlers killed off most of the wildlife the tribe had hunted, and the state put a bounty on dead 'Indians' (another word that's simply wrong), until eventually only one Yahi remained. In 1911, at about the age of 50, weakened with age and hungry, he wandered toward a white family's farm, outside Oroville, California. 

According to this documentary, the farmer's first response was to push him over with a stick — which sounds cruel and is, but natives had been mythologized as terrifying, so you can sorta understand the fear. The stranger offered no struggle, and the stick-wielder says, "I felt ashamed of what I did, so I put him back up in a sitting position."

The last Yahi spoke no English, so he was taken to the town jail, and then escorted by train to San Francisco, where he lived the rest of his life as an exhibit at the University of California's Museum of Anthropology. He also worked as a janitor there.

His name, it's important to mention, wasn't ishi. That's only the word in his language for 'man', but the man himself remained anonymous for the rest of his life, and still is.

This documentary about the man and his people isn't even an hour long, and you'll wish it was longer. It's riveting, and far more respectful to the man called Ishi than anyone of his time, who commonly thought of him as a savage.

It's a tragic and fascinating glimpse of what 'discovery of the New World' meant to the people who were already here.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦    

The Flipside of Dominick Hide (1980) 

Streaming free on YouTube 

Dominick is a time traveler wearing a funny hat that's shaped like his flying saucer, and his job involves running frequent 'circuits' back to our time (well, the 1980s), to hover over the city and study our ancient traffic patterns. He's supposed to avoid mingling with the locals, especially since he's married in his future timeline, but he gets distracted by a pretty blonde in ours.

The sci-fi elements are familiar from a hundred other movies — the future is dull, repressed, and the bumbling time traveler misunderstands everything in our time, and the story's big surprise is exactly what you'd expect. 

The version on YouTube was the best I could find, but it looks like third-generation VHS, and at some points characters' entire heads are a blur, which probably dampened my appreciation for the film. It is witty and sometimes clever, and the leading lady is very pretty when her face is recognizable.

But if there's a moral of the story it's a weird one, that an affair outside your timeline doesn't count, and might even add some sparkle to your otherwise boring marriage back in the home time. 

You could do worse than this on a Sunday afternoon. You could also do better.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦    

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (first season, 2022)

Free on DVD from the library 

The debut episode of this entry in the Star Trek franchise was better than expected, so does the rest of the first season hold up? Yeah. It's generally good but not great, same as the first episode.

They've soap-opera-ized it, giving a deep dark secret to every major character, and everyone talks to everyone about their feelings, which grows tiresome, and sometimes unintentionally silly. One crew member's deep dark secret is the root cause of a ship-wide crisis, which when revealed bizarrely leads to nothing but a tsk-tsk moment, instead of a court martial.

Yeah, this still has Star Trek's military mindset, but that's only a problem if you stop and think about it so I try not to.

Perhaps to make up for all the military jargon, the moral of the entire first season is "Bend the rules, break the rules." Variations on such lines are spoken and implied more times and ways than I could count — at least twenty times in ten episodes. In this incarnation of the venerable Federation of Planets, there seem to be no rules at all.

Star Trek's tropes are all here. Everyone and everything's superlative — she's the best first officer in the fleet, he's the finest engineer I have ever served with, the Enterprise will hold together no matter what we put her through, etc.

The captain especially, but others too, are prone to giving long and profound speeches, which everyone listens to like the Gettysburg Address in space.

The ship is quite thoroughly wrecked by the end of the fourth episode, with "structural collapse on deck 22," lights hanging from ceilings, screens exploded and Engineering in ruins, but it's pristine and spaceworthy by the start of the next episode, with no mention of repairs.

The show also does a lot of things right. Someone backstage must be a fan of the Kirk/Spock era — nods to the original series keep coming, and they're done with far more care than the recent shitty movies. Even the littlest elements, like the original Nurse Chapel's crush on Spock, are recreated and re-imagined well. Rarely but with power, the original soundtrack is back for a few notes, too.

And this show enjoyably bludgeons the Bechdel test at every opportunity, with sometimes only women on the bridge, and an over-the-top villain who's female, and then another a few weeks later. 

Sometimes the show runs on impulse power, but the last few episodes are downright thrilling. And then it ends with a cliffhanger involving the deep, dark secret of the show's least interesting character — a big dramatic yawn.

So the first season of Strange New Worlds is a mix of pretty good and disappointing, a lot like the original series was.

Will I be back for the show's second season? Probably, but there's no hurry, especially since they're now doing gimmicks like a musical episode and a crossover with the horrendous Star Trek cartoon Lower Decks.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦   

• Coming attractions •

Freaked (1993)

Following (1998)  

High-Rise (2016)

Human Highway (1982) 

The Invisible Man (1933) 

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)

Naked (1993)

The Thing (1982) 

Turkish Star Wars (1982)

12:01 (1993)

(plus occasional schlock as needed)

    • And then •

American Revolution 2 (1969)

The Cook (1918)

The Corporation (2003)

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Delicatessen (1991)

The Devil and Miss Jones (1941)

District 9 (2009)

Good Night, Nurse (1918)

Hit! (1973)

Inherent Vice (2014)

Last Tango in Paris (1972)

My Life in Monsters (2015) 

The Scarecrow (1920) 

They Live (1988)

The Unknown Marx Brothers (1993)

Upstream Color (2013) 

We Steal Secrets (2013)

Who Killed Captain Alex (2010)    

Within Our Gates (1920)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

CultCinema Classics
Films for Action
Internet Archive
Kino Lorber
Korean Classic Film
Christopher R Mihm
National Film Board of Canada
New Yorker Screening Room
Damon Packard
Mark Pirro
Public Domain Movies
Scarecrow Video
Timeless Classic Movies
or your local library.

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —
Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.

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  1. In case you've not heard or seen this, Leonard performed this in concert in middle age, then stopped. I can't peg the year of this performance; I suppose maybe mid-80s. This is Leonard Cohen who, following an extended introduction, sings his wonderful song Chelsea Hotel #2.



    1. Great start to my morning, song & intro, thank you sir.


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