Tunnel Vision, and a few more films


Tunnel Vision (2023) 

Streaming free on YouTube 

As filmmaker Vincent Woo says in the film's brief intro, riding BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) provides a lovely view out the widows, but "you can only see to the side."

He wanted to see from the front, what the driver sees, so without asking anyone's permission, he slapped a video camera onto the front of a BART train, and pressed 'record'. 

Tunnel Vision is an unedited hour and a half ride from San Francisco Airport to Pittsburg/Bay Point Station. It's terrific, but I'm a train and transit geek, so your mileage may vary.

Our train speeds along on the ground and on elevated rails and it's beautiful and scenic, but long sections of BART run underground, and the imagery in the tunnels is simply mesmerizing. Inside those concrete tubes, almost every frame looks like steampunk gristle-noir TARDIS-tripping si-fi. Watching the walls whiz past at speeds up to 75 mph, you simply must marvel at the engineering, and at the maintenance that keeps BART running 50+ years after the cement was poured and the tracks laid.

All along the way, there's a small map of the BART system superimposed over the corner of the screen, showing the train's progress eastward. Industrial music by Laryssa Okada overlays the ride, taking a back seat behind the rumbles and metal-on-metal shrieking of the train itself, but making it more melodic, less monotonously mechanical to the ear.

Nothing about the movie is ever monotonous to the eye, though. Visually, this is no less beautiful than Koyaanisqatsi.

Woo brings added value with some very well-written narration about BART's construction. Off-screen as the train rolls on, he plays Lyndon Johnson's dedication speech, and conducts interesting interviews with a train operator and a former BART bigwig, and a comical 'interview' with the system's automated voices — "Please stand clear of the doors," "San Francisco/Milbrae train in eight minutes," etc. From Oakland's 12th Street Station all the way to Orinda, Woo interviews some droning politician, a long stretch I'll mute when I take this ride again.

And I will take this ride again. Compared to this film's view from the front, the view I've always had from the side windows seems so small, limited, like covering your eyes and peeking between your fingers. 

When the train pulls in to my long-ago home base, the 16th Street Station in San Francisco, it looks like the ornamental tiles on the walls and pillars have been redone, and ahem, I don't care for it.

When we go down and under San Francisco Bay for four miles, it's remarkable — seriously, the transbay tube is of mankind's greatest achievements.

And when the train finally arrives at Pittsburg/Bay Point Station, I wanted to keep riding.

After the screen goes black, you can listen as Woo argues with an employee and tries to get his camera back.

Verdict: BIG YES.

"In loving memory" of a GoPro Hero10 camera, "lost between San Bruno and Daly City, gone but not forgotten."

♦ ♦ ♦    

Jurassic Punk (2023)

Streaming for pay at numerous sites,
or free on DVD from the library

Steve "Spaz" Williams had worked in computers and software, and didn't have a film background or even much interest in movies, but he'd figured out stuff the special effects guys hadn't even tried, so he landed at Industrial Light & Magic in the late 1970s.

Computer graphics was a whole new thing, and Williams was at the forefront, designing the literally eye-popping effects in The Mask, the living water in The Abyss, and the liquid metal that powered Terminator 2

Then came Steven Spielberg's dinosaur epic, Jurassic Park. Spielberg had planned to make the movie using long-established stop-motion techniques, but Williams thought he could make the images seem more lifelike on the screen by designing and animating dinosaurs as software. The bosses said thanks but no thanks, so he did it anyway, on his own time. When he showed a brief sample to the film's producer Kathleen Kennedy, the rest, as they say, is history.

Jurassic Park was almost entirely built on Williams' computer graphics, an accomplishment that completely changed the business of special effects. What's most amazing to me isn't even the dinosaurs; it's that 30+ years later the effects in Jurassic Park have yet to be topped (in my opinion).

The DIY guy in my gut says that's because Williams and his co-workers were fueled by passion and fun (and maybe drugs) and simply loving what they were doing. Since then, special effects have gotten flashier but never more convincing, because the passion and punk ethos of a guy like Williams is no longer welcome in Hollywood,. Effects work nowadays is fueled only by memos from the boss and workers doing a job.

This documentary follows Williams around, and goes into his and other people's memories of movies made a few decades ago. He was always a troublemaker and a pain in the arse, and one of the film's amusing vignettes is about the time Williams and a friend broke into George Lucas's personal den at Skywalker Ranch. For that, Lucas wanted Williams fired, but he couldn't be — it would've meant ruin for Terminator 2, then in production.

If you like inside stuff like that, and I do, there's plenty here. What I'll remember most is that the people famous for the era's special effects — Phil Tippett, Stan Winston, and especially Dennis Muren — are the marquee names, the men in tuxedos who came down the aisle to accept the Oscars, but by the 1990s they weren't the doing the most important and impactful effects. Computer graphics had taken over, and the big names didn't even understand the technology. 

The film hammers this point home with a montage of Muren accepting his eight Oscars, year after year after year, and once or twice saying thanks to his computer graphics team, but never mentioning Williams by name. This unsurprisingly began gnawing at Williams, and he complained for a while, then quit. 

The work he did was revolutionary, and after he was gone the CGI continued, and today we have superheroes flying loop-de-loops in outer space and actors morphing into salad bowls and then reconstituting as heads of lettuce, and none of it means anything to me.

As for Williams, well, he remained punk and became a drunk, barely employed, and now seems to be all the way out of the movie and effects business. Toward the end of the film, though, we see him having one last beer before walking into a rehab clinic, and as of 2023 he seems like a man who's happy with himself, which matters, I think, more than everything else.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦   

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988)

Streaming free on YouTube

This was the first film by Todd Haynes (Carol, Far from Heaven, TV's Mildred Pierce). It's the story of pop singer Karen Carpenter, with a Barbie doll as Karen, and Ken and Barbie dolls playing all the roles.

Always liked the Carpenters, and what little I know of Karen is that she starved herself to death with anorexia, so I watched with some trepidation. Making fun of her seems simply cruel, but surprisingly, the movie's not for laughs. Forget about the dolls. This is a serious, sad biopic with a tragic ending.

Since nothing here mismatches what little I know of the Carpenters, I'll assume it's essentially true, that Karen felt squeezed by societal expectations for women, where nothing's held to be more important than being slim. Sometimes something misfires in a woman's head, and no matter how slim she gets it's never slim enough. At 90 pounds but wanting to be 80, Karen turned to Ex-Lax and ipecac syrup. 

Superstar is, honestly, a good movie with a compelling story, solid camerawork, a good script, and a cast of dolls. Using the dolls was clearly part of the point, because nothing says 'impossible body standards' louder than Barbie. It looks like (and the internet confirms) Haynes whittled away at one unfortunate Barbie doll, making her slimmer and slimmer until she looks unhealthy, even for a dangerously idealized lump of plastic.

Richard Carpenter, Karen's brother and bandmate, had this film suppressed, on grounds that the soundtrack is basically the Carpenters' greatest hits, unauthorized. Haynes makes amazing use of the Carpenters' discography, too — every song selected seems appropriate for where the story is at the moment. "Rainy Days and Mondays" and "Close to You" have never had more depth, although they've often had better acoustics. It's a homemade movie, and the soundtrack is less than Dolby-quality.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦   

Too many too good movies lately, so it's time to drop some schlock into the mix…

Impulse (1973)

Free on DVD from the library

In the first scene, a boy kills his mother's lover, and then we flash forward to find the boy's become William Shatner, all grown up. He kills his girlfriend and dumps her body and car in the river., but he's all shook up about it, so perhaps he's a just having a bad day?

Nah, he's simply a serial killer. Very simply, to be honest. There is nothing going on here except several murders, only one of which is done with any panache.

The Shatman is a famous ham, so it would be a nice surprise to report that he turns in a credible performance here, but the best I can say is that he sure seems to be trying.

There are minimal characterizations from any of the actors, because there's nothing in the script for anyone to do but die. The closest the movie comes to a sense of humor is when Shatner slips a rope over a man's neck and hoists him up with the line, "Hang in there." 

Filmed on location in the 1970s, there's flower power wallpaper, a "Let's boogie" poster, and of course, lots of leisure suits and polyester pants. The closing credits say, "Mr Shatner's wardrobe supplied by Maas Brother's of Florida," but it doesn't say which brother or what of Florida.

If not for Shatner, this would be an average cheap thriller with no thrills, but with Shatner? It's an average cheap thriller that has Shatner but no thrills.

"Nobody's just friends with a belly dancer."

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦    

• Coming attractions •

The Flipside of Dominick Hide (1980)

Freaked (1993)

Following (1998) 

The Invisible Man (1933) 

Ishi, the Last Yahi (1993)

Naked (1993) 

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

The Thing (1982) 

Turkish Star Wars (1982)

12:01 (1993)

    • 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)

High-Rise (2016)

Hit! (1973) 

Human Highway (1982)

Inherent Vice (2014)

Last Tango in Paris (1972) 

Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)

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. I stumbled across Tunnel Vision last week, and as a former 20 year resident of San Francisco, I found it fascinating - and mesmerizing. I'd always wondered what the driver saw under the bay, and now I know. Truly an incredible feat of engineering!

    1. The movie is pretty cool too. One of those brilliant ideas where you wonder why nobody thought of it before — tiny cameras have been around for years...

  2. I haven't had cable TV for 20 years, and had an antenna for only several months in there somewhere, so I have had to discover the few decent TV shows on YouTube or MeTube (hot). And, after finding The Wire and Justified (both outstanding) I looked for more, and found one that wasn't outstanding but was very watchable and had some terrific moments, and it featured (I'm getting close to relevance) William Shatner: Boston Legal. Not every episode is wonderful, but there are few bad ones, and some are quite good, and Shatner is surprisingly quite good. His lines per episode are low, but he manages to dominate the screen when he's there (of course). Oddly enough, he does this through excellent acting. Playing a character with incipient Alzheimer's and doing it convincingly. The whole show is neither fish nor fowl, comedy nor tragedy, yet manages to work. Ya gotta hang in there for the moments, but they're there.


  3. Used to watch that show with my wife, and she loved it. It was pretty good sometimes. I do remember laughing where I wasn't supposed to, at all the recurring "you could be disbarred for that!" story lines, but I liked the big chick, Camryn Manheim.

    As I recall, Shatner got spun off onto his own show.

    1. Yeah, the show with Ms Manheim was The Practice. The last season of The Practice introduced a bunch of new characters including Shatner, and that got spun off into Boston Legal. The Practice was pretty much straight drama with a few light touches and Boston Legal was pretty much a Comedy with some dramatic moments. The Practice lasted eight years (1997-2004), and Boston Legal ran five years (2004-2008). I never really watched The Practice, but I think I saw every episode of Boston Legal over the last couple of years.

      Both shows were created by David E. Kelley and both were mostly set in Boston.


    2. Better than average television, but I don't think we watched much of the second show.


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