Thursday, August 16, 2018

Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul Passes Away

There are all sorts of ways to look at the inevitable. Being sad about someone's passing, assuming that they didn't die tragically young or violently, is often about your feelings of loss and heartache and not about that person. After all, whatever you believe about the existence or non-existence of an afterlife, the person who just left this existence is beyond all the pains and tribulations of this world. There's only one Queen of Soul. There's not going to be another. If you didn't know Aretha Franklin's music I think you missed out. 

Aretha Franklin, whose impassioned, riveting voice made her a titan of American music, has died, her niece, Sabrina Owens, confirmed to the Free Press. She was 76. She died at 9:50 a.m. surrounded by family at her home in Detroit.

A family statement released by her publicist Gwendolyn Quinn said "Franklin's official cause of death was due to advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin's oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute" in Detroit.

The family added: "In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family."

Franklin was the loftiest name in the rich history of Detroit music and one of the transcendent cultural figures of the 20th Century. Raised on an eclectic musical diet of gospel, R&B, classical and jazz, she blossomed out of her father's Detroit church to become the most distinguished black female artist of all time, breaking boundaries while placing nearly 100 hits on Billboard’s R&B chart — 20 of them reaching No. 1.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Movie Reviews: Sunset Boulevard, Bad Samaritan

Sunset Boulevard
directed by Billy Wilder
All right, Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my closeup.
This is a classic film noir which I hadn't seen in its entirety though I knew some popular lines. Sunset Boulevard leaves a cinematographic impression upon the viewer. It's filmed in glorious black and white. It uses shadow, smoke and music to create a setting that is alternately realistic and something that could have come from a dream or nightmare. 

The story and the character motives and fears displayed in this 1950 movie are relevant today. Men and women haven't changed that much. Watching movies like this, that if remade today would have been more graphic, always reminds me of how quality films can tell good stories without relying on blood and nudity. Sunset Boulevard is also an example of non-linear story telling; the film is told in flashback voiceover by a character who explains the events.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a Hollywood screenwriter of dubious morals, questionable talents and light wallet. Joe has tried selling a script to Paramount but Betty (Nancy Olson) a younger quality control script reader, didn't like it. Joe is behind on his car payments and other bills.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Movie Reviews: Traffik, Truth or Dare, Laws of Attraction

directed by Deon Taylor
It is ironic that a movie which wants to make some points about the modern sexualized abuse of women, and which makes some hamfisted allusions to historical American slavery, and which was produced by its Black female lead, also spends a lot of time showing off said female lead in a manner which invites the (male) viewer to do a lot of leering. 

Not that I'm complaining. Patton does look really good in Daisy Dukes and tight and/or low cut tops. There's no doubt about that. My problem was that the story's writing and some of its acting weren't enough to make this movie a real winner. All the closeups of Patton's legs or cleavage, wonderful as they are, don't change that. 

Traffik was an update of similar 1970s movies that starred such Black actresses as Tamara Dobson or Pam Grier. Like those cinematic forerunners Patton combines victimization with a willingness to fight back. I liked the grindhouse style/close up camera work. I liked the invocation of fear that many Black citizens can experience when they are surrounded by whites who have made it clear that Blacks aren't welcome in their neck of the woods.

Detroit Church Beset By Break-ins

In the movie Leaves of Grass a gentle religious character explains her belief that the world is broken, but that it's up to us to fix it. In his works The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion the devout Catholic J.R.R.Tolkien imagined that the force of evil had permanently marred the material world as far back as creation. 

In his Perelandra trilogy Tolkien's friend C.S. Lewis similarly posited an evil force that dominated the planet, had perverted humanity, and if left unchallenged would ultimately destroy human kind. Theodicy is a question that has never been resolved as far as I can tell. Not only can we not agree on why evil exists, but we can't really agree on what to do about it.The Bible has contradictory advice. God told us that accounts would be and should be settled.
And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.
And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Jesus told us to resist not evil, turn the other cheek and don't attempt to get our stolen goods back.
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 
But Jesus never lived in Detroit...

Book Reviews: The Summoning

The Summoning
by Bentley Little
I'm not really a big fan of the strain in vampire fiction that imagines vampires as tortured romantics who sparkle, bisexual goths, or private eye stand-ins who reluctantly protect humanity against even worse threats. To each their own but I prefer the concept of vampire as monster and/or parasite. That is why I started the reread of this older book which I picked up in a now closed bookstore all those years ago. I was looking for something with vampires with a little bite, so to speak. This book has a definite thematic resemblance to King's Salem's Lot.

In both stories, the vampire is attracted to a decaying town, a small ragtag group of believers try to do battle against the creature, and human vice is an important part of the story. But because this is Little, and not King, perversion and vice are dominant parts of the storyline to the point where they choke out other elements. YMMV on this. There's a thin line between pushing the envelope of horror imagery and creating things solely to disgust and shock. I think Little tends towards the latter. 

The Summoning is set in the town of Rio Verde, Arizona. Rio Verde has seen better days. Most of the town's young people leave for greener pastures upon graduating high school. With the closure of mines and rerouting of expressways there's less and less economic activity within the town. One person who notices this acutely is Sue Wing, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Sue's parents run a Chinese restaurant; Sue, her younger brother and her aged grandmother help. Sue's in her early twenties and drifting thru life. Sue didn't have the money to go to a first rate college. Her parents aren't poor, but they're far from rich. They don't have thousands and thousands of dollars at hand. Set in the early nineties, this book imagines that there are still a fair number of people who won't patronize the Wing restaurant for prejudiced reasons. 

Woman Falls Out of Moving Car Doing Dance Challenge

A body in motion stays in motion.
Stupidity is the basic building block of the universe.
Forget these natural laws and pay the price.

Trump and Impeachment

I haven't written much on Trump and impeachment because right now there is no chance of that happening. The endless media frenzy over this or that action, lie or statement taken or made by Trump and especially the hyperbolic hyperorgasmic hysteria and anticipation over every little piece of news from the Mueller investigation has exactly the wrong impact on anti-Trump partisans.

The Department of Justice is not going to indict Donald Trump while he is President. No one is going to burst into Mar-a-lago, drag Trump's obese behind outside at gunpoint and make him kneel on the curb with his hands up and fingers interlocked. No one will make President Trump do the perp walk in front of cameras before guiding him none too gently into the back seat of an unmarked government issue Mercury Grand Marquis. No one can call early elections to get rid of Trump. In our political system, absent sickness, death by natural causes, or some unforeseen and utterly out of character attack of conscience, Trump isn't going anywhere.

The only non-violent way to get rid of Trump is for the majority of the House to vote to impeach and for two-thirds of the Senate to vote to convict. That's it. Democrats don't currently have the numbers to do that. And they likely won't get them in both the Senate and House. Only two Presidents were ever impeached; both were acquitted in the Senate.

Beethoven Pizza Delivery

What if Daniel Baremboim had to make ends meet by delivering pizzas? Well it might sound something like this. I hope the family gave him a big tip. It's always good to hear Beethoven.

Some pizza delivery guys don't just deliver pizzas.
A regular old Wednesday pizza delivery turned into a surprising performance for a Shelby Township family. Julie Varchetti posted on Facebook that a young pizza delivery man noticed the family's piano and asked if he could play it.
Bryce Dudal, 18, of Sterling Heights was delivering a pizza from Hungry Howie's when he spotted the piano. What happened next wowed the family.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Movie Reviews: The Equalizer 2

The Equalizer 2
directed by Antoine Fuqua
This film is the first time that acting icon Denzel Washington has acted in a sequel. This sequel, like most sequels, wasn't as good as the preceding film. It was still enjoyable, just predictable. And when it wasn't predictable it was confusing. I think this was a function of the writing. If you intend to make someone's demise look like something that is unrelated to their family or work do you then subsequently attempt to murder their relatives or co-workers? No. You don't do that because even the slowest bear in the woods will realize that the previous incident was no accident. 

There are a few other head scratching moments like that throughout the film but as with most good action films the viewer can ignore these. This film has to do more heavy lifting than the first insofar as in the first movie, the viewer is surprised to see Denzel set his stopwatch to test his reflexes and skills before badly injuring or killing people who have chosen to harm innocents. In this movie all of that is already expected. It's baked into the cake. The director uses that technique a few times just to remind people of what a bada$$ Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is, but much of the film is really a detective movie.

Samantha Bee Spoofs Dana Loesch

The NRA has largely won the national debate on gun restrictions for now. Things have trended away from tighter restrictions since the House and Senate decided not to pursue another Federal Assault Weapons ban. Especially since the election of Trump and appointment of presumably Second Amendment friendly federal judges, the NRA has walked an unsteady line between gloating triumphalism and its more natural default state of paranoid fears of gun confiscation and Caucasian extermination. You can't really drive up financial support for your agenda if you admit you've gotten most of what you want. So, the NRA in the presence of one Dana Loesch, recently put out an ad that was simultaneously a cultural and literal call to arms, a grievances list, a threat, a warning, and a reason why you [stink] rant aimed at anyone to the left of say Tucker Carlson. The ad was as much hilarious as it was a disturbing insight into the minds of those who would find the ad emotionally validating and intellectually convincing. 

The NRA released this ad before it became widespread public knowledge that Russia was supposedly attempting to use the NRA and other right leaning or conservative groups to sway American political and cultural opinion, or at least American right wing political opinion in a direction more amenable to Russian interests. Some white racists have indeed responded favorably to these overtures. One Russian who allegedly accepted this task was Maria Butina.

Maria Butina, whose years-long mission to build ties between Russia, the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party led to her arrest this week, has ties to Russian intelligence, federal prosecutors alleged on Wednesday.