Saturday, October 13, 2018

Movie Reviews: Game Night

Game Night
directed by John Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
This black comedy is in some ways an extended riff on some classic Three Stooges comedy routines (mostly lacking the slapstick) in which the protagonists are either mistaken for someone else or enter an arena or game under mistaken pretenses. The Three Stooges weren't the first or last to use this trope. They may not even have been the best to use such routines. They just happen to have been the first people I saw use the routine. So they were the first to come to mind. You may recall several other movies or books which use this theme. It's not as easy to pull off as it looks. 

For this to work over the entire running time of a feature length film, you need to believe that the protagonists aren't utter morons. That's boring. Rather the heroes and heroines are just fish out of water. Some of them will be quicker on the uptake than others of course. Much like the similar walk on the wild side comedy, The House, Game Night invites the viewer, who presumably doesn't have lots of experience with shady activities, to imagine himself or herself thrust into some dodgy situations with some bad hombres. Unlike The House, Game Night was consistently funny without much grossout humor.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Movie Reviews: Creed

directed by Ryan Coogler
I suppose you could call this Rocky 7 or Rocky The Next Generation. It's a continuation of the Rocky story as well as a spin off of that series and beginning of a new story. I didn't see this film for the longest time for whatever reason but recently decided to check it out on the advice of my brother. Creed is a really good movie. Surprisingly good, actually. Before I mention anything else most of the Rocky movies were if anything incredibly unrealistic in their fight scenes.

People took WAY too many shots to the head-not just jabs either but tons of overhands and crosses. While that might have been the expectation were a trained boxer to fight someone untrained, if you've ever watched real boxing matches between equally competent people who know what they're doing, the matches usually don't look like that. Or rather they don't look like that until one boxer gets tired and either gets beat or starts taking too many chances. The fighters as imagined in the prior Rocky movies would have had to be superhuman to get hit in the face that many times. The results were entertaining but often cartoonish. The fight cinematography in Creed is as close to the real thing as I've ever seen in a boxing movie.

Everyone moves like real boxers, perhaps in part because many of the actors were indeed professional boxers. As a result it was easier for me to lose myself in the story.  Former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) one time Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) rival and later good friend died in the boxing ring fighting Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. 

Serena Williams and US Open

Serena Williams lost the US Open Championship Finals to Naomi Osaka. During this tennis match, Williams threw a temper tantrum and didn't reign it in until the umpire, Carlos Ramos, docked her a game. Osaka was already ahead of Williams. Osaka was probably going to win the tennis match anyway. It wasn't the first time that Osaka had beaten Williams. And it probably won't be the last. Although Williams can claim to be the best female tennis player ever, her career is winding down. Williams is in her late thirties. Osaka is about to turn twenty-one. There aren't any physically demanding sports where the older person routinely beats the younger one. It's just the way things are. Eventually the body can't do what the mind demands. In time, even the mind can lose some competitive hunger. Winter is coming for us all. Father Time is undefeated.

I don't avidly follow women's tennis but I have noticed that Williams' crackups usually occur when she is losing. Athletes such as Michael Jordan, John McEnroe, George Brett, Muhammad Ali, and other champions were often abrasive or even abusive to umpires, judges, referees, sparring partners, or teammates. There is a train of thought that says "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser." The intensity which has allowed Williams to dominate her sport for the better part of two decades is the same intensity that causes her to hurl insults at or make threats against umpires and line judges. I doubt that she can turn that off.

So I was nonplussed by Williams' tirade. The only thing which annoyed me is that rather than make the normal semi-apology "I had a bad day/I lost it/I don't want to talk about it/Just one of those things" which most athletes make once they cool down, Williams doesn't appear to think she did anything wrong. Williams made the claim that the umpire was picking on her because she was a woman. Well that's not the case. Here's what happened. 

Stephen Colbert is a Tolkien Nerd

I don't watch a lot of television so I didn't know that Stephen Colbert was a fan of Chance the rapper, Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Good man. You really should read The Silmarillion if you have the time. There's a lot of good stories contained within, including a fictionalized reworking of how Tolkien met and fell in love with his wife.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Book Reviews: The Detroit True Crime Chronicles

The Detroit True Crime Chronicles
edited by Scott Burnstein
Jimmy Hoffa. Demetrius Holloway. Young Boys Incorporated (YBI). The A-Team. Pony Down. Best Friends. The Devil's Diciples(sic). Black Jack Tocco. The Chambers Brothers. Tony Jack Giacalone. Maserati Rick. White Boy Rick. Chester Campbell. Henry "Blaze" Marzette. Billy Jack Giacalone. The Purple Gang. Taco Bowman. Louis Akrawi. Papa John Priziola. Bernie "The Hammer" Marchesani. Rocking Reggie Brown. Eddie Jackson. Big Ed Hanserd. Joe Zerelli.  

Many of those names will be familiar to those who are interested in organized crime or to those who grew up in Detroit proper or more generally Southeast Michigan. The same way that some people remember where they were when John Lennon or JFK were shot I remember where I was when I heard that Demetrius Holloway had been murdered at a popular downtown clothing store. People may not realize that Detroit area mafiosi and gangsters were the inspiration behind such films and music such as Absence of Malice, New Jack City, and The Ten Crack Commandments

I grew up close to ground zero for the infamous drug gang YBI. Some people in my neighborhood worked for folks in that group. I recall some of the events referenced in this book. The funny thing was is that looking back as bad as things were back then I don't remember at the time thinking that I lived in an extraordinarily violent city. It's a cliche but with some notable and fortunately rare exceptions most of the violence was contained among people who were already in that life. Of course my experience was shaped by having extremely strict parents who pretty much saw to it that I went to school and came home without going almost anywhere else. Perhaps other Detroiters would have different memories of those days.

Book Reviews: The Gospel of Loki

The Gospel of Loki
by Joanne M. Harris
I really enjoy Norse mythology. It has a lot of cynicism, doom, dread, bad a$$ boasts, and ultimately hope. It's quite similar to blues in many ways. So I was all set to enjoy this book. And I did. Loki is in the Norse eschatological sense a leading force of evil. But he didn't start out that way. In most of the stories that have been passed down Loki is more a trickster. He's the Norse incarnation of the archetype demonstrated in other myths/religions/stories by such Gods or heroes as Eshu, Anansi, Odysseus, Robin Goodfellow, Brer Rabbit, Bugs Bunny and so on. The trickster is not necessarily evil but he is usually untrustworthy, much as the name suggests. Loki lived up to that name in the various Norse stories. 

Loki was useful to the Gods (Aesir and Vanir). He often got them out of serious trouble. Of course he usually was the one who got them into the trouble in the first place. Loquacious, elegant, attractive, intelligent, gender-fluid, and often vindictive, Loki is the quintessential bad boy joker. As mentioned, in most of the stories that remain, Loki wasn't always a bad sort. It's just that his sense of humor wasn't always shared by everyone. Over time his jokes, tricks and pranks become progressively more malicious until he commits an act which can't possibly be forgiven. This leads to his expulsion from Asgard and the long foretold Ragnarok, or final battle between good and evil, which will destroy all of existence. This is all foretold which of course brings the age old debate between free will and determinism into the forefront.

Harris reworks the grim serious stilted language of the Norse eddas into something much easier to read and fun in a different sort of way. Harris adds her own ideas to the stories. She will make you wonder if previous translators missed some important nuances. She decides to tell everything from Loki's point of view. He is of course a highly unreliable narrator. To hear Loki tell it he was just a free fire spirit of Chaos, minding his own business until Odin named him and thus summoned him, somewhat against his will, into the material planes of existence. Loki becomes Odin's blood brother. Odin swears unending hospitality to Loki. Loki thinks that Odin uses him to do the things that he can't be seen to support. People may love God but no one likes the Angel of Death or wants to lose their firstborn. 

Mary Kay Letourneau is Unrepentant

In some states the age of consent is sixteen. That is likely a leftover from the times when people who weren't married by their early twenties at the latest were thought to have something profoundly wrong with them, morally or otherwise. I think laws notwithstanding, today most adults would look askance at a thirty-four year old adult who decided to get busy with a sixteen year old.

There is no state where the age of consent is lower than sixteen. Most normal people in the United States recognize that no matter what they look like or say, people below the age of sixteen are children. Adults shouldn't pursue sexual relations with children. That's abuse. That's wrong. You may remember that thirty-four year old Seattle area married teacher Mary Kay Letourneau had sex with raped her sixth grade student, Vili Fualaau, then twelve years old. Curiously enough one could make the argument that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Letourneau's father, John Schmitz, (a Holocaust denier, US Representative, Presidential candidate, segregationist, and someone so noxious that he was expelled from the John Birch Society) also had an extramarital affair with a (former) student, though at least he was prudent enough to do his thing with a woman who was an adult. Letourneau had no such age scruples. Disgusted, her husband divorced her and got custody of their children.

Despite an initial slap on the wrist, legally speaking, Letourneau would not stay away from Fualaau, becoming pregnant twice and ending up with a prison sentence of a little over seven years. I think that sentence was still too light all things considered. Likely she benefited from her father's influence, as well as that of her brothers, who are heavy hitters in Republican circles. Anyway all that was a long time ago. Letourneau and Fualaau married after Letourneau's release from prison. Letourneau and Fualaau are still married. He's 34. She's 56. The couple's children are now adults. The couple recently sat down for an interview with an Australian television show. 

Maine Moose Poop Artwork

This woman sounds exactly like a character out of a Stephen King novel. Her distinctive accent notwithstanding, I don't think I would want to purchase a damn thing that she's selling. Not one thing. But YMMV. I guess this is good old Yankee ingenuity and entrepreneurship in action. Stay classy Maine.

SOMERVILLE, Maine (WABI) - One person's trash is another's treasure.

There's a woman in Maine who sells arts and crafts that she makes in her own home that takes THAT saying to a whole new level. Mary Winchenbach became something of a viral sensation in the past few days following her stint at the Common Ground Fair.

There's a lot going on at her Somerville home. There are two adults, three kids, more than 60 animals, some fish, and a whole bunch of moose turds.
Winchenbach runs Tirdy Works, making artwork from the stuff moose leave behind. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

What is Justice?

I don't know whether Brett Kavanaugh assaulted Christine Ford during his time in high school. I doubt most other people do either, regardless of how much they bloviate on twitter, Fox, or MSNBC.
After today's Senate hearing I may or may not move in either direction as to my belief in the story.

But there are a few issues raised by the reaction by some to this accusation which are to put it mildly, troubling.  It is true that Kavanaugh is not on criminal trial, has no inalienable right to be on the Supreme Court, and thus can not lay claim to the protective standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt". But whether you support or do not support Kavanaugh there are some standards which are or rather should be universally accepted by Americans, at least fair minded ones. If we want to get rid of these standards we might as well get rid of the justice system and the country altogether. Because neither institution holds together without these standards. If we don't want mob rule then we have to keep these basic protections in mind.

Innocent until proven guilty
Just because someone makes a claim doesn't mean that the claim is true. Even if we believe that the claim is true we still must go thru the motions necessary to prove guilt. Now what's necessary to prove "guilt" in a criminal trial where someone's life or freedom is at stake is a greater burden than what's necessary to prove guilt in trying to figure out who stole your iced coffee from the office refrigerator. But even in the latter case, just saying that the new guy did it doesn't make it so.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Wants to Remove Trump?

It's a stock cliche in sitcoms. Someone, either a hapless husband or a low ranking worker, makes fun of his termagant wife or vindictive boss. Everyone around him laughs. The newly minted comedian proceeds to make nastier jokes, do impressions, or sell wolf tickets about how if his wife or boss gives him any lip, he'll show his wife just who wears the pants in this family, knock his boss into the middle of next week, or tell his boss to take this job and shove it someplace that's difficult to remove. Unfortunately the man doesn't notice that his audience has stopped laughing, has drifted away, or is suddenly pretending that his jokes are offensive. Then the man turns around to see an enraged wife or boss standing there glaring at him. At this point the man pretends that he has temporarily lost his mind,  claims to be his long lost twin brother, says he's in the wrong office/home or throws himself on the often non-existent mercies of his wife or boss.

It's a funny cliche. Perhaps Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein can appreciate the humor involved in this old bit. Maybe Rosenstein hopes that his boss, President Trump can find something to laugh about in the reports that Rosenstein was considering wearing a wire around Trump and attempting the modern equivalent of a palace coup.

WASHINGTON — The deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, suggested last year that he secretly record President Trump in the White House to expose the chaos consuming the administration, and he discussed recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Mr. Trump from office for being unfit.