Saturday, May 19, 2018

Movie Reviews: 12 Strong

12 Strong
directed by Nicolai Fuglsig
Competent but not compelling war movie where Thor has a carbine instead of a hammer.
Some war movies purport to tell it it like it is without taking sides, whether or not they also indulge in the post Saving Private Ryan level of explicit carnage. Other war movies have a high degree of cynicism and anger towards war in general and US foreign policy in particular. In these movies the real bad guys are the high ranking officers who withhold resources and information from brave combat soldiers, greedy corporate managers who couldn't care less how many American soldiers die to make a 3rd world country safe for business, or white supremacists who salivate at the possibility of being able to terrorize, rape or kill non-whites with the legal imprimatur of the United States government. Still other war movies are more interested in the impact of war on the minds and souls of the men who are engaged in it. Other war movies are just excuses to show gore as much as possible.

And then of course there are war movies that uncritically accept American versions of the conflict and rather reactionary right wing versions at that. Most war movies tend towards one of these polarities, even if most also have varying mixes of these styles contained within. 12 Strong is a movie that likes to think it's telling it like it was, with a healthy helping of good old fashioned American heroism, patriotism and masculinity. There aren't any conflicted heroes here or shadowy civilian "agents" with hidden agendas.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Matt Patricia Situation

First impressions can often be lasting ones. New NFL Detroit Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia, who has barely been on the job for three months, is battling to make sure that his public persona remains the bearded wunderkind coaching phenom rarely found without a pencil behind his ear and not the fraternity guy who skated on rape charges two decades ago.

Patricia, who left the New England Patriots to take the Detroit Lions job, found himself having to explain his 1996 indictment on rape charges and why he had never communicated that to his employers in New England or Detroit. The Detroit News did some digging into Patricia's past and discovered this information.

She told police they met on a Texas beach, fellow college students visiting South Padre Island during spring break 1996. She was a 21-year-old college student at a large university; they were two football players and Theta Chi fraternity brothers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. On the evening of March 15, 1996, the woman told police that two men burst into the upscale hotel room where she was sleeping and took turns violently sexually assaulting her, according to court records and a news account at the time. 

They were arrested, charged and later indicted by a grand jury on one count of aggravated sexual assault — but they never stood trial and were not convicted.  One of the indicted men was 21-year-old Matt Patricia, who was hired as the head coach of the National Football League’s Detroit Lions in February. 

Book Reviews: The Wolves

The Wolves
by Alex Berenson
This older book which I picked up on sale is, given President Trump's recent decision to violate the Iran nuclear deal at both the behest and joy of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, still a timely and very entertaining read. The book can be enjoyed strictly as a modern spy thriller or as a brief against excessive foreign entanglements.  I thought that the bad guy was very well characterized; the good guy was a bit less compelling. This is an installment in a series.

I was unfamiliar with the author before but I will be reading his other works. Don't worry. This book is virtually stand alone. The reader can follow the story without having read previous installments. The author does short judicious information dumps along the way to get the reader up to date and hopefully whet his appetite to read earlier books. So don't think that you can't read this book unless you've read the others. That is so not necessary. 

John Wells is an ex-CIA agent who is still in the game. A storm is on the way. Previously John Wells provided proof that the United States was being manipulated into war with Iran by rabid Zionist, casino billionaire mogul, dual Israeli-American citizen, and Presidential financial backer Aaron Duberman (think a barely fictionalized Sheldon Adelson). 

Wells and a few CIA agents barely prevented a war against Iran based on lies enthusiastically created and spread by Duberman. Duberman viewed Iran as an intolerable threat to Israel. He wanted the United States to attack and invade Iran. Duberman didn't care how many people died in this false flag operation. He thought the cost in lives would have been worth it. Wells went after Duberman but wasn't able to get him. Duberman fled to Israel where he feels he's untouchable. 

Joy Reid and the Big Lie

MSNBC host Joy Reid was recently at the center of a minor brouhaha which was indicative of why many people hold the establishment media in low esteem. Before Reid was the eye rolling Madame Defarge of the anti-Trump Resistance she was a radio talk show host, political columnist and a blogger. Few people paid attention to everything that Reid was writing on her blog from 2006 to 2010. Reid wasn't big time then. Her blog was aimed at a different audience than she reaches with her 2018 television show. The political and cultural environment was different a decade ago. President Obama was elected in 2008 claiming opposition to same sex marriage. Likely, some assumed that it wasn't a very strident opposition, that Obama was lying, or that he was just cautious about coming out in favor of gay marriage. 

But even then it was at the very least bad form, rude and callous if not "homophobic" for a straight person to publicly question people's sexuality, mock people by calling them gay, or claim ostentatious disgust at the idea of gay intimacy. Reid did all of that. People found Reid's old blog posts, many of which claimed that then Florida Republican governor Charlie Crist was gay. Reid apologized and said she was a different person back then. This was no big deal to me. The rain falls on good and evil alike. Many people have made nasty statements about those they consider other. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Can Trump Voters Be Reached?

Clinton lost the 2016 Presidential election for a million different reasons. And she will explain in detail to you that almost none of them were her fault. But a major reason for the shocking Clinton loss was that voters in the upper Midwest and interior east didn't vote for Clinton. States such as Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that had given their electoral votes to Obama in 2012 switched to Trump in 2016. These states are less diverse than the U.S. as a whole, certainly less cosmopolitan than California or New York. There were enough white voters who had voted for Obama in 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016 to put Trump over the top. Some of these voters are having second thoughts about their 2016 decision; others are not.

RITTMAN, Ohio — In the daily race that is her life, Sharla Baker does not think about politics very much. She rises early, drives to the gas station to buy coffee, feeds her baby, dresses her two other children, ages 3 and 2, and hustles them all off to day care. By 9:30 a.m. she pulls into a hair salon 45 minutes away, where she is training to be a cosmetologist. She waxes and cuts all day long, making only the money she earns in tips, which on a recent day last month was $8.41.

But Ms. Baker does vote. She picked Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012. He seemed sincere and looked like a happy family man. But most important, he was a Democrat. Her great-grandmother, who grew up poor in Pennsylvania, always said that Democrats look out for the poor people. In 2016, though, she voted for Donald J. Trump. Yes, he was rich and seemed mean on his TV show, “The Apprentice.” But she liked how he talked about jobs and wages and people being left out of the economy.

Now, more than a year later, she is wavering. “I voted for Trump because I wanted some change going on,” said Ms. Baker, 28. “But then again, maybe he’s going to do the wrong change.” The swing of Obama voters to Mr. Trump proved a decisive factor in the 2016 presidential election. Of the more than 650 counties that chose Mr. Obama twice, about a third flipped to Mr. Trump. Many were in states critical to Mr. Trump’s win, like Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Movie Reviews: 10 x10

10 x 10
directed by Suzi Ewing
This was an effective little thriller that plays around with the viewer's expectations. You initially think it's another generic woman in peril film but it's not. Unfortunately it does use some cliches during the later portion of the movie while leaving more questions unanswered but overall this movie was worthwhile. The lead actor and actress are well known but I wouldn't call them superstars. I found it easy to fall into the film and flow into the world it created. At times the film might have stalled a little too long or been a little too cute in its bait and switch but no one is perfect. This was a good not great film. It's not something that you're going to remember for a long time. I thought the director missed the opportunity to really make you care about the two lead characters. This was not anything bad that the actors did. They were good.

Part of this was inherent in the setup. It's essential that the viewer not know certain things at the beginning. But later, I thought the director could have done a little more table setting, put things more in context so that the "good" and "evil" characters were a little better defined. But at just over ninety minutes this film didn't overstay its welcome. And Ewing and the screenwriter Noel Clarke do an excellent job of building tension and teasing viewer interest in the first part of the movie.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Movie Reviews: The Commuter, Paterno

The Commuter
directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Occasionally certain actors and directors just seem to work really well together regardless of the material. Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington. Spike Lee and Denzel Washington. Quentin Tarantino and Samuel Jackson. Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro. And Liam Neeson and Jaume Collet-Serra. 

The Commuter is somewhat similar to Neeson's previous film Non-Stop and for that matter Murder on the Orient Express but it's much more engaging than the latter film mentioned. This film largely takes place on public transportation, in the New York City metro area, to be specific.  The film went over the top with some seemingly impossible coincidences and contraptions but it never failed to entertain.

Michael MacCauley (Neeson) is a sixty year old Irish immigrant. Having previously worked as a police officer and found that the money wasn't enough to make it in the NYC area or perhaps having become disgusted with departmental politics, Michael has switched careers. For the past decade he's worked as a life insurance salesman. He's able to provide for his wife and son but he's not really rich. Similar to many high income house poor people, Michael is rarely more than a few paychecks away from disaster.  He lost almost everything in the 2008 financial meltdown. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Movie Coming Attractions: The Equalizer 2

Well as much as I enjoyed the first film I'm betting I'm going to like this one as well. This looks like something worth seeing in theaters when it's released in July. Of course if you have no tolerance for filmic mayhem then you won't want to see this.

Music Reviews: Tom Lehrer

Tom Lehrer is a retired mathematician, satirist, parodist, writer, comedian, Army veteran, NSA worker, pianist and inventor of the Jello shot. Among other things, he also wrote music for the PBS show The Electric Company. Lehrer has a certain gift for finding absurdity in everyday life and a knack for writing songs with "blue" material but without any banned words. 

I first heard him on the Dr. Demento radio show, which I used to fall asleep listening to back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. At the time I shared a bedroom with my younger brother who said then and maintains to this day that as oldest I got away with things which my parents would have shut down instantly had they known about, one of those things most definitely being the Dr. Demento show. Of course (1) you really shouldn't give credence to everything said by resentful younger siblings with questionable memories and (2) by today's standards the Dr. Demento show of the seventies and eighties was quite tame. And even back then Tom Lehrer was already something of an old fogie. He's been around a while. 

I enjoy Lehrer's musical and lyrical humor. Lehrer can occasionally evince something of a dirty mind (listen to I got it from Agnes and then listen to it again until you understand why Lehrer initially couldn't perform the song outside of adult nightclubs despite not using a single bad word). Lehrer usually expresses himself in a classy way with lots of did I really hear what I thought I heard plausible deniability.

I also like Lehrer's song The Elements, which lists all of the elements of the periodic table to the melody from Gilbert and Sullivan's Modern Major-General Song from The Pirates of Penzance. Some might say that you have to be slightly bent in your worldview to enjoy Lehrer's humor. I don't deny that he can appeal to the absurd, dark, cynical, and satyric that lurks within us but he also appeals to anyone who enjoys puns, wordplay and lyrical witticisms. He has obvious influence from people like Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim. The important thing about Lehrer's humor is that it is not meant to be taken seriously.  Just listen and (hopefully) laugh.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Music Reviews: Nikki Giovanni, Camille Yarbrough, Sarah Shook

Nikki Giovanni
Truth Is On The Way/Like A Ripple On A Pond
Nikki Giovanni is a poet, writer, professor and activist among other things. Her list of awards, works and accomplishments are far too long to list here. I think she's one of the greatest living poets. She was one of the first poets I remember reading. My maternal aunt gave me Giovanni's collection of poems titled Ego Tripping and other poems for young people all those years ago. Giovanni is often described as radical or militant or other such words but I think that those terms are limiting. Her politics and approaches to life have varied over the years, as with anyone else. 

If there is one theme in her work that hasn't varied it is that black people (especially black women) are human and beautiful. In the early seventies as now such a message may be thought of as militant or threatening but I never saw it as such. One thing that was current in the early seventies is that the music produced by black entertainers and musicians wasn't solely concerned with the lowest common denominator of sex and violence. There were actually still some themes of love and sacrifice. It seems like that's been lost in a lot of the music that is popular today but I could be wrong as I don't listen to much pop music. 

Hmm. Anyway, esteemed musicologists can argue over when and where rap begun. Some people confidently point to the late seventies South Bronx. Others will go back further in time and farther afield to Caribbean/Jamaican toasts or West African chants. Others will claim it was all started by spoken word performers/rappers like the Watts Prophets, Last Poets, Wanda Robinson, and Gil Scott Heron. Some will point to scat singers like Eddie Jefferson or Ella Fitzgerald, or rock-n-roll founders like Bo Diddley. Wherever you start the discussion of rap's creation and growth, certainly the spoken word albums that Giovanni created in the early seventies deserve some consideration.