Saturday, November 18, 2017

Movie Reviews: Blade of the Immortal, Downsized

Blade of the Immortal
directed by Takashi Miike
When I watch these stylized samurai action films either in their original Japanese form like this one or in the American homages like Kill Bill, I always wonder why doesn't anyone wear armor. It's probably because as an arrogant and somewhat loony character in a Joe Abercrombie novel disdainfully stated "Armor is part of a state of mind in which you admit the possibility of being hit." And all of these warriors, assassins and magicians are convinced that their awe-inspiring skills preclude anyone wounding or killing them. Most of them are wrong of course. The real reason that armor is often non-existent or non-functional in these movies is so we can watch the blood sprays when arteries are severed and internal organs are pierced by cold unyielding steel. And this movie is all about the violence. It is a true vision of bloody mindedness. Obviously if violence is not something you care to watch then this movie isn't for you. It is based on a manga.

The storyline suffers a little bit from the brute force overemphasis. Blade of the Immortal only occasionally displays the dramatic tension and release which is essential to really good revenge themes, whether played straight like Man on Fire, Kill Bill, True Grit, The Hound demanding chickens in Game of Thrones, or deconstructed in films such as Gran Torino or Unforgiven. This movie lacks the emotional center that normally animates such films. It's very rare in this movie that there's a sense of impending bloodshed and the apprehension that accompanies it.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Senator Franken Apologizes to Leeann Tweeden

Often what's done in the dark is going to come out in the light whether we want it to or not. Harassment and bad behavior is not limited by political considerations. Democratic Senator Al Franken apparently behaved badly on a 2006 USO tour with one Leeann Tweeden, then a Playboy, FHM and Fredericks of Hollywood model, now a radio show host. Although I'm pretty sure that we are only finding out about this now because of the brouhaha over embattled Alabama Republican U.S.Senate candidate Roy Moore, it's still a potent reminder that people (by which I mostly mean men) need to be careful about what they do. It's such a simple thing to get consent first. According to Tweeden, Franken, then a comedian, did not have consent to kiss her or grope her. If this picture had come out before Franken's successful 2008 campaign to become the junior Senator from Minnesota, it's a good bet that he wouldn't have been elected. 

The answer to these sorts of issues isn't necessarily to demonize half of humanity, though some folks would like to do just that. Rather it has to be drummed into some people's heads that even though they work in the entertainment or political arena, they still need to get consent to do certain things, just like everyone else. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Movie Reviews: Micmacs, The Lords of Salem

Micmacs
directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Micmacs is a French film. Jean-Pierre Jeunet also directed Amelie, reviewed here. English subtitles are available. I haven't heard or spoken French in a very long time so movies like this are always fun for me to watch. I understand less and less of French as time passes by but I still enjoy occasionally turning off the subtitles to see how much I can comprehend. Not much as it turned out. Still whether you speak French fluently or have to watch each and every subtitle this was a good movie to watch. Unlike with Amelie the romantic theme in Micmacs is not central to the movie. You might even say it's an afterthought. The primary similarity between Micmacs and Amelie is the color palette which simultaneously invokes surrealistic imaginings and hyperrealisism. Jeunet evidently used digital color manipulation to create a Paris that never existed but still feels all too real. Micmacs provides a wealth of visual riches that draw in the viewer. This film is hypnotic. You can get lost just watching the camera linger on a particular piece of architecture. This is a great film to watch on a snowy or rainy day when you're just going to snuggle on the couch. 

It's well cast and acted even if the writing is occasionally a bit suspect. Micmacs is a very optimistic film, despite the subject matter. If you are the sort of person who believes that most people are good and that it's all going to work out in the end then you will probably enjoy this movie. And even if you are a cynic the film may still make you smile. The movie is plot driven not character driven. The protagonist and his friends are all just there to move the story, nothing more. I laughed at the lead character but I never really felt super sympathetic towards him. So this movie is not as memorable as Amelie. But the visuals and music may make up for that. When Bazil (Danny Boon) was a child his father was killed in Africa while trying to defuse land mines.


Book Reviews: Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus
by William Shakespeare
Sex and gore that would make Tarantino squeamish
You can make an argument that there is very little that is new under the sun. Shakespeare's play Titus Andronicus would be a good exhibit for that point of view. At various times creative artists as disparate as Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, Quentin Tarantino, Rob Zombie, Robert Bloch, Tom Six, Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga, and Richard Laymon have been accused of playing to the cheap seats, of marketing cheap sex and grotesque violence for no other reason than to shock people. Some of those accusations are true. Some of them are not. But certainly Titus Andronicus is a rebuke to those who believe that humans have radically changed over the centuries or to those who still hold that Shakespeare only wrote high minded comedies/tragedies designed to uplift the human spirit. Shakespeare could be as nasty and dirty as any modern splatterpunk novelist. This play was apparently when he wanted to be way out there. Titus Andronicus was so out of the ordinary for Shakespeare that for the longest time some scholars refused to believe that he wrote it. Others argued that everything was so ridiculously over the top that Shakespeare meant this to be a comedy.

If I recall correctly there isn't any incest or homosexual activity in Titus Andronicus, but Shakespeare includes almost every other taboo in the play, his first tragedy. Shakespeare describes adultery, murder, rape, lots of mutilation, cannibalism, and filicide. Shakespeare offers the reader a big scary black man who does evil for evil's sake and makes a (white) Queen his willing sex slave. There's a fair amount of racism, often portrayed uncritically. This is a part of Shakespeare's contribution to the Western canon as much as Hamlet or The Tempest. Virtually no character is likable. Anyone who is nice seems to get it in the neck almost immediately. The story feels modern even though it's set in pre-Christian times or at least semi-Christian times. No one in this play is familiar with the Golden Rule or wishes to turn the other cheek. The highest values in Titus Andronicus are not to love thy neighbor as thyself and return good for evil but rather to unquestionably follow the orders of your family head and avenge yourself sevenfold upon any who assail you.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Roy Moore Child Abuse Allegations

It would be ideal if we all could soberly and objectively judge allegations based on evidence and how truthful we think the accuser and accused are being. That's difficult to do even in a court of law. It's almost impossible to do outside of it. This is especially the case when the time between the alleged crime and the reveal of the alleged crime has been years. So we shouldn't immediately believe the worst of people that we don't like for political reasons or even prejudicial ones. At the same time we shouldn't dismiss allegations against people that we do like or people who share certain immutable characteristics with us. It can be true that victims can wait for years to speak out for valid and understandable reasons. It can also be the case that people make accusations that aren't true. My automatic belief of an accuser's story is limited to my relatives, loved ones or people that I know pretty well. With other people having some evidence besides their word is a good thing. In cases where the alleged crime is long past I want to know if the alleged victim told someone about the crime at the time it occurred or made a change in his or her behavior. If that happened then I'm more likely to believe them. Abuse of a child is one of the most heinous crimes out there. There is nothing to excuse it. And yet we excuse things like that all of the time. There are too many musicians to name who have had "consensual" relationships with groupies under the age of consent. There are some filmmakers who have sexually assaulted people. We still recognize their artistic talent. Maybe that's starting to change? Or maybe this breaking news is all a conspiracy. That's certainly what some will believe.

Leigh Corfman says she was 14 years old when an older man approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Ala. She was sitting on a wooden bench with her mother, they both recall, when the man introduced himself as Roy Moore. It was early 1979 and Moore — now the Republican nominee in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat— was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. He struck up a conversation, Corfman and her mother say, and offered to watch the girl while her mother went inside for a child custody hearing.

“He said, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to go in there and hear all that. I’ll stay out here with her,’ ” says Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. “I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.” Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. 




Saturday, November 4, 2017

General John Kelly and The Confederacy

I want you to imagine any US general or politician saying that Nazi Gestapo/SD head Reinhard Heydrich, a prime architect of the Holocaust, was "a principled man and skilled violinist who gave up a promising career in the performing arts to serve his country with honor and dedication. Now we may disagree with his principles but that was a long time ago. Things were different then. We shouldn't judge people by today's standards. Heydrich made the decision to soldier for his country. And that's not something to be lightly dismissed".

Such a statement by anyone with anything to lose would probably not be made during normal times because the statement is so profoundly callous and ignorant about the evil that Heydrich committed. But we are not in normal times, as Trump Chief of Staff General Kelly recently demonstrated.

“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man,” Kelly told Ingraham. “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”


“I think we make a mistake, though, and as a society and certainly as, as individuals, when we take what is today accepted as right and wrong and go back 100, 200, 300 years or more and say what those, you know, what Christopher Columbus did was wrong,” he said. “You know, 500 years later, it’s inconceivable to me that you would take what we think now and apply it back then.
LINK

Red Wedding Pakistan Style

You tried so hard to kill me, woman it just was not my time.
You put poison in my coffee, instead of milk or cream.
You put poison in my coffee, instead of milk or cream.
You bout the evilest woman, that I ever seen.
You mixed my drink with a can of Red Devil lye.
You mixed my drink with a can of Red Devil lye.
Then you sat down, watching me, hopin that I might die

Howling Wolf "Commit A Crime"
I don't believe in arranged weddings though I work with some people who do. I don't believe in marrying your relatives either although again I have worked with people who surely must have been the result of such couplings. If I were unfortunate enough to be raised in a culture where both of those things were normal I guess I would have to run away to the big city or stand my ground and refuse to marry my cousin/aunt/half-sister. What I probably wouldn't do is agree to the marriage long enough to calm the suspicions of my family/in-laws so that I could plot a massacre that would make Walder Frey quail at my ruthlessness. Pakistani citizen Aasia Bibi does not share my qualms. The 21 year old woman already had a man, one Shahid Lasari. Apparently they were happily doing their thing together (though given the importance placed on female virginity at marriage in some circles it's unclear as what exactly the unmarried couple was doing) What is clear is that Bibi's family had marriage plans for her. The family wasn't going to take no for an answer any longer. And those plans definitely didn't include Lasari. Well Bibi wasn't going to sit still for that kind of stuff, thank you very much. She took matters into her own hands.

A 21-year-old Pakistani woman, unhappy in her new arranged marriage, is charged with murder after poisoning her husband's milk that some two dozen members of his extended family later drank, resulting in 17 deaths, according to police. The alleged incident took place in a rural village near the city of Multan in the eastern Punjab Province. 

Music Reviews: Wild Little Girl

You may remember Debra Devi from the interview she previously did here. Now the author, former magazine editor and self taught Jersey City based professional singer-songwriter-guitarist has released a 6 song EP (on the digital release the sixth song is a live version) entitled Wild Little Girl. I believe that this is her first official release since Get Free. This was all in all a very good release. I really really liked one song which I will discuss below. The remaining balance of the material was pretty good. This is an EP. None of the songs are longer than five minutes. Sometimes I like that. Sometimes I do not.

So just like a collection of short stories, if there's something that's not really your particular cup of tea just wait a while because you can be certain that something better is coming up shortly. On the other hand there were at least two songs that I wished had gone on for a little longer. Maybe that will happen on the next release. Although blues is ultimately at the foundation of a lot of the music that Devi creates, for this installment of her creative output she is blues based but not blues bound. This music is rock with a bluesy feel. The music here put me in mind of The Black Crowes, Prince, and Little Feat. Vocally Devi is a dead ringer for Sheryl Crow. I happen to like Crow's voice so for me this was a very good thing. Perhaps at some point in the future people will be saying that Crow's voice is a dead ringer for Devi's. Time will tell. If I had to classify Devi's voice I'd guess she was an alto. What's she's not is a belter. She has arranged the songs to recognize this fact.