Monday, January 14, 2019

HBO Games of Thrones Teaser

HBO Game of Thrones returns for its final season on April 14th. I am good with the ending finally being revealed on screen instead of in print.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Movie Reviews: Key Largo

Key Largo
directed by John Huston
In some respects this Bogie-Bacall collaboration, their last one, is a noir film and in others it's a movie masquerading as one. Its cynicism hides an optimism and can-do spirit. The other interesting thing about this film is how the actors of the time, even many of the stars, would be considered normal to average looking people today. Although Humphrey Bogart had massive screen presence would women today consider him handsome? I can't call it. Similarly Lauren Bacall could certainly be considered striking but I don't know that I'd call her beautiful. 

And Edward G. Robinson wasn't handsome by the standards of any time. And yet despite that, or even because of that this movie feels real. The stars and the character actors do not stand out from the film; they are the film. Like many films of the time and the genre Key Largo makes judicious use of lighting and setting to set up the internal and external battle between good and evil.  

The impending storms and resulting darkness and shadows match perfectly the emotional and psychological challenges being wrestled with by the main characters. Also this film shows that it is possible to make a tense, interesting adult movie without nudity, cleavage or even explicit violence. This movie produced a Best Supporting Actress win for Claire Trevor.

Movie Reviews: Hotel Artemis

Hotel Artemis
directed by Drew Pearce
This was Pearce's director's debut on an American film. However, he's no rookie, having worked in the British market and also having written for large scale American films before. Perhaps that is why he attracted such a big name cast to this B-movie. 

It's not that the cast doesn't give good performances or convince you of their character's veracity. It's just that their skills are such that you expect greater emotions or more compelling stories than this movie offers. Who knows why any of the actors chose this film. Salary? Writing? Favors owed? Not too busy? Chance to do something different? Whatever their reasons may have been I didn't think it made for a super interesting film experience. The actors were good. The storyline was unoriginal. That's okay. Some people have argued there are few, if any, truly original storylines

Someone is put under duress. Someone either changes or does not as a result of that pressure. If they do change they gain wisdom from the experience and rise to a higher level. If they don't change they die. Or they stay where they were before as a living martyr. The trick is to make the viewer identify with the protagonist(s) and/or sympathize with them. In the John Wick movies the world's best hitmen (and hit women) occasionally rest, recuperate, and entertain themselves at the Continental Hotel locations. The Continental management doesn't tolerate any violence at its hotels. Hotel Artemis examines what operating such a sanctuary might look like from the inside.

The Shutdown And The Wall

At the time of this writing it is day 21 of the government shutdown. On Friday January 11, thousands of Federal workers missed their first full paycheck. Although it is unwise to live your life paycheck to paycheck, fully 80% of Americans do indeed live paycheck to paycheck.  

 And that's not just impoverished people. 10% of people with a salary greater than six figures also say they live that way. Of course a six figure income is not what it was twenty years ago. The reasons for that are not really relevant to this post. The larger point is that many federal workers will face some tough decisions over the next few days. The given reason for the shutdown is that President Trump wants $5.7 Billion for the creation and expansion of a hard border Wall. 

The Democrats, who won back the House, are offering $1.3 Billion for border security, maybe some possible fencing, but definitely no wall. In some ways however the fight isn't really over the creation of a wall. Democrats have voted for walls before. Some border areas already have effective walls. The larger fight is over the symbolism of a wall. Trump's rabid base despises illegal immigration and isn't that crazy about legal immigration. They want to see concrete evidence that Trump is making headway in the battle against both. When Trump looked like he was going to cave conservative enforcer Ann Coulter called him out in a mocking personal way.

Wife Attempts to Murder Husband with Antifreeze

You put poison in my coffee instead of milk or cream
You about 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 sit down, watch me hoping that I might die!

These lyrics from the song Commit a Crime by blues legend Howling Wolf always scared impressed me. Can you imagine living with someone who is evil and cold enough to mix your drink with lye and calmly wait for your demise? The sheer malevolence still chills me. You would need to leave that living arrangement before you killed that person or s/he killed you. I listen to that song and only wonder at the pure malice from which Howling Wolf is trying to escape. Matthew Burke doesn't have to listen to classic blues songs to get a sense of unfettered evil. His estranged wife, Renee Burke, allegedly mixed Matthew Burke's drinks with antifreeze. Apparently the wife wanted full custody of the couple's children. She decided the world would be a better place without her former special rider.

HOLBROOK, N.Y. - A Long Island woman is charged with attempted murder after she allegedly put antifreeze in her estranged husband’s drinks -- while their two children were present. Renee Burke, 40, of Holbrook, is also charged with burglary, assault, two counts of endangering the welfare of a child and two counts of criminal contempt, according to NBC News. “It’s not only disturbing that the defendant attempted to murder her estranged husband, but that she did so in the presence of children,” Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said in a statement Thursday.

Book Reviews: Gods of Thrones--A Pilgrim's Guide To The Religions Of Ice And Fire

Gods of Thrones
by A. Ron Hubbard and Anthony LeDonne
This is a short (under 200 pages) fascinating book that examines the religions of the world created by George R.R. Martin in his series A Song of Ice and Fire and adapted for HBO television by Benioff and Weiss as Game of Thrones. The authors do a deep dive into Westerosi cultures to look at the mores and morals that animate them and how they relate or do not to our own. 

This book is emphatically not just about religion. The authors devote text to comparative philosophy, and psychology, time travel, the Hero's Journey, Jung, Freud, Nietzsche, and all of the other things that make human cultures tick and continue to reproduce themselves. 

The authors explore or debunk fan theories and make a few snarky pleas to GRRM to finish the series. This book assumes that you are caught up with either the televised adaptations or the books. The first of two planned volumes, this book starts with the religion/worldview of everyone's favorite morose Northerners, the Starks. It talks about how animism and pantheism work in their world and ours, Greek tree spirits, and Tolkien's Ents. Next up is the Religion of R'hllor and its links to real world religions such as Zoroastrianism. The authors use Greek and Roman myths to examine Tywin Lannister's parental morality, wonder if Roose Bolton is really a vampire, and critique Robb Stark's leadership style. 

Twenty Year Anniversary of The Sopranos

The Sopranos was one of my favorite television dramas. It wasn't the first show to have an antihero protagonist but it was one of the most successful ones to do so. This wasn't just great acting by the series star, the late James Gandolfini, but excellent writing, direction and production by series creator David Chase as well as wonderful support by many other actors and actresses, including Edie Falco. It does seem odd to realize that it has been twenty years since the series debut. Chase and Falco reminisce about the show and of course that ending.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Movie Reviews: The Predator

The Predator
directed by Shane Black
This movie was rated R but still messed up by mixing too much comedy with its horror. When that works, you get great films such as Evil Dead 2 or Shaun of the Dead. When it doesn't, well you get The Predator. This movie had some nods to the souped up B-movie feel of the original. That was good. However I thought this movie took too much of a left turn by giving the primary protagonist an endearing son (who is also disabled and may be important for other reasons). I thought this entire subplot was saccharine and silly. The film would have been far better off sticking to interactions between the titular aliens and humanity. The ET like inclusion of the kid took me out of the movie. The other thing which annoyed me about this movie is that there are a fair number of logic or continuity gaps in the storyline. 

Anyhow, if you for some reason haven't been paying attention since 1987 or so a Predator is an bipedal alien that looks like a mixture of a lobster, cockroach and human with dreadlocks. It visits various planets to hunt and kill the planet's most advanced or strongest life form. It's obviously violent, armed with technology way beyond human understanding or duplication, far faster and stronger than humans, and pretty much completely without mercy. 

Its only saving grace is that when it's on the hunt it generally won't harm humans who are not a direct threat, unarmed humans, or super young humans. It may break these rules of course, though just like hunters in our world who visit safari farms to murder unsuspecting and trusting animals. 

Movie Reviews: Venom

directed by Ruben Fleischer
Middling movie with more than a little camp
I didn't see Venom initially in part because so many comic fanboys claimed disappointment with the movie. This film is an origin tale of the titular character, someone who at best might be considered an anti-hero but is mostly, from the comics I remember reading, a straight up bad guy. 

The movie mostly downplayed Venom's unpleasant side either by playing it for laughs (the character constantly threatens to eat the heads of people who displease him) or by simply not showing the more violent actions. This movie is rated PG-13. It probably should have gone for the R rating. 

Because I was only slightly familiar with the character's history, I didn't have raised expectations. This was a decent Sony/Marvel movie that stuck to formula. It felt like I had seen it before. If you're fine with that sense then this could be an okay time investment. Strangely enough the movie has a few nods to Taxi Driver and similar films, but because it shies away from explicit depictions of carnage, never truly convinces in the way that films like say, The Dark Knight did.

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an investigative journalist whom most people, including his fiancee Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), would agree is a pain in the tuchus. Anne is a successful attorney. It seems that she's slumming with Eddie. Eddie must have some hidden talents. It doesn't help the film that Hardy and Williams don't seem to have too much chemistry together. And by "too much" I mean any. Williams looks bored in her scenes with Hardy. This is not Robert Downey Jr. with Gwyneth Paltrow, or Brad Pitt with Marion Cotillard.  Nope.  

Do You Want A Cashless Society?

If you went to pay your bill at a restaurant or wanted to buy something at a grocery store would you be put out of sorts if the business didn't accept cash? I think I would be. I don't always want to put items on credit cards. For me it's far too easy to spend more money than I intended to spend if I use a credit card.

There is also the case that I may not always want the bank issuing the credit card to know where I was or what I was purchasing. However more businesses are starting to refuse cash. Not everyone is happy about this.

Sam Schreiber was mid-shampoo at a Drybar blow-dry salon in Los Angeles when someone from the front desk approached her stylist with an emergency: a woman was trying to pay for her blow-out with cash. “There was this beat of silence,” says Ms. Schreiber, 33 years old. “She literally brought $40.” 

More and more businesses like Drybar don’t want your money—the paper kind at least. It’s making things awkward for those who come ill prepared. After all, you can’t give back a hairdo, an already dressed salad or the two beers you already drank. Ms. Schreiber was tempted to wait and see how the Drybar employees would handle the situation with the customer, who had no credit or debit card with her; instead, she intervened from the shampoo bowl. “I said, ‘I can just pay for her and she can give me cash or Venmo me,’ ” she says.

A few moments later, one of the employees came back to hand her the $40 and expressed thanks on behalf of the stranger. 

Arizona High School Labels Kids: You Are Big Dummy!!

If someone makes a mistake or does something wrong how do you motivate them to change their behavior? Some people think that immediate, harsh, and/or public correction is the way to go. They feel that if the error prone person doesn't suffer some unpleasant consequences, no matter how minor, then that person won't have any incentive to alter their approach.

Others contend that negative reinforcement is a horrible way to train or respond to anyone. They believe that the way to improve someone's behavior or skill set is to work with them to improve, giving them plenty of positive feedback when they do well and words of encouragement and hope when they don't. 

I can't say which approach works better overall. I have had both approaches employed on me. I have used both approaches with others. At my age harsh public correction or insult is often counterproductive. I may spend more time resenting the person calling me out than I will correcting my mistake. But there are times when a blunt "You f***** up. Fix it!!" is the only thing that works. Time is often too short to worry about people's feelings.

Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood, Ariz., issues ID badges for all students to hang around their necks — freshmen and sophomores wear red-colored cards and juniors and seniors wear gray, both of which are school colors. But according to the Arizona chapter of the ACLU, upperclassmen who struggle in classes must also wear red badges (aka “scarlet badges” of shame) with numbers that indicate their repeated grade level if their marks don’t improve.