Saturday, October 12, 2019

Movie Reviews: The Harder They Fall

The Harder They Fall
directed by Mark Robson
We often admire heroes who refuse to compromise their principles even when faced with economic ruin or physical danger. 

We can get a thrill reading about Nat Turner or Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, people who literally spit in the face of their oppressors and decided to die rather than live unfree. But most people aren't like that. Most people will compromise to continue eating. Almost everyone will compromise to continue living. People who stand up to certain death are rare. 

No one is perfect. Even heroes make mistakes. Some heroes tried to go along to get along, merrily selling out their ideals along the way, until they reached that one choice that they can't rationalize. They then rediscover what is right. They may be morally stained, but I think they're still heroic figures.

This film is based on a book written by the screenwriter Budd Schulberg, famous for his On The Waterfront screenplay. The Harder They Fall also shows the viewer an industry that is dominated by mobsters and their employees.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Movie Reviews: John Wick 3

John Wick 3
directed by Chad Stahelski
Sequels are rarely as good as the original or proceed in a way that logically grows from the original movie. John Wick 3 is an exception to that rule. The film's only negative was that the special effects created for the numerous head shots the titular character inflicts on the mostly nameless mooks trying to kill him look like video game simulations. 

That reduces some emotional intensity but that's a small quibble. This movie, which shows everybody and their brother trying to kill John Wick, reaches for but does not quite match the ferocity of the Indonesian movies The Raid and The Raid 2. It gives multiple shout outs to those films, though, both via some of the action set pieces and a cameo from an actor from those movies.

This review requires a quick recap of the first two movies. In the first film John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a retired assassin who formerly worked for the Russian Mafia. His wife just died. The last thing she gave him was a dog. In a particularly unfortunate sequence of events, the son of John Wick's old boss decided to steal John Wick's car. Just to be mean he also killed John Wick's dog.

Needless to say this person did not know who John Wick was. As his father explained to his sub-moronic son, John Wick was the man you send to kill the boogeyman. Mugging the Monster is never a good idea. Wick went on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, eliminating every member of the organization that used to employ him. 

Movie Reviews: The Letter

The Letter
directed by William Wyler
Some people seem to believe that women can never lie about anything involving sex or that if they do it's no big deal because after all women as a group are oppressed. At the extremes some such folks express hostility towards to the concepts of innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt or an adversarial justice system. Some honestly think anyone who would defend himself too vigorously against a sexual assault charge is proving that he must have committed the crime. 

Other people have the intelligence or integrity not to go that far but point out that most rape or sexual assault charges are not deliberate lies. So some people wonder about the motives of people who become wondrously wroth over the rare proven false rape charges.

None of us are immune to bias. We believe the best of our friends, relatives and lovers. The Letter examines these biases in a 40s noir setting, one in which as normal in these films, "evil" can be a question of perspective. Although race isn't the film's emphasis it's certainly something which influences the film's settings and characters. This film is set in pre- WW2 Malaysia, in and around rubber "plantations" owned by White Americans and White Europeans. These people all live the good life, buying and selling their "plantations" among their small group. There's no war to worry about yet. 

Movie Reviews: The Day Shall Come

The Day Shall Come
directed by Chris Morris
After 9-11, or even before 9-11,  some people arrested and convicted of conspiracy or terrorism charges were either people guilty of much lesser crimes or were enticed, directed, financed and even ordered into criminal behavior by law enforcement, usually the FBI. 

More ominously the FBI, often with the assistance of local police departments, set up certain people to be murdered, rather than stand trial on flimsy or non-existent charges. People who are engaged in political activity that the government doesn't like can frequently find themselves in serious trouble. 

For the past six hundred years or so Europe has had more effective technology, especially military, than the rest of the world, particularly Africa and the New World. And to put it mildly, armed with superior technology, Europeans didn't treat their fellow humans with kindness and decency. The distance between European technology and that employed by certain non-European nations has shrunk and even reversed in some areas but most observers would note that Africa and the African diaspora are often still lagging behind. Why this is and what can or should be done about it is a book, not a blog post, and certainly not this movie review. But to understand this film's characters you should be aware of that history. 

There are many religiously minded Black people who believe in a past glorious period before white supremacy, want to minimize the impact of white supremacy in their current life, and have future plans to eliminate racism in toto. Whether they be Hebrew Israelites, Muslims, MOVE members, Five Percenters, or what have you, these groups are often targeted by the federal government.

Movie Reviews: Corporate Animals

Corporate Animals
directed by Patrick Brice
Demi Moore has a new book out where among other things, she discusses the childhood trauma of being pimped out by her mother, sexual assault, battles for sobriety, and relations, sexual or otherwise, with various Hollywood actors, some her husbands, some not. Yawn. Don't really care about any of that stuff. 

We all have skeletons in our closets. Some rattle a little louder than others. Presumably the book release was timed to roughly coincide with this film's release. This could and should have been a better movie. 

Unfortunately the writers and directors chose to go for the gross, the shocking and the salacious all throughout the film, instead of using it judiciously. Even though it is apparently a small budget film I didn't think it needed to look as bad as it did. I've seen first time directors on a lunchtime budget make better looking films than this.

The subject matter, the corporate workplace and its tensions, is ripe for parody and satire. This could have been another Office Space or even Price Check. Sad to say though when your idea of a funny scene includes a fat man's full frontal nudity, nothing for nothing, but you and I clearly don't share the same sense of humor.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Amber Guyger: And That I Do Not Forgive!

I had a discussion on my Facebook page which is interesting enough to add here. You may have heard that former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murdering Botham Jean in his apartment while he was sitting on his couch eating ice cream. Guyger received a ten year prison sentence.

Guyger will be eligible for parole in five years. Guyger can probably look forward to a lucrative post prison career as a Fox News contributing analyst, security consultant, and speaker at NRA events. 

Unsurprisingly, Guyger had a history of racism, some of which was revealed in ugly text messages with her lover, another police officer, as they mocked Martin Luther King, other Black police officers, and Black people in general. Given that there are Black people who have received similar or worse sentences for less heinous crimes, Guyger's relatively lenient sentence is nothing to celebrate.

Guyger might appeal her sentence. Who knows. The reason some people are happy is that it's very very very rare that white cops are ever charged and convicted of murdering a Black person. Her conviction is unusual. So good for that I guess. 

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Will Trump Be Impeached?

I certainly hope that Trump will be impeached. Impeachment doesn't necessarily mean removal from office as former President Bill Clinton would be the first to tell you.

But both substantively and politically I think it would be a good thing for the Democrats to impeach Trump. 

It is outrageously unethical and likely illegal for a sitting President to attempt to coerce a foreign head of state to start an investigation into the family of an American political rival. That's just wrong. I am not interested in hearing about what everyone else may have done any more than the cop who stops you for doing 89 MPH in a 60 MPH zone is interested in hearing your defense that you were just keeping up with traffic. 

It's wrong. You did it. Face the consequences.

Most of the people warning the Democrats about the horrible dangers of proceeding down the impeachment road do not exactly have the best interests of Democrats, liberals, or anyone other than Donald Trump on their mind. When a bully tells his victim that if the victim fights back the bully will just beat him up worse, the bully is just trying to ensure that the victim remains in a submissive defensive crouch. 

Bullies HATE the idea of victims fighting back. Similarly Republicans have gotten used to telling Democrats all of the horrible things that will happen if Democrats actually start fighting back against Republicans. Well yes, some horrible things might happen. Democrats do have some ideas that are not as popular as some people on twitter think.

Book Reviews: Seduction of the Innocent

Seduction of the Innocent
by Max Allan Collins
There is always tension among those who want unfettered free speech, those who would urge us to use free speech "responsibly", and those who dismiss the very idea of free speech as a cis-gendered, sexist, heteronormative. capitalist, bourgeois, patriarchal, white supremacist con and imposition on the true expressions of people's feelings and thoughts. 

I tend towards allowing more free speech than less. However, I would agree that there are some themes, thoughts, and pictures that probably aren't suitable for children. That's how I was raised.

Though it appears rather silly from a 2019 POV where a few keystrokes on your internet linked computer can retrieve any sort of filth, at one point in American history we had Senate hearings on the dangers of comic books and horror magazines. 

Some people thought that these publications were contributing to juvenile delinquency. Because of the Senate hearings some publications began having problems with distributors and/or went out of business. Those that remained agreed to enforce self-regulation (censorship). This code included but was not limited to:
  • Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
  • If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
  • Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
  • Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation.
  • In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
  • Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, the gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated. No comic magazine shall use the words "horror" or "terror" in its title.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Book Reviews: Golden Prey

Golden Prey
by John Sandford
This is an installment in a series. If I had known that before I made the decision to purchase it, I may not have bought the book. I usually like to start at the beginning. However, in this case, having read the book I'm glad I did purchase it. Ironically, after getting a strong sense of deja vu while reading the book, I later discovered that I have a few other books in this series. Go figure.

This book was just under 400 pages in hardcover but these days that's short for a novel. I didn't think the story dragged at any point though there were certainly some characters I enjoyed reading about more than others. This book is not lightweight in any pejorative sense of the word. But it is good reading if you are stuck somewhere without anything intellectually stimulating. So if you must spend a few hours in an airport, an auto dealership, a hospital lounge or somewhere similar you could do worse than to have this book by your side. 

One of my cousins got me started watching some of the true crime shows on the cable network Investigation Discovery. This book was like one of those shows put in print. And I very much mean that as a compliment. Lucas Davenport is a former Minnesota cop who saved the life and political career of some national bigshots, including a former first lady who is running for President. He's also wealthy. Cashing in some chips, and still protected and watched over by aforementioned political big shots, Lucas has transferred from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation to the US Marshals service. 

Unusually, in deference to his good deeds and his intelligence, Lucas has been granted the authority to choose his own cases. He also doesn't really have to report to the local US Marshal chief.

Michigan vs. Wisconsin Football

On Saturday, September 21, at noon EST, in Madison, Wisconsin, the Michigan Wolverines will play the Wisconsin Badgers in a college football match. At the time of this writing, Michigan, my alma mater, is a 3.5 point underdog. Michigan has lost the last four games it played in Madison. Although the Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has restored the program to respectability and brought in more money, he hasn't really had many signature wins, especially on the road. Michigan hasn't looked very good this year with some mistakes against Middle Tennessee and an overtime dogfight against Army. 

That's not why Harbaugh was hired. He was hired to smash Michigan State into irrelevance, beat Ohio State, win the Big Ten Championship, and compete for National Championships. Harbaugh hasn't done those things yet, although he's paid as if he has. Harbaugh's teams at Michigan have done well but they have lapses in intensity and concentration at precisely the wrong times. Occasionally they can be left in the dust by speedier teams or punched in the mouth by stronger teams.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin may be one of those stronger teams. No one has scored on Wisconsin yet this year. Of course beating the snot out of South Florida and Central Michigan doesn't exactly make Wisconsin a champion contender but it IS what a strong program is supposed to do to a weaker program, which is more than I can say for Michigan at this point.