Saturday, December 14, 2019

Book Reviews: The Institute

The Institute
by Stephen King
I don't think that Stephen King has lost too much speed off his fastball. There are certain repeated themes, phrases and subplots that are recognizable in The Institute from several of King's other works as well as a few deliberate callbacks to creations or adaptations that King liked, or in the case of Kubrick's The Shining, did not like at all. 

King remains a master at quickly creating realistic characters with minimal description who nonetheless feel as if you've known them for years. So you care when good or more often, bad things happen to them. At a little over 500 pages in hardcover this is not a short investment in time but because King is such a compelling storyteller I think most readers will feel that time flies past while reading. 

King is really good at writing from a child's perspective. It's hard to describe it but I think readers of both genders may recognize bits and pieces of themselves and/or people they knew all those years ago when they were young.

Well, what's it about? I don't want to talk too much about that. In some respects it's a mashup of King's previous novels Firestarter and Dead Zone, with a little Dan Simmons' Carrion Comfort thrown in to complement a hefty base of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series--that is Harry Potter if an even more sadistic Dolores Umbridge was in charge of everything. There might be some Nurse Ratched elements as well. 

Twelve year old Luke Ellis is a certifiable genius whose intelligence is off the charts. Even by gifted standards, he's an anomaly. But that's not his most unusual trait. No, Luke has telekinesis. His telekinesis is weak, but it's noticeable. 
When Luke concentrates or is under severe emotional strain, he can move things with his mind. His parents know about this but just accept it as part of his nature. They are more astounded to learn just how smart their son is.

Musical Tribute To Detroit: One Nation Under A Groove

What better way to remind everyone that Parliament-Funkadelic (P-Funk) was a Detroit band?
The Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences Choir performs P-Funk's "One Nation Under A Groove" at various iconic Detroit locations.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Movie Reviews: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Directed by Frank Oz
This older film (released in 1988) is actually a remake of a sixties film. It is a comedy about the misadventures of con artists. As is the case in many such movies, the con artists are shown to be, if not exactly decent people, at least people who have some standards.

It makes it ever so much easier to identify with people, who, if they don't exactly live up to the movie's title, are still people who can be trusted to always put their self-interest above just about anything else. The film is a comedy but thankfully lacks the gross out sleaze that would shortly become quite common in such films. 

I think this would have been aimed at an adult and/or slightly more sophisticated audience. No one has sex with a pie. There are a few routines when Steve Martin gets close to going over the top but ultimately doesn't. I wouldn't say this was continuously drop dead funny. I wasn't rolling on the floor laughing when I rewatched it. But I did chuckle and smile quite often while viewing. And there were more than a few belly laughs. 

The film proves that a writer or director can intelligently challenge and often subvert viewer expectations without coming across as political, didactic, or hostile, something I think many modern film makers could stand to learn how to do again.

Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) is a cool, calm and collected British con artist who lives on an estate in the French Riviera. He doesn't like to be called Larry. It's Lawrence if you please. Lawrence views the French Riviera as his stomping grounds. A suave sophisticated man of a certain age, Lawrence specializes in fleecing often morally degenerate rich widows or spinster heiresses of their money. 

Woman and Lover Fired After Lover Shares Sexy Pics/Text

I guess you probably ought to be careful sending out certain pictures. Not everyone knows how to keep their ever loving mouth shut. And when people start to talk, who knows where things will end up. One minute you're having a work affair and enjoying life while sending your good-n-plenty naughty texts, interesting pictures and double entendres. 

The next minute you've been fired, have your name in the newspaper as an example of what not to become, and are being sued for court costs by your former employer. So it goes. Some people can't be trusted. If nothing else this shows yet again just how powerful certain urges are, for both men and women. Like the song goes, Everybody wants some!!

A woman was fired from her job after her co-worker shared their sexts with four colleagues. Now, the woman’s former employer is hitting her with $25,000 in legal fees, The New York Post reports.

Jennifer Ricketts sent explicit text messages, “including intimate images and videos” of herself, to co-worker Stephen Nazario last year, but he ended up sharing those messages with four of their co-workers on Dec. 11, according to court documents. “I felt humiliated when it first happened,” Ricketts told The Post.

Movie Reviews: Requiem For A Dream

Requiem For A Dream
directed by Darren Aronofsky
Let's get two things straight right from the top. First, this is an older masterful film with an incredible soundtrack that both stands on its own and makes the accompanying scenes even more intense. The movie's split screens, speed, montages, and close ups all add up to create a hyper-reality that washes over the viewer.  I have to believe that Aronofsky was at least somewhat familiar with similar techniques displayed in Hype Williams' film, Belly.

Second, this is not a film that is made for people who can't abide depictions of emotional or occasionally physical brutality. This film is based on a Hubert Selby book after all. Like his work, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Requiem For A Dream is concerned with mostly sad or disgusting people caught in a brutal spiral of bad decisions. In some respects, this is the most powerful anti-drug film ever created. 

The director however, has always insisted that this film investigates addiction and need in general, not just drugs. The viewer can decide, I think. I can't imagine anyone wanting to consume any mood or mind altering substances after watching this film. That's the film's first level. The film's second level may indeed be how the absence of love, not just in the erotic or romantic sense but the larger love of self, and true recognition or acceptance from others, can indeed invite in more dangerous forms of obsession. 

Aronofsky created this film in 2000. Selby wrote the book in 1978. But Aronofsky shoots the film in such a way that you might be hard pressed to tell which decade he's depicting. Some of the cars could be from the 60s while certain party scenes scream 80s. Still other scenes reference the 90s. Again, the film sucks you into its own world.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Kamala Harris Drops Out of Presidential Race

California Senator Kamala Harris just dropped out of the Presidential race. I never thought she had a chance to win the nomination. But more than that I never understood why she was running in the first place. Her campaign was poorly organized. It lacked a coherent message.  

Harris couldn't explain to voters what she brought to the table other than not being Trump. Harris rarely had any ideas that got traction with anyone. 

Harris' nasal voice and irritating habit of laughing at her own jokes before she had even finished telling them likely didn't help her win friends and influence people outside of California, or perhaps even inside of California. And Harris couldn't make inroads with the Democratic base. 

Senator Kamala Harris of California dropped out of the Democratic presidential race on Tuesday after months of low poll numbers, a deflating comedown for a campaign that began with significant promise. The decision came after upheaval among staff and disarray among Ms. Harris’s own allies. She told supporters in an email on Tuesday that she lacked the money needed to fully finance a competitive campaign. “My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue,” Ms. Harris wrote. 

The announcement is perhaps the most sudden development to date in a Democratic presidential campaign where Ms. Harris began in the top tier. She opened her campaign on Martin Luther King’s Birthday with comparisons to historic black politicians like Barack Obama and Shirley Chisholm. 

OSU Dominates U-M Again

On Saturday November 30th, the Ohio State University football team defeated the University of Michigan football team by a score of 56-27. And to be honest it wasn't really that close. Ohio State beat the ever-loving stuffing out of Michigan in every physical and mental aspect of the game: defense, offense, special teams, tackling, blocking, running, passing, catching, and coaching. It was, more or less, a repeat of last year's beatdown.

Ohio State featured a first year coach, Ryan Day, but Day evidently had his players fired up and ready to lay a stomping on Michigan. It was the eighth victory in a row by Ohio State over Michigan. In the past sixteen matches between the two schools, Ohio State has been victorious in fifteen of them. 

There are high school football players, heck even graduate students who really don't have a memory of a time when U-M was even competitive in this series. This rivalry has become less of a rivalry than a yearly ritual thrashing and blood sacrifice. 

A rivalry requires that each team sometimes gets some victories over the other. A rivalry requires that win, lose or draw, each team gives it all they've got. A rivalry requires that after the game, both teams know that they've been in a serious fight. U-M head coach Jim Harbaugh was hired to do three things on the field-- win the Big 10 championship, make U-M at least occasionally relevant for the National Championship conversation, and oh yes, BEAT OHIO STATE.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Book Reviews: Talon of God

Talon of God
by Wesley Snipes and Ray Norman
I had mixed feelings about this book. It started out one way and then immediately went another. At some points it was something less than a book and more like a screenplay. The good part about the book is that it has a particular point of view and strongly argues for that. 

The bad news is that a great deal of the book is not interesting plot development or even fun mindless action but rather pages and pages and pages of theodicy-that is arguing for the existence of an all powerful all good God even though the world is crammed full of evils, big and small, random and deliberate, human and otherwise.

While I don't mind going down the rabbit hole that these questions pose and debating them with people I know and respect that really wasn't what I was expecting or hoping for from this book. I was expecting, and briefly got, a superhero that was very reminiscent of Snipes' best known film role, Blade.

Unlike Blade, however this hero is something of a goody two shoes, whose abilities are not primarily martial, but rather moral and emotional. This paladin is much more interested in faith, forgiveness and love than in smiting evil. He's not quite a pacifist , not running around with a broadsword, but he's pretty close.

In Chicago there's a new drug that just hit the streets. The young attractive doctor Lauryn Jefferson sees the impact of this drug first hand when a heretofore friendly homeless man is injected with the drug and starts to turn into something not of this world. 

However, even though she doesn't know how she did it, with the help of the mysterious sword armed man, known only as Talon, Lauryn is able to heal the homeless man and bring him back to himself. 

Biden Urged to End All Deportations

I don't see deportation of illegal immigrants from the United States as an a priori moral outrage. I've written why elsewhere at length and won't belabor the point again.

Every national political community is bounded. Nations have rules for who is a member and who isn't, who can stay and who can't. Politics require boundaries. Almost every nation on the planet has boundaries that were at some point established or defended by violence. Every single Western Hemisphere nation was created through some combination of European invasion and settlement, African enslavement, Indigenous subordination and/or genocide. Every last one. 

The US Federal government and corporations have long turned a blind eye to the continuous arrival of various illegal immigrants, many of whom originated from Spanish speaking nations. The US only has the funds to deport a small fraction of the estimated 11-22 million illegal immigrants currently resident.

Unsurprisingly some advocates for illegal immigrants view this forbearance as exploitable weakness. Some demand an end to all deportations. Current Democratic Presidential candidate, former VP Joe Biden was recently hectored to commit to ending all deportations. Biden refused to do so and acerbically suggested that the speaker go vote for Trump.

Old Iowa Man Shoots Up Strip Club Parking Lot

We should never underestimate how stupidly men will act in order to get attention from women or even just look at women. It's a weakness, but one which is probably required for the human race to continue recreating itself. 

Women have compatible, though not identical weak spots. But at age sixty-seven, at a time when natural testosterone is in free fall while wisdom and experience should be close to their maximum, I wouldn't expect that a man would be all that interested in or capable of causing a ruckus at a strip club.

Well I was wrong.

In Iowa recently a dirty old man was upset that his debit card was declined in a strip club. So like some men forty years younger, he decided to pull out his gun and do some shooting. 

A 67-year-old Iowa man opened fire outside a strip club after his debit card was rejected following a lap dance, according to authorities. James Wells fled following Friday night’s incident at the Porsches Theater of the Arts in Waterloo and was busted by police on the University of Northern Iowa campus following a short chase and struggle.