Saturday, April 30, 2016

Book Reviews: The Caretaker, The Ballad of Black Tom

The Caretaker
by Thomas William Simpson
This is a mildly entertaining thriller that starts out with a lot of promise but loses it a bit about halfway through. It remains an ok read but I felt it was stretched out a little bit longer than it needed to be. 
The ending was hugely melodramatic but it wasn't like that wasn't telegraphed. In a book that is almost 600 pages I am going to expect something a little bit more epic than what The Caretaker turned out to be. That could be in part because of a decreasing patience or declining attention span on my part. I'm not sure. 
I can definitely say that if you are stuck somewhere for hours with no mental stimulation at hand this book could come in quite handy. You know the sorts of arenas of which I speak--places like auto dealerships, hospitals, corporate headquarters-- where all you can do is hurry up and wait. One thing which the author did which I wasn't too crazy about is to end sentences by alluding to the fate of major characters or letting you know who the bad guy is. If he did it once or twice that would be amusing or even exciting. 
It might make me curious. But there were constant references to wondering how a major character would be enjoying prison right now or explaining that it's too bad that another major character didn't know that he was dealing with a sociopath. Part of the joy in reading a book like this is in figuring out who the bad guy is, who the mark is, what the con is and what the motivations of the bad guy are. 
So much of that was given away so early that instead of being sucked in by the con, figuring it out and identifying with the so far clueless heroes and heroines, I felt a little separated from the protagonists and villains. Either they were too stupid or too obvious in their evil. The joy of being conned by stories like these is in figuring it out for yourself. Would you really enjoy a magician who instead of doing a trick for you explained in detail exactly how the trick worked even as he was doing it? Well some people would.

Perhaps if while the magician was explaining the trick you were watching, he did another magic trick that you didn't even see until the end, then that might be ok? You could argue that that's what Simpson did here. Yes that might be the book's saving grace. But as I said I just thought it was a bit too long. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Red Woman

Well we're back. And Jon Snow is dead. Dead as a doornail. There is no doubt whatever about that. Let me repeat emphatically that Jon Snow is dead. But this is no Christmas Carol. We open with a panoramic shot of the Castle Black courtyard centered on Snow's corpse to make that fact clear. We hear Ghost howling with grief and scratching at the door. Not for nothing but you would think that the Stark children would know by now not to get separated from their wolves. It seems like bad things happen. Davos knows something's up so he leaves his room and discovers Jon's body. Along with some of the Night's Watch members who didn't stab Jon 5011 times he takes Jon's corpse inside. Everyone immediately knows Thorne did it. But Dolorous Edd says that they can't trust anyone who's not in the room. Melisandre enters. She says she saw Jon fighting at Winterfell in her flames. Davos is less interested in prophecies and more interested in getting people to guard against the attack which he knows must be coming. He suggests setting Ghost free. While Jon's friends are ready to make a last stand and go out hard, Davos thinks it's better to make a stand and survive. He convinces Dolorous Edd to go for help. Exactly who Edd is going to ask for help is unsaid but I would guess that that Davos is talking about the wildlings. Meanwhile Thorne is overseeing a meeting to explain what happened. As he says, and he may well be honest here, he never liked Jon Snow. But Thorne never disobeyed orders. But he could not stand by and countenance Jon letting the wildlings thru the Wall and giving them lands where they had often robbed, raped and pillaged. Thorne, and several other Night's Watch leaders saw that as treason to the Night Watch. It was something that would destroy the Night's Watch. It violated, as they saw it, the whole purpose of the Night's Watch. So they had to act. Thorne isn't hiding anything. Later on Thorne knocks on the door of the room where Davos and the die hard Snow loyalists are hiding. He offers to give amnesty to anyone who lays down their weapons and provide Davos and Melisandre safe passage south. But they've got to surrender before nightfall. Thorne won't say what will happen after that but then again I don't suppose he has to does he?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

HBO Game of Thrones: Who is Jon Snow's Mother?

The last thing Ned Stark told Jon Snow was that the next time they talked he would tell Jon all about Jon's mother. Benioff and Weiss had to answer (presumably correctly) this post title question for GRRM before he allowed them to adapt his A Song of Ice and Fire series for HBO. 

Although this post does not technically contain spoilers as GRMM, Benioff or Weiss haven't publicly answered the question, this post provides what I consider to be the correct, obvious and most widely held answer. Season Five of Game of Thrones made increasingly obvious (IMO) hints to the answer. Season Six may include flashbacks, some of which could be written about below. So if you don't want to discuss Jon Snow's mother and why that's important to the story, you should probably skip this post. This post references numerous book details, which if you've not read the books, might be things you don't want to know. Caveat lector.

Movie Reviews: Count Yorga, Vampire, My Son The Fanatic

Count Yorga, Vampire
directed by Bob Kelljan
This AIP movie is similar to what Hammer later tried to do with Dracula AD 1972. It updates vampires for the modern era. The difference is that Count Yorga ,Vampire takes its subject matter more seriously. This film is an example of how low budget doesn't necessarily need to mean low class. The special effects are few and far between. The blood looks fake as can be. But nevertheless this film gives a pretty good bang for the buck as far as scares go. In addition, this is a pretty interesting trip in time back to the days of doctors who chain smoked, women who found bras to be too constraining and men who thought that tight gaudy polyester pants just screamed out macho masculinity. So there's that. The early seventies were a different time. As the title gives away there isn't any real mystery as to who the bad guy is or what he is. Count Yorga (Robert Quarry) looking and sounding like a Continental mix (even though he's American) between Dracula and Hugh Hefner is the titular bad guy. Yorga's making ends meet as a medium and hypnotist. He claims to originally be from Bulgaria. Yorga is conducting a seance for a woman named Donna (Donna Anders). Donna wants to contact her recently deceased mother. Donna's mother died suddenly from anemia shortly after she became Yorga's girlfriend. The Count didn't come to the daytime funeral. But he did convince Donna to bury her mother instead of cremating her as her will instructed. Donna doesn't seem to find this strange. At Donna's request many of her friends attend the seance even though they don't take the seance or the strange count very seriously. As the seance gets going Donna sees something and becomes hysterical. Count Yorga calms her down and hypnotizes her to forget whatever it was she saw. He also takes the opportunity to implant some naughty post-hypnotic suggestions in her head. Needing a ride home Count Yorga prevails upon Erica (Judy Lang) and her boyfriend Paul (Michael Murphy) to offer him a lift. Paul's not crazy about the idea; he doesn't like the glances the Count is giving his woman. Erica seems oblivious. Arriving at the Count's neo-gothic LA mansion Paul declines the Count's offer to Erica and him to stay the night. Paul is anxious to be away, especially after seeing the Count's silent moronic looking servant Bruda (Edward Walsh). 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prince Dead at 57

The jacked up thing about getting older or perhaps about life in general is that eventually all of your youthful heroes pass away.  Prince died today at age 57. That seems far too young of course. But you never know what's going on in someone else's life. And like the Mississippi Fred McDowell song points out, no matter what your plans might be, when your time is up "You gotta move". Prince was a huge part of the soundtrack to my misspent youth. They say that people often keep a special spot in their heart for the music of their teens and early adulthood. I have most of Prince's albums. I definitely have everything he did in his classic period from the late seventies to the early nineties. This is sad but it is what it is. Prince was one of the most exciting and eclectic performers, composers, musicians and guitarists out there. I don't think he ever fully got the credit he deserved from the rock press, who often dismissed him as a "pop" star or "R&B" star. On guitar Prince could play circles around many people but I think his true instrument was his band. Condolences to his family.
(CNN)The artist known as Prince, who pioneered "the Minneapolis sound" and took on the music industry in his fight for creative freedom, died Thursday at age 57, according to his publicist. "It is with profound sadness that I am confirming that the legendary, iconic performer, Prince Rogers Nelson, has died at his Paisley Park residence this morning at the age of 57," said Yvette Noel-Schure.
Earlier Thursday, police said they were investigating a death Paisley Park studios in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Earlier this month, Prince said he wasn't feeling well, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and canceled at least one concert in the city. Some days later, he took the stage in Atlanta to perform. After that concert, the singer's plane made an emergency landing, Noel-Schure told CNN. At the time she said, "He is fine and at home."
Prince has won seven Grammy Awards, and has earned 30 nominations. Five of his singles have topped the charts and 14 other songs hit the Top 10. He won an Oscar for the original song score to the classic film "Purple Rain." 

The singer's predilection for lavishly kinky story-songs earned him the nickname, His Royal Badness. He is also known as the "Purple One" because of his colorful fashions.
Controversy followed the singer and that, in part, made his fans adore him more. "Darling Nikki," a song that details a one-night stand, prompted the formation of the Parents Music Resource Center. Led by Al Gore's then wife, Tipper, the group encouraged record labels to place advisory labels on albums with explicit lyrics.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I'm a Woman and I Didn't Vote for Hillary Clinton

Growing up there was one woman in politics whom my mother strongly admired and always gloated about -- that woman was Geraldine F. Ferraro. Before Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton or even Sarah Palin, there was one woman who commanded the attention of many and was seen as a major force of political power and potential. Geraldine Ferraro was a congresswoman from New York City. She served New York's 9th District which basically made up most of Brooklyn at the time. East Flatbush, Flatbush, Brownsville, Crown Heights and Prospect Heights, Brooklyn were home to a wave of Caribbean natives who settled in New York City in the 1970's. My mother was in that bunch. Even though my mother wasn't a citizen and couldn't cast a vote for Ms. Ferraro, she volunteered during multiple congressional campaigns, and up until I was a high school student in the late 90's my mother still believed that Geraldine was "targeted in 84" and would still become our country's first woman President.

This morning as I filled out my ballot form in favor of Bernie Sanders, I suddenly felt a slight sense of betrayal to my mother, Geraldine Ferraro and even Hillary Clinton. I feel strong in my decision to support Bernie, but now I'm worried I might regret withholding support for Hillary Clinton.

Saudi Arabia's Threats, 9-11 and President Obama

You may recall that there was a Saudi connection to 9-11. Fifteen of the nineteen men who committed the attack were Saudi Arabian citizens. Saudi Arabia practices, underwrites and exports a fierce puritanical brand of Islam, one which is implacably hostile to all other religions including other versions of Islam. Thomas Friedman gets it mostly right when he writes that  Nothing has been more corrosive to the stability and modernization of the Arab world, and the Muslim world at large, than the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam — the Sufi, moderate Sunni and Shiite versions — and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam promoted by the Saudi religious establishment. It is not an accident that several thousand Saudis have joined the Islamic State or that Arab Gulf charities have sent ISIS donations. It is because all these Sunni jihadist groups — ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Nusra Front — are the ideological offspring of the Wahhabism injected by Saudi Arabia into mosques and madrasas from Morocco to Pakistan to Indonesia. And we, America, have never called them on that — because we’re addicted to their oil and addicts never tell the truth to their pushers.
So I wasn't that surprised to learn that the Saudi Arabian government, alarmed at the possibility that the Congress might pass a bill allowing exceptions to foreign governmental immunity in the case where American citizens have been murdered, made some crude threats about selling off US assets were that bill to become law. "Nice economy you got here kid. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it. You savvy??"

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Movie Reviews: Anomalisa

directed by Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson
This stop motion animated movie is simultaneously offbeat and very traditional. It's also adult and explicit in a way that probably would not have been possible with live action acting with these particular actors, although you never know I guess. It's a beautiful movie with a message that you've no doubt heard a million times before but in my opinion never gets old. Enjoy life. Expand your horizons. Live and love while you can because sooner than you think winter is coming for us all. I suppose how much you enjoy this movie depends on how amenable you are to hearing those particular bromides again. All of us should occasionally take the time to stop and smell the roses. As Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. If your inner child or young teen could see the adult that you've become would he or she be excited and joyful or revolted and frightened? Are you living your dreams? Are you just slowly hacking your way through a dull and boring life? Or worst of all, are you thoroughly consumed with self-loathing and thus depressed at the choices and compromises that you've made in order to get somewhere that you're not sure you want to be anymore. It makes a difference. Our mental and emotional states can influence our physical state and vice versa. Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a middle aged, out of shape and somewhat jowly customer service efficiency expert. Michael writes books and gives lectures on how to be a better customer service agent. He doesn't like his work. He doesn't like traveling around speaking. He doesn't like his wife. He doesn't like people in general. Michael is a sad sack of a man.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

2016 Presidential Race

Lately few of the five remaining major party candidates have been having a good time of it in the polls or on the campaign trails. Most of the candidates made some unforced errors or were baited into making mistakes by the media or their rivals. The candidates seem to be reaching a point where their irritation with each other and the entire campaign process becomes more evident each week. Each candidate is digging deep to find weaknesses in his or her rivals. This interminable process is made even more unpleasant by the 24 hour cable news and social media presence. For every statement you make there is someone eagerly waiting to call you and your supporters everything but a child of God. When Republican consultants are asking other Republican partisans if their preferred candidate pays them more for certain unusual sexual favors or Democratic consultants and media talking heads are trying to paint the other Democratic candidate as the Second Coming of George Wallace you know that people are getting nasty and desperate. So it goes. Nobody put a gun to their heads and made them run for President of the United States.

Donald Trump
Politics is not war. But politics and war have some things in common. In both war and politics you can attack in different ways. There's the air game where someone comes over the horizon at 800 mph, drops ordnance on the target and is gone before anyone can react. There's lots of explosions and people running around bemoaning all the destruction. The nice thing about the air game is that you're in and out quickly. Few people can meet you on equal terms. You can shift targets at a moment's notice. The air game looks great on video. 
In the ground game you have to, as Sonny Corleone might have said, get up close to someone and bada-bing shoot them right in the head. The danger with this is that even a less technologically advanced enemy can still hurt you once you're both rolling around in the muck.The ground game is slower. You spend more time doing things that don't get publicity or ratings. It's pretty ugly on video.

Monday, April 11, 2016

HBO Game of Thrones Season 6 Trailer(3)

Well well well. Another trailer drops. Apparently HBO has finally decided to throw us some more crumbs before the new season starts on April 24. Enjoy. Unlike the previous trailer, which was just expanded from what had been already put out there, this one has new footage. What do you think?
UPDATE: New clips are available below the jump.


Saturday, April 9, 2016

Television Reviews: Bates Motel and Damien

Some stories don't lend themselves to rewarding and interesting prequels. Not everyone has the talent or desire to dream up new backstory for a pre-existing tale, particularly if he or she didn't create the original story. Since we already know the story ending, the narrative conclusion is fixed. The creator may be unable to hold interest with a prequel. But if the original story left previous events unexplained or only vaguely detailed, the creator could make a lavish backstory that's independent.  The creator can birth a new work that expands on and gives new insights into the original story. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn't. Two A&E series, Bates Motel and Damien, provide different examples of prequel/reboot success. Bates Motel, a updated prequel of Psycho, featuring Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) and Norma Bates (Vera Farmiga) is an example of a prequel that works. It has its own energy and plot. Though it's apparently inexorably moving toward the day where Norman will commit matricide and live out his remaining days pretending that he's his mother and "talking" to her, Bates Motel has enough quirks to lure the viewer and get him or her excited and unsure about what happens next. We know the big picture, but the devil's in the details. The Psycho story is stuffed to the brim with Freudian and Oedipal overtones. The show's writing and incisive acting of the two main characters breathe life into a trope that's almost a cliche now. Although the displayed unhealthy mother: son relationship is mostly subtext it's still noticeable enough to make the viewer and some in-universe characters more than a little creeped out. For most parents not named Norma Bates there comes a time when certain parental behaviors or activities aren't appropriate with their child, particularly if the child is opposite sex and post-puberty. Norma Bates is not necessarily an evil woman but she is a manipulative, deceitful and frequently bossy one. In the current season Norma has finally realized that her son Norman is unwell. She can't protect Norman from the outside world or his own demons. 

Well actually, Norma is more worried about protecting herself from Norman. It must be a scary thing to know that a loved one who is physically stronger than you has gone round the bend. Or from Norman's pov it must be a scary thing to know that your mother sees you primarily as an extension of herself.

HBO Game of Thrones: Season 6 Trailer(2)

If you remember the last trailer HBO provided for Season 6 Game of Thrones made it appear as if Davos and perhaps Melisandre were about to make a grim last stand against the Night's Watch. Well as this expanded version of the previously released trailer shows that was only half-true. I don't know if Melisandre is in the room or not. But Davos and the handful of Night's Watch members who didn't stab Lord Commander Jon Snow are indeed about to make a grim last stand against Alliser Throne, Olly and the other Night's Watch members who shanked Jon. Davos has Jon's Valyrian sword, Longclaw. Also Ghost is there and appears to be ready to put in work. This is interesting stuff not least because this event is something which has not happened yet in the books. This season there may only be a few things that book readers know and show watchers don't. With only a few major storylines that have yet to be adapted and even fewer important characters unrevealed this season will have everyone on equal footing more or less. Davos, like Ned Stark is a fundamentally decent man, so I'm looking forward to seeing the fallout from his realization that he served a man (Stannis) that was willing to murder his own daughter. Given Davos' reluctance to leave and his gift to Shireen I think deep down inside he knew Stannis' intention. Anyway what's done is done. Perhaps Bran Stark isn't the only Stark who can warg. Does Jon Snow's spirit live on in the appropriately named Ghost? We'll see I guess. Check out the video clip below (start at 1:47 if you want to skip the show banter)

Monday, April 4, 2016

South Carolina Cops Strip Search and Sexually Assault Black Couple

Usually I defer, however reluctantly or conditionally, to the received wisdom that the best way to proceed with police officers who are behaving unlawfully or unfairly towards you or yours is to comply with directions, keep your mouth shut and live to fight another day. They have weapons and you likely don't. Your goal should be to stay alive. But as the saying goes, a nation of sheep begets a government of wolves. So there must be limits to the tolerance we grant police. Police are not gods. They are not above the law. They only deserve deference or respect to the extent that they follow the law. When police obliterate the line between criminal and cop, they're just another thug. If someone who wasn't a police officer came up to you and demanded that you remove your clothing and underwear so that they could stick something inside of you or ordered you to strip in front of their leering sarcastic friends, I'm betting that you would reject that order. You would likely immediately remove yourself from the location, were you able to do so. And if push came to shove you would defend yourself from this pervert's demented desires. You have a right to defend yourself from illegal behavior. You have a right to self-defense. The only reason that we don't normally behave that way with police is because we have agreed to give some extreme powers to police in order to detect and apprehend criminals while keeping the rest of society safe. But when police become evil for lack of a better word that consent can and should be revoked. A horrifying example of how evil some police officers can be recently came to light in Aiken, South Carolina.  A white police officer unlawfully stopped a car driven by a black woman with a black man passenger. He and his cohorts then proceeded to unlawfully search the car and to strip search the man and woman, including the man's rectum. Most of this was on video. 
Lakeya Hicks and Elijah Pontoon were in Hicks’s car just a couple of blocks from downtown Aiken when they were pulled over by Officer Chris Medlin of the Aiken Department of Public Safety. Hicks was driving. She had recently purchased the car, so it still had temporary tags.
In the video, Medlin asks Hicks to get out, then tells her that he stopped her because of the “paper tag” on her car. This already is a problem. There’s no law against temporary tags in South Carolina, so long as they haven’t expired.
Medlin then asks Pontoon for identification. Since he was in the passenger seat, Pontoon wouldn’t have been required to provide ID even if the stop had been legitimate. Still, he provides his driver’s license to Medlin. A couple of minutes later, Medlin tells Hicks that her license and tags check out. (You can see the time stamp in the lower left corner of the video.) This should be the end of the stop — which, again, should never have happened in the first place.
Instead, Medlin orders Pontoon out of the vehicle and handcuffs him. He also orders Hicks out of the car. Pontoon then asks Medlin what’s happening. Medlin ignores him. Pontoon asks again. Medlin responds that he’ll “explain it all in a minute.” Several minutes later, a female officers appears. Medlin then tells Pontoon, “Because of your history, I’ve got a dog coming in here. Gonna walk a dog around the car.” About 30 seconds later, he adds, “You gonna pay for this one, boy.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Movie Reviews: Macbeth

directed by Justin Kurzel

If you've not previously read or seen an adaptation or performance of this Shakespeare play I'd like to (1) know how in the world that is even possible in this day and age and (2) strongly urge you to see this adaptation of Shakespeare's tragedy. And even if you have already read the play, seen it performed or viewed other film versions I'd urge you to see this film. It stands on its own. It simultaneously remains very faithful to the script while pointing out the modern and yet timeless urges that define Macbeth

Before Michael Corleone moaned in Godfather 3 that every time he thought he was out they pulled him back in, Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth that "What's done can not be undone." Macbeth influenced important themes of Tolkien's Lord of The Rings. Tolkien specifically reworked Shakespeare's prophecies of an evil tyrant being unable to be defeated by man born of woman or until the woods marched to a castle to what he thought of as much more satisfying and honest ends. Without Macduff revealing his unusual birth circumstances to Macbeth there is no Eowyn laughing and telling the Witch-King "But no living man am I!!" And like Tolkien's Witch-King, Shakespeare's gloomy Macbeth is someone who has thrown away his humanity forever. He's a blasted man whose soul is already in hell even though he still walks this plane of existence. And by the end, he knows it.  Terry Pratchett used interpretations of the three witches from Macbeth in many of his works, most notably Wyrd Sisters. And even if you aren't overly familiar with Macbeth you have almost certainly heard of quotes from Macbeth including such phrases as "By the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes" or "Fair is foul and foul is fair" or "For mine own good all causes shall give way" or my favorite:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Talk about a cynical or blues interpretation of life's ups and downs! Of  course I am somewhat biased because Macbeth along with Richard III was my absolute favorite play to read/perform during my high school English class all those years ago. I'm always open to seeing a new interpretation of Macbeth.

D'Angelo Russell and Breaking the Code

For many reasons people often share private, personal and intimate information with those they consider within their circle of trust. I have done so. You have as well. Everybody has. It's part of being human. For most of us the group of people that we trust includes closely related family, past, current or would be intimate partners, clergy and really good friends. For some of us the group of people whom we trust without reservation even includes co-workers. I have never seen co-workers in that fashion but there are some jobs where it's critical to know your co-workers in ways that would be uncomfortably intimate for most of us.These types of jobs usually involve the requirement of spending much more than a 9-5 shift with your co-workers. And sometimes, no matter what kind of job you have or what sort of trust level you have with the people around you, you just need to vent or share information that probably shouldn't be shared. Whatever the case may be when you are giving personal information to someone you usually don't expect that news to go beyond the two of you, let alone be broadcast to the world. Basketball player D'Angelo Russell, LA Lakers guard, apparently didn't understand this. Russell had a conversation with teammate Nick Young. Young talked about his sexual exploits with women, some of which may have occurred while he was engaged to his fiancee, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea. The problem was that Russell recorded this conversation, evidently without Young's knowledge. The worse problem is that Russell or someone close to him provided this conversation to the entire planet. This action obviously embarrassed and humiliated Young and Azalea. It also revealed Russell as an immature and decidedly untrustworthy individual. Russell's Lakers teammates have responded to his breach of decorum by freezing him out of their social networks. At the time that this post was written they're still refusing to talk to Russell, acknowledge or sit next to him during travel or lunch. And some football players responding to Russell's actions have broadly hinted that in the aggressive and dangerous world of the decidedly macho NFL, Russell might have worse and more pressing problems than someone not wanting to be his friend.