Saturday, September 14, 2019

Movie Reviews: Ma

directed by Tate Taylor
This is a horror film. But maybe that description might give you the wrong idea. 
It's as much a thriller film as horror. There are relatively few jump cuts used. Those that do show up are few in number until the film's final third in which there is some reversion to the mean in well known and overused effects.

There is nothing supernatural, no magic box that appears in the mail, no one who looks exactly like a family ancestor who's been deceased for two centuries, no inheritance of a heretofore unknown family mansion, no seductive slender woman or man who only is seen at night. None of that is to be found in this movie.

This movie was in part created because the primary female lead, Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer, wanted to do something outside of the typical maid or mammy asexual roles which she normally plays. This film was definitely different from her normal roles, I'll say that for it. How successful it was? Well I thought it could have been better, especially in the way the ending was built.

Ma asks us if people are born monsters and if the scars of past harms ever truly heal. Some people hold grudges longer than others. That's just human nature. Some religious traditions call upon us to forgive those who trespass against us. Others reject forgiveness and seek retribution. A lot of pop culture and pop spirituality states that seeking revenge, holding grudges and refusing to forgive all harm the holder of the grudges far more than the original aggressor. 

Michigan Prosecutor Sleeps with Rape Victim

You would imagine that most prosecutors of sex crimes would be focused on making sure that justice was done and that the perpetrator of the crime was justly punished. 

You would imagine that a prosecutor would not have to be told that his or her job is to put away the bad guys (gals) and not, repeat not, to get nookie from the victim of the crime. You would imagine that. But for at least one prosecutor in Michigan you would be wrong. 

LANSING — Michigan State Police have launched a criminal investigation into an assistant attorney general who has been accused of having an inappropriate, intimate relationship with the victim in a rape case he was prosecuting. Brian Kolodziej, who was hired in September 2018 under former Attorney General Bill Schuette, was put on administrative leave and subsequently resigned last week after the relationship came to light, said Attorney General Dana Nessel.

“To say I’m horrified and disgusted is really an understatement,” she said. “In over 25 years of practice, I have never before even heard of a situation like this.” 

Representative Rashida Tlaib, Netanyahu and Trump

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the alleged behest of President Donald Trump, recently barred US Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories. Tlaib and Omar are decidedly pro-Palestinian and pro-justice. 

The Representatives do not agree that Jewish people in Israel should have more rights than the Palestinians. It is possible that Netanyahu was going to ban them anyway and Trump just gave him political cover to do so. 

After the uproar Israel cynically agreed to allow Rep. Tlaib to visit her grandmother in the West Bank but only if she agreed in writing to not say or do anything critical of Israel during her time there. Desperate to see her grandmother, Tlaib briefly acceded to this humiliating condition, but faced with outrage by some relatives, constituents and supporters on this issue, Tlaib stood strong and refused to adhere to Israeli speech restrictions.

"In my attempt to visit Palestine, I’ve experienced the same racist treatment that many Palestinian-Americans endure when encountering the Israeli government. In preparation for my visit, my grandmother was deciding which fig tree we would pick from together, while Palestinians and Israelis who are against the illegal military occupation were looking forward to Members of Congress finally listening to and seeing them for the first time.

Movie Reviews: It Chapter Two

It Chapter Two
directed by Andy Muschietti
This is the sequel to the previous It movie, reviewed here

Both films are based on Stephen's King's 1986 novel. This movie is set in the current day, about twenty seven years after the supernatural events in the first movie. The children are all grown up with relationships, careers and families of their own, Some are are doing well, others less so. Most of them have generally forgotten what happened in Derry, Maine or have hazy memories at best. I had read Stephen King's book decades ago.

I did not read the book again before watching the film. Much like the characters in the film I didn't have an exact memory of every last plot detail so unlike with some other book to film adaptations I wasn't sitting there in the theater thinking that this plot point was wrong, that interpretation wasn't in the book, or that this person didn't look, act or sound as I expected them to look, act or sound. I lacked demanding expectations. So on the one hand that made the movie more enjoyable.

On the other hand the film was just under three hours long. I didn't think all that was necessary. Most of the actors get a chance to shine at something but I thought the film could have cut down some fluff from its runtime. Compared to the first film I thought that the sequel wasn't quite as emotionally engaging. It did rely tremendously on its special effects and made overt homages to a few classic sci-fi/horror films, most notably The Thing(1982).

Michigan Apples Arrive

One good thing about living in Michigan is that you get first dibs on a pretty amazing variety of apples every fall. Now it won't officially be fall for another ten days or so but football has started, leaves have begun to turn color, and apple orchards are starting to toot their horns about what they have to offer. Probably in a few weeks when the temperature has fallen to what I consider real fall weather and more of the harvest has become available I will go to an apple orchard near me. I am sure the ones listed in this story are nice.

But in Michigan it's hard to drive twenty minutes without running into an apple orchard somewhere. Maybe next year I will try some a bit farther afield. Of course apple orchards offer more than apples. They have cakes, pies, candy, syrup, donuts, fritters, candles, soap, and all sorts of other goodies that are derived in part or in whole from apples.

Area orchards and cider mills have opened for the season, offering treats such as apple cider, donuts, pies and fresh apples.
The Michigan Apple harvest 2019 crop estimate is 25.25 million bushels (1.06 billion pounds), according to the USApple Outlook meeting held recently in Chicago.
This year's crop estimate is in line with the average harvest, which is about 25.2 million bushels per year.

Detroit Public School Chess Prodigy Charisse Woods

I have always enjoyed playing chess. I wish I were better at it. One person who is better at it than I and likely to improve more in the future is  Charisse Woods, a ninth grader at Detroit's Cass Technical High School. 

Woods is leaving for Mumbai, India to compete in the World Youth Chess Championship. In other words..she's a really good chess player. She will be the only chess player from Michigan representing Team USA.

Charisse Woods is getting ready to head to Mumbai, India to compete in the World Youth Chess Championship. The ninth-grader at Cass Technical High School first learned to play chess when she was just 7 years old. She says she loves how the game keeps you thinking.

"There's like trillions of different positions," Woods said. "The game is so dynamic. It changes so often. I love the challenge, getting to travel and meeting new people."

Des Moines Iowa Lawyer Works as Prostitute; Urges Decriminalization

The obvious joke is that lawyers screw you over one way or another. At least with this attorney you'll hopefully leave the experience with a smile on your face.

A Des Moines attorney is unveiling her life as a part-time prostitute.The mom, wife, attorney and prostitute, Katherine Sears, hopes that by shining a light on her lifestyle, she can help decriminalize prostitution. “I like sex,” Sears said. “Sex is fun and I can get paid for it.”
She began working as a prostitute three years ago, at the age of 27. Sears travels to Nevada, where prostitution is legal, and works in a brothel.

“You can make a job out of this? That’s fantastic,” Sears said. “Why would I not do this?” By speaking about her experience, Sears hopes to educate people on a taboo topic.

“I think a lot of people are upset about prostitution without understanding what it is they are being upset about,” she said. “Which is really frustrating because it’s hard to talk somebody out of something when they are just entrenched in, ‘No, this is what’s right.’”

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Religious Freedom and 7-Eleven Foot Washing

I dislike people using my kitchen sink to wash their hands. It's not the worst offense but I have a strong preference in keeping the areas where I clean utensils and prepare food separate from the areas where people clean themselves and their funky hairy bodies.  

Other people are indifferent; they consider dirt to be dirt and plumbing to be plumbing. They say as long as you're cleaning something what difference does it make in which sink you clean. My response is that if a man gives people an inch on washing their hands in his kitchen sink, before long people are changing their baby's diapers there. 

We should respect other people's religions and rules. One religion might require a certain hairstyle. A different religion might forbid even platonic physical contact between unmarried men and women or between a man and a woman married to someone else. Another religion could have strict rules regarding work on its day of rest. And one religion might require multiple daily prayer sessions and body washings. We should tolerate these differences where we can. Business owners  are required to make reasonable accommodations for an employee's religious requirements. But sometimes this isn't always possible.
ROSEVILLE, Mich. (WXYZ) — A video posted on social media is sparking a debate. An employee at the 7-eleven on Gratiot and 13 Mile Road in Roseville was captured washing his feet in a sink that is meant for washing hands. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Movie Reviews: Brightburn

directed by David Yarovesky
Richard Donner directed Superman and The Omen. Brightburn is a low budget earnest mashup of those movies. It is produced by the people who created Guardians of the GalaxyBrightburn imagines the origin story of an evil Superman. Evil is a loaded word. There is no such thing as evil in nature.  

The cuckoo who tricks other birds into raising its hatchling, who immediately destroys the host birds' eggs, the wolf who hunts bison to eviscerate and eat them, or (in the film's example) the wasp who lays eggs in or around other insects who either raise wasp young or become food for wasp young are all acting according to their instinct. They can't be reasoned with or trained to do otherwise. Their behavior is pre-programmed. It's who they are and what they do.

Arguably humans can deliberately ignore, short-circuit or rewrite much of our instinctual programming. Some argue that humans don't even have instinctual programming. I don't know that I would go that far but humans certainly possess a level of free will that is apparently unparalleled for other beings. Brightburn depicts events when someone who looks human but isn't reaches a point where his pre-existing programming activates. The results for humans are similar to the caterpillar who discovers that its supposed stomach ache is actually a young wasp eating its way out of the caterpillar. Not good.

Book Reviews: Goodbye Homeboy

Goodbye Homeboy
by Steve Mariotti with Debra Devi
I am always intrigued to find that a person talented in one field is also skilled in another. The musician Debra Devi's new book demonstrates that Devi should be just as well known as an author as a musician. I had a strong sense of six degrees of separation reading this book as the other author and primary subject, Steve Mariotti, is a Michigan native and University of Michigan graduate.

This book is a memoir by a white teacher who helped mostly Black and Latino impoverished students better themselves and improve their lives. Some people will immediately dismiss it on those grounds alone. That would be a mistake, I think. The story is real. I didn't pick up any white savior vibe. This book makes the implicit and occasionally explicit argument that teachers need higher salaries and better social/workplace support.

In his younger days (I have no idea of his politics now) Mariotti had a libertarian streak. The book features amusing stories about Mariotti's meetings--really more head butts-- with Objectivist philosopher, author and Libertarian inspiration Ayn Rand. I thought Rand was a horrible person on a personal level and a philosophical one. 

Near the end of her life Rand wasn't that different from a cult leader. When Mariotti shared his ideas or principles with Rand, she insulted him and dismissed him from her presence. Rand went out of her way to write nasty letters to Mariotti calling him a loser and ordering him to never darken her door again.

I found this darkly amusing only because at the time of Mariotti's interaction with her, Rand was at an advanced age and was certainly not, to put it mildly, a beauty. Rand was a mean narcissist who apparently found it important to use her time to attempt to crush a young man's ego. Some people.

Karachi: City of Flies

More people live in the Pakistani city of Karachi than live in the states of Michigan and Wisconsin combined. I would not care to reside in a place with so many people and so little space or privacy. 

I would like it even less if through poverty and poor decision making I lived in a place with poor sewage systems and the resulting infestation of flies and disease. I am amazed that Pakistan has allowed the conditions in its largest city to become this horrible. It was evidently more important to the powers that be in Pakistan to have nuclear weapons and flex muscles at their arch rival and neighbor, India, than to build clean safe cities for their citizens. And one could say the same about conditions in some Indian cities. 

That's a shame. One of the most important responsibilities of a state, society and culture is to provide clean drinking water, safe food, protections from disease and vermin and a sense of cleanliness. Without that you don't have anything as far as I am concerned.

KARACHI, Pakistan — First came the floods, as weeks of monsoon rains deluged neighborhoods across Karachi, sending sewage and trash through Pakistan’s largest city. Then came the long power outages, in some cases for 60 hours and counting.

And then it got worse: Karachi is now plagued by swarms of flies. The bugs seem to be everywhere in every neighborhood, bazaar and shop, sparing no one. They’re a bullying force on sidewalks, flying in and out of stores and cars and homes, and settling onto every available surface, from vegetables to people.

Movie Reviews: Replicas

directed by Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Replicas is a example of how even a movie that has A-list stars is still subject to story limits. Top stars paired with a great story usually means a great movie. Top stars paired with a mediocre story often means a mediocre movie. And top stars weighed down with a sh***y story usually means a sh***y movie, for example, Replicas

It's a mystery that the head producer and studio executives didn't watch this completed movie, pull a sap or baseball bat out of their desk drawer, yell "Come here, come here!" and chase the director and writers of this tripe around the office and through the building, trying to belt them upside the head. 

If I gave someone $30 million dollars and they turned in this crap I would do them bodily harm. I would presume they were deliberately trying to get me fired. If I were the studio head, owner or distributor and learned that an executive spent $30 million of company money on this movie I'd fire them before they left on Friday. I'd call competitors to ensure, as the hoary phrase goes, that the offending person would never work in this town again.

Some say there are only a limited number of stories. I don't know. I do know that there are some common themes which inspire or lurk behind many films or books. We need romantic/physical/sexual love. We want material success. We fear the unknown. We want to live and avoid illness and death. We want to protect our loved ones-whether they're young and naive or old and frail. Those themes are what the viewer is set up to expect will be explored in Replicas. Unfortunately they were ignored or ineptly handled.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Movie Reviews: Greta, Creed 2

directed by Neil Jordan
Greta has the very serious and greatly acclaimed French actress Isabelle Huppert playing the title role in a movie which is almost certainly far beneath her talents but at the same time fits some stereotypical assumptions about older women. 

The camera is not really a friend to Huppert here but no one stays beautiful or on top forever, which perhaps is one of the points this uneven movie was making. 

Twenty or thirty years ago this sort of movie would have starred Jennifer Jason Leigh and Farrah Fawcett. The story is very familiar. What matters is not the story's lack of originality but whether the writers and actresses involved pull the viewer into the unreality bubble and keep them there. With a few huge glaring exceptions they accomplished this task for most of the film. The exceptions are what made me think the story was uneven.

Frances (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a NYC waitress who is struggling to process grief over her mother's recent death from cancer and what she sees as her father's (Colm Feore) insufficient period of mourning and rapid remarriage and immersion in work. Frances lives with a wealthy stylish roommate Erica (Maika Monroe) who is constantly after Frances to enjoy life and stop moping about. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Movie Reviews: Ode to Joy

Ode to Joy
directed by Jason Winer
This is an intermittently humorous though predictable romantic comedy that deftly weaves through some dark passageways before returning to the crowd pleasing formula that typifies the genre. 

Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy must reexamine his life choices and triumph over internal challenges and fears. Hopefully transformed, newly confident boy goes after girl again hoping for second chance.

This film's hero is Charlie (Martin Freeman), a forty something unmarried schlub librarian who works in the Brooklyn Public Library. His sad sack co-workers like Charlie. They wonder if Charlie's gay or asexual because Charlie is never seen in the company of women, nor does he come in on Mondays talking about weekend dates with beautiful ladies.  

Charlie is neither gay nor asexual.  Charlie's problem, which is (not quite hilariously) depicted at the wedding of his little sister Liza (Shannon Woodward) is that he suffers from cataplexy. Any strong emotions, in Charlie's case joy is usually the culprit, trigger blackouts, loss of muscle control, and fainting. It's incurable and embarrassing. At Liza's wedding Charlie fainted and took out at least four people.

Movie Reviews: The Great Race

The Great Race
directed by Blake Edwards
I first saw this film as a child many many years ago but had forgotten the title. I recently ran across it. It's a slapstick comedy with a side order of The Battle of the Sexes. This film works the same side of the street as films like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or later works like Smokey and the Bandit

The scene that stuck in my head was when the heroine challenges the hero to a duel, snidely announcing that she was the Women's International Fencing Champion. Unperturbed, the hero accepts the challenge, swiftly defeats her and coolly reminds her that he was the Men's International Fencing Champion.

You wouldn't see a scene like that in many films today. And if you did, it wouldn't be good natured like this movie. Men and women can complain and snark but each makes the other possible. Although the film is humorous it's not the anarchic over the top style of The Three Stooges, at least not until the end. Although I enjoyed watching the film for old times' sake it was rarely laugh out loud funny. I smiled and chuckled though.

By modern standards this film is tame on sex and violence. There is minor slapstick mayhem and Natalie Wood in a few (well more than a few) revealing outfits but that's it. At the beginning of the 20th century Leslie Gallant III (Tony Curtis) is a daredevil. He's always dressed in white, supremely confident, polite and protective of women, children and the downtrodden. 

Yellowstone Park: When Bison Attack

I would like to think that as an adult I would be smart enough to stay far away from a one ton bison. I also like to think that if a child of mine were in danger I would run to try to save that child instead of running to save myself. But one never knows, does one. I'm glad the girl in the below video is okay. I can't blame her for being so close to a large wild animal. She's only nine years old. I don't expect her to be full of wisdom and smarts. She just got here. I do blame her parents for being stupid enough to allow this event to occur. News flash. Wild animals are well, WILD.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Stuyvesant and The Limits of Affirmative Action

I support public and private sector workplace affirmative action programs. Many people have a strong preference for their own and a disdain for Black intelligence and competence. We live in a very segregated society. 

People who live separate residential and personal lives are as a group often unable or unwilling to judge co-workers, business partners, or new hires solely by potential and results. Humans usually don't work that way. 

Whether it is law firm partners who find more errors in associates' work if they think the associate is Black, hiring agents who sight unseen reject candidates with "Black" names, people that just tell someone straight out that they don't hire their kind, immigrants who won't hire Black people, managers more willing to hire white felons than Blacks without criminal records, workplace bigotry and stereotyping remains a huge problem. It's partly why the black unemployment rate has stubbornly remained twice that of whites for about as long as the metric has been recorded. If you're Black and haven't experienced any workplace funny business, congratulations but I think your number just hasn't come up yet.  It will soon

We do need standards. Properly done, affirmative action should make people define and enforce objective standards. If a company hires an incompetent Black person, I won't cry when that person is fired, demoted or transferred. But evaluating job performance can be opaque and biased. A person who excels in one role or with one set of people can fail in a different role or with different co-workers. Measuring educational performance is different. This brings us to Stuyvesant High School. 

Michigan White Woman Calls Police On Black Man For Reckless Eyeballing

American Black men who are present where white people think they shouldn't be or who look at a white person and scare that person can be in danger of being assaulted (if the white person in question happens to be male and/or larger than the Black man) or of being detained/arrested by the police (if the white person in question happens to be female and/or smaller than the Black man). Of course if the frightened white person happens to be armed, that Black man or boy might be in even more serious and immediate trouble.

This was often called "reckless eyeballing" after the southern habit of arresting black men accused of looking at a white woman. Looking a white woman in the eyes, or with with what she thought was sexual interest, or just making her uncomfortable could and did lead to arrest, assaults, beatings, lynchings, murders and pogroms.  

Matt Ingram was among the last convicted under this framework, in a 1951 case made notorious by civil rights activists in North Carolina. A seventeen-year-old white woman named Willa Jean Boswell testified that she was scared when her neighbor Ingram looked at her from a distance of about 65 feet. Prosecutors demanded a conviction of assault with intent to rape that was reduced to assault on a female by the judge, leading to a two-year sentence.
At the appeal in Superior Court, the judge instructed the jury that Ingram was guilty if he used “intentional threats or menace of violence such as looking at a person in a leering manner, that is, in some sort of sly or threatening or suggestive manner…he causes another to reasonably apprehend imminent danger” The all-white jury again returned a conviction, leading to a six-month sentence of labor on the roads, suspended for five years.

Cases like this were why many older Black men I know avoided even transparently consensual and utterly platonic interactions with white women. They considered it imprudent or even dangerous. But times have changed have they not? Well they have and have not. Recently not far from me, this happened:  Royal Oak police have launched an internal investigation after officers stopped and questioned a black man reportedly because a white woman said he looked at her suspiciously. 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Movie Reviews: Hotel Mumbai

Hotel Mumbai
directed by Anthony Maras
Hotel Mumbai was Maras' directorial debut. Maras is a cousin of Nick Mamatas (author of I am Providence, reviewed here) and of the Greek singer Eleftheria Arvanitaki, which I guess if nothing else shows that talent does run in families. 

There are some people who wouldn't see the point of this 2018 film and others who wouldn't like it because of its similarity to recent real life attacks by young men with similar hateful beliefs as those depicted here. Some people complained that the white people got too much emphasis at the expense of the South Asian or West Asian actors. I was on guard and looking for that when I went in but I honestly didn't see it at all.  Sometimes those are automatic and incorrect complaints. 

Hotel Mumbai is a fictionalized retelling of the 2008 Pakistani Islamic terrorist attacks in Mumbai. It is violent, though I don't think it fetishizes bloodshed. Watching it I was left with a sense of regret at how fragile life can be and how seductive the call of grievance and hatred often is. This is thus, in many aspects, a horror movie with a heart. 

If you're just not a person who can tolerate any violence then this film isn't for you. It is in my opinion an exciting movie and one that will make you think about the nature of heroism. There is plenty of heroism in this film though not in the way that action film audiences have come to expect it. 

Book Reviews: Button Man

Button Man
Andrew Gross
I thought that this book was a bait and switch. A button man is of course an older term for mobster, or specifically a hitman/enforcer/bodyguard. As the fictional Willie Cicci told us "The boss says to push a button on a guy, I push a button". Later, as the term button man fell out of use, someone who had his "button" was someone who was a full and formal member of an Italian-American organized crime family. This book's title and intro made me think this book would be about early organized crime. 

Well it was and wasn't. What this book really is a fictionalized hagiography to the author's deceased grandfather, a Jewish garment district business owner and later tycoon.

Organized crime makes many people think of the Italian-American variety, the Mafia. Up until at least the 1940s organized crime was just as much a Jewish-American venture. In fact arguably the Jewish syndicate was more powerful. 

Gangsters like Dutch Schultz, Arnold Rothstein, Bugsy Siegel, Gurrah Shapiro, Little Augie Orgen, Meyer Lansky, and Lepke Buchalter were just as infamous and as violent as their Italian-American counterparts. Hollywood has tended to downplay this.

Some Jewish creatives believe that an overemphasis on Italian-American macho criminality has left the Jewish-American image too closely identified with the brainy, sarcastic nebbish, as typified by Woody Allen. These writers want to remind us that for better or worse Jews could be tough guys as well. Meyer Lansky was a hoodlum but he also violently broke up Nazi meetings in New York and beyond. I don't know that Gross feels that way but in his afterword he references as inspirations some writers who do.

This story follows the life choices of Morris Rabishevsky (Raab) and his brothers. The Rabishevksy brothers grow up in horrible poverty on New York's Lower East Side at the turn of the century. Their father dies early; another brother dies in an accident. 

Dumb Criminals Strike Again!

I have always been amazed and somewhat amused by criminals who do really stupid things for really small rewards. This could be a school board member who agrees to take a $200 bribe in order to steer business to a favored company and ends up serving 10 years in prison as a result. 

Or in this case I was wondering why, at a time when gasoline is not cheap, a woman would apparently decide to drive roughly 35 miles from Garden City, Michigan to Pittsfield Township, Michigan in order to attempt to snatch a purse from a 93 year old woman.

A Garden City woman has been charged with stealing a purse from a 93-year-old woman in a Pittsfield Township parking lot, according to authorities. Police said the incident happened at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in the 3000 block of Packard Road in Pittsfield Township.

Movie Reviews: Hellboy

directed by Neil Marshall
Neil Marshall directed Dog Soldiers which you really should see and this film which you really should not. Marshall also directed HBO's A Game of Thrones episodes "Blackwater" and "Watchers on the Wall" so it's not as if he's not a talented director with both work he's written and that which he didn't. Marshall's presence is the reason I decided to give this film a look see. 

However there's really no better way than to describe this film than as rancid. If a film could smell this smells like a puppy's crate accident mixed with spoiled Limburger cheese and rotting Durian fruit. Having thought about this for a while I am surprised that after reviewing the finished product the studio and/or producers didn't just tell everyone involved thanks for your work, here's your check but there's no way we can release this film. 

I think the major problem is that this is a reboot of something that didn't really need to be rebooted. The original Hellboy was very much a personal vision of baroque/gothic/steampunkish Lovecraftian horror fantasy lovingly and lavishly created for the screen by director Guillermo Del Toro and interpreted by hulking everyman actor Ron Perlman. When the studio couldn't come to terms with both of those men for another sequel they went to reboot mode.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Movie Reviews: Gloria Bell

Gloria Bell
directed by Sebastian Lelio
Gloria Bell is Lelio's English language remake of his 2013 Chilean movie Gloria. The very first thing I thought after having watched this movie, which presumably was at least one of the film's purposes, was that time flies. 

It's hard for me to believe that John Turturro, who for me is always defined by his roles in classic films such as Do The Right Thing, Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink, and Jungle Fever among others, is actually sixty-two years old! Time waits for no man. And no woman either. Julianne Moore is quite well preserved but isn't that much younger than Turturro.

Although the film's trailer might give you the impression that this is a romantic comedy about a couple of a certain age that is not at all where the film's focus is. This is an arthouse slice of life film about a couple of a certain age. And wait, let's rephrase that. It's really about one half of a couple. There are certainly comedic elements in Gloria Bell, oft handled in a mordantly adult way, but this isn't a story where everything will be wrapped up just fine in the third act because someone caught their special rider at the airport/train station/bus station/port and poured out their heart to that special someone just before the other person left forever. 

Friday, August 2, 2019

Democratic Debate Impressions

Tulsi Gabbard debates Kamala Harris
The two recent Democratic Presidential debates were entertaining. Everyone tried to take down Biden. Tulsi Gabbard smacked Kamala Harris around like Harris owed her money or had stolen her man. Even for a politician, Cory Booker oozed insincerity. If I hear him do that fake overemphasis on a syllable or word to show he cares one more time...
Julian Castro continued to press for decriminalizing illegal border crossings. Elizabeth Warren showed that just because she sounds nice you had better not forget that she can and will open a can of whoop-a$$ on anyone challenging her preferred big plans.  
Warren: "You know, I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for. I don’t get it."
Bernie Sanders made an apparent alliance of opportunity and stood back to back with Elizabeth Warren as the two spent a good deal of the night fending off attacks from rivals who insisted that their more progressive plans were unworkable, too expensive, damaging to the middle class and would help re-elect Donald Trump.
We'll see but my take is that some candidates are mistaken if they think people line up to drop their private health coverage for Medicare coverage while paying higher taxes to do so. The larger issue lurking behind that is "equality". The problem is that freedom and equality don't always go hand in hand, as Vonnegut pointed out all those years ago in Harrison Bergeron

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Michigan Woods Come Alive With Sound

I live in a semi-rural suburban development. Emphasis on the "semi-". There are still some small patches of woods, parks, and farmland left within walking distance of my subdivision but I imagine in the next two decades or so they will all be cut down and paved over. Because progress.

So even though I'm not the biggest outdoors enthusiast it is still nice to get away sometimes and enjoy nature. For some people of course one of their important life goals is to enjoy nature and be at one with the flora and fauna of this wonderful planet. Those people would likely appreciate this story.

Afton — The oddly shaped wooden mega-sized megaphone appears ghost-like through the trees. Anne Fleming walks a little faster, drawn to the structure. “This is an amazing place,” said Fleming, 51, a spokeswoman for the Little Traverse Conservancy. “It is out in the woods away from everything and very special.” Completed and installed on a ridge on conservancy property along the Pigeon River in late May, this 10-foot-long audio device nestled among trees in northern Michigan allows the curious to listen to nature and all its splendor. The megaphone, which is just being discovered by hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, is believed to be the only of its kind in the United States. 

The huge structure is on the 400-acre Boyd B. Barnwell Family Nature Preserve where it adjoins the Andreae Nature Preserve and the Pigeon River. 

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Book Reviews: Invisible

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster
by Stephen L. Carter
People have always seen the African-American elite or upper middle class differently. People who think everything is fair use this class to support their belief that nothing needs to change. Racists are often threatened or angered by this class's existence and may single them out for degradation or violence. 

White Americans began many race pogroms because they were upset that a Black person had the unmitigated audacity to compete with whites economically or be better off than any white person. Some nationalist or more left leaning types think that a black upper class makes mass progress more difficult. There are many more gradations of these arguments, which vary by time and place. 

Author and Yale law professor Stephen Carter wrote this biography of his paternal grandmother, Eunice Hunton Carter, in part because of his annoyance at responses to HBO's Boardwalk Empire's depiction of a black woman prosecutor in 1930s New York City. Some viewers mocked the idea of a black woman prosecutor, viewing it as hyperbolic political correctness.  Untrue. Eunice Carter really was a prosecutor who worked for Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey during his 1930s racketbuster days. She was the only member of Dewey's team who wasn't a white man. Eunice Carter, initially shunted away to taking complaints about streetwalkers and brothels, was the first to realize that the Mob, directed by the most powerful boss, Lucky Luciano, had taken over the prostitution business. Eunice Carter conceived the legal strategy that saw Luciano convicted and sentenced to a thirty to fifty year prison sentence. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Movie Reviews: A Violent Separation

A Violent Separation
directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz
How far would you go to protect a blood relative? That's a question raised in a number of films.  A Violent Separation was trying to be a Golden Age of Hollywood film noir. Part of the reason that it didn't really make it was because most of the lead actors and actresses were English or Australian people trying and failing to ape a Missouri or even generic Midwestern/Southern accent. I don't think they did a good job of it. There have been a lot of people who have spoken with annoyance on the increasing phenomenon of foreign actors playing American roles. As with anything else, there are some people who can do it and some people who can't.

But aside from the acting and accents the writing just didn't make sense in this movie. At some very critical points in this film I was taken out of the "unreality bubble" by seeing someone do something senseless. Then when I started thinking about how dumb a given decision was I was hit again by the foreign accents seeping through what someone thought was a Missouri accent. So I was irritated either way. 

The film's saving grace was Ted Levine, who has an accent and cadence which I always find worthy of listening to in whatever character he's playing. Levine is a fine character actor who deserves better than this film, though he raises the verisimilitude of every scene that he's in. Unfortunately he can't save the film by himself.  

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Movie Reviews: Pet Sematary (2019)

Pet Sematary (2019)
directed by Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer
This is a, well not quite remake, but second film adaptation of the Stephen King horror novel. As is typical with book to film adaptations in general and Stephen King books in particular the directors left a lot out of the film. That's unavoidable. In this case I thought that the film would been better if it had more back story to give context and  nuance to some of the characters' actions and motivations.  

In the book, it's important that the protagonist's father-in-law never really liked the protagonist or thought the protagonist worthy of marrying his daughter, perhaps in part because the protagonist isn't Jewish and isn't successful enough. It's important that the protagonist himself wonders if he's living up to the patriarchal imperative of providing and protecting for his wife and children. It's important that the wife still greatly resents her parents for making her a child caretaker for her now deceased sister, who had spinal meningitis. 

The film leaves a lot of those things out or only briefly sketches them before moving to something else. However King's source material is so strong that the viewer who hasn't read the book can still enjoy the film on its own merits. 

When King wrote the story a cursed Native American burial ground was already a horror cliche. Some writers can spin dross into gold. King is one of them. Some of this story grew out of King's own experiences living in a home located on a busy road and having to explain death to his daughter. This movie gender switched the bad guy, perhaps because an evil little girl is creepy while an evil toddler is too reminiscent of Chucky?

Dershowitz Kept His Drawers On

You may have heard that financier and pedophile Jeffrey Epstein is in trouble again over his penchant for very young girls. Epstein is an (alleged) friend to many powerful men, something that may well have explained his previous easy deal on rape and pedophilia charges.  I think Epstein may have been a foreign asset or tool. We'll see. Anyhow, one of Epstein's lawyers was famed Harvard attorney Alan Dershowitz, who categorically denied that he was ever involved in any Epstein sanctioned crimes, despite witnesses saying he was there when underaged girls were around. There were also some sordid rape allegations aimed at Dershowitz.

Now strictly speaking everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law as far as I am concerned. However I do remember the times growing up when I was accused by one or both of my parents of eating half of the cookies from the cookie jar or some other silly crime. Often I would deny the accusations and say it must have been someone else. I would maintain this position until I learned that the person making the accusation had actually watched me eat cookies from the cookie jar. At that point it was usually best to throw myself on the mercy of the court, so to speak. But every now and then I would double down and say something like "Okay so I ate a few cookies I wasn't supposed to eat. But I didn't eat half of the cookies. That's ridiculous. Besides, the cookies weren't very good/shouldn't have been left out/(insert excuse designed to minimize my complicity here)"

Listening to the married Alan Dershowitz suddenly admit that yes he did get a massage at one of Epstein's parties but he kept his underwear on, doesn't like massages, and by the way the masseuse was old and not that good looking reminds me of that kid long ago who got caught with his hands in the cookie jar and had to think fast to explain why none of this is his fault.

Movie Reviews: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The Postman Always Rings Twice
directed by Tay Garnett
This was the first English language adaptation of the book of the same name. Along with movies like The Big Sleep, The Big Heat and others this film was one of the best examples of what film noir should mean. It had a "hero" who is neither particularly smart nor heroic, rules that trap people no matter if they do right or wrong, and of course a femme fatale. 

Here the femme fatale was particularly compelling as the character was played by bombshell actress Lana Turner, sometimes known for obvious reasons as the Sweater Girl. In real life Turner was known to have a pretty healthy appetite for men and for not caring whether such men were married to other women. So unlike some movies where the love interest is miscast, in this film it was very easy to see why a man would find Turner worth killing for, worth dying for, and worth going to hell for. Amen. 

As with most movies of this era today's directors and actors might be able to learn that sometimes less is more. By today's standards there is nothing at all explicit. It's the implications and inferences that matter. We don't see certain things happen. We see the build up and aftermath. So our imagination can fill in the rest. And here, that technique is more powerful. This plot has been told many times before this film and influenced many stories after it. So there are some human emotions and stories that pop up again and again in life. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Democratic Debates

I haven't been all that impressed with any of the Democratic presidential contenders so far. Some were better spoken than others. Some like former vice-President Joe Biden seemed to have no clue why they were there. Senator Gillibrand's voice grates.

I liked Tulsi Gabbard's anti-war stances. Senator Harris was cynical and smart enough to attack Biden on his anti-busing position before later admitting that her present day stance wasn't all that different from Biden's. It's really early though.
In fact it's so early that it seems silly even to be talking about debates. As we saw in 2016 anything can happen. Just as I am finishing this post it looks like another candidate is already dropping outLightweight.

But there were a few things that came out of the recent first debates that I thought were worth people's notice. The Democrats as a whole seemed to be for decriminalizing illegal entry to the US and providing taxpayer paid health care for illegal immigrants. A few were also in support of eliminating private health care insurance in favor of a Medicare for All system. This will require higher taxes and not just on the rich, however that class is defined. 

I could be wrong but I do not think that there are tons of American voters who want to sacrifice their private health care coverage, enter an underpaid and understaffed public system, have the same coverage as someone who is not even supposed to be in this country, AND pay higher taxes on top of it all.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Movie Reviews: Glass

directed by M. Night Shyamalan
This film was a sequel to Shyamalan's previous films Unbreakable and Split. It's not really necessary to have seen the previous films although it probably helps. As with most (all??) of Shyamalan's films there are a few surprises and twists which I obviously won't discuss.  

I will say that in this case I thought the twists were, if not transparent from the get go, were pretty much in line with what I thought they would be. And I didn't care for the twists. But as always YMMV. In some aspects you could even look at this movie as an investigation of what happens when the Nietzschean Superman runs into a younger and better looking Nurse Ratched.

David Dunn (Bruce Willis) is a Philadelphia area vigilante. He's able (or so he believes) to know what bad acts someone has committed merely by touching them. Dunn also has far greater than normal strength and endurance.  It's been about two decades since Dunn discovered that he had these abilities, primarily thru the machinations of one Elijah Price aka Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) a genius comic book nerd and mass murderer who suffers from a rare disease that makes his bones extraordinarily fragile. 

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Book Reviews: The Fix

The Fix
by David Baldacci
This is another installment in the Amos Decker detective series. Decker is a detective on semi-permanent loan to the FBI. He is a former college football player who is fighting a desperate battle against the scale. Decker suffered major injuries, including brain injury, in the college game that ended his career and any chance at NFL stardom. Worse, years later, Decker's wife and daughter were murdered. 

However these two tragedies deeply impacted his life. Decker sees emotions and events in color. He also has a photographic memory for everything he sees and near total inability to forget anything, ever, including his family's murder scene. This event left Decker with a fierce desire to see justice done whatever the cost. 

Although Decker may see emotions in color, he sees things morally in stark black and white. Either a job is done or it is not. Someone is guilty or they are not. Decker's highest loyalty is to the truth, not to his friends, his bosses, the FBI, or even justice. Decker may have been made mildly autistic by his brain injury all those years ago, as he lacks awareness of social cues that most people, even extremely shy people, take for granted. Decker will suddenly stop talking to someone and get up and walk out of the room. Nonetheless his heart is in the right place. He gets obsessed with loose ends and finding the truth. He rarely means to offend someone and will apologize if he becomes aware that he has.

Going to attend a meeting at FBI headquarters, Amos Decker witnesses a man named Walter Dabney shoot and kill a woman named Anne Berkshire before turning the weapon on himself. Dabney is a defense and intelligence consultant. Berkshire is a schoolteacher. The case becomes federal because of Dabney's links to the federal government.