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. 

Book Reviews: Known Devil

Known Devil
by Justin Gustanis
Although this is the third in a series, I didn't know that before starting the book. I don't think it made all that much difference. It's old hat nowadays to imagine a world in which magic and monsters exist side by side with all of the prosaic concerns and institutions of the real world. This story does imagine that and mixes in some timely political parodies as well, even though the book was written well before the current President was elected. The book's prose is, well you will have to decide this for yourself. This is how it opens and it's pretty consistent.
"I've never had a lot of of use for elves. In my experience they're lazy and dumb--nothing like those drones in the stories who supposedly work for the Fat Guy up north. I don't like elves, and elves with guns I like even less. And when those guns are pointed at me--well it's like that Mafia guy on TV used to say: fahgettaaboudit"
Stan Markowski is a detective in the Scranton PD's Occult Crimes Unit. His partner Karl Renfer (there are A LOT of tongue in cheek references to other horror movies and novels)is a vampire. Their job is to keep the peace between humans and supernaturals or supes, as well as prevent the more dangerous supes from acting up. Problems arise when the detectives learn that there is a new drug on the streets, one that gets supes addicted to it and willing to commit all sorts of crimes to get the drug Slide. Experts previously thought that with one or two exceptions, supes were immune to addiction.  

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Robert Smith and Morehouse

When you do something good for people you should be praised for your actions. You may have heard that Black American billionaire Robert Smith attended the 2019 Morehouse commencement where he promised to pay off the entire student loan debt of the graduating class, a gift that will amount to the not insignificant sum of about $40 million. 

Billionaire Robert F. Smith, who received an honorary doctorate at Morehouse College’s Sunday morning graduation exercises, had already announced a $1.5 million gift to the schoolBut during his remarks in front of the nearly 400 graduating seniors, the technology investor and philanthropist surprised nearly everyone by announcing that his family was providing a grant to eliminate the student debt of the entire Class of 2019. 

This is my class,” he said, “and I know my class will pay this forward.” The announcement came as a surprise to Smith’s staff and to the staff at Morehouse, and elicited the biggest cheers of the morning.

About 400 new graduates, predominantly Black men, will be able to start their professional life without any student debt. An adult's twenties and thirties are critical times to establish savings, investments, retirement accounts and capital for business creation. It is also a time to save money for marriage and child care costs. There is a huge wealth gap between Black and White Americans. There is a student loan gap between Black and White Americans. Black Americans owe more in student loans and earn less after graduation, in large part because of discrimination. So when Smith stepped up to do his part to help Black people who were in a tight spot, you might reasonably think that he would be universally lauded.

And you would be wrong.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Television Reviews: Yellowstone Season One

Yellowstone Season 1
created and written by Taylor Sheridan
I'm not sure if I thought this Paramount TV drama was trashy fun or funny trash. Yellowstone was created by the man who wrote and directed Wind River, reviewed here. Sheridan also wrote Sicario, reviewed here, acted in Sons of Anarchy, and wrote the Oscar nominated Hell or High Water. So there is some skill behind this creation, but it's not always consistently super apparent in the first season. There are a lot of ups and downs with the narrative. I think as is common with a lot of shows these days the creator/writer wants you to identify with everyone and no one.

There is some confusion in what the show is trying to say at times, something I think comes directly from the top. The creator has said that he doesn't really believe in the concept of white privilege and finds it very offsetting to those whites, who like him, grew up without what they saw as any privilege. 

On the other hand Sheridan's work seems to be at least partially influenced by the work of his brother, John Gibler, a journalist who has passionately detailed drug war atrocities in Mexico, environmental racism in California and Texas and other human rights issues. Sheridan has also written of how certain restaurants or bars out west refused to serve Native Americans, white police would wait outside reservations specifically to profile Native Americans and how gas stations would refuse to serve him once they discovered he was friendly with or working with Native Americans. So whether he likes all the language used by the modern "woke" audiences or not, Sheridan is certainly aware of racial disparities. The question is what to do about it. 

What to do about it is only one of the various questions addressed in Yellowstone's first season, and perhaps not even the most important one. The best description of Yellowstone might be "Dallas" meets "The Godfather" with a VERY healthy slice of "Sons of Anarchy", "West Side Story" and "The Wild Bunch". 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Movie Reviews: The Mule

The Mule
directed by Clint Eastwood
Although the plot seems improbable this movie was based on the real life exploits of an elderly man who became one of the Sinaloa Cartel's most productive drug mules. Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a dashing award winning Illinois horticulturist and Korean War vet who has spent long amounts of time away from his family because of work. Earl can't seem to ever put family first. He can't even show up on time to the big events like weddings or funerals. As you might imagine Earl is divorced from his wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and estranged from his daughter Iris (Allison Eastwood, Clint Eastwood's real life daughter). 

Iris dislikes her father so much, not least because he didn't show up to give her away at her wedding, that she won't even talk to him. In fact Iris often refuses to be in the same room as Earl, given a choice. The only family member that still seems to like Earl is his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga).  Her mother and grandmother snark that's only because Ginny doesn't know Earl that well. Showing up at Ginny's bridal brunch, Earl ignores the hateful looks from his ex and his daughter and tries to have a good time. He can't really have a good time though because his horticulture business is kaput. 

He doesn't have the capital or resources to compete with internet delivery of flowers. Earl doesn't even have the cash to replace his ancient broke down truck. Earl complains briefly about his financial situation and boasts about his long record of spotless driving to a man who is friendly with one of the bridesmaids. This man gives Earl a card with a number to call.

Range Rover Evoque Commercial: Stolen Music???

I am not a musician or an entertainment lawyer so I can't say with absolute authority that the song "I found a place in my heart" from the new Range Rover Evoque commercial was stolen from the song "Every Beat of My Heart" as originally written by Greek-American musician and honorary Black man Johnny Otis and later covered by James Brown and most memorably, in my opinion, by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

I can't say with 100% certitude that someone sat down, listened to someone else's music, stole the melody and rhythm and verbal phrases and tics and altered the lyrics just enough to avoid lawsuits from all but the richest or most protective of estates.

I can say that if there were ever a lawsuit by the Otis estate (or by whoever owns the rights to the song) against the person who claims to have written this song the defendant probably wouldn't want me on the jury. At all. Because all I would be asking the judge is can we convict the thief now. Or to put it another way, I despise plagiarists. But maybe I'm all wet. Listen to both songs below and share your thoughts.

Doctor Sleep Movie Trailer (2019)

I reviewed the Stephen King book Doctor Sleep here. It will be interesting to see how the upcoming film matches or exceeds the book. Given that King has consistently expressed his strong dislike for the movie adaptation of The Shining, to which Doctor Sleep is a sequel, I wonder what King will think of this movie. Will this movie take more from the book versions or the film versions. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Principal is a N*****!

In the classic Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles, a black man is appointed to be sheriff of a Western town. The new sheriff initially doesn't know that the state's corrupt attorney general and governor only appointed him in the hopes of making the townspeople lynch him, drive him off, or simply leave, thus allowing the corrupt public officials to buy up their land cheap and make a financial killing when the new railroad is built. 

The racist townspeople are shocked and unhappy to see that the new man in charge is a black man. Later a townswoman privately tells the sheriff that although she's impressed with the great job he's done please don't tell anyone she said that because after all she certainly doesn't want to be known as a n***** -lover.

I was reminded of that movie when I read about the controversy surrounding new Principal Zeke Ohan of Hancock Middle and High School in Michigan's UP (Upper Peninsula). Mr. Ohan is Black. The town and the UP are overwhelmingly white. Often times some whites don't think anyone is racist unless they're wearing Nazi flag underwear and screaming racial slurs at the top of their voice anytime they see a Black person. And even then there will be quite a few people who say that the person doing that is misunderstood or just having a bad day.

I think racism is more nuanced than that. I have met many whites who have no major problem with Black people, provided they are in a superior work position to the Black person. When a Black person, especially a Black man, makes more money than they do, is in a higher position than they are or has the ability and the drive to tell them what to do and make them do it, a different side of their personality emerges. I think that's what happened at Hancock. 

Hancock — Zeke Ohan wasted little time after becoming a high school principal in the Upper Peninsula in 2017. He carried out a plethora of changes that already are bearing fruit. Enrollment and test scores at Hancock middle and high schools are up. More graduates are going to college. Students and parents like the hard-charging administrator.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Book Reviews: The Border

The Border
by Don Winslow
In The Border Winslow concludes the story that he started in The Power of the Dog and The Cartel and which he referenced in The Force and Savages. As with those previous stories there are a number of ultra realistic depictions of extreme depraved violence. 

So if you can't handle those pictures rattling around your head this isn't the book for you. I have seen interviews where the author has  addressed concerns (his own and those of others) that by telling what he sees as a true to life story he's also engaging in violence porn. That could be.

As with certain scenes in George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, Winslow has created some vivid violent sequences that occasionally caused me to put the book down and reflect on the world's evil. And I have a pretty high tolerance for that sort of stuff.

Nevertheless there is very little that Winslow has imagined in this book that hasn't occurred in real life. In fact he adapts a few real life incidents. There are devils and demons who walk this planet and live long, happy and remunerative, albeit utterly malevolent, lives. It is an open sociological and historical question as to why with a few notable exceptions  American organized crime groups did not routinely liquidate the families of any disobedient employees, clients or victims and avoided murdering police officers, judges, politicians and other high profile "civilians" who got on the local Mob boss's last nerves. 

Organized crime groups in Mexico and Guatemala have no such reservations. Does the difference have something to do with the violence of the pre-Colombian Mayan and Aztec societies? Is it caused by the even more extreme violence of the Spanish conquests? Is it caused by the repeated US interventions? I can't answer those questions.

Though some Latin American countries are more violent than the United States, they might be equal in terms of corruption. Latin American corruption might be more direct and in your face. American corruption could be more difficult to eliminate because much of it is legal. 

Waverly Woodson: D-Day Hero

My maternal grandfather was a WW2 Veteran. Unfortunately by the time I was old enough to be interested in such things I didn't see him that often. He was gone way too soon. It's true that you should cherish every moment you have with loved ones. I can still get stories about him and some of his experiences from other relatives but it's not really the same as getting it direct from the source.
I don't know if my grandfather was ever in combat. I do remember the seemingly HUGE rifle that he brought home. Memory is important. History is important.  And it's because of the importance of memory that Joann Woodson, the 90 year-old widow of WW2 D-Day hero Waverly Woodson, is fighting to ensure that her late husband receives all the praise and commendations that he should have received during his life, including the Medal of Honor.
PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) – For years, a widow has been fighting for recognition of her late husband's heroism during D-Day. Waverly Woodson Jr. was one of an estimated one million African Americans who served in World War II, including 2,000 who were at Normandy. All served in segregated units and their contributions are often overlooked. Joann Woodson, 90, wants everyone to know the sacrifice her husband made when he stormed Omaha Beach 75 years ago as a medic.

"He said that the men were just dropping, just dropping so fast. Some of them were so wounded, there was nothing that you could do but just give them a few little last rites," Woodson said.

Pay Your Tab Principal Comeau !

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you should always pay your bar tab, promptly, in full and without complaints. Because otherwise, things could get ugly. But given many of the other scandals that have emerged from Catholic schools this one seems pretty mild.The only damage done is the self-inflicted harm to the former principal's reputation.

A Louisiana Catholic elementary school principal resigned after being arrested outside a Washington D.C. strip club while on a field trip with students.

Michael Comeau, 47, was charged with being intoxicated and is alleged to have stiffed the club on his tab.

This is the second time Comeau, principal of Holy Family School in Port Allen, Louisiana, has resigned from a school under a cloud.

Comeau was also a part-time police officer in a small Baton Rogue police department. He resigned by text Saturday.

According to reports obtained by local media, police responded to Archibald’s Gentlemen’s Club at 2:20 Friday morning May 31, and found the Catholic elementary school principal intoxicated and blocking a roadway outside the strip club. He allegedly refused to pay his tab. There were reports that Comeau had a service dog with him. Comeau was on a field trip with seventh and eighth graders visiting the nation’s capital.

“The incident occurred when the students on the trip were in their hotel rooms for the evening under the supervision of other chaperones,” said a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, according to local media.

Boy Notices Stinky Feet on Airplane

The beautiful thing about children is that they have no filter. They have no concept of the idea of lying or pretending not to notice something unpleasant because doing otherwise might hurt someone's feelings.

If you smell bad, look funny or are just someone out of the child's limited range of experience a child is probably going to tell you so. I don't know if this really happened just as it seems or if the father put up the kid to this. Either way it was amusing to me. I don't think people should be taking their shoes off in the airplane, smelly soles or not.

(STORYFUL) - A 4-year-old boy is getting some attention for calling out a woman and her plane etiquette. Darryl Small and his son, Rodney, were on their way home to Houston from Disney World when the boy realized the person sitting behind him put her bare foot up on the side of his chair.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Movie Reviews: Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit
directed by Hans Petter Moland
This is a yet another Liam Neeson revenge movie that was the subject of some buzz not just because of the tall actor's trademarked baritone badassery but because apparently trying both to gin up interest in the movie and point out that he understood both the seductive allure of revenge and its bad moral costs, Neeson decided to share some stories from his real life. 

Apparently at one point a female friend of his (I don't think he indicated if they were special riders or not and it doesn't really matter) was raped by one or more black criminals. Enraged, Neeson said he started hanging around the area in which his friend was attacked, looking at black guys, wondering if a given man was the one and just hoping that some "black (bastard)" gave him a reason to set things off. Per Neeson he didn't do anything and is not the man he used to be. 

Subsequently, Neeson had to go on a little mini media tour explaining that no he wasn't a racist and blah-blah-blah. If I recall correctly the Hollywood premiere was canceled. That little tempest in a teapot may have made some people decide against viewing the movie or decide to look at Neeson a little differently. I didn't see things that way because I didn't see his actions or immediate thoughts as racist and with a few notable exceptions don't care all that much about the personal lives, sins, crimes, opinions or hangups of artists--especially those I will never meet. I do care about the product that they produce.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Random Thoughts on HBO's Game of Thrones Finale (1)

I don't think that the final season of HBO's Game of Thrones ruined the entire series but I do think that the final episode tried and came close. If we assume that all of the events came from GRRM, which I doubt, GRRM will have some heavy lifting to do in his final books in order to make these plot points believable.
The idea that people who know nothing about Bran other than he is Ned Stark’s son, “fell” out of a window, and has a creepy personality would accept that he should be king, based on the word of a patricidal dwarf known continent wide as a drunk and whoremonger, makes no sense. This "best story" justification is crap. Everyone has stories.
That these same people would tolerate the North going independent boggles the mind. If Bran’s own sister won’t bend the knee to him, why would anyone else? Every region was independent before the Targaryen invasion, not just the North. The Iron Islands and Dorne are just as culturally, religiously and ethnically distinct as the North is. Having the entire continent be ruled by Starks AND the North be independent seems like too many bites at the apple, even for a Stark bannerman such as myself.
Grey Worm and the Dothraki likely outnumber other Westerosi forces in and around King’s Landing at the time of Daenerys’ murder. If not then it’s a close call. But Daenerys JUST gave a wildly popular speech promising permanent revolution and worldwide conquest to her soldiers, who LIVE for such things. Daenerys has also condemned Tyrion to die.

Monday, May 20, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Series Finale

Are you not entertained?
This episode was written and directed by the showrunners, Benioff and Weiss. In the aftermath of the sack and burning of King's Landing. Tyrion walks through the ashes, followed by at a distance by Davos and Jon Snow. There are dead bodies all over the place. It looks like a napalm bomb hit the place which is pretty much what occurred. Tyrion's face expresses disbelief, rage, and pain all at once. Tyrion leaves for what remains of the Red Keep. He doesn't want any escort from Jon or Davos.

Reaching the Red Keep Tyrion finds that his small stature helps him negotiate some otherwise blocked passageways. He finds his brother's and sister's bodies. He starts to dig them out but breaks down. This is some strong acting here. The lack of dialog here and in the introduction sets the stage for how the audience feels about things. We may not care that Cersei and Jaime are dead. One or both of them probably deserved it. But we do care that their deaths have had a devastating impact on Tyrion.

Strolling through the city, Jon, Davos and a small contingent of their men come across Grey Worm and a much larger contingent of Unsullied preparing to execute Lannister prisoners. Obviously Jon disagrees with this and expresses his opinion. Grey Worm retorts that these are orders from Queen Daenerys so back the f*** up off of him!!! Jon grabs Grey Worm's arm but that wasn't the move as the Unsullied immediately direct scores of spear points at Jon and his crew. Not wanting to die that day Davos talks Jon down and suggests speaking to Daenerys. Jon stalks off in that direction as Grey Worm slits throats. Later we see Arya following Jon, but keeping her distance.

Daenerys is at the ruins of the Red Keep. She is dressed all in black in what appears to be a blatant reference to the sartorial choices of a certain group of 20th century fascists. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Daenerys Targaryen: Crazy Capricious Killer or Misunderstood Matriarch???

The Daenerys heel turn of burning King's Landing down and deliberately incinerating untold numbers of civilians caused a great deal of agita among some Game of Thrones fans.
Some people think that this is either Benioff's and Weiss's or even GRRM's commentary that strong women are always crazy women. I don't think that argument is worth discussing. FWIW, GRRM describes himself as a feminist. GRRM created many characters of different genders and sexualities, all of whom are varying mixes of good and evil, intelligence and stupidity, competence and ineptitude. It is almost certainly not a meta-commentary by GRRM or show creators on the danger of female leadership to have Daenerys burn down King's Landing. The fact that so many people joyously read Daenerys as avenging feminist Messiah is a testament to GRRM's creative abilities, nothing else.

The second, more numerous and to my mind more legitimate detractors are not necessarily THAT bothered by Daenerys going Mad Queen but think that it wasn't earned in the show. The show is all we can go on here as these events have not taken place in the books. On a private board I frequent, and on quora too I might add, this last episode caused heated discussion. As The Janitor pointed out on this blog:  
This made no sense for her character as depicted in the show. Just last season she literally rebutted that she is "not here to be the queen of the ashes" when Yara and the Queen of the Sandsnakes urged her to burn King's Landing. That was 1 season ago. 1!!! Now all of a sudden she's the mad queen? Not buying it.
We must remember that unless and until Benioff ,Weiss and GRRM give us a detailed look at what were GRRM's contributions and what were Benioff's and Weiss' we may never know what events were GRRM's "true" ideas. For all we know GRRM might be reviewing screen events and deciding to alter or more deeply explain story events. Still, for something this big and character defining as the near total destruction of King's Landing all of my money is on it being GRRM's intent all along. So Daenerys was always going to go bad.

GM Lordstown Plant Closing

When people are discouraged, prevented and/or excluded from serving in positions of power they often show an intense, even obsessive, interest in putting one of their own in the Big Seat, however it is defined. And the people who have one of their own in the Big Seat, often show an intense, even obsessive, interest in keeping that spot, even if they receive little to no material benefit from having one of "theirs" in the top spot. This is just human nature. I don't think it will ever truly change. 

However it continues to be worthwhile to point out over and over again that simply putting a black face in a high place or putting someone in charge who can wear skirts and heels instead of pants without changing the power structure and the nature of the economic relationship is ultimately not worthwhile-at least not worthwhile for anyone except the individual who is making the big money in the top spot. Mary Barra is the Chairman (Chairwoman?) and CEO of GM. 

She is also the first woman to hold that position at GM and any other global automaker. When she ascended to the spot this was heralded as a good thing for women executives, women employees, women in general and the nation in general. Barra makes $21 million/yr in salary. I am sure she has the stock options, deferred compensation, retirement plans, bonus incentives and all of the other benefits that any  major league executive in her position would receive.

Barra also oversaw the recent announced closing of the GM plant in Lordstown, Ohio. This will devastate that community and increase the problems of opiate addiction, homelessness, economic inequality, job loss and other issues that plague American workers. The union contract GM signed apparently both forbade closing the planet and/or required additional worker benefits if the plant was closed.

Monday, May 13, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Final Season Episode 5

I am Daenerys Stormborn and I will take what is mine with fire and blood!
Well true to the series the penultimate episode had some shocks, thrills, and many character deaths. 

In the unlikely event that I am ever fortunate enough to read the completed series or hear GRRM speak on how he intends to handle the storyline in his books it will be interesting to compare the show and books. For now though the show is all we have. 

Although I do believe that the show suffered somewhat from being rushed this season given that similar character left turns that I thought were show-only actually allegedly came from GRRM, i.e. Stannis' sacrifice of his daughter Shireen, I'm not that outraged at some of the events depicted in last night's episode. It's important to remember that GRRM has generally been anti-war. He has been interested in depicting the muck and filth and grime and crime inherent in war, not just the glory and bada$$ last stands and stirring speeches and righteous anger. More so in the books but also in the show several characters have deplored the savagery that occurs in war. 

As another of GRRM's characters warned us, if you think this has a happy ending you haven't been paying attention. GRRM is on record discussing that Tolkien's settling on Aragorn as the rightful king and everyone living happily ever after wasn't that compelling to him. What if Aragorn was an a$$hole? What was Aragorn's tax policy? How did Aragorn intend to settle land dispute claims between the Haradrim and Gondorians? Or as Monty Python reminded us, who voted for someone as king anyway? Shouldn't supreme executive power derive from a mandate from the masses?

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Movie Reviews: Avengers:Endgame

Avengers: Endgame
directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
I finally got around to seeing this movie. As a bookend to the Avengers saga, which is one of the most popular storylines within the Marvel Cinematic Universe I thought it was workmanlike. The film was was three hours long, which stretched my endurance as well as some of the story the filmmakers were telling. 

I thought that the social narrative, allegories, and real life analogies, which to be fair have always been woven into Marvel comics, were too strong and too obvious for my taste. Some of it was pandering. I guess if I were among the audience which was being pandered to I might feel differently. More on that in a moment. 

You may recall (and this is of course a spoiler for the prior Avengers film) that by the end of the last Avengers movie, the omnicidal Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) looking like he's related to the similarly heavy jawed Issa Rae, had won. Thanos had collected all of the Infinity Stones, dealt with betrayals, setbacks and sacrifices and finally obliterated half of (sentient? all?) life in the universe with a snap of his fingers, All across the universe, 50% of people vanished. Thanos did this because he was convinced that overpopulation and the resulting waste, war, climate change, and diminishing biodiversity was the greatest threat to peace and life. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Final Season Episode 4

There were some story advances towards the endgame in this episode, some losses, some seemingly inexplicable events, a few callbacks towards earlier seasons, and of course a few characters acting in ways opposed to everything they had been before. 

It was uneven by the high standards of earlier seasons but I thought all in all it was better than the previous episode. Clearly the writers were eager to wrap things up and finish the story. It is a shame in some aspects that the story end will be on screen before it's in print but on the other hand the demands of budgets, television, and actors who want to do other things mean that we get an ending, which I am not sure will be the case with the original author, regardless of his good intentions.

There were three or four thematic elements to this episode. (1) We remember those who are gone. (2) Life is for the living so we celebrate that by engaging in life affirming activities: eating, drinking, and loving. (3) We attempt to deal with our internal conflicts-Jon and Daenerys try to square the circle about incest and claims to the throne. (4) We face external threats and new loss. 

There is a John Sayles movie titled Lone Star which has as one of its major plot points the discovery by a man and a woman that they are half-siblings. They share the same corrupt, deceptive, now deceased, father. Unfortunately they discover this after they've already had sex and fallen in love. They knew each other as teenagers but never got it together back then.They decide to continue the relationship despite the incest. That outcome is probably not going to be a possibility for Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. The episode opens up with a long shot from above of Jorah Mormont's corpse. Daenerys is losing it over him.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Donald Trump is a Bully and Should be Impeached

Neutral Evil:"..neither groups nor individuals have great meaning. This ethos holds that seeking to promote weal for all actually brings woe to the truly deserving. Natural forces which are meant to cull out the weak and stupid are artificially suppressed by the so-called good, and the fittest are wrongfully held back, so whatever means are expedient can be used by the powerful to gain and maintain their dominance, without concern for anything. neither groups nor individuals have great meaning. 

A neutral evil character is typically selfish and has no qualms about turning on allies-of-the-moment, and usually makes allies primarily to further their own goals. A neutral evil character has no compunctions about harming others to get what they want, but neither will they go out of their way to cause carnage or mayhem when they see no direct benefit for themselves."

The above is the definition of the neutral evil" alignment philosophy and ethos from the Player's Handbook of Dungeons and Dragons, a role playing game I used to love when I was younger. It also happens to be an almost perfect description of President Trump. He has no real interest in law or freedom. He could care less about conflicts between law and order or freedom and individual rights. The only thing he cares about is his own interest above all. You may have seen that President Trump is refusing to turn over his tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee despite the fact that the law is crystal clear that the Committee--that is to say Congress can review anyone's tax returns for any reason they like--including those of the President. If Trump asks why Congress can say "Because we said so!"

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin must enjoy irony. He penned a letter to Democrats on the House Ways & Means Committee threatening to refuse their request to see the President’s tax returns. The letter asserts that the Committee’s stated reasons for viewing the returns — among other things, verifying that the President wasn’t using his leadership of the executive branch for his own benefit — were mere pretext for their true, purely partisan motive. This, he said, was a reason he could refuse the request. At almost the same hour, the administration’s lawyers were arguing before the Supreme Court that possible partisan motivations were no reason to set aside a proposed citizenship question in the upcoming U.S. census.

Should Prisoners Vote?

Prison is not a place I ever intend to be. Prison by definition requires a reduction in or elimination of rights and privileges that everyone else takes for granted.

You can't freely pursue heterosexual relations with men or women that you find attractive. You're surrounded by dangerous scumbags of your own gender. The only folks around of the opposite gender likely have serious authority over you. Some of them crave any excuse to brutalize you and brag about it to their buddies.You're in prison. No one is that concerned about your pursuit of happiness.You can't get up or go to bed when you want. You're in prison. You can't shower, brush your teeth, urinate or defecate in private. You're in prison. You can't eat what you want. You're in prison. 

If you irritate or "threaten" a guard, warden or other prison employee, you might be assaulted or forced into solitary confinement.There's nothing you can do about this. You're in prison. You might be made to work at jobs that bore you for little or no pay. You can't quit or find a different job. You're in prison.You can't leave unless and until the state or federal government says you can leave.You're in prison. Prison is not supposed to be a pleasant experience. That's the point. You shouldn't want to come back. That said, even though a person is imprisoned there are still some basic rights the state theoretically has to recognize and protect. 

The state can't or rather the state shouldn't torture or murder prisoners. The state shouldn't turn a blind eye to sexual abuse of or rape of prisoners, whether by state employees or other prisoners.The state can't force inmates to change religions or prevent them, within reason, from practicing their religion while incarcerated. Should voting also be one of those fundamental rights that remain protected even for prisoners? Senator Bernie Sanders thinks so.

HBO Game of Thrones: Thoughts on Episode 3 - The Long Night

I rewatched the most recent episode of HBO's Games of Thrones (episode 3). I debated it and discussed it with friends, family, and associates online and offline. I read other people's takes. I heard some of what Benioff and Weiss had to say. Now that I've come down from the sugar high of Arya's heroism I think I can provide more sober analysis of what I didn't like in the episode.
There are three points that bear mentioning. (1) Medieval Warfare is a wonderful magazine, one which I read religiously. My points about military tactics are generally based on my readings of various issues of that magazine and other historical books. Mistakes and omissions are mine. (2) Obviously this is just my pov which I am writing for my own enjoyment and hopefully yours as well. I am certainly not stating that I am "right". The show belongs to the showrunners, not viewers (3) Arya is one of my favorite characters. Criticism of her character arc isn't based in the modern bete noire of misogyny.
The episode was entertaining. I was a little disappointed at the episode's fit in the larger tale. GRRM has shared plot points and character fates with Benioff and Weiss. GRRM believes the show and book endings will be broadly similar, although the paths will differ. I'm no book purist. The showrunners occasionally improved the tale by changing or eliminating some GRRM inventions. For example, I don't think the HBO series should have included Strong Belwas, a not too bright black Daenerys devotee who speaks in the third person and defecates on the corpses of those he kills. The show didn't need vivid description of the Mountain and his crew's vicious gang rape of a preteen girl and murder of her brother.

But, when I heard that the showrunners had decided about three years prior to have Arya be the one to kill the Night King, a character not present in the published books, I thought that the decision, no matter how much I enjoyed the knife drop move, was a mistake, and one likely made purely for fan service reasons. Let's discuss more.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Flooding in South East Michigan and Metro Detroit

It is a matter of increasing frustration, annoyance and black humor to me that almost every time we get more than two or three inches of rain in SE Michigan, entire sections of our roadways and expressways become impassable for days. This really shouldn't occur in the United States of America. 

Some people, including myself at times, might snark about crappy Third World standards or problems. Well. If you spent the past sixty or seventy years under the boot of European colonialism or fighting US funded civil wars at least you have a valid reason for not having solid infrastructure that's up to snuff. The US has no such excuse. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Final Season Episode 3

The director for this episode mentioned that he was in part inspired by the Battle of Helm's Deep from the Lord of the Rings: Two Towers and Assault on Precinct 13. I don't think this episode quite measured up to the scenes from that first movie but it did put you in mind of the second. So I guess it worked better as a  horror/siege film than it did as a battle. A big problem with any battle/action films is that the director and/or writer must find a proper balance between making everything go by very quickly so that the viewer hardly sees it and slowing things down in a surrealistic way so that the viewer can understand everything that's happening and identify with the heroes/victims. 

There are of course some directors who can do both at once-Spielberg's opening scenes in Saving Private Ryan. Other directors jump back and forth between both styles : almost anything by John Woo and obviously 300 by Zack Snyder. This episode's director's choices included a lot of speed but also a lot of darkness. So it was often difficult to tell who was who and what was occurring. Within the narrative the battle took place at night so on one level that made sense but go rewatch Lord of the Rings: Two Towers and tell me that HBO might not have overdone the blue and black saturation. 

Nonetheless this was an emotionally satisfying episode with the trademark bait and switch that this show has become known for. If we ever do get to experience these scenes in print it will be interesting to learn if GRRM keeps them or if he had something different in mind. His prophecies from the book appear to have not come true, or perhaps have come true in a way that few of the readers saw. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Book Reviews: What The Night Knows

What The Night Knows
by Dean Koontz
I used to be a huge Dean Koontz fan. I picked up this 2010 book in a clearance sale. I liked the plot description and theme. But after reading it I was let down. Now bad Koontz is better than most other writers. However I thought that here one of the typical Koontz formulas (a decent man with a horrible secret must protect his beautiful wife and perfect kids from evil with the help of a loyal dog) ran out of gas. This softcover book was over four hundred and fifty pages. When I read a novel that length I expect something either meaty or epic. This wasn't the case.

It's been a while since I read Koontz so I'd have to go back and check his earlier works but I don't seem to remember his writing being so heavily weighted towards prose and away from dialogue. There's very little dialogue in this book. So the story feels very heavy to me, but not in a good way. YMMV. 

There is an extremely disappointing ending. If we continue after death in some form that could be really wonderful news for those among us who are kind, helpful,and decent people. The flip side is that evil doers could continue their malevolent works.

John Calvino is a dashing thirty-something homicide detective haunted by his family's murders two decades ago. Although John killed the perpetrator, John has never been able to forget the last words of the rapist-murderer, Alton Blackwood. When a young man named Billy Lucas commits atrocities and murders that clearly seem patterned after Blackwood's crimes, John is worried enough to visit Billy in a mental institution even though it's not his case. Billy is mostly uncommunicative but shares some private chilling information with John that Billy simply could not have known.

It's getting close to the anniversary of the murders of John's parents and sisters. John is feeling uneasy. There are some things in his past which he has not shared with his loved ones, out of concern for their emotional and mental wellbeing.