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