Saturday, June 27, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Quarry

The Quarry
directed by Scott Teems
This movie teams up two very good character actors who have occasionally ventured into leading man territory. Michael Shannon and Shea Whigham have often worked together, most notably in Boardwalk Empire. 

They are two actors who I am always interested in watching because they bring depth and realism to their characters. 

No matter how over the top or strange the character may be written, these guys find a way to ground their depiction and make you feel that you know their character, even if on balance the person is despicable. Each man shines in this movie. However the film is slow moving. It's as if the writer/director decided to just throw these actors in the Texas setting and told them "Do something!"

The results were mixed. I thought a while about this review because I initially thought I might be judging a slow neo-noir thriller by action film standards. And upon further reflection I decided that no I wasn't. Even by the standards of thrillers aimed at adults with attention spans longer than thirty seconds The Quarry meanders and wanders. One might argue that the seeming pointlessness of many occurrences is actually the movie's entire point and that yours truly was just too dumb to see it. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Lives can be changed by just one random decision. I have a relative who enjoys pointing out what he considers to be Christian hypocrisy. He thinks that Christians must live exactly by the teachings of Jesus, no matter how difficult.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Movie Reviews: Becky

Becky
directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
In the mid seventies this would have been the sort of movie that might have had Jodie Foster as its star. Children should not watch this film. That includes its titular child lead actress. The short description of Becky might be Home Alone meets Saw. In other words, if you are at all sensitive to depictions of violence, this is not, repeat NOT the film for you. Got it???

Even if you are inured to gruesome violence, this film goes over the top showing the violence suffered, but mostly committed by its teen anti-heroine. I'm not joking. This film is not comedic except occasionally in the most over the top way that might appeal to the most jaded horror/thriller viewers. The only deference to viewer sensibilities is that we are spared sexual assault, which given the circumstances, could have been expected.

Since at least River Tam and proceeding thru Arya Stark there have been many occasionally tongue in cheek but often serious filmic or novelistic depictions of young, small, teen or preteen girls who are often able to outwit or outfight one or more fully grown male adversaries, or at least hold them at bay until the cavalry arrives, so to speak. Becky takes that trope, turns it up to 11 and stomps on the distortion pedal. But it also very broadly hints that the ability to commit violence is not something to be admired or sought after. This little girl has some problems. 

Movie Reviews: The Hunt

The Hunt
directed by Craig Zobel
This is another film that (a) had a female lead and (b) had its debut delayed and possibly ruined by the emergence of the coronovirus pandemic and (c) was seized upon by some conservatives, especially the dummy-in-chief, who thought it unfairly demonized them.

This last point is almost too stupid to comment upon but it's worth mentioning that this movie is in part a satire of fraught relationships between conservatives and liberals. The Hunt doesn't actually endorse kidnapping your political enemies and hunting them for fun anymore than the Godfather movies suggest to people that they should build a multi-generational international criminal empire. Given some recent real life incidents one might even argue that this satire doesn't go far enough.

If you have to explain satire, you've likely already lost half the audience. Much as Blazing Saddles used jokes about racism, anti-semitism, and stereotypes in general to suggest that those things were, you know, actually harmful to human beings, The Hunt uses political and regional stereotypes to suggest that sometimes conservatives and liberals share negative traits. This could be read as a both sides cop out. One film writer said as much.

Movie Reviews: The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen
directed by Guy Ritchie
Guy Ritchie is a predictable writer and director, particularly when he's examining the milieu in which he made his name, the British underworld. Depending on how much you enjoy this style you might consider this film a welcome return to form. 

Or you might decide that fast paced tough guy/tough gal banter, sudden ultraviolence, music video style quick cuts, British slang, double crosses hidden inside triple crosses, and racial/ethnic/sexual slurs played for jokes is overdone and last year's/last century's news. I generally enjoyed this movie but I have a tolerance for some of these otherwise problematic things in movies if I don't think they're coming from a place of contempt or hatred. 

Presumably Ritchie and/or the other writers would say they're making fun of everyone. I'm not so sure about that, watching it a second time. Still, this is light entertainment, not anything award winning or something that is supposed to make anyone think too much. 

Michael "Mickey" Pierson (Matthew McConaughey) is an American former Rhodes Scholar, who upon arriving in Merry Olde England, soon discovered that he could make more money and meet a higher class of people by selling marijuana than by hitting the books. Fast forward about twenty five years and the middle aged but still trim Mickey has become a multimillionaire marijuana producer and distributor. He has avoided heroin and cocaine because of their associations with violence and because he thinks those drugs are too addictive. Mickey is a nice guy. 

Music Reviews: Long Distance Call

One common blues theme is infidelity. If you're working all day, working in a different city or state, or are otherwise away from home for weeks or months at a time you may come to have some concerns as to what exactly your biscuit roller is doing in your absence. There are many songs that explore this theme but for my money one of the best is Muddy Waters doing "Long Distance Call". 

It's simple and deep at the same time. Muddy Waters changes his stentorian tones to an almost B.B. King like falsetto expressing his pain at "another mule kicking in his stall". I also appreciate that songs like this that generally got their point across without resulting to vulgarity. I was impressed at how the drummer evokes the sound of a telephone ringing.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Black Cowboys

I thought that this was an interesting and useful video/article.
It's important to remember that there are a number of different ways to be Black.


Cowboys are among the most iconic figures of the American West. They’re mythologized as strong, independent people who live and die by their own terms on the frontier. And in movies, the people who play them are mostly white. 

But as with many elements of Americana, the idea of who cowboys are is actually whitewashed — scholars estimate that in the pioneer era, one in four cowboys were black. The historian Quintard Taylor writes about how before then, enslaved people “were part of the expansion of the livestock industry into colonial South Carolina, passing their herding skills down through the generations and steadily across the Gulf Coast states to Texas.”

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Defund the Police! Powerful Slogan or Horrible Mistake?

You may have heard of the slogan "Defund the police!" bubbling up from many of the people who are protesting the scourge of police brutality and misconduct.
Some people whose opinions I respect said that this was a horrible slogan to use because it would be immediately seized upon by conservative troglodytes and used to discredit any attempt at reigning in police departments. Some said anyone using this slogan was stupid.
The people in my circle who dislike the slogan are broadly on the left. None of them voted for Trump in the past or will do so in the future. And they, and I, are all old enough to remember where a strong left stance on a particular issue was misrepresented by people on the right to the detriment of those on the left. So I think they are honestly worried about the same thing happening again. I still wonder if the post-Reagan defensive crouch that many on my side of the political spectrum have been in may have blinded us to how politics and movements actually work. 
The Right doesn't actually run on a slogan of "We're going to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations, repeal or ignore any laws or regulations protecting the environment and humans from dangerous pollution, waste or chemicals, destroy unions so that the reserve pool of underpaid and unemployed workers remains high, shift public funds to private and religious schools, eviscerate legal protections against racial discrimination, eliminate free speech protections for critics of the Israeli West Bank occupation, hunt certain animals to extinction, eliminate worker safety protections, and drive down American wages via relentless outsourcing and automation so that corporate profits remain high!".

Movie Reviews: The Wretched

The Wretched
directed by Brett Pierce and Drew Pierce
This is a new horror movie that simultaneously hearkens back to some favorite low budget cheesy 80s films but at the same time is inventive enough to give me hope that horror movies can simultaneously be fun, scary and intelligent. 

It's also quite obviously set in my home state of Michigan though I can't remember if the story made that explicit. The Wretched was shot in Michigan.

The movie might as well have made its location explicit as there is plenty of expository dialogue about people maintaining vacation homes and farms in the north of the state.

That's what lots of Michiganders, including some of my family and friends, do. Boating is also a big part of the story. 

After some spoilerish events which I won't mention open the film we see that the film's default hero, troubled teen Ben (John-Paul Howard), has moved in with his father Liam (Jamison Jones). Liam is a genial man who is going through a divorce with Ben's mother. Ben was implicated in some minor criminality which is why his mother has temporarily sent him up north to live and work with his Daddy. Ben's mother hopes that some masculine discipline and role modeling will solve Ben's behavior issues.

Well Liam is less interested in playing strict paterfamilias than in trying to convince Ben to accept that Liam has swiftly moved on to a new younger significant other, Sara (Azie Tesfai), who works with Liam at the marina which he owns/runs. 

Movie Reviews: Marked Woman

Marked Woman
directed by Lloyd Bacon
It is always somewhat startling and sobering to realize that people you remember as aged and decrepit were young and vibrant once. Time waits for no one. We will all eventually meet our maker. 

So I was interested to see Bette Davis, whom I remember as a gravelly voiced bug eyed chain smoking elderly woman, take the lead in this film. Although I wouldn't ever describe Davis as beautiful, she was believable playing a role that was not subtle in its sexuality. 

I didn't know it before watching the film but this movie is based on the downfall of Mafia Boss and vice lord Lucky Luciano, who had just received a thirty to fifty year sentence for extortion and prostitution about a year before this film was released. 

Much as mob film or television auteurs such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola or David Chase would do fifty years later, Bacon hired some real life mob hoodlums to give the film some verisimilitude. 
Another fun fact about this film is that one of the supporting actresses, Lola Lane, was the inspiration for the comic book character, Lois Lane. As you might expect the fast paced version of the Mid-Atlantic Accent is widely used in this film, primarily by Bette Davis but also by a few other actors and actresses.

Although some people see this as a film noir because of the presence of Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, I don't. It's just a Warner Bros. crime drama, a good one perhaps but there is no moral ambiguity. There are not really conflicted heroes or femme fatales. This film is a morality play that would be echoed in comics like Spider-Man thirty years later. Either because of enforced censorship or studio squeamishness about making heroines of prostitutes, the film alters the stated occupation of the heroine and her friends from their real life inspirations.

Movie Reviews: The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man
directed by Alfred Hitchcock
This film took a random case of mistaken identity and effectively demonstrated how it can snowball into something with major consequences. 

It's a film noir that lacks violence or even an identifiable bad guy. 

The viewer might think the police are the bad guys but they are just doing their jobs. Some are a bit more committed to their jobs than others. The real "bad guy" is an indifferent and uncaring universe. This movie was based on a true life story. 

This film demonstrates why going down to the police station to help cops "clear some things up" is almost never a good idea. This movie was set in a time when police were not limited by such things as Miranda warnings. As we've seen in numerous recent real life incidents police will break rules when they feel they can get away with it, but it's still important for a suspect, especially if he or she is innocent, not to make things easy for the police.

Someone who is innocent, who has never had any trouble with the police before and regards them either as heroic or as necessary evil will not have the required paranoia or fear regarding dealings with police and the law enforcement system. The person may honestly believe that the police only bother guilty people. So that person may think that once he tells the police what really happened, he'll be quickly let go with an apology.

Book Reviews: 'Vaders

'Vaders
by R. Patrick Gates
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic I was in the mood for reading some disaster stories. I chose this older book that for some reason I had never gotten around to reading. Well. That was a big mistake. There are some long books where you can't wait to figure out what happens next. 

And when you finish you are impressed with the storytelling skill or the author's technical skills or how deep the characterization was or how well the author knew his or her subject matter. You want to read the next book by the author. 
This wasn't that kind of book. Reading this 500 page book didn't evince any emotions in me other than increasing regret at wasting my time reading this tripe and a final snort of contempt when the author abruptly ended his story. 

He didn't even end it on a cliffhanger. It was as if he had reached the word count required by his editor or publisher and stopped writing right there. It's frustrating because I've read quality work by this author. I know he can do better than this. 
Although obviously many sci-fi/horror movies require some suspension of disbelief, this story stretched my tolerance for that to its breaking point.

In many alien invasion/end of world apocalypse stories the author shows readers how multiple people across the world, or at least across the US face the horror. Some of them do better than others. Obviously some don't survive. Often though, they all end up having a small piece of the solution, even if they don't know it. Maybe there's a scientist who has an idea but she can't find a functioning laboratory. 
Maybe that old doddering fellow in the corner just happens to be the deadliest gunman in the world. Maybe the racist will have to ask for help from one of THEM. Maybe the team badly needs a driver and the kid in the Tupac shirt can drive anything anywhere.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Warren Police Arrest Amazon Driver For Parking The Wrong Way

It's apparently not safe to be a Black Amazon driver when there are cops in the vicinity. 

On Tuesday Warren police arrested an Amazon delivery driver - and witnesses say it was for parking the wrong way on the street. Police say the incident is being reviewed, but Mayor Jim Fouts took to Facebook calling for one of his own officers to be fired and subject to a criminal investigation after an altercation with an Amazon driver. 

He quickly removed the post after talking with Police Commissioner Bill Dwyer. All the police commissioner would tell FOX 2 is that the matter is under investigation.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Police Brutality: Are There Any Solutions?

On May 25 George Floyd died in Minneapolis. Three police officers held down the handcuffed Black man while one police officer, Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes. Chauvin didn't care that Floyd said he couldn't breathe.

On  March 13, Breonna Taylor, a Black female Louisville EMT was murdered by police executing a no-knock warrant in her home. They claimed to be looking for someone who was already in police custody or for drugs. No drugs were found. And the post office said that no suspicious packages were delivered to Taylor's apartment.

According to her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, the police did not identify themselves as police officers, were in plainclothes and opened fire first. Walker shot back. Walker was arrested and charged with assault and attempted murder. 

The charges against Walker were  reluctantly dropped after Walker's 911 calls were released. The officers involved have not been arrested or charged. They had no body cameras. Strangely enough, none of the usual right wing "Stand your ground a (wo)man's home is her/his castle!" people have shown up so far to loudly praise Kenneth Walker and hold him up as an example of a lawful gun owner trying to defend his woman against government assault. Also oddly enough, none of the "Black men ain't s***" " feminists have applauded Kenneth Walker as a Black man who tried to protect Black women. I'm sure it's just an oversight by both groups. Yeah, that must be it.

Earlier this year in March (?) Sacramento Sheriff Deputies claimed that a Black man (not identified) had a warrant for his arrest. They surrounded him with weapons drawn. The man put his hands on his head. Apparently still hungry for violence the deputies launched a flying kick into the man's spine, grabbed him by the neck and wrestled him to the ground. As it turned out though, the man had no warrant for his arrest. He didn't have a criminal record. 

Movie Reviews: The Invisible Man (2020)

The Invisible Man
directed by Leigh Whannell

This movie is a retelling/reboot of the original old Hollywood movie based on the H.G. Wells sci-fi story of the same name. It takes place in modern times.
The biggest difference is that whereas the original movie and story were both parables about an arrogant male scientist fooling around with subjects better left to God and causing suffering to himself and others as a result, this story incarnation makes it clear that the arrogant scientist in question was already a bad man who enjoyed dominating people, especially women.

Invisibility didn't drive him insane or make him worse. It just gave him additional tools to use. This film is primarily an extended lecture on why and how domestic abuse, particularly gaslighting, is a bad thing.
I think that everyone should already know this. I don't mind message films but felt that this one, despite being entertaining, was a little heavy-handed and literal in its approach. The horror is not the invisibility but the fact that the man is controlling, bullying, condescending, dismissive, contemptuous and capable of violence when challenged.
I'm no physicist but if someone or something is invisible then that would seem to indicate to me that the spectrum of light which is visible to humans is either passing through the object completely or being bent around it. So to me that would mean that the person would be blind. Dunno. I will need to look more into it.
The movie opens with a mousy woman, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) escaping the home of her rich genius optics engineer boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). I say escape because Adrian is apparently not the sort of man who will take kindly to a Dear John email or meekly accept a "We need to talk" short unpleasant one way discussion.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Movie Reviews: Ready Or Not

Ready Or Not
directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
This horror/dark comedy movie has a lot in common with a movie previously reviewed here, You're NextBoth films invoke some pretty common horror motifs before simultaneously upending them or playing them for some twisted laughs. If you're not a horror film fan then this movie is simply not something that you should be watching. 

If you are among that group of people who enjoy watching such movies then this low budget but high quality film is definitely something that should be on your to watch list. As with You're Next, Ready or Not imagines that a young woman, Grace (Samara Weaving) of modest means has gone to her fiancee's old family home, actually a mansion. 

Yes I know there are some people who would never ever do such a thing. Grace and Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien) are to be married. They are in love you see. And Grace not only comes from modest means, she grew up in foster homes. Grace is eager to become the latest official Mrs. Le Domas and do the do. 

Grace also wants to get acquainted with all of Alex's oft eccentric relatives, many of whom don't exactly appear too welcoming to their formerly impoverished new in-law. But you don't grow up in foster homes without learning to quickly adapt to new situations and turn the other cheek to snarky comments or pointed snubs. The wedding completes without a hitch. Grace is heads over heels in love with Alex and can't wait to show him how much in a suitably private suite.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Amy Cooper Tries To Get Police To Brutalize Black Man

We have rules in society about wearing masks, bagging your garbage, littering, leashing dogs, jaywalking, picking up after your dog, etc. 

People sometimes remind each other about violating these rules, especially when said violations cause problems for the person who's not breaking the rules. 

In Central Park a Black man named Christian Cooper (a biomedical editor and former Marvel comics editor) was peacefully watching birds and minding his own business when he encountered a White woman named Amy Cooper (no relation) who was allowing her dog to roam around unleashed. 

Dogs are not allowed to be unleashed in this area of the park. Christian apparently reminded Amy of this rule and asked her to leash her dog.

Amy apparently could not believe that this uppity n***** had the audacity to ask her to do anything. Amy got in Christian's face. Amy told Christian that she was going to call the police on him and tell them that there was an "African-American man threatening her life". And she did just that. 

In short Amy was doing her absolute best to ensure that Christian was stopped, intimidated, insulted, harassed, arrested, assaulted or even killed by the police. She did that simply because she was angry at being asked to leash her dog. Amy was a good actress. She flipped a switch. If you heard her hysterics without watching the video you might well believe that she was being threatened, raped, or assaulted right that moment.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Movie Reviews: Gretel and Hansel

Gretel and Hansel
directed by Osgood Perkins
The thing about folk tales is that they always mutate in response to the fears and concerns of the people retelling them. The reader or viewer may feel different ways about this, depending on what their preferred version of the tale is. 

One person's reimagined tale or different emphasis on a story's theme is another person's politically driven social justice warrior sacrilege. It is what it is. 

I would guess that almost everyone knows the Grimm Fairy Tale, Hansel and Gretel, which is for most Westerners is very firmly rooted in medieval German stories and legends. The story may or may not have originated in Germany. 

The tale does touch on some darker concerns about parental abandonment, resulting homelessness, and what would today be recognized as child abusers/serial killers. Heavy stuff for kids. 

This story version, as you might guess from the reversed names, puts more emphasis on the female sibling. In this movie, Gretel is the elder sibling. The film attempts to tell a story about female empowerment and its costs in a cold cruel patriarchal world. I didn't like this theme, not just because I'm not a feminist, but because a cannibalistic witch is not exactly the best spokeswoman for "You go girl!" messages of independence and self-actualization. 

Movie Reviews: Cast A Deadly Spell

Cast A Deadly Spell
directed by Martin Campbell
Cast A Deadly Spell is an older HBO movie that I decided to rewatch. It is a rare example of a film that mixes two different genres and mostly gets things right. It's also interesting to see some people (Julianne Moore) just before they became superstars. Cast A Deadly Spell takes itself seriously but not too seriously. 

You can always see the tongue firmly planted in cheek. There is some humor but it's not usually slapstick. It's not everyone who can mix a hardboiled noir detective story with a bit of fantasy but Campbell did it here.  

This movie references the works of H.P. Lovecraft but not too much. Other than the name of the hero (slightly different than the author) and a few of the author's creations this story is not that much in Lovecraft's debt.

In 1948 Los Angeles, magic is real. Not only is magic real but almost everyone uses it for the most mundane tasks. All sorts of supernatural creatures exist and interact with humans, some more peacefully than others. Like the technology of our time that would be considered magic to a human living two thousand years ago, everyone in this world takes magic for granted. Someone who refuses to use magic is considered to be a Luddite. 

One man who refuses to use magic at all is private detective and former cop Harry Phillip Lovecraft (Fred Ward). As he explains to skeptics, his reasons for not using magic are personal and thus none of their ever loving business. Be that as it may, a detective who doesn't use magic in a world where everyone else does is at something of a competitive disadvantage. This means that Lovecraft's paying jobs are rare. 

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Rent is Due First of the Month!!

In a world where legislators and the Fed bend over backwards to leave no bank, large corporation, or wealthy person behind, lavishing government assistance and tax dollars on the Masters of the Universe, I can't really be that upset with less wealthy people seeking their cut of government largesse. 

There are some people who are just ideologically opposed to the concept of renting property, viewing all landlords as exploiters. 

I think that this pandemic may have given some such people more courage to advance their agenda than would normally be the case.

If someone can't pay their rent because of the Coronavirus pandemic, I think he should try to work out a plan with their landlord. And I think a rational reasonable landlord, particularly a landlord who doesn't want to take the time and expenses needed to find a quality tenant, should be willing to listen to all good faith concerns. 

One NYC landlord cancelled all April rent due for his tenants. I think that was a good deed. A cynic might retort that the man is apparently wealthy enough to be able to afford such kindness. Other landlords, who might only own a few properties or have smaller margins, aren't necessarily situated to miss too many rent payments before they start having financial problems of their own.

Movie Reviews: Bloodshot

Bloodshot
directed by David Wilson
This new film was unfortunately released right around the same time that Americans realized that the coronavirus pandemic made large gatherings in theaters a pretty bad idea. 

Some people might argue that global pandemic or not this film was a bad idea. I wouldn't go that far but it is a film which tells a story that you've seen before. 

Some creative people I respect claim that there are only a few meta-stories which are told over and over again in different ways by different people. Perhaps they are correct. I can't call it. This film is based on a comic book which I have not read. I need to check with my brother to see what he thought of the source material. 

The story was familiar. Bloodshot referenced films like Inception, The Matrix, The Punisher, Universal Soldier, Robocop, and Total Recall among others. I was surprised to see that Bloodshot was rated PG-13. 

Either the studio has pull with the ratings board or mores have really changed since I was young. This is a violent film. It has some blink and you'll miss it female toplessness. I would have rated it R. I wouldn't think this film appropriate for young teens to watch. Or to put it another way, I wouldn't watch this film with younger relatives.

Ok, my hang-ups aside what's it about? Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is a US Marine who has just completed a successful mission in Kenya. Ray's team has rescued a hostage and killed some bad guys. Mission accomplished, it's time for Ray to return to his base in Italy and take some well deserved personal time with his attractive wife Gina (Talulah Riley, the former Mrs. Elon Musk who also happens to have appeared in Inception

Stiller and Meara: Hate

The actor and comedian Jerry Stiller recently passed away. I was familiar with him from his work on Seinfeld, King of Queens and some cameos or roles in films featuring his son, Ben Stiller. But one of my aunts mentioned Jerry Stiller's comedic work with his wife Anne Meara. 

That was mostly before my time so I looked some of it up. I thought that this skit was pretty funny. It was interesting that fifty some odd years ago Stiller had perfected the choleric personality that he used to such impact in the works I saw.

Movie Reviews: Dracula (1979)

Dracula(1979)
directed by John Badham
I am fascinated by how different people can pull wildly varying interpretations from the same material.  

Despite what some originalists would tell you, complex source materials, whether 18th century constitutions or 19th century novels by Bram Stoker can often support very diverse readings. 

Stephen King was famously inspired to write his vampire novel Salem's Lot after teaching Dracula to high school students and wondering what it would be like if Dracula came to 20th century America. 

King's novel has themes of waste, loneliness and decline that certainly would have resonated with people in 1970s America dealing with oil crises, the Vietnam War aftermath and other system shocks. King expands greatly on the horror of the un-dead expressed so strongly in Stoker's novel. I appreciate and respond to that theme of vampire lore and novels.

But there are plenty of other themes. In Stoker's novel, Dracula lives with --well perhaps exists with is a better term-- at least three female vampires. By their descriptions, two may be his daughters. Or he may have a harem. He may have turned his family. Either way it's a perversion of normal family life that likely would have scandalized the Victorian audience who first read Stoker's work.

Day 50 of Quarantine

My major concern about stay at home orders, working from home and quarantines is that my employer's underlying business model lacks the capacity to deliver profits if the public remains at home. So it's just a matter of time before more pay cuts or layoffs occur. That's unfortunate if it happens to co-workers. It's a disaster if it happens to yours truly.

I'm not all that worried about the social isolation effects of working from home as I'm not outgoing anyway. But being related to or friendly with some people who do need social engagement the way I need air, I can sympathize with those who have discovered that their tolerance for strict stay at home orders has just about ended. It's also true that people will have to get rid of some "bad" habits if or when this pandemic ends.

    

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Lynching of Ahmaud Arbery

One attitude rooted in slavery is that any white person at any time can demand that any Black person explain his or her presence. 

Maybe the white person doesn't think the Black person should be in first class seating. Maybe the white person doesn't think that a Black person is an attorney. Maybe the white person is outraged that the Black person is in a given neighborhood. 

Back in February two Georgia white men saw a Black man named Ahmaud Arbery jogging through the neighborhood and decided that he must be a criminal. The men armed themselves, got into their pickup truck, chased Arbery down and tried to prevent him from leaving. When Arbery tried to defend himself, the white men shot him dead.

One of the men involved was a former police officer/investigator for the DA's office which evidently explains in part why the local prosecutors refused to issue arrest warrants or start the process for filing charges. 

In fact their official musings on the matter read more like defense counsel theories than prosecutor statements. The prosecutor even hypothesized that the Black man might have shot himself and said that Arbery was a "suspect". He used the term "probable cause" to defend the white men, though neither man is currently law enforcement.

Movie Reviews: Midnight Special

Midnight Special
directed by Jeff Nichols
For older people such as myself this 2016 movie may bring to mind the film Escape to Witch Mountain, the original that is, not the remake with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. 

Midnight Special also referenced films such as Superman and Firestarter

Most good parents will do anything for their children. Midnight Special has a theme of parental sacrifice. The film also raises the awesome power, both legal and logistical, of the Federal government. There are so many Federal laws on the books that a determined and motivated Federal prosecutor can often easily, if he or she so desires, transform a law abiding person into a hunted fugitive with one click on a keyboard.

And even in a continental sized nation, it's hard for anyone to disappear when the full machinery of the United States government is repurposed to searching for that person. At its core this is a chase film. The hook or problem with this is that both at the beginning and the end of the film the viewer may not be sure who's the hero.

Movie Reviews: Look Away

Look Away
directed by Assaf Bernstein
This 2018 movie is something that was another take on a very old idea-what if, tired of not getting what you want out of life, you could unleash all your darker instincts to attain all of your deepest desires? 

Would that be a good thing?  What if your deeper desires include things that actually disgust or horrify you? 

This goes back at least as far as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The viewer must decide whether this is a psychological thriller about a repressed id given free reign or about something supernatural unleashed from beyond the grave. Either way there are some very HEAVY Freudian/Elektra overtones, so if you don't care for or can't stand that sort of thing in your viewing entertainment then this film won't really do much for you. 

All the pervy psychological stuff aside, I thought that this movie was a little too heavy and dark. It moved slowly and ponderously because it had a lot of points to make. The director apparently doesn't believe in "show don't tell". Along with the moral darkness of much of the story the film itself is quite often physically murky. Maria Brennan (India Eisley) is an introverted shy "loser" high school student. Maria's on the verge of an eating disorder. 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Armed Citizens Escort Black Michigan Legislator to Work

One would imagine because of the ugly history and current situation of Black Americans: Slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, pogroms, constant police brutality and murder, genocidal hate groups, Confederate apologists, etc, that Black Americans would be the biggest and most vociferous proponents of the Second Amendment and armed self-defense that one might find in any nation in history. 

Well one would be wrong. Still, eventually, I suppose it finally might get thru to folks that when you're dealing with hateful irrational unstable armed people, it's in your best interest to be armed as well. 

You may recall that the recent anti-shutdown protests in Lansing, Michigan saw mostly white armed individuals enter the Capitol building, shrieking and yelling. Some had Nazi flags, Confederate Battle Flags and nooses. Despite all this, given that Michigan law allows open carry (and that the protesters were Caucasian), the Michigan State Police refused to take any aggressive action against the protesters. 

Somehow other various police forces haven't always shown such restraint when a Black person has attempted to exercise his or her right to open carry in Michigan but I digress. Anyhow, either to make a point or because she was honestly scared, Michigan Representative Sarah Anthony accepted escort by armed Black citizens. 

Coronavirus Impact

How long are you willing to stay at home and socially distance from other people? Currently we don't have a vaccine for the COVID-19 coronavirus. We may have a vaccine in a year or two. It could take longer. Much longer.

Or as with some viruses, we may never find a vaccine. COVID-19 could just be part of the new reality going forward from 2020.
Apparently we don't even have an agreed upon regimen for treatment. There are some factors which seem to make you more likely to contract or die from the virus but at the same time most people who get it survive it. Are you willing to take that risk and return to your normal daily procedures? I am working from home and have been doing so for about the past six weeks. 

I just learned that one of my co-workers has been out with COVID-19 for the past three weeks. He didn't have the same capacity to work from home that I have. He was often in the office. He almost died. So it's a good thing that I wasn't in the same places he was.

I won't want to return to the office until I have more confidence that co-workers are not sick and that the office is safe. I don't have that confidence now. But although I am fortunate enough to be able to perform my job from home, the ugly fact is that unless the general population can freely move around, my company can't sell its primary product to the public in the numbers needed to be profitable. 

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Movie Reviews: 1917

1917
directed by Sam Mendes
This was a slick glossy tale which in part was inspired by the experiences of the director's grandfather during WW1.

The most noticeable thing about this film was the cinematography and photography which appear to all have been taken in one or two continuous shots. This film won various awards at the Oscars, Golden Globes and British Film Awards.

Although this is a war film it's far closer in spirit and style to Dunkirk than to Saving Private Ryan. Depicted combat is very rare though the effects of the pointless violence are constantly around for all to see. There are long periods of silence or where only a few people are talking. As much of the film's events take place in no-man's land, this dampened sound makes sense though I have to say it felt unrealistic a few times. 

In part because of the sense of unreality I couldn't really empathize with the story's characters as easily as I might otherwise have. The characters and plot aren't all that important here. Names, background stories, motivations? Nah. You don't need to really concern yourself with any of those details. 

This is the director's film all the way from the amazing sight of lines of men jumping out of the trenches and running over the green fields through the beautiful, quiet, and yet ghastly riverbanks. The colors are lush and intriguing. Close to the end of WW1, the German and British armies are locked in a grindfest in northern France. 

Movie Reviews: Human Capital

Human Capital
directed by Marc Meyers
This is a remake of an Italian movie. I decided to watch this because of what looked like a frontline cast. That was a mistake. 

This movie had a decent plot, which seemed incredibly familiar to me for some reason. 

It touched a little bit on class differences and could have with some reworking gone down the same path as Parasite, Crash, or other movies that examined familial, class, racial, or social conflicts. Human Capital also made a nod to Rashomon, with several different narratives exploring the same events from different viewpoints or different times. 

But all the same, despite the cast, the writing and therefore the story drags. The writer(s) and director chose to spend a great deal of time of storylines and subplots that I thought were uninteresting and in some cases almost irrelevant. 

There's almost too much going on in this movie. When you have Liev Schreiber and Marisa Tomei as leads why not let them carry the story a little more? I thought there were missed opportunities galore in this film. Large portions of the film are dull. The first third of the movie showed promise but I just didn't feel the same about the rest of the movie. 


Friday, May 1, 2020

Joe Biden and Tara Reade: Double Standards

I don't know if presumptive 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate, former Vice-President Joe Biden sexually assaulted Tara Reade in 1993. People who dislike Biden will be likely to believe that he did it. 

Alleged sexual harassment or assault aside, Biden does inarguably have a very long and public history of putting his hands on women or girls to whom he is not married and with whom he presumably has not had consensual intimacy. Biden has behaved in a way that in today's corporate world could see a man of lesser status reprimanded or even terminated. Does the existence of smoke mean that there's fire?

Biden partisans or those who just want control of the Presidency will be less likely to believe that Biden sexually assaulted Tara Reade. They will scream about Republican dirty tricks, say that Trump's gotta go no matter what, claim that Reade is a (insert contemptuous word for woman of low morals), or simply say that the Biden they know would never have done anything like that.

For too many people across the political spectrum, due process, proof, and skeptical inquiry (especially) for sexual crimes have become concepts that are ONLY to be granted to people that agree with you or look like you. They are NEVER basic human rights guaranteed to people who differ from you politically or have the "wrong" set of chromosomes. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Movie Reviews: Gun Crazy

Gun Crazy
directed by Joseph E. Lewis

I've always liked older movies. Over the past few years I've been watching more noir films. This 1950 film, although it obviously was not explicit in terms of sex or violence, was nonetheless quite bold at how it used those two themes.
It was something which was Tarantino before its time. The script was written by blacklisted screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo.

Gun Crazy certainly had to have made an impression on Arthur Penn's later film Bonnie and Clyde, in terms of the beret wearing female lead, the innovative camera work and the automobile being used as metaphor for danger and freedom. There is a long unbroken shot from the rear of the automobile that is intoxicating. It puts the viewer in the criminals' POV.

Although as mentioned there's little here that would offend modern audiences in terms of sex/violence (people fall down wordlessly when they're shot, an attractive woman runs while wearing tight clothing) in some aspects this is an intensely sexy film. The leads had great chemistry together. People can express a tremendous amount of emotion with eyes and facial expressions.

Bart Tare (John Dall) is an aw shucks kind of guy who, despite being unwilling to harm any living creature, has since childhood been obsessed with firearms of all kinds. Not only is he a natural marksman, he also continually works to improve his skills. 

Donald Trump: Inject Disinfectant to Cure Coronavirus!!

In the movie Sin City, Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), the corrupt father of a pedophile rapist murderer, tells the wounded hero that the Senator could shoot the hero dead and walk away without any charges at all, because power is the ability to lie and make other people believe and repeat the lie.

I recall that way back in the day apparently insane and profoundly wicked cult nut job Reverend Jim Jones convinced, tricked or forced hundreds of previously rational but emotionally damaged people to drink poisoned Kool-Aid in Jonestown, Guyana. 

I was reminded of those people, fictional and real, because President Trump, who has also boasted of being able to shoot someone in public and walk away clean, recently asked his experts if it was the case, as he believed it might be, that the coronavirus could be treated or eliminated by the ingestion/injection of disinfectants.

“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?” Trump said. “Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So you’re going to have to use medical doctors with — but it sounds interesting to me.”LINK

Usually when someone says something so stupid and can't deny that he said it, he later says that he was joking. And there will be plenty of people happy to repeat that lie. 

But quizzed on his proposal Friday, Trump falsely claimed he was in fact “asking a question sarcastically to reporters” about the efficacy of disinfectants, “just to see what would happen.”


When Bears Attack

Not every bear is as cute and cuddly as Paddington or Winnie the Pooh. When you're in the wilds of Michigan and want to feed the birds, sometimes bears show up to eat the bird food, eat the birds, eat your pets or perhaps eat you. Of course Michigan women are not that bothered by such occurrences, apparently...
CRAWFORD COUNTY, Mich., (WPBN/WGTU) -- Face to face with a bear: it is not something many of us need to experience to understand just how terrifying that situation can be. However a Grayling woman who saved her dog from a bear on Saturday, April 18, 2020, said this wasn’t the first time she crossed paths with a bear, but she said this was different.
“This whole time I’m thinking 'this bear’s not right, this bear’s not right, but I have to save my dog,'” Heather Willobee, owner of 8-year-old Lucy, said.
For Heather, it began like any other night: letting her dog Lucy outside before calling it a night. But something was off when Heather called Lucy's name.“I could see her in the light and I knew she was coming but I also knew she wasn’t coming alone and that something big was right behind her,” Willobee said.