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

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)

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

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.