Saturday, November 28, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Color Out Of Space

The Color Out Of Space
directed by Richard Stanley

This sci-fi/horror movie is an adaptation of the 1927  H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name (color is spelled "colour").  It was one of Lovecraft's finest works. A Lovecraft weakness was to use florid, antediluvian adjectives to describe his settings while being paradoxically unable or unwilling to describe the monsters themselves. In the short story however, and fortunately enough in this film adaptation an alleged shortcoming was turned into a strength. 
The protagonists struggle to describe something that is beyond human experience and perception. That seems impossible. If something falls into our visible spectrum we can see and describe it. So in that aspect there is no such thing as a color we haven't seen before--a description used by many people in this story. 
But what if something has the ability to move in and out of the human visible spectrum or perhaps its very presence temporarily or permanently alters the human visible spectrum?
Would we lack the vocabulary to detail what we saw? Hmm. In this story Lovecraft anticipated radiation poisoning and described it quite vividly. Lovecraft may have been influenced by the Radium Girls scandal, which occurred during his lifetime. The film wisely uses part of a famous Lovecraft quote from the story which sets the stage for the spooky events. 
West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.

Movie Reviews: Underwater

Underwater
directed by William Eubank 
This 2020 sci-fi thriller movie is stylish and has a reasonably well known cast. It looks good visually and even has a direct shoutout to one of my favorite and most problematic authors, that crazy old racist from Providence, H.P. Lovecraft. So what what wasn't to like? 
Well there were two things that really took me out of the immersive you are there aspects of any good movie, though I'm pretty sure that Lovecraft would have strongly approved of one of them. The first thing and most noticeable is that the sole named Black male character dies first. You barely even get to know his name before he bites the dust. And he does so in a way that's supposed to bring home the dangers of this disaster. 
That was utterly unnecessary since we have already seen various corpses and the presumed offscreen deaths of other characters. The Black guy is also, if not quite incompetent to the level of Gone With The Wind's  "I don't know nothing about birthing no babies Miz Scarlet!" Prissy, certainly less able than just about any of the other characters, especially the female ones. You wonder how he got his job as he seems to know less about his area of expertise than other people who are not even in his job family.
The author Steven Barnes has written more extensively on what this constant cinematic Black death means here. I just find it fascinating that in 2020 the underlying psychological issues that make "Black guy dies first" a common film trope are still ongoing. The fact that the Black guy deliberately sacrificed himself to save a white person that he didn't even know was silly. 

Human Steak??!!

Want to get your Jeffrey Dahmer on but are turned off by the work needed, the resulting mess, and those pesky police officers bothering you about missing vagrants? Don't worry. New advances in science have got you covered. Now you too can eat liver and fava beans with a nice Chianti without any pain in the a$$ detectives demanding DNA samples from you, arresting you at your job, or have your false friends start calling you truly hurtful nasty names like cannibal and savage.

Advancements in science and technology have done great things for the world, but as the world continues to change, some things are better left untouched. A “DIY meal kit” for growing steak made from human cells was recently nominated for the “design of the year” by the London-based Design Museum, and while it could dramatically change how food is made, the makers are now assuring people eating their food is not “technically” cannibalism. 

Police: Shut Up And Submit!!!

It's a source of cynical amusement, frustration, and anger to me how some Americans think that THOSE people should always immediately and cravenly submit to any and all police demands no matter how unreasonable, humiliating, unconstitutional, or criminal while reserving for themselves the right to question, debate, defy, reject or resist police orders, whether legal or not. I am not overly fond of the police but it remains prudent advice that unless you are ready, willing and able to take things to that other level with the police and ultimately the state, you won't win most physical confrontations with police officers. 

Most people are quick to point that out when police employ violence against Black men or women. Police bootlickers smugly point out that if the Black person had just slavishly complied from the beginning they wouldn't have been shot, tased, assaulted, pepper-sprayed, beaten senseless, or curb stomped. Somehow though this critical insight seems to leave them when they are the ones being bullied or harassed by police officers on a power trip.

A Staten Island man says he’s proud of his family’s support for the NYPD — but that all changed after a rowdy caught-on-camera clash with cops outside his family’s bagel shop. Both Awadeh Nemer, 30, and police agree the Nov. 5 melee erupted about 12:30 a.m. outside Diddle Dee Bagels on Richmond Road in Dongan Hills after two officers on traffic enforcement asked to see Nemer’s ID. He refused, and was arrested. Who was being disorderly is where they disagree. 

Movie Reviews: Unhinged

Unhinged
directed by Derrick Borte
I know some people who have the patience of saints. These people never get upset while they are driving. They constantly defer to other drivers, never flip anyone off, and calmly brush off angry grimaces or foul hand signals that they may see from other people on the road. I envy those folks. I am not one of those people though I have become calmer as I have aged. Previously though, if you were doing something stupid that was hindering me, I was going to let you know about it. With age comes wisdom though. 
You never know what the other people on the road are going through to make them behave as they do. You also never know what acts they may be capable of committing. Their state of anger may be far more dangerous than your state of anger. It's worthwhile considering that before you get into a back and forth with someone on the road. Being inside a vehicle, particularly a large one, can give a driver an unwarranted sense of safety and sometimes aggression. 
This is a lesson which Unhinged is determined to share with its viewers. Sometimes chance can combine with bad decisions to just ruin your day. We all have bad days. Some people are salivating at the opportunity to share their pain with others. Rachel (Caren Pistorius) is a struggling hairdresser(?).  Separated, Rachel is going thru a divorce which is on the verge of turning nasty.  Rachel is letting her somewhat fey and definitely lazy brother Fred (Austin McKenzie) and his girlfriend (Juliene Joyner) live with her rent free until Fred finds a job, something Fred doesn't seem to be too interested in doing. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Book Reviews: Cold Storage

Cold Storage
by David Koepp

This story is just under 400 pages. It's by the screenwriter and director David Koepp, among other things the screenwriter for Jurassic Park, whose work was previously reviewed here and here. Cold Storage is your typical end of the world terror thriller. It imagines that after the Skylab crash in 1979 something else came back from outer space, something that views other living beings in the same way that we would view cattle. I like these sorts of stories in general so I was positively disposed toward the story. It uses just enough science to be believable to those of us who are not biologists, physicists, medical doctors, or otherwise well trained in scientific discipline. I guess if you are interested in this sort of prose the book might be right up your alley:
"We sent up a hyperaggressive extremophile that is resistant to extreme heat and the vacuum of space, but sensitive to cold. The environment sent the organism into a dormant state, but it remained hyper-receptive. At that point, it must have picked up a hitchhiker. Maybe it was exposed to solar radiation. Maybe a spore penetrated the microfissures in the tank on re-entry. Either way, when the fungus returned to Earth, it was reawakened and found itself in a hot, safe, protein-rich, pro-growth environment. And something caused its higher level genetic structure to change."
In 1987 Roberto Diaz, a Pentagon bioterror expert, is called upon to investigate some unsettling issues in Western Australia. One co-worker dies and Diaz barely escapes with his life. A fungus that normally just attacks insects and grows slowly now has a taste for warm blooded creatures, can grow exponentially, and most ominously seems to have the ability to learn and evolve at record, maybe even exponential speeds. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Trump Lost: Now What?

Joe Biden won the 2020 United States Presidential Election. There's no question about that. There is only a question by how much of a win Biden will have when all of the certifications are complete. At this point in time it looks as if Biden will beat Trump in the Electoral College by 306-232. 

The solid South cracked, with Biden winning Georgia. Biden restored the Great Lakes Blue Wall, winning Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota and throwing in Pennsylvania for good measure. More ominously from a Republican point of view, Arizona and Nevada also went for Biden. This may have been in part because of former Californians moving to those states and voting for Biden. 

In a normal time the current President would acknowledge that he lost and, even if through gritted teeth, congratulate the President-Elect and urge the various executive branch appointees and career bureaucrats to work with the incoming Administration point persons to ensure a smooth transition.

Trump of course has done nothing of the sort. What he has done is file a cavalcade of lawsuits, most of which have gone nowhere. Trump voters and sycophants are taking their cues from him. 

The far right had a dream: That one day, people who had been exiled to the unacceptable margins of American political life could play the role of Donald Trump's brownshirts.

Book Reviews: A Dark History: The Kings and Queens of England

A Dark History: The Kings and Queens of England
by Brenda Ralph Lewis
This coffee table styled hardcover book details the histories of the English Royal Family, or rather the English Royal Families, from the 1066 Norman invasion to the present day. Human nature hasn't changed. It will be obvious upon reading this, not that he's ever denied it, just how much this history influenced the writer George R.R. Martin, as well as many other speculative fiction or historical fiction authors. 
Although we consider kinslaying as morally disgusting, when people are vying for power they often reject any standards. If your second cousin once removed gathers an army to support her claim that she's the rightful ruler, a recurring issue in England, you might find yourself doing shifty things. 
Some Kings and Queens refused to carry out the ultimate sanction against wayward relatives, often forgiving them, fining them, exiling them, or even imprisoning them instead. Other rulers, though, had no qualms about chopping heads at the first sign of problems, blood relative or not.
King Henry I, who was present at the "accidental" death of his older brother Rufus, cultivated a reputation as a hard unforgiving man. However, he liked his treasurer Herbert. So when the king discovered that Herbert had been involved in a plot against him, the King cancelled the normal punishment for treason: hanging, drawing, and quartering. In what the King considered to be an act of mercy, he instead ordered that Herbert be blinded and castrated. 
Nice guy, King Henry.