Sunday, November 28, 2021

U-M Beats The Stuffing Out Of Ohio State

After what felt like forty years of wandering in the wilderness, bereft of friends and abandoned by God, the University of Michigan Wolverines finally beat that team down south, the Ohio State Buckeyes,42-27. 
And to be honest, the score wasn't even that close. 
Near the end, in utter desperation, the Buckeyes chose to let the Wolverines score, hoping to get the ball back so that they could do what exactly? Lose by two touchdowns instead of one? 
The Wolverines beat up the Buckeyes from the beginning of the game through the joyous ending. It was unending punches in the mouth, kicks in the teeth, and elbows to the groin. 
Ohio State obviously wasn't ready for U-M's intensity.
Given that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was 0-5 against Ohio State, while Michigan hadn't beaten Ohio State in ten years, this storied rivalry had become a ritualized annual slaughter.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Holcroft Covenant

The Holcroft Covenant
directed by John Frankenheimer
The late John Frankenheimer made some gripping action, suspense and political thriller movies including but not limited to Ronin, The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, 52 Pick-Up, Black Sunday, and Seconds
However no one bats a thousand. The Holcroft Covenant should have been a better film, based as it was on the novel of the same name by Robert Ludlum (who also wrote the The Bourne Triology), whose political intrigue story creations would seem to be a perfect fit for a director such as Frankenheimer. I think one of my parents had this Ludlum novel way back in the day. 
Watching the movie I had a strong sense of deja vu so I purchased the novel to read (again?). This wasn't a great movie but it had its moments. I think the casting was off. Bad casting impacts everything. 
I enjoy watching Michael Caine in almost everything he does. But if there's one thing that makes Caine distinctive as an actor it's his very strong Cockney accent which firmly marks Caine's place and age. A movie that has Caine portraying an American, as this one does, is going to have to work REALLY hard to get me to suspend disbelief. 

Movie Reviews: Motel Hell

Motel Hell
directed by Kevin Connor    
This is another relatively low budget 80s horror movie that has become a cult movie in the years since its release. 
Motel Hell is obviously inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, though it is not as over the top bloody and gory as some installments in that franchise. 
Motel Hell stars a serious actor, Rory Calhoun, from the classic Hollywood era who had been in various Westerns and romantic comedies with people like Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. Although Calhoun is likely less remembered today, two decades past his demise, he may have well have had enough residual fame at the time of this film's 1980 release to give this film some gravitas that it probably didn't deserve. 
Although it seems that Calhoun is having a good time, I wouldn't say he's mugging for the camera or chewing up the scenery. He plays his role straight. 
Some might view this film as a satire or parody of the better known slasher film it references. I don't think it is. At least I don't think it's doing that deliberately. There are some moments of bleak humor and a few self-referential genre jokes. 

Democrats Fueling Inequality

If you listen to the partisans at MSNBC everything that's awful is the Republicans' fault. 
The voters need to give Senate Democrats a filibuster proof majority along with similar margins in the House. 
We should expand the Supreme Court to cement a liberal Democratic court for the next fifty years. 
For good measure we must make Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico states. 
And lastly we've got to eliminate the Electoral College and combine the Dakotas, Wyoming, Idaho, Nebraska, Kansas, and Montana into just one state. Those goobers don't deserve fourteen senators! 
And with all of the i's dotted, t's crossed, and Republicans thus completely locked out of the national government for the foreseeable future, it would be a time of jubilation as all of the wonderful policy preferences of the Democratic Party would come to fruition. And we'd all live happily ever after. 
Some people actually believe that. Fair enough. But the facts show that when Democrats have the power to put into practice their preferred policies, they often pass on doing so. 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Rittenhouse Found Not Guilty

I don't have much to write about the Rittenhouse not guilty verdict. I'm disgusted but not surprised. It was apparent from the beginning of the trial and its development that the judge was going out of his way to put not only his thumb on the scale for Rittenhouse but both feet as well. 
I can not imagine a situation in which an underage Black boy goes to a different state, brandishes a gun which he has no legal right to use, gets into confrontations, shoots multiple people and is acquitted of all charges by way of self-defense. 
And to put the cherry on top of the sh*t sundae, the judge throws out the gun possession charge, claiming that the law is too vague. Legally this is the equivalent of the proverbial Black gangster in Chicago shooting other Black gangsters, using illegal guns to do so, and successfully claiming self-defense. That's just not going to happen too frequently.
The people on the more progressive side of the political spectrum will need to collectively get used to using guns, keeping guns, and bearing guns. The right and their enablers in the justice system feel that they are the only armed people. The justice system is not going to prevent them from shooting you or punish them when they do. Right-wing vigilantes will be encouraged by this verdict.
Like it or not, as a country and culture we are moving past the "Can't we put down the guns and talk?" phase of our political life. This is not that different from the Greensboro Massacre which occurred all those years ago. If someone of ill intent thinks you're weaker than they are, there will be problems.

House Censures Arizona Republican Gosar For Violent Video

I would like to think that I am a valued member of the organization at which I am currently employed. Maybe, maybe not. 
Different executives probably have had different takes on that question. 
But regardless of my actual or perceived worth to my employer I am certain that if I were posting videos depicting my assault or murder of my co-workers and/or people higher up than me in the company hierarchy, I would immediately be looking for new employment. Having a reprimand placed in my HR file wouldn't suffice as a punishment for such actions. 
The modern Republican Party doesn't understand or care about such things. For them "joking" about assaulting or murdering political opponents is a normal function of being in government--at least as long as they are the ones making such "jokes" or comments. 

WASHINGTON — A bitterly divided U.S. House of Representatives voted narrowly on Wednesday to censure Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, for posting an animated video that depicted him killing a Democratic congresswoman and assaulting President Biden. 
The formal rebuke of the far-right congressman who has allied himself with white nationalists — the first censure since 2010 and only the 24th in the history of the republic — also stripped him of his committee assignments.

Dumb Michigan Woman Hires Hitman

"Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe."
-Frank Zappa

After reading the following recent local story I recalled the above quote by the late musician Frank Zappa. 
A woman who was apparently not over a bad breakup of some kind decided that the world would be a better place without her former husband. 
And so, like every vengeful yet rational spouse who has reached that conclusion she decided to go online and rent a hitman. Yes indeed. As you might imagine subsequent events didn't pan out in the woman's favor.
A Michigan woman could spend up to nine years in prison for trying to get her ex-husband killed. Wendy Lynn Wein, 52, of South Rockford, used a fake website called "Rent-A-Hitman" to try to solicit the murder of her former husband on July 17, 2020. 
She used a pseudonym but entered her real information at the end of her "service request." However, the "Rent-A-Hitman" domain was created as a cyber-security test site.

Michigan Deer Claims Sanctuary At Church

Sanctuary!!! Sanctuary!!
Back in the day in Medieval Europe, churches would provide sanctuary to criminals, people seeking asylum, or political enemies of the ruling class. Theoretically the state was supposed to recognize this and not profane God's holy ground by shedding blood. Of course there were many kings, queens, and other nobles who didn't care one bit about this protection, just ask Thomas Becket. Still, for at least some people, sanctuary could be a very real thing. So I suppose, as deer hunting season began in Michigan, a buck decided to see if the old sanctuary protections still applied. 

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Movie Reviews: Kill Me Again

Kill Me Again
directed by John Dahl
In the late eighties early nineties there was a brief revival of noir movies. Some of these films were just unapologetic vehicles for bosomy actresses such as Shannon Whirry or Shannon Tweed to strut their stuff. Nothing wrong with that. 
Other neo-noir films had more serious artistic intentions though they still usually had a sexy femme fatale. It's unusual, though certainly not impossible, for a good film noir to get by without a femme fatale. 
Films of that era like Blood Simple, One False Move, Devil In A Blue Dress, and Dahl's later film Red Rock West among others, all updated the noir style for the modern era while still honoring tradition.
Kill Me Again is a 1989 neo-noir film that falls somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as quality and pacing. The acting was adequate but I felt that something was occasionally a little off. 
I didn't completely disappear into the film the way that I will for a truly great movie. 
This was a movie that could have used an extra ten or fifteen minutes running time in order to flesh out its characters, both lead and supporting, a little more. 

Is Vice-President Kamala Harris Irrelevant?

Being the Vice-President can be a thankless job. Other than being a "break in the case of emergency" Presidential replacement and voting to break ties in the Senate the Vice-President doesn't have much power in our political system. 
The influence and power of the Vice-President is entirely up to the President. Some Vice-Presidents, most notably Dick Cheney in recent years, have convinced Presidents to give them their own power center and set of responsibilities, or have been tacitly or openly acknowledged to be key Presidential advisers. Some Vice-Presidents influence access to the President. 
But most Vice-Presidents spend their time  duly repeating whatever talking points the Administration wants emphasized, attending funerals, and avoiding contradicting the President or otherwise embarrassing the Administration. Stand behind the President, look supportive and clap when  it's time to do so.  It's a pretty low bar to reach.
So if you happen to be a Kamala Harris supporter, it's probably a bit of a downer to see that Vice-President Harris is apparently having a bit of trouble reaching that minimal "meets expectations" B minus job evaluation. 
Harris' portfolio was supposed to be immigration and voting rights. Nothing substantively progressive has occurred on either of those fronts. 

Bannon Indicted

As it turns out you can not be federally indicted for being a fat lying SOB in need of a shave. But you can be federally indicted for contempt of Congress. 
Ignoring Congressional subpoenas just because you feel like doing so is not actually something that you can legally do. 
This is something that apparently came as a surprise to Trump supporter Steve Bannon. Live and learn I guess.
WASHINGTON — Stephen K. Bannon, a onetime senior aide to former President Donald J. Trump, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Friday on two counts of contempt of Congress, after his refusal to provide information to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Mr. Bannon, 67, had declined last month to comply with subpoenas from the committee seeking testimony and documents from him. The House then voted to hold Mr. Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress.
After holding Mr. Bannon in contempt, the House referred the matter to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington for a decision on whether to prosecute him.
I think that it's important for any institution or individual to be able to back up what they say. Indicting someone who obstructs a Congressional investigation is an important step in doing that. It's also a very small step in bringing some accountability to those who planned the attempted January 6 coup.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Beverly Hills Police Harass Black People

I have never been to prison. My understanding is that some (many?) of the nation's worst large state men's prison systems are or were until very recently informally racially segregated. 
Each large racial group has or had its own showers, recreation and exercise areas, phone banks, cafeteria sections, bathrooms, television rooms, and so on.
A man of one racial group couldn't just walk thru a different group's area without escort and permission because otherwise he might then be assaulted and set off racial brawls or riots. 
Personal interactions between different races are discouraged and/or kept to strictly business. Violations could be punished with stabbings, beatings, or other unpleasantries. There is or was a strong feeling of "This is ours, that is yours. Stay out of ours!" I don't know if my local penal system has this practice and have no intention upon ever finding out. But there is some grim brutal honesty to this system. Everyone knows just where he stands. That's prison law.
But that's not supposed to be the law outside of prison. Legally speaking there aren't supposed to be "White" areas in which Blacks can't visit for pain of official harassment or worse. But we know that there are. 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Movie Reviews: Phone Booth

Phone Booth
directed by Joel Schumacher
This is another older film that is as much a noirish morality play as action/thriller movie. Like some aspects of the biblical Satan, the film's bad guy is an accuser, a prosecutor. 
He's someone who will reveal your sins, venial or otherwise, and make you confront them, pay for them, and maybe transcend them. He might be helping you (painfully) to reach a more enlightened stage of life.
Or he could just be a sicko who enjoys humiliation, violence, and pain. So YMMV on that. The story mostly takes place in or around the titular phone booth but I didn't find this claustrophobic or boring. The late director kept things moving.
Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell, whose native Irish accent occasionally pokes through an attempt at Bronxese) is a publicist who likes to think that he's going big places. 
Stu spends more time keeping up appearances than he does providing value to his C-list clients. But if his clients don't figure this out before the check clears, then Stu is happy to take their money.

Right Winger Advocates Violence: When Do We Get To Use The Guns

As you may have noticed much of the Republican Party has accepted the big lie that a cabal of Democrats stole the 2020 Presidential election from Trump. 
As a result many conservatives and Republicans are doing everything they can do to discourage or prevent THEM from voting. 
But of course when you believe that your political opponents are thoroughly illegitimate and even EVIL or blasphemous, as more and more Republicans do, you have no interest in trying to change their minds, reason with them, or accept that this time they simply outworked you or had a more appealing message to the voters. 
No. You want to fight them and kill them.
This was recently made apparent at a Turning Point USA event where a Big Lie True Believer asked racist  (ahem) "conservative" activist Charlie Kirk "When do we get to kill our political opponents?". To be fair Kirk distanced himself from that sentiment. His distancing was more from a realization that saying the quiet part out loud was a bad look than it was from any sort of moral revulsion at murdering your political opponents.

Movie Reviews: Changing Lanes

Changing Lanes
directed by Roger Michell
This smartly written older film had two leads, Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck who each turned in powerful performances. 
Changing Lanes initially masquerades as a road rage movie. It's really a morality play that examines the choices we make and how those decisions impact us all.
Changing Lanes is not explicitly a Christian movie but I think that it takes the best of Christian precepts, or moral precepts that anyone can accept, and applies those to everyday life. As the title suggests we can all change our path. 
If you are only familiar with Samuel L. Jackson from his more bombastic roles this film could remind you of what a versatile actor he is. 
This movie makes you think. I appreciated that the film showed how swiftly even the best of men or women--which the characters are not--could be pushed to a moral precipice. It's what happens next that defines the kind of person we are and/or want to be. 
Henry David Thoreau famously wrote that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation". That is certainly the case with the two lead characters though they differ in age, race, and economic status. It's a busy day in NYC. Two men need to get to the courthouse for very different reasons. Unfortunately they get into a car accident.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Book Reviews: The Hungry Earth

The Hungry Earth
by Nicholas Kaufmann
The Hungry Earth
is a new thriller/body horror novel written by Nicholas Kaufmann whose work was previously reviewed here and here. As I get older I wonder if some of the fascination I or other readers feel with body horror novels isn't at least in some part driven by fear of aging and the inevitable body changes that occur. 
The driving force in most body horror stories is that the human has been infected by or taken over by something that sees humans as merely a vessel for propagation.  
And there's not a damn thing the human can do about it. Humans have a number of other living creatures in us or on us using us for food or to obtain food. Some of these parasites are beneficial to us. These include our mitochondria. Others are neutral like the mites that live in our pores, eat our dead skin and oil secretions, and have massive orgies on our faces while we sleep. 
Other organisms are negative or downright malignant, like tapeworms, roundworms, candidiasis, guinea worms, bedbugs, plasmodium, and several other entities. 
What is scary about these creatures is that they seek to rewire and rework our bodies for their benefit, not ours. They can also substitute their desire and "intellect" for our own. This last is most often seen in species besides humans but there's no real reason a human couldn't react just like an infected mouse or ant and seek to spread the parasitical infection at the cost of his own wellbeing or life.

Movie Reviews: From Beyond

From Beyond
directed by Stuart Gordon 
This 80s low budget horror film was done by the same director who did Re-Animator and stars two of the same actors from that film, Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs. Although it's not as darkly comic it still has much of the same feel as Re-Animator
From Beyond, like Re-Animator, is based on a H.P. Lovecraft story of the same title. And like the film version of Re-Animator it increases the role of the female characters and greatly ups the sex appeal. This wasn't hard to do at all as IIRC H.P. Lovecraft didn't include any female characters in either of those stories; he almost never wrote female characters. Given that Lovecraft claimed indifference to sex perhaps that's not too surprising. 
Lovecraft was also at best indifferent to anything and anyone that wasn't him so it would have been a stretch beyond his capacities to write from another's pov. Like Hitchcock's Psycho, From Beyond definitely makes you think you saw more than you did. 
Unlike that movie though it is occasionally pretty explicit. So YMMV on that. Similar to Clive Barker's Hellraiser films there's a hint of kink that suffuses this entire movie. Another theme that Lovecraft liked to play with was that what we saw as magic was often in fact advanced science or technology that we lacked the ability to use or comprehend. This is not as offbase as you might think. 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Music Reviews: Tarheel Slim -"I've Got You Covered/Wildcat Tamer"

Since the pandemic begun I've been listening to more old school original rock-n-roll, primarily though not exclusively created by Black people. There are many different iterations of this music. 
As mentioned before on this blog during the time much of this music was created and performed, the music definitions of today had not been created. 
A person might record a slow blues for one market, an uptempo rocker for a different market, a lugubrious plodding gospel tune for the church crowd, a jazzy piece showing off to fellow musicians, or a horn heavy churner for people who just wanted to dance.
So you can call this music rock-n-roll, jump blues, rockabilly, whatever. I just like it. I like to think myself well versed in this stuff but I have been surprised and humbled and even a little angered to discover just how much of this music I hadn't heard before.
One musician I discovered was Tarheel Slim, or as his birth certificate read, Allen Bunn. As his nickname indicates, Bunn hailed from the great state of North Carolina. 
Born in 1932 the baritone singer and guitarist had hits in various genres, including gospel, pop, doo-wop, blues, rock-n-roll, jump blues, rockabilly, and soul. There are two songs of his which stood out to me on the collections I purchased.

Michigan Deer Attack

If you happen to be in Northern Michigan minding your own business keep a watch out for an aggressive deer which apparently doesn't like humans and has no problem demonstrating its disdain.
ARENAC COUNTY, MI — Showing no fear of humans and with a distinctive item around its neck, an antlered deer attacked a woman on her Arenac County property. 
While the woman survived the bizarre attack despite numerous puncture wounds, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is reminding residents that wildlife should indeed stay wild. 
On Sept. 26, DNR officers responded to a residence in the Au Gres area for a report of an antlered white-tailed deer having attacked a woman, according to Lt. Brandon Kieft, DNR district law supervisor.
The woman in question, 64-year-old Patty Jean Willis, had been getting ready for church when she let her dogs outside and heard them making a ruckus, she said. Looking into her backyard, she saw a deer standing there. Adding to the oddity was that the deer wore an orange collar around its neck. Willis’ son and husband went outside and the deer wandered off, she said. About 10 to 15 minutes later, she went outside to tend to her chicken coop before heading to church.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Woman On The Beach

The Woman On The Beach
directed by Jean Renoir
This is a relatively short film noir although it feels a little longer than its seventy odd minutes. It lacks most of the violence associated with the genre. 
It's a quiet film that is nevertheless unsettling and occasionally even weird. I suppose you could say that most of the missing physical violence is replaced by emotional pain. The story is just as foggy as the cinematography. This movie is all about mood. 
I didn't think there was quite enough action to move the story forward. But on the other hand The Woman On The Beach is a decent look at how people's internal struggles, desires, and goals play out in their relationships and their larger lives.
Scott (Robert Ryan) is a taciturn war veteran and current Coast Guard officer. Although people didn't use the exact term at the time that this film was made, Scott suffers from PTSD. During the war a ship that Scott was on was torpedoed and sunk. Scott nearly drowned. He now has recurring nightmares and even waking dreams about drowning and being pulled down to the bottom of the ocean. 
There's always a strange blonde woman in these dreams but Scott can't tell if she's luring him into danger or trying to save him. Perhaps not so coincidentally Scott's girlfriend and supposed fiancee Eve (Nan Leslie) is blonde and looks like the woman in his dreams. Usually that would be a good thing, right. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

Harassing Senator Sinema in the Bathroom

With many people today it seems that the point is less to convince political opponents of the rightness of your beliefs than to bully them into being quiet about their opposition or failing that, to humiliate them and make them pay a personal cost for daring to oppose you. 
Because Arizona Democratic Senator Krysten Sinema has so far refused to support a proposed $3.5 trillion bill that would greatly increase the social safety net and possibly provide citizenship to illegal immigrants, many Democrats in and out of the media have called her all sorts of nasty names. 
That's all par for the course. Politics is not a place for shrinking violets. 
What's not normal is the idea, too often accepted by many people at various points along the political spectrum, is that their opponents are not only mistaken but bad corrupt people who don't deserve to be heard, don't deserve to be engaged with, and certainly don't deserve anything so basic as to be able to use the restroom with some form of privacy. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Movie Reviews: Bodyguard (1948)

directed by Richard Fleischer
This 1948 film was helmed by Richard Fleischer who also directed the somewhat lighter in tone The Clay Pigeon. Bodyguard is not the darkest noir either though it occasionally flirts with some heavier takes in terms of story and theme.
It might be of some interest to younger viewers because it stars famed Hollywood knucklehead Lawrence Tierney in the lead role. Tierney was never a superstar but made his name playing many tough mean guys, regardless of which side of the law his character could be found. 
This was a bit of art imitating life as the hulking alcoholic Tierney had numerous brushes with the law and violence, some minor, others less so.
His record included everything from assault on police officers, to drunken bar brawls with stabbings, fights with fellow actors, numerous stints in jail, and suspicious timing when a woman he was visiting supposedly jumped out of her apartment building to her death. 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Book Reviews: Ride or Die

Ride or Die
by James Newman
Do you remember where you were, what you were doing, or your age when you first realized that your parents weren't perfect? Perhaps one day you discovered that your parents' marriage wasn't everything you thought that it was. 
Maybe you saw or heard one or both of your parents do or say something that was just as wrong as two left shoes. Well by the time you're an adult these sorts of revelations are probably old news. 
Once you've been spinning around the planet for more than a few decades you have probably accepted, ruefully or otherwise, that most humans are mixtures of good and evil, and generally somewhere between saints and sinners. After all as an experienced adult you've likely made your own share of mistakes or morally dubious decisions. 
And if you're a Christian are you not commanded to judge not lest you be judged and to worry first about the beam in your own eye before criticizing the speck of dust in someone else's? Indeed so.
But children don't have the years of experience or wider perspective needed to be sanguine about the moral failings of others, especially not those of their parents. Children tend not to do nuance all that well. Amelia Fletcher is a high school sophomore. Amelia's father is an insurance executive; her mother is a nurse.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

California Recall: It Must Be The Fault of Black Men

As you may have heard the petition to recall Democratic California governor Gavin Newsom and replace him with noted nutjob Republican Larry Elder failed spectacularly. 
About 64% of the electorate voted "no" on the recall. 36% voted "yes". 
As California is a heavily Democratic state while Elder is an odious person, even for a Black Republican, the results aren't that surprising. 
What is also unsurprising is that the New York Times found a way to take shots at Black men voters. You see, per CNN exit polls, 89% of Black women voters voted "no" on the recall. 
This was the group with the highest "no" voting proportion. But according to NYT columnist Charles Blow, there is something wrong with Black men because:
But there is a worrisome detail in the data, one that keeps showing up, one that Democrats would do well to deal with: Black and Latino men are not hewing as close to the party line as Black and Latina women.
In CNN’s exit poll, nearly half of the Hispanic men surveyed and nearly a quarter of the Black men voted to support the recall. The largest difference between men and women of any racial group was between Black men and Black women.

Movie Reviews: The Clay Pigeon

The Clay Pigeon
directed by Richard Fleischer
This is a film noir but very much at the lighter end of that cinematic spectrum. 
With a running time of just over an hour it's really very short and doesn't spend much time on character development or in invoking any sense of dread, existential or otherwise. 
There's actually a fair bit of comedy, some of it unintentional. The film actually tries to make us believe that a Japanese World War Two war criminal would attempt to hide out in a Chinese American residential area and NOT be detected by any of the people living therein. 
This makes about as much sense as thinking that a German Nazi war criminal would CHOOSE to live in a Russian-Jewish American neighborhood and move around with no problems. 
Perhaps to clueless outsiders every East Asian looks the same or every European looks the same but people within those groups and the hundreds of smaller groups that comprise them have no problems distinguishing among each other. They've been doing just that for hundreds or even thousands of years!

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Movie Reviews: Outside The Wire

Outside The Wire
directed by Mikael Hafstrom
This sci-fi action film was a mishmash of Training Day and Chappie. It was entertaining but it lacked a really compelling Big Bad. 
It was at its core a war movie so I don't think it needed an interesting female role but there were nonetheless a few times when such might have been useful.
I am weary of Hollywood insisting on casting British actors into just about every conceivable role. 
It can take me out of the film to want to believe that someone is American or Ukrainian and hear them speaking in a pronounced British accent. Seems like casting directors and producers should start being open to more talent outside of Great Britain. 
Outside the Wire plays a little at the beginning and a lot later on with some heavy questions around wartime utilitarian ethics and the morality of following orders vs. making your own decisions.
Most of the war action felt much more Marvel like than Saving Private Ryan. I felt like I was watching special effects. That made some sense within the storyline for reasons that will become obvious should you watch the film.

Great Blue Heron Has A Tasty Snack!

And now Mr. Rat, your trip on this planet has come to an end!

Movie Reviews: What Lies Below

What Lies Below
directed by Braden Duemmler

Investigation Discovery meets The Shadow Over Innsmouth
You might not imagine that a movie that draws equally from Freduian stepfather ickniness and Lovecraftian ichthyoid creepiness would have much new to offer in terms of chills and thrills. 
And unfortunately, in this case you'd be correct. 
Other than reversing the viewer's gaze so that the fit masculine form is on display at least as much as the curvy feminine, there's nothing different or groundbreaking about this movie. 
If you have ever seen any of those bawdy cable true life crime stories on such channels as Investigation Discovery, History, or HBO, the tales often detail how someone, perhaps a caddish male desperado, but nearly as often a fiendish female seductress, worms his or her way into the heart of a good but lonely desperate person. 
The leech uses its vantage point to exploit its victim financially, emotionally, sexually or in other ways. The victim's relatives are often unable to do anything about this. Or perhaps the victim's family members are just too young to interfere with the victim's love life. 

Police Brutality: Welcome to Taylor!

It's difficult for me to have any sympathy for the Capitol police officers insulted or assaulted during the January 6 attempted coup in Washington D.C. because police officers across this country react so differently to white people and Black people. 
The same Capitol police officers fleeing from armed white rioters or wringing their hands and wondering what to do would have had no problem throwing beatdowns to unarmed Black men in the same situation. Some examples of this phenomenon recently came to light in a not so pleasant little podunk town not too far from me.  
Officer Tyler Peake, 23, is accused of assaulting Brendan Morgan, a 34-year-old Southfield resident, around 1:43 a.m. on April 1, 2020, after police were dispatched to the scene of a reported domestic disturbance involving Morgan and a Taylor woman prosecutors said was his girlfriend at the time.
Peake has been charged with misconduct in office and assault and battery. Misconduct in office, a common-law felony, carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Assault and battery is a 93-day misdemeanor. 

Grocery Store Etiquette

At one of the grocery store chains where I used to routinely shop, despite what seems to be massive growth in the shopping population, store managers have installed more self-service kiosks. 
Store managers have reduced the number of lines staffed by clerks. And a customer can, with occasional exceptions, forget about having anyone bag his or her groceries. 
I guess this is because of price pressures from online competition as well as your typical corporate greed to reduce every penny that is paid to human beings who actually do the work. 
What is making things even worse from my perspective is that although stores have continued to increase the number of self-service kiosks, they haven't exactly gone out of their way to make them user friendly.  
In one store at any given time, including the "rush hour" on weekend mornings most of the self-service kiosks are non-functional while at a different store across town the managers have altered the kiosks to not accept cash, only debit or credit cards. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Movie Reviews: Blood Red Sky

Blood Red Sky
directed by Peter Thorwath
This is a German supernatural horror film that bears a great deal of visual resemblance to the classic German movie Nosferatu and many of the descendants of that film, most notably the original TV version of Stephen King's Salem's Lot
It also thematically reminded me of the short story "Popsy", also by Stephen King, in which a child trafficker finds that the child he's chosen to kidnap is (a) not normal and (b) has a relative, the title character, who is protective in the extreme. So Blood Red Sky is set up to be a kind of extended mugging the monster situation with the twist that the monster is linked to our side by a tenuous connection to its child. So what's greater, maternal love or the need to be who you are? 
Another theme explored here was the fact that parents will do and say things to provide for or protect their children that either (a) the children will not understand or (b) are simply immoral. The parent simply can't tolerate if the child was to see or learn about those actions, even if those actions were needed for the child to survive. 
This could be something as prosaic as taking a demeaning job as a house domestic and tolerating racist treatment and language in order to help provide for a child's law school education or overturning a kitchen table and threatening racist co-workers with an axe if they should speak out of pocket to you ever again. 

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Farewell Afghanistan

The United States has just about completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The 20 year war is over. Or at least the US role is
Instead of the Afghan government fighting the Taliban for another two years, a year, or even a measly six months the Afghan government and military collapsed in a matter of days. 
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani evidently decided that instead of taking a last stand with some death or glory hardcases who would ensure that their names lived forever as sources of fear to the Taliban, it was better to do like every other Taliban Afghan opponent and run away. Yes brave President Ghani ran away.
President Ghani popped up in the United Arab Emirates, alternately saying that he left for the good of the people and because he didn't want to get hanged. Ghani also denied that he had left with a bunch of cash (most likely because he had already transferred his wealth out of the nation). Other Afghan leaders who had worked with Ghani basically called him a punk. So it goes. 
Smart collaborators (and that is what Ghani was) tend not to stick around once the occupying force packs up and leaves.

Movie Reviews: The Empty Man

The Empty Man
directed by David Prior
This is a horror movie that initially gives the viewer the impression that it's like any number of hundreds of other horror movies in which people-usually sex crazed teens-summon an evil spirit by foolishly performing some stupid ritual. 
Maybe they chant a demon's name five times while looking in a mirror. Maybe they sacrifice an animal in a graveyard. Maybe they play spin the bottle or truth or dare in an abandoned church. Maybe they read cuneiform or hieroglyphics in some ancient Iraqi or Egyptian tomb. 
Maybe they open up a locked book with warnings written in blood that state "You big dummy! Yes you! Do not open this book under any circumstances!!" In any event after the people do whatever stupid thing they do, they usually die in horrible ways, often while having sex, trying to have sex, or thinking about having sex. 
Along the way the few group members with functioning brain cells find a mentor who can advise them or stop by a library or church to discover what happened the last time someone did something so stupid and if the older stupid people survived. Usually there's a final confrontation where Mr. or Miss Smarty Pants defeats whatever evil was set loose but often not before losing someone valuable to him or her. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Movie Reviews: Wrath of Man

Wrath of Man
directed by Guy Ritchie 
How do you review a film in which almost any plot description is something that could veer into spoiler territory. 
Very carefully, succinctly and without discussing much of the plot that's how. Let's first review what you might expect from a Guy Ritchie movie. 
You might, if you had watched previous Ritchie films such Snatch, ,Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels or even The Gentlemen, expect a Ritchie film to be about a motley crew of lovable rogues who get themselves into some over the top trouble through misplaced ambition or simple bad luck, cross paths with more dangerous or less moral people, and through the power of being cool, good luck, guts, and some carefully planned double or triple crosses mostly manage to come out ok. 
You might also expect a Ritchie directed movie to feature a tremendous number of sudden close ups, freeze frames, occasionally incomprehensible British accents and slang, a few good natured ethnic or racial jokes, intersecting plot lines, law enforcement who appear at exactly the wrong time for the bad guys, and a general sense of somewhat warped glee at being alive and getting away with it. 
This movie is not like that. It's a remake of a French film.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Movie Reviews: Slaughter

directed by Jack Starrett
The good about Slaughter was that it featured a two fisted Black masculine male hero who plays by his own rules, doesn't take any stuff off anyone, and is going to get the girl.
It's surprising how rare that combination still is in Hollywood today, let alone fifty years ago. I suppose at the times an over the top film like this could have been cathartic for Black people who were, it must be remembered, just less than a decade removed from the official end of legal apartheid. 
The bad about Slaughter was almost everything else. The writing was indifferent. Jim Brown is not a bad actor but he's not a great one either. The film was low budget even for the times and looked it. 
Even so, I had a soft spot in my heart for this movie, because although Brown gives a one note performance, his role really doesn't require more than that. His character knows what he wants, knows how to get it, and doesn't spend a lot of time talking things out. One day I'm going to try just to speak all day in one liners from this film.
Okay, what's it about? What is any blaxploitation revenge movie about? Slaughter (Jim Brown) is a Vietnam veteran Green Beret captain who has come home. His parents are killed in a car bomb. Doing some investigating Slaughter finds some of the men who did it and removes them from the planet. 

Devoted Geese

I am not crazy about Canadian Geese. Not even a little bit. They have ugly voices, beady little eyes, can be irrationally aggressive, destroy ponds and small lakes, damage just-washed vehicles, and routinely turn sidewalks and yards into deadly minefields.
In formerly semi-rural suburban Michigan areas such as the one which I call home Canadian Geese are a regular sight, because among other reasons, they don't have many natural predators left around. More's the pity I say. 
Still, I suppose one decent trait such geese have is the habit of monogamously mating for life and apparently being concerned about their mate's whereabouts and safety. 
This redeeming quality was recently put on display by two Canadian Geese at the Birdsey Wildlife Center in Barnstable Massachusetts.
In case you’re hearing it for the first time, Arnold the goose, a resident of the pond outside the Cape Wildlife Center, had an injured foot requiring surgery. While Birdsey’s medical director Dr. Priya Patel and the veterinary staff worked to repair Arnold’s left foot, his concerned mate came tapping at the wildlife center’s door to check up on him and quite literally stand by her man.

Amelia, who’s named in honor of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, continues to be a frequent visitor to Birdsey, keeping Arnold company during his recovery, Mertz said. “She leaves occasionally to go for a swim or for food, but is still making daily visits to the porch,” he said. The wildlife center’s staff is making special efforts to allow the “love birds” to share a meal together every day, which Mertz said is very heartwarming.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Federal Eviction Moratorium Expires

If you have the resources to ensure that you and yours have housing for the foreseeable future then this news will not have any immediate impact upon you but the Federal CDC moratorium on evictions expired on Saturday, July 31. 

This means, at least in the states and localities that have not legislated or mandated their own eviction moratoriums, that landlords both corporate and individual, great and small, honest and corrupt, can start to pursue evictions against those individuals who are either unwilling or unable to pay rent in accordance with the lease that they signed. 

(CNN)It's like Democrats in the White House and Congress forgot the date. Now it's the first of the month and rent -- and back rent -- is suddenly due for millions of Americans who have been shielded from eviction during the pandemic.
Millions of households could face eviction over the next month -- when lawmakers on are on their annual August recess -- and some have predicted a full-blown eviction crisis, just as a surge in Covid cases from the highly contagious Delta variant may be prompting renewed calls for people to stay home and keep their distance.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Big Steal

The Big Steal
directed by Don Siegel

This is often listed as a film noir. I didn't see it that way. I thought it was just a run of the mill action movie with a few twists. 
The director would later go on to helm a number of Clint Eastwood films as well as the 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The Big Steal has its fair share of snappy dialogue. "Don't ask questions just take it and like it!" stands out but this is not a noir film. 
It's a crime drama but even more than that it's just a chase drama with the requisite number of double crosses. 
Perhaps at the time of this release car chases were considered more exciting than they would later become but a great deal of this film is consumed by car chases. After the first few I could have done without any more. As usual in these films there's a hypercompetent woman who is (initially) cold.
She and the hero have some witty repartee while they are trying to decide if they like each other, trust each other, and if they should, well you know. US Army Lieutenant Duke Halliday (Robert Mitchum) loses the $300,000 battalion payroll to a robbery set up by smooth crook Jim Fiske (Patric Knowles). Unfortunately for Duke his superior officer, Captain Vincent Blake (William Bendix) thinks that the robbery went down too easily and that Halliday had to be involved.

Society and Violent Women

We are told that there is never any excuse for violence against women. Okay. But what about when women initiate violence against other people? Do the targets of that violence have the right to defend themselves? 
Two recent incidents made me think about women and violence in a way different than the common narrative. In the first incident a large young woman who is apparently well over 200 pounds attacked two elderly beauty shop owners who combined together probably don't weigh as much as the woman. And the attacker's apparent reason for the assault was simply that she didn't have the money to pay for the items she wanted. 
CLEVELAND — A woman caught on camera brutally attacking a couple on July 23 at their beauty supply store on Lorain Road has been arrested, according to a spokesperson for the Cleveland Division of Police. Ebony Afzal, 25, of Cleveland, was arrested Thursday for felonious assault, a second-degree felony, according to court documents.
Afzal is accused of beating the couple, who owns Chic Beauty Supply on Lorain Road, over what is said to be an $11.85 transaction. Their son David Jo told News 5 Cleveland that it all started when Afzal allegedly tried to pay for the items with pre-paid credit card when it got declined.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Florida Project

The Florida Project
directed by Sean Baker
This is a bittersweet 2017 slice of life drama which oddly enough I just watched. Well. If you haven't seen it you should see it. 
It's probably the best film I've seen this year. 
Impressively many of the film's cast were inexperienced or first time actors. The Florida Project walks the same side of the street as Sunlight Jr. in that the director wants to teach us about poverty, homelessness, and some other critical related issues but this isn't a heavy handed didactic film. 
I think that people opposed to what I presume are the director's political leanings can watch this film and reach totally different conclusions. Baker doesn't beat anyone over the head with a point of view. You can watch this film and leave with all of your previous political or economic ideas intact or even strengthened by the events in this film. Or you can just enjoy it as an entertaining snapshot of how some people live. That's up to you.
Watching this movie I recalled that in her poem Nikki-Rosa, the poet Nikki Giovanni wrote that 
"if you become famous or something
they never talk about how happy you were to have your mother
all to yourself and
how good the water felt when you got your bath from one of those
big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in "

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Movie Reviews: Hard Eight

Hard Eight
directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
This 1996 neo-noir film was Anderson's debut. Anderson later went on to direct such films as Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood among others. 
Hard Eight also has a good cast of actors that viewers will recognize from their ubiquitous character work. 
The movie also includes other actors who weren't quite megastars at the time but would certainly soon be recognized as such. The viewer can make up his or her own mind as to whether there is a message to this film or not. Hard Eight put me in mind initially of some of the classic films noir of the forties and fifties. 
There are secrets being held by many of the characters in this film. Few of the people depicted are what could be considered morally good but the film doesn't judge. Many of them are in desperate straits. In life, all of us can fall short of perfection. 
Some people try to be good, others don't care and a few of us take steps to move to the opposite side. This movie does perhaps have some things to say about obligations, debt, family, redemption, and forgiveness--or at least I thought so.

Movie Reviews: The Bay

The Bay
directed by Barry Levinson
This older film is an found footage eco-horror movie that is similar to the Nick Cutter book The Troop, reviewed here. I think the The Troop is a better book than The Bay is a film. 
But The Bay is not a bad film. 
Because the conceit is that The Bay depicts real events that were all captured on film by less than state of art lighting and cameras, the movie does deliberately look less than high quality most of the time. But this is really smart for the film's premise, which is that multiple video and audio sources have been retrieved and are being leaked to the public as a somber warning. 
Events that may or may not be caused by climate change have been in the news lately-fires and water shortages out west, warming seas, lampreys and mussels in the Great Lakes, flooding in Germany, maybe even the Covid-19 pandemic. 
Once a system is broken or changed is that it can be difficult or even impossible to change it back. Humans can lack the knowledge to restore a delicate balance that Nature found for a given environment. 
Humans or animals eat foods that were not designed for them. Humans overuse antibiotics or pesticides and end up with lowered or no resistance to some very nasty critters and parasites.  Predators or pests are introduced into environments where they have no natural limit. Problems arise. 

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Movie Reviews: Werewolves Within

Werewolves Within
directed by Josh Ruben
This film is a horror-comedy-whodunnit-murder mystery. It also has a few sly commentaries on male: female relations, feminism, and confidence. I would describe it as Agatha Christie meets Hot Fuzz
There is some mayhem but generally speaking there is not THAT much onscreen bloody imagery. 
Although the two leads always sparkle when they are onscreen, like many such whodunnits, this film shines because of an ensemble cast and good writing. Werewolves Within is loosely based on a video game, but it certainly didn't feel or look like it. Special effects are few and far between and with one or two jarring exceptions, don't ever take the viewer out of the realm of suspended disbelief. 
I wish there were more movies like this. 
This was a low budget movie that didn't look low budget. Werewolves Within did not use that many jump cuts and other cheap horror movie tricks. There were plenty of zoom shots and visual gags though. The film quickly sets up the premise and lets the fun begin. 
The story is set in the small hamlet of Beaverfield, Vermont but it really could take place anywhere that is small, rural, and out of the way. Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) is a somewhat portly and far too nice forest ranger who has just been assigned to Beaverfield. Finn has also just been dumped by his girlfriend, a fact that he's having trouble processing.