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

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.

Trees and Climate Change in Des Moines

Many of us have a preferred way of dealing with climate change. 
Some think the entire world population needs to shrink, or at least the population of THOSE people over there. 
Some people think that we must obtain all of our energy from renewable resources. Other people think that it's too late for anything other than moving back to a pre-Industrial Revolution lifestyle right now! 
Some folks swear by veganism. Some people want to eliminate the internal combustion engine. Other people think that private homes are wasteful and we must all live in energy efficient apartment buildings. 
Some are fiercely hostile to private travel. They think that public transportation should not only be subsidized, but mandated. Some folks would ban air travel and outlaw vacations. 
Other people deny the existence of climate change. They also argue that if climate change exists it's (a) not our fault and/or (b) nothing we can do about at this late point anyway. 
People's ideal solutions (or lack thereof) tend to line up with their preferred social values, political ideologies, and economic interests.

Movie Reviews: Truck Turner

Truck Turner
directed by Jonathan Kaplan
If you happen to be in the mood to watch late Stax songwriter/musician/singer/producer/pianist and actor Isaac Hayes flex his muscles and beat up or shoot approximately half of the Los Angeles underworld then this is probably the movie for you. 
The film script was originally written by a Caucasian woman who did not have the Black underworld in mind when she created it. 
When the film company couldn't get the financing it wanted for a white actor in the title role, the film was reimagined as "blaxploitation". Hayes got the nod. By the standards of early seventies drive-in movies, this movie is not actually that bad. It's even humorous in some weird ways. 
Whereas Hayes is playing the expected heroic role of bounty hunter Mack "Truck" Turner who is always armed with a bass voice and a real big gun, the film throws the viewer a curveball by casting actress Nichelle Nichols, then best known as the classy well spoken Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek, as a lewd, foul mouthed and very dangerous madam.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Movie Reviews: Thick As Thieves

Thick as Thieves
directed by Scott Sanders
This 1999 movie was directed by the same man who went on to direct Black Dynamite which also featured Michael Jai White.
Although the movie is not based on an Elmore Leonard book or a Quentin Tarantino/Guy Ritchie script it definitely is designed to put one in mind of some of the quirkiness often found in some of those creations. 
If you are familiar with movies like Get Shorty or Pulp Fiction, this movie will feel like a slightly toned down version of those films. 
It's not as violent or as explicit as those movies but Thick as Thieves does feature a number of self-consciously idiosyncratic characters, all of whom have their own interests and cool dialogue. If there's one thing that Thick as Thieves wants you to leave knowing, it's that hoodlums are people just like you or anybody else. They have different ambitions, goals, and desires.
This movie also has a few similarities to Michael Mann's Thief
With a few exceptions, this movie is more interested in looking good and finding the humor in outrageous scenarios than in being gritty or scary. This can make some of the violence, then, more shocking, when it does occur. This film tends more towards drama than action.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Movie Reviews: Nobody

Nobody
directed by Ilya Naishuller
There is a trope known as "Mugging the Monster" that is popular in various forms of art: visual, written, and musical. 
Usually this involves stupid or dangerous people insulting, messing with or (per trope) literally mugging someone who is far more dangerous, competent, and most importantly, malevolent, than they are. 
The monster proceeds to demonstrate to the unfortunate dummies how critical their mistake was and why they won't live long enough to regret it. The monster may kill, alter, maim or even eat the offenders.
This trope is older than dirt. In Greek mythology the human hunter Actaeon sees the goddess Artemis nude and considers assaulting her. Unworried, Artemis turns Actaeon into a stag who is then attacked and devoured by his own hounds. In the TV series Supernatural a man makes the mistake of bumping into Death. In The Legend of Wooley Swamp the musician Charlie Daniels sings of "white trash" who attacked and killed the old man Lucius Clay only to find revenge outlives death.
In The Terrible Old Man, H.P. Lovecraft wrote about three would be robbers who learn that the titular character can defend himself and isn't human. Has someone ever said or done something unpleasant to you without you making an immediate response. Maybe the person made a nasty joke at your expense. Maybe someone went out of his way to step on your blue suede shoes

Movie Reviews: The Asphalt Jungle

The Asphalt Jungle
directed by John Huston

How many heist movies have you watched where there is a snitch, a doomed love story, people hunted separately by cops or other crooks, a brainy mastermind who misses one tiny critical detail, or a crime caper plagued by greedy backstabbers? 
Chances are that many of those films can be directly or otherwise traced back to The Asphalt Jungle. 
I also enjoyed watching this 1950 film because it featured some leading actors with whom I was only familiar with from much later films as character actors, most notably Sterling Hayden from The Godfather (1972), and James Whitmore from Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Tora Tora Tora (1970) and this Miracle-Gro commercial
The Asphalt Jungle was also notable for being one of Marilyn Monroe's early roles. She really did wiggle when she walked. This is a typical film noir in that the so-called bad guys have all of the positive and negative traits found across humans in every job category. Some are loyal and trustworthy; others can't be trusted any farther than you could throw them. Some cops protect the innocent. 
Other police are more interested in bullying crooks or bringing down men who offend their personal ideas of moral behavior. Still others are totally corrupt and use their status to shake down bad guys.

Movie Reviews: The Haunting in Connecticut

The Haunting In Connecticut
directed by Peter Cornwell

This is another older film that claims to be based in part on some of the experiences of Ed and Lorraine Warren or stories that they heard. And that is about the only similarity it has to the much better, scarier, and more convincing The Conjuring. Imagine every single horror movie cliche that you've ever seen crammed into one film. Now imagine a plot that makes no sense. And just for good measure throw in a few performances by actors/actresses who seem to believe that they were in a different movie from the rest of the cast. 
Well you probably won't have much left. The problem with haunted house movies is that the plot needs to come up with some reason as to why the people impacted by the presence at a specific location just don't leave. Maybe there are serious financial considerations. 
Maybe the people in charge, usually the parents, don't believe in the supernatural. 
Maybe the people in charge have been infected by the supernatural and aren't willing to leave or let anyone else do so. Maybe someone has cut off contact with the outside world and so no one can leave. Cue evil laughter.
Maybe the presence has bonded with someone in the family and leaving would set it loose upon the rest of the world. Maybe the secret to destroying the entity can only be found in the home. Whatever the case may be the question of why don't the people just leave must be raised and addressed adequately. 

Cows Escape Slaughterhouse (Briefly)

I guess the cows decided to live free or die trying. They got to enjoy a final few moments of freedom before being slaughtered. I think that some day in the not too distant future that more people will look askance at the practice of slaughtering animals for food.
Last week the world watched and cheered as videos of 39 cows making a daring escape from a Pico Rivera slaughterhouse went viral. This weekend we learned that all but one of the 39 runaway cows have met their end after being returned to Manning Beef.
"People were rooting for the cows when they made their prison break. People said 'Gosh, if they had enough courage to break out and try and get freedom why not give it to them,'" said Robert Alaniz, spokesman for the city of Pico Rivera.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Hey Hey Hey: Bill Cosby Conviction Overturned!

As you may have heard already Bill Cosby's rape conviction was thrown out by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Bill Cosby was released from prison. 
He can not be retried. He is as free as a bird. 
The fundamental reason for the action by the Court was that the prosecutors violated Cosby's Fifth Amendment protections by offering a criminal non-prosecution agreement for statements that Cosby made in a civil deposition but then proceeded to use those very same statements in a criminal trial.  
In other words this was something similar to a parent telling their child that as long as the child tells the truth about who took the cookies from the cookie jar the parent won't get mad or punish the child. 
The child  allows as to how s/he might have taken some cookies from the jar, purely by accident with no ill will. The parent flies off the handle and grabs a belt, puts the child in timeout, or uses whatever other punishment is typical for that household.  It's not right.
Bill Cosby had his conviction for sexual assault overturned by a Pennsylvania appeals court on Wednesday, a decision that will set free a man whose case had represented the first high-profile sexual assault trial to unfold in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement.
Mr. Cosby had served three years of a three- to 10-year prison sentence at a maximum-security facility outside Philadelphia when the seven-member Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Cosby, 83, had been denied a fair trial in 2018. In their 79-page opinion, the judges wrote that a “non-prosecution agreement” that had been struck with a previous prosecutor meant that Mr. Cosby should not have been charged in the case, and that he should be discharged. They barred a retrial in the case.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Movie Reviews: Feral State

Feral State
directed by Jon Carlo
This is a film by a first time director. I decided to watch it because the subject matter seemed promising and because the best known actress in the film, AnnaLynne McCord, whom I last saw in 68 Kill, was here playing a role quite different from her performance in that earlier film. 
Feral State was sufficiently gritty and "realistic" in that people get hurt, lots of action takes place at night time or in dark areas, and there are plenty of people with questionable morals.
However if 68 Kill turned up the volume on stereotypes of rural low class red state Caucasians to cartoonish levels, Feral State is more serious. It's not as entertaining. I find that ironic because 68 Kill, violent and as debauched as it was, actually had a message hiding within. Feral State does not. 
There's a lot of "why" that could have put into the movie, maybe not all in one or two obvious information dumps, but perhaps scattered throughout the narrative. 
I don't think this took place. So I didn't care about many characters or sympathize with them when they do bad things or make tough decisions. I don't think the actors were bad. The film should have taken more time to give the viewer a chance to distinguish the various characters, learn what makes them tick, and give them some background besides being the "quiet guy", the "Black guy", the "bullying guy". What makes violence impactful to me is if I actually care about the person who is committing it or suffering through it. The film looked good. It made the viewer think that he was actually in the backwoods Florida swamps doing dirty things with dirtier people.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Movie Reviews: Den of Thieves

Den of Thieves
directed by Christian Gudegast
This is a heist/action film which references movies or shows such as Heat, Animal Kingdom, and Now You See Me. It's more intelligent than it looks. 
The ending may cause you to rewatch it. My only quibble was that as is common with many such stories the viewer will likely have seen many of the scenes and plot points before. There are a few actors who I thought didn't quite convince but generally this was an entertaining movie. 
I thought the actor who had the best role was Pablo Schreiber as Ray Merrimen, a veteran and former Marine Special Operations operative. I didn't recall until much later that back in the day Schreiber had also appeared on HBO's The Wire as Nick Sobotka.
Schreiber is also Liev Schreiber's little brother, though since he is now taller and more muscular than Liev, perhaps younger brother is a better description. Something similar happened to me with my younger brother. So it goes.
Anyhow, Ray is being released from prison. Ray robs. He goes wherever the money is, but what he specializes in are banks. As you may know, California prisons are segregated by race. In prison Ray was one of the white supremacist gang leaders, but now that he's out, Ray leaves that nonsense behind. Ray's putting the band back together, which includes people of various races: White, Black, Asian-Pacific Islanders, etc. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Bo Schembechler and Sexual Abuse At The University of Michigan

If you grew up in the state of Michigan in the seventies or eighties, the University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler was something akin to a demigod. You might not have cared for Bo if you were a Michigan State or heaven forbid Ohio State fan but Bo was an icon. 
He restored the U-M football team to prominence. He won thirteen Big Ten Titles. Bo was, at least as far as the public could see, a tough mean SOB with a hidden heart of gold who turned boys into "Michigan Men". For much of the time Bo was at U-M, there weren't many other winning local teams, professional or collegiate. More than anyone before or since, Bo Schembechler was Michigan. 
If you were searching for a stereotypical hard nosed masculine football coach who preached and lived doing the right thing, if you wanted to find a man who drank TNT and smoked dynamite, if you were hunting for a man who stood in the path of the Apocalypse and sneered "Is that your best shot?", then Bo Schembechler was that man.
Be tough. Stand up for yourself. Be a man. Put the welfare and safety of your peers and those under your protection before your own well being. Always do the right thing no matter what it costs. The team, the team, the team. That's what Bo was all about. Or so we were led to believe. Apparently, allegedly, there was another side. 
Just 10 years old at the time, Matt Schembechler said that he summoned the courage to tell his new stepfather a horrific, uncomfortable and humiliating truth: During a physical examination he’d been fondled and digitally penetrated by a doctor, Robert Anderson. Anderson was the team doctor for the University of Michigan football team, which Matt’s stepfather, Bo, coached. This was 1969, and as Matt tells it now, Bo told him he didn’t want to hear about the incident and even struck the child hard enough to knock him across the kitchen in the family’s Ann Arbor home.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Asian Man in Ypsilanti Michigan Shoots Six Year Old Black Boy: Gets Low Bond And Is Released

Do you remember when you were six years old? Did you play outside with your friends, siblings, and other relatives? Maybe you liked to jump rope. Maybe you liked to play hopscotch and drew multicolored squares on the sidewalk. 
Maybe you played tag. Maybe you played red rover or dodgeball or stickball. Maybe you played with dolls and had tea parties. Maybe you picked flowers. Maybe you dug holes.
Maybe you played with legos or blocks. Maybe you even rode your bicycle or tricycle. 
Chances are, no matter what you did, you likely got on some adult's nerves at some point in time. But the chances are also very good that no adult ever physically assaulted you or tried to shoot and kill you over your play. Unfortunately a six year Black boy named Coby Daniel can no longer make that statement.
YPSILANTI, Mich. (FOX 2) - An Ypsilanti boy is recovering after being threatened with a sledgehammer and then shot as he retrieved his bike from his neighbor's front yard. Arnold Daniel says his kids were outside on their bikes on Candlewood Lane in Ypsilanti when they stopped their bikes and left one of them in front of a neighbor's home. 
When Coby went back to get his bike, Daniel said the neighbor came out with a sledgehammer in his hand and said something to the boy. Daniel said he didn't know exactly what was said but knows his son said something back. After that, the neighbor went back inside and Daniel said he shot a gun through the front window, hitting Coby in the arm. Ring doorbell footage captured children screaming and scattering down the sidewalk of a residential street after a single gunshot is heard.
“He tried hitting me with a sledgehammer but that’s not going to work because I’m too fast,” Coby Daniel told Fox 2. “[Then he] got a gun and BOOM shot me right here.” The bullet went through the boy's arm and he was rushed to the hospital. Daniel said the doctor told him that had the bullet been an inch in either direction it likely would have killed Coby. 

Domestic Violence Against Black Men

Based on my own experience, logic, research, and history I have always believed that the differences that exist between men and women are not moral or ethical ones. 
I have known women who have every moral failing imaginable. I've also known selfless angelic women. Women as a group are no more moral than men. I'd like to believe otherwise but the evidence doesn't support that conclusion. 
Women may express themselves on average differently than men but anyone who holds on to Victorian ideals of female moral superiority is either deluding themselves or trying to trick other people. This even extends to the evil of domestic violence.
Professors like Dr. Tommy Curry and Dr. T. Hassan Johnson, who have actually done the research, have found that domestic violence, particularly in the Black community, is more bidirectional than many of us would like to admit. In other words men and women initiate domestic violence at close to the same rates and for many of the same reasons. 
The assumptions that philosophers hold about IPV and child physical and sexual abuse are really universalized descriptions derived from what social scientists and feminists asserted as causal amongst white families and in white communities. When we look at racial groups, IPV victimization rates between Black, Latino, and Indigenous men and women in the U.S. are roughly equal and have a much different etiology than IPV victimization between whites. Much of the intimate partner violence in racial groups is bidirectional, not unidirectional, as Duluth assumes, meaning that both partners are abusers and victims.
I was reminded of the truth of this statement by two recent hideous instances of domestic violence in which Black men were the victims.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Breaking Point

The Breaking Point
directed by Michael Curtiz
This is a 1950 film noir that feels very modern both in its story and in the treatment of its characters. 
During a time when racial segregation was still very much in effect this movie depicts a black boy and two white girls playing together before they go to school as no big deal. Their fathers are friends.
Considering that in several states such innocuous activities could easily result in violence, legal or otherwise, against a Black boy and/or other nearby Blacks, this part of the movie was something of a political statement, though it's not presented as one. 
The Breaking Point was one of lead actor's John Garfield's last movies. The left-wing Garfield was forced to testify before the House Committee for Un-American Activities and bravely refused to name names. This act of defiance destroyed Garfield's film career. The consequent lack of income and resulting stress may have contributed to Garfield's early death from a heart attack just two years after this film was released. 
Much like the younger actor Charles Bronson, whom I think he slightly resembled, Garfield grew up in an impoverished environment and often played cynical working class heroes. That is very much the case in this movie, which is based on a Hemingway novel, which I may or may not have read before.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Movie Reviews: Georgetown

Georgetown
directed by Christoph Waltz
In both of the previous movies (Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds) in which I've seen Waltz, he has played a garrulous grammar pedant and bon vivant who is more dangerous than his antagonists or even the audience first realize. 
In this movie, his directorial debut, Waltz again portrays that sort of smarmy character. The difference with this film is that because it's based on a true story that yet feels stereotypical, it's very obvious from the beginning that Waltz's character has something up his sleeve. 
There aren't too many surprises for the viewer here. What does exist is a sense of frustration and wonder that conmen can so easily prey on the elderly, the lonely, the greedy, the naive, the desperate, or the ambitious. 
Georgetown also made me feel some resignation that age and resulting physical frailties will eventually impact us all, if we are lucky. 
I liked Waltz's interpretation of his character, who like some demonic/devilish entities described in a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, expends a tremendous amount of energy trying to be attractive and charming to whomever he's interacting with at any given time. From time to time the mask slips and the character's true nature is revealed. Sometimes this is played for laughs, but usually it's not so amusing.

Movie Reviews: The Sentinel (1977)

The Sentinel (1977)
directed by Michael Winner
There was a brief time in the late sixties thru the early eighties when horror movies, despite always being considered cinema's ugly stepchild, were able to attract top of the line actors and writers. 
And even though some horror films always tended toward Grand Guignol, there were quite a few others that relied more on atmosphere and implications of things unseen than on nudity and bloodshed. The Sentinel is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Some of the nudity is more disturbing than erotic. 
The Sentinel was not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination. The lead actress' performance is not that compelling, probably because she is more the object of the story than subject. If a studio ever remade this movie I am sure that the female lead would have much more to do besides a lot of screaming, whining, and fainting.
Still The Sentinel does manage to give the viewer a sufficient sense of unease, fright and occasional disgust while initially avoiding the buckets of blood approach that today too often defines the genre. 
Make no mistake though, some of the film's special effects were considered excessive and exploitive even for the time. The ending sees the director put his foot on the gas pedal in that regard. Your mileage may vary with that. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Germany To Return Nigerian Bronzes

William Faulkner wrote that "The past is never dead. It's not even the past." Much of the world today is the result of crimes committed and decisions made by people decades, even centuries ago.
Human nature being what it is, people who have benefitted from certain past actions are often, good natured or not, biased towards not making any changes to rectify misdeeds while those who have been harmed by theft or worse crimes see no reason why the descendants of robbers should continue to live off ill gotten booty. 
There is an entire legal, financial, and diplomatic industry which exists to return various forms of property, particularly art, that was stolen, expropriated, or "bought" from Jews by non-Jews during the years of German Nazi hegemony, WW2, and the Holocaust. I use quotes around bought because of course sell or die isn't really a true free market transaction. 
Art museums, some wealthy private art collectors, corporations, and Nazi descendants have not all been immediately willing to turn over such property to Jewish institutions, claimed heirs, or the state of Israel. There have been disputes. 
The Nazis were in power for twelve years. Depending on when you start the clock European nations have been invading and colonizing African and Asian nations for about three hundred to four hundred years. 

Ravens Stealing Groceries

I no longer patronize certain grocery stores or convenience stores. Maybe I don't like the service. Maybe I think there's an unacceptably high risk of encountering would be robbers. 

If I lived in Anchorage, Alaska, I wouldn't need to worry about people stopping me and stealing my stuff. It's the birds! More precisely, it's the ravens, apparently too smart and too organized for their own good, who have set up their own profitable shakedown racket.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Some Alaska Costco shoppers said they've had their groceries stolen by ravens in the store parking lot. Matt Lewallen said he was packing his groceries into his car in the parking lot of an Anchorage Costco when ravens swooped in to steal a short rib from his cart, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.
“I literally took 10 steps away and turned around, two ravens came down and instantly grabbed one out of the package, ripped it off and flew off with it,” Lewallen said. Lewallen said the piece of meat was about 4-by-7 inches (10-by-18 centimeters) large — a sizable meal for a sizable bird.

“They know what they’re doing; it’s not their first time,” Lewallen said. “They’re very fat so I think they’ve got a whole system there.” And once he got back home, he noticed that one of the ravens had taken a poke at another rib but did not rob it.
“I cut that meat out and started marinating it and my wife said, ‘That’s gross, we should take it back,’ ” Lewallen said. “Costco actually took it back even after we had started marinating them and gave us a full refund.”

Movie Reviews: Bullets or Ballots

Bullets or Ballots
directed by William Keighley
This is not really a noir film though it does have noir elements. It's an old school crime drama and something of a love letter to the police, most especially a particularly brutal and arrogant real life NYPD detective, John Broderick, known for harassing, and assaulting striking workers and criminals (alleged or actual).
Although he was known at the time as being a "tough cop," considering that that most of the people Broderick assaulted weren't able or willing to fight back against an officer of the law, I think Broderick wasn't so much a tough guy as he was a bully. He beat one man taken in for parole violations so badly that the man was crippled for life. The judge ended up letting the man go, stating that he had suffered enough. 
Still, in 1936 as now, it was good business for Hollywood to depict a heroic cop battling bad guys. Bullets or Ballots was the first of five films to star Edward Robinson and Humphrey Bogart together. 
Not only does this film take strong inspiration from the "adventures" of John Broderick, it also references the then notorious exploits of people such as Lucky Luciano, Madame Stephanie St. Clair, and Dutch Schultz.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Some Indians Try Cow Dung for Covid Cure

Every single group of people has some belief systems that are not only not backed up by testable hypotheses and science but also are often flatly contradicted by those processes. It is what it is. 
This is apparently just part of human nature. It doesn't matter whether we're discussing Flat-earthers, white evangelicals who claim that Covid-19 is no worse than the flu, Black people who argue that the vaccines developed to protect against Covid-19 are actually part of a racist population control plan, East Africans who think that albino body parts bring good luck, East Asians who swear that rhino horn cures fevers and impotence, or for that matter Republicans who are convinced that Trump won the 2020 election.
Everyone can believe ridiculous things, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc.
Sometimes a sufficient number of people who accept untrue facts can have a serious deleterious impact on everyone else. As the aphorism attributed to comedian George Carlin goes, "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups!
The problem with Covid-19 is that everyone's safety can be endangered by large numbers of people who refuse to or are unable to engage in best practices.