Saturday, July 28, 2012

Movie Reviews-(500) Days of Summer, The Woman in Black, Breaking Bad(Season One)

(500) Days of Summer
directed by Marc Webb
He came from somewhere back in her long ago The sentimental fool don't see, tryin' hard to recreateWhat had yet to be created once in her lifeShe musters a smile for his nostalgic taleNever coming near what he wanted to sayOnly to realize it never really wasShe had a place in his lifeHe never made her think twiceAs he rises to her apologyAnybody else would surely knowHe's watching her go"What a Fool Believes"-The Doobie Brothers
In romantic comedies and fiction it's often the woman who wants a long term exclusive relationship leading to marriage while it's the man who is intent on keeping his options open as long as humanly possible. This stereotype is enjoyed and promulgated by men and women for different reasons at different times. Both genders can seek out long-term and short-term relationships. In real life there are women who want to play the field for a while and men who walk around with their heart on their sleeve and fall in love quickly and permanently. We are all equally capable of such feelings. Much blues music is after all, a man singing about all the wonderful things he did for the love of his life and how she did him wrong. What happens when it's the man who's the incurable romantic and the woman who's the cynical realist who wants to keep her relationships casual? What if it's the man who overlooks red flags and thinks that he can change a woman? (500) Days of Summer is perhaps a romantic comedy but more of a coming of age story about love. Love is something which can't be bought, sold, required or demanded. It's a choice, not an obligation. You can't guilt trip someone into loving you. No matter how much you might love someone, you can't have a relationship with them if they don't feel the same way about you. Unusually the story is told from the man's pov. This is not Judd Apatow lowbrow material though. (500) Days of Summer is influenced by a true story. The film features the standard disclaimer that nothing is based on actual persons living or dead and that any resemblance is purely coincidental. However at the end of the boilerplate there is a line that reads 
"Especially you, Jenny Beckman. B****!."

Despite that bile the film is fair to both leads. It's an updated Annie Hall, The Graduate, Chasing Amy or When Harry Met Sally that is original, realistic, bittersweet and at turns both laugh out loud funny and somewhat pensive. If you have ever loved someone who didn't love you or been the object of someone's deep affection but found yourself simply unable or unwilling to return the intensity, I think you might enjoy this film. It is told in a non-linear manner. The movie's beginning shows the breakup's impact on Tom.  We see his desperate plans to get Summer back. The movie jumps back and forth in time over the roughly 500 days that Tom knew Summer.

The two leads, Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt have great chemistry together. Deschanel's comic timing is perfect; her large eyed deadpan stare and staccato delivery is used to great impact.
Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a man who trained as an architect but upon entry into the workplace couldn't find employment in his field. So he has been working as a greeting card writer in a Los Angeles firm for longer than he likes. It's not a job he enjoys very much but it pays the bills.

When Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) joins Tom's workplace as an administrative assistant, despite the fact that she is described by the film's narrator as average looking, Tom is immediately smitten and ineptly but persistently seeks her attention. When she finally notices him, completely by accident, Tom and Summer discover that they have similar tastes in music, movies, and humor. They start a relationship. Or at least Tom does. As Summer calmly explains to him she doesn't really believe in relationships. She doesn't want a boyfriend. She doesn't want to get married. She just wants Tom as a friend, albeit one with certain benefits. Tom thinks he can live with that and even if he can't he's certainly not going to kick a naked and willing Summer out of his bed. The film's funniest scene is the morning after they have made love for the first time. A giddy dancing Tom gives fist bumps, daps, high fives and hugs to strangers as he leads a downtown marching band parade choreographed to Hall and Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True".  Fountains jet as he walks by. Animated birds sing to him and sit on his hand. At work he is a sudden source of happiness and inspiration to those around him.
However, as Tom's relationship adviser, his 13 year-old preternaturally intelligent sister Rachel (Chloe Moretz) gently points out, he might not be remembering the bad things about Summer. Of course the fact that he's taking relationship advice from baby sis is both funny and somewhat pathetic. The lack of different perspectives is the film's strength and weakness. We see everything through Tom's eyes but he's not necessarily a reliable narrator. Although he sees himself as a "nice guy" that may be why he's having an issue. He's just showing up for life and not taking control of things either professionally or romantically-not that the second would be even be possible with Summer. Summer sees herself as the more energetic partner in their "not-relationship" and strongly resists Tom's underhanded or open attempts to alter that dynamic or obtain a more formal commitment. Summer hurts Tom very badly and even outright cruelly humiliates him but as another woman points out, Summer never exactly lied to him. She just didn't share every little thing but then again who does? It is just possible, that working at a greeting card company that sells illusions of love and happily forever after, Tom may have gotten high on his own supply. Idealizing anyone is usually a pretty bad idea because you can get blinded to reality pretty easily. It happens sometimes. What are you gonna do? If someone assists you in lying to yourself are they the only bad guy? Sometimes you need to get hurt in order to change.
Both Tom and Summer mature. Tom works to bring his expectations more in line with reality while Summer learns it's okay to dream and believe in fate. Summer may do some bad things but she's not necessarily a bad person. Nonetheless as Sam Kinison joked in a similar situation, there are points at which, were you Tom, you might be hoping for her to get hit by a truck!!! Tom's desire to win Summer back is both understandable and perplexing. You may root for him. Or you may curse him for being a simp and Summer for being something worse. Again, Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt really shine together and were quite well cast.
(500) Days of Summer is easily one of the best films I've seen in a long time. The film makes judicious use of animation to express feelings. The music (mostly indie and some pop) fits the movie like a glove. The film's a new favorite. It shows you a vision of Los Angeles you may not have known existed. I ran across this film while looking for something else and I'm very happy I watched it. If you haven't seen this one please do yourself a favor and check it out. Whether you are a gooey romantic sap or a hardboiled cynic this film has something to say to you.
The girl don't love you boy and there's nothing you can do -"Things Don't Work Out Right"-Hound Dog Taylor

The Woman in Black
directed by James Watkins
I watched this in part for a friend of mine who was curious if it was as creepy as the trailer made it look. I also wanted to see what sort of movies the revamped Hammer Films was producing these days. Well, The Woman in Black was on the creepy side but all in all I'd have to say this wasn't quite my cup of tea. It was hugely financially successful and critically well received. I wanted to like it more than I did but it didn't really do it for me. Maybe it will for you. It's by no means a bad movie. It's well made and well acted but not gory. If you are a Daniel Radcliffe fan, you might like it. He is the lead actor and is rarely, if ever off screen.
This film opens up with a seriously weird image of three young girls who see something in the window of their second story bedroom. They get up from their play, open the window and plunge to their deaths. You hear the screams of their parents but do not see them. The whole thing is spooky. A parent should never have to bury their child.
Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is a young British lawyer in turn of century London. He is a widower with a young son. He's still grieving for his wife's death and as a result his work is suffering. His boss is not running a charity ward and lets Kipps know, dead wife or not, either he gets with the program or he finds another place to work. To this end he gives Kipps what he thinks of as an easy assignment-close out the estate of one Alice Drablow, who owned a country manor known as Eel March house. Kipps is to go there, get the work done on time and under budget and return.
Kipps goes there and like any good horror film nobody wants to talk about the house. The local business contact, Mr. Jerome (Tim McMullen) tries to send Kipps back to London but Kipps isn't having it. He's been told that the bulk of the estate paperwork is in Eel Marsh house and that's where he intends to go. He's intent on this. You would be too if your boss told you to get something done by Friday or don't bother coming in on Monday. Despite unfriendliness from most of the locals, one man Samuel Daily (Ciarin Hinds) and his wife Elizabeth (Janet McTeer) let Kipps stay at their house for a while. Kipps learns that they had a son who died mysteriously and Elizabeth has gone over the deep end-claiming to channel their dead son. The next morning Kipps gets a reluctant but mercenary coachman to take him out to Eel Marsh house where he will stay the night. The creep factor is turned up dramatically as he starts hearing voices and noises. He sees strange things out of the corner of his eye. Objects are not where he left them. Finally he sees a ghostly woman in a black dress. Or maybe he doesn't. Supposedly seeing the Woman in Black means that a child will die soon.
From there is a pretty conventional ghost story. Someone died in pain and agony and is intent upon wreaking pain and agony upon children until its spirit is laid to rest. Kipps wants to solve the mystery. He has an uncertain ally in Samuel and either indifference or hostility from the rest of the townspeople. A fair number of children die in rather brutal circumstances while Kipps tries to get to the bottom of what's going on. There are a bit more than usual number of jump cuts and sudden pauses that intensify the weirdness factor. The death of the children makes this a bit more somber of a film than I had thought it would be. There are more than a few scary moments.
So why didn't I love this film? Hard to say. Maybe it's because when I think of Hammer Films I think of cleavage and technicolor and this film had neither. Even putting those aside the film could have done with a female lead. As I am not really a Radcliffe fan I found it hard to maintain interest. I wasn't too crazy about the ending either. All in all it sort of reminded me of a Supernatural episode, but not in a good way. This film definitely could have been improved by the Winchester Brothers showing up, kicking ghost a$$, dropping a few clever one liners and driving off into the night. Again, though that's just my opinion. YMMV. As it turns out James Watkins was also the director of the much superior modern horror/thriller film Eden Lake, which is definitely worth checking out, though it's quite different from his work here.

Breaking Bad (Season One)
I don't actually watch a lot of television but my brother had been bugging me to check this out for a while. But since I am the oldest I don't always listen to him =) and hadn't bothered to watch this. Undeterred he sent me the first season. Grudgingly I must admit that he was right and I was wrong. That doesn't happen a whole lot as far as I'm concerned (just kidding!!!) but it's a pretty good show, at least going by the first season.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is an Albuquerque, New Mexico high school chemistry teacher with problems. Walter's a real nebbish. He has terminal lung cancer. Even before he discovered he's not long for the world he was going through a mid life (now end of life) crisis. He turns to cooking meth not only to prove to himself that he can be more successful than he's been but also to make money for his chemotherapy and leave wealth for his family after he's gone. It is odd to see someone I mostly remember from Malcolm in the Middle in this role but that's why they call it "acting", right? And Cranston is a good actor.
Breaking Bad has a surface similarity to Weeds in that it examines how would a white suburban middle-class individual who knows nothing else about drugs other than what he sees on TV get into drug dealing. It’s less self-consciously ironic than Weeds. I think I am on Weeds season 4. Unlike Weeds where hardly anyone gets killed and you always know that Nancy Botwin can probably get out of anything with a pleading glance of her big brown bedroom eyes, a show of leg and a slow sip on the long phallic Starbucks coffee straw she's always carrying around, Walter White has limited options. He has to do what he has to do. Some of his former college buddies run multi-million dollar corporations. It's time for Walter to start catching up. Death and drug dealing is not shown as hip, ironic or funny. It's messy, ugly and nasty. There are some comic moments but there's always a gritty realism to counterbalance them. 
Walter is interested in/bullied into going along on a drug raid by his alpha-male, not well read but smarter than he looks brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris) who is a DEA agent. While in the car he sees one of his former high school students, Jesse (Aaron Paul), escape detection and arrest. As Jesse's chemist is arrested and later killed he's in need of a new meth cook. And Walter is ready to walk on the wild side.
This show is not just about Walter's descent into moral depravity but it's also about the ugly physical effects of terminal cancer. If you have been unlucky enough to lose someone to this horror, some of the strongest scenes in the show may resonate with you a bit. We are never allowed to forget that Walter is dying. Whether it's the constant coughing and vomiting, sudden collapses or fainting spells, excretion of blood or other fluids, cancer is as big of a theme on this show as drugs. The story is made made more poignant because Walter's going to leave behind his blonde pushily optimistic pregnant wife Skyler(Anna Gunn) and their new daughter to be, as well as his palsy afflicted teen son, Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte). He tries and fails to hide the cancer from his family but does manage to keep other things secret. Raymond Cruz, who had a scary role as a Mexican gangster in Training Day, undertakes a much more unpredictably dangerous incarnation of that role here. Betsy Brandt is seen here as Walter's stylish sister-in-law, Marie. The first season was shortened by the writer's strike but I liked what I saw. Good stuff. I'm starting season 2 shortly.
Season 1 Trailer

Friday, July 27, 2012

Chick-fil-A, Boycotts, Gay marriage and Common Sense

The President of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy, made statements that expressed his opposition to gay marriage for religious reasons. He is a conservative Christian.
'I think we’re inviting God’s judgment when we shake our fist at him, you know, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage." And I pray on God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we would have the audacity to try and redefine what marriage is all about,' he said. 
This immediately started requests for retraction and calls for boycotts, accusations of discrimination and most ominously government officials telling him to stay out of their vicinity.
This really touches on something that I've noticed for a while now and I don't think it's healthy. Both right and left do it.
  1. The turning of honest difference of opinion into heresy that must be zealously stamped out.
  2. The attempt to hurt someone's business for political reasons.
  3. The attempt to get around free speech protections by recasting ideas as hate speech or discrimination.
  4. The attempt to use government to achieve the first three points.

Whether we think that Dan Cathy is a bigot or not, his position on marriage, that it's between one man and one woman, is one held by millions of Americans, including until quite recently, President Obama. Remember this quote?  "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian — for me — for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God’s in the mix." Of course the President said that before he was elected but I know he was being honest with us.  Perhaps Mr. Cathy will also "evolve" when he runs for President. Do we really want to say that everyone who supports traditional marriage is a hateful individual?

Is it a good idea to mix politics and business? This is a trickier question because obviously there are some instances where I do think boycotts are useful but those tend to be cases where the company is engaging in illegal or unethical  behavior (i.e. discrimination or pollution). I understand why people might oppose a new strip club or liquor store opening up in their neighborhood. But those examples aside is it good for you as an individual to only engage in commerce with people that agree with you on everything? Do you for example, not shop at Whole Foods because the founder and CEO, John Mackey is a free market libertarian who opposes ObamaCare and unions and doesn't believe in climate change? Or maybe you do shop at Whole Foods because the founder and CEO, John Mackey is a vegan who has been extremely helpful in the battle to increase standards for humane animal treatment, promoted organic foods and sustainable farming, has donated his stock portfolio to charity and placed caps on executive pay. Is it good for the country as a whole if everyone starts to disengage from people who are not like them? I don't understand the urge to punish people you don't agree with until they change their tune. The world is full of people who think my views are just as silly as I think theirs are. That's life.

If you work in a large corporation as I do there's an excellent chance that you will run across people in positions of authority that will have rather different views than you do. Take it from me it's NOT a good idea to get into political discussions with your direct supervisors about affirmative action, the war in Afghanistan or feminism. But if you discover that your boss's boss's boss thinks that Glenn Beck has it right, do you continue to work there? Or if you are of more conservative bent and you learn that the company CIO thinks the problem with this country is that it needs a good dose of Euro-style social welfare and confiscation of guns, do you stand up and tell her off and then quit? Or in those situations do you say, hey I need this job and as long as I am treated fairly I will stay? Because after all, business is business and those idiots people have a right to their opinions.
There is not as far as I know any claim that Dan Cathy oversees a corporate culture of gay hatred. He has not as far as I know publicly used anti-gay slurs, called for beatings of gays, claimed that he would refuse to hire, promote or serve gays, made anti-gay jokes, or made snide comments about Broadway or West Hollywood. All he did was say he believes that marriage is between a man and woman and contribute money to organizations that feel the same. For that Boston's Mayor Tom Menino sends a letter to Chick-fil-A stating that they are not welcome while Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Aldermen are also making noises about preventing the company from expanding in Chicago

Whatever you think about Dan Cathy or his views, do you really want a government star chamber deciding, for purely political reasons, to try to prevent a company from doing business? That is a pretty obvious, blatant and ugly violation of the First Amendment. If you support that because you happen to think that Dan Cathy is a twit, then would you also support a local government in a more conservative area trying to prevent a lesbian bookstore from opening or demanding to know if a Curves franchise owner believes in abortion rights or sending questionnaires to a dance club to find out the owner's stance on interracial dating?
I think that any new boycott of Chick-fil-A will peter out just like the previous ones did. Remember that NAACP boycott of South Carolina or Target stores? Exactly.


Is it automatically bigotry to support traditional marriage?

Do you occasionally do business with people who hold different political beliefs than you do? If so where do you draw the line?

Is it smart business to put your religious or political views out there for debate?

Should local governments try to prevent Chick-fil-A from expanding?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Movie Reviews-The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises
directed by Christopher Nolan
Ok this is the end of the trilogy and something I've been waiting a while to see. Unfortunately I could not do like some people and leave work early or even skip work completely to see this movie. My boss believes in a full day's work for a full day's pay-even on Fridays. I had to do like all the other schmucks and see it after work. Such is life. Somebody has to be responsible and work until the very end of the day instead of sneaking out early. And that somebody is usually me.

Well what was it like? The obvious comparison is to the summer's other big box office comic book extravaganza, The Avengers, but besides being based on a comic book the two films have virtually nothing in common. The Dark Knight Rises makes use of a different set of tropes and despite being a PG-13 movie is, if you forgive the term, a much darker movie than The Avengers in both cinematography and tone. It is also among the best movies I've seen so far this year though in truth it does not hold up to The Dark Knight. But it does complete the arc of Batman, for good or ill.

The Dark Knight Rises is a film that is about pain, not just the physical pain of combat but the emotional pain of processing loss and lying about it. Batman, is after all a lie, a curse, a construct created by Bruce Wayne (Christopher Bale) to deal with with his fear of caves, bats, darkness and the loss of his parents all those years ago. Well it is often said that if you're not living honestly then everything else you do will be wasted effort. The Dark Knight Rises asks if that is true, not in an obvious sense but in a blink and you'll miss it manner. The Dark Knight Rises also closes the circle on the origins of Batman and reveals the link between Batman and his most physically intimidating rival, Bane (Tom Hardy)
The film opens up with a thrilling bit of misdirection as a CIA cutout (Aidan Gillen from The Wire and Game of Thrones) thinks that he has captured both Bane and a rogue nuclear scientist only to realize far too late that despite appearances it is Bane who has captured him. Despite looking and sounding like a fey silverback gorilla with a speech impediment, Bane is just as cunning and intelligent as he is physically imposing, something many people throughout the film learn to their dismay. Hardy really brought this role to life and may inspire you to hit the gym a bit harder. But if you start walking around with a permanent swagger and gas mask you may be taking things a bit too far. Just a suggestion.

Back in Gotham City, we learn that since the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has become a virtual shut-in, he is physically disabled and emotionally withdrawn. Few of his employees besides the ever loyal Albert (Michael Caine) even see him. One employee who does see him is a maid, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) who upon taking dinner to Wayne is revealed to have stolen his mother's pearl necklace. Anyway Kyle, who is of course Catwoman, wanted much more than a pearl necklace from a billionaire. Cue dirty joke in 3..2...1.. Wayne, who doesn't miss much, noticed that Kyle was taking his prints from the safe. Of course he notices this from the floor as the lithe resourceful Kyle kicks his cane out from under him and makes off into the night with the necklace and prints. I'm not really a huge Hathaway fan but I enjoyed her as Catwoman here. 

Police commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is feeling guilty about having hung Batman out to dry all those years ago. He lied to everyone and claimed that Harvey Dent was a good man at the end. Dent's name has been used to implement anti-crime legislation. Gordon's also keeping a wary eye on deputy police commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine), a younger and more politically adept rival who makes it clear that he wants Gordon's job. At a charity function a congressman is abducted; Gordon leaps into the fray along with patrol officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Gordon doesn't manage to retrieve the congressman but he does fall temporarily into the hands of Bane, who has set up shop in the city sewers. Again, I can not overemphasize just how physically intimidating Bane is. This is not a man you want to disappoint. Heck, this is not a man you want to notice you. Because either of those things can lead to a world of pain.

Gordon escapes and tries to warn people but he's somewhat dismissed as a raver. But nonetheless Gordon is still commissioner and over Foley's objections he promotes the quick-witted and fast moving Blake to detective.
In part shamed by Kyle's quick dismissal of him as a old cripple and worried about why anyone would want his fingerprints, and having got wind of Bane's arrival in the city, Wayne decides, bad knees and all, to get back into the game. Kyle is revealed to be working for Wayne rival John Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants to take over Wayne Enterprises, especially the special weapons division, faithfully guarded by Wayne loyalist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). To help fend off Daggett's financial machinations, Wayne turns to hot babe and Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), revealing to her some of the advanced fusion technology that he and Fox fear that Daggett is after. Albert thinks that it's time both physically and emotionally for Wayne to let the Batman persona go. Daggett is evidently employing Bane though one wonders if anyone can safely employ Bane.

And then things start to get interesting. This film mostly lacks the wink-wink nudge nudge humor of some other comic book movies. For the most part it takes itself very seriously. One of the movie's themes is that the past always reaches out to touch us. But it's up to us to decide if we control our future or stay mired in the past. Albert and Lucius Fox, despite their unflagging dedication and loyalty, both represent Bruce Wayne's past. And no matter what has happened in your past, whether it is something as prosaic as getting dumped via email, having a bucket of pig's blood dumped on your head at the prom, seeing your father get his head chopped off on the command of your husband to be, or watching your parents get murdered in front of you when you are only a child, at some point you will need to let those things go and look to the future. It's not that it's necessarily the right thing to do but that it's the only thing to do. After all chances are you're not the only person to whom bad things have happened in life. This entire trilogy has really been about Wayne's journey to find peace in his life despite being suddenly and violently orphaned at a very young age.
There is a thrillingly shot set piece battle between the entire NYPD Gotham Police Department and what looks like every criminal, thug, gangster and lowlife on the entire East Coast. There's a great line before battle is joined "There's only one police department in this town!". If this film could make me temporarily root for police then you know the director knows how to produce the emotions that he wants. This film was interpreted by some as a paean to fascism and by others as a call to revolution. It's neither. It's a comic book film. Like real life, it's messy. Most of the people who were in prison certainly deserved to be there. However the ends used to put them there were based on a lie. And once that Bane reveals that lie they are, to say the least, a bit disturbed. On the other hand anarchy is shown to be just as big of a danger as excessive law and order. What's needed is honesty and balance, which also just so happens to be what's needed in Batman's/Bruce Wayne's personal life.

Batman doesn't have any superpowers to call upon and usually eschews guns. So this is a very physical movie-the special effects are there but they're not over the top. The showdown between Bane and Batman is shot in a MMA close in style:very short devastating punches, headbutts, kicks, thrown elbows and the like. Bane is throwing lightning with his right hand and thunder with his left and you can feel the impact. The movie runs a tad long at just under 3 hours.  I don't really have much else to say without sliding over into spoiler territory but I did want to reiterate that this does close the cycle on the Batman saga. I thought it was a great film and shows that just because a comic book is the source material need not mean that the film must be of inferior quality. Hopefully we can start to see the same high quality acting, story lines, direction and effects in horror films. This film can be enjoyed on different levels by faithful original DC comic book geeks, people who came to the story through the reimagined Frank Miller graphic novel, folks who are trilogy experts, people who like to watch idealized men and women like Bale and Hathaway in action, or just people who needed to get out of the house for a while. The Batman story is complete. And I enjoyed it. I only hope we do not get a Godfather 3 equivalent shoehorned in 12 years from now.
The Dark Knight Rises also featured several members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Liam Neeson, Lestor Carbonell, Senator Patrick Leahy, Christopher Judge and Tom Conti.

Friday, July 20, 2012

HBO Game of Thrones: Comic-Con Cast Interviews and Discussion

In case you hadn't seen this already here are George R.R. Martin and selected cast members from HBO's Game of Thrones at Comic-Con 2012 in San Diego discussing season 2 and possibly a few teasers from season 3. It is always interesting to listen to actors to learn how they interpret their characters. It's fun to see the delight on Martin's face as he talks to and listens to the people who brought his creations to life.
This is in three parts. Each is between 15-17 minutes long.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Preglimony: A Really Bad Idea??

If a child is born and its parents do not live together the state may intervene to determine which parent should get custody (usually this is the woman) and which parent must pay child support (usually this is the man). There is a lot of bias in the above two determinations. Additionally if a child is born and the man and woman are married, but the husband later discovers his wife was letting another mule kick in her stall, so to speak, and the child is not his it doesn't really matter. Generally speaking a child born within marriage is presumed to be the husband's child and he is responsible for the child's support. So the man pays. Again this seems really unfair and certainly isn't how I would have designed our society's culture and laws but hey I just got here. The overriding rule seems to be that the man pays.

Until relatively recently one could at least say that a man would be paying to support an actual child-that is a human being that was born and had actually exited his mother's body. Because it was only then that science could safely perform the paternity tests and the mother and any number of men could go on The Maury Povich Show and make fools of themselves.

But science is always expanding the realm of what is possible and has advanced to the point that we can learn quite a lot of things, including paternity, about the child before it is born.

For people who do things the right way, i.e. are married and/or committed to each other before children are created, this is no big deal. But for people that aren't married, aren't committed to each other or are in situations in which the man has very good reason to doubt the woman's fidelity, this could be a very big deal. However gender politics being what they are, one law professor thinks that the new science should be used to shake men down for child support money before the child is born. How will "preglimony" make a difference in the child's life while the "child" is still in the womb?

Rather than focusing on the relationship between the man and a hypothetical child, the new technology invites us to change the way we think about the relationship between unmarried lovers who conceive. Both partners had a role in the conception; it’s only fair that they should both take responsibility for its economic consequences.
Former spouses are often required to pay alimony; former cohabiting partners may have to pay palimony; why not ask men who conceive with a woman to whom they are not married to pay “preglimony”? Alternatively, we might simply encourage preglimony through the tax code, by allowing pregnancy-support payments to be deductible (which is how alimony is treated).
The most frequent objection I hear to this idea is that it will give men a say over abortion.  A woman’s right to choose is sometimes eclipsed by an abusive partner who pressures her into terminating or continuing a pregnancy against her will, and preglimony could exacerbate this dynamic. 
And how workable would this be? If there is a miscarriage does the father get his money back? And how would the proper level of support be determined? If a negligent father does not pay child support and his ex and children lack decent housing, food or clothing that is an easy metric for a court to use. But in pregnancy the child is inside the woman's body and literally has all of its needs provided for by its mother. The father could be a millionaire or lack two nickels to rub together. That child will still have the same gestation period. The court can't measure the well being of the unborn child whose mother is not getting preglimony vs. one whose mother is. So giving money for "preglimony" seems a tad on the greedy side to me. The unborn child will never see that money, not one penny. 
And then of course there's the elephant in the room. Abortion
If the woman chooses to have an abortion, as is her right, does the father get the money back? Can he sue the mother for breach of contract? Theoretically if a custodial parent is not spending the money on the child or has placed the child in an unsafe environment then the non custodial parent can try to get the child removed and take custody away. This is impossible during pregnancy. More importantly does preglimony mean that the fetus is actually a human being that is deserving of rights and protection? I mean it appears to be logically inconsistent to argue on one hand that the unborn child is not legally protected. The argument is that the mother's right to bodily integrity trumps other considerations and thus the child may be killed by the mother for any reason at all. Yet in the very next breath the professor turns around and claims that the unborn child deserves protection and support because after all the mother didn't create it by herself and women children deserve the financial support of men.
I am, to say the least, not a feminist, and arguments like this are why. Again the only consistent theme seems to be that the woman chooses and the man pays.

Modern women have for whatever reason increasingly decided to have children outside of marriage. More than half of children born to women under 30 are born out of wedlock. Yet many women appear to still want marriage's financial protections. Well the solution is simple. Get married before you have children. Because if you're going to tell me that a fetus is a child and needs financial support from its father I'm going to agree that the fetus is a child and whatever financial support it needs before birth is dwarfed by the need it has for its mother not to kill it. 

What's your take?

Does preglimony make sense in a changing world?

Should we think of pregnancy as something that the woman should be compensated for?

Should married men ever have to pay for children that aren't biologically theirs?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Movie Reviews-2 Days In New York, Flypaper, Conspiracy

2 Days in New York
written and directed by Julie Delpy
This film is a sequel to 2 Days In Paris which was also directed by Delpy. I hadn't seen the previous film but it didn't really matter. This is also a romantic comedy but instead of being about the travails of two crazy kids and whether or not they can wind up together this is about the travails of two very grown people and whether or not they can or should stay together.

Marion (Delpy) is a French artist who has dumped her previous love interest Jack and moved in with the quite bohemian Mingus, (Rock) a writer for the Village Voice and radio show host. In flashback it's revealed that Mingus was the friend on whose shoulder Marion went to cry when her previous relationship started going south. Mingus made a move and evidently successfully jumped ladders. Marion and Jack each have children by prior relationships but do not have a child together as of yet. Both Marion and Rock love each other but it's not necessarily true that they're in love with one another. Their relationship will be suddenly put to the test.

Marion's father, Jeannott (Delpy's real life father Albert Delpy), her sister Rose (Alexia Landeau) and Rose's boyfriend Manu (Alex Nahon), who is also Marion's ex, all come to visit Mingus and Marion rather unexpectedly.
This sets off some static as Mingus is not crazy about the fact that suddenly his girlfriend is speaking to her friends and family in a language he doesn't understand. He really takes a dislike to Manu, who appears to be something of a hipster racist. Have you ever dealt with someone who out of the blue says something racist but claims no malice?  You're black right? So you must have voted for Obama. Do you know him? Do you know where I can get some good weed? That is Manu.
Marion has an art exhibit that's she trying to get ready for and she doesn't like Rose making goo-goo eyes at Mingus or refusing to adhere to American standards of female propriety. Rose has some sort of weird sibling rivalry dynamic with her sister. Jeannot is blissfully chaotic. He speaks no English. He has a lot of misunderstandings with Rock and other Americans. He is happy to see his grandchild and wants to give Mingus' daughter some wine. The arrival of Marion's family ultimately makes Mingus and Marion look at each other and at themselves a little differently. There is also a theme about the fleeting nature of life and how family is both people we choose to include in our life and people we didn't choose. Delpy recently lost her mother as did her character Marion and the movie touches on that a bit.

This was a fun movie, not a great one but definitely enjoyable. Anyone who has ever had to bite their tongue in front of their significant other's family to keep the peace or for that matter has lost their temper with their significant other's family or friends may get a few chuckles out of this film. It's obviously set in NY and if you're familiar with that environment there might be a few more treats for you. Vincent Gallo has a cameo.

directed by Rob Minkoff
This had the star power to be a better film than it was. I'm not really quite sure what went wrong. It had the comic relief, the double cross, the misdirection, a little violence, a little romance, a little sex appeal. But it just didn't quite do it for me. But you may feel differently. I dunno. Perhaps the writing was trying a little too hard to be cute. I'm not sure.

Anyway a slightly autistic man with OCD named Tripp (Patrick Dempsey) enters a bank just before closing time to get a large sum of money exchanged into a very particular number of coins. He chooses the lane operated by new teller Kaitlyn (Ashley Judd) in part so he can look down her top while she busies herself with his request. I've heard men do things like that on occasion. They exchange banter. However before Tripp can find out if the engaged Kaitlyn has any play in her he notices that the bank is about to be robbed by not one but two different gangs.

The first duo of bank robbers is somewhat low class and definitely low intelligence. They are heterosexual life partners Peanut Butter (Tim Blake Nelson in the movie's funniest role) and Jelly (Pruitt Vince). They are after the cash in the ATM's and appear to be stereotypical rednecks. The second trio of bank robbers are Darrien (Mekhi Phifer), the leader, his buddy Weinstein (John Ventimiglia aka "Artie Bucco" from The Sopranos) and psycho for hire Gates (Matt Ryan). They are more professional and have a plan that requires split second timing to disable outside communications, alarms, get into the vault and leave before anyone on the outside even knows what is happening. Gates has a constantly expressed desire to kill a hostage just to show who the boss is.
Anyway, after a brief standoff after which Tripp suggests that as the two group's goals do not actually conflict, each group tries to work on its plan but things keep going wrong. Also people keep dying though each group swears it's not the one doing the killing. Tripp notices some oddities and along with Kaitlyn tries to figure out what is actually going on. Apparently there might be some commonalities between both sets of bank robbers and all of the eccentric hostages.

Oscar winner Octavia Spencer's role veers uncomfortably close to Mammy histrionics but perhaps I am just being too sensitive. This is a broad comedy and only a few people come off looking competent or clever. Peanut Butter and Jelly are for example, certainly not the sort of dimwits that anyone would trust with explosives and are very touchy about their unacceptably low ranking on the FBI's most wanted list. All the top criminals know their ranking and those of their rivals. Everyone wants to make sure that their ranking stays high. Jeffrey Tambor, Curtis Armstrong, Adrian Martinez, and Natalia Safran also have roles.

directed by Frank Pierson
Where you work do you spend a lot of time in meetings? I do. And often the higher you go, the more time you spend in meetings and the more you have to work with people outside of your immediate department or direct line of command. And when THAT happens there is always friction and either subtle or direct challenges to authority, bureaucratic infighting, threats to escalate disputes to bigger and more powerful bosses, fights over budgets, passive aggressive ignoring of commands, favors owed and paid, and occasional harsh collar pops to remind certain people just who works for whom.

I will never forget that one time my direct supervisor told our group that we weren't going to be doing what the department business account manager wanted. In a department meeting with that woman (who was quietly intimidating-she controlled the budget and had links to VERY important people) he started to lay out the reasons why his plan was better than what she had earlier requested. Not two minutes into his speech, she looked up from what she was doodling and said " I thought I told you before that we weren't doing that. It's senseless. Move on. Do you have anything else??". Old dude was never the same after that. It was a source of humor in that department for years.

In Conspiracy the same elements are at play though obviously the stakes are much higher than some accounting middleware projects. It's 1942 and Hitler has decided that the killing of the Jews of Europe is not proceeding as fast or as neatly as desired. So through SS chief Himmler he directs that this be changed. The Jews are to be gotten rid of. Period. But given the sensitivity of this no written orders are to be given. The project, and make no mistake, that is what it is, is turned over to ambitious SS/Gestapo general Reinhard Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh) and his mouselike subordinate Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci).
Heydrich sees in this not only an opportunity to rid the world of Jews for once and for all but just as importantly a chance but also to gain power for himself, his superior (Himmler) and the SS in general. To this end he chairs the Wannasee Conference to which he invites numerous leading Nazi officials and bureaucrats.
Heydrich lays out the plan of what is to happen. Some of these people are bootlickers who are only too happy to follow who is strong. And Heydrich is strong. Other people resent the fact that the SS is taking the lead and turning their various departments into virtual SS appendages. Others don't like Jews but worry that they need to do things legally in accordance with laws already passed. Some other people think that extermination is a bridge too far and expulsion or unpleasant living conditions are what is required for Jews. Others want to know who is going to pay for it all or get bogged down in details like mixed marriages or what is to be done with half-Jews or quarter-Jews.

With some of these people Heydrich cajoles, with others he bribes or uses reason and logic. With others he takes them outside for a brief chat and tells them straight up that as protected or as important as they think they are, it might take the SS a while to get to them, but get to them they would. So get with the program and don't give him any more s***. This is an older film but very worthwhile. It's the best of those listed here today I think.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Supreme Court, ObamaCare and Moral Claims of Freedom

The Supreme Court has spoken. The constitutional battle over ObamaCare is over. The President and his much derided solicitor general won on most of the legal merits and the policy implementation. Even as the Supreme Court (rightly in my view) rejected the Administration's argument that the Commerce Clause allowed a mandate to purchase health care coverage, it (wrongly in my view) allowed the individual mandate to stand by wrongly characterizing it as a tax. Very few people besides Lauryn Hill, Wesley Snipes or Irwin Schiff question the government's ability to tax and spend so the Supreme Court called the mandate a tax and allowed it to stand.

So that is that. Short of a (currently unlikely) Romney victory and (quite unlikely) total Republican November sweep of the House and Senate, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a settled issue. There are some Republican governors who are threatening, as is their right, to refuse to set up exchanges or expand Medicaid while for the 33rd time the House voted to repeal the law but those are die-hard responses that won't "pull up ObamaCare by its roots" as some desired.

One thing that I've noticed is that partisans on either side make the mistake of personalizing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (hence the name ObamaCare). This explains the insane "I will break him" attitude of many Republicans and the joy of some PPACA supporters who didn't really look at the fine print.

Too many PPACA supporters make the mistake of assuming that all opposition must, by definition, be based in dislike for the President. This is not the case. There are two major objections to the PPACA, which are shared in different ways by principled dissidents on both the left and right as well as some libertarians across the board.
First, there has been a reduction in freedom. This is the critical issue to people who tend libertarian and/or are opposed to the mandate. 

Unfortunately many people on the left and/or supporters of PPACA miss this entirely. They assume that anyone who invokes this concern is either a useful idiot (if they're leftist) or a liar (if they're on the right). Well maybe. But remember we talked recently about how many people on the left place equality and compassion as the highest and in some cases only moral values. This is an excellent example of that. In order to supposedly move towards equality and compassion the people who support the mandate are perfectly willing to reduce your freedom to make choices about what sort of health care you want. Now think about some of the other power-mad people that are in executive office around the nation. Can you imagine what a President Bloomberg might do with such powers? What sort of nation do you want? Do you want an activist relatively unrestrained centralized government?
I live in Michigan which has a higher than normal amount of truly obese people of all races. It's especially bad for Hispanics and Blacks. All else equal, obese people cost the public and private sector more in medical coverage. They clog the health care system with their (preventable) diseases and conditions. The slender, underweight, normal sized or moderately overweight workers pay money into a system that transfers much of that money to obese care. Why should I pay money to subsidize some free-loading fattie? So OBVIOUSLY we need a mandate that obese people (BMI of 31 or greater, or body fat pct of 32% or higher) join a health club and maintain that membership until their BMI falls to 28 or lower. To make it nice and constitutional we'll just levy a tax on porcine people who refuse the new mandate or can't lose the weight. Sound good?? Well if I happened to own a health club I would love this idea. 
People that drive trucks use more gasoline, contribute more to global warming and damage roads more quickly. And those doggone people won't stop buying trucks even as gasoline stays above $3/gallon. So OBVIOUSLY we need a mandate that everyone purchase either a Volt, a Focus, a Leaf, or a Nano. So those of you who like your Rams or F-150s sorry pal. You're hurting the economy. But why stop there?
There's a doctor shortage, This affects health care. And that's commerce. Too many smart people are going into law or finance. This is an OBVIOUS resource misallocation. Don't these people know that they owe it to us all to make the right choice? We'll just mandate that certain people become doctors. After all chances are that they're receiving some form of government tuition assistance. And should they disagree well that's no problem, we'll just refuse them student loans and make them pay added penalties on any income earned outside of the medical field. We'll soon have more doctors to treat the expanded patient base.
Now that we've accepted that anything (including inactivity) that impacts commerce can be taxed and mandated why not just go for broke. Business hiring decisions have a much larger immediate economic impact than health care provision health care. Corporations are sitting on trillions in cash and refusing to hire people. This hurts the economy. In fact it's economic treason. So let's just mandate that corporations hire people until the unemployment rate is at 5% or lower. Those companies that refuse will have to pay a penalty tax. The Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of Treasury will oversee this program.
And so on. You may think I am being ridiculous. Maybe I am. You may think there are political, legal or constitutional barriers. You may even think some of those are good ideas. But I don't think any of them are good ideas. And I think they are slightly more likely than they were a month ago. The government has unparalleled coercive powers. I don't think it's a coincidence that after the PPACA was upheld we see NYT editorials endorsing the idea of using eminent domain to seize homes that are underwater and give them to other investors for resale or using the power to draft to create a national service cadre of lower paid/unpaid young workers that would undercut unionized labor.

Secondly, the law doesn't solve the problem it was meant to solve. It does not bend the cost curve. How could it? Big pharma maintains protection from cheaper generic drugs. Hospitals have greater incentives to merge. There is no legal mechanism to limit or prevent premium increases. All else equal there will be greater demand for roughly the same supply of services. That means, premiums will increase, as mine already have. It makes it more difficult, if not impossible to push for a single payer program in the US and may increase medical costs abroad.
Who are the people who lack health insurance. Well some are the long-term unemployed. Others are illegal immigrants, who will still be uncovered under this plan and will still be seeking assistance in the ER. Others are people with conditions that are simply so expensive to treat that their insurer has kicked them off their plan and/or other insurers have refused to cover them. Others are employed people who either can't afford coverage or who work somewhere where coverage isn't offered. And finally there are people who, affordability aside, have made a rational choice they they don't currently need health care insurance. 
This last group (the smallest) has received much scorn and opprobrium for supposedly driving up insurance premiums. People speak of them with contempt. They tend to be younger and/or in better health so they are much desired as customers by insurers because they will tend to pay premiums but cost very little in coverage. I don't understand why it is okay to speak with disdain of people standing on their own two feet but if someone has an unkind word to say about a welfare recipient, who is taking from the system, then that's a bad thing. At the very least it's safe to say that this law will have some unintended consequences.

Obviously some people are not fans of the 9th amendment, the 10th amendment or of a Federal Government with limited enumerated powers. That's fine. Evidently portions of the Constitution don't mean what I thought they meant. Cool. Hey I'm no constitutional scholar. I'm just an IT guy.

But, if we did decide that we really really really wanted a Federal Government with limited and enumerated powers and that the 9th and 10th amendments were actually meaningful amendments rather than the redheaded ugly stepchildren of the Bill of Rights, what changes would we need to make to the Constitution since evidently some parts just aren't clear??? This is not a rhetorical question. My concept is that government should stick to its limited roles but otherwise leave me alone.

Now that the issue has been settled, at least in the courts:

What are your thoughts?

Do you at least understand the opposing side (whatever side that is)?

Do you think this will be an issue in the November election?

Do you want a limited federal government or a large unlimited federal government?