Saturday, November 29, 2014

Movie Reviews: Nightcrawler, Deliver Us From Evil

directed by Dan Gilroy
Nightcrawler is an independent film by first time director Dan Gilroy (he wrote The Bourne Legacy) which is worth checking out. Have you ever been around someone who makes you truly uncomfortable? Do you know someone whose smile or laugh gives you the impression that they are doing so not because they actually find something funny but because they learned on their home planet Voltron that humans occasionally smile or laugh. So they're trying to blend in. They're imitating human emotions. Some people fake feelings better than others do. Such a person could be a sociopath. They don't really have very many human passions other than lust or the need to dominate but they can temporarily put on many sentiments just as you put on clothing every morning. But as clothing is not a part of you, human instincts are foreign to sociopaths. Sociopaths can use emotions to manipulate or trick people. The more skilled of them can, when necessary, give an impression of actually caring about people. But truly, they don't. People are just a means to whatever end they are seeking. The sociopath can take off whatever emotion she was using to delude you and move on to the next mark. Guilt, shame, regret and honor are all meaningless concepts to such people. Trying to explain such things to them or worse trying to make them experience them are a complete waste of time and could wind up with someone getting hurt. In my current career, I don't think I've ever known anyone truly like that. I might have when I was in financial sales. 

The higher I've moved up the food chain the more I find that many people closer to the top do not give a flying Fibber McGee about the folks below them. But honest to God true sociopaths? I think those are rare, at least at my relatively low level of authority. But Nightcrawler would have you believe that many of them are working in the news business. Los Angeles man Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is such a person. 
He is a smiling sociopath who only very rarely drops the mask to reveal the dark emptiness that's behind his cold eyes. Nightcrawler could be experienced as something of a satire. Louis has read/heard from online self-help classes or motivational gurus that a secret to success is to find the match between the set of things that you like to do and the set of things that you're actually good at doing. When you find that match you will then know what work you should do that will make you internally happy as well as possibly wealthy. Well so far Louis hasn't had any luck making that match. But things can change. When we first meet Louis he's a scrap metal thief who doesn't mind robbing security guards. An accident on the expressway catches his interest and also that of professional independent photographer Joe Loder (Bill Paxton). Loder answers a few questions from Louis but has little patience or time for someone he dismisses as weird. Well before long Louis has started showing up at crime scenes with an out-of-date camcorder. The other freelancers initially laugh at him as he's often late or irritates cops but Lou is persistent. Before too long the aggressively confident Louis has hired Rick (Riz Ahmed) as a low paid assistant. He's also started selling his video/photo work to an aging TV news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo-Dan Gilroy's wife) who oversees a low rated station and more specifically a low rated morning news show. Nina's already morally damaged. As she explains to the quick study Louis, she doesn't want stories about or images of poor or Black/Hispanic crime victims. Affluent white victims with non-white perpetrators are what she wants as news leads. In different ways both Nina and Loder underestimate Louis. They misread what he wants and how far he's prepared to go in order to get it. This is a man on a mission. Both Nina and Loder will be changed by their interactions with Louis.

This film proves that you can make an engaging, disturbing and quite professional looking movie for very little money ($8 million) as long as you have a good story and reuse a lot of the same vehicles, props, scenery and actors. I was impressed. Los Angeles at night can be quite scary. Nightcrawler reminded me in equal parts of American Psycho, Network, Taxi Driver and A Shock to The System. Louis is a man who hides large parts of himself from other people. This doesn't cause him any emotional problems because he is a sociopath. Nevertheless he has definite goals in both his career and personal life. H's not shy about reaching for the brass ring in either arena. He can spout forth any number of bland self-help bromides. It's unclear if Louis truly believes them or rather if he just wants the listener to believe that he believes them. Gyllenhaal apparently lost a lot of weight and muscle for this role. So the sense of purpose and authority that he exudes doesn't come from his musculature but from an intense blue-eyed stare. The weight loss made the eyes look even larger. The eyes constantly remind you that there is something a little off about Louis. Tread lightly around him. 
Gyllenhaal's subtlety and mastery of facial expressions is what makes Louis such a powerful and offsetting incarnation. One of the film's creepiest ugliest scenes occurs at a happy Mexican restaurant. The movie also touches on the dance of life and lust between men and women and how both genders can be both victim and victimizer.  How far would you go to protect your source of income? You might surprise yourself. Because the film does not give Louis any background the viewer is free to make up his or her own mind about what his past includes. The fact that he was so quick to suss out that Rick had previously turned tricks for male clients despite identifying as straight made me wonder if Louis' past included similar activities. I was actually supposed to see Fury but I am glad I saw this film instead. If this movie had a weakness it's that the other characters, with the possible exception of Nina, are not that detailed. But I think that's a feature, not a bug, of the film. Make no mistake. You will not be rooting for Louis in any real way. If you do you might have some unresolved issues. If you go into this movie expecting a likable protagonist, you are going to be disappointed I think. But if you appreciate good direction, a mostly sharp script and messages that can be interpreted in multiple ways according to your own moral true north, you MIGHT enjoy this film. As always YMMV. There is violence, both depicted and implied.

"What if the truth is not that I don't understand people but rather that I dislike them?"

Deliver Us From Evil
directed by Scott Derrickson
Ok, if you have been around the blog for a while you will know that I am a sucker for horror movies. Sometimes this can lead to seeing some really good films which I think people should check out. And sometimes this can lead to watching some pretty bad films which I think people should be warned against. Unfortunately Deliver Us From Evil falls into the latter category. This was a waste of my time and my money. Some directors, writers and producers are able to take a well-known hoary story and make chicken salad out of chickens*** while others just want to feed you the unadulterated chickens*** and make you believe that it tastes good. Well this film didn't taste good. I'm looking for the rubbing alcohol, mouthwash and hydrogen peroxide. 

To list all the stories and movies that this film ripped off was influenced by would take longer than I have to give as I promised myself not to dedicate more than three paragraphs telling you not to see it. Let's just say that from the opening this film felt very derivative and not in a good way either. We have a macho NYC cop Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana) who doesn't really believe in the supernatural. There is a somewhat unorthodox Catholic priest Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) who most definitely believes in the supernatural or more specifically that Evil with a capital "E" exists and is constantly trying to harm humanity. And finally we have the hapless group of soldiers who found something in Iraq which bore all sorts of warnings not to look at it or open it. Unfortunately since the soldiers don't speak the language common in Iraq 4000 years ago they do just that. 

Well you know the rest. The soldiers come back to the United States and something which isn't of this world comes back with them. Sarchie starts to look into some disturbing events involving some of the soldiers. Cheap jump scares, unexplained noises in Sarchie's daughter's room and other obvious "scary" scenes abound until a knock down drag out fight ensues with unclean spirits. Ho-hum. Other directors executed this story much better in Fallen or for that matter The Conjuring.  I thought this film failed to capture both the sense of wonder and of dread that would exist if someone, even someone who was already a devout Christian, received undeniable proof that there are supernatural entities of malign intent in this world. The film would have been more impressive if such entities had had a plan that didn't involve scaring or possibly killing a little girl as their main goal. I mean according to the stories these are creatures who were tossed out of Heaven untold eons ago during a rebellion and have been plotting revenge ever since. Maybe they should set their goals a little higher? The story was supposedly based in part on real life events.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ferguson Grand Jury Indictment Announcement: No Charges Filed!

The grand jury tasked with deciding whether or not to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown has reached a decision. That decision was just announced shortly after 9 PM EST this evening. Update: No criminal charges will be filed against Darren Wilson. Not a one. The grand jury found no probable cause. Stop back here later for updates, discussion and analysis of next steps, if any. With any luck one of the blog attorneys will stop by to comment and provide perspective. I think this whole process has been janky, to borrow a word often used by one of my cousins but we shall see what will happen. One of the things which has bothered me about this situation is that too many people who support Officer Wilson seem to want to try the facts before a trial has even been set. The grand jury is only supposed to decide if there is enough evidence for an indictment. It's a much lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt. Everyone should remember that. If the grand jury indicts it doesn't mean that the people on the grand jury thought that Officer Wilson was guilty of the crime. That remains to be seen. One of the things that some of the commentary around this incident does show is that in general people with more melanin and people with very little melanin have completely different viewpoints of reality, to the extent that one wonders how there can ever be any "coming together". Of course such coming together can and does happen on an individual level but in so many ways institutionally we remain a nation completely divided in perceptions and everything else. This CNN poll shows that 38% of whites think that Wilson should not be charged with a crime at all while a full 50% of whites think that police in their area have no or almost no prejudice against blacks. LINK 
Anyway, indictment or not, once the decision has been announced let us know what you think of the process, the case particulars and what if anything this means for the future of race relations in America.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Book Reviews: Mafia Prince

Mafia Prince
by Philip Leonetti with Scott Burstein
I'm not too familiar with current organized criminal activity in the Philadelphia-Atlantic City-South Jersey area but throughout the eighties and nineties this area was shared by at least seven different Italian-American criminal organizations: the five New York Families, a small moribund North Jersey Family and the Philadelphia Crime Family, which had a dominant presence in Philly and Atlantic City. Although Gambino Crime Family boss John Gotti would personify a new brash breed of go-go eighties mobster, in fact he was preceded by his good friend Philadelphia Family Boss Nicky Scarfo. Scarfo's reign was extremely violent. Scarfo was apparently something of a paranoid press obsessed pint-sized psychopath whose dedication to violence and to preemptive murder turned many family members and associates against him, including his maternal nephew and later underboss, Phillip Leonetti. It's one thing to kill someone who has broken some widely accepted Mafia rules. It's something else again to kill someone's "civilian" relative or order murders of crew members for the tiniest of transgressions, real or imagined. Scarfo's reputation for violence initially increased the amount of money flowing into mob coffers but he enjoyed killing too much. He brought in too many people whose only skill sets were intimidation and murder. Blood costs money. The relevant state and federal law enforcement agencies made putting Scarfo behind bars a top priority. This book primarily describes Leonetti's relationship with his uncle and Scarfo's rise to and fall from power. There are some things revealed within that I didn't know. Philip Leonetti, or "Crazy Phil" as he was known on the streets, was an accomplished murderer in his own right. During a mob war his mere presence caused one man to commit suicide (FWIW Leonetti said he just wanted to talk to the man) It's not really possible to feel too much sympathy for him.  But unlike a mobster such as Kenji Gallo Leonetti doesn't seem to miss the old days of murder and mayhem. He's also pretty circumspect about the day to day business in which he was involved. We read about control of or influence in unions but not much about how it was established or how it works on a daily basis. It was usually maintained by threat of murder.

Mob Boss Angelo Bruno takes the retirement package
Leonetti often justifies his actions or inaction by claiming that he had no choice. However, because he became a witness against several of his former friends or associates in the Mafia, I think that he always had a choice. The book gives plenty of examples why you wouldn't want to bring your relatives into the Mafia. There are instances when Leonetti muses that his uncle would kill him or thinks that he might have to kill his uncle. Sometimes this is darkly humorous. Who among us hasn't felt a sudden rush of irritation at a relative? But when you and your relatives are all killers, these feelings can be problematic. Other mafia soldiers wind up working for a captain who killed their father. They serve that captain loyally. Can you imagine such a thing? It was no secret either. The captain told the two brothers that he murdered their father because that man had killed his father. But it was business. It's possible that Scarfo's murderous nature might have stemmed from his relatively small stature (5'5") or other psychological issues but Leonetti doesn't have too much to say about that. Leonetti also leaves out huge portions of his personal life. It comes as a surprise halfway thru the book when he suddenly talks about his son or his wife (who is apparently not his son's motherThis book pulls the curtains back on the so-called Honored Society and shows that at its core it's no different than a street gang. I was amazed by how often the boss of a family had to negotiate with his men and form alliances rather than simply dictate. Of course sometimes such an approach is considered proof of weakness, which normally leads to bad consequences for the boss.

Crazy Phil enjoying a short prison stay
Men are murdered in front of their mothers. Women are abused. A rising Family star makes the critical mistake of calling off his engagement to a powerful man's daughter. And much like Robb Stark, he learns the hard way that his would be father-in-law wasn't pleased by the "insult". A Philadelphia mob leader goes to New York to get permission to murder his boss, a Scarfo predecessor. He's told "Do what you have to do". Considering this permission he carries out the hit and declares himself the new boss. He's then lured to New York to be formally recognized only to find out that the New York delegate lied to and manipulated him. When the New York people told him to "do what you have to do" they claim they meant for him to work things out peaceably. Murdering a boss without Commission approval is a Mafia capital crime. The hapless Philly mob boss and his driver were then tortured and killed. New York organizations took over his businesses, which of course was their plan all along. The treachery and brutality never stops. IIRC Leonetti only admits to two murders. His uncle ordered and participated in many more. But you don't get a nickname like "Crazy Phil" by sitting on the sidelines and knitting sweaters. I'm sure, like many such authors in similar situations, Leonetti is leaving some things out. If you liked fiction like Goodfellas or The Sopranos, you will want to read this book. To hear Leonetti tell it, his dislike and distrust of his Uncle Nicky  was longstanding. What drove Leonetti over the edge was having Nicky state to Leonetti that he wanted Leonetti to murder Nicky's wife or listening to Nicky blame Leonetti and his mother for Nicky's son's attempted suicide. Of course I'm sure being convicted had NOTHING to do with Leonetti's approach to the feds. Leonetti briefly returned to Atlantic City to care for his ailing mother and grandmother after he had testified against the Mafia. The Philly mob knew he was there but such was his reputation that no one wanted to tangle with him. That's what he says anyway. 

After Leonetti's mother's and grandmother's deaths he returned to the Witness Protection program. He built thriving landscaping and construction businesses. He may be living somewhere close to you. One of his last statements in the book is "F*** my uncle." Given that Nicky would order that both Leonetti and Leonetti's mother, Nicky's sister, be killed, that's an understandable sentiment. This book is about 300 pages. It has a high number of typos. "Site" is used for "sight" ; "your" is used for "you're".

Music Reviews: Madame Butterfly

Madame Butterfly
by Puccini
For some reason I actually was more familiar with the gender bending remake M. Butterfly so it was good to recently see the original in the Detroit Opera House. The original story had much more in common with The Jerry Springer Show than with The Crying Game. When Madame Butterfly first came out it was considered to be quite trashy. So maybe a century from now people will think that Jerry Springer, Howard Stern and Wendy Williams are high art. You never know. I was actually surprised to feel some pathos while watching and listening to the opera, particularly during the tragic third act. While some people are able to become intimate with others and keep things on a even keel without serious commitment, other people who engage in the dance of life are like swans. They mate for life and expect their partner to do likewise. Many people think that these characteristics differ between genders but every individual is different. There are men who get one-itis and never ever get over their lost true love who rejected them in some horrible fashion. There are women who are quite comfortable using emotional or physical intimacy to extract things from men while never truly committing to any single man. But Madame Butterfly sticks with the more common and familiar tropes of gender expectations regarding which gender is more likely to have "love them and leave them" as a viable if not preferred option and which gender is more likely to stay up at night wondering if someone will call or have concerns about sexual intimacy occurring too soon. 

The story is simple. An American sailor named B.F. Pinkerton is looking to marry a Japanese woman. This woman is not really a woman by modern American standards. She's only fifteen. And she's a geisha. There are differences of opinion if this is quite the same thing as an American paid consort or high class (high cost) hooker. I have read that a geisha can entertain clients with conversation, music, and dance. Right. Anyway, Pinkerton clearly has only the most superficial attachment to the idea of marrying a Japanese woman. It's just something to do to pass the time until his inevitable return to America. He feels that just as he can cancel the contract on his Japanese house at any time he can do the same with a marriage -- with a Japanese woman anyway. The American Consul Sharpless, an older and wiser man, advises Pinkerton to take things more seriously. The young woman, Cio-Cio San (this translates as Butterfly), believes in the sanctity of marriage even though Pinkerton had to pay her marriage broker 100 yen to marry her. Pinkerton is pleasantly surprised by Butterfly's beauty and her desperate eagerness to marry him and show her love in any and all ways. She even converts to Christianity to be a proper "American" wife, something that enrages her relatives. The wedding is completed. The new husband and wife retire to their chambers to consummate the marriage. Shortly afterwards Pinkerton leaves. Three years pass. Butterfly's marriage broker is eager to pimp her out again, arrange a marriage to a wealthy Japanese prince. Butterfly won't have it because even though under Japanese law abandonment = divorce, Butterfly refuses to believe that Pinkerton has abandoned her. Sharpless has arrived in Nagasaki in advance of Pinkerton's return. Sharpless has a letter from Pinkerton. I bet you know what it reads. 

He starts to read it to Butterfly but when he sees how excited she is to hear from Pinkerton, Sharpless lacks the heart to read the rest. He suggests that Butterfly marry the Japanese prince but she's not having it. She shows Sharpless her son with Pinkerton. Butterfly has named the boy Sorrow. Sharpless says he will tell Pinkerton about his son. When Butterfly sees/hears Pinkerton's ship entering the harbor she and her maid get very excited. Butterfly says this is proof that she was right all along and that everyone else was wrong. Pinkerton really does love her and has come to take her to America. She gets all dolled up. She dresses her son in a sailor suit and gives him an American flag to wave. She dances and spreads flowers and cherry blossoms all over the place. She decides to wait for Pinkerton. Ten minutes, no Pinkerton. Two hours, no Pinkerton. Four hours, no Pinkerton. All night, no Pinkerton.

The next morning Butterfly sees Sharpless and an American woman in her garden. There's no way to hide the truth any more. When Butterfly asks who the woman is, she learns that the woman is Pinkerton's wife. Pinkerton had briefly been there but left when Sharpless criticized him. He's feeling remorse. But remorseful or not he wants to take his son back to America. Depressed, angered and humiliated Butterfly tells Sharpless that Pinkerton can have their son Sorrow, if he himself comes to get him. She then tells her son not to hate her. A servant takes Sorrow into another room and Butterfly commits hara-kiri using her father's short sword, dying just as Pinkerton returns. This ran just under 3 hours including intermission. The image of Butterfly waiting in vain throughout the night was pretty moving although I thought it went on a little too long. I think the performer was just standing there silently for about 10 minutes. This was a decent story, if only because it should remind people to, as King Floyd would say, to handle each other with care. I enjoyed the story more than the music but I tend to like baroque classical music more than any other classical music. And baroque this was not. This version of Madame Butterfly had colorblind casting. The opening performance featured Noah Stewart as Pinkerton (tenor) and Inna Los as Butterfly (soprano). Both are pictured above. Although the score is written for a tenor Stewart had a certain meatiness to his tone that made me wonder if he could sing in baritone range or if this could be redone for a baritone. His role is almost as thankless as that of Rigoletto's Duke but Stewart injected some real sympathy into what could just be seen as a one note player who tells a naive woman "Hey I got what I needed. Beat it." His regret and shame were real. Similarly Inna Los' reading of Butterfly showed that her suicide could have come as much from pride as from despair. I felt more sympathy for her than contempt. Obviously the libretto is in Italian but translations on the screen were available for us non-Italian speakers. All in all this was an okay show, not magnificent but not bad.

Love duet between Pinkerton and Butterfly on their wedding night

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Book Reviews: A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle
I recently realized that I refer to this book quite a bit but somehow never got around to doing a review on it. This is a children's classic. I suppose as an adult you can go back to reread it, analyze it and find some adult issues crammed in the nooks and crannies but imo this is firmly written for children. If you have lost touch with your inner child or worse, crammed him or her into the closet, locked the door and thrown away the key I don't think that you would enjoy this story too much. Although it is written for children L'Engle did not write down to children. Children may not understand sex, lust, violence and death in the same way that adults do but moral concerns can be similar regardless if the question is whether you should commit adultery with your best friend's wife or whether you should make fun of your fellow kindergarten classmate because their parents can't afford to give them new clothes. A Wrinkle In Time is the first in a series, which grew in grandeur as the protagonists did and obviously brought in more adult themes as everyone grew older, married and endured loss. Nevertheless this book is complete in and of itself. It doesn't end on a cliffhanger or leave too many major questions unanswered. So I appreciated that way back when I originally read the book and I appreciate it now. Something else which bears mentioning is that the primary protagonist is female and on the verge of emotional/sexual maturity. That was pretty unusual for a sci-fi/fantasy book written back in the sixties. So if you're not female perhaps this book might give you an insight into the female mind? I can't call it. Of course you could use this for good or for bad, I guess. 
The book's most critical element is its rich and dense religious symbolism. Madeleine L'Engle  was a devout Episcopalian. Her overwhelming faith in God's love and the basic goodness of people were essential to most, if not all of her works and are obvious motifs in A Wrinkle In Time. However although religion in general and Christianity in particular are very important here, this book can be enjoyed by readers of any faith or by those with none at all. Unlike some other self-identified Christian writers ( C.S. Lewis), L'Engle did not beat the reader upside the head with allegory and metaphor. Well, at least not most of the time she didn't. 

As I mentioned there are some things which only become apparent upon reading this book as an adult. There are oodles of Shakespeare references. Also the book opens with a direct quote "It was a dark and stormy night" from the Edward Bulwer-Lytton novel Paul Clifford. As one supporting character in A Wrinkle in Time knew and seemingly quotes from just about ever philosopher, writer, or poet who ever existed, if nothing else reading this book will improve your GMAT verbal score.
Meg Murry is the oldest child and only daughter of two extremely intelligent physicists. She's fourteen. She has three younger brothers. They are the sports loving and overly protective ten year old twins Sandy and Dennys, and the eccentric, strange and introverted five year old Charles Wallace. Her father has disappeared on some mission for the government. Meg misses him greatly. Meg's mother is stunningly beautiful but Meg is still at an ugly duckling stage of life and despairs of ever leaving it. She's something of a tomboy. She loves her parents but is somewhat intimidated by their intelligence and attractiveness. Although Meg has trouble believing it, at least with regards to herself, her parents have told her that despite her mediocre school grades and disciplinary problems she's stupendously smart while Charles Wallace has an intelligence which is off the charts.

One night during a storm a "tramp", an old lady who Charles Wallace had met, comes to the house for aid and food. Her name is Mrs. Whatsit. Somehow she knows about the tesseract concept which Meg's parents had been studying. She casually tells Mrs. Murry that the tesseract exists. This causes Mrs. Murry to almost faint. Like the H.P. Lovecraft story The Shunned House, A Wrinkle in Time posits that advanced physics may well be similar to or even identical to what older civilizations knew as magic. Mrs. Whatsit, along with two of her equally strange friends named Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, will accompany Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin O'Keefe (an older schoolmate for whom Meg has feelings which are somewhat foreign to her but are obvious to the reader) on a journey to find and save Meg's father. This is a journey which will range across unfathomable distances in space and time. The three old ladies are much older and more powerful than they appear. There's real danger here however. There are other powers in the universe which are not as friendly as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which and Mrs.Who. Although the adventure does not exactly take Meg and her group to Hell, we visit a dystopia which L'Engle apparently considered pretty close to Hell. This politic had enforced conformity in which individuality is dead and everything is subsumed into a selfish entity. Evil in this universe is orderly while good is gloriously chaotic. When what amounts to a fallen angel informs Meg that under its rule everyone has complete equality because everyone is the same, Meg responds that "Like and equal are not the same thing at all!". This is one of my favorite fictional quotes. If you haven't read this book, check it out. I think it has aged fairly well. It is hardly edgy by our standards; a child referring to his father as "Pop" instead of "father" or "sir" is considered evidence of demonic possession, (snicker) but the messages contained within are universal and timeless. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

F Train NYC Subway Slap

On a NYC subway train a young woman named Danay Howard, who verbally bullied a man and then physically assaulted him, had the taste slapped out of her mouth by the victim of her assault. Evidently the man, one Jorge Pena, got in touch with his inner Sean Connery. A brawl broke out. I don't think that anyone should be laying hands on anyone else in violence outside of self-defense. It's just not right. It means that rational communication has disappeared. The people involved have lost the ability to peacefully settle differences. So I'm opposed to all violence, whether it be initiated by men against women, women against women, men against men, or by women against men. Unfortunately some women have gotten the idea that they can hit or slap a man with both legal and physical impunity. This is, for most women, a very bad idea. It's especially stupid if the man is a modern fellow who thinks that a woman who strikes him should be treated the same as a man who strikes him. Why can't people see this? Putting gender aside you never know if the person that you've started "stuff" with just happens to be a MMA or amateur boxer who enjoys tuning up people just like you. You don't know if they're armed. You don't know what they would consider a fair and equivalent response to your force. They could operate under the belief that a brutal stompdown in exchange for your slap or push evens the scale. We've seen these sorts of incidents before. I don't know if they're becoming more common but it certainly seems like it. You have to know your lane and stay in it. If a man went around picking fights with other men who were about 8 inches taller and 60 pounds heavier than he was, few people would shed tears when he routinely lost these fights.We might even say that the man is pretty freaking dumb. So should we feel pity for a woman who does the same thing? I don't. I feel pity for the woman for being so loud and aggressive. I don't know that I feel pity for her when she started something and got handled. I don't necessarily think we need to go back to 1940s social relationships between men and women but if you want men not to hit women then you must also teach women not to hit men. Because a woman can't step into the predominantly male arena of physical confrontation and still claim the protection of a lady. Life doesn't work that way. Nor should it.

Pena, Howard and two other people were arrested. Miss Howard got a felony assault charge for her troubles. This situation is another reason I avoid public transportation. Check out the video below.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lessons Learned: 2014 Midterm Post-Mortem

At the end of every Godfather movie there was a point when Michael Corleone's enemies, wrongly believing that the Corleone power was destroyed, learned the hard way that Michael's reach was long and that he had no use for mercy. Michael's antagonists never saw the purge coming. Although unlike the Corleone rivals, the White House and Democratic elected officials knew that a midterm defeat was likely, I don't think that they fully anticipated the depth and breadth of what went down. In fact, this was beyond even Corleone capacities. This was some Breaking Bad stuff. Across the country Democrats were shanked in the shower, thrown off balconies and beaten in the head with barbells. And only a few lived to tell the tale. This was a loss of historic, almost biblical proportions. The Republicans almost swept the field. There are more Republicans in the House of Representatives than any time since the 1920s. There will be 31 Republican governors. Republicans took back most of the South with a vengeance and made electoral gains in Midwest or Eastern states previously considered to be solid blue. Although Senator Landrieu of Louisiana survived to fight another day, the fact that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is pulling funding for Louisiana political commercials suggests that they don't think her chances for reelection in a runoff are very good.

Whether you win or lose a contest you always reveal something about yourself. You should learn something that you didn't know before. What do I think that the Democrats should learn from this debacle? Well there are a number of things that ought to be, if not taken for gospel, given greater consideration by current or would be elected Democratic politicians.

Men vote too. Their worldview matters. A Democratic party that can't figure out how to win the male vote or a Democratic party that snarks that an election is not legitimate because the opposition did really well among men is not a party that will do well in midterms. And it may not even do that well in a Presidential election, given skillful enough opposition candidates.  The gender gap cuts both ways. If we can criticize Republicans for not appealing enough to women then we should also ding Democrats for not appealing enough to men, especially white men. The gender gap is also a gap in perspectives between white and non-white women and married and single women. The "war on women" rhetoric plays well to the feminist or single women base in Democratic primaries. It's extremely useful when a Republican says something stupid about rape, women, abortion or sexism. But feminists or single women are not the only voters. Women are not single issue voters any more than men are. In a year when Republicans were disciplined enough to avoid saying too many overtly sexist things and co-opted some Democratic talking points on contraception, suggesting that every Republican is a misogynist who wants to return to the year 1954 didn't work. Don't believe me? Ask Wendy Davis or Mark Udall. Wendy Davis lost the female vote while Udall won it but badly lost the male vote.
It is possible to have many liberal views on economic and social issues and win election without utterly alienating the male voter. In Michigan Gary Peters did this in his victorious campaign for the open US Senate seat. He won 50% of all men and 44% of white men. Other Democrats might want to see if his tactics can be copied and adapted to other locations. The Democratic Party must stop the bleeding among men, primarily white men, if it wants to regain Congress.

Nothing is inevitable. We heard a lot about the browning of the electorate and how this would mean permanent Democratic majorities. Not so fast. All politics is local. Some Republicans (John Kasich) won enough non-white voters to build convincing majorities. Kasich won 26% of the black vote. Non-white Republicans like Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Mia Long won election with electorates that were overwhelmingly white. And overall Republicans did better than expected with Asian, Hispanic and to a lesser extent Black voters. Nationally about 50% of Asian Americans voted Republican. Sam Brownback won 47% of the Hispanic vote in Kansas while in Texas Greg Abbott won 44% of the Hispanic vote, an improvement over Rick Perry's performance of 38% in 2010. Overall about 10% of Black voters voted for Republicans. This would suggest that, with the exception of clinically insane conservatives like Kamau Bakari, who lost, there may be effective Republican or conservative competition for non-white voters, who still preferred Democrats, but appeared to be open to some Republican messages. Younger voters did not support Democratic candidates as much as they did previously. This could be a blip, a ghost in the machine. But it could presage some trouble for Democrats in 2016. It depends on how elected Republicans govern and legislate. If Republicans find that the masks of respectability and responsibility are bad fits and go crazy trying to shut the government down or make women seeking abortion get vaginal probes, then we could see a Democrat win convincingly in 2016.
President Obama's coattails were short. Because President Obama's approval ratings were so low among likely voters in the midterm elections, many Republican candidates did everything they could to link their opponents to President Obama while many of their Democratic counterparts did everything they could to distance themselves from President Obama. The President was evidently peeved about this Democratic strategy, saying that although he was not on the ballot, his policies certainly were. His former adviser David Axelrod said that this statement was a mistake. The election results agree. Some argue that if Democratic candidates had fully embraced President Obama then they would have won. It's possible, though counterfactuals are hard to prove. Democratic candidates in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Maryland appeared with the President or First Lady. And they lost. So if candidates in what were blue states went down to defeat why would anyone expect Democrats in red states to lovingly embrace the President? If they had done so they might have lost by even greater margins. Framing this as solely Democratic cowardice or incompetence doesn't give us the whole answer. Plenty of people were upset with the direction of the nation, with President Obama and with Democrats. And they voted.

Labor continues losing. What remains of organized labor in this country made it a priority to go after anti-labor Republicans like Scott Walker, (Wisconsin), Nathan Deal (Georgia), Rick Scott (Florida),  Sam Brownback (Kansas), and Bruce Rauer (Illinois). Labor lost all of those fights. This was disappointing if you support organized labor. When people openly hostile to the very idea of unions are getting elected or re-elected in places like Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan(!!!!) there is to put it mildly a very serious problem. What is frustrating is that labor's tactics and organizing skills should be a template for reviving the progressive movement in this country. At its best the labor movement focuses on workers' commonalities. I have a friend who's a New York Italian Catholic. Culturally I would say he's conservative though he would protest that. He voted for Reagan as a young man but voted for Obama in 2008. I think one reason he's at least open to Democratic messages is because he worked in unionized industries and was a union leader. So even though he definitely won't co-sign all of the Democratic talking points about evil white patriarchs who are oppressing transgendered women who want taxpayer funded abortions and contraception, he votes Democratic more often than not because his union experiences predisposed him to look out for the working man. But if Democrats continue to make him think that his very identity is illegitimate, well eventually New York City will have another reliably Republican voter. Unions (and Democrats) need to rebuild and rebrand their core economic message of helping the working man and woman. Show and tell. I think Democrats and unions lost in part because of the economy which is the last point.

The economy is not good. It's all very well to point to lower unemployment, a higher stock market and higher corporate profits. But wages are stagnant or dropping and labor force participation remains low, though it recently rose slightly. Many people do not feel secure in their jobs, businesses or income. The NYT belatedly recognized this fact. Democrats had no overarching economic message which could simultaneously point to a bad (Republican) past and a good (Democratic) future. I'm not a huge fan of the PPACA. I think the results so far have been mixed. But because conservatives and Republicans were so vociferously against it, Democrats were unable to talk about any good that was done by the law, even in places like Kentucky, where some portions of the law have been so popular that even Senator McConnell backed off the "kill it" mantra. Voters did not believe that Democratic candidates had any good ideas. Abortion, birth control and pay equity are important issues. But overall economic policy is also an important issue. Democrats lost sight of that and paid the price. Even now, the President is talking about legalizing millions of illegal immigrants. I don't think this is the right thing to do. But whether it is or isn't the President and Congressional Democrats have not made the argument on how this would work to American citizens' economic benefit. People vote their pocketbook. Democratic candidates for 2016 would be wise to take heed of this.

None of this should be construed as to downplay the fact that a significant proportion of Republicans are strongly motivated by racial hatred. That's never going to change. It's America. Politics is the art of convincing people that you will best represent their interests. I know for a fact that in 2008 and even in 2012 some racists voted for Obama. They thought, their racial issues aside, that the other guy was worse. Can a Democratic candidate get their vote in 2016?
Exit Polls

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Book Reviews: NOS4A2

by Joe Hill
The book's title is essentially a neological homophone for Nosferatu. It is also the license plate of the book's primary villain. Joe Hill dedicated this book to his mother. I guess that makes sense as the balance of the story is concerned with the love and special bond that a good mother has for her children and how she would go through hell to protect them. I don't know what it would be like to wake up one morning and suddenly have a completely different distribution of fat and muscle, different skeletal structure, be shorter, weigh less and have a sexuality which is suddenly flipped. I don't know what it would be like to be almost by definition much weaker than half of the population. In short I have no idea what it would be like to be a woman. The thing about good writers though, and Joe Hill is obviously among that population, is that they can very easily imagine and communicate such things. Writing from a different perspective or even being able to imagine life from a different perspective is pretty critical to creating good fiction. After all, our human similarities are much greater than our differences, even for something as fundamental to our existence as gender. Anyway, I thought that the heroine of the book and some other female characters were indeed realistic. The tense relationship between the book's primary protagonist and her mother reminded me of some folks I've known. Although some gender experiences are totally beyond the opposite gender's understanding, if you listen, watch, interact and think you can learn quite a bit about how men or women respond and react in general. But all the same I would be interested in knowing what real life women thought of these characters should they decide to read this book. Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King. Obviously there is some of his father's voice and skill in what he writes. How could there not be. But he has his own voice and makes that quite clear in NOS4A2. The only things that reminded me of Stephen King were the facts that once I started this book I didn't want to stop and that Hill skillfully mixes the weird and frightening with the mundane. Storytelling is a skill that not every writer has. But Hill has it. Some authors bore you from almost the first page while others have you following them like children following the Pied Piper.
Before I started this book I was reading, or rather slogging through another book by a British author. That book, despite referencing subjects and themes which I enjoy, was a dense rough read. I lost my interest in finishing the story about a third of the way through the book. I stopped reading that book and started NOS4A2. That was a good decision. Actually it was one of the better decisions I've made lately. NOS4A2 is a breakneck ride with one of the more frightening and nastier villains I've seen in a while. I was reminded more of authors like Dan Simmons, Clive Barker, Madeleine L'Engle and Neil Gaiman than Stephen King. All the same the book is filled with little loving references to both of Hill's parents. One character has his mother's name and even is described as looking like her. A region of Maine is named after a villain in his father's book It. The book's main villain is at one point described as looking like someone from Salem's Lot. For some reason I also thought of the German fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin, only here the villain is much much worse. The book starts when the heroine of the story, one Victoria McQueen, often called Vic by most people or lovingly Brat, by her father, is just eight years old. She discovers that when she is riding her bicycle she's able to invoke something she calls the Shorter Way. This looks like a dilapidated bridge which her parents have warned her not to cross. But for Victoria this Shorter Way is something that helps her to find things others have thought lost and/or travel tremendous distances in the time it takes to cross a bridge. She doesn't know how she does this only that she can. It's similar to the tesseract concept used in A Wrinkle in Time. For Vic, the shortest way between two points is most definitely not a straight line. As you might imagine Vic doesn't talk about this to other people as she knows no one will believe her. I mean would you?

However, Vic is not the only human or indeed the only entity that can bend time or space to her will. One other, well let's call him a man for now, shall we, person who can do that is Charles Talent Manx. Manx is a remarkably ugly balding old man with a prominent overbite. Driving a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, Manx and his sidekick Bing Partridge entice and/or kidnap children. Manx drives the children to a place called Christmasland. Christmasland is not necessarily in our world. Well it is and isn't. What is reality anyway? Do your thoughts, dreams, hopes and fears count as reality? As one character points out when a musician writes a song and you hear it, he just brought some of his reality into our world. And yet that song still exists independently of us all. This book starts to go into some places explored by William Gibson and Phillip Dick. But long story short although Manx tells the children that they will enjoy Christmasland he leaves out a few rather critical details about both their journey and their destination. Bing Partridge is assigned to "deal with" the children's parents, especially their mothers. He is eager to assist. And yes that does imply what you no doubt thought it did. Bing is, as the affable, fastidious and particular Manx constantly points out, a vile, depraved, lustful creature.

One day, deliberately trying to hurt her mother, a teen Vic tries to find evil. And her Shorter Way path leads her to Mr. Manx. She became the first person to escape Mr. Manx, something he takes very personally. But he's nothing if not patient and waits until Vic has something he wants even more than he wants her life. The adult Vic has friends and lovers who will both try to help her in her quest and help her remember what she's forgotten. I bought a hardback version of this book. It's just over 600 pages. So it is an investment in time. At this time of year when my free time is at a premium a book this size is a little longer than I would usually read. But NOS4A2 is worth the time. Despite its heft I don't think there was ever a point where I put it down. Well maybe I put it down because I had to marvel at how good the story was. I certainly never got bored or irritated. I skipped watching football or movies to read this book. There is violence and cruelty in this story but there is also good. I never felt that the author was trying to shock just for the sake of shocking, something that can happen pretty often in the horror genre. If this is made into a movie it will include the sorts of scenes that will have you shouting at the screen and possibly covering your eyes. The creepiness starts from the very first page and only gets better from there. There's not too many writers who can take very old archetypes, put their own original spin on them and leave people wondering why didn't anyone else think of that. Once again, if you are not normally into horror you shouldn't be put off by this book. Despite the flights of fancy I thought that things were pretty well grounded in reality. If you are into well made horror or well made fiction, period you should read this book. Hill uses the famous quote, "Die Todten Reiten Schnell", from the poem Lenore, which I guess is a tip of the hat to previous genre authors, something that many genre enthusiasts will immediately recognize, and given that Manx drives a car, something of an inside joke.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Detroit Squatters

Another squatter tried to take over a home in Detroit. I strongly suspect these events happen everywhere but they seem to happen more often in Detroit. All's well that ended well in this story but the fact remains that were it not for the local Fox station embarrassing the police department into doing its job this woman could have lost her home to the aggressive transsexual hoodlum. We talked about this squatters problem before in this post two years prior. I love the memory of my city. There are even today a lot of good people who live therein. Most people are good. Or rather most people don't have the audacity to think that they can just move into someone else's home without permission. But there are also a lot of people who view any sort of niceness as weakness and who are constantly on the lookout for weakness. Such people are the human equivalent of white sharks. Once they detect "blood in the water" so to speak, they attack. There have always been people like this and there always will be. That's not Detroit's problem. Detroit's problem is that people who behave like this are ever so slightly more numerous as a percentage of the population, perhaps because the authorities are overwhelmed with more serious crimes like rape, murder, assault, child abuse, and drug trafficking. So the authorities don't take crimes like this as seriously as they should. I mean we must set priorities, no?
But even though I would agree that a squatter is not the highest priority in a bankrupt city that's awash in violence, I would also say that the city, state, and county need to make sure that squatters do not get the idea that their crime is victimless or that they somehow are not committing a crime. Because if an investor or homeowner doesn't have the belief that they will still have access to their home if they temporarily leave it or try to sell it, they may decide that the risks of owning property in Detroit are not worth the costs. And that will prevent any sort of widespread renaissance in Detroit, no matter how much money is sunk into downtown or midtown projects.

Watch the two videos and let us know what you would have done were you the homeowner. Because I would have woke up this morning and got myself a gun but I've been accused of being hotheaded...

Fox 2 News Headlines

Fox 2 News Headlines

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Nov 4 Election US Senate: Democratic Disaster or Republican Rout?

According to Nate Silver's  538 forecast it appears that the Democrats are due for a solid thumping in the elections this Tuesday. The forecast currently predicts a 68.3% chance of Republicans winning the Senate. Most other forecasts I've seen suggest that it's a done deal that the Republicans keep the House and possibly even extend their majority there. A lot of the Republican likely electorate is said to be mad as hell and ready to grab the nearest baseball bat and (figuratively) beat the doggie doo out of any Democratic elected officials that they can find. Conservatives and perhaps Republicans are allegedly fired up to vote against the entire Democratic agenda. This could be why so many Democratic Senatorial candidates have done their best to keep President Obama at arm's length, with some even going to far as to refuse to confirm they voted for the man. Possibly having gotten all they can get out of the "war on women" rhetoric, the Democrats could be belatedly realizing that men also vote.  
Tuesday’s results, Mr. McInturff added, would tell “whether it is possible that the single-minded focus that most Democratic candidates attached to the ‘war on women’ meant they never conveyed an economic and jobs message that might have led a higher chunk of the persuadable male vote to vote Democrat.”

Republicans increasingly make that argument that Democrats miscalculated in their zeal to galvanize women who otherwise would not vote in a midterm election. Democrats counter that Republicans use the phrase “Republicans’ war on women” more than Democrats to stoke a backlash among older and married women who reject partisan, feminist-sounding rhetoric and lean Republican. Ms. Greenberg said Republicans were “deliberately misconstruing” Democrats’ legitimate attacks. Yet she and other Democratic strategists complain their party has not effectively espoused a broader economic agenda, when women tell pollsters their top concern is jobs and the economy.
However, worried Democrats should know that the early voting numbers from some contested Senate races appear to be from younger and nonwhite voters who did not vote in 2010. Such people tend to lean Democratic.So there could be an unpleasant surprise for some Republicans. It depends on who shows up. I think that the Republicans will take the Senate. We will have a very interesting next two years. This election cycle was fascinating because President Obama, despite his popularity with some elements of the Democratic base, was sufficiently toxic with independents, Republicans, and Democratic leaning independents that almost no Democratic Senate candidate wanted to be seen with him, possibly causing an enthusiasm gap. Additionally some races could be a test of Hillary Clinton's or former President Clinton's coattails. We shall see.

So what's your call?

Will the Democrats lose the Senate?

If so what does this mean for the final two years of the Obama Presidency?

Movie Reviews: John Wick, The Purge: Anarchy

John Wick
directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch
What do you get when you combine actors from The Wire, The Matrix, Game of Thrones, Deadwood, The Warriors, Oz, The Boondock Saints, and Hanging with the Homeboys among others? Well you get John Wick, that's what you get.
This is a very good, very simple, very direct payback/revenge movie. It's no more than that nor does it try to be. So Keanu Reeves, who plays the titular character, actually has a role that plays to his strengths as an actor. Wick, who lost his wife to cancer, spends a great deal of the film in a fugue state of confusion, grief and anger. There's initially heavy emphasis on the confusion. There aren't many actors who can look confused better than Reeves can. It's virtually his default state of being. So how fortunate for him and for us that he was cast in this movie. There's very little fat in this film. It has a taut running time of around 100 minutes. There are a few predictable setpieces common to the genre with one or two exceptions these are mostly done well. And with a virtual who's who of character actors and "don't I know that guy/girl from somewhere appearances" any writing flaws are more than made up for by smooth performances. The camera work is excellent. It changes throughout the movie to help express Wick's feelings and experiences. I've learned that a horrible thing about getting older is that you attend more funerals. Some are just business affairs but when it's someone you loved the feelings of sadness, isolation and meaninglessness can be very strong. 

We are all indeed dust in the wind. The zooming crane shots at the funeral of John's wife (Bridget Moynahan) establish John's grief and make you feel it just as surely as the John Woo The Killer and Equilibrium inspired hyperactive camera work during the gunfights makes your blood pressure rise.

So what's this movie about? In many gangster stories the mob boss often has a special who reports only to him. This special guy is not just a killer. Heck any hoodlum can pull a trigger or tug on the end of a garrotte. The special is a fellow who never misses an assignment, has rock solid loyalty, possesses deadly talents which are far beyond the normal, is almost unkillable, has completed jobs previously thought impossible and without even lifting a finger or raising his voice terrifies some very scary people. The classic example is Luca Brasi from the Godfather movie/book. Here John Wick is that guy. Or to be precise he was Viggo's guy before leaving the lifestyle. As the top Russian mob boss Viggo Tarrasov (Michael Nyqvist) warns his subordinates "John Wick isn't the boogeyman. He's the guy you send to kill the f***** boogeyman!". John is out of the game. He's just become a widower. The most important things he has to remember his wife by are her bracelet, a phone video of better times and most poignantly a puppy named Daisy, delivered posthumously by his wife with a message of her deep and abiding love. John also has a black 1969 Mustang. A classic. While John is filling up at a local gas station, a Russian man named Iosef Tarrasov (Alfie Allen "Theon" from A Game of Thrones) tries to get John to sell his car to him. When John declines the offer Iosef makes a threat in Russian but is taken aback when John, neither impressed nor intimidated, responds in Russian. Unfortunately neither John nor Iosef recognize each other (John has been out of the game for a long time). Iosef and his men follow John home and later that evening break in to steal the car. Not satisfied with that they also beat him and kill his puppy Daisy.
That was a mistake.
John learns from the local auto theft czar Aurelio (John Leguizamo) that Iosef is Viggo's son. Aurelio, who works for Viggo, punched Iosef and refused to take the car. Viggo declines the request to turn over his son to John. He sends a platoon of men to deal with John. Well. Some ideas work better than others don't they. The tripwire has been tugged. A nightmarish killing machine is starting a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. As John later snarls to Viggo, "..that dog was the last memory of my wife. And your son killed it!!! So you can either give up your f***** son or die screaming beside him!!!!" I really enjoyed this action movie. It should be required viewing for folks who want to make entertaining, tight action films without flab. It is violent in the EXTREME though so if that is not your thing then you know what to do. But whatever you do, you never kill a man's dog. He might take it personally. The premise is perhaps dopey and could even be a satire. But it's played straight and works because of both the disrespect involved in violating John's house and killing his dog AND because of what the dog represented. Although Wick is deadlier and more dangerous than any of the men he's killing we still root for him because after all, they killed his dog. John Wick is a man. A core truth of American film and cultural myth is that a man handles his own affairs. He does not ask for help. He does not ask for directions. Wick will provide his own justice against those who wronged him. Wick's back tattoo translates as "Fortune favors the strong" . Enough said, right?
One of the film's interesting asides is the existence of an underground hitman superstructure, complete with special currency, lingo and assistants. One such place is the Continental Hotel. It's managed by a polite, quiet and exacting man named Charon (Lance Reddick). This is doubly symbolic because Charon was the Greek entity who provided souls a trip to the afterlife for a fee of a gold coin. Those who couldn't pay were doomed to roam the earth as ghosts, a fate literally worse than death. When John Wick goes to stay at the hotel he pays Charon a gold coin. Charon and other denizens of the criminal underworld continually ask Wick if he's back, which could imply that his previous existence was temporary or ghostly. William Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, Clarke Peters, and David Patrick Kelly (Luther from The Warriors) also appear. Allen does a great job portraying a slimy, cowardly horndog. There is routine comedy when everyone except Iosef immediately realizes just what a horrible mistake Iosef has made or when Viggo's number two (Winters) has to constantly ask people to translate Russian, a language he does not speak. If I were a member of the Russian Mafia I might consider asking Hollywood to pay royalties because these days it seems like every bad guy is Russian Mafia in origin. If you like action movies, see this film. It more than makes up for 47 Ronin.

The Purge: Anarchy

directed by James DeMonaco
The Purge: Anarchy, hereafter called Purge 2, is that rare sequel which is just as good as if not better than the original. Whereas the original strongly hinted at the race and class elements of "purging", Purge 2 brings those to the forefront. It is clear that the primary purpose of purging, at least as far as those at the pinnacle of economic and political power are concerned is not to allow millions of individuals to indulge their warped fantasies of rape, murder, assault and theft  but rather is a deliberate culling of the lower elements of society. And by lower elements I mean anyone with darker skin tones, anyone on public assistance or especially anyone who makes their money by salary as opposed to profit taking and dividends. To paraphrase Mitt Romney, the Makers want to ensure that the Takers don't get too large in number. So the Purge combines evil of both a personal nature and of an institutional framework. The low class people who gleefully plan rapes and murders are too stupid to see they're just doing what the upper classes want them to do.
Whereas the initial movie was centered around one man's struggle to protect his blood family during the purge night, Purge 2 moves people outdoors. It imagines a family made up of strangers who must come to trust each other. Purge 2 skillfully ratchets up the dread as we watch people attempt to make their homes safe in the hours before the Purge, try to make it home, or more ominously make their preparations to join the Purge. Evil can be seductive. Most of us know a few people who we really don't like. That's just part of being human. Some of us might even know a few people who we think have done us serious harm and gotten away with it. What if, for just one night, you could exercise a little payback on such a person? Hmm? If someone cavalierly misdiagnosed what turned out to be a loved one's terminal cancer or was found not guilty of raping your sister or committed some other act of mayhem against a person you loved, would you be immune to the thought of vengeance? Maybe you would. Depending on the act though, I would at least have to think about it. And that's how evil can be justified. It can worm its way into our psyche through what we think of as justified reasons.
As Purge 2 opens, a waitress, Eva Sanchez (Carmen Ejogo), frets about staying too late at her workplace. The Purge is coming but her greedy boss hasn't let the workers leave early to get home in time. Anyway Eva has to ask her boss about a raise so that she can afford the medicine for her chronically sick father Papa Rico (John Beasley). Papa Rico is disgusted with how society has turned out and has no hope of anything getting better. He tells his granddaughter Cali (Zoe Soul) to place no hope in the messages of anti-Purge revolutionaries led by Carmelo (Michael K. Williams). Carmelo ties all the race, class and civil liberty elements together but he's having trouble getting his message out. Across town Shane (Zack Gilford) and his girlfriend Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are at a dead end in their relationship. They are about to call it quits. However it being Purge night they are arguing about whether they should make this official and tell family members that their relationship has gone belly up. One of them enjoys arguing; the other is more passive-aggressive. They are trying to make it to Shane's sister's home before the Purge starts.
Finally an ominous man who we later discover is named Leo (Frank Grillo) is arming for the Purge. He has guns, body armor, knives, and of course a bada$$ armored car. He's a man with a plan. You wouldn't want to be on his bad side. Grillo initially brings some of the intensity that one might expect from a seventies era Harvey Keitel or Robert DeNiro. He's smoldering with fury and doesn't say much. Through a series of unfortunate events many of these people end up together on the street. The movie is almost a cinematic interpretation of the classic 90's Ice-T cut Midnight. The ending is not quite as strong as it could have been but all in all this was a good action movie. I don't know that there needs to be a sequel but I'm sure that there will be. A dangerous looking group of bikers led by a man in a white mask with "God" engraved on it (Keith Stanfield) provides some additional scares. Obviously the film is very violent. If something like this ever took place it might make even the most resolute anti-gun individual run down to their local gun shop and stock up on everything. Nevertheless it's still a moral film or at least tries to be. There are anti-violence messages included within. Things get a little confusing on that point but I don't think anyone would watch this and think that purging is a good idea.