Thursday, April 30, 2020

Movie Reviews: 1917

directed by Sam Mendes
This was a fictionalized tale that touched on the experiences of the director's grandfather during WW1.

The most noticeable thing about this film was the cinematography and photography which appears to all have been taken in one or two continuous shots. This film won various awards at the Oscars, Golden Globes and British Film Awards.

Although this is a war film it's far closer in spirit and style to Dunkirk than to Saving Private Ryan. Depicted combat is very rare though the effects of the pointless violence are constantly around for all to see. There are long periods of silence or where only a few people are talking. As much of the film's events take place in no-man's land, this makes sense though I have to say it felt unrealistic a few times. 

In part because of the sense of unreality I couldn't really get into the story's characters as easily as I might otherwise have. The characters and plot aren't all that important here. 

This is the director's film all the way from the amazing sight of lines of men jumping out of the trench and running over the green fields through the beautiful, quiet, and yet ghastly riverbanks. The colors are lush and intriguing. Close to the end of WW1, the German and British armies are locked in a grindfest in northern France. 

Joe Biden and Tara Reade Double Standards

I don't know if presumptive 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate, former Vice-President Joe Biden sexually assaulted Tara Reade in 1993. People who dislike Biden will be likely to believe that he did it. 

Alleged sexual harassment or assault aside, Biden does inarguably have a very long and public history of putting his hands on women or girls to whom he is not married and with whom he presumably has not had consensual intimacy. Biden has behaved in a way that in today's corporate world could see a man of lesser status reprimanded or even terminated. Does the existence of smoke mean that there's fire?

Biden partisans or those who just want control of the Presidency will be less likely to believe that Biden sexually assaulted Tara Reade. They will scream about Republican dirty tricks, say that Trump's gotta go no matter what, claim that Reade is a (insert contemptuous word for woman of low morals), or simply say that the Biden they know would never have done anything like that.

For too many people across the political spectrum, due process, proof, and skeptical inquiry (especially) for sexual crimes have become concepts that are ONLY to be granted to people that agree with you or look like you. They are NEVER basic human rights guaranteed to people who differ from you politically or have the "wrong" set of chromosomes. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Donald Trump: Inject Disinfectant to Cure Coronavirus!!

In the movie Sin City, Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), the corrupt father of a pedophile rapist murderer, tells the wounded hero that the Senator could shoot the hero dead and walk away without any charges at all, because power is the ability to lie and make other people believe and repeat the lie.

I recall that way back in the day apparently insane and profoundly wicked cult nut job Reverend Jim Jones convinced, tricked or forced hundreds of previously rational but emotionally damaged people to drink poisoned Kool-Aid in Jonestown, Guyana. 

I was reminded of those people, fictional and real, because President Trump, who has also boasted of being able to shoot someone in public and walk away clean, recently asked his experts if it was the case, as he believed it might be, that the coronavirus could be treated or eliminated by the ingestion/injection of disinfectants.

“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?” Trump said. “Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So you’re going to have to use medical doctors with — but it sounds interesting to me.”LINK

Unsurprisingly, when someone says something so stupid and can't deny that he said it, he later says that he was joking. And there will be plenty of people happy to repeat that lie. 

But quizzed on his proposal Friday, Trump falsely claimed he was in fact “asking a question sarcastically to reporters” about the efficacy of disinfectants, “just to see what would happen.”

When Bears Attack!

Not every bear is as cute and cuddly as Paddington or Winnie the Pooh. When you're in the wilds of Michigan and want to feed the birds, sometimes bears show up to eat the bird food, eat the birds, eat your pets or perhaps eat you. Of course Michigan women are not that bothered by such occurrences, apparently...
CRAWFORD COUNTY, Mich., (WPBN/WGTU) -- Face to face with a bear: it is not something many of us need to experience to understand just how terrifying that situation can be. However a Grayling woman who saved her dog from a bear on Saturday, April 18, 2020, said this wasn’t the first time she crossed paths with a bear, but she said this was different.
“This whole time I’m thinking 'this bear’s not right, this bear’s not right, but I have to save my dog,'” Heather Willobee, owner of 8-year-old Lucy, said.
For Heather, it began like any other night: letting her dog Lucy outside before calling it a night. But something was off when Heather called Lucy's name.“I could see her in the light and I knew she was coming but I also knew she wasn’t coming alone and that something big was right behind her,” Willobee said. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Movie Reviews: Gun Crazy

Gun Crazy
directed by Joseph E. Lewis

I've always liked older movies. Over the past few years I've been watching more noir films. This 1949 film, although it obviously was not explicit in terms of sex or violence, was nonetheless quite bold at how it used those two themes.

It was something which was Tarantino before its time. The script was written by blacklisted screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo.

Gun Crazy certainly had to have made an impression on Arthur Penn's later film Bonnie and Clyde, in terms of the beret wearing female lead, the innovative camera work and the automobile being used as metaphor for danger and freedom. There is a long unbroken shot from the rear of the automobile that is intoxicating. It puts the viewer in the criminals' POV.

Although as mentioned there's little here that would offend modern audiences in terms of sex/violence (people fall down wordlessly when they're shot, an attractive woman runs while wearing tight clothing) in some aspects this is an intensely sexy film. The leads had great chemistry together. People can express a tremendous amount of emotion with eyes and facial expressions.

Bart Tare (John Dall) is an aw shucks kind of guy who, despite being unwilling to harm any living creature, has since childhood been obsessed with firearms of all kinds. Not only is he a natural marksman, he works continually to improve his skills. 

Friday, April 17, 2020

Movie Reviews: Dracula Untold

Dracula Untold
directed by Gary Shore
For centuries the Ottoman Turks conquered large areas of Europe . They were turned back at Vienna twice, in 1529 and 1683. Those experiences, along with others, could explain why so much of European inspired fantasy or historical literature has themes of invasion by dark hordes from the East. 

Before the Turks could besiege Hungary and Austria and go toe to toe with the Holy Roman Empire they had to go thru Romania, or more precisely Wallachia. 

Like any small state caught between two larger states , Wallachia made the best of a bad situation. Vlad Dracul III, who became known later as Dracula or Vlad the Impaler, for his preferred method of dealing with enemies, was as a young boy along with his brother Radu, sent to Istanbul as a hostage for his father's (ruler of Wallachia's) good behavior. Neither Vlad nor his brother were well treated. They were part of the system of devshirme or blood tax, in which conquered Christian states were forced to provide thousands of young boys to the Ottomans. 

These boys would be taught Turkish, forcibly converted to Islam and trained as soldiers or state officials. Some would also be raped, something that happened to Dracula and his brother, either as punishment or just because some Turk felt like it. Christian boys were also subject to beatings, starvation and imprisonment.

While such treatment left Radu with a fear of Turks and  constant desire to please them, it caused the exact opposite reaction in the older Vlad. Well that's the history which the movie obliquely references. 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Bill Maher and Coronavirus Controversy

It's rare that Bill Maher and I are on the same side of the issue. But Maher recently pointed out something that was previously posted on this blog. The coronavirus apparently started in Wuhan, China. It is not racist to say that.

Maher did not put on yellowface and say that the virus started in China. He didn't pull up the sides of his eyelids, use racial slurs for Chinese, or deliberately affect a bad Chinese accent. Maher didn't start ranting that the pandemic proved that Chinese were inferior and should be repatriated from Western nations or exterminated altogether. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Introverts vs. Extroverts in Quarantine

I thought this was accurate. As an introvert I am often amazed, amused and occasionally irritated by just how much extroverts need interaction with and attention from others. It really is their bread and butter. 

And I know that at various times extroverts are amazed, amused and irritated by how little introverts need to publicly or frequently interact with other people. I know this because extroverts have routinely told me so.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Movie Reviews: Derailed

directed by Mikael Hafstrom
This older movie had a top shelf cast but a somewhat ridiculous story. 

But because of the cast and the fact that the plot moves quickly, it is something that can be fun to watch if you don't want to engage your deeper cognitive abilities all that much. 

The story twists were somewhat obvious to my mind, at least after the first third of the film. The film engages in a common and quietly racist trope. When the main character gets into trouble he turns to a Black employee who is WAY down the corporate ladder for advice on how to successfully break the law and deal with violent criminals. 

After all everyone knows when you need advice on scaring off thugs, it's best to talk to a Black man, who has probably been to prison and has experience with violence. This isn't a satire. So that left a bad taste in my mouth. 

This would as if I went to an Italian-American co-worker and demanded she put me in touch with the local Mafia Family or approached an Arab-American co-worker for tips on how to build effective package bombs. Problems would arise. 

Anyway this film is set in Chicago. Charles Schine (Clive Owen) is a put upon advertising executive married to a harried school teacher, Deanna (Melissa George). The couple, although not old, doesn't have a lot of time or interest in making whoopie any more. This is because their daughter has Type One diabetes and has already had two kidney transplants fail. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Bernie Sanders Drops Out

As you may have heard Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign to become the Democratic nominee for President of the United States.

He still intends to carry on a battle for his vision at the Democratic Convention.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont ended his presidential candidacy on Wednesday, concluding a quest that elevated him as a standard-bearer of American liberalism and clearing the way for a general election between the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and President Trump at a time of national crisis.

“I cannot in good conscience continue to mount a campaign that cannot win and which would interfere with the important work required of all of us in this difficult hour,” Mr. Sanders said, adding, “While this campaign is coming to an end, our movement is not.”

If Mr. Biden, the former vice president, can now lay claim to the Democratic nomination, he still faces considerable challenges in uniting the party and mobilizing a broad base of voters for the November election. Unlike Mr. Sanders, Mr. Biden inspired little enthusiasm among young voters, nor did he develop signature policy proposals. He triumphed because many voters rejected Mr. Sanders’s policy agenda as too far to the left and prohibitively expansive, and were convinced that Mr. Biden had the best chance to beat Mr. Trump in November.

I don't think Biden is a particularly strong candidate, although Sanders certainly had his issues. I believe that Biden is suffering from some cognitive or verbal declines. I think that Biden and his team underestimate Trump's nastiness and combativeness. About 40-45% of the electorate is devoted to Trump. I don't think there are too many Trump voters who will be amenable to reasoned arguments. Biden still has to give it the old college try though.

Movie Reviews: A Most Violent Year

A Most Violent Year
directed by J.C. Chandor
This is an older film that for some reason I had never watched. Thanks to our friends in Wuhan and our feckless President, between working from home and "sheltering in place", I have oodles more free time. So I checked out this film because it was on sale. I'm glad I did.

Although people who are sensitive to depictions of mayhem might worry that the film's title describes the theme and events I would disagree. There IS violence and threat of same but that's not the film's focus. 

This is a character drama that happens to be set in a time and place (1981 New York) when violence, both organized and street, occurred more frequently. But the film's question is not whether the protagonist can use violence more effectively than his enemies. This would of course be the sole point were this film to feature other action hero actors.

This film's protagonist is not going to swear upon all that is holy, righteous bloody vengeance over the body or bodies of his wife/brother/sister/children/mother/father/grandparents/teacher/girlfriend/dog, 
survive a rigorous sadistic training program, and finally show up at the Big Bad's Evil Mansion to deliver some much needed viewer catharsis by killing everyone in sight, before he delivers a prolonged painful death to the Big Bad. 

This last deed is usually accompanied by a pithy one liner like "See you in Hell!" or "Now you know who I am." or my favorite, "You should have killed ALL the (insert family name)!!". This is not that kind of movie.

Movie Reviews: Vivarium

directed by Lorcan Finnegan
If you know anything at all about the behavior of a certain bird species and/or beings from Celtic mythology then this movie's story was very heavily foreshadowed or possibly even spoiled in the first 30-60 second during opening credits.

I wasn't angered or disappointed by that. I thought it was pretty freaking awesome actually. It was like solving a puzzle and only looking once at the completed picture that was provided. 

Vivarium could be an extended metaphor about the pointlessness of modern suburban life but I thought it worked much better as a modern day Twilight Zone episode. It is something that, purely by chance, might resonate with people who are currently being forced to shelter in place. Vivarium definitely would have been more effective with a shorter running time. Because the lead actors dominate the screen time without much dialogue, a 100 minute run time didn't work for me.

Tom (Jesse Eisenberg) and Gemma (Imogen Poots) are a landscaper and school teacher couple who are looking to settle down and purchase a home. The couple visit a realtor named Martin (Jonathan Aris) who is eager to show them a home. Martin is the sort of fellow who walks around all day oblivious to the fact that he's put his shirt on backwards and isn't wearing pants. 

Martin laughs at the wrong moments and generally seems to be a few slices short of a full loaf. But with all of their friends finding homes and prices going up Gemma doesn't want to miss out again. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

Book Reviews: Dave vs. The Monsters: Emergence

Dave vs The Monsters: Emergence
by John Birmingham
The most important thing in the first book of a series is that the reader is intrigued enough to read the second book in the series. I suppose that's another way of saying that the book must be good. Those aren't always the same thing though. 

There are some series where although the first book is good, the reader may not like where the book ends or may have decided that as far as s/he is concerned, the story is complete. So the reader sees no need to read further installments in the story.

I think that this story by John Birmingham hit the spot. It was quality on its own, but also left me interested in reading the next story. This is not a book that has a lot of deep plotting or fascinating characterization. 

Both of those things are actually pretty scarce, at least in this book. What makes this book move is the action. This book is ALL about the action. The book is just under 500 pages but I think I completed it in less than a week or so.

Dave Hooper is an engineering supervisor/safety manager on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. He's smarter than he looks but is at heart a bit of an irresponsible jerk. He tries to be better but Dave usually does most of his thinking with his genitals.

A roughneck in every way, Dave is a man who, once he has a bonus of six months pay, will spend it all on high price prostitutes flown in from Nevada instead of his back child support. 

Animals React To Mirrors

I just was looking for something humorous and found this.

William Rufus: The Scarlet King

In the book series A Song of Ice and Fire and its televised adaptation HBO's "Game of Thrones" The King of the Seven Kingdoms, Robert Baratheon, has a fatal hunting accident which is rather ineptly arranged by his disloyal and adulterous wife Cersei Lannister.

Cersei grew tired of the marriage and wanted to pass on formal rule to her son (though not her husband's). Cersei also needed to get rid of the hopelessly honest Prime Minister who made the mistake of informing her he intended to tell the King of her adultery and incest.

Although in the long run things didn't work out for Cersei and her family, in the short run they do. No one is ever punished for the hunting accident; Cersei and company jack the throne and keep it for most of the story.

In real life, hunting accidents during the Middle Ages were one of the normal explanations used to cover up rather obvious assassinations. William Rufus, King of England from 1087-1100, was the third son of William the Conqueror. So he wasn't expected to inherit very much. But life has a funny way of unfolding. Richard, one of William's elder brothers, died in what was evidently a legitimate hunting accident. 

Shortly after that William Rufus and his younger brother Henry decided it would be amusing to play a joke on their oldest brother Robert, who was William the Conqueror's presumptive heir. The two young men emptied a full chamberpot on Robert's head. 

In For A Penny In For A Pound

The thing about most criminals is that they are cowards. They pick on people whom, in the criminal's estimation, can't or won't fight back. 

They attack people when they think they outnumber their would be prey. 

But of course law abiding people, who don't make their living kicking in people's doors and then raping, robbing or killing other people, get tired of being potential or actual victims. Some of them take steps to ensure that criminals will learn, the hard way, if need be, that criminal behavior is not a cost free activity.

Although I don't think this incident was funny per se, I did find it grimly appropriate that the Big Bad Wolf turned Little Bo Peep once confronted with equivalent or superior firepower. 

As I've mentioned before I do not doubt that some of this criminal behavior is driven by fatherless homes, self-hate and lack of respect for others caused by internalized racism, short time perspectives, greed, over investment in material acquisition, lack of economic opportunity and so on. I think that a civilized society must do its best to address those issues before they erupt in violence.

Coronavirus Becomes Real

I remember that when I first heard about the coronavirus, I was vaguely distressed and irritated that yet another disease had arisen in China and started to spread. But I believed and hoped it wouldn't impact my life all that much. 

Now, just a little over a month or two later I've seen my governor place the entire state under a lockdown that seems unlikely to end anytime soon. 

She also closed the schools. Coronavirus has grown to at least a million cases worldwide and over 50,000 deaths.

Two beloved relatives have tested positive for Coronavirus. I can't say what the future holds for either of them. I have good friends and very close relatives who are in the American pandemic epicenter, NYC. How much longer will they stay safe? My home town, Detroit, is looking as if it will catch up to NYC soon. Bus drivers are getting infected and dying.

People who attended my high school have died from coronavirus. I am reduced to hoping that either I already had coronavirus  (I had an extended nasty bout of what I thought was flu in February) or that as with some bugs that the spring's increasing heat and humidity will slow transmission. When I go out now I am always wearing gloves and/or a mask.