Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Movie Reviews: Irresistible

directed by Jon Stewart
This political satire should have come out earlier and been sharper. It was amusing when I expected belly laughs and cuddly when I expected sharp elbows. Current and soon to be former President Trump defied all expectations in 2016. Trump drew to an inside straight and became President, shocking the political establishment by cracking the blue electoral wall of Pennsylvania and some Midwestern states.

Trump won by portraying himself as a rough and tough round the way fellow, who despite his wealth was the standard bearer for the so-called forgotten and discarded tribes of America,  that is to say white people, specifically white people without college degrees, and even more specifically white men without college degrees. That this framing was all bs didn't matter. His supporters apparently didn't care that Trump mocked them as much as any Beltway Ivy League Hollywood Elite insider. 

What did matter was that certain Trump voters felt, correctly or not, that Clinton and the Democrats hated them more, and more importantly were preparing to turn the country, the whole kit and caboodle, over to THEM. Because whites were and still are the majority electorate, it only took a relatively small percentage of white voters to flip the election.  Trump's election kicked off something of a dark night of the soul spiritual crisis in the Democratic Party, in particular among its advisors and analytical experts. 

Did Democrats need to make their Caucasian male Blue Dog working class types the party's face? Or was this just a one time problem?  Was Trump's victory the last gasp of dying reactionaries? Should Democrats double down on appealing to the emerging majority coalition of Black people, feminists, college educated liberal whites, gays, Hispanics, young whites, coastals, etc. Gary Zimmer (Steve Carrell) is a depressed Democratic Party campaign coordinator. 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Breonna Taylor's Murderers Walk Free: Same Sh*t Different Day!!!

I didn't write about the Breonna Taylor incident because it was angering and depressing to write about yet another Black person murdered by the police. It was also obvious the fix was in. I knew exactly was was going to happen. 

No one was immediately arrested or charged though Taylor was killed in March. Instead of focusing on the backgrounds, motivations and records of the police officers who riddled her with bullets the white media and especially the conservative white media tried to claim that Taylor was no angel. The implications drawn and inferences to be taken was that Taylor was a "bad girl". Although Taylor wasn't charged with any crime some media still painted her as an immoral or dumb woman who got what she deserved. Some people went beyond that to claim that she was a drug dealer. Not to be outdone in hypocrisy the (white) libertarian and gun rights community who normally boast loudly that (per late rapper Biggie Smalls

"Call the coroner!
There's gonna be a lot of slow singing and flower bringing if my burglar alarm starts ringing!
What ya think all the guns is for?

when it comes to police knocking down their doors in the middle of the night to search for guns or drugs, didn't support Breonna Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who upon hearing and seeing unidentified men knocking down his door in the middle of the night made the reasonable assumption that he was the target of a home invasion or that Taylor's ex was there to harm and/or kill both of them. Walker, who is not a felon, procured his legally owned firearm to defend himself and Taylor, not knowing the assailants were cops. Well Taylor is dead and to no one's surprise, the Kentucky justice system has refused to charge any of the police who killed her with you know, actually killing her. 

Friday, September 25, 2020

Trump to nominate Judge Barrett: Time to Ignore Supreme Court?

Many people were upset that thanks to McConnell and crew changing their minds about when Presidents should be able to appoint Supreme Court Justices in election years that it now appears that President Trump will be able to make a third appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

There's almost nothing that the Democrats can do to stop this. There is no longer any Senate filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. The Democrats don't have the votes in the Senate. 

The latest news seems to confirm that President Trump will nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a current judge for the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to take the empty seat on the Supreme Court. Barrett is obviously a right-winger. Although she's not all that different from any run of the mill right wing justice that would be considered under this administration, as this Vox article pointed out, because of some inappropriate comments by California Democratic Senator Feinstein, some social conservatives consider Barrett something of a martyr. So they will presumably be excited to "own the libs" by getting Barrett nominated and confirmed to the Supreme Court, particularly if they can get it done before election day.

That's actually not all that interesting to me. Everyone on the other side always says that if so-n-so gets confirmed to the Supreme Court that the skies will fall, the dead will rise from the graves and eat the living, and you wont be able to download updates on your phone. And sometimes such people are even correct.

My take is that if I and those I care about make it home without being harassed, assaulted, or murdered by the police then it's been a good day. And liberal or not, Supreme Courts are unable or unwilling to do much about that. So though I didn't care about the specific partisan reactions I was very interested in the fact that many people who are, very broadly speaking, on the same (left) political spectrum as I am, started calling for some changes to how courts are shaped and populated and how the Senate is constructed.

Movie Reviews: Secret Window

Secret Window
directed by David Koepp
This is another older movie which was based on a Stephen King novella. It had been a while since I read the King creation so I was able to watch this movie without too many expectations. 

In some aspects one might argue that this film was a little darker than the book it adapted. Either way I thought it was a worthwhile way to spend just over ninety minutes.

I liked that for most of the film there is some question as whether or not there is anything supernatural occurring. In terms of violence I would say there is not all that much throughout though as usual sensitive souls may find a few things that might give them pause.  This is not a film like Sleepwalkers where the writer and director were deliberately going for the visual or emotional grossout. 

As any review of society or business gossip pages shows there is no accounting for people's romantic tastes. People whom I think of as unattractive divorce attractive people and claim they've never been happier. People who are rich and good looking divorce each other and boast if they never see each other again it will be too damn soon. Someone who knows all too well the vagaries of love and loss is one Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp), a depressed and eccentric writer, who wouldn't you know it is suffering from writer's block.

Mort just can't concentrate on his work. Mort is living alone in an update NY lakefront cabin. It's just Mort, his dog and an occasional cleaning lady who drops by a few times a week. You would think that this scenic isolation would be the perfect opportunity to get some work done. But all Mort can do is sleep most of the day, smoke cigarettes, talk to himself, talk to his dog, edit or erase the few words he's written and fret about the furniture placement. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Can Dogs Detect Coronavirus?

Imagine going to a friendly doctor who , without any invasive, painful, or costly tests takes a sniff of you, tells you that yes you're sick, licks your hand and then asks you for a treat. 

Travelers arriving at Helsinki’s airport are being offered a voluntary coronavirus test that takes 10 seconds with no uncomfortable nasal swab needed. And the test is done by a dog. A couple of coronavirus-sniffing canines began work at the Finnish airport on Wednesday as part of a pilot program that aims to detect infections using the sweat collected on wipes from arriving passengers. 

Over the past months, international airports have brought in various methods to detect the virus in travelers, including saliva screenings, temperature checks and nasal swabs. But researchers in Finland say that using dogs could prove cheaper, faster and more effective. After passengers arriving from abroad have collected their luggage, they are invited to wipe their necks to collect sweat samples and leave the wipes in a box. Behind a wall, a dog trainer puts the box beside cans containing different scents, and a dog gets to work. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Movie Reviews: Clash By Night

Clash by Night
directed by Fritz Lang
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26
This was one of the first movies in which Marilyn Monroe received top billing, although to be honest the camera was more interested in her beauty and physical attributes than in her acting. 

That said she did a decent job with her role and held her own with the other more experienced actors and actresses. This great film noir is something that could and should be remade, not because it was done poorly the first time but because like many great movies it has some timeless truths that ought to be revisited for the modern generation. 

On the other hand, although the basic realities about male and female behavior, needs and goals haven't really changed all that much since the 50s, what we think about them, how we react to them, and what we're allowed in polite society to say about them have drastically changed.

A director remaking this story today might feel entitled to or even be compelled to drape the story with feminist ideology or even change the dynamics of the story to a more simplistic good and evil morality play which would certainly ruin the film's entire point. 

People are mixes of good and evil. They always have been and always will be. And though it may appear otherwise at times, this mix is not related to someone's race, ethnicity, religion, sex, or sexual identity. 

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Book Reviews: Runaway

by Harlan Coben
Coben is a skilled creator of thrillers in which one event or piece of information changes the protagonist's life forever. This book took longer for me to finish than usual but that was no reflection on the author. It was because for the past few months I was working 80 hour weeks and didn't have the usual time for pleasure reading. 

This will be a shorter review than usual. It's difficult to write much about this book without giving away key plot elements and twists. 

Because I had to read this book in a somewhat disjointed fashion I didn't enjoy the book as much as I would have otherwise. Again, not the writer's fault. 

As mentioned, Coben's style is identifiable and familiar. I wouldn't call it formulaic per se as much as comfortable.  The reader knows what he or she is going to get in terms of the big picture if not all the details.

Have you ever been in a position where you try to help a family member or other loved one who doesn't want to be helped?  This can be frustrating. It can be especially irritating if your normal position in your family hierarchy has always included guiding, protecting, and assisting wayward or needy younger relatives.

Simon Greene is a financial advisor. His wife Ingrid is a pediatrician and former model. They're not quite  in the 1% but the couple does well for themselves. Simon and Ingrid have three children. Simon and Ingrid are estranged from their oldest daughter, the college aged Paige. Paige has dropped out of college. 

She's also become a junkie. Ingrid has refused to ever let Paige back in the family home. Paige is also a thief. Although everyone else in the family has given up on Paige, who may be homeless at this point, Simon refuses to do that. 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Book Reviews: Lord High Executioner

Lord High Executioner
by Frank DiMatteo and Michael Benson
I've read other books by the author, a former gangster and friend and relative to other gangsters. This book is about the late Albert Anastasia aka The Volcano aka The Mad Hatter aka Lord High Executioner. Albert Anastasia was fellow gangster Lucky Luciano's favorite hit man, which when you consider the crews Lucky ran with is saying something. Anastasia was the prototypical scary man who makes other scary men tremble.

Anastasia liked killing. He was convicted of murder and sent to Death Row before his 21st birthday. 

As with the fictional Luca Brasi, older and more powerful hoodlums intervened to rescue Anastasia from his fate. For Anastasia it was apparently Lucky Luciano who "convinced" the District Attorney to set a new trial and eventually drop charges when witnesses changed their story or disappeared. So the volatile Anastasia demonstrated tremendous loyalty and respect for Luciano, even though the two men were technically in different organizations.

Anastasia rose through the Mob ranks, making a reputation for himself as a violent mob representative on the Brooklyn waterfront. He would later be the partial inspiration for the hoodlum portrayed in the Academy Award winning film On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando, Lee Cobb, Rod Steiger and Karl Malden.

When Luciano decided to eliminate his own boss, Joe Masseria, Anastasia was one of the men Luciano picked for that job. Everyone in the 1930s and 1940s underworld milieu knew of Anastasia's aptitude at such work, which is why together with similar homicidal maniac Lepke Buchalter, Anastasia oversaw the Mob enforcement group later known as Murder Inc. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Desperate Hours

The Desperate Hours
directed by William Wyler
Although because of the film's star and the fact that it was shot in black and white, some people consider this to be a film noir. I would disagree with that.

There are no tortured heroes, no anti-heroes, no confusion between good and evil, no femme fatales, not too much in the way of depression or pessimism, and no one doing wrong to get to right or doing right and falling into wrong. I don't think it's a film noir. It's just a crime drama.

It does have the typical lighting and snappy dialogue that was common in film noir and many other movies created at the time. So there is that. There is some bloodless violence and threat of same and a young woman in a tight sweater but by today's standards this would be a PG film, heck maybe even G. 

This was based in part on a true story. This film was remade in 1990 with Mickey Rourke, Anthony Hopkins, Kelly Lynch and Mimi Rogers. That version ramped up the sex and violence considerably. And I suppose if the film were to be remade today there would be even more mayhem, sexual and otherwise.

The original version doesn't have all of that. It may have been less "realistic" in some ways but it certainly got its point across by using subtext for what today would be shouted with a bullhorn. The viewer can fill in the gaps if he or she so pleases.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Movie Reviews: Sleepwalkers

directed by Mick Garris
This older (1992) film was written specifically for the big screen by author Stephen King, who also appears in a brief cameo. It is not based on any of King's pre-existing books. 

This is a solid B-movie that appears to be deliberately designed to gross people out. It doesn't have any King trademarked hidden messages on tolerance, subtle paeans to childhood or bittersweet reminiscing about the One True Love who got away all those years ago. 

So you probably shouldn't watch this movie expecting anything like that. In fact if you are sensitive to depictions of violence or perverse sexuality then you probably shouldn't watch this film at all. Those things don't bother that much at at all of course so I decided to rewatch this film.

This film comes across as something that could have been adapted from a Weird Tales story or comic, which I am guessing probably was both King's and Garris' intent. This is not a movie that requires a long analysis, description or plot detail. The characters are also, well calling them flat,  sounds accusatory. 

Let's just say that there's not too much deep introspection or emoting required or offered, with one possible exception. But really, do people really watch these sorts of horror movies for acting worthy of Shakespearean theater? Probably not, though the lead actress Alice Krige is indeed a classically trained stage actress. Basically what I am saying is that this film is the very incarnation of a low budget cheap thrills adventure with some sicko stuff mixed in for good measure.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Movie Reviews: You Should Have Left

You Should Have Left
directed by David Koepp
This is I suppose in some aspects a horror film but using that descriptor makes it sound as if there's going to be lot of blood and guts, heavy special effects, overused jump cuts, sharp violins squealing just before someone gets stabbed in the neck, disgusting ideas, bouncing mammary glands and plenty of naive people doing stupid things so that they can move the story along. 

There's none of that here. There may or may not be supernatural elements. I think that there are but different viewers may see things differently. Maybe a psychological thriller would be a better way to describe this movie. Although the story's ending was to me a bit predictable, I watch a lot of these sorts of movies. 

For the casual thriller or horror film viewer this movie might be a breath of fresh air. And for people who refuse to watch horror or thriller films on general principle because of the violence, this film lacks explicit violence. 

I've written before that it must take a special person to marry and to remain married to a working musician, an actor/actress, a model. First, your special rider is often away from home for months at a time, something which just by definition would appear to make staying happily married more difficult, at least in the beginning. Next, in the case of actors or models as part of their job they may appear nude, semi-nude, or otherwise display body parts which their wife or husband thinks that only he or she should be seeing. 

Hall of Fame baseball player Joe DiMaggio was disgusted, embarrassed and angered when his then wife Marilyn Monroe, filming The Seven Year Itch, stood over a subway grate to let the hot air send her dress flying skyward while everyone took pictures. What was just business and a little fun for Monroe was apparently the last straw for DiMaggio. Later on the couple fought, divorcing soon afterwards.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Movie Reviews: Pentagon Wars

Pentagon Wars
directed by Richard Benjamin
This older film is a black comedy that details the various battles in the Army over the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. 

Although military familiarity may help one understand this movie even better, ultimately the frustrations of the hero and his allies will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in any sort of bureaucracy, whether the organization's stated purpose is to kill people and blow things up or save the whales.  

Certainly design engineers or programmers reporting to clueless business managers will recognize some scenarios. The late author Jerry Pournelle conceived of an Iron Law of Bureaucracy such that: 
Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. 
Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions. LINK
It's this thinking which allows auto companies to knowingly sell vehicles with defective transmissions or fuel tanks, banks to help drug cartels launder billions, or lawyers to go on vacation to islands owned by billionaire pedophiles. This mindset allows military officials to be more invested in a project's success rather than questioning if the project helps save American lives and win wars.

Congress has become irritated with the budget overruns and delays on the Army's proposed Bradly Fighting Vehicle, which by the late 80s has been in development for roughly twenty years. Congress no longer trusts the Army project updates.