Friday, December 31, 2021

Movie Reviews: Across 110th Street

Across 110th Street
directed by Barry Shear
Because of the time and the cast this 1972 film is often lumped in with the "blaxploitation" films of the time. It does have that element but it's just as much a classic heist film and even a noir and action film. 
Across 110th Street has a fair amount of explicit and implicit social commentary in its dialogue and cinematography. 

I remembered a song performed by Albert King titled "Little Brother (Make A Way)" in which the singer details the negative impacts of racism on his life. As King sings, he had to do things against his will because if he hadn't "little brother" wouldn't have lived. But King is both hopeful and insistent that the "little brother" to whom he is speaking (his son, grandson, or the entire younger generation of Black men) will take advantage of the struggles and sacrifices of the older generation and put things right. 

I was reminded of that song watching this movie because the film doesn't pull its punches in examining the fierce institutional and individual racism of whites in authority positions. Usually the Black characters are not in a position to do much about this. Not yet anyway... 
So Blacks and Whites on both sides of the law must work together against their adversaries even though they thoroughly despise each other.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Racket

The Racket
directed by John Cromwell

This 1951 movie is often described as a noir film. The Racket certainly looks like a noir film but I don't think it quite meets all of the criteria. The Racket is really just more of a crime movie. 
Neither of the film's two primary male protagonists are particularly sympathetic nor do they suffer from any moral uncertainties or psychological battles. The film's female lead provides the only character growth. 
Cromwell also directed Dead Reckoning, reviewed here. The Racket is a remake of a 1928 silent film of the same name. It is interesting and occasionally enlightening to see how attitudes around sex and violence and righteousness have changed for good or bad since 1951. 
The Racket hints at things that are obvious to any adult and would be explicitly and tediously spelled out in any of today's films that used the same source material. Although this was marketed at being hard hitting at the time I didn't see it as such. 
As is usual in many of these older films the hooker with the heart of gold archetype is recast as some other "questionable" female worker. 
However whatever job title she holds her role is usually to tempt the hero or his friends and then die or perhaps help the good guys, be reformed and become a decent woman.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Senator Manchin Says No

West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin recently announced what he had been hinting for a long time: that he would not and in his words "could not" support the proposed Democratic "Build Back Better" bill (BBB) that would have among other things given more work permits for illegal immigrants, expanded child tax credits, provided universal pre-k, expanded health care coverage, addressed climate change, increased green cards for immigrants, and a whole host of other items which tend to be quite popular with some liberals. 

At Manchin's request, the BBB was cut down quite a bit from the initial bill, so many people were very upset when Manchin went on Fox News and said he still wouldn't support the bill.

And you know, my concerns I had, and I still have these concerns and where I’m at right now, the inflation that I was concerned about, it’s not transitory, it’s real, it’s harming every West Virginian. It’s making it almost difficult for them to continue, to go to their jobs, the cost of gasoline, the cost of groceries, the cost of utility bills — all of these things are hitting in every aspect of their life.
And you start looking at — then you have the debt that we’re carrying, $29 trillion, you have also the geopolitical unrest that we have. 
So when you have these things coming at you the way they are right now, I’ve always said this, Bret, if I can’t go home and explain it to the people of West Virginia, I can’t vote for it. And I cannot vote to continue with this piece of legislation. I just can’t. I’ve tried everything humanly possible. I can’t get there.

VP Harris Is Frustrated

Back in the day a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away when magic filled the air yours truly had a female manager that was truth be told probably a little too nice for her job. 
My manager once complained to her boss that she (my manager) had just arrived in her position and thus shouldn't be really held responsible for various projects sliding into "red" status or other critical team issues. 
Her boss, also a woman, was less than sympathetic, stating that my boss' trial period ended when she took the job and that at this point and at her salary all anyone cared about was results. And the higher ranking boss made it clear that she didn't want to hear any more self-serving complaints from my boss. Period. Was that expectation fair? Perhaps not. The team was in a bad way before my direct boss arrived. Was that expectation typical and accurate as to what stakeholders expect from those they have put into power? Absolutely
I was reminded of that reading the latest NYT story with quotes, sourced and otherwise, from the supporters of VP Kamala Harris that generally claim that Harris is doing a great job and that she is the victim of a double standard because of her race and gender.
An early front-runner whose presidential ambitions fizzled amid a dysfunctional 2020 campaign, Ms. Harris was pulled onto the Biden ticket for her policy priorities that largely mirrored his, and her ability as a Black woman to bolster support with coalitions of voters he needed to win the presidency.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Black Man Insulted And Detained For Trying To Cash His Paycheck

Something that is ongoing in American culture is that people from just about every walk of life think and behave as if Black people, specifically Black men, are less intelligent lower forms of life that deserve absolutely no respect and are almost certainly guilty of something.
I don't think it's possible to find a honest Black man who hasn't run across this attitude in one form or another. 
This never ending hate and contempt is something that almost certainly leads to greater hypertension, stress, and all of the health concerns that go along with that. This racism could be something like a judge mistaking a Black lawyer for a criminal defendant, Bill O'Reilly "joking" that the professor Marc Lamont Hill looks like a cocaine dealer, or co-workers constantly mistaking one Black man for the only other Black man in the department when the two look nothing alike and are far apart in age. 
It is what it is. This started long before I got here and will continue after I'm gone. But one really egregious example of this recently came to light in Minnesota.
Joe Morrow, a Minnesota man, was the victim of what many call “banking while Black” after being put in handcuffs after attempting to cash his paycheck inside a U.S. Bank branch in suburban Minneapolis last October.
Morrow told KSTP-TV reporters that despite having an account with the bank, employees at a branch in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, “were all looking at me and just staring at me and then looking at the check and then staring at me again. And I’m already knowing what they’re thinking — that the check fake.” 
Morrow, who moved to Minnesota from Mississippi last year and worked as an “order picker,” said the incident began well before the police had arrived at the bank where he attempted to cash a check for roughly $900. 
The man said he was informed by the bank’s manager, John Askwith, that the check was fraudulent and that “you people always coming in here with fake checks.” I work there, bro. And I’m going to report you too, bro, this is racial,” Morrow was heard saying calmly, without expletives, to the manager before he was cautioned about his allegations of racial profiling. When Sgt. Justin Pletcher arrived, police body camera footage showed Morrow already in Askwith’s office, leaning back in a chair, hands folded. The 23-year-old maintained that the check was indeed real.

Movie Reviews: A Quiet Place Part II

A Quiet Place Part II
directed by John Krasinski
This 2021 film was the sequel to the earlier movie of the same name, reviewed here. Sequels are often funny business. Sometimes sequels can let you know what happens next. 
Given the paternal sacrifice at the end of the first film, Part II has a lot to work with on that level. 
Sequels can also go back in time to show how things got started in the first place, which Part II does as well. However although this film was enjoyable in parts, I thought that it dragged too much. The child actors irritated me--or rather their characters did. 
This is likely a reaction based on how I was raised but certainly as a youngster if my parents said to do A and not do B, then that is what they meant. 
And they would communicate that intention in clear precise language that left absolutely no room for debate, interpretation, or misunderstanding. 
And if my siblings or I didn't follow those orders, well then we would have some problems. Obviously once someone reaches his or her teen years then there's going to be some more rebellion and disagreement. That's just human nature. Parents need to be aware of that and accept that change within certain limits. 

Movie Reviews: Pompeii (2014)

directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

This 2014 film was a throwback to classic disaster movies in many ways, some good, others bad. 
Unfortunately it took a wrong turn almost immediately by trying to graft on a romantic storyline (a la Titanic) to a set of events that didn't really need that standard Hollywood trope added. 
The film also irritated me a little because it saw fit to bring back another trope that should be discredited by now, of having Black characters sacrifice themselves to save UNRELATED white characters. 
I understand and appreciate how a character might decide to give up his/her own life to ensure that a spouse, child, or relative survives. I also understand that in tragedies sometimes people sacrifice for each other in the moment.
But doing it just because you're impressed by the backstory of someone you just met and may not even like?  And to always have the sacrifice go one way and not the other? To me that's just bad writing and reeks of racial solipsism. 
Good writing should reflect reality, in which everyone is the hero or heroine of his or her own life and and is not going to be in a rush to throw away or lose their life just because.
But then again this is a disaster movie. The story's true impact is in the special effects, which don't disappoint, even though in certain scenes they are too obvious in the CGI look. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Movie Reviews: Sheba Baby

Sheba Baby
directed by William Girdler
When I was growing up there were only two reasons to watch a Pam Grier film. And these reasons usually weren't the well written fast paced dialogue or the state of the art special effects. 
Sheba Baby moved away from the sleaze a bit. Perhaps Grier felt some kind of way about the until then filmic overemphasis on her physical attributes. 
In any event this older Grier vehicle significantly toned down any camera leering at Grier in favor of extended action sequences. This movie was rated PG and not R, though it's still probably not something I'd want to watch with female relatives. 
It's worth pointing out that there weren't too many actresses doing this kind of work at the time. Grier's characters during her successful seventies run were almost always confident direct women who didn't take too much stuff from anyone, male or female, Black or White, and were quite capable of getting their own revenge when needed. Sheba Baby is no different in that regard. 
This is a movie which because of the relatively low budget and occasionally meandering 70s feel is perhaps ripe for a remake, though given the cultural expressions of feminism and misandry likely a remake would go places I wouldn't be interested in going.
Anyhow, for its times this was a decent, not great, movie.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Democrats Fueling Inequality

If you listen to the partisans at MSNBC everything that's awful is the Republicans' fault. The voters need to give Senate Democrats a filibuster proof majority along with similar margins in the House. We should expand the Supreme Court to cement a liberal Democratic court for the next fifty years. 
For good measure we must make Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico states. And lastly we've got to eliminate the Electoral College and combine the Dakotas, Wyoming, Idaho, Nebraska, Kansas, and Montana into just one state. Those goobers don't deserve fourteen senators! 
And with all of the i's dotted, t's crossed, and Republicans thus completely locked out of the national government for the foreseeable future, it would be a time of jubilation as all of the wonderful policy preferences of the Democratic Party would come to fruition. And we'd all live happily ever after. 
Some people who actually believe that. Fair enough. But the facts show that when Democrats have the power to put into practice their preferred policies, they often pass on doing so. 

Movie Reviews: Motel Hell

Motel Hell
directed by Kevin Connor    
This is another relatively low budget 80s horror movie that has probably become a cult movie in the years since its release. 
Motel Hell is obviously inspired by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, though it is not as over the top bloody and gory as some installments in that franchise. Motel Hell stars a serious actor, Rory Calhoun, from the classic Hollywood era who had been in various Westerns and romantic comedies with people like Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable. 
Although Calhoun is likely less remembered today, two decades past his demise, he may have well had have had enough residual fame at the time of this film's 1980 release to give this film some gravitas that it probably didn't deserve. 
Although it seems that Calhoun is having a good time, I wouldn't say he's mugging for the camera or chewing up the scenery. He plays his role straight. 
Some might view this film as a satire or parody of the better known slasher film it references. I don't think it is. At least I don't think it's doing that deliberately. There are some moments of bleak humor and a few self-referential genre jokes. 

Movie Reviews: The Holcroft Covenant

The Holcroft Covenant
directed by John Frankenheimer
The late John Frankenheimer made some gripping action, suspense and political thriller movies including but not limited to Ronin, The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, 52 Pick-Up, Black Sunday, and Seconds
However no one bats a thousand. The Holcroft Covenant should have been a better film, based as it was on the novel of the same name by Robert Ludlum (who also wrote the The Bourne Triology), whose political intrigue story creations would seem to be a perfect fit for a director such as Frankenheimer. I think one of my parents had this Ludlum novel way back in the day. 
Watching the movie I had a strong sense of deja vu so I purchased the novel to read (again?). This wasn't a great movie but it had its moments. I think the casting was off. Bad casting impacts everything. 
I enjoy watching Michael Caine in almost everything he does. But if there's one thing that makes Caine distinctive as an actor it's his very strong Cockney accent which firmly marks Caine's place and age. 
A movie that posits that a Caine character is an American, as this one does, is going to have to work REALLY hard to get me to suspend disbelief. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Rittenhouse Found Not Guilty

I don't have much to write about the Rittenhouse not guilty verdict. I'm disgusted but not surprised. It was apparent from the beginning of the trial and its development that the judge was going out of his way to put not only his thumb on the scale for Rittenhouse but both feet as well. I can not imagine a situation in which an underage Black boy goes to a different state, brandishes a gun which he has no legal right to use, gets into confrontations, shoots multiple people and is acquitted of all charges by way of self-defense. 
And to put the cherry on top of the sh*t sundae, the judge throws out the gun possession charge, claiming that the law is too vague. Legally this is the equivalent of the proverbial Black gangster in Chicago shooting other Black gangsters, using illegal guns to do so, and successfully claiming self-defense. That's just not going to happen too frequently.
The people on the more progressive side of the political spectrum will need to collectively get used to using guns, keeping guns, and bearing guns. The right and their enablers in the justice system feel that they are the only armed people. The justice system is not going to prevent them from shooting you or punish them when they do. Right-wing vigilantes will be encouraged by this verdict.
Like it or not, as a country we are moving past the "Can't we put down the guns and talk?" phase of our political life. This is not that different from the Greensboro Massacre that occurred all those years ago. when I was a youngster. If someone of ill intent thinks you're weaker than they are, there will be problems.

House Censures Arizona Republican Gosar For Violent Video

I would like to think that I am a valued member of the organization at which I am currently employed. Maybe, maybe not. 
Different executives probably have had different takes on that question. 
But regardless of my actual or perceived worth to my employer I am certain that if I were posting videos depicting my assault or murder of my co-workers and/or people higher up than me in the company hierarchy, I would immediately be looking for new employment. Having a reprimand placed in my HR file wouldn't suffice as a punishment for such actions. 
The modern Republican Party doesn't understand or care about such things. For them "joking" about assaulting or murdering political opponents is a normal function of being in government--at least as long as they are the ones making such "jokes" or comments. 

WASHINGTON — A bitterly divided U.S. House of Representatives voted narrowly on Wednesday to censure Representative Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona, for posting an animated video that depicted him killing a Democratic congresswoman and assaulting President Biden. 

The formal rebuke of the far-right congressman who has allied himself with white nationalists — the first censure since 2010 and only the 24th in the history of the republic — also stripped him of his committee assignments.

Dumb Michigan Woman Hires Hitman

"Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe."
-Frank Zappa

After reading the following recent local story I recalled the above quote by the late musician Frank Zappa. A woman who was apparently not over a bad breakup of some kind decided that the world would be a better place without her former husband. 
And so, like every vengeful yet rational spouse who has reached that conclusion she decided to go online and rent a hitman. Yes indeed. As you might imagine subsequent events didn't pan out in the woman's favor.
A Michigan woman could spend up to nine years in prison for trying to get her ex-husband killed. Wendy Lynn Wein, 52, of South Rockford, used a fake website called "Rent-A-Hitman" to try to solicit the murder of her former husband on July 17, 2020. She used a pseudonym but entered her real information at the end of her "service request." However, the "Rent-A-Hitman" domain was created as a cyber-security test site.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Is Vice-President Kamala Harris Irrelevant

Being a Vice-President can be a thankless job. Other than being a "break in the case of emergency" Presidential replacement and voting to break ties in the Senate the Vice-President doesn't have much power in our political system. 
The influence and power of the Vice-President is entirely up to the President. Some Vice-Presidents, most notably Dick Cheney in recent years, have convinced Presidents to give them their own power center and set of responsibilities, or have been tacitly or openly acknowledged to be key Presidential advisers and people who influence access to the President. 
But most Vice-Presidents spend their time repeating whatever talking points the Administration wants emphasized, going to funerals, avoiding contradicting the President or otherwise embarrassing the Administration.  It's a pretty low bar to reach.
So if you happen to be a Kamala Harris supporter, it's probably a bit of a downer to see that Harris is apparently having a bit of trouble reaching that minimal "meets expectations" B minus job evaluation. Harris' portfolio was supposed to be immigration and voting rights. Nothing substantively progressive has occurred on either of those fronts. 

Movie Reviews: Kill Me Again

Kill Me Again
directed by John Dahl
In the late eighties early nineties there was a brief revival of noir movies. Some of these films were just unapologetic vehicles for bosomy actresses such as Shannon Whirry or Shannon Tweed to strut their stuff. Nothing wrong with that. 
Others had more serious artistic intention though they still usually had a sexy femme fatale. It's unusual, though not impossible, for a good film noir to get by without a femme fatale. 
Films of that era like Blood Simple, One False Move, Devil In A Blue Dress, and Dahl's later film Red Rock West among others, all updated the noir style for the modern era while still honoring tradition.
Kill Me Again is a 1989 neo-noir film that falls somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as quality and pacing. The acting was decent but I felt that something was occasionally a little off. I didn't completely disappear into the film the way that I will for a truly great movie. 
This was probably a movie that could have used an extra ten or fifteen minutes to its run time in order to flesh out its characters, both lead and supporting, a little more. 

Friday, November 5, 2021

Beverly Hills Police Harass Black People

I have never been to prison. My understanding is that some (many?) of the nation's worst large state men's prison systems are or were until very recently informally racially segregated. 
Each large racial group has or had its own showers, recreation and exercise areas, phone banks, cafeteria sections, bathrooms, television rooms, and so on.
A man of one racial group couldn't just walk thru a different group's area without escort and permission because otherwise he might then be assaulted and set off racial brawls or riots. 
Personal interactions between different races are discouraged and/or kept to strictly business. Violations could be punished with stabbings, beatings, or other unpleasantries. There is or was a strong feeling of "This is ours, that is yours. Stay out of ours!" I don't know if my local penal system has this practice and have no intention upon ever finding out. But there is some grim brutal honesty to this system. Everyone knows just where he stands. That's prison law.
But that's not supposed to be the law outside of prison. Legally speaking there aren't supposed to be "White" areas in which Blacks can't visit for pain of official harassment or worse. But we know that there are. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

Movie Reviews: Phone Booth

Phone Booth
directed by Joel Schumacher
This is another older film that is as much a noirish morality play as action/thriller movie. Like some aspects of the biblical Satan, the film's bad guy is an accuser, a prosecutor. 
He's someone who will reveal your sins, venial or otherwise, and make you confront them, pay for them, and maybe transcend them. He might be helping you (painfully) to reach a more enlightened stage of life.
Or he could just be a sicko who enjoys humiliation, violence, and pain. So YMMV on that. 
The story mostly takes place in or around the titular phone booth but I didn't find this claustrophobic or boring. The late director kept things moving.
Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell, whose native Irish accent occasionally pokes through an attempt at Bronxese) is a publicist who likes to think that he's going big places. 
Stu spends more time keeping up appearances than he does providing value to his C-list clients. But if his clients don't figure this out before the check clears, then Stu is happy to take their money.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Movie Reviews: Changing Lanes

Changing Lanes
directed by Roger Michell
This smartly written older film had two leads, Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck who each turned in powerful performances. 
Changing Lanes initially masquerades as a road rage movie. It's really a morality play that examines the choices we make and how those decisions impact us all.
Changing Lanes is not explicitly a Christian movie but I think that it takes the best of Christian precepts, or moral precepts that anyone can accept, and applies those to everyday life. As the title suggests we can all change our path. 
If you are only familiar with Samuel L. Jackson from his more bombastic roles this film could remind you of what a versatile actor he is. 
This movie makes you think. I appreciated that the film showed how swiftly even the best of men or women--which the characters are not--could be pushed to a moral precipice. It's what happens next that defines the kind of person we are and/or want to be. 
Henry David Thoreau famously wrote that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation". That is certainly the case with the two lead characters though they differ in age, race, and economic status. It's a busy day in NYC. Two men need to get to the courthouse for very different reasons. Unfortunately they get into a car accident.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Movie Reviews: From Beyond

From Beyond
directed by Stuart Gordon 
This 80s low budget horror film was done by the same director who did Re-Animator and stars two of the same actors from that film, Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs. Although it's not as darkly comic it still has much of the same feel as Re-Animator
From Beyond, like Re-Animator, is based on a H.P. Lovecraft story of the same title. And like the film version of Re-Animator it increases the role of the female characters and greatly ups the sex appeal. This wasn't hard to do at all as IIRC H.P. Lovecraft didn't include any female characters in either of those stories; he almost never wrote female characters.  
Given that Lovecraft claimed indifference to sex perhaps that's not too surprising. 
Lovecraft was also at best indifferent to anything and anyone that wasn't him so it would have been a stretch beyond his capacities to write from another's pov. Like Hitchcock's Psycho, From Beyond definitely makes you think you saw more than you did. 
Unlike that movie though it is occasionally pretty explicit. So YMMV on that. Similar to Clive Barker's Hellraiser films there's a hint of kink that suffuses this entire movie. 
Another theme that Lovecraft liked to play with was that what we saw as magic was often in fact advanced science or technology that we lacked the ability to use or comprehend. This is not as offbase as you might think. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Book Reviews: The Hungry Earth

The Hungry Earth
by Nicholas Kaufmann
The Hungry Earth
is a new thriller/body horror novel written by Nicholas Kaufmann whose work was previously reviewed here and here. As I get older I wonder if some of the fascination I or other readers feel with body horror novels isn't at least in some part driven by fear of aging and the inevitable body changes that occur. 
The driving force in most body horror stories is that the human has been infected by or taken over by something that sees humans as merely a vessel for propagation.  
And there's not a damn thing the human can do about it. Humans have a number of other living creatures in us or on us using us for food or to obtain food. Some of these parasites are beneficial to us. These include our mitochondria. Others are neutral like the mites that live in our pores, eat our dead skin and oil secretions, and have massive orgies on our faces while we sleep. 
Other organisms are negative or downright malignant, like tapeworms, roundworms, candidiasis, guinea worms, bedbugs, plasmodium, and several other entities. 
What is scary about these creatures is that they seek to rewire and rework our bodies for their benefit, not ours. They can also substitute their desire and "intellect" for our own. 
This last is most often seen in species besides humans but there's no real reason a human couldn't react just like an infected mouse or ant and seek to spread the parasitical infection at the cost of his own wellbeing or life.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Music Reviews: Tarheel Slim -"I've Got You Covered/Wildcat Tamer"

Since the pandemic begun I've been listening to more old school original rock-n-roll, primarily though not exclusively created by Black people. There are many different iterations of this music. 
As mentioned before on this blog during the time much of this music was created and performed, the music definitions of today had not been created. 
A person might record a slow blues for one market, an uptempo rocker for a different market, a lugubrious plodding gospel tune for the church crowd or a horn heavy churner for people who just wanted to dance. So you can call this music rock-n-roll, jump blues, rockabilly, whatever. I just like it. I like to think myself well versed in this stuff but I have been surprised and humbled and even a little angered to discover just how much of this music I hadn't heard before.
One musician I discovered was Tarheel Slim, or as his birth certificate read, Allen Bunn. As his nickname indicates, Bunn hailed from the great state of North Carolina. Born in 1932 the baritone singer and guitarist had hits in various genres, including gospel, pop, doo-wop, blues, rock-n-roll, jump blues, rockabilly, and soul. There are two songs of his which stood out to me on the collections I purchased.

Michigan Deer Attack

If you happen to be in Northern Michigan minding your own business keep a watch out for an aggressive deer which apparently doesn't like humans and has no problem demonstrating its disdain.

ARENAC COUNTY, MI — Showing no fear of humans and with a distinctive item around its neck, an antlered deer attacked a woman on her Arenac County property. 
While the woman survived the bizarre attack despite numerous puncture wounds, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is reminding residents that wildlife should indeed stay wild. 
On Sept. 26, DNR officers responded to a residence in the Au Gres area for a report of an antlered white-tailed deer having attacked a woman, according to Lt. Brandon Kieft, DNR district law supervisor.

The woman in question, 64-year-old Patty Jean Willis, had been getting ready for church when she let her dogs outside and heard them making a ruckus, she said. Looking into her backyard, she saw a deer standing there. Adding to the oddity was that the deer wore an orange collar around its neck.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Woman On The Beach

The Woman On The Beach
directed by Jean Renoir
This is a relatively short film noir although it feels a little longer than its seventy odd minutes. It lacks most of the violence associated with the genre. 
It's a quiet film that is nevertheless unsettling and occasionally even weird. I suppose you could say that most of the missing physical violence is replaced by emotional pain. The story is just as foggy as the cinematography. This movie is all about mood. 
I didn't think there was quite enough action to move the story forward. But on the other hand The Woman On The Beach is a decent look at how people's internal struggles, desires, and goals play out in their relationships and their larger lives.
Scott (Robert Ryan) is a taciturn war veteran and current Coast Guard officer. Although people didn't use the exact term at the time that this film was made, Scott suffers from PTSD. During the war a ship that Scott was on was torpedoed and sunk. Scott nearly drowned. He now has recurring nightmares and even waking dreams about drowning and being pulled down to the bottom of the ocean. There's always a strange blonde woman in these dreams but Scott can't tell if she's luring him into danger or trying to save him.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Movie Reviews: Bodyguard (1948)

directed by Richard Fleischer
This 1948 film was helmed by Richard Fleischer who also directed the somewhat lighter in tone The Clay Pigeon. Bodyguard is not the darkest noir either though it occasionally flirts with some heavier takes in terms of story and theme.
It might be of some interest to younger viewers because it stars famed Hollywood knucklehead Lawrence Tierney in the lead role. Tierney was never a superstar but made his name playing many tough mean guys, regardless of which side of the law his character could be found. 
This was a bit of art imitating life as the hulking alcoholic Tierney had numerous brushes with the law and violence, some minor, others less so.
His record included everything from assault on police officers, to drunken bar brawls with stabbings, fights with fellow actors, numerous stints in jail, and suspicious timing when a woman he was visiting supposedly jumped out of her apartment building to her death. 

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Book Reviews: Ride or Die

Ride or Die
by James Newman
Do you remember where you were or how old you were when you first realized that your parents weren't perfect? Or maybe one day you discovered that your parents' marriage wasn't everything you thought that it was. 
Maybe you saw or heard one or both of your parents do or say something that was just as wrong as two left shoes. Well by the time you're an adult these sorts of revelations are probably old news. 
Once you've been spinning around the planet for more than a few decades you have probably accepted, ruefully or otherwise, that most humans are mixtures of good and evil, most days somewhere between saints and sinners. After all as an experienced adult you've likely made your own share of mistakes or morally dubious decisions. 
And if you're a Christian are you not commanded to judge not lest you be judged and worry first about the beam in your own eye before criticizing the speck of dust in someone else's? Indeed so.
But children don't have the life time of experience or larger perspective needed to be sanguine about the moral failings of others, especially not those of their parents. Amelia Fletcher is a high school sophomore. Amelia's father is an insurance executive; her mother is a nurse.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

California Recall: It Must Be The Fault of Black Men

As you may have heard the petition to recall Democratic California governor Gavin Newsom and replace him with noted nutjob Republican Larry Elder failed spectacularly. 
About 64% of the electorate voted "no" on the recall. 36% voted "yes". 
As California is a heavily Democratic state while Elder is an odious person, even for a Black Republican, the results aren't that surprising. What is also unsurprising is that the New York Times found a way to take shots at Black men voters. You see, per CNN exit polls, 89% of Black women voters voted "no" on the recall. 
This was the group with the highest "no" voting proportion. But according to NYT columnist Charles Blow, there is something wrong with Black men because:
But there is a worrisome detail in the data, one that keeps showing up, one that Democrats would do well to deal with: Black and Latino men are not hewing as close to the party line as Black and Latina women.
In CNN’s exit poll, nearly half of the Hispanic men surveyed and nearly a quarter of the Black men voted to support the recall. The largest difference between men and women of any racial group was between Black men and Black women.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Clay Pigeon

The Clay Pigeon
directed by Richard Fleischer
This is a film noir but very much at the lighter end of that cinematic spectrum. 
With a running time of just over an hour it's really very short and doesn't spend much time on character development or in invoking any sense of dread, existential or otherwise. 
There's actually a fair bit of comedy, some of it unintentional. The film actually tries to make us believe that a Japanese World War Two war criminal would attempt to hide out in a Chinese American residential area and NOT be detected by any of the people living therein. 
This makes about as much sense as thinking that a German Nazi war criminal would CHOOSE to live in a Russian-Jewish American neighborhood and move around with no problems. 
Perhaps to outsiders every East Asian looks the same or every European looks the same but people within those groups and the hundreds of smaller groups that comprise them have no problems distinguishing among each other. They've been doing just that for hundreds or even thousands of years!

Friday, September 10, 2021

Grocery Store Etiquette

At one of the grocery store chains where I used to routinely shop, despite what seems to be massive growth in the shopping population, store managers have installed more self-service kiosks. 
Store managers have reduced the number of lines staffed by clerks. And a customer can, with occasional exceptions, forget about having anyone bag his or her groceries. 
I guess this is because of price pressures from online competition as well as your typical corporate greed to reduce every penny that is paid to human beings who actually do the work. 
What is making things even worse from my perspective is that although stores have continued to increase the number of self-service kiosks, they haven't exactly gone out of their way to make them user friendly.  In one store at any given time, including the "rush hour" on weekend mornings most of the self-service kiosks are non-functional while at a different store across town the managers have altered the kiosks to not accept cash, only debit or credit cards. 

Great Blue Heron Has A Tasty Snack

For you Mr. Rat, the trip on this planet has come to an end!

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Movie Reviews: Outside The Wire

Outside The Wire
directed by Mikael Hafstrom
This sci-fi action film was a mishmash of Training Day and Chappie. It was entertaining but it lacked a really compelling Big Bad. 
It was at its core a war movie so I don't think it needed an interesting female role but there were nonetheless a few times when such might have been useful. I am weary of Hollywood insisting on casting British actors into just about every conceivable role. 
It can take me out of the film to want to believe that someone is American or Ukrainian and hear them speaking in a pronounced British accent. Seems like casting directors and producers should start being open to more talent outside of Great Britain. 
Outside the Wire plays a little at the beginning and a lot later on with some heavy questions around wartime utilitarian ethics and the morality of following orders vs. making your own decisions.
Most of the war action felt much more Marvel like than Saving Private Ryan. I felt like I was watching special effects. That made some sense within the storyline for reasons that will become obvious should you watch the film.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Movie Reviews: What Lies Below

What Lies Below
directed by Braden Duemmler

Investigation Discovery meets The Shadow Over Innsmouth
You might not imagine that a movie that draws equally from Freduian stepfather ickniness and Lovecraftian ichthyoid creepiness would have much new to offer in terms of thrillers. And unfortunately, in this case you'd be correct. 
Other than reversing the viewer's gaze so that the fit masculine form is on display at least as much as the curvy feminine, there's nothing different or groundbreaking about this movie. 
If you have ever seen any of those bawdy cable true life crime stories the tales often described how someone, often a male, but nearly as often a female, wormed his or her way into the heart of a good but desperate lonely person. 
The leech uses its vantage point to exploit its victim financially, emotionally, sexually or in other ways. The victim's relatives are often unable to do anything about this. Or perhaps the victim's family members are just too young to interfere with the victim's love life.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Movie Reviews: Blood Red Sky

Blood Red Sky
directed by Peter Thorwath
This is a German supernatural horror film that bears a great deal of visual resemblance to the classic German movie Nosferatu and many of the descendants of that film, most notably the original TV version of Stephen King's Salem's Lot
It also thematically reminded me of the short story "Popsy", also by Stephen King, in which a child trafficker finds that the child he's chosen to kidnap is (a) not normal and (b) has a relative, the title character, who is protective in the extreme. So Blood Red Sky is set up to be a kind of extended mugging the monster situation with the twist that the monster is linked to our side by a tenuous connection to its child. So what's greater, maternal love or the need to be who you are? 
Another theme explored here was the fact that parents will do and say things to provide for or protect their children that either (a) the children will not understand or (b) are simply immoral. The parent simply can't tolerate if the child was to see or learn about those actions, even if those actions were needed for the child to survive. 
This could be something as prosaic as taking a demeaning job as a house domestic and tolerating racist treatment and language in order to help provide for a child's law school education or overturning a kitchen table and threatening racist co-workers with an axe if they should speak out of pocket to you ever again. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

Farewell Afghanistan

The United States has just about completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The 20 year war is over. Instead of the Afghan government fighting the Taliban for another two years, a year, or even a measly six months the Afghan government and military collapsed in a matter of days. 
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani evidently decided that instead of taking a last stand with some death or glory hardcases who would ensure that their names lived forever as sources of fear to the Taliban, it was better to do like every other Taliban Afghan opponent and run away.  Yes brave President Ghani ran away.
The President showed up in the United Arab Emirates, alternately saying that he left for the good of the people and because he didn't want to get hanged. The President also denied that he had left with a bunch of cash (most likely because he had already transferred his wealth out of the nation). Other Afghan leaders who had worked with Ghani basically called him a punk. So it goes. 
Smart collaborators (and that is what Ghani was) tend not to stick around once the occupying force packs up and leaves.

Movie Reviews: The Empty Man

The Empty Man
directed by David Prior
This is a horror movie that initially gives the viewer the impression that it's like any number of hundreds of other horror movies in which people-usually sex crazed teens-summon an evil spirit by foolishly performing some stupid ritual. 
Maybe they chant a demon's name five times while looking in a mirror. Maybe they sacrifice an animal in a graveyard. Maybe they play spin the bottle or truth or dare in an abandoned church. Maybe they read cuneiform or hieroglyphics in some ancient Iraqi or Egyptian tomb. 
Maybe they open up a locked book with warnings written in blood that state  dummy do not open this book under any circumstances!! In any event after the people do whatever stupid thing they do, they usually die in horrible ways, often while having sex, trying to have sex, or thinking about having sex. 
Along the way the few group members with functioning brain cells find a mentor who can advise them or stop by a library or church to read up on what happened the last time someone did something so stupid and if the older stupid people survived. Usually there's a final confrontation where Mr. or Miss Smarty Pants defeats whatever evil was set loose but often not before losing someone valuable to him or her. 

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Movie Reviews: Wrath of Man

Wrath of Man
directed by Guy Ritchie 
How do you review a film in which almost any plot description is something that could veer into spoiler territory. 
Very carefully, succinctly and without discussing much of the plot that's how. Maybe let's first review what you might expect from a Guy Ritchie movie. 
You might, if you had watched previous Ritchie films such Snatch, ,Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels or even The Gentlemen, expect a Ritchie film to be about a motley crew of lovable rogues who get themselves into some over the top trouble through misplaced ambition or simple bad luck, cross paths with more dangerous or less moral people, and through the power of being cool, good luck, guts, and some carefully planned double or triple crosses mostly manage to come out ok. 
You might also expect a Ritchie directed movie to feature a tremendous number of sudden close ups, freeze frames, occasionally incomprehensible British accents and slang, a few good natured ethnic or racial jokes, intersecting plot lines, law enforcement who appear at exactly the wrong time for the bad guys, and a general sense of somewhat warped glee at being alive and getting away with it. 
This movie is not like that. It's a remake of a French film.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Devoted Geese

I am not crazy about Canadian Geese. Not even a little bit. They have ugly voices, beady little eyes, can be irrationally aggressive, destroy ponds and small lakes, damage just-washed vehicles, and routinely turn sidewalks and yards into deadly minefields.
In formerly semi-rural suburban Michigan areas such as the one which I call home Canadian Geese are a regular sight, because among other reasons, they don't have many natural predators left around. More's the pity I say. 
Still, I suppose one decent trait such geese have is the habit of monogamously mating for life and apparently being concerned about their mate's whereabouts and safety. 
This redeeming quality was recently put on display by two Canadian Geese at the Birdsey Wildlife Center in Barnstable Massachusetts.
In case you’re hearing it for the first time, Arnold the goose, a resident of the pond outside the Cape Wildlife Center, had an injured foot requiring surgery. While Birdsey’s medical director Dr. Priya Patel and the veterinary staff worked to repair Arnold’s left foot, his concerned mate came tapping at the wildlife center’s door to check up on him and quite literally stand by her man.

Amelia, who’s named in honor of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, continues to be a frequent visitor to Birdsey, keeping Arnold company during his recovery, Mertz said. “She leaves occasionally to go for a swim or for food, but is still making daily visits to the porch,” he said. The wildlife center’s staff is making special efforts to allow the “love birds” to share a meal together every day, which Mertz said is very heartwarming.

Movie Reviews: Slaughter

directed by Jack Starrett
The good about Slaughter was that it featured a two fisted Black masculine male hero who plays by his own rules, doesn't take any stuff off anyone, and is going to get the girl.
It's surprising how rare that combination still is in Hollywood today, let alone fifty years ago. I suppose at the times an over the top film like this could have been cathartic for Black people who were, it must be remembered, just less than a decade out from the official end of legal apartheid. The bad about Slaughter was almost everything else. The writing was indifferent. Jim Brown is not a bad actor but he's not a great one either. The film was low budget even by the times and looked it. 
Even so, I had a soft spot in my heart for this movie, because although Brown gives a one note performance in this movie, his role really doesn't require more than that. His character knows what he wants, knows how to get it, and doesn't spend a lot of time talking things out. One day I'm going to try just to speak in one liners from this film.
Okay, what's it about? What is any blaxploitation revenge movie about? Slaughter (Jim Brown) is a Vietnam veteran Green Beret captain who has come home. His parents are killed in a car bomb. Doing some investigating Slaughter finds most of the men who did it and removes them from the planet. 

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Federal Eviction Moratorium Expires

If you have the resources to ensure that you and yours have housing for the foreseeable future then this news will not have any immediate impact upon you but the Federal CDC moratorium on evictions expired on Saturday, July 31. 
This means, at least in the states and localities that have not legislated or mandated their own eviction moratoriums that landlords both corporate and individual, great and small, honest and corrupt, can start to pursue evictions against those individuals who are either unwilling or unable to pay rent in accordance with the lease that they signed. 
(CNN)It's like Democrats in the White House and Congress forgot the date. Now it's the first of the month and rent -- and back rent -- is suddenly due for millions of Americans who have been shielded from eviction during the pandemic.
Millions of households could face eviction over the next month -- when lawmakers on are on their annual August recess -- and some have predicted a full-blown eviction crisis, just as a surge in Covid cases from the highly contagious Delta variant may be prompting renewed calls for people to stay home and keep their distance.