Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Movie Reviews: Decoy

directed by Jack Bernhard

This is an older and lower budget film noir that nonetheless stands tall as one of the most unabashedly hardcore noirs, with a femme fatale that runs rings around all of the men she encounters. This lady is cold, mean, and nasty but also extremely attractive. 

Her beauty allows her to get away with what she does as nobody believes that she will turn on him until it's too late. 

You might say that this film is a homage to the power of femininity gone wrong or conversely, an examination of how stupid men can be when women are concerned. One minor character finds the word 'dichotomy' in the dictionary and is fascinated by both its sound and meaning. He mispronounces it and repeats it. He's talking about Jean Gillie's character though he doesn't realize it. The audience certainly will though. 

There is a serious dichotomy between Gillie's character's looks and words on the one hand and her character's actions on the other. I've written before that people do themselves a disservice if they dismiss all older movies as having poorly written female characters. It's just not true. I think too often people believe that women must behave as men behave in order to be strong. Not the case. Gillie's character is never going to be mistaken, physically or otherwise, for a man. 

She's not going to be cursing, punching people out, or mouthing feminist platitudes. Gillie's character gets the most screen time, is perhaps the best constructed, and is fully in charge of things, from the beginning to the end. She's not nice at all though she certainly looks it. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Senator Schumer Shields The Rich

One of the predictable things about life is that people are hypocrites. People sanctimoniously blast others for looking after their tribe or self-interests but rush to do the exact same thing when they are in power. One politician who exemplifies this more than most is New York Senator Charles Schumer. 
Some people have referred to old Chucky as the Senator from Wall Street because of his previous interest in ensuring that New York based financial entities are protected from legal accountability and get their "fair share" of any "gub'mnt cheese" that is being disbursed. Well as it turns out Senator Schumer is also, despite former hints to the contrary just fine with public funds being given to private schools. 

Tucked into the $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue law is something of a surprise coming from a Democratic Congress and a president long seen as a champion of public education — nearly $3 billion earmarked for private schools. 
More surprising is who got it there: Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader whose loyalty to his constituents diverged from the wishes of his party, and Randi Weingarten, the leader of one of the nation’s most powerful teachers’ unions, who acknowledged that the federal government had an obligation to help all schools recover from the pandemic, even those who do not accept her group.

Brooklyn Bus Battle: You Back Up!

It's unavoidable. In life we will have arguments, debates, disagreements, altercations, squabbles, or outright fights with other people: friends, relatives, spouse, lovers, co-workers, and strangers. It is of course always more important to insist that you are right and that the other person acknowledge that he is wrong than to find a solution to an issue that is affecting both people. Okay, obviously that statement is hyperbole but people do act like that often enough such that it's a permanent problem in human relations, both individual and societal. 
Fortunately in a recent Brooklyn confrontation, there were only two bus drivers who were armed with nothing more than rising tempers instead of nations armed to the teeth and looking for a reason to start trouble. In this incident there were people around who were able to intervene, lower each antagonist's temperature, and find a solution that allowed everyone involved to maintain pride and solve the issue before anything other than  harsh words were exchanged. And that was good.

Two quarreling city bus drivers locked horns and refused to move their massive rigs in a bizarre stand-off on a narrow two-way avenue in Brooklyn, a video released Friday shows. 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Murder Over Stimulus Check in Indianapolis

When I read about the story below I was reminded of the Tolkien quote which headlines this post. I am not opposed to the death penalty per se.
But even in the most execution happy states of America, most first degree murderers never receive the death penalty. I'm not sure that imposing the death penalty would ever deter people from murder.  If you are willing to kill children then I'm not sure anything can deter you from your actions. There are some people who just don't care.  
Obviously the death penalty is also just filthy with race and class bias just like the rest of the justice system. I have seen too many cases where innocent (often Black or poor) men have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to multiple decades to the hell of state or federal prisons, often by openly racist prosecutors or jurors who ignored exculpatory evidence, for me to uncritically endorse usage of the death penalty. 
Having  written that, I don't think the world needs people who murder children. I DO think such people deserve death. If we had the death penalty for all murderers and carried it out after trial and limited expedited appeals would there be a deterrence impact? Should we only use the death penalty where there is absolutely no doubt of guilt? Or is that morally wrong? I don't know. I'm certain that the perpetrator of the below crime should pay with his life for his deeds.
INDIANAPOLIS — Her family said Jeanettrius Moore worked hard at a beauty supply shop to support herself and two little girls and appreciated the most recent $1,400 stimulus check issued to help Americans recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The father of her youngest baby, Malik Halfacre, thought he should get half.

Movie Reviews: Strangers on a Train

Strangers On A Train
directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I was only familiar with this film via the later spoof Throw Momma From The Train which starred Danny Devito and Billy Crystal. So when I had an opportunity to watch the original I decided to check it out. 

It wasn't a dark comedy like the DeVito film. 
This was a serious noir film. It was based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote the novels The Talented Mr. Ripley and its sequels. Many of these books were also adapted into films. Highsmith was a lesbian. This would not be relevant but for the fact that Strangers On A Train seems to contain some gay subtext. The viewer can decide on that for himself/herself. 

I haven't read the novel to see if Hitchcock turned up this subtext or if it was present in the book. Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is an up and coming tennis star with women problems. Big ones. He's married to a woman Miriam (Kasey Rogers, later seen in the tv series Bewitched) who not only gets around with anyone and everyone, she's pregnant. 

And Guy is definitely not the Daddy. Guy is, as you might suspect, a bit bummed out by this development. He wants to get a divorce so he can marry his own sidepiece, Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), the daughter of a US Senator. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Book Reviews: Dave vs. The Monsters: Resistance

Dave vs. The Monsters: Resistance
by John Birmingham
Often second books in a trilogy are a let down. Resistance is not a bad book, but the middle of stories are rarely are exciting as introductions or as satisfying as endings. To briefly recap the first book, parts of the United States and other places have been invaded by monstrous insectoid/ogrish looking creatures who have either lived in the planet's interior or are denizens of an alternate dimension that has intruded upon our own.
The aliens always reach our world by tunneling upwards. The aliens remember humanity as frightened scared cattle. We don't remember them at all, although they could be the inspiration for some old legends. 

Although most of these creatures are more than a match for a full grown man, their technology is at Dark Age levels. After the hero, Dave Hooper, defeats their champion, the aliens are massacred by human air weapons and ground artillery. The aliens have no words to express what is happening to them. 

The aliens are shocked at what they saw as treachery by Dave; the deal was that that particular alien army could return to the underworld without further bloodshed. The US military was not party to the deal that Dave made and wouldn't have lived up to it if it had been. Dave was initially upset about that.
In Resistance, Dave has gone Hollywood. Dave spends his time partying with Hollywood starlets, eating, drinking, and copulating with said starlets and other female members of the jet set.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Movie Reviews: Clown

directed by Jon Watts
This movie came out in 2014. Clown was Watts' directorial debut. It's low budget but does its best with what it has. Clown is by turns equally inventive and formulaic. I guess the viewer can decide for himself or herself which description best fits this horror movie. 
Upon watching it a second time I also wondered if Watts might be using the supernatural evil described in this film as a metaphor for an all too common real life evil. This movie really doesn't pull many punches in terms of graphic violence so if that is not your thing then this movie is most definitely not something you should be watching. Most of the special effects appear to have been done without the noticeable use of CGI. That choice gave the film a sense of reality that intensified the emotional impact of the violence.  
Horror movie viewers know the horror movie survival rules. 
If your special rider invites you to a weekend getaway at his/her ancient isolated family estate you should respectfully decline the invite and end the relationship. If you find an old box marked with ancient runes, don't open that box. If an old man/woman moves into the crumbling house next door and neighborhood animals start disappearing, call the police instead of doing your own investigation.
If you receive an unexpected package, return it to sender. If you only see someone at night, be suspicious. If this person also hates crucifixes and won't enter your house without a very explicit invitation, don't give that invitation.

Movie Reviews: Scream Blacula Scream

Scream Blacula Scream
directed by Bob Kelljan
Hollywood occasionally notices that Black audiences exist and would like to watch films in which Black actors/actresses are not always the chaste best friend, comic relief, incompetent bad guy, or useless "red shirts" who die to demonstrate the danger for the (usually white) hero/heroine. 
The late sixties and early seventies were one of those times. Scream Blacula Scream was created during that period. Scream Blacula Scream was a sequel to the original, equally unimaginatively titled Blacula. Despite the name, however, neither the original nor the sequel were bland mishmashes of Stoker's Dracula. In the original film--although the time period is off by about three hundred years--- Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall), leader of the African Abani people is traveling Europe to seek support for ending the African slave trade. 
Mamuwalde asks the help of Count Dracula. Unfortunately Dracula is apparently a racist who supports the slave trade. Dracula finds it ludicrous and offensive that any African could call himself a prince. 
Dracula turns Mamuwalde into a vampire and imprisons him, telling him his new name is Blacula. In the seventies, Blacula's sealed coffin was transferred to Los Angeles where the revived Blacula starts turning people into vampires while searching for the reincarnation of his long lost love. He fails at that second task and willingly immolates himself by walking into sunlight. 
This film starts shortly after the first film's events. A religious leader/voodoo Queen is near death. She decides to pass on leadership to her adopted daughter Lisa (Pam Grier) instead of her biological son Willis (Richard Lawson).

Friday, March 12, 2021

Deer Stampede

I wouldn't say this is a common sight in Michigan. But it's not uncommon either. Good thing no humans or deer were harmed.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Georgia Republicans Attack Black Voting

A constant in American politics and society is that white racists create rules to exclude Black people from enjoying benefits or from accessing certain constitutionally guaranteed rights. 
When Black people figure out a way around, over, under or through those roadblocks the racists retreat to a prearranged rally point and create new rules to continue doing (exclusion and prevention) what the older rules can no longer legally accomplish. The mid 20th century Civil Rights movements removed many of the explicit anti-Black rules. But there was always a backlash. Forced to let Black people into public pools? Close down all the public pools. Forced public school integration? Depart districts with Black residents or send your children to exclusive private schools which can legally discriminate. Forced to hire Black people? Hire some but make things so unpleasant that they leave on their own. 
Forced to let Black people vote, as if they are American citizens or something? Can't bring out the dogs, thugs, and firehoses as much as you would like?  Well change the rules to target Black voters. We should remember the intellectual Godfather of post WW American conservatism and founder of the National Review, William F. Buckley, made a name for himself by opposing voting rights for Black people:
The central question that emerges-and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalogue of the rights of American citizens, born Equal-is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes -the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race.
Although Buckley later disavowed this view it was then and is now the driving motivation for many American conservatives. They don't like the idea of Blacks voting. So if Buckley were still alive (and honest) I think he would applaud the actions of Georgia Republicans, who, evidently shell shocked by Republican losses in Senate races and the Presidential race, have targeted Black voters with military specificity and extreme malice.
Now, Georgia Republicans are proposing new restrictions on weekend voting that could severely curtail one of the Black church’s central roles in civic engagement and elections. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Movie Reviews: Shot Caller

Shot Caller
directed by Ric Roman Waugh 
I remember the righteous living and doing all I knew for good
/If I could change this corruption you know I would if I only could

A Shot Caller is the person or persons in a prison gang who has the authority (keys) for his gang for a particular yard, building, prison complex, group of prisons, or even entire state. What this person says goes. Challenging his authority or otherwise disrespecting him isn't very wise. While a specific shot caller won't necessarily have defined authority over other races or gangs in the prison, depending on how numerous, vicious, and/or well connected his particular gang is, a particular shot caller could be the dominant boss. If you are in a prison of 3000 and 2500 of the inmates belong to your race or gang then the shot callers for other races/gangs probably don't want too many problems with you. Or vice versa, if your 500 out of 3000 are known to be unified and insanely hyperviolent, you could punch well above your weight in terms of prison power and influence.
Shot Caller examines the fall of California stockbroker Jacob Harlan (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau , Jaime Lannister from HBO's Game of Thrones) from naive yuppie and upstanding citizen into a prince of darkness. The film has a lot of flashbacks and flash forwards. I thought it had too many flashbacks. It made sense at the end for reasons I can't discuss here but in my opinion a traditional narrative would have been just as powerful. Physics hasn't given us the definitive answer for whether time travel into the past is possible. I think most people have wished that we could go in back in time to change a bad decision or otherwise alter something. Jacob certainly wishes he could have made better choices.

Movie Reviews: Fatale

directed by Deon Taylor
This new thriller is a neo-noir which compares well with the forties and fifties noir films that are its ancestors and somewhat less so with the Shannon Whirry and Shannon Tweed eighties and nineties erotic thrillers that are its more immediate antecedents. The title (and much of the story) put me in mind both of the femme fatale often found in such films and the Michael Douglas/Glenn Close movie Fatal Attraction. You have seen the themes and plots in this movie before. However, as some storytellers insist, perhaps ultimately there only a few archetypes which are shared over and over again. I thought that this story was well acted and generally well written. 
Again, as is common in the genre, there are a few things which are obvious to the viewer which aren't obvious to the protagonist.  A usual feature of these sorts of movies is that the protagonist is not a man who is filled with rectitude. He's a man who makes mistakes.  You might even say that he's a man who indulges some sins. But in noir films he's rarely the worst person depicted on screen. He's usually a man who thinks, often accurately, that his choices are limited or constrained. Thus, like people in real life, the noir protagonist had to choose what he sees as the least bad outcome. We've all had to do that at times I think. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

New York Governor Cuomo Continues To Mess His Pants

That smell you detect coming from the East Coast is the unwrapping of Governor Cuomo's diaper. As long as he was a marshal of the "Resistance" against Trump I think that some people were willing to overlook Cuomo's dominant and domineering personality and infamous rivalries and feuds with other elected Democrats. 
But now that Trump is gone perhaps folks are okay with taking a closer look at some of Cuomo's behavior. You may have heard that Governor Cuomo has been accused of inappropriate behavior and/or sexual harassment by three women. Two of the women worked for Cuomo. FWIW I believe those women. Their stories do not rise to the "Give me some or you're fired!" level of harassment but the allegations, if true, demonstrate show that the Governor has at best poor judgment. The third woman did not work for the Governor, but accused him of trying to hit on her at a wedding. I think the third story is weak sauce. 
Men and women do flirt with each other and make moves on each other at weddings---and other places at well. I don't think we should or can criminalize or stigmatize such behavior out of the workplace. It's part of life. Sometimes people say no. Other times they say yes. There is a difference between a boss talking to a subordinate about what he or she likes romantically/sexually and someone using the exact same lines with a stranger at a bar, wedding, or other social environment. 

Movie Reviews: Redemption Day

Redemption Day
directed by Hicham Hajji
It's rare to see films where the Black lead gets to be the hero, kick some butt, and win the girl. So I was predisposed to like a film that was set up to do just that. Unfortunately although this movie attempted to hit all those points, it was a bland mix of plots and themes that were better done in video games. 
The leading actor and actress did okay with what they had to work with I suppose but the writing and cinematography didn't offer them any support. I also had the sneaking feeling that a lot of the story was a compromise among the director, writer(s), and producer. There were too many plot lines left dangling like a worm on a hook. Some important themes started and were dropped. There were a number of internal contradictions, the most obvious of which was that in my opinion the leading actor was a bit too old for his military rank. Gary Dourdan is extremely well preserved for his age but he is fifty-four years old. I don't think he could pass for much below forty.
My understanding is that even forty something is older than the normal age range for a Marine Captain. It seems as if Dourdan's character, if active duty, should have been a major or lieutenant colonel. Of course it's possible that some of the flashbacks were meant to be twenty years prior but they were ineptly done. In any event Marine Captain Brad Paxton (Dourdan) has returned home after some stuff went really wrong in Syria. Brad saved lives and prevented things from getting worse. He was decorated for his actions and is viewed well by the military brass. 

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Movie Reviews: Deadline At Dawn

Deadline At Dawn
directed by Harold Clurman
Deadline At Dawn
was based on the novel of the same name by the famous pulp writer Cornell Woolrich aka William Irish aka George Hopley, some of whose work appears in The Big Book of Pulps, which was earlier reviewed here. Woolrich had a pretty interesting life in some ways, tragic in others. 
Filmmakers adapted a lot of Woolrich's work for the big screen. The most famous films made from Woolrich's novels or short stories were probably Alfred Hitchcocks's Rear Window and Francois Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black
There are always secrets within secrets in Woolrich's work, in print or on screen. Likely this had something to do with his own life and secrets. Woolrich was a repressed guilt ridden diabetic gay man who after a failed marriage lived with his mother until her death. Woolrich was also one of the greatest pulp writers to exist, with a keen if oft cynical insight into human nature. Pick up any of his works if you are into pulp/noir fiction.
Deadline At Dawn is an excellent film by Harold Clurman, though as befitting his stage background it often feels like a play. It loses something by being shot almost entirely on soundstages. The hurly burly of mid century New York City doesn't always come across. 
What does come across is the mixture of love, lust, greed, altruism, revenge, and forgiveness that mark us as human and which we all have in various proportions. As with the best films, Deadline At Dawn is timeless. It could very easily be set in today's time with minor changes. People might dress differently and speak differently but the core challenges of being human are more or less the same as they have always been.