Monday, May 31, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Breaking Point

The Breaking Point
directed by Michael Curtiz
This is a 1950 film noir that feels very modern both in its story and in the treatment of its characters. 
During a time when racial segregation was still very much in effect this movie depicts a black boy and two white girls playing together before they go to school as no big deal. Their fathers are friends.
Considering that in several states such activities could easily result in violence, legal or otherwise, against a Black boy and/or other nearby Blacks, this part of the movie was something of a political statement, though it's not presented as one. 
The Breaking Point was one of lead actor's John Garfield's last movies. The left-wing Garfield was forced to testify before the House Committee for Un-American Activities and bravely refused to name names. This act of defiance destroyed Garfield's film career. The consequent lack of income and resulting stress may have contributed to Garfield's early death from a heart attack just two years after this film was released. 
Much like the younger actor Charles Bronson, whom I think he slightly resembled, Garfield grew up in an impoverished environment and often played cynical working class heroes. That is very much the case in this movie, which is based on a Hemingway novel, which I may or may not have read before.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Sentinel (1977)

The Sentinel (1977)
directed by Michael Winner
There was a brief time in the late sixties thru the early eighties when horror movies, despite always being considered cinema's ugly stepchild, were able to attract top of the line actors and writers. 
And even though some horror films always tended toward Grand Guignol, there were quite a few others that relied more on atmosphere and implications of things unseen than on nudity and bloodshed. The Sentinel is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. I don't know that I would call some of its nudity gratuitous but the nudity does exist and is often depicted in disturbing ways. 
The Sentinel was not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination. There are many cliches. The lead actress' performance is not that compelling, probably because she is more object of the story than subject. If a studio ever remade this movie I am sure that the female lead would have much more to do besides a lot of screaming, whining, and fainting.
Still The Sentinel does manage to give the viewer a sufficient sense of unease, fright and occasional disgust while mostly avoiding the buckets of blood approach that today too often defines the genre. 
Make no mistake though, some of the film's special effects were considered excessive and exploitive even for the time. The ending sees the director put his foot on the gas pedal in that regard. Your mileage may vary with that. 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Movie Reviews: Georgetown

directed by Christoph Waltz
In both of the previous movies (Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds) in which I've seen Waltz, he has played a garrulous grammar pedant and bon vivant who is far more dangerous than most of his antagonists or even the audience first realize. 
In this movie, his directorial debut, Waltz again inhabits that sort of character. The difference with this film is that because it's based on a true story that yet feels stereotypical, it's very obvious from the beginning that Waltz's character has something up his sleeve. There aren't too many surprises for the viewer here. I suppose what there is though, is a sense of frustration and wonder that conmen can so easily prey on the elderly, the lonely, the greedy, the naive, the desperate, or the ambitious. 
There also might be some resignation that age and resulting physical weakness will eventually impact us all, if we are lucky. 
I liked Waltz's interpretation of his character, who like some demonic/devilish creations described in a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, expends a tremendous amount of energy trying to be attractive to whomever he's interacting with at any given time. From time to time the mask slips and the true nature is revealed. Sometimes this is played for laughs, but usually it's not so amusing.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Ravens Stealing Groceries

I no longer patronize certain grocery stores or convenience stores. Maybe I don't like the service. Maybe I think there's an unacceptably high risk of encountering would be robbers. If I lived in Anchorage, Alaska, I wouldn't need to worry about people stopping me and stealing my stuff. It's the birds! More precisely, it's the ravens, apparently too smart and too organized for their own good, who have set up their own profitable shakedown racket.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Some Alaska Costco shoppers said they've had their groceries stolen by ravens in the store parking lot. Matt Lewallen said he was packing his groceries into his car in the parking lot of an Anchorage Costco when ravens swooped in to steal a short rib from his cart, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.
“I literally took 10 steps away and turned around, two ravens came down and instantly grabbed one out of the package, ripped it off and flew off with it,” Lewallen said. Lewallen said the piece of meat was about 4-by-7 inches (10-by-18 centimeters) large — a sizable meal for a sizable bird.
“They know what they’re doing; it’s not their first time,” Lewallen said. “They’re very fat so I think they’ve got a whole system there.” And once he got back home, he noticed that one of the ravens had taken a poke at another rib but did not rob it.
“I cut that meat out and started marinating it and my wife said, ‘That’s gross, we should take it back,’ ” Lewallen said. “Costco actually took it back even after we had started marinating them and gave us a full refund.”

Germany to Return Nigerian Bronzes

William Faulkner wrote that "The past is never dead. It's not even the past." Much of the world today is the result of crimes committed and decisions made by people decades, even centuries ago.

Human nature being what it is, people who have benefitted from certain past actions are often, good natured or not, biased towards not making any changes to rectify misdeeds while those who have been harmed by theft or worse crimes see no reason why the descendants of robbers should continue to live off ill gotten booty. 

There is an entire legal, financial, and diplomatic industry which exists to return various forms of property, particularly art, that was stolen, expropriated, or "bought" from Jews by non-Jews during the years of German Nazi hegemony, WW2, and the Holocaust. I use quotes around bought because of course sell or die isn't really a true free market transaction. Art museums, some wealthy private art collectors, corporations, and Nazi descendants have not all been immediately willing to turn over such property to Jewish institutions, claimed heirs, or the state of Israel. There have been disputes. 

Of course the Nazis were only in power for twelve years. Depending on when you start the clock European nations have been invading and colonizing African and Asian nations for about three hundred to four hundred years. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Movie Reviews: Bullets or Ballots

Bullets or Ballots
directed by William Keighley
This is not really a noir film though it does have noir elements. It's an old school crime drama and something of a love letter to the police, most especially a particularly brutal and arrogant real life NYPD detective, John Broderick, known for harassing, and assaulting striking workers and criminals (alleged or actual).
Although he was known at the time as being a "tough cop," considering that that most of the people Broderick assaulted weren't able or willing to fight back against an officer of the law, I think Broderick wasn't so much a tough guy as he was a bully. He beat one man taken in for parole violations so badly that the man was crippled for life. The judge ended up letting the man go, stating that he had suffered enough. 
Still, in 1936 as now, it was good business for Hollywood to depict a heroic cop battling bad guys. Bullets or Ballots was the first of five films to star Edward Robinson and Humphrey Bogart together. Not only does this film take strong inspiration from the "adventures" of John Broderick, it also references the then notorious exploits of people such as Lucky Luciano, Madame Stephanie St. Clair, and Dutch Schultz.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Some Indians Try Cow Dung for Covid Cure

Every single group of people has some belief systems that are not only not backed up by testable hypotheses and science but also are often flatly contradicted by those processes. It is what it is. 

This is apparently just part of human nature. It doesn't matter whether we're discussing Flat-earthers, white evangelicals who claim that Covid-19 is no worse than the flu, Black people who argue that the vaccines developed to protect against Covid-19 are actually part of a racist population control plan, East Africans who think that albino body parts bring good luck, East Asians who swear that rhino horn cures fevers and impotence, or for that matter Republicans who are convinced that Trump won the 2020 election.
Everyone can believe ridiculous things, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc.
Sometimes a sufficient number of people who accept untrue facts can have a serious deleterious impact on everyone else. As the aphorism attributed to comedian George Carlin goes, "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups!
In the below case I hope that the behavior described will only impact the people dumb enough or desperate enough to engage in it. 

Friday, May 14, 2021

Mother Defends Children Against Racist Home Invasion

I do not think that every single person should own a firearm. And I know some people who own guns who in my opinion probably shouldn't. But I have never understood those who claim that only police or the military should own guns. 
I have zero respect for that position, not only because there are plenty of examples of government officials harming unarmed people, but also because there are even more instances of criminals seeking to harm unarmed people and/or those whom they perceive as weaker than themselves. 
Whether we like it or not, the world is full of human predators. Although most of us will likely never encounter such folks there's absolutely nothing wrong with being prepared if we do.
Three white people allegedly threatened to kill a black family — including two children — during a violent home invasion in Michigan, prosecutors said. 
The suspects — identified as Branden Odegaard, Michael Graves and Maci Pietryga – were arrested after cops responded to a 911 call on April 26 in Walled Lake, where witnesses said the trio “threatened to kill the occupants” and used a racial slur, the Detroit News reported.

Friday, May 7, 2021

SALT Deduction Cap Fight

I play chess. I hate when my opponent manipulates me into a situation with no good choices. I don't think that former President Trump and his merry band of sycophants are good chess players but they did box in the Democrats on an issue that divides people along class and regional lines. 

I am referring to the 2017 tax law which capped the individual federal tax deduction for state and local income and property taxes or SALT at $10,000. This deduction was previously unlimited

So before 2017 someone who owned a mansion or other expensive property as their primary residence could deduct the entire state or local property tax or income tax owed from his or her federal income tax liability. But they can't do that today.
Some people who pay high local income and property taxes don't like the new law. Not one bit. Many of the people most impacted are well off or wealthy Democrats in politically Democratic or "blue states".  

It's ironic because much of the Democratic messaging is that the well off should pay their fair share, which is in part what the SALT $10,000 deduction cap does, even though that's NOT why Trump and Republicans put it into place. I think the issue is probably the perceived unfairness that someone with a million dollar home in say Texas or Alabama is, all else equal, paying less in overall taxes than someone with the same priced home in California or New York. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Movie Reviews: Night Vision

Night Vision
directed by Gil Bettman
The older movie Night Vision starred former NFL player and blaxploitation leading man Fred Williamson and noted martial arts performer Cynthia Rothrock. The idea wasn't that bad, if completely unoriginal. A burned out older cop with personal issues who is about to be fired is paired up with a younger female cop with a patchy history. 
Together the unlikely duo must confront an insane evil mastermind who has a personal grudge against the older cop. Eventually the two cops find that despite their differences they might actually (ahem) "like" each other. 
So we've seen this story before. Unfortunately Night Vision was poorly acted, poorly shot, had bad music, bad writing, bad lighting, and most unforgivably, bad action sequences. This is a bad movie. Horrible. Pointless. 
Although Night Vision was released in 1998 the sound track is an inept knockoff/parody of the 1980s Jan Hammer/Tangerine Dream style of synth pop used in the TV series Miami Vice
Dakota Smith (Williamson) is a divorced former detective who has been demoted to motorcycle patrol in part because he's an alcoholic but also because (1) he tends to shoot first and ask questions later and (2) doesn't mind telling his bosses to go f*** themselves.