Monday, February 28, 2022

Russia and Ukraine War: Quick Thoughts

I hope that the Russia: Ukraine War ends soon with minimal loss of life. In most cases war is an obscenity. 
However, it's impossible not to notice the tremendous implicit bias in the war's media coverage. 
Some pundits have expressed shock and horror that war is occurring in Europe. 

The unspoken feeling is that Europeans should be more advanced than this, not like those other "uncivilized" people of the world. For those other people, evidently, life really should be 'nasty, brutish, and short.' 
One journalist recently made this explicit. I doubt that he has any special animus against people who aren't white or European. He just takes it for granted that such people aren't as advanced or as civilized as his (presumably white) audience.

There are deadlier wars currently occurring in Ethiopia and Yemen. There are people losing their lands and lives in a slow motion strangulation in Palestine. Western powers drop bombs on people in Syria and Somalia with a disregard for civilian casualties. Boko Haram is still kidnapping and murdering people in Nigeria. 

Bridgewater New Jersey Racism

Justice is supposed to be blind. If the so-called justice system is not blind then it's of no use. 
This is a truism if you happen to be Black and especially if you happen to be a Black male. 
You will be treated more harshly than anyone else for the exact same violation.

It would be comforting to think that this bias only happened in the bad old days or in certain backwards Southern states but it still happens everywhere today. 
The different standard is so obvious that in the latest example even the white (or at least non-Black) person who benefitted from this bias recognized it and called it out.

A video of police officers breaking up a fight at a New Jersey mall has sparked anger over accusations that law enforcement treated the two teenagers involved in the scuffle — one Black and one white — differently. 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Movie Reviews: Halloween Kills

Halloween Kills
directed by David Gordon Green

This slasher film is a sequel to the 2018 film which was itself a sequel to the original 1978 classic original film and a retcon for some of the various sequels, remakes, and reboots that have taken place in the intervening forty years. 
It is also the second film in a trilogy. 

Perhaps the final film, imaginatively titled Halloween Ends, will at long last end the saga of Michael Myers.  I hope so. Halloween Kills tries an appeal to nostalgia for those of us who remember the 1978 film by bringing back some characters from that film or its immediate sequel. 
I felt no such sentimentality.
I don't think anyone missed those characters. Halloween wasn't a film where (children aside) you had much feeling for characters besides Laurie Strode. This film doesn't establish WHY we should care about people who implausibly survived their own encounter with Michael Myers. 

I might have cared about them more if the film showed me the murders' impact on their lives, families, and relationships-in short what the 2018 film did with Laurie Strode, then considered a gun crazed paranoid grandma. Halloween Kills opens after the events of the 2018 film.  

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Book Reviews: Everything Has Teeth

Everything Has Teeth
by Jeff Strand

Do you like horror stories? What kind? What is the point of a horror story? 
Is it to give you chills? Should it make you think about society's various "isms". Is it to make you laugh? 

Or should a good horror tale disgust you? 
Should it make you run to the porcelain throne and lose your lunch? Should it make you wonder about the probity or mental stability of the author? 

Is a good horror story something that you hide from friends or family members lest they think that you are morally bent?

Is a good horror story something that makes you feel guilty for having read it? 
Is a good horror story something that makes you want to see the author and his/her publisher hauled before Congressional Committees for televised denouncement? 

Or is a good horror story something that makes you keep the lights on a little later than normal or jump at some unexplained nighttime creak on the stairs or scratch at the window? Jeff Strand is a writer who is able to evoke all of the above responses in the reader. 

Movie Reviews: Hit!

directed by Sidney Furie

I think that some people might unfairly dismiss this early seventies film as a low quality blaxploitation film. It wasn't that at all. 

It's an action drama that was directed by the same fellow who had just recently directed Diana Ross in the Billie Holiday bio Lady Sings The Blues. 
Hit! was not originally conceived as a "Black" movie. It was supposed to be a Steve McQueen vehicle. 

It was a sign of the times that the director and producer did not change the demographics of the cast or the race of the female love interest when Black actor and then male sex symbol Billy Dee Williams became attached to the film as the lead actor.  
This film, like many seventies movies, takes its own sweet time setting up events. It lets things play out naturally. 

Movie Reviews: Born To Kill

Born to Kill
directed by Robert Wise

Robert Wise also directed West Side Story, The Andromeda Strain, The Sound of Music, Audrey Rose, and The Hindenburg among other films. Born to Kill is a post war film noir that stars noted knucklehead Lawrence Tierney in the male lead. 
As in the film Bodyguard that came out shortly after this movie, Tierney is playing a tough guy. 
The difference here is that in Born to Kill, Tierney is a bad man, very bad actually. He's not someone that you want around you or taking interest in your affairs. 
We can all argue over the technical definitions of words like "evil", "sociopath", or "psychopath" but it's fair to say that Tierney's character is a man who takes everything personally, lies without any remorse, views other people as tools to be used in his inevitable rise to fame and fortune, and has a very low boiling point for committing violence. 
Call it what you like but this guy is bad news. 
Born to Kill asks what sort of society produces men like this, and worse, what if there are women like him as well. What happens when they run into each other? Likely nothing good, that's what. This movie also takes a few shots at the sexual mating strategies of men and women. Sometimes these strategies work and everyone is happy. Other times playing such games can get people hurt.

Louisiana Female Teacher Commits Sexual Assault And Child Abuse

I don't have much to say about this story other than to repeat what should be blindingly obvious.
Women are not more morally upright than men. 
Women are just as capable as men of committing sexual assault.
Some women will assist in or direct sexual assault.
Making  gendered assumptions about the identity of the victim and criminal can make us miss the true perpetrator.

I am glad that this woman was caught. I would bet that this is not the first time or only time that she has done something like this.
I am not sure that I agree with the death penalty or that it should apply in situations where no one was killed.
I do know though, that if this woman happened to depart the world in a sudden and violent event in prison, I don't think many people would be shedding tears. 
I know I wouldn't. Also, it's a teacher and cop who are involved. Bad cops exist.

A former Louisiana middle school teacher has been sentenced to 40 years behind bars after admitting she fed students cupcakes laced with the sperm of her ex-husband, an ex-sheriff’s lieutenant.
Cynthia Perkins, 36, was sentenced Friday to 40 years of hard labor without the possibility of probation or parole. 

Don't Mess With Bulls!!!

For a variety of reasons it's important to be able to tell the difference between a cow and a bull. Fortunately I already had that piece of information stored away somewhere in my brain. Now a California cyclist also knows that a wise man ascertains if the large bovine impeding his path is a bull or cow before he proceeds.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Movie Reviews: The Garment Jungle

The Garment Jungle
directed by Vincent Sherman
This 1957 noir movie, like the previous film On The Waterfront, was another noir NYC film based on the real life infiltration of organized crime into business. 
On The Waterfront looked into the mob control of shipping and waterfront labor activities, which in real life were in part controlled by Mafia boss Albert "The Lord High Executioner" Anastasia.
The Garment Jungle reviews the mob dominance of clothes manufacturing and fashion distribution, which were then overseen by people like  Mafia boss Tommy "Three Finger Brown" Lucchese and top hoodlum Johnny Dioguardi.

Shortly before this movie was released, Dioguardi arranged for the  acid blinding of a newspaper journalist who was exposing mob control of the New York City garment industry.

The two movies shared a star in Lee J. Cobb. In On The Waterfront Cobb played an extroverted and dangerous hoodlum who was quite similar to Anastasia. In The Garment Jungle, Cobb was equally boisterous but portrayed a garment manufacturer who wanted to keep his shop non-union and wasn't too particular about how he accomplished this. 
Although both movies argue that crime doesn't pay, On The Waterfront is a more radical film. The Garment Jungle  softened its critiques, perhaps because the film studio didn't want to be too pro-worker and be stigmatized with the "Commie" label and because Cobb didn't want his character to be depicted as too bad of a guy.  

Movie Reviews: Crack House

Crack House
directed by Michael Fischa

I guess even icons have bills to pay. In some ways that's reassuring I suppose. In other ways it's sad. Perhaps most people sometimes do things for money. 
I mean most of us have jobs right? Or if we don't we used to or rely on our savings from previous jobs. 
Well when that money gets low and you're an actor perhaps you show up in movies like Crack House. That's about the only way I can understand how former leading men Richard Roundtree (Shaft) and Jim Brown (Slaughter) wound up in movies such as this. 
Now get this straight, considering that this was a Cannon Films production I wasn't expecting much. At the time Cannon Films was owned by Israeli film makers (and cousins) Menachem Golan and Yoram Globus , who were notorious for cheap low budget (but not always low quality) films. But even by Golan: Globus standards Crack House was a pretty s****y movie. The visual quality was poor. 
The sets looked like thrift shop rejects. The lighting was dim. I've seen better cinematography at family birthday parties. 

Female Twins Attempt to Murder Waiter

Some people like to make categorical claims that there is never any reason for violence against women, that no man should ever hit a woman, that any man who does use force against a woman is not a real man and so forth and so on. 
Although I would agree that in a domestic conflict situation no one should initiate violence against anyone else I can't agree that there is never any reason for anyone to use violence against a woman. 
There are, no matter how much both traditionalists and feminists might like to pretend otherwise, some physically aggressive, impulsively violent, and downright dangerous women in this world. 
A recent example of this came to light in a George Webb restaurant near Milwaukee where two women, apparently upset with the speed and quality of their food order, allegedly expressed their displeasure by assaulting, pistol whipping, and shooting the male waiter. 

Twin sisters are facing charges after a restaurant worker was shot in the face because their food was taking too long, Wisconsin detectives said. The twins, both 20 from Milwaukee, were charged with attempted first-degree homicide with a dangerous weapon after the Jan. 30 incident at a George Webb location in Wauwatosa.

Movie Reviews: Clean

directed by Paul Solet
There are, have been, and likely always will be a number of movies in which a mysterious man is struggling with some past trauma when some criminal makes the mistake of mugging the monster. 
Because this moron didn't realize just who he was f***** with, the mysterious man loses or removes the mental locks and strict imposed inhibitions that were keeping his internal beast leashed, gagged and chained. 
But now, thanks to this big dummy and his greed, ignorance, and total stupidity, the beast is free. 
The old days, the bad days, the all or nothing days are back! And once the beast is free well someone is gonna get his throat ripped out isn't he? 
Many people are going to get turned into red smears on the sidewalk while the beast does what it does best. 
This is the underlying theme of too many movies to mention, including but not limited to Man on Fire, The Equalizer remakes, the John Wick series, Unforgiven, and A History of Violence among others. The difference between Clean and many of the listed films is that Clean does not glamorize the protagonist or show violence as cool or even as deserved --though your mileage may vary on that last one. 
Clean spends a lot of time, maybe too much time in the first three quarters of its duration, hinting at and increasingly showing the costs of what a past life of violence and anger have done to someone. 
I don't think any viewer walks away from this thinking that vengeance or violence are cool. With the exception of his 1987 Buick the protagonist doesn't have any possessions that scream "I'm a baaaaaaaad man!". 

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Movie Reviews: Report To The Commissioner

Report To The Commissioner
directed by Milton Katselas
This is a grimy looking NYC cop drama that works the same side of the street as such near contemporary films as Across 110th Street, Serpico, and The French Connection.
Report To The Commissioner and The French Connection shared the same screenwriter in Ernest Tidyman, so perhaps it's not too surprising that the cop played by Yaphet Kotto seems to have a lot in common with The French Connection's Popeye Doyle, right down to the porkpie hat. 
Report To The Commissioner has understated social commentary. By today's standards the language is rough befitting the sort of story this film is trying to tell but the violence is minor and not explicit. 
I haven't been to New York City in decades; I hear that compared to the seventies and eighties everything has been cleaned up and "Disneyfied". 
This 1975 film takes place in the bad old days of live sex shows, garish neon, and big yellow Checker taxicabs. There's an excitement and energy to the film that leaps off the screen even when nothing much is happening. 
That's not something that's easy to pull off. This movie makes New York City look like a smelly rotten den of iniquity full of lowlifes, ripoff artists, and corrupt government officials. It also makes it look like a place you might want to visit though perhaps not live.

Right-Wing Loons Force Closure of National Butterfly Center

When two people can't get along they have to stop living together. 
One underlying reason that people can't get along is that they no longer share the same reality. 
From a societal standpoint two people's personal problems don't mean very much.

But when entire swaths of society reject empiricism, embrace outlandish disproven conspiracies, and seek to harass and intimidate other people based on their distorted reality map then that is a much bigger problem than two people getting upset because they have different ideas about money, child raising, fidelity, or clothing choices. 
Society begins to fall apart when too many people no longer agree on reality.
Conservatives have been on the warpath about race (what else, I may have more to write on that later) but have recently taken a detour to attack the National Butterfly Center. Yes you read that correctly.