Monday, March 28, 2022

Will Smith Slaps Chris Rock At Oscars

I don't watch the Oscars. This morning when I heard that Will Smith had slapped Chris Rock at the recent Oscars ceremony I thought that it must have been a skit or some insider joke. 

When I found that it was real I thought that Smith must have taken offense to a Rock joke about Smith's apparent open marriage with his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. Jada Pinkett Smith has done the do with at least one man not named Will Smith while still being married to Will Smith. 

But that wasn't was set Will Smith off last night, although the actress Regina Hall made a joke cracking on the Smith couple for precisely that reason. 
No what evidently made Smith so angry that he assaulted Chris Rock was that Chris Rock made a joke claiming that Jada Pinkett Smith was getting ready for a sequel to GI Jane, a film in which the lead actress, Demi Moore, famously shaved her head. Jada Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia and has apparently decided to keep a buzzcut.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Movie Reviews: Fear

directed by Ivalo Hristov
This is Bulgaria's entry for Best International Film at this year's Academy Awards. It is a timely and timeless film that shares surface similarities to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri and Ghost Dog in that Fear features a blunt older woman and two people who communicate despite having no common language.

Fear is timely because the current Ukrainian migrant crisis demonstrates racist hypocrisy by many European nations, both western and eastern. 

Countries that claimed to be full and that were trying to stop further refugees, deport current ones, or become so unwelcoming that present refugees would leave on their own have behaved much differently with white Christian Ukrainian refugees, welcoming them with open arms. 

Even poor "white" nations with no history of slavery or colonialism still have many people with racist contempt for non-whites, especially Blacks. Fear is timeless because it illuminates humanity's good and bad sides while challenging us to do better.

Movie Reviews: Dark Water

Dark Water
directed by Walter Salles
This 2002 horror film was a remake of a Japanese horror movie which I hadn't seen before and still haven't viewed. 
So I had no preconceptions about about its quality or that of the the original Japanese story.

After watching this movie I appreciated that it was ominous and a little eerie without relying overmuch on special effects, gore, or exposed female flesh. 

Dark Water is a throwback to much earlier genre films. Instead of overloading the viewer with a million frames per second as some hyperactive films do,  the director lets the story and action play out at its own natural place. 

Near the ending I thought there were a few too many jump scares but most of the film's "horror" comes from a steadily increasing sense of unease and discomfort that wraps the viewer in a cold cloak of weirdness and holds on tightly.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Lithuania Cancels Covid Vaccine Donation To Bangladesh

Say you are at home. An earnest young woman knocks on your door. She has a petition for you to sign. The woman is also taking donations; a $50 minimum is suggested. 
Perhaps she wants to stop Evil Megacorp Inc. from committing environmental crimes. Maybe she's concerned about sexual, gender, or racial politics. Or maybe this is about a local recall election.

But you have no money to donate. You can't support the cause publicly. Maybe your spouse or parent(s) work(s) for Evil Megacorp Inc. Maybe your local representative has threatened police harassment of petition signers. Maybe you prefer avoiding politics. You don't sign the petition or give money. Angered, this canvasser produces a Molotov cocktail, lights it, and tosses it thru your open door, yelling that "You're either with us or against us!!

Or say the canvasser leaves. But the canvasser's husband runs the local sanitation service. No one will pick up your garbage--unless you sign the petition. Are you and your children surviving on church charity? The canvasser's brother-in-law is the church preacher. The preacher tells you that church charity is for petition signers. So you and yours can starve--unless you sign the petition.

Magpies Are Smarter Than You Think

It can be somewhat unsettling to realize that an animal you may think of as a literal birdbrain is, at least within a particular environment or framework, a little smarter than you realized or maybe even a little smarter than you. 
I wasn't surprised that an animal was able to figure out how to remove a foreign object placed upon it. 

Anyone who's ever watched a dog remove an unwanted collar or cone won't be amazed by that. I was intrigued that not only was a Magpie able to remove the tracking device but also that a Magpie was somehow able to communicate its distress to others of its kind who were interested enough to stop whatever they were doing and assist their brother or sister in precisely the method required.

The Australian magpie is one of the cleverest birds on earth. It has a beautiful song of extraordinary complexity. It can recognize and remember up to 30 different human faces. In 2019 Dominique Potvin, an animal ecologist at University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia, set out to study magpie social behavior. 

She and her team spent around six months perfecting a harness that would carry miniature tracking devices in a way that was unintrusive for magpies. They believed it would be nearly impossible for magpies to remove the harnesses from their own bodies. “The first tracker was off half an hour after we put it on,” she said.

Movie Reviews: Where The Sidewalk Ends

Where The Sidewalk Ends
directed by Otto Preminger

This was a quality film noir that stood out because of its serious criticism of the police.

Still the writer and director quickly mute that story line before transforming it into something a little more sympathetic to police as well and focusing on individual and not systemic wrongdoing.

This film allowed for more moral complexity than was then showed for police filmic depictions. Where The Sidewalk Ends was simultaneously stylized and ultra realistic. This film is among the best examples of what a film noir should look like. Visually it's quite the treat. The film used some New York City locations.
Unless you're a saint you've committed a few sins. What determines your morality is not just whether you've ever broken a law or internal moral code but how you've behaved after doing so. Did you take responsibility? Offer recompense or apology to those that you've harmed? Examine what you did wrong and make changes in yourself?

Movie Reviews: Soda Cracker

Soda Cracker aka The Kill Reflex
directed by Fred Williamson
This 1989 movie is another independent low budget action film starring (and directed by Fred Williamson). It's not very good. 

It does fit in with similar contemporaneous larger budget schlock featuring better known white actors like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Kurt Russell. 

One difference was that by this time Williamson was beginning to age out of kick butt He-Man action roles. Nevertheless Williamson was a former professional athlete and still maintained an imposing physique and impressive screen presence. 

At this time there weren't many roles in Hollywood in which the Black man got to be the hero, kick a$$, and get the girl instead of being an incompetent criminal, comic relief, a sidekick, or a Magical Negro who is only there to help the white hero reach his full potential.

So despite the often cliched writing, bad cinematography, and pained fight scenes I appreciated that Williamson was continuing to provide RARE examples of cinematic Black male heroism. The plot is pedestrian. Soda Cracker (Williamson) is a Chicago cop who plays by his own rules--is there ever any other kind? 

Movie Reviews: Antlers

directed by Scott Cooper

This somber horror movie was directed by Scott Cooper, who also directed the gangster flick Black Mass, which as I wrote at the time felt more like a horror movie than a crime drama. 

Too often these days, if you think of horror movies, you will think of nubile coeds who are slaughtered in increasingly inventive ways, often after helpfully stripping down to bra and panties or even less. There is a faceoff between the monster and final girl who is usually but not always, not as attractive or as overtly sexual as the sex crazed women (and men) who have died before.
This young woman, perhaps with the assistance of some "loser" or at least someone who is non-sexual because of age or race reasons, will overcome the monster or escape it to hopefully set up some profitable sequels. It's a formula. I don't like that formula but people wouldn't use it if it didn't work. 

Antlers does not use that formula. So that was good. I could argue that it used a common different formula in which everything is shot under a gray/blue filter and supernatural evil and more prosaic human evil are interwoven. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

The Whistler Radio Show

The Whistler Radio Show was an old time radio show that ran from 1942 thru 1955. It was a noir radio drama that tracked closely to many of the noir films of the time. Usually a desperate man or woman or a hardened criminal would do something illegal or unethical. They might get away with it at first but would almost always get caught at the end, usually by some small detail they had overlooked or their own greed. IIRC every so often an innocent person might get in trouble or there might be a happy ending but these were rare occurrences. 

The narrator, The Whistler, would offer commentary, usually sardonic and grim, on events.  Everything would always wrap up in 24-27 minutes. Things moved fast. Many episodes can be found on youtube, on various old time radio sites, satellite radio, or in CD collections. I like the music and the Trans-Atlantic/Mid-Atlantic accents.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Opioid Deal Finalized But Victims Get Squat!

Say you're the CEO of a heroin importation and wholesale distributorship company named Junk, Smack, & White Horse Inc. 
Life is good. 

You have begun vertical integration with overseas suppliers and some smaller dealers, bringing them into your conglomerate. 
You still have large competitors (those disrespectful muyerfuyer SOBs at Mexican Brown & China White LLC are testing your patience) but at least when police crackdowns occur you're not the only target.  

You face the minor irritations of customers dying, prostituting themselves, robbing others to pay for your product, becoming homeless, abusing their loved ones, and becoming unproductive junkies, but as any cook will attest, you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs. Anyway, your customers don't live in your neighborhood. Your bank account, stock portfolio, homes, yachts, cars, children's private schools, and wife's dresses and jewelry let you know it's all worth it. 

Movie Reviews: They Won't Believe Me

They Won't Believe Me
directed by Irving Pichel
This 1947 film noir was really good. People of a certain age may remember the lead actor, Robert Young, from his titular roles in the television series Father Knows Best and later Marcus Welby M.D. Young's role in this film was quite different from those portrayals. There was a radio show titled The Whistler that was running at the same time that this film was released. 

In The Whistler, usually a desperate person or a hardened criminal committed some crime. The person almost got away with it before realizing that he or she had overlooked some minor detail that led to their arrest and conviction, imprisonment, or even execution. 
The protagonist would often discover that it had been unnecessary for them to commit the crime. They might learn that even if they got away with it there was no profit to be had.
If I recall correctly sometimes even an innocent person might be wrongly caught up in a web of mistaken identities and wrong place at the wrong time situations. I really like listening to The Whistler. They Won't Believe Me works the same side of the street as The Whistler

This movie would have worked well as an episode on The Whistler. But it works just as well as a noir movie. The performances by Young and the three (count 'em three!) female leads are just perfect. Everyone is believable.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Movie Reviews: Malignant

directed by James Wan

This is a suspense/thriller movie that reminded me of Brian DePalma's film, Sisters, with Margot Kidder. Younger people might have other touchstones. 
I thought Malignant wasn't what it could have been because it switched mood and tone too often.
One second it's a glorious B movie homage to scientists investigating things that should not be before turning into a somber statement on loneliness, loss, and domestic violence and finally morphing into a bloody action/horror film. 
Or maybe it's just a parody of those things. Malignant mixes a lot together. James Wan directed MalignantJames Wan made a name for himself by directing Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring, before going to even greater glory with Aquaman and Fast and Furious 7

Wan is a master of his craft, especially when it comes to using sets and lighting to make the viewer feel uneasy and uncomfortable. Wan does that to massive effect in Malignant. Malignant has some impressive camera work. The camera silently communicates the loneliness and fear felt by the lead actress. But too often the music interferes with that, leading to a cheesy "BE SCARED NOW" effect. 

German Shepherd Puppy and Cat Play

Sometimes it didn't look like they were playing. But I guess all's well that ends well.


Movie Reviews: Split Second (1953)

Split Second
directed by Dick Powell
Split Second
is a surprisingly entertaining film noir that was the directorial debut of noir and comedy leading man Dick Powell, whose work as hardboiled detective Phillip Marlowe was previously reviewed here

Split Second has the same plot lines as previous films such as Key Largo and The Petrified Forest, both Bogart vehicles. 
It's probably no accident that the lead bad guy seems to be channeling Bogart. There's a nod to O. Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief".  

So originality is not this film's strong suit. That doesn't matter. This film looks at human emotions. Humans don't change that much. So why should our stories change? Some people believe that there are only a few basic stories that are told over and over again, regardless of time, race, or culture.