4 days Ago
- Lee Camp: We Are Nothing (2014)
- Lee is a pull-no-punches political comedian who started with his A Moment of Clarity podcast. This eventually expanded to a longer format, then moved to YouTube as a multi-episode and community-sponsored video series. He’s since been picked up for his own show on RT, called Redacted Tonight. In this standup special, he started out with his weakest material, but warmed up quickly to much better and stronger material, which he delivered with his typically honest and open and pleading manner. Recommended.
- Godzilla (2014)
- This is a decidedly better outing than the abysmal remake from 1998. Juliette Binoche and Bryan Cranston lend their gravitas for only a very short while, with both of them out of the picture within 10% and 30% of the film, respectively. After that, we’re treated with Army-is-awesome fare that wasn’t quite as bad as The Battle of Los Angeles but also wasn’t very riveting. Godzilla was good—his secret weapon was well-choreographed, especially his finishing move—and Rodan and mate were decent, though almost too mechanical-looking. Maybe that’s the effect they were going for though. At one point, the camera swept over a Mothra decal so I’m sure there’s a Godzilla 2 in the works. They destroyed a lot of city but somehow didn’t do it in as convincing a fashion as the Jägers (robots) and Kaijus (monsters) of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim. The plot was only mildly interesting and it was entertaining enough—some of the visuals were quite nice—but it didn’t knock my socks off.
- Game Change (2012)
- This HBO movie is a fake documentary of the McCain/Palin campaign in 2007. Julianne Moore is absolutely perfect as Palin, as is Woody Harrelson as McCain’s campaign manager. It’s quite well-done and you almost find yourself rooting for McCain’s team until you catch yourself that they are all working as hard as they can to get someone too stupid to button her shirt to be in the second-most powerful seat in the country. Her notorious arrogance and self-interest is nicely managed, showing through only at times, but getting worse as the campaign progresses. It quickly becomes obvious that she is a bit power-mad. The film makes John McCain look much more principled than he would turn out to be. A good movie about a terrible person?
- Hunger Games (2012)
- Start off with a lullaby. That’ll win me over. It’s starting off kind of shaky, with a lot of cuts, a lot of close-up camera-work and my nemesis “shaky cam” everywhere. They’re trying to show the uncertainty and fear engendered by the government in the people of the banlieues. Not to be dismissive, but this is essentially The Long Walk by Stephen King with a bunch of country mouse/city mouse/Elysium thrown in. Also reminded me a bit of Ender’s Game. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Jennifer Lawrence is beautiful and acts well. Woody Harrelson is less beautiful but he positively steals almost every scene he’s in. Action scenes are definitely too shaky, almost impossible and very disorienting to follow. They’re clearly trying to film action while covering up the fact that no-one really knows how to fight. I understand why they did it that way, but the fight scenes are incomprehensible. And it I can’t help letting it irritate me that in a game about extremely tight resources, she never collects her arrows. It was better than expected but the end was not unexpected.
- Central do Brasil (1998)
- If I was generous, I’d say that this is a story of a woman, a former schoolteacher, who’s fallen on hard times. She uses her writing skills to write letters for the illiterate and to enhance her income. One of the letters is from a woman with a young son. She writes to his father because the son wants to meet him. The son has learned from the streets how to behave. He’s rough around the edges. His mother is killed in a bus accident and circumstance soon find the former schoolteacher on the road with him to find his father. They both learn a lot about themselves and … oh, I can’t do it. I don’t know how this movie got an 8.0 rating on IMDb. The boy is annoying and obnoxious and the woman is base and petty. Rio is depressing and the poor are portrayed as grasping, stupid and small-minded. The boy is given every leeway, presumably working on his good looks, as he likely would be forgiven his horrific attitude in real life. They are transformed by their journey toward his father, but it’s really hard to see why. Love and the everlasting hopefulness of the human spirit, I guess. The movie picked up a bit with the introduction of genuinely nice guys: the boy’s two much-older brothers. Saw it in Portuguese with English subtitles. Not recommended.
- Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
- This is the third in the by-now seven-part—and soon to be eight-part, in 2016—series of zombie movies based on the video game and starring Mila Jovovich. This one finds Alice with super powers, engendered by the evil Dr. Isaacs (played by Iain Glen, who you may know as Jorah Mormont from The Game of Thrones). Zombies show up and are killed in droves. Alice discovers something new (clones of herself!), defeats the virologically enhanced Dr. Isaacs and moves one step closer to her ultimate goal: destroying the board of directors of the Umbrella Corporation. Saw it in German.
- Babylon A.D. (2008)
- Vin Diesel stars in what seems like a remake of The Golden Child in a post-apocalyptic future. And the golden child is played by Melanie Thierry and accompanied by Michelle Yeoh. Or a remake of The Matrix. With a bit of The Fifth Element thrown in. Watched it for Vin Diesel and some Michelle Yeoh ass-kicking; got both. Recommended for fans.
- Immortals (2011)
- This is a movie about Greek myths and legends, starring Henry Cavill as Theseus, John Hurt as “Old Man”, and a delectably evil Mickey Rourke as King Hyperion. The aesthetic is very much 300, with a brown palette and a surfeit of oiled and heavily muscled flesh. Rourke is in his element as the cruel Hyperion—he pontificates about taking a traitor out of the gene pool as one of his henchmen readies a giant, wooden mallet and takes aim at said traitor’s nether regions. He’s not done yet, though. He also has three traitorous would-be oracles cooked alive in an iron bull. For a coup de grace, he squeezes out the eyes of a loyal man before he can become a traitor. The film aesthetic is similar to the world of the Necromongers in The Chronicles of Riddick. The fight choreography is brutal and well-done, especially the one where Mickey Rourke as Hyperion brutalizes Theseus. Although I knew they would make Theseus win, I was rooting for Hyperion. Not recommended, though.
- Man on a Ledge (2012)
- Sam Worthington plays an ex-cop serving a long sentence for having stolen a diamond. Elizabeth Banks is a police negotiator who’s down on her luck since losing a jumper a few months before. Spoiler alert: it ends up being a heist movie. Jamie Bell plays his brother, who, along with his girlfriend (fiancé?) played by Genesis Rodriguez, tries to actually steal the diamond that his brother never stole. The diamond is in the possession of a megalomaniacal billionaire played by Ed Harris. Worthington serves as a distraction from the heist while trying to convince Banks to go along with his plan to take down Harris, etc. etc. It was OK, but not recommended.
- Last Night (1998)
- A movie about various intersecting lives on the last night on Earth. As the time creeps toward midnight, people take care of their last wishes and dreams. At the same time, we notice that the sun doesn’t seem to be setting, nor do shadows get any longer. It was kind of interesting, but nothing to write home about.
- 12:01 (1993)
- A clone of Groundhog Day that is more closely based on the original story about a time bounce. This is standard 80s-style love story, hijinks comedy. With Jonathan Silverman, Jeremy Piven, Helen Slater and Martin Landau. Nobody’s career was launched with this one. Unless Danny Trejo used his role as “prisoner” to lever up to Machete. Not recommended.
- Bronson (2008)
- Tom Hardy plays Michael Peterson, Britain’s most violent prisoner, who goes by the alias Charles Bronson. He was initially sentenced to seven years in jail and ended up moving to several prisons and spending over three decades in solitary confinement. Echoes of A Clockwork Orange in the soliloquies. Bronson was involved in the production and praised Hardy for his physique and his portrayal. The man is single-minded and while perhaps not evil, certainly focused laser-like on mayhem. Even in solitary, he kept up his physical regimen and even published a book on how to use bodyweight exercise to stay fit in the absence of any exercise equipment. Even when they Thorazine him to the gills, his rage still finds a way. Hardy’s portrayal is fascinating. And Refn’s direction and script makes no attempt to explain Bronson, it just shows him but doesn’t try to explain how he came to be. There is no origin story, there is only an embodiment of physical violence and joy in rage, the more the merrier. He is a force of nature, incalculable and unpredictable. The finale is a literal work of art: Bronson kidnaps his art teacher, paints him and portrays him like Magritte’s Son of Man, strips, paints himself with charcoal and prepares for his next battle with dozens of armored guards. After a tremendous beating, he appears again briefly, horribly bloodied and bruised, locked in a coffin cage within a solitary cell. His mobility has been taken from him. Interesting. Recommended.
- Spring Breakers (2012)
James Franco only shows up for a few seconds in the first half an hour. Before that, the movie plays like a drug-hazed music video advertisement for Spring Break. Lots of boobs and booze and not a lot of cohesion. If I was 25 years younger, I would probably have been a lot more interested than I was now. Unfortunately my lens and emphasis has shifted somewhat and I need a bit more than an insipid plot with insipid people who want to “party, bitches”.
The group of girls make it to Spring Break and party like it’s 1999 and meet up with Franco’s “Alien”. He’s decent enough—nearly unrecognizable at first—but the characters are all dumb as dirt. There are some interesting flashbacks and montages—the one to the Britney Spears ballad stands out—and some flash-forwards that keep things more interesting than they would otherwise have been. And they would otherwise have been very boring, despite the attempts by the director to ramp things up with more and more nudity and sapphism as he neared the end. I don’t know what college is like now but when I was in college, we considered spilling alcohol a party foul. In this movie, it seems to be custom to wear expensive booze all over your body rather than drinking it.
I’d read that the movie was bad for women, that it encouraged a rape culture. This is patently not true. Everyone parties. Innuendo occurs. No one is raped. Everything that happens is consensual, if drug- and alcohol-fueled. There are others that claim female empowerment for the film. That, instead of being subjugated, the girls—they do not register as women, other than for their lush adult-female characteristics, but they baby-doll themselves with little-girl backpacks e.g.—are in control of what happens where. But they also spend the almost the entire movie in bikinis, which belies that particular line of argument quite quickly. Perhaps this accoutrement was to serve a moral point, but I fail to see what it was. It served more to highlight in a near-constant manner the aforementioned adult-female characteristics.
A good movie to watch while indoor-biking, where you’re a captive audience. Not recommended.
- Waydowntown (2000)
- This is Canada’s answer to Office Space with more trippiness and hallucinations and fewer jokes. The movie centers on a handful of people in a large office complex in Calgary, a complex which spreads over many buildings and tunnels and walkways. This leads some of the characters to make a bet as to who can go the longest without going outside. It was OK and Fab Filippo as Tom was charismatic, but overall a bit uneven and hard to recommend.
- Greg Proops: Live at Musso & Frank (2014)
- As usual with Proops—who does something very similar a couple of times per week in his podcast, The Smartest Man in the World—the show doesn’t even seem so organized or prepared. He starts off reading from notes but quickly has the show flying. It’s almost as if a man so in possession of his craft were able to plan the initial bungling to make the ensuing seemingly stream-of-consciousness but doubtless oft-practiced bits come off wonderfully. The final segment about his first job in the 70s—delivering pizzas from a chicken shack—is wonderful. He has the audience in the palm of his hand. He makes it look bloody easy. He’s in the middle of a diner, delivering almost extemporaneously and slurping one martini after another. There is also a table full of bimbettes directly in front of him, who seem to be laughing uproariously but who are clearly far too young and —dare I denigrate them unfairly? Yes I dares, as Proops would say—undereducated and under-experienced and under-read to get even half of the references he casually tosses like grenades into the audience. I laughed out loud several times, usually when he seems to lose control and spit out some underhanded biting and sarcastic comment. Highly recommended.
- Die Ehe der Maria Braun (1979)
This is a story of a German woman in post-war Germany, whose husband of 1.5 days never came back from war. She despairs but finds solace in the arms of an American soldier who also happens to be black. She teaches him German and he teaches her English. They conceive and make plans to bring the child into the world. And then her husband comes back. And they kill the American soldier together. There is a trial, the husband takes the fall and we next see Eva traveling on a train.
She fetches up on the next shore as a translator in a company between the German owners and American partners, where she quickly shows her savvy by closing an otherwise-untenable deal. Nicely filmed, well-acted and well-written—especially Frau Braun. When her boss makes an overture in the office after a night spent with her, she chastises him for mixing his private life into the daily business—“das ist kein private Ort. Das ist ein Büro in ihrer Firma”. When he whines about it, she says “Ich bin wer ich bin. Gestern Nacht war ich Maria Braun, die mit Ihnen schlaffen wollte. Heute bin ich Maria Braun, die für Sie arbeiten möchte.”
The dialogue is very nice and her confidence and savoir faire is a breath of fresh air. Her husband comes out of prison, but meets with her lover—of whom she’d informed him—and makes a deal: the husband will go to Canada if her lover names Maria as his only heir. She teases him to the end, but calls him shortly before he dies to tell him, “Ich brauche jemand der mit mir schlaffen will.” Mourning the loss of her lover of many years, she’s drunk in her house when her husband returns. She has no idea of the fortune.
In their excitement at their reunion, she lights her cigarette, as always, from the stove, but leaves the gas on. It is an odd reunion, with both parties sparring and looking for an opening. When a work colleague shows up at the door with the dead man’s will, she lets him and his wife in, answering the door in a negligée. She realizes that two men loved her; one gave her up to the other so that both could love her for a time. German football plays in the background. Then, boom. The reactions are incongruously poorly acted, but I can only imagine that it was intended. The film ends with West Germany’s winning the World Cup Final in 1954, on the radio. Saw it in the original German. I have no idea to whom I would recommend it.
- Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
- We’re back in Panem, with the same cast of characters reprising their roles. It manages to make the politics almost more interesting than the fighting. Katniss is slowly elevated to the status symbol of the gestating revolution. The plot follows the same basic points as the first movie: selection for the Hunger Games, visit to the nice housing facilities, demonstration of talent in the training area, tearful entry into arena, parting from fashion designer, run to the weapons, teaming up, etc. etc. The best part, as in the first movie, is Jennifer Lawrence’s sarcastic curtsy to the judges. Better than expected. Will probably watch the next one.
- Earthquake (1974)
- The setup takes forever compared to a modern movie, but it’s interesting nonetheless. It’s a mystery to me how Charlton Heston ever became such a big star. I guess the gruff, chiseled, but mostly kinda ugly thing was popular at one point. The jewel of this movie is “the big one”. It’s wonderfully filmed, not just for its time, either. It’s really convincingly well-done and possibly more believable because of the realism than all of the CGI claptrap to which we’ve become accustomed. After that, we suffer through a bunch of exposition and meeting characters until we get to see the next big quake. The ending is a bit muddled and kind of peters out with the entire city of Los Angeles in flames.
- Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
- This is a comic-book movie about specialized characters that most of us have never heard of, although I remember a Rocket Raccoon book I had in the early 80s. The movie survives on the strength of its acting, not on the strength of the script. There is a lot of cool space stuff in it, but in the age of CGI, we’re all absolutely satiated if not spoiled with this stuff. Chris Pratt as Starlord sells it well—he’s pretty funny. As is Bradley Cooper as a genetically modified and completely CGI-animated cybernetic raccoon named “rocket”. Vin Diesel voices Groot, who has one line throughout the movie, namely “I am Groot”. It’s hard to know how many levels of irony we’re looking at here. The plot is basically a carbon-copy of The Avengers: God-like extra-dimensional beings acquire untold cosmic power and want to destroy the center of human/non-God civilization. Instead of New York, they attack some city with an exotic-sounding name on a planet far away from Earth. There are some decent moments and I’ve never hated Zoë Saldana less, actually. Recommended.
- Brüno (2009)
- A godawful unfunny mess of a movie. Do not watch. Watch The Dictator instead.
- Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
- I am so glad I knew nothing about the plot of this movie before I watched it. Do not read the IMDb description; even that gives you too both too much information and the wrong idea. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt have great chemistry as an evenly matched pair of soldiers in a war against an alien invasion. That much is clear. At first I thought I was watching a sci-fi version of Groundhog Day. But then I realized it was much more like watching someone play a very difficult video-game level over and over. It was nice of the Wachowski brothers to let this movie use the Sentinels from The Matrix as the main enemies. That must have saved a lot of money…that was probably spent on Cruise’s salary, ammirite? There were obstacles to overcome along the way and if you missed one step, omitted one balletic move, failed to eliminate one enemy, you were killed and the level was reset back to the beginning. Until…you have just one life left and you have to make it count. A tight, well-realized and gripping sci-fi action flick. One quibble I had was the shaky cam. The fight scenes were decent with the camera staying an appropriate distance back, but shaky cam has got to go. Still, highly recommended.
- Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008)
- Michael Cera and Kat Dennings star in a boilerplate, high-school, end-of-year romance. That is an unfair characterization: this version is very well-done and includes a smattering of “innovations” on the theme. Cera’s friends and band-mates are nice, and supportive, instead of morons. In order to make this believable, they are all gay. Except Cera, who is hopelessly in love with a girl who wants him to be in love with her while she goes out with other guys. Dennings says that she could “floss with her”, one of the better lines of the movie. Cera also has quite a few good lines, in his typical understated delivery. Cera drives a Yugo. The plot follows this group of kids through New York on a single night as they chase after an elusive and popular local band, whose shows are always in surprising locations. A fun flick. Recommended.
- American Reunion (2012)
- If you liked the first two American Pie movies, you’re in luck: all of the characters return for this reprise. They’re all looking a little older, but behave almost exactly the same. If I’m going to be fair, it wasn’t nearly as terrible as expected. Actually almost as good as the original. I can’t recommend it, but for those of you who would watch it anyway, know that you’re likely not to be disappointed.
- Man of Steel (2013)
This movie starts off super-strong with a council meeting on Krypton. It’s exciting because they filmed it with a shaky cam. It moves on to Russell Crowe as Jor-El (Superman’s father) steal “the codex”—half a skull that kinda lights up?—engage in meaningless heroics in a chamber that looks ripped right out of the Matrix’s breeding chambers, but without the menace or back-story. There’s little back-story or character development at all to make you care about who wins or loses. Lots of shiny, though. Lots and lots of shiny CGI. And the council chamber hasn’t stopped shaking yet.
Who is this movie for? The technology is advanced but they fight with fists instead of the laser guns they sometimes use. Everything is automated, but they shout orders into the wind like medieval warriors. Jor-el shoots everyone but the most dangerous guy, who he lets walk right up to him and knock the gun from his hand. And then stab him, later, while he watches a pretty rocket.
This is just “and this happened” and “then that happened” without any logic or possibility for the viewer to predict or reason about anything. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful-looking movie, especially in 1080P HD. The intergalactic prison is lovely, but seems kind of extravagant for housing a handful of frozen prisoners. Just how dangerous are these people? Guantánamo is just some fences and that seems to prevent escapes just fine. Instead of a prison, it seems more of a way of keeping those prisoners alive as the planet Krypton explodes soon after, taking the rest of the population with it.
Poor Kevin Costner: he gets a role in the limelight again and he has to deliver such horrible lines. Almost worse is Amy Adams as Lois Lane, who has to be an asshole/ditz who ignores sub-zero temperatures to make a Nikon commercial for a camera that would never work in those temperatures. Good God, Amy Adams is annoying and terrible in this movie. Despite the danger and destruction, there’s Lois, seeking the thick of the action. As titans destroy buildings, she fears nothing. All the roles are so cliché, except maybe for Diane Lane as Martha Kent.
Still all shaky cam and out-of-focus and badly framed shots for a lot of the action. Are they ashamed of what they’ve made? They pay about as much attention to that as they do to getting the technology right. At one point, a “hacker” shouts that General Zod’s signal is “coming in over the RSS feeds!” Ridiculous.
In the film’s defense, the interleaved flashbacks of Kal-El’s childhood are actually good and not annoying in the way that the trailer suggested. Also in its defense, some of the action is poorly filmed, but other parts are visceral, especially the coordination of sound and CGI to make you really feel the pounding. It’s kind of nice that they show how much destruction would be caused by beings of that power, from the holes Superman leaves everywhere he takes off, to the swathes of destruction left by flying superhuman bodies. The laws of physics aren’t really respected, though. I appreciate the fantasy and creativity that went into some of the scenes, but some of it is pretty comical and useless (the metal snake-mouths chasing Superman? What the hell was that?). Well-made or not, it’s onanism not exposition. The story is not advanced by it—at least not by 45 minutes of it.
- The Birdcage (1996)
- Robin Williams, Nathan Lane and Hank Azaria star in this adaptation of Le Cage aux Folles, which tells the story of a gay couple who own and operate a burlesque club. The son they raised together returns with news that he wants to get married. His fiancés parents, however, are bigoted assholes who don’t like homosexuals. The son seems to think that they should hide their gayness to smooth the way to the wedding. This goes disastrously wrong and the son has a change of heart and everything is all better. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane play the proud parents; Hank Azaria is their Guatemalan butler. I’m not a big fan of Nathan Lane, but the other two played well. The actress who would end up playing Ally McBeal was her usual wide-eyed vapid self. Gene Hackman slipped effortlessly into the role of the bigot (no surprise there) and Dianne Wiest reprised her role from footloose as conciliatory woman married to a bigot. The movie had its moments, but it was pretty uneven. Recommended for fans of Azaria and Williams.
- Bad Words (2013)
- Jason Bateman directs himself in this dark comedy about a grown man (over 40) who uses loopholes in the rules to take part in school spelling bees. He levers himself up to the national championship, where he meets Chaitanya Chopra. The little Indian boy befriends him and they all live happily ever after. Just kidding. There is a lot of swearing and drinking and seriously bad words spoken, much of it by Bateman. He’s a bitter, relentless man but he knows he will win the competition. There are twists, but mostly its the Jason Bateman show with him doing what he does best, being a nice-guy/jerk. It wasn’t as dark as something like Bad Santa but it was definitely in that direction. Recommended.
- The Other Woman (2014)
- This was an execrable and derivative movie which would most likely purport to empower women but only exacerbates the problem that women and men don’t take each other seriously. Mark, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (you may know him as Jamie Lannister) is portrayed as a penis with a heartbeat, seemingly insatiable for sex and ever-manipulable by his member’s needs. The women are caricatures, poor Leslie Mann is underutilized as a whiner with no backbone, although she does her damnedest to lend some humor. Cameron Diaz was, as almost always, just terrible. Like a train hitting a bus-load of schoolchildren in slow motion. Kate Upton rounded out the trio as the ostensible airhead, although it really took some squinting and concentration to tell who took the crown there. Don Johnson didn’t play well, but he seems to have his weight problem under control, so that’s good news, I guess. Nicki Minaj wore clothes that emphasized her ass to a nearly comical degree (not surprising) and makeup that made her look like Pixar drew her. Funny moments were thin on the ground, as were surprises. My recommendation is to avoid this movie.
- Life of Pi (2013)
- This is a very pretty film with a riveting story. It was much better than I expected it to be. The story is of a family in India that owned a zoo. They moved with the zoo on a Japanese freighter to France. The ship sank off the coast of the Philippines. One of the boys survived by his wits, accompanied for hundreds of days by a tiger, Richard Parker. At least, that is the story that he tells and is the one that is wonderfully filmed. Some of the more surrealistic scenes were very evocative. Though there were a handful of scenes that were clearly made for 3D, they didn’t disturb the 2D experience. Recommended. Saw it in German.
- The Cold Light of Day (2012)
- Bruce Willis stars as—surprise!—a CIA agent who hid his secret life from his family for years, à la De Niro from Meet the Fockers. This movie is so bad that Willis gets killed halfway through because he wanted to get out of the movie so badly. Or maybe they couldn’t afford his fee for the full two hours. Henry Cavill (later Superman) and Sigourney Weaver round out the known names, but they can’t save this stilted and derivative script. They’re in Spain, there’s a Penélope Cruz-lookalike, there are Mossad agents, rogue CIA agents and seemingly super-powered evil guys who are beaten to within an inch of their lives, but they can not only take the pain with a snicker but can also magically heal the wounds incurred thereby. The movie ends with a flash-cut, illogical and unconvincingly violent, GTA-style car chase and shootout with no clear explanation as to the passion behind certain motives. Nor will you end up caring. Not recommended.
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
- This is a pretty uneven entry in the James Bond series, the only one in which George Lazenby plays the lead role. It picks up considerably once Bond gets to Switzerland and they spend a lot of time at the Schilthorn, starting in Lauterbrunnen and ending up in Birg as well. The top is reserved for Blofeld (played by Telly Sevalas), S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and an allergy clinic populated only by gorgeous young women who take part in curling on the helipad at the top. Another man cannot get to the top with the cablecar—because the top is private—so he scales the Schilthorn to get there. You don’t have to scale anything to get from Birg to the top, though. It’s not particularly pleasant and it’s more than occasionally steep, but it’s a straightforward hike up there. The surrealism was interesting for a while, but didn’t last. Not recommended.
- The Wire (Season 5) (2008)
- If I had to describe this season in a sentence fragment, it would be “a relentless exercise in cynical realism”. I deliver this as a compliment of the highest order. This last season introduces the staff of the Baltimore Sun, which hadn’t featured in the previous four seasons. Another story thread was in the state capitol with a machinating mayor, staff and legislators. Another was in the streets with the war started by Marlo Stanfield and the police desperately trying to bust him—Lester and the newly restored McNulty. Excellent writing, excellent acting, excellent direction, just an excellent series that pulled no punches over all five seasons. The other four seasons are all great as well, with season one focusing on the projects and the drug trade, season two on the docks and import/export corruption, season three on the streets and the Barksdale and Stringer Bell story-arc, season four on the school system and mayoral, city- and state-level politics. I can’t recommend the whole series highly enough.
- True Detective (2014)
- Wow. Just wow. I’d just finished watching The Wire and expected to be only reasonable satisfied watching this show. Instead of binging on the shows, though, I found myself savoring each bizarre episode, utterly captivated by the two leads: Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. Michelle Monaghan is also very good in a supporting role as Harrelson’s wife. The show centers on the detective partners, working a serial-killer case in Louisiana, starting in 1995 and going all the way up to 2012 or even 2014. Rust Cohle, played by McConaughey is transcendent and wonderfully written by Nic Pizzolatto as a hyper-intelligent detective paired with passingly clever but basically animalistic, brutish and dumb Marty Hart, played by Harrelson. The plot is fascinating and unfolds slowly, delivered in dribs and drabs and partly in dialogue and partly in lovingly shot outdoor scenes. Rust Cohle is an optimistic realist to the end. Kudos to both Harrelson and McConaughey for their performances. Highly recommended.
- Kingpin (1996)
- Woody Harrelson and Randy Quaid star as two bowling prodigies—one is a washed-up former champion and the other Amish. The Farrelly brother directed, in case that wasn’t obvious. Bill Murray plays Harrelson’s nemesis, Ernie McCracken, an absolutely unconscionable and foul Lothario who—spoiler alert—does not get his comeuppance. Still, the Farrellys are kind enough to let Harrelson’s Roy Munson and Quaid’s Ishmael have a happy ending. The silliness is held in check by Harrelson’s acting chops. Not as good as Me, Myself and Irene or There’s Something about Mary but still fun.
- Interstellar (2014)
This movie starts with a small family living on a dessicated farm in the U.S. several decades from now. The logical results of climate change wreak havoc on mankind’s ability to survive. And survival is the only thing on mankind’s mind, as all thought of advancement and gadgets and growth are lost in the desperate struggle to keep the remains of the human population alive.
Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former test pilot who’s itching to do more than just survive. He is one of the remains of a generation that still has an ingrained need to strive for bigger, better, faster, more. It is hinted that this attitude is exactly what led mankind to its current situation. But science and technology are strong in this movie. The belief that learning and building are better than just living triumphs.
John Lithgow as Cooper’s father is of the opinion that mankind is a virus and should just die out instead of trying to rise again and destroy even more of the world—or universe. Though he’s almost certainly right, nobody cares what he thinks in this movie. The politics and philosophy, though a bit more thought-out than many other movies, are left to stagnate relatively quickly. So let’s move on. This is going to be, after all, an action movie with science prevailing to promulgate the human race. Thank goodness, though, that the military and jingoism play a more subdued role than in other, similar treatments.
Cooper and his kids find a drone, which is an old Indian one and has been flying autonomously for at least a decade—wait, that has no relevance to the story. Let’s start over.
Ok, Cooper’s daughter thinks she’s found a ghost in her room. Her Dad tells her to investigate scientifically, to form a hypothesis. They discover together that the ghost is using gravity to encode Morse-code signals. The signals are geographic coordinates. They drive to these coordinates and come upon an old military base/facility and are apprehended. There they find the remnants of NASA. Here Cooper learns that everyone agrees that Earth will soon no longer be hospitable. Michael Caine plays a super-genius scientist who is trying to resolve the T.O.E. in order to master gravity with the purpose of being able to launch a considerable part of Earth’s population out of the planet’s deep gravity well. At the same time, they need to investigate possible new homes. As luck would have it, a wormhole has been discovered orbiting Saturn and, through it, several potentially habitable worlds as well. 12 brave scientist/explorer/adventurers have already been sent to the 12 planets to investigate. Now they need Cooper to accompany Caine’s Daughter—Brand, played by Anne Hathaway—and a couple of others on NASA’s last rocket to get to the most hospitable of these. Boom, they’re in a rocket. They hyper-sleep. They awake near Saturn and dive into the wormhole. Through the wormhole and they’re in the vicinity of Gargantua, a black hole on the other side, around with a candidate planet orbits. Relativistic time-dilation effects are discussed. Decades pass on Earth while only hours pass for the astronauts. The first planet is a bust. Brand wants to go to the planet with her boyfriend on it. She makes an impassioned speech about the universe running on love. Cooper doesn’t buy it. They go to the other planet. It is composed of a crust of frozen clouds and has Matt Damon on it. He has lost his marbles and tries to kill people, but Cooper and Brand escape in magnificent fashion, along with their very funny, blocky robots. They boost toward the third planet, but the only way to get there is to drop one of the funny robots TARS into the black hole. Also, Cooper. Neither of them die, Instead, they are funneled by external forces to a three-dimensional representation of the tesseract that the hyper-dimensional beings built to bring the wormhole to life in the first place. So they’re fifth-dimensional beings, if you’re following along. They play with tesseracts the way we play with spheres. Anyway, Cooper ends up floating in a multitude of what looks like library-book shelves but is actually a representation of the string of moments that built the reality in four-dimensional space from which he came. But, being fifth-dimensional now—if only temporarily—he, too, can view time as a static dimension along which entire universes can be glimpsed in their entirety as they were at that infinitesimal snapshot. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. He realizes that he’s behind the bookshelves in his daughter’s room at different times, first seeing her as a child and then as an adult when she returns to … collect something. So he’s the ghost from the beginning of the film. And love, apparently, does conquer all, because it’s what made her try so hard to figure out the secret of the ghost. When she does, she transcribes the further Morse code that he encodes in the deliberately defective second-hand of the watch that he gave her and which she disdainfully rejected when he first abandoned her to go to space and try to save the planet but really he was just going for his own ego and abandoning her. Sorry. Stay focused. We’re almost there. He and TARS, as they fell through the event horizon, managed to collect the gravitational data that Murph (this is Cooper’s daughter) needs in order to solve the equations that Professor Brand (Caine) could not solve—and which he actually knew (or thought he knew) couldn’t be solved because the data they needed was inside a black hole. So she totally solves them anyway because her father is friends with fifth-dimensional beings who play with black holes the way we play with marbles and he, as mentioned above, gives her that knowledge. Fast-forward to Cooper waking up on a space station orbiting Saturn after having been picked up exiting the wormhole back to the Solar System. Due to relativistic time-dilation, that trip took many decades in Earth time—more than enough time for mankind to save itself with technology built with Murph’s equations. Chronologically unchanged father is reunited with now aged and nearly dead daughter for one last goodbye. She tells him to go find Brand, who has found her dead lover on the third planet. She has taken over building a totally viable habitat there and waits for mankind to join her—or at least a big, strong man to save her. Mankind is totally hanging out in a bitching Ringworld-like space station, so it’s hard to see what they’d want to do on a planet, but I digress again. Cooper finds TARS, reanimates him, steals a small ship that looks like a Cylon fighter from the original Battlestar Galactica and heads off to join Brand.
Saw it English in the theater. Totally awesome and fun. Highly recommended.
- X–Men: Days of Future Past
The first fifteen minutes proves just how boring super-hero movies are when there is no context and no attachment to the characters. All of the male superheroes look the same to me and they all flit and fly around unconvincingly, with portals and robots and power-blasts choreographed to within a nanometer while still managing to be unbelievably boring.
There is no drama, no tension if you have no idea why you should care that the super-snazzy robot is about to kill a young girl and a giant black guy. I happened to know that they were Kitty Pryde and Bishop, but I still had no idea what was going on. It looked and felt less like a movie and more like a lovingly rendered but still stilted tech demo for the new Unreal or Crytek Engine.
It eventually settled down a bit and unpacked a time-travel plot that served as a backdrop to mostly unconvincing set-pieces with a lot of bluster about hating mutants. The ending was familiar from the comic books and somehow seemed more convincing there. In the film it felt more like The Wizard of Oz updated for the Sci-Fi set. The cast is good and includes a lot of heavy-hitters—Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Peter Dinklage, Jennifer Lawrence and Ellen Page—but it was hard to avoid thinking that they were mostly wasted. Recommended but only for fans of the genre.
- Joe Dirt (2001)
- This movie starts off very stupid and awkward and gradually—through the power of David Spade’s innocent charm—becomes much less awkward, endearing even. It tells the story of Joe Dirt(e), a mulleted man whose family abandoned him when he was 10 years old. He appears on a radio show to tell his story, which includes many misadventures of a hick variety, many forced but some genuinely funny. He also meets a lot of very attractive and nearly ridiculously healthy-looking women along the way, in the form of Brittany Daniel, Jaime Pressly and a few other anonymous souls. Christopher Walken, Kid Rock and Dennis Miller have smaller roles, listed in decreasing order of savoriness. Watched it while indoor-cycling so it was good for that, but it’s hard to recommend as a movie to just watch by itself.
- Barbarians at the Gate (1993)
- This movie is a quasi-documentary (a made-for-TV movie) about the sale of the R. J. Reynolds Nabiscocompany in 1989. It was a leveraged buyout (LBO) in what would become the classic mold: load up on debt (leveraging) and gut the company to pay back the investors who bought the company with that debt. James Garner played the then-CEO F. Ross Johnson, who ended up being beaten out in his bid to buy the company by an even-shadier KKR group, headed by Henry Kravits, played by Jonathan Pryce. It was kinda boring but some parts were well-done. Too 80s, with cheesy music, too many montages and not enough meat. Recommended for economic historians interested in seeing the beginning of the latest era of LBOs and unhinged greed and utter disregard for actual economic value.
- The Battle of Los Angeles (2011)
- This is the story of an epileptic cameraman with a strobe light strapped to his face. Shaky cam doesn’t even being to describe this movie that follows a group of marines charged with clearing the Fallujah-like streets of a Los Angeles under attack by mysterious but very militarily minded aliens who have conveniently invaded on foot and without any air cover whatsoever. The fog of war is everywhere and glimpses of aliens are offered in horror-movie style until one finally shows up in all of its glory. Luckily, it can travel across the vast depths of space but it has no idea of close-quarters tactics, using a conventional projectile weapon that it is unable to point in the right direction before several marines M16 him into oblivion. This is a military advertisement with a very small alien component. It’s kind of like if Starship Troopers took itself seriously. Now I know what an embedded reporter must feel like. Not recommended. Terrible. Just play Call of Duty or Battlefield yourself if you need to get your military rocks off.
- Orange is the New Black (2013–2014)
- This is a show about the journey of a whiny, privileged and entitled New Yorker. She has a past, she dated a drug dealer and traveled the world with her. Nearly ten years later and she’s been implicated for her past and is on the way up to to Litchfield prison, in upstate New York. The prison is low-security and has an interesting cast of characters. It’s not all gold, but it’s interesting and fun, with a bunch of the characters growing on you.
1 week Ago
I’d heard that the article In Conversation: Chris Rock by Frank Rich (Vulture) including some groundbreaking statements on race by Chris Rock. I like Chris Rock and I like his standup. He’s a comedian, though, so while his niggers vs. black people bit was funny at the time, in retrospect, it’s a savage attack on the poor and uneducated. Still, admittedly funny at the time.
On Bill Maher
Seeing that Frank Rich of the New York Times had interviewed him was not encouraging. So let’s see what Rock has to say. It starts off … suspiciously. Frank asks about “the attempt to bar Bill Maher from speaking at Berkeley for his riff on Muslims”. How the hell is it appropriate to classify Maher’s material as a “riff” on Muslims? He is an adamant and unapologetic Islamophobe. He doesn’t riff on them; he basically advocates eradicating them as an otherwise unsolvable problem. And he’s been doing it long enough in non-comedic settings that we have to assume he means it.
Maher changed roles from comedian to political analyst quite a while ago. In neither role is he very good, in my opinion, but that’s neither here nor there. But it’s easy to see that Rock has a weird—though quintessentially American—definition of “left” when he later in the interview classifies “Maher [as] on the left”. Maher is in fact a self-described, fanatical libertarian who thinks Muslims are evil. That is in no way a leftist attitude. So take Rock’s political opinions with a grain of salt: he seems relatively well-indoctrinated, unfortunately. I say “seems” because Rock is a comedian and he generally tries to make people laugh, not to provide trenchant analysis.
Rock responds to the question about Maher’s “ban” from Berkeley that he too “stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.” That’s his answer. Instead of distancing himself from Maher and his poisonous racism, he sympathizes with him, noting that kids these days are too intolerant.
Kids these days
There is evidence that this newest generation is considerably more sensitive to discrimination issues, that they feel more entitled to not hearing opinions that they consider unsavory. That this sensitivity leads to an aversion to Maher is not a bad thing. In addition, anyone who picks Berkeley to represent colleges in general is out of touch. I can’t imagine that Berkeley and Texas A&M are at all on the same wavelength as far as racism-sensitivity goes. Calling a college like Berkeley conservative is just baiting contrarianism. Rock’s just trying to get the interviewer to double-take. Classifying kids who don’t want their school to pay a racist for his hate speech as conservative is not correct, and is even unfair.
Let the idiot talk
I don’t agree with banning racists, by the way. I prefer to hear the racist or the islamophobe—give him or her enough rope to hang him- or herself. Will some people cheer him or her on? Sure, and they will self-identify as well as people desperately in need of guidance or avoidance, depending on how far gone they are.
But how many times do we have to hear someone’s unaccepting schtick before we stop giving that person a stage? Have we heard enough from Rush Limbaugh now to form an opinion? Can we stop listening now? Are we sure that he doesn’t have something useful to contribute to the conversation? Does Rock still listen to Limbaugh? You know, just to be sure he isn’t missing something? Probably not. And the rest of us have stopped listening to Maher.
We all have a limited amount of time to spend on things. Maher isn’t worth it, in my opinion. I understand that it’s highly unlikely that this is Berkeley didn’t host him—to help people avoid wasting time. They probably did it for the petty, closed-minded reason that Rock cited. Should Berkeley have booked him and paid him, but let all of its campus groups encourage no-one to show up? Pay him to play an empty room—there, that’ll show him? That sounds kinda stupid, too. Where a lovely guy like Maher’s involved, it’s damned if you do and damned if you dont’.
Comedians are different
Rock definitely has a point about comedians. Comedians are often not even representing their own opinions in their material and their act. They’re just being funny. Bill Burr is a classic example. Some of his material is jarring, but when you hear him banter with another comedian, you realize he’s a more even-handed guy than his on-stage persona. He has a pretty big audience, some of whom probably take him seriously, but what can you do?
And you can’t make people want to listen to stuff that makes them uncomfortable. Does it possibly expand your horizons? I think that it does. But it’s not for everyone. Most people don’t have the ironic background to let them process things that aren’t true and still glean something from the experience. I like Bill Hicks. I like Doug Stanhope. But I’m not surprised if Stanhope has trouble booking a gig at Berkeley.
Rock’s other policy ideas
Rich keeps asking Rock policy questions, but it’s unclear whether Rock is answering as a comedian or as a policy analyst. Most of his metaphors sound like bits, so it’s hard to take it seriously. He seems to be uncomfortably apologetic about Obama, which isn’t too surprising since he probably thinks Obama’s a goody-two-shoes leftist who’s trying his best.
His take on race relations is spot-on, though:
“Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.”
I have nothing to add there.
Is a black president a sign of progress?
The following statement from Rock seems right, doesn’t it?
“[…] to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years.”
Is it, though? Can we first agree on what we call progress? Or that we don’t all think of progress in the same way? Rock and I—I will venture—consider progress to be a society that is capable of electing the best leader regardless of skin color. That is, a society that can choose a leader based on qualities salient to the job rather than non-relevant ones is more advanced than one that cannot. At the very least, that society will have leaders more likely to fulfill the needs of a larger proportion of the population.
Is that what happened, though? Is it that these “[qualified] black people” that Rock mentions simply kept on keepin’ on and white America finally noticed and elected one? Or is it more that these intelligent black people figured out how to make themselves more appealing to the entrenched system?
Obama is not Martin Luther King. Before we pat ourselves on the back for having elected a black man, we should consider what kind of man he is. He is policy-wise no different than Bush. He’s arguably worse. He’s like Condaleeza Rice and Colin Powell and Clarence Thomas—all very powerful black people. However, the reason they’re allowed to be powerful is because they promulgate the white agenda. They play nice. They’re not Django; they’re Stephen. So I don’t think it’s progress in the way that Rock characterizes it.
End on a high note
Where Rock does hit a proper note is that the newer generations are objectively better at ignoring race than previous ones. It is not clear that we are moving toward the goal of being an actually “advanced” society, as defined above. Perhaps we have to wait for a few more generations to die off first.
So we’re still not great at it, but as Rock puts it,
“The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”
Indeed. I can back that 100%.
I haven’t really weighed in on this topic because I’m still digesting it. There are so many interlocking parts and so many reasons for why things are not right that an off-the-cuff article just doesn’t do the topic justice. A lot of what you read gives the impression that the fact that people are rioting in one town in the Midwest is a good excuse for trotting out more unsavory opinions in the guise of chastening those thugs and hoodlums who can’t abide by the rule of law.
If you assumed that with “thugs and hoodlums who can’t abide by the rule of law”, I was referring to the folks on the streets in Ferguson, then you might want to count down from ten before you contribute anything to a discussion on race. If you wondered to yourself whether I meant those in power—represented by cops these days—instead of the knee-jerk target, then you’re in the right frame of mind for thinking about social policy in a U.S. in a way that might lead to solutions rather than a further cementing of existing disparities.
Kunstler’s theory: blacks are getting away with murder
The article Now Eric Garner by James Howard Kunstler is one such unsavory opinion. He’s wildly off base when he writes,
“Worse, the decision only muddied the public’s view of several events in recent years involving black people, police, and standards of behavior so that now a general opinion prevails that all black people are always treated badly for no reason. That was the same week, by the way, that a white Bosnian immigrant named Zemir Begic was bludgeoned to death by three black teenagers wielding hammers who were out beating on stopped cars on a St Louis street — a crime that was barely covered in the news media, and went unprotested outside the immigrant neighborhood where it occurred.”
I’ve followed Kunstler for years and have noticed the warping already in his discussions of Israel and Palestine, but this is almost too unpalatable to keep reading.
Why is that?
This is poorly veiled code for: black people sure seem to be committing a lot of crime. And now they’re whining about getting shot once in a while? Because cops notice that blacks commit crime? What kind of a messed-up country are we? By bringing Zemir Begic into it, Kunstler is comparing apples to oranges and is, honestly, not even trying to understand what is going on outside of his unfortunately warped lens.
Use your brain
I want to emphasize that this is a guy who can contribute in nuanced way to many discussions, but here he just seems tone-deaf. He falls into the same trap that the less-informed do: they come to statistically and experimentally untenable conclusions. For example, dozens of studies will tell you that the various racial groups in the U.S. tend to commit about the same percentage of crimes in the various categories in direct relation to their proportion of the population.
Where the racism comes in, is in the arrest rates. If only blacks are arrested for doing crack, we can conclude that only they are doing crack. Unless we also know from anonymous studies that everyone does crack, but the cops only seem to catch black people doing it. The theory that black people do more drugs is belied by the data. The next theory is that there is a racist component to the arrest rates. Science is really not that hard.
Desperation explains crime
People are not pissed because they are being treated slightly unfairly. They are pissed because they know that the whole system is tipped against them and now on top of having unutterably shitty lives of mostly silently suffering desperation they’re being murdered in increasing numbers and in ways that are sanctioned by the state. They have understandably moved to a game plan that is based on a realization that once they can just execute you with impunity, you don’t have very much more to lose and you just about have to fight back.
And this is not just a black thing. It’s very much a class thing, with homeless and poor of all races being treated poorly across the board. The incarceration numbers—percentages and sentence lengths—speak for themselves: the American justice system is extremely racist from top to bottom. No study bears out the theory that “black people commit more crime.” Poor and desperate people do commit more crimes.
That’s small stuff, though, Rich people do much more harm with their crimes. But we don’t care about those. Instead, we suck the poor dry, like vampire mosquitos, with fines and penalties and late fees and exorbitant interest rates. We have a society that drives them to crime, just to survive, and then we hammer them for it all the more, exclaiming exasperatedly that “these people just won’t learn”.
Oh, I think they’ve learned quite well the lesson that society has taught them. And just like many of us have learned the lesson our experiences in society have taught us: that nothing really bad can happen to us, no matter what, they’ve also learned their lesson: no matter what you do, you’re fucked.
Murder depends on the perp
To get back to Kunstler’s article, the difference between Begic’s murder and the murder of Michael Brown is that suspects were arrested in the former case whereas in the latter the perpetrator was let go without a trial.
The difference is that when the powerless prey on the powerless, arrests are made. When the powerful prey on the powerless, nothing happens.
And that’s why people are protesting.
People have been arrested for Begic’s murder and his family will likely get justice. Eric Garner was choked to death by several police and the country chuckles to itself that it was his own fault for being so fucking fat.
An egoist’s reasoning against racism
While we’re on the subject of tone-deafness and “not helping”, the article When Whites Just Don’t Get It by Nicholas Kristof (New York Times) ends up exhorting whites to ask themselves “what’s in it for me?”
The article seemed promising at first, despite the byline, which is ordinarily a warning to keep away. I’d gotten a reference from a reliable source and the citations were also encouraging.
“The net worth of the average black household in the United States is $6,314, compared with $110,500 for the average white household, according to 2011 census data.”
That is truly staggering. There are more equally staggering facts, all of them showing a massive disparity, based pretty much solely on skin color. Blacks are far more likely to go to jail, they get paid less—and the income and wealth disparities have only gotten worse, not better.
For once, Kristof’s heart seems to be in the right place—he writes that the feeling that racism is dead is a “smug white delusion”.
Unfortunately, it seems to be impossible for Kristof to write further about this topic without his standard veil of disingenuousness. For example, in the following citation, he take the “we’re all in this together” attitude, appealing to his mostly white readers with a message not of basic morality but of self-interest. As usual.
“All these constitute not a black problem or a white problem, but an American problem. When so much talent is underemployed and overincarcerated, the entire country suffers.”
Yeah, but blacks suffer just a bit more than whites. It’s like a husband telling him wife after he’s beaten her bloody one more time: “we’re both suffering, honey. Look—my knuckles are all skinned. And…and, I get nightmares.”
And here, while he’s able to correctly point out that mass incarceration is one of the chief weapons employed, he’s incapable of calling it for what it is: a deliberate means of unfairly keeping the black man in line.
“Because of the catastrophic experiment in mass incarceration, black men in their 20s without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated today than employed”
Don’t be stupid
It’s not exactly a tipping point for America today, but the world is looking on with an ever-more-appalled look on its face. Things have however been this bad—and worse—before, so we shouldn’t flatter ourselves into thinking that this time it will be different. Instead, we should examine our knee-jerk reactions to these killings and make sure we have some facts before spouting off 19th-century opinions about the “mind of the negro”.
We should all try to be better, try not to be so swayed by lazy, stupid arguments that end up in cul de sacs rather than in workable solutions. If you think you have the solution to America’s problems, think your idea through to the end and see if it wouldn’t eventually lead to internment camps or curfews or perhaps a quick little “cleansing”. If it does, back away slowly, and let the grown-ups do the talking for a while.