Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Movies 2017

Time flies by fast these days!  So fast that I have even less time for movies than I have in the past - yet I still managed to drag my butt to the theater enough times to bring you this, my year end top ten movie list.

Remember; as most of you I'm sure already know - I'm not really a film guy.  Films, those pretentious and dialogue heavy things that unravel at a snail's pace and meander with fuzzy and often black & white or sepia toned shots, quite often obscured by sub-titles.

Nah.  I'm much more into movies.  Movies - big explosions, big bare breasts and bigger than life stories and adventures.  World building, heroes soaring and adrenaline pumping.  That's where I'm at.

Also, I'm not really a movie critic; that is, I seek out films that I know that I'm almost certain to like AND I go in WANTING to enjoy myself.  I would never spend money on a flick that potentially could be totally shitty.  So if you're looking for critical analysis, I'm sorry to disappoint you.

And as with the rest of this blog, there is very little editing here.  This is a first draft, basically untouched after I write it except for the occasional typo or redundant descriptive term that I switch out with a different word from the thesaurus.

As always, here first are the honorable mentions.  Movies that I loved or really really liked, but didn't quite crack the top 10.  Also included here are flicks that were trounced by the critics and/or underperformed at the box office - ones that I actually kind of dug despite their failings.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales
Okay, this one does have a few problems; but overall it's a lot more fun and well made than I  expected.  That's probably why I enjoyed it so much.  Disclaimer: I didn't pay money for this, well at least not directly.  I saw it on a Disney Cruise, and I must say, the scenes on the boats worked really well with the added realism of the actual boat we were on rocking to and fro.  Go in with low expectations and you'll have a lot of fun.

Get Out
I watched this one with a wary eye, fully prepared to be turned off by SJW nonsense, but I'd had enough conservative friends who had allayed my fears and told me this one was a blast.  I went with their recommendation, though still suspicious, and I'm glad I did.  This movie was pretty flipping' awesome.   A masterful thriller/horror that plays on our expectations.  Yes, there is a racialism component, but it's done so well and so fluidly.  This movie's obvious top priority is to entertain, not to preach, and it does so very very well.  Super fun, and scary in a good way - if you've got doubts, don't wait!  Get "Get Out!"

Awesome war movie that is both very exciting and very moving.  Nolan is a master visualist, and what he lacks in character development and dialogue he more than makes up for in shot selection, composition, editing and sound design.  Like Tim Burton, Chris is less concerned with a tight story and snappy patter - he wants to work with big themes and broad strokes.  If you're a historical nut like me, you'll love this one even more, but it's not a requirement.

War for the Planet of the Apes
I went into this one with sky high expectations, so I couldn't help but feel a little bit let down.  I still enjoyed it very much and there's tons of great moments and visuals.  I do feel the story was a bit grim simply for grim's sake - and I wish the denouement had packed more punch.  This is my least favorite of the trilogy, but it's still a ride worth taking and a worthy chapter in the story.

John Wick: Chapter 2
If you loved the first one like I did - a hyper violent, highly allegorical fable of vengeance and redemption - you will love this one as well.  Dope ass action sequences, gory and severe, but rooted in a righteous framework that keeps us riveted and rooting for the good Mr. Wick.

Alien: Covenant
This one JUST misses my top 10.  I enjoyed but didn't love Prometheus, though I will say it has grown on me over the years and I find myself re-watching it often.  This one though, this one is awesome!  Great gore, great thrills and an awesome performance by Michael Fassbender.  I love the look of the film, I really like the lead protagonist, and I love what they did with James Franco.  Brilliant!

First They Killed My Father
A magnificent film (yes, a true film) directed by Angelina Jolie (who knew?) that tells the true and harrowing story of a Cambodian child and her family's destruction at the hands of the genocidal Khmer Rouge.  Beautifully shot, and unflinching, this one is a lock for a best foreign film Oscar nom.  Yes, it's entirely in Cambodian, and for once I don't mind the subtitles at all.  It makes it all that more real and desperate.  This is not as gruesome as Schindler's list, but at times it is every bit as upsetting; it's not really what I would call entertainment, but it is a must watch for young people and for those of us old enough to remember when these events unfolded.

Blade Runner: 2049
Almost forgot this one!  Yes it was too long, yes it was slow in parts - but I was pretty mesmerized through the whole thing.  A much more compelling movie than the original Blade Runner, which I watched before seeing this - and it really doesn't hold up that well, not that I was much in love with it in the first place,  I think it's easily the most overrated movie of my generation (but that's a whole other blog post).  Really enjoyed watching this on the big screen, there's a lot going on visually but also story wise.  Looking forward to watching this again.

 Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Just saw this two days after Christmas. Lots of fun and a good amount of heart. The Rock as always is great. Kevin Hart plays himself but is still good. Jack Black actually stretches a bit, playing a teenage girl trapped in a fat middle aged man's body.  And the young woman who plays Nebula on Guardians of the Galaxy is smoking hot without her elaborate makeup and a good actor as well. Had a smile on my face the entire time through this one, a very good family film!

And now the top 10.  This year is a little bit different because there's a cluster of flicks in the middle that are pretty much interchangeable with each other in my ranking depending on what kind of mood I'm in at the moment.  I love all three of them so much, and they are all connected to each other.

10 -  Kong: Skull Island
Outstanding period piece that is a tightly wound adventure and also has a bit of horror thrown in for good measure.  The characters are fantastic, the scenery chewing Sam Jackson as a bad ass military man, the always watchable John Goodman as the doomed instigator, the fantastic Loki (aka Tom Hiddleston) as a dashing leading man, and the equally luminous and just as good looking Brie Larson as the damsel who is rarely in too much distress.   This is a really great monster movie at it's heart, and I just love movies like this that take us on a big adventure to a different world and slather on the excitement, wonder and awe.  Bravo!

9 - Justice League
I loved the Super Friends when I was a kid and I love superheroes today - so this one is a slam dunk.  Even if it was as problematic as Batman v. Superman, I still would've enjoyed it I'm sure.  But thankfully, this installment is a LOT better and a lot of fun as well.  Seeing Aquaman on the big screen (finally) teaming up with Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman and the Flash - what's not to love?  Tons of humor, a good amount of heart, and great action sequences with characters that I care about.  Can't ask for much more.

My expectations were low because the critics were unkind, and the neck beards were also negative - but when I finally saw this with the wife and kid, I enjoyed it thoroughly.  Can't wait to buy it and watch it again and again.

8 - Baby Driver
Hot damn is this one good!  A brilliant and groundbreaking edit is what sets this one apart from other thriller/caper/pulpish movies.  Director Edgar Wright takes an approach that I've never seen done so well - he cuts his movie directly to the music.  While others have employed this technique obliquely, Cameron Crowe, or even overtly, James Gunn, Edgar goes all in with the approach.  The cuts are on the beat, the lyrics literally show up on screen, it is truly masterful.  Plus the acting is top notch (though it's tempered a bit now that we know Kevin Spacey is a creepazoid POS) and the story is engaging.  A great time at the movies in the very best traditions of Tarantino and Shane Black.

7 - The Lego Batman Movie
Yes, this one has all the fun and humor that made the Lego Movie so enjoyable, but what kicks it up a notch higher is it's absolute mastery of the character of Batman.  The director and writers absolutely did the work here, the R&D is exhaustive and even better, the examination of the character of Batman is easily the best that has ever shown up on any screen.  That's right, a fanciful and frenetic cartoon with computer generated plastic bricks, absolutely NAILS the character of Batman better than any incarnation before it that isn't in a comic book.  BY FAR.

The ace in the hole the movie has to accomplish this is that it is able to break the 4th wall and literally look back at all of these previous incarnations.  We see Snyder's Batman, Nolan's Batman, Burton's Batman, the hippy Batman from TV and even Batman from the serials of the 1940's on screen!  And then, with a simple device of Batman looking longingly at a portrait of him as a kid and his parents about to meet their fate outside of a movie theater - The Lego Batman movie hammers home the very essence of the Caped Crusader better than has ever been done.  It is truly amazing.

Yes it's silly, yes it's goofy, but even Nolan's 'The Dark Knight' doesn't drill down as well on the character as director Chris McKay does.  Fantastic!

Okay, here we are at the cluster that I mentioned above.  This movie, and the next two, are as far as I'm concerned, interchangeable in how I've ranked them.  I will go in chronological order - but rest assured I pretty much love all three of them equally.

6. - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
James Gunn has done it, he has made a sequel that is a worthy follow up to his original ground breaking and generation impacting cosmic space opera masterpiece.   GOTG 2 defies all expectations in that instead of being what most sequels are - bigger, louder and more expensive - he turns it on it's head.  This is a thoroughly character driven story with emotional resonance and satisfying arcs for every one of our heroes and a new one as well.  So much to love in this very dense and emotional movie that expertly navigates to and from each player, giving just the right amount of time to explore and observe all of them on multiple levels.  Love Nebula, love Ego, and especially love Mantis.  Good stuff!

5. - Spider Man: Homecoming
This one has all the trappings that great Marvel movies have.  A kick ass superhero that we love bolstered by equally impressive design and effects.  A story that moves and resonates.  And plenty of heart stopping moments, both in spectacle and in emotional impact.  But what elevates this one even more is -  1) It's Spider-Man, and Tom Holland plays Peter Parker and his alter ego note perfect, right out of the comics.  Yes, that Spider-Man, the one who is the biggest and most popular superhero in comics like, ever.  As great as Toby was, and as good as Andrew was, Tom is the best.  2) It's a John Hughes movie!  Simply awesome, and it totally fits.  3) The best scene in the entire movie, in a movie that is FULL of impressive action set-pieces, is a dialogue scene with two people inside a parked car.  Absolutely fantastic moment that will forever be one of my favorite scenes in a Marvel movie ever.

4. - Thor: Ragnarok
The first of it's kind in the Marvel Cinematic Universe - a straight ahead, 100% comedy.  There has been plenty of humor in the MCU over the years, some fanboys say too much, but this is the first flick where comedy truly takes the lead.  From the first gag (Thor spinning slowly and telling the big baddie to hold on until he comes around) we know we are in for something different, a thoroughly fun and frothy comedy on a cosmic level.  It's like someone looked at the Guardians movies and said, "They're pretty funny but I think we can crank it up to 11 on the humor scale".  And yet for all of the silliness and irreverence (the only superhero movie I can think of that's more subversive is Deadpool) there is still a good story and great characters at play here who get us invested in the outcome despite the never ending jokes and gags.

3. - Star Wars: The Last Jedi
There's a good chance this ranking will change, as of this writing I've only seen this movie once.  Hardly enough times to truly digest and appreciate what I saw.  But what I do know after only one viewing, is that this movie is three things that I love - different, engaging and masterfully executed.  The trailer said it perfectly - "This is not going to go how you think" and boy they weren't kidding.  I was enthralled from the first action sequence, and the movie never lost it's grip on me.  It certainly isn't a perfect film, but it's fresh and original and is very dense.  Can't wait to see it again.

2. - Logan
When I think about my top ten films of the year, the ones that inevitably go at or near the top of the list are the ones that made me feel the most.  Well Logan brought all of the feels and hard.  It is grim and bleak, and yet somehow still up-lifting.  Logan is dying, the X-Men are gone, and there are no Hollywood conventions to be found.  The movie defies expectations, keeps us guessing and gets us to care not only about Logan but the young one under his charge.  Great, and I mean GREAT, action sequences that are unconventional and brutal, but so well done.  A shocking development 2/3 of the way in that I'm still amazed went the way that it did - but somehow the movie still clings to hope in the end.  Absolutely magnificent movie making.  The very best that comic book cinema has to offer.

1. - Wonder Woman
Okay, maybe not THE very best.  While Wonder Woman doesn't have the grim gravitas or even the superb craftsmanship of Logan, it does have an ace in the hole - a true north superhero who is righteous and unwavering in her commitment to truth, justice and the American way.  Yes Zach Snyder, thanks to Patty Jenkins, you guys finally got it right.  There is no moral ambiguity with the mighty Amazon of Themiscyra. Diana Prince is 100% committed to what is right and is fully dedicated to battling evil.

The movie brilliantly plays on this aspect of her character - she naively believes that a God of war is responsible for the evil in men. When she vanquishes the villain and realizes that men are still shitty, it's a very satisfying moment for the audience and a monumental moment for Wonder Woman.  A beautifully laid out and executed story.

What lands the movie at the top of my list is the chills that I got from several scenes, but none more powerful than Wonder Woman's ascendance into no-man's land to fight the Hun.  I was absolutely enthralled by Diana's stubborn insistence to climb the ladder and fight the bad guys.  The dialogue, the editing, and most of all the music, all work together to create a very powerful sequence that culminates in many goosebumps and a few tears of joy as well from this mushy old man.


And then there's a ton of stuff I still want to see but haven't gotten around to -

I, Tonya
The Disaster Artist

Molly's Game
EDIT: Saw it, loved it!  Not a 'poker movie' per se, but a thoroughly enjoyable true life story of the inimitable Molly and her amazing game.

All the Money in the World
Darkest Hour
Three Billboards

EDIT:  Saw it, loved it!  I was a blubbering mess by the end.  No doubt it would've cracked my top ten had I seen it in 2017.

Murder on the Orient Express
The Greatest Showman

And then there's a couple that I'm going to do my best to avoid -

The Post - a preachy, screechy talkathon that holds up the media as heroes for spilling military secrets.  Pass.

The Shape of Water - looks about as subtle as a jackhammer in it's virtue signaling and messaging.  Another Guillermo mess most likely.

And finally, my usual short (and this year shorter than usual) list of disappointments.

Beauty & The Beast
Please don't mistake me, the movie is well made and the story is tight.  Emma Watson is a wonderful choice, and I understand her taking the role as it gives her two once in a lifetime chances to be a role model for girls - but I really dislike Disney's latest obsession with turning all of their animated classics into shot for shot live action remakes.  It's lazy and it's boring.  I've seen this before, it was an amazing animated feature film that was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  This, very simply, is not.  It's close to a carbon copy of the original, and there is next to nothing original about it.  Meh.

Transformers: The Last Knight
Another hot and bloated mess from Michael Bay.  I've enjoyed Transformer movies in the past, but really, enough is enough.  This one, like the last one, just goes on forever and is relentlessly loud and bombastic.  Even Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Hopkins can't save this leviathan.  Time to give it up Mr. Bay!

And so that's it - thankfully, no other disappointments.  There were quite a few movies that I thought were just fine, not bad, not great - but I won't blather on about them here.   The ones above, even the disappointments, are the ones that had an impact on me, and so I'm glad I get to share my thoughts on them here with you.  If you're still here, thanks for reading!

Friday, December 08, 2017

Looking Up

2017 has so far been a pretty great year, national tragedies like the one in Las Vegas notwithstanding. Last month it was made even greater when the one time greatest band on the planet (and still pretty great) released a new album.  Barenaked Ladies present - "Fake Nudes".  Ha ha.  Funny.  No, really.

It is a great record and it's replete with good stuff.  My second or third favorite track is this little ditty.

I just love that it's so optimistic and so happy and the lyrics express how grateful the band is for being rock stars.  Unusual in the rock n roll medium for sure, but oh so lovely.

Despite the clumsy attempt to diss our president in the record's title, the material is warm and inviting to everyone.  Even the most politically charged song on the record "Invisible Fence" (gee wonder what that's about?) is poppy and catchy enough to be forgiven, and the lyrics really express optimism and hope without getting too specific on any villain in particular.

There might have been a time awhile back when I would've been a bit put off by BNL's progressive infantilism, but those days are gone for me.  These days my white hot rage at the liberal lock step has cooled considerably, simply because the culture war has finally taken a turn for the better.

Americans are disgusted by the NFL, stadiums are empty and ratings are in the toilet.  Ham fisted attempts by the MSM to lionize the cowardly POS Kapernick have failed miserably.  GQ is now a laughing stock.

With the exception of the detestable Roy Moore and to a much lesser extent our president, the left finds itself in a morass of sexual corruption across the board in entertainment and more recently in the cesspool of Washington DC.

I'm not too excited that hyper-partisan hack Al Franken is out the door - he is basically Chuck Shumer's bitch and is being used as a tool to leverage pressure against Moore and Trump in the future.  I can only say, I hope it works with Moore and I know it will never work with 45.

Most likely to be discouraging is that the liberal wack job Governor of Minnesota is going to replace Stuart Smalley with someone even more extreme - and that person will be a lot tougher to vote out of office in four years.

I'm meandering a bit - but the main point of this post was to express how happy I am these days that conservative values and principles, especially fiscal, constitutional and patriotic principles, have firmly taken root in the mainstream consciousness.

I was reminded of just how embedded the liberal media used to be in this country when I watched Ken Burns fantastic documentary on the Vietnam War recently. The old school FDR progressivism was so drilled into our brains by the three networks - pretty much the only thing that was on television at the time - and the major newspapers which were still very relevant at the time.  So brainwashed was the country, including Republicans, that we jettisoned a president for crimes that were only misdemeanors and would be greatly exceeded in heinousness by Bill Clinton two decades later.  Bill the rapist would face his impeachment with a smirk and win re-election easily.

But today, we have so many more choices in how we get our information - so many choices that the conservative mindset has finally rightfully (see what I did there?) emerged front and center as not some fringe Barry Goldwater outlier, but as a legitimate point of view that also happens to be the correct one.

It's the former point - conservatism as a legitimate point of view - that I'm most gratified has finally come to pass in the mainstream American consciousness.  Oh the left isn't happy about it, they're fighting it so ferociously that they have jettisoned all traces of civility and thoughtfulness.  Everyone who defends the constitution is a racist, especially our President - and libs couldn't give two shits if they smear our founding fathers with that brush as well.

But the good news is, most grown-ups aren't buying it anymore.  At least most grown ups who don't live in the toilets that are our major coastal cities these days.   The mentally ill havens of San Francisco, LA, New York and a few others - and I mean the actual deranged junkies that now shit and piss where they want at will - are the last bastions of the dying school of thought that is progressivism.

The rust belt, fly over country, middle America, what ever you want to call the majority of God fearing patriots - I like calling us the not so silent majority,  isn't buying it anymore.  We've seen the emperor without his clothes now, plainly naked and desperate.

And now, with national attention focused on the day care centers known as Universities and the cry babies within - the conservative approach is firmly taking hold in the next generation.  And the left thankfully is speeding the process along.

With every flail and shriek, the left continues to dig it's own grave.  I know, we're racist, homophobic, ageist, sexist, genderist, whatever.   Guess what?  Good news - no one gives a fuck.

No one gives a mighty F if you discard one of your own (Franken) to delude yourself that you have a chance to pull a Nixon on Trump.  Not going to happen.

No one gives a mighty F that you routinely lie about the facts just so you can have your way.  Conservatives now have it dialed in - the Information Age has made it so simple for us.

Liberty > Equality

Freedom > Fairness

Opportunity > Guarantee

Rule of Law > Lawlessness

Facts > Feelings

See?  It's so mind-blowingly simple these days.  We have dozens of happy conservative warriors who kick ass on a daily basis - on the Youtubes and on the radio and even on a television news station that beats every other news station combined in the ratings.

The information is out there, and it is sinking in.   And for that I am so grateful.

Things truly are looking up.

Friday, November 03, 2017

The Diminishment of Sex

The problem of sexual harassment isn't unique to Hollywood and has nothing to do with the leftist culture regarding sex, it has to do with men, American society and power relationships.

This is what I would say if I had succumbed to the lunacy of my hometown, Berkeley California, back in the day in my formative years.  Fortunately, I managed to escape with some of the good stuff (kindness, compassion, empathy) and eschew much of the bad (moral relativism, Godlessness, selfishness).

So I have come to believe that the feminist culture of the left has done little to protect women, in fact in some ways it has cleared a path for monsters like Harvey Weinstein, James Toback and others.

And Hollywood, as a community and an industry, is unique from other groups because it promotes this culture pro-actively in it's product.  The culture I speak of is the idea that sex is NOT sacred, that it is a simple biological need that should be fulfilled regardless of the circumstance or the people involved.  As long as it's consenting adults, the context matters very little.  I say this concept is not only shameful, it's immoral and leads very quickly to very bad situations.

By commodifying sex, and demystifying it to a merely a matter of consent - it becomes very difficult from a liberal or even a libertarian perspective to argue against the casting couch.  Why shouldn't an actor be able to trade their body for a movie role?  After all, it's their business, it's two consenting adults, no one is getting hurt... right?  

Obviously, it's not that simple.

First of all with Weinstein, he's a straight up rapist.  He's banging on your hotel room door at 2am and coming in and climbing on whether you want it or not.  I would concede that he is not typical of any culture, he's a monster.  But I do think it's important not to dismiss him as a complete aberration - as his approach has it's roots that are not born from nothing.

How many others are Weinstein-lite in Hollywood?  And what twisted moral relativism do they use to justify their predatory behavior?

The producer who takes you to dinner and says there's a part for you if you show me your parts.  You politely decline and everything is fine, except you no longer have a job.   Yes, that's bad, but not finishing into a potted plant bad, right?

And then there's the next level, offer a part for putting out, but don't blacklist her if she says no.  That's not as bad, right?

My question is, when does it become okay to barter with sex?   Where is the line?  It's very hard to find a line when you start with the premise that if it feels good and doesn't ''hurt" anyone that you should do it and not worry about it.

I think having sex for it's own sake is a truly terrible idea.   I believe we need a cultural re-set when it comes to sex.  We have to re-invest sex with value beyond just a physical transaction.  We need to remember that sex is much much more than just two people getting off.  It has meaning, it has significance and it is meant to be a sacrament between two people as the culmination of courting, falling in love and matrimony.

Failing that, for those who refuse to take it that far - I would pray for them that they would at the bare minimum see sex as a solidification of a relationship and not merely a Friday night diversion.

When you reduce the act to the latter, the moral equivalent of a ribeye steak, something to be salivated over and then consumed, digested and expunged just so you can move on to the next meal, you have set yourself up - be you a man or a woman - for all manner of heartache and depression.  You surrender a big part of your moral compass - and it can have drastic reprecussions in all other areas of life.

Not the least of which is what goes on in Hollywood on a regular basis and is perpetuated by movies and tv shows that normalize casual sex and promiscuity.  It's a cycle that feeds off itself.  "Of course two hot people should get each other off, why wouldn't they?  Hey, what's your problem?  I'm just trying to get my rocks off here, you know you want it..."

Amazingly, my fairly straightforward posit here has been met with bewilderment and consternation from some of my usually more thoughtful liberal friends.  I honestly don't think what I've said here that is out of line or incorrect.  I realize that my train of thought, especially on this blog, can be a bit convoluted - but I hardly think my views on sex are controversial.

I guess I'm really going out on a limb saying that Hollywood works very hard at de-valuing sex as a signifier of commitment and works just as hard at holding it up as a mere diversion to be enjoyed freely and at leisure by any two (or more) consenting adults in just about any circumstance.   Who knew I was so radical?

This Hollywood approach results in such stupid statements as "teach your son not to rape".   As if you're saying, "remember Billy,  when you take that puppy out for a walk, don't vivisect it with a butchers knife'. I mean really, if you have to tell your kid not to rape, my guess is that kid has some pretty serious issues.

No, my dad didn't tell me not to rape.  But he did tell me to honor women and treat them with respect.  And he taught me, both with words and by example, that to be a man means to watch out for and be concerned for the safety and virtue of women.  It is in fact, a man's job to protect women.  Crazy I know.  Protect them - not just hold a door open, not just let them get off the elevator first.  Yes, all that common courtesy stuff, but much more important is to be vigilant, not only for one's own behavior and impulses, but for the casual cruelty and demeaning words and behavior of other men.

This means that the young men today who go out to the nightclub and see it as the Serengeti, a place for conquests - are not being men.  They are exhibiting predatory behavior, even if every single female that they take home is stone cold sober and 100% willing - they are failing in their manhood.   They are diminishing the fairer sex for a chance at a piece of flesh, and they are diminishing themselves in their simplistic lust that serves no purpose other than temporary gratification.

I believe we need a cultural re-set in what it means to be a man.  To be man is to be ready to fight to protect women, to protect their honor, their virtue, and their physical safety.  If you're a young man and at a club and a beautiful young woman is drunk and kissing you and begs you to go back to her place; you can take her there...  and put her in bed and take off her shoes and tuck her in and turn out the light and take your ass home.  That is being a man.

Conversely, we need to encourage women to stop emulating the predators.  My heart breaks for a beautiful and (mostly) smart young woman who heads out to a club or a bar with her friends and in the back of her mind hopes to 'get lucky' and go home with some hot dude.  She must know that most guys who would bang a stranger are failing in their roles as men, right?  And does she understand that this kind of behavior will not lead to anything meaningful beyond a momentary orgasm (maybe, though unlikely with a guy who is selfish enough to bone a stranger) or lifelong genital warts (most probably with a guy who is selfish enough to bone a stranger).

I also live on planet earth, and I understand that biological urges and selfishness are tough nuts to crack, so to speak - but I really would hope that the lessons I laid out in the first paragraph here are not the ones that people are taking away from this whole mess.

We are not going to stop bad behavior with anything less than good behavior.  The solution to vice is virtue - not a squishy (so to speak) stance on sex.

It's time for us to step back and reexamine our values - maybe it really isn't the best idea that sex can be casual, 'as basic as breakfast' or some other such nonsense.   Sex should be sacred, ideally within the confines of marriage, but failing that at the very least as an intimate bond between two people that love each other.

It's probably a pie in the sky, but I can't help but hope that we can stop diminishing the physical act of love and start stepping back and recognize that the emotional and the physical are actually forever connected and should not and cannot be separated.  If you lay down with someone you just met with nothing in your heart and a single goal of sating lust, you are feeding into the pattern of behavior that eventually gave us Weinstein.

Man or woman, you should feel shame and regret if you simply 'bang' some hottie that you don't know or only know for a few dates and then never call them.  The walk of shame when someone sneaks out in the morning so as not to wake the stranger they just coupled with should apply to everyone regardless of gender, because you are enabling the idea that sex is cheap, that sex is like a slice of pizza - and this concept is why so many are comfortable leveraging their power for that slice.   Throw in a product like the one Hollywood makes, tv shows and movies where protagonists routinely have one night stands and we all laugh about it, and you have the perfect recipe for the Brett Ratner's of the world.

I hope you dear reader, don't take away from this that we should all be chaste and silenced on the subject of sex.  On the contrary, I much prefer folks to be open and honest about doing the deed - and I actually think sex is amazing and awesome and I have a very healthy libido.  But I think it's okay to say  "Having sex with a stranger, or someone I've just been dating for a few weeks,  or even perhaps a bit longer - is probably not a good idea. In fact, it's a really bad idea.  Yes, it would feel really good - but lots of things feel really good - eating several banana splits every day would feel awesome, but in the end it would take a very heavy toll."    

I think it's also okay to allow yourself to look at someone that is physically attractive, appreciate it inwardly and acknowledge your own biological urges, and then remember what really matters - that this hottie was and is someone's baby, they are young and vibrant and full of life and they have that entire life ahead of them.  Hopes, dreams, and yes desires.  Desires that God willing will be fulfilled by a caring, committed and loving partner.  

And if you're married or in a relationship, then the next thought is - THAT PARTNER WON'T BE ME because I'm very lucky, I've found a partner to share my life with.  It doesn't mean you can't admire someone, for all of their appealing traits, physical and otherwise.  But you are obligated to do so in a way that would never ever cause that person discomfort.  Dig deep for that empathy, put yourself in their shoes - they are young, healthy, smart and beautiful.  That's awesome.  Why would you ever want to turn that into something ugly and superficial?  That isn't love that's building up inside you, that's biology, and it is our obligation to recognize that quickly and set that aside and replace it with kindness, compassion and understanding of the most plutonic kind.

Of course we are all only human, we aren't dead, and the beast inside of us will always be there, lurking.  But I think it's a lot easier to deal with when we recognize all the forces in the world that are at work to awaken it.   The character Joey on the tv show Friends has had sex with literally HUNDREDS of women.  This is mainstream entertainment.  This is something we are encouraged to laugh at and also weirdly enough admire.  But truly, this kind of behavior in real life is abhorrent.  Actually, it's predatory.  

Let's recognize that the sexual mores of Hollywood are not what we should take to heart - we should instead stop and say "Maybe drilling everything that moves is a terrible idea." And maybe, just maybe, if we all pull together on this, we can perhaps change things a little bit.  I'm not saying that we need to have a sexless culture - certainly athletically fit and gorgeous men and women in revealing outfits don't need to disappear, I think we can all still enjoy a bit of eye candy now and again and be comfortable with ourselves as a species - but it's the more insidious stuff, the casual fornication that abounds in all of the narrative work across media, that needs to be called out more often for what it is, a slippery slope that inevitably leads to degredation and diminishment.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Morris Day and The HAIM

A few months ago I was indulging in that great time suck known as the internet, reading yet another article about Prince and his passing and the hole it has left in the lives of those who loved him.

It was an interview with Morris Day who was about to perform on the Grammys (I think) along with Bruno Mars in tribute to the great purple one.

In the interview one of the questions was about a recent performance by The Time on Jimmy Kimmel  where they were 'mashed-up' with another band called Haim. I knew about these mash-up segments, where two bands got together to combine songs and/or other elements of their act.  Most memorable for me was the OK Go-Go's (a combination of Ok Go and The Go-Go's), good stuff.

However, I had never heard of Haim.

Morris' answer to the question intrigued me. He said how happy he was that 'the girls' didn't even need to rehearse the choreography because they already knew it, being big fans of The Time.  Well that's cool, I thought, and I checked out the video.

Very fun performance.  I liked how the tall blond member of the band did the entire side-step/slide-step part of the dance (not easy).  So of course I had to search on YouTube just for the band Haim by itself.

I could not have been more shocked and blown away.  This was the first video I watched.

For me, this band is one of the most incredible musical discoveries I've made in a long long time.

I love how they sound so different, and yet they are very grounded in rock n' roll.   I also love how it's immediately apparent that they are not simply a 'girl group' (whatever that is) but a real honest to God super talented band that has clearly done the work; meaning they may have appeared out of nowhere for people like me and most of their fans, but it is so evident in their musicianship that they have been playing for a long, long, LONG time.

I knew this about 30 seconds into their David Letterman performance.  I knew that their young age belied their experience - that they had to have grown up in a very musical household.  Their looks gave away that they were sisters, or at the very least cousins.  I quickly searched for info and quickly came up with their story which is fantastic.

Their mother was a singing contestant on the Gong Show back in the 70's and won, their father was a drummer and music lover.   His last name was Haim.  He collected instruments and taught the girls basically from the time they could walk to play.  They spent most of their childhood playing gigs with their parents in a band they called RockinHaim.   When they weren't gigging, they were playing in their living room.

A similar path as another great family group that I love, one whose sound could not be more different, The Corrs.  But these girls are not from Ireland, they're from Van Nuys!  The more I read and saw, the happier I got.  I love stories like this, raw talent that has been honed over the years and then explodes and simply by being super super good, the music gets to be shared with the world.

Then I watched this video.

Absolutely blown away by their talent and sound.  Love the concussive/percussive vocals.  Love the unorthodox drum-lines.  Love the energy, love the joy that these young women radiate playing together as sisters and sharing their gift with such a large venue.  Very, very, very cool.

So weirdly enough, there's a large part of me that's grateful that Prince died.  If he didn't, who knows if I would've stumbled across this band.  They're pretty big in the States, but even bigger in Europe.  But that doesn't mean I would necessarily listen to them or know who they were.  There's lots of popular music these days that I'm very unaware of - simply because my life is full and my interests are quite varied.

Of the three sisters -

Este is the oldest.  The bass player who's as famous for her 'bass face' (endless contortions and expressions) when she plays as she is for playing well.

Danielle is the middle kid - and clearly the one with the most natural born talent.  Turns out she's not only a world class guitar player and song writer but could play drums professionally for any band as well - and she did for a time.  All three sisters have very interesting back stories in terms of what they did musically in their adolescence.  Danielle played with several other groups for a time, some of them very successful.    Thank goodness she came back to her sisters.

Alana is the youngest, sometimes called Baby Haim, and always has a sparkle in her eye on stage - of the three she often seems like she's the one having the most fun.  She plays guitar and keys.

There are also two guys in the band who tour with them - Dash Hutton drums, he is descended from rock royalty - his dad was/is a seminal member of Three Dog Night.  His skills are incredible and a good match for the girls.  (Recently Dash left Haim to join a band of his own and was replaced by another capable drummer who I haven't read up on yet.).  Not sure who the keyboard player is, but he's still with Haim, and he always seems to be having a great time on stage with them.  Good gig guys.

So after enjoying Haim on the YouTubes for awhile, I finally got around to listening to their record.  The sound was a bit disappointing - very well produced, but a little bit too electronic for my tastes.  Still, you can tell that a ton of work went into the recordings as well - so in that regard they don't disappoint at all.

Somewhere along the way to becoming a fan boy, I realized that all of this stuff with Haim happened in 2013.  They toured through 2015, but then they took a break (interrupted with occasional odd gigs) and eventually they got back into the studio.

They have a new album that just came out, and it's pretty fantastic.  Musically it definitely has stepped it up a notch - though I'm a sucker for the more conventional pop hooks on the first record.  Here's a sample of one of the more esoteric songs, that's actually very powerful - dig the Bavarian harmonies!  (Seriously, that's what Este studied in college and brings to the group on this song and others).

Notice also that they all rock it on the drums - that was the first instrument they all learned to play from Pappa Haim.   Very cool.

Here's another new track, this one more conventional and snappy.  This is the stuff I like the mostest.

In my opinion you can NEVER go wrong adding horns to the mix, and really, more horns ALWAYS makes music better.

So yes, I'm in love.  In love with this great band and their talent, and the story behind their musicianship.  I can't wait to catch them live - they are doing a show in August in Long Beach.  Unfortunately it's one of those festivals so if I go I'll have to figure out how to avoid a long stretch with a band or bands that suck.  True, they might all be good - but I'm old and cranky so more than likely the other bands will suck.  Also, I'll have to put up with standing and general admission.  Boo.  Yes, I'm old.

If I go, either to that show or one down the road, I'll report back.  Until then, I'll leave you with this, another song from the new record.  I dig the song but I love this video, shot in Van Nuys on Ventura Blvd. at what I'm presuming was 5 in the morning - either that or they spent a ton of money closing off the streets.  Enjoy.

Okay turns out they did close the streets - at 4 in the morning on a Sunday.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

To what end?

So the hysteria continues.  Since Trump took office it has been a non-stop emergency of the highest order for the Dems and their supporters.  Every week, nay, almost every day - there is another catastrophe.  And another.  And another.   This is a tragic day for our country.  Every day.  Another scandal, each one bigger than the last.  Another Watergate.

Insert eye roll here.

Really, it's been 117 days, and every day I guess is the end of the world.   I'm exhausted.  And I'm also bemused.  It would also actually be hysterical if it wasn't so pathetic.

Look, I'm still not the biggest fan of Trump personally.  His style and regular tone deafness to the world around him do grate on me quite a bit.  But my discomfort over his no filter approach has now been pushed to the bottom of my concerns in the face of the unhinged left.  A group that has grown exponentially since the Donald's election.

Growing up in Berkeley, I have a good amount of friends who are super hard core liberal - their default position when a republican is in office is "impeach immediately".  So this approach is not new to me at all.  They said it under Reagan and both Bushes, and of course they are saying it now.

But I am worried now that it just isn't my far lefty friends, it's also a lot of the regular liberals that I know.  Once reasonable, usually thoughtful left of center folks who all of the sudden have drifted towards the fringe - or rather, the fringe maybe has drifted towards them.

This is a real shame.

It's a shame because they would normally say, and I would agree - that a president's success is our success and a president's failure is a failure for all of us.

When Obama was in office - I despised pretty much everything about the way he ran the country.  I detested his limp foreign policy, his apologetic approach to other countries and his seeming inability to take action like, ever.  Domestically he also was a disaster, not only for his business killing fiscal policies but also injecting racialism into every single newsworthy occurrence. In 8 years he exponentially worsened race relations with his cavalier proclamations and ill chosen words over events that he often had no clue about.

And yet, as much as I thought he was incompetent, as much as I thought he was the most ineffectual president in over half a century, I bore no ill will towards him as a person and not once did it enter my mind that he should be impeached.

Being a shitty president is not nearly reason enough to damage our country by forcibly removing him from office.  Not nearly.

My love of my country and respect for the office of the president trumps (see what I did there) my distaste for policy decisions and leadership styles.  I couldn't stand Obama, but I understood that for the greater good that he had to be respected and his presidency preserved.

Today there is a complete absence of this basic tenant on a good amount of the left.  "Impeach" come hell or high-water, no matter what.

And what exactly then?  Trump goes away, then you have Pence - someone who is a hell of a lot more conservative than Trump.  By a lot.

If you manage somehow to dispose of Pence as well, then you have Ryan.  Another true blooded conservative, born of the tea party and very much set on his principles.

Do you remove him as well?  How far down the rabbit hole are you willing to drag our country to get what you want?

Better question - how much are you willing to alienate half the country to get what you want?

Reality check - Trump isn't getting impeached any time soon.  I've already done the 'cry wolf' blog post about this simple fact, but I am noting it here again for the record so I can reach the inevitable conclusion of this road that many liberals are determined to go down.

Hatred of the president has exceeded their love of country.   This has to be true.   There is no point in screaming 'impeach' every 10 seconds unless you want to see the USA fundamentally transformed to the point where the Conservative party is obliterated by any means necessary and we have a one party system.

Rather than recognize that half the country found Obama unbearable, and the election in November was a consequence of this - a plurality (and perhaps a majority) of liberals have decided that Trump has to go, regardless of consequence, regardless of logic or truth because feelings.

My dear friend DSR, the often lauded and often published professional writer, has a new article out that lays out a victory strategy for the Dems in 2018.  I am happy to see this, as this is the way to go for someone who loves his country - show your displeasure with leadership at the ballot box, not with riots and relentless calls for impeachment.

But alas, for him, the strategy he puts down is a surefire roadmap for a GOP sweep two years from now.  People will not vote for new blood just because the current leaders are crummy - the new blood has to sell themselves as a viable alternative.  They can't rely on pointing out how lousy the incumbent is.  Hillary tried it and failed.   Every time we saw her delightful face she was ranting about The Donald.

She never said how she was going to bring jobs back, she never said how she was going to make things better.  But yes, she did hate on Trump in a major way.   Managed to convince many of us to vote for him because at least he mixed in a good amount of hope with his Hilary bashing.

If the Dems want to have any chance at all in 2018 (for the record, my prediction right now is that they have NONE) they have to start harping on why they are the better alternative.

So far Trump has done a ton of stuff that conservatives love.   Gorsuch plus a hundred new federal judges, de-regulating bloated government departments, down-sizing them as well, pushing a repeal and replace of the disastrous Obamacare and preparing for sweeping tax reform that includes massive cuts for job creators and the middle class.  Not to mention swift action against Syria.

If the Dems want to have any hope for 2018, they have to figure out how to reach out to rust belt voters and convince them that they can do even better for tax relief, how they can specifically fix their beloved Obamacare and why they are the best choice for leading the free world abroad.

I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Movies 2016

DISCLAIMER: I am a big lover of movies, less so of films.  Movies have explosions, kung-fu, gun-fu, any and all manner of action set pieces, as well as superfluous profanity, nekkid people left and right and world building that is often mind blowing.  Films are about the sad clown of life and our bleak existence on this God forsaken planet.  In other words, blockbuster kick butt movies = good.  Depressing pretentious art-house clap-trap = bad.

2016 was yet another great year for movies.  There were so many good ones that I had a tougher time than usual winnowing them down to a mere top ten.  Keep in mind that I don't get out too often and that I only venture into the theater or plop my butt down on my couch for a movie that I'm already enthusiastic about.  I don't waste my time on movies or films that have subjects or flavors that I'm not interested in in the first place, which means I don't see a ton of movies during the year.  Here first are the honorable mentions in no particular order.

Just saw this yesterday and enjoyed it very much.  I watched a screener under less than ideal conditions, a brightly lit room with people talking and no subtitles - but still really dug what was going on.   I can see how this movie (which is also very much a film) has polarized people.  Some think it is the second coming, others are befuddled by all the hype.  I fall somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards a pretty big thumbs up for this very bittersweet and heartfelt tribute to older movies, Los Angeles (my home for 20 years) and grown up romance without the vulgar trappings that typically accompany the romantic genre today.   Emma Stone is remarkable and luminescent in this movie; a bona fide star and a triple threat.  Gosling has never been one of my favorites, but he is perfectly cast in this role, and unless there are mind blowing special effects at play - he sure knows how to play piano!

A lot of fun.  A big action romp with some really nice set pieces that actually holds up to repeat viewings.  I bought this movie out of habit on Amazon video and I'm surprised that I've watched it four times already.  It's not as strong as the last two modern Trek offerings, but there's a lot to like about it.  So sad every time the young Checkov kid is on screen.

Lots of hate out there for this one, and all DC movies for that matter (but that's a whole other blog post).  I for one let go of trying to compare it to the almighty MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and just enjoyed myself in this often incoherent but also often pretty cool romp through the dark underbelly of baddies and their world.   Loved Margot Robbie and am intrigued by Leto's Joker.  Viola Davis for me makes this movie - talk about a bad ass!  The extended cut adds next to nothing, but I'm still glad I bought it.

The best kind of remake in that it isn't a remake at all - but rather follows the barest storyline of the original.  It's not a musical, it doesn't take place is Passamashloddy and is in fact very unlike it's predecessor which is a lovely but flawed and frothy musical.  Instead it is a lovely, non-musical number laden and emotional story set in today's times in a town just outside of the wilderness.  Sometimes it's eco preaching is a little clumsy, but there's so much heart from the characters that it's easy to overlook.

Disappointed that my favorite director didn't make it automatically into my top ten as he always does, but still I enjoyed Zemeckis' foray into World War II melodrama.  The action sequences were crackling good, especially the assassination sequence and the editing tight.  I for sure got choked up towards the end at the heartbreaking conclusion - despite the heavy amounts of extreme drama slathered and caked onto every frame.  It very much reminded me of a Ron Howard movie like Backdraft - where the dialogue isn't quite good enough to overcome the cheese, but it still mostly works.

One of three tremendous animated films this year.  I didn't think I wanted or needed to see a movie focused on Dori, but I'm glad to admit I was wrong.  This one is very endearing and heart warming and at times a bit heart wrenching.  Some great Pixar-esque sequences and solid production value in every frame, bolstered by the usual stellar R&D,  make this one a winner.

This one is not one of the three tremendous animated films, but it's still a hoot.  Much of it is uneven and a lot of the time the vulgarity seems forced and a bit mean, but it's still mostly enjoyable - albeit on a very lowbrow level.  The opening Saving Private Ryan sequence and the 'climax' sequence at the end of the film are definite high points.  Looking forward to seeing this again.

This one would be in my top ten were it not for a bit of dramatic license taken by the filmmakers.  In every way this movie is top notch, - acting, script, production value and effects.  Tom Hanks is superb yet again and the story line is gripping.  Unfortunately I found out after reading up on the incident a bit that the storyline is somewhat of a fabrication. The FAA in real life were not the mustache twirling villains that director Clint Eastwood made them out to be in the movie.  I wish they had adhered closer to the truth, which is that the FAA were basically just doing their jobs and didn't have an agenda beyond that.  The end of the movie does soften this falsehood a bit, but not enough in my opinion.  But I can set this aside and still enjoy the movie because there is so much good stuff to chew on.  Especially uplifting is the actual sequence of the crash itself. Eastwood does a masterful job of showcasing not just Sully and his crew, but all of the first responders that helped turn what could've been a deadly disaster into an inspiring story with a happy ending.

Liked an awful lot about this very dense and beautifully made film.  I didn't care for the fact that the lead mumbled all of his lines - but I did love the two supporting characters of Queenie and the Baker dude.  And the creatures of course were fantastic.  I really hope they do keep making these, it was very much a journey worth taking, especially the bittersweet ending - so good!

Again, another near top ten miss.  Very hard this year to pick only ten!  This one is delightful in it's execution - the world building is phenomenal and the sequences are all chosen and cut expertly.  Disney does it again, again by putting story first.  I love the rabbit's train ride into the city oh so much, Shakira's music works surprisingly well in this sequence and it all works together to bring the goosebumps.  The rest of the story works well, though very derivative of all those cop buddy movies that we've seen many times.  Also, while I do appreciate and agree the message of the film of tolerance and setting aside old prejudices, it does come dangerously close to being a bit too on the nose and preachy.  Thankfully it doesn't cross the line, as there is enough humor and entertainment to keep us free from the feeling of being lectured and instead fully invested with the characters.  Well done Disney!

A very important story that I am so grateful made it to the silver screen.  Michael Bay is in his element here and does an expert job of bringing the events of Benghazi to life.  It's a shame that many liberals will avoid this one, thinking it to be a jingoistic treatise on bashing Hilary Clinton - it's really not that.  Well, maybe a little, but they don't mention her or the Obama administration at all.  Bay really goes out of his way to keep politics out of it, for the most part.  To a stalwart conservative like me it's sometimes hard to step back and see this story for what it is - a very human one that doesn't shy away from showing all that is wrong with radical Islamists. The action sequences are superb and intense, the performances are great - grounded and understated the way real military people are.  Loved this.  It just misses my top ten because it does suffer a tiny bit from the same thing that most war movies do - it's tough to identify who is who in many of the action sequences.  I'm sure it will get better upon repeated viewing, which is something I intend to do for sure.

And so onto the top ten...

Yes, this one is a film, and it's also very important historically - but what propels this one past the above movies is the incredible story telling and editing; turning what could potentially be a Lifetime Channel flick of the week into an engrossing cinematic experience.  Peter Berg is the master of bringing real life into the movie realm with seamless and powerful fluidity.  As with Deepwater Horizon, you really feel that you are at the event as it unfolds.  But far more than just a disaster movie, this story embodies what makes America great - among the very worst of humanity, which took years of diabolical planning, the very best of humanity materializes instantly.  The entire spectrum of first responders are given tribute here, led by Mark Wahlberg as a composite character of very real law enforcement officers that helped at the scene and also brought the animals that perpetrated such horror to justice.

Mel Gibson may be a bat-shit crazy Jew hating bastard, but man the guy knows how to direct a movie!  This one is great - an inspiring and often brutal portrayal of war alongside a young man who refuses to touch a gun.  Telling true stories can be a tough job for movies, there's a great risk of simply making a Lifetime television drama, but everything in this story works and still feels very cinematic.   Eager to see this one again.

Eye popping special effects that work because they are grounded with heart and Disney's full commitment to the commandment of putting story first.  Incredible that this entire movie was shot entirely in a big metal warehouse in downtown Los Angeles.  It entirely deserves it's VFX Oscar, even up against some very stiff competition - but as I said, it's a great movie because we are invested in the story and especially the lead character, and pretty much the only human in the entire movie.  The young boy who plays Mowgli is mesmerizing and perfectly cast.  Can't wait to see what he does next as he grows up.

I am a bit mystified at the critics response to this one and I am absolutely perplexed at my nerd peers online who bashed it as well.  I LOVE this superhero movie very much and it is my favorite of the modern X-Men trilogy which also includes First Class and Days of Future Past.  It has tons of emotion, I found my eyes welling up more than a few times.  I 'rolled a tear' as the manly men say because the relentless action was all grounded in these characters that we've grown to love - even the characters that are being played by new actors for the very first time.  Sophia Turner and her young cohorts all brought urgency and depth to their roles, rooted in the previous movies and the source material as well.  Bravo everyone involved.  I could watch this one again and again, and I kind of already have.

Where to begin with how much I love this movie?  Yeah, it's nasty at times and crude and all that - but it's also genuinely hilarious and absolutely righteous in it's commitment to telling a story of vengeance and love in peril.  Despite all the fourth wall breaking and snark, Deadpool still manages to drill down on truth and outshine every single other comic book movie outside of the MCU with the exception of Nolan's Dark Knight.  It has heart, it has passion and pathos - and some truly great action set pieces.  I wish there had been one or two more - the middle of the film slows down a little bit too much for my tastes, but the journey overall is more than well worth it.  Plus it's funny as fuck, if I may borrow some of the movie's vernacular.

For sure this has the single greatest superhero action sequence on film to date.  20+ minutes of pure comic book nerd-gasmic bliss.  This sequence alone would be enough to land this movie a spot on my top ten, but even better than that (as crazy good as it is with Spider-Man, Giant-Man et al kicking butt in every which way) is that this movie at it's heart has a fantastic story with a gut wrenching reveal at the end that finds our heroes NOT patching everything up and fighting the bad guy at the end.  I told my 11 year old daughter, who didn't want to see it because it has Cap and Iron Man fighting, not to worry - that they would "Join up together at the end".  Boy was I wrong and boy was she annoyed with me.  But I have to say, it is super great and powerful for defying expectations.  DC and Warner Brothers take note, this is how super heroes fighting each other is done.

I go back and forth between which MCU masterpiece I like more this year - Civil War or this one.  Right now I just bought Dr. Strange on digital and watched it the other night, so I am still giddy in love with it enough to push it just a notch above Avengers 2.5, aka Civil War.  If you had told my 13 year old self that someday they would make a Dr. Strange movie that was fun but not cheesy in a bad way and yet still managed to bring Steve Ditko's panels to life in front of me in an incredibly faithful way - I never would've believed you. This one taps right into the core of my comic book nerd being.  For about 4 years I was a voracious reader of six comic books, actually a lot more thanks to my friend Dan, but these are the ones I bought myself and never missed - Frank Miller's Daredevil, John Byrne's Fantastic Four, Chris Claremont's X-Men, The Hulk, The Avengers and The Defenders.   The last one on the list was a unique super hero team that occasionally included Daredevil, so that's why I bought it, but the leader was Dr. Strange.  And there was always stuff that looked like the final confrontation in the film - the intergalactic/cosmic/magic-infused/psychedelic world of the good Doctor was always a place I was happy to go.  And now I get to see it in the flesh, created by the real wizards at Marvel and Disney.  I am in awe of how great this movie is, again - story at Disney is KING and it shows,  Not one film frame nor one line of dialogue is wasted, it's all in service of the story, and we as grown up nerds are all the better for it.

So pleased that I can heartily recommend this movie, I was pretty scared that they were going to drop the ball on this, a story that we didn't necessarily need.  Click here for my complete review of this outstanding entry into the Star Wars canon.

I could write at length about how magnificent this one is - and maybe I will in the future, but for now let me just say that you are best served by going into this movie cold without any knowledge of what it's about beyond simply Aliens arriving on earth.  That's how I saw it and I'm very grateful I did.  I was horrified that the clips they showed during the Oscars gave so much away about the aliens themselves, how crummy for people who haven't seen the movie.    There is a great takeaway from this film - and without getting into details, it's this: In our lives we sometimes have great tragedies, if we were given a chance to foresee these tragedies, would we choose a different path?  The answer is at once incredibly moving and gratifying and will bring you to tears.  Seriously bro, if you don't 'roll a tear' on this one, you are dead inside.

Speaking of 'rolling a tear' - I did that the most this year watching an animated movie about a tropical princess.  The music, the sights, the sounds, the emotion of Moana is for me rather overwhelming.  As a huge fan of musicals I was simply blown away at how good the music and the musicianship was in this movie.  I found out later that it was written in large part by the dude responsible for Hamilton, the $2000 a seat musical on broadway that you can't get tickets for anyway because everyone is so in love with it.   Well now I get the hype for this Lin-Manuel dude - he is an incredible talent, because the songs here propel an already emotional story into the stratosphere of greatness.   I, like most parents these days, am pretty worn out on animated films - as good as most of them are, it's tough to sit through half a dozen or more every year.  Now that my kid is a bit older we don't rush out and see each and every one, but we did for a time.

I was mildly intrigued to see this one, but in no great rush.  My 12 year old daughter actually cajoled me into seeing it with her even though she had already seen it once.  She said "I think you'll really like it dad, it's really good, better than I thought it would be."  Okay, I'm sold.  So we went, and I was very very moved.  So much so that I was embarrassed to be crying so much in front of my kid.  They were manly tears yes, but still there was quite a lot of them.

I've been wondering why I am so moved by this movie, I've come up with a couple of reasons.   One, it taps right into the culture of the tropics, in this case the Pacific Island culture; and as a kid I grew up for the first ten years of my life in Key West Florida where I saw the world through a westernized version of this culture.  My dad owned a Polynesian restaurant, so the imagery, music, sounds and smells of the islands are very much seared into my consciousness. So when it came to life in such a vibrant manner on the screen, the animation is cutting edge and hyper real - expertly capturing all the iconography, textures and flavors of Polynesia - it was a bit of a sensory overload for me.  Memories, both conscious and subconscious came flooding back.  And because the story (reason number 2) is framed with a dead grandmother as one of the main catalysts for our heroes journey - for me it's a double whammy of emotion, as my grandmother passed away only a few years back and she was very much in love with Key West and all of it's best trappings; the tropical breezes, palm trees, the water and so on.  When Moana is able to reconnect with her grandmother's spirit it made me think how much I would want to be able to do that with my grandmom, and my dad for that matter.

The third reason I think that I love this movie so much is that the heroine is a super strong female and very much a role model for my kid - I would hope that she could be strong and brave like Moana and yet still have the feminine characteristics of empathy and nurturing that are also on display in the movie.  Moana is for sure my favorite 'princess' character in that she specifically rejects the label and yet still embodies all the best traits of a young woman and a royal leader.  She also finds a great mentor in 'Maui' who is actually The Rock and hilarious and talented and very much a father figure who still has to learn from his progeny and find redemption.

The story, and I know I sound like a broken record here, is given the top priority and it shows.  This, in tandem with the correct deference and adherence to the genuine Pacific Island culture, creates a potent and powerful 90 minutes, suitable for the entire family and yet meaningful on a very adult level, especially to this white boy who grew up in the sub-tropics.   I am very grateful that Disney made this film, took the time to travel to Samoa and the surrounding islands and created something that will last for generations and bring the beautiful Pacific Island culture to the world.   And I can't wait to watch it again and again and again.

And so that's it for what I loved - now here as always, a short list of disappointments.

When I see a movie that is total crap, I don't worry about it, I forget about it and move on with my life.  Unfortunately, this movie is not total crap - it has just enough good stuff (and occasionally great stuff) in it to be upsetting, because the bulk of it is simply mediocre and the story choices are all wrong.  Martha!   Warner Brothers just doesn't get it; guys, you have to do the work!  The reason the MCU is so powerful is because they have invested the TIME in these characters.  You don't start off with a movie like the Avengers - you have to have half a dozen or so solo movies before the spectacular team up.  The MCU has been percolating since 2008!  When the next Avengers movie comes out that means it will have been around for a decade!  A freaking decade!  That means the characters have earned our love and respect.  You don't just plop Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman in front of us and expect us to be in love with them, especially when it's the first time we're even seeing these versions of Batman and Wonder Woman!   Yo!  WB!  Do the work!  Maybe pay attention to your television division that is doing a FAR better job at bringing DC characters to life.

Again, I have no interest in dumping all over a movie for being crap.  This movie was not crap, a lot of it was fun and worked - but it was wholly unnecessary because it is preceded by a beloved film that really shouldn't be remade.  If they were going to do it, they should've made it a sequel and paid correct respect to the original guys - rather than casting them in bit gimmick parts.  Killing off Bill Murray?  Really?  Nope.  Not good enough.   A lot of odd story choices as well, Chris Hemsworth gets all the possessed people all set up to do a dance number, and then... doesn't do a dance number.  (They do show it in the credits).  Strange and awkward.  And honestly, I can't even really remember the plot, other than it being derivative of the original movie.  Sorry, but this is ultimately a forgettable fail.  If you're going to make a movie with a message - that girls can be Ghostbusters too - that's fine, but you have to do the work and make it a GOOD movie FIRST, not the other way around.  Look at Moana if you want an example of a strong positive role model for girls, because it wasn't conceived with that as the primary goal; it was conceived out of the desire to make GREAT entertainment, that it had a strong female protagonist was a great component - NOT the central reason for making the movie in the first place.  Remember - story good FIRST.  Entertaining FIRST.  All the other stuff that you want to get across, no matter how noble it may be - SECOND.

Had zero interest in seeing this anyways but we found ourselves Netflixing it the other night.  Such a shame to see all that creativity mired down in a story that is so piss poor by today's standards.  I love fantasy movies like Lord of the Rings, this one is just weak sauce without the time and work that needs to be done on projects like this.  Too much lip service to World of Warcraft fans, not enough focus on good story telling for general audiences.   Sad.

How could they mess this up?  The other Bourne movies are pretty great, this one, not so much.  Too much long lens hand held shaky work.  Shoot a spectacular chase down the strip in Las Vegas and then cut it together so rapid fire that you can't follow it.  Weak.  The first half of the movie works, but then it goes off the rails after they kill off a main protagonist and then don't pay it off.   Do the work guys!  We are invested in these characters - if you're going to kill one of them, it better be damn well worth it in some way, not seemingly random as it was.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the original, for even as I am able to recognize that it does have problems, it is an iconic part of movie blockbuster history.  Plus my wife has a big old close up in it.  It was her first job in LA, an extra in Independence Day, and she got picked for a close up that not only made it into the film but the official trailer as well.  See if you can spot her, she's in LA just before the bad shit goes down, getting out of her car with her kid and looking up in awe.  Anyways, this sequel is pretty out of touch with what made the original enjoyable - it's set in a futuristic world that is supposed to be today and yet is pretty much unrecognizable.  Thor's brother plays the lead and I'm sorry, but he's bland and forgettable. The other lead is a black guy who I guess is Will Smith's son though he looks nothing like him and even worse he doesn't really do anything in the movie - somehow Thor's brother is the main protagonist.  What?  Why?  Pointless.


And so that's it - I laughed, I cried (especially in Moana) I kissed my $14.50 goodbye.  All in all I am very grateful that I got to see so many great movies, and even the ones I was 'disappointed in' had flashes of brilliance.   I love movies, and I want to love movies - so I'm pretty easy to please, not really a critic at all - but that's okay.   Already very much in love with the first movie I saw in a theater this year - Lego Batman is extraordinarily good!   Run don't walk, especially if you liked the first Lego movie.  It's pretty frickin' awesome!

Monday, February 06, 2017

In good company...

Interesting to me how avowed atheist and brainiac/intellectual juggernaut Sam Harris is pretty much 100% in alignment with my assessment of the election.  I don't often share a video and let it just speak for itself, but this one is six minutes of time well spent.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Star Wars: the modern era.

A year ago I foretold of a Star Wars episode 7 review and then promptly never got around to it.  I'm planning on posting my top ten movies for 2016 soon, but before I get going there's a handful of must-sees that I haven't seen yet.  So in the meantime, I thought I would weigh in on all things Star Wars in the here and now.

The question that popped into my brain right after I saw Rogue One was - "Which one was better, Ep VII or this one?"  I figured I needed to see Rogue One a second and maybe third time before I confirmed my initial reaction, so I did.

The very first time I saw it I thought Rogue One was rather slow and confusing but had a fantastic final act.  On the second viewing I was much less confused and totally dialed into the subtext of the first two thirds of the movie - in other words I liked it a lot more.  I did see it a third time, and by the time the credits rolled I was very much in love with the movie.

Rogue One is a perfect stand alone Star Wars movie, in that there will never be a sequel or prequel with it's characters (well, they may somehow talk themselves into a prequel, but that would be very ill advised) and yet this is still very much a story that will resonate for a long time.

I am never one to be enamored by prequels or origin or any kind of 'how did this go down originally?' type movie, especially when it comes to big film franchises.  I have no burning desire to see Fantastic Beasts, though I imagine I will someday, and I find the whole idea of digging out nuggets from great movie franchises and exploiting them by spelling out every detail to be rather obnoxious and speaks to a great lack of imagination on the part of Hollywood.

I don't need to see Han Solo make the Kessel Run in 12 Parsecs.  I don't need to know that Darth Vader used to enter pod races when he was 10. (Sorry George!)  Dense and layered backstories are a big part of what make franchise films great, because they are left unexplored and provide us the audience with only a blueprint, our imaginations fill in the rest.

So I was very skeptical when I heard that one of these backstory lines in Ep IV, "Many Bothans paid with their lives for these plans." was going to be turned into a full feature film.  Don't need to see that, don't need to relive the dirty dozen in space thanks.  I was fairly irritated, because what I love about the original Star Wars saga films is that there are literally thousands of little details, from lines of dialogue to set designs and costume choices, that weave a marvelous backstory just enough that our imaginations can take them and run with them.  I don't need to see the Bothans infiltrate the Death Star and die whilst fighting old school Stormtroopers and a CG Grand Moff Tarkin.

But when the first images emerged, and then the trailer, I had to admit that I was cautiously intrigued.  The trailer especially just screamed a faithfulness to the very first Star Wars movie.  I was a bit concerned though that the female lead seemed an obvious candidate to be Rey's mum, but thankfully as we know they didn't go that lazy and sloppy route.

In fact, much to my surprise and delight, they didn't make nearly any conventional choices at all in the final film.  I say final film because I understand, and can gather pretty readily by the sheer number of shots that are in the trailer and not the movie, that a lot was changed after principal photography - no doubt for the better as the final product is outstanding.

Pretty much every choice down the line was excellent; from the gritty production design, faithful to the worn-in ethos of Eps IV-VI, to the grim but determined nature of the heroes.  I even applaud that they did in fact go with a CG Tarkin, something that I had guessed at and dreaded when I first heard about this project - but somehow even that worked out just fine.  More on him later.

But of all the choices, the one that I'm glad they didn't fail to make, was the most obvious one.  Everyone does indeed die.  Spoiler alert ha ha.  This one fundamental choice, the most obvious one, yet the most likely one for a studio to fail to grasp, somehow came down on the correct side.  It in turn gives the entire movie a weight that would otherwise be absent.  Bravo Gareth Edwards and bravo Disney.

So, the characters that I loved.  Gyn Erso, from a scared little girl to an almost but not quite broken adult scrounging and scraping to stay alive.  She embodies a weary hope that eventually rises to the surface and shines as bright as the Death Star blast that ends her life.  Most of all I'm ecstatic that she has nothing to do with Rey, which would've been the easiest and laziest thing in the world.

The Samurai guy and his machine laser gun buddy.  A classic pairing of two battle veterans who somehow sense that this is the last round up.

K2SO, much needed levity and a delightfully sour disposition makes him the anti-cute droid.  When K2 got blasted in the end, I knew we were on the right path and everyone else was likely to get it too. I could also feel the collective gasp around the theater.

The characters that have grown on me - Cassian the French guy who it turns out is actually hispanic.  Had no idea.  I thought his character was a bit thin at first, I also rolled my eyes a bit at his line "We've all done things for the Rebel Alliance that we are ashamed of..."  Really?  Why?  The cause is just, don't be a Debbie Downer dude.  But okay, I can concede that war is never pretty and neither side is ever entirely clean.  The line works in the end because he does restrain Gyn from finishing off Krennic.  A great moment that gets more and more powerful with each viewing, just as the character and the actors performance grows more and more nuanced.

Speaking of Krennic, I grew to love this also-ran of a bad guy.  You can tell he wants to be a big bad ass so much, and yet just can't seem to catch a break.  Or at least that's what he thinks.  One of my favorite scenes in the whole movie is his showdown with Tarkin - the only reason that scene works is because of the actor's conviction.  Good stuff.

As for my favorite scenes - they are in no particular order...

Darth Vader kicking ass at the end.  Well duh.  Yes, this is the best moment, but it also has very little to do with the bulk of the film, in fact my big disappointment with Vader in this film is that he doesn't really need to be in it.  Still, the nostalgia juices flow heavily at the sight of this classic bad guy who demonstrates in the modern parlance of special effects wizardry just how bad ass he really was.

Gyn seeing the hologram message from her father.  Felicity Jones' performance in this scene really tugs at the heart strings, even more so than when she actually catches up with him.  She is utterly heartbroken and in her face you can see that her short life has been nothing but a long stretch of bleakness from the moment that her mother was gunned down in front of her.

The deaths of the secondary characters.  Loved how Brody the defector bought it.  So simple, so devastating.  Also dug how blind dude and machine gunner met their makers, great choices in editing  - both pacing and selection of takes.

The space battle above planet Sandals.  Very nostalgia stimulating - beautifully done.  Actually glad I saw this in 3D.  The planetside battle is also impressive, nice tactical touches keep it grounded.

The death of Gyn and French dude who was really hispanic. Probably the most powerful and affecting moment in the movie.  The filmmakers went for it and I'm so grateful they did.  My 12 year old was initially appalled, her mind was a bit blown - but I think she pretty quickly grasped that this was the way it had to be.   Very strong stuff.  I could watch those moments, when first one then the other realizes that this is to be their fate and then they embrace - over and over.  Get the chills just thinking about it.

And as for my favorite set - it had to be the Cairo like city on yet another desert planet, beautifully detailed and gritty.  A lot of labor and a lot of love went into the building of that environment.  Great action sequence in there as well.

So yes, I loved Rogue One.  It certainly wasn't perfect - a few nitpicks...

The death of Gyn's mom and her father's abduction seemed really forced and badly thought out.  It made no sense that she would try to bum rush Krennic when he's surrounded by death troopers.  I did appreciate the little girl's performance.  I also loved the production design and how everyone was soaked.  Well done.

Gyn and her father's reunion didn't play as powerfully as I thought it would - it's good, but Gyn's reaction to her father's hologram beats his actual death by a lot in terms of raw emotion.

I'm not going to bash the idea of a CG Tarkin or a CG Leia or recreations of other long gone characters and long dead actors - I'm on board with it.  But I wish that Tarkin had been a little bit more shadowed so that his CG-ness wasn't so jarring.  Same with Leia.  Still, my wife had zero idea that Tarkin wasn't real, so what do I know.

In the end - I really love this movie, and I'm very grateful that a studio like Disney which has perfected the art of the story and truly does put story first, is at the helm of this franchise.

So, how do I think this measures up against Episode VII?  Well first - I need to tell you what I think of 2015's Star Wars release.

You've probably already gathered that I love it, as it was my number 2 film of that year - but read on to delve into the what and why.

First and foremost, a new Star Wars saga film was going to live and die by it's leads, and thankfully two of the three are transcendent and the third one (the villain) shows a lot of promise.

Rey is a revelation of strength and luminescent beauty.  I am very glad as a father of a daughter who was 11 when the movie came out that Star Wars under Disney has chosen to showcase a young woman as THE hero of this trilogy.

Rey is powerful, she is strong, she is at times believably fearful and reluctant - but most of all she is hopeful.  Like Gyn Erso, she has led a very bleak existence.  Whatever happiness she might have known as a little girl evaporated in the cloud of dust that a ship left in it's wake depositing her on the God forsaken rock known as Jakku.

From that moment on it is very clear to us, and this is what I love about the best kinds of story telling in movies - that even though we haven't seen it, she has absolutely had a hell of a difficult time growing up in a very harsh and often dangerous environment.  And yet, there she sits, optomistically chowing down on her hard earned slop before clumsily donning a rebel helmet like a little kid.  I love this entire sequence, because it says so much about who she is and how she has grown up in just a handful of shots.  How many dangerous situations has she been in?  Probably a lot.  As adults we wonder how often she found herself under threat of assault of all different kinds, even the worst imaginable.  Probably a lot.  And here she is, seemingly unscathed in body and for sure undiminished in spirit.

She has had nothing but danger around her for most of her life, but she is resourceful and powerful.  She is full of hope despite everything around her that says she should be full of despair.  She is absolutely radiant on the screen and in the fully realized fictional world she inhabits.  She is completely larger than life and we are all the better for it.

But like Luke before her, she is frozen in fear of the unknown - and yet she feels the pull of destiny, and so do we.  I love Rey so much, and I am full of admiration for the young woman that is Daisy Ridley who brought her to life.

And then there's Finn.

Finn is a bit of a fuck up.  But that's why I love him.  While Rey is the larger than life Jedi to be, Finn is every bit the every man and very much one of us.

He falls down and is clumsy in almost every respect - he's afraid, he's unsure, and he is in way over his head.  And yet, like Rey, it is his hope that is his salvation.  In one moment in the first scene of the film, he makes a spectacular choice that makes him an absolute hero.  He looks at the First Order and says 'no'.  No to killing for them, no to despair.  In this way, with everything stacked against him, being stolen from his family, being indoctrinated to the nth degree, being presented with only one despicable option - he somehow looks inward and comes up with the right answer.  No.  Not this.  Not me.

In this way Finn is my favorite.  He is rightly in awe of Rey.  I mean, just look at her.  She has it all and doesn't even know it.  She's stunningly beautiful and inspiring in every way.  Finn doesn't know a nut from a bolt, quite literally in one scene.  And yet, as overwhelmed as he is, he never gives up and he never loses sight over what is right.   True, he does buck at one moment - when he almost leaves the planet with Cantina 2 on it, but Rey also has her moment of weakness there, in a spectacular flashback/dream/vision sequence when she touches the light saber and ends up forsaking it.

But in the end Finn, and Rey as well, choose to fight.  And they are each inspiring in their own way.

Kylo - what can I say.  Did not expect the choices in story or in Adam Driver's performance, but I am thoroughly intrigued by the character and I hope that Ren lives up to his promise in the guaranteed to be much darker Episode VII.

There is a lot of baggage in the Star Wars fan community when it comes to what happened after the Original Trilogy.  I am only on the periphery of this community, but I know enough to know that the subject of Han and Leia's kids has been brought up in many permutations in the books, in the comics and in the minds of fans since 1982 when the last OT film came out.  So J.J. and Larry, and Disney of course, decided to go with one kid (for now) and yes, he has fallen into the dark side.

Thankfully we are spared the details of how this happened and we can gather enough on our own to fill in the blanks.  This mostly works - but it is hard to shake the specter of fan-fiction that hangs over this choice.  This is a development that has been discussed by writers and fans for over 30 years; to have a dorky looking guy be Han and Leia's kid and have him already turned evil when the story starts - it's a tough sell, but I think they've pulled it off so far.  The success of this choice I think is largely contingent on more revelations in the next movie.

So what scenes are my absolute favorites?  Let's go down the list shall we...

The aforementioned montage of Rey at home, making dinner, eating and chilling out in a rebel helmet.  Just love how her entire backstory is captured in just these few shots, and the music is sublime.  Probably my third favorite moment in the entire film.

The reveal of the Millennium Falcon and the chase that follows.  Got a huge cheer in the theater and rightfully so, yes we are all suckers for the power of nostalgia - and the images of the old ship coming to life and staggering out of the junk yard touches the heart of every fan boy and girl.  The following chase through derelict Star Destroyers is expertly staged and utterly exhilarating, in no small part thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment of Ridley and Boyega.

Rey strapped to a chair and being interrogated by Kylo.  I am in awe of the sound design of this sequence - combined with potent performances and frame perfect editing, this scene is absolutely tremendous in it's power and implications.  The sequence of events here, Kylo's attempt at a brutal violation followed by Rey's resistance and eventually turning the tables on her captor is a bold feminist statement that plays on a very adult level.  This show is still family entertainment, but if you're paying attention to how this is set up, the consequences could be every bit as dire as the most gruesome Game of Thrones scene.  Mercifully, good is triumphant - and the force awakens.  This really is the entire heart of the movie here, Rey not only repels her potential assaulter but she has a revelation and uses it to great effect to make it clear that what happened on the Cantina 2 planet, being frozen and then knocked out, will never happen again.

The death of Han Solo, or rather what happens immediately after.  Look, I was not surprised whatsoever that Han died.  I, and any other Star Wars fan that was half paying attention, knew this was his last round up.  I can say, the sequence was done exceptionally well - and yes, despite being prepared for it, the lightsaber entering Han's chest was still shocking and a jolt to the heart.  But for me what elevates this scene, isn't the dialogue between father and son and the result (though this is all done very well) it's Rey's reaction.  Daisy's expression of horror and grief segue's perfectly into blind rage and she pulls the trigger of her blaster through her tears.  Stunningly powerful, more so even than Han's actual death and again testifies to the strength of this film - it rests entirely on the shoulders of Finn and Rey.

The final battle in the forest - specifically two moments.  First, when the lightsaber finally lands in Rey's hands.  Probably the number one moment in the film - the culmination and the promise being fulfilled of a new hero for a new generation.  I cannot emphasize how happy I am that J.J. Abrahams made sure to shoot and edit moments like this correctly - to give the right amount of time on a camera move and to make sure that the correct musical cue came with it.  This is a seemingly obvious choice of obvious tools, but I am shocked at how many filmmakers over the years absolutely miss it.

George Lucas lost a HUGE golden opportunity in Ep I when he didn't give Obi-Wan the correct emotional beat before leaping out of the pit and slaying Darth Maul.  J.J. get's it right with Rey, twice. First when she catches the saber and turns it on, and just as impressively when she closes her eyes and calls on the force before putting down Kylo Ren.  Moments of stunning beauty and clarity, all made possible by performance, directing, music and editing.

So in the end, if forced to choose between 2015 and 2016's Star Wars offerings, I have to go with 2015.  Rogue One is magnificent and gets better with every viewing, but Episode VII is the Star Wars saga that I grew up with and it's imbued with a legacy and faith that R1 only hints at.  I am grateful that I got to go on Gyn Erso's journey, bittersweet as it was - but I am even more grateful that I know Rey and Finn and will get to see what happens next.