Monthly Archives: July 2014

Movie Review: Hercules

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: After a disappointing start, this is a movie that is both entertaining enough and engaging enough to watch from the comfort of your own home.

Let’s get something straight right off the bat.  This movie is not about Hercules the Greek mythological being.  Wait, that’s not quite true.  This movie is about a man named Hercules who is both big and powerful and creates the myth of Hercules the Greek mythological being to help him and his crew of mercenaries land paying gigs.  After some initial disappointment of not seeing a movie based on Hercules’ twelve labors, I found that I liked what they did to spin Hercules’ myth around an all too human, if impossibly large, man.  Keep this all in mind if you plan to see the movie.

With that out of the way, what you have in “Hercules” is basically a better than average Dungeons & Dragons campaign.  You’ve got a rag-tag group of adventurers including a fighter, an archer, a barbarian, a thief, and a mystic who go on various quests for both gold and glory.  After completing a side quest, they are engaged in their main quest to save a village from an evil usurper intent on taking over a peaceful kingdom.  There are plot twists and betrayals and even some tying in character’s back-stories into the main plot.  Now I want to play D&D.

The humor in the movie is decent if a little over-acted at times.  The movie is also surprisingly endearing.  Hercules develops his mercenary followers by both helping them and treating them kindly and this is revealed throughout the movie.  How they do this is pretty cool.  The movie starts with a quick retelling of many of Hercules’ labors as the myths describe them.  Then, throughout the movie, you see the interactions between Hercules and his companions and get to know a little bit of how they came to follow him.  Finally, in the end credits, you are treated to a comic book retelling of Hercules’ labors showing how his friends actually helped him complete each of the labors.

“Hercules” is a fun if forgettable movie.  I don’t think I’d recommend seeing it in the theater unless you want to get your D&D friends together and geek out to it or if you just really like Dwayne Johnson.

All You Need To Know About Economics

There are two things I know about economics:

  1. Making money move makes money multiply.
  2. Money has a tendency to accumulate in one place.

Point number one is a variation on you have to spend money to make money.  The more any given dollar exchanges hands for goods or services, the more robust the economy is.  This should strike everyone as completely non-controversial.  Basically, if money is not exchanging hands, it might as well just be a paper weight.

Point number two is a variation on the rich get richer.  All things being equal, money tends to float to the top and into the hands of a very few people where a majority of it stops exchanging hands.  So what we get is a trillion dollar paper weight at the top of the economic pyramid.  This one is probably a little controversial, but there is enough history to show this to be true unless steps are taken to prevent it.

What do these two points mean?  Well, to me, it means that seeding the lower economic levels with money would lead to an marked increase of economic growth.  The poorest of the poor need to spend money.  They only don’t because they don’t have the money.  All that extra money circulates back into the economy immediately causing goods to be purchased which causes more goods to be made which causes more jobs to be created which causes rich people to make more money.  It’s the great economic circle of life.

So, what steps should we take?

Top on my list would be to treat all capital the same.  Right now, we have this backwards system of taxation that taxes money made from working a job at higher rates than money made from stocks and dividends.  Tax all capital equally and we create an economic playing field that is still woefully lopsided, but at least evens how everyone is taxed on that playing field.  Removing just the capital gains and dividend preferences would also give the federal government about $38 billion per year in extra income.  Next on my list would be raising the top income tax brackets back to the late 1940’s level.  That would make the top tax rate somewhere above 80%.  And before you go complaining that rates that high will hurt economic growth, average GDP growth during that time was over 15%.  That isn’t to say that the high rate helped economic growth, because there is zero correlation between the top tax rate and economic growth, it’s more to show that it won’t hurt it.

And what do we do with all of this extra money?  I’ve always liked the idea of a minimum income.  Every non-dependent adult receives $1,000 or so a month from the government.  Those that have a job would receive more, perhaps $1,500.  This system both provides for those who can’t or won’t find a job and provides an incentive for people to have a job.

I believe this system will prime the economic pump and cause the economic circle to keep rolling.  Booms may end up being less boomy, but busts would also become less busty.

Book Review: Dracula by Bram Stoker

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

“Dracula” is a book with a really good premise written by a man with no idea how to tell a compelling story.  The story is equal parts brilliance and plodding nonsense.  It is written as a series of journal entries that detail the actions of the protagonists.  It’s an interesting literary device, but it mostly falls flat because of the fact that most action happens “off camera”, so to speak, with the journal entries retelling things that happened to other people.  This makes it very difficult for the reader to establish a mood.

Despite that, there are some great parts.  Right at the beginning, the retelling of Jonathan Harker’s journey to Transylvania and his encounters with Dracula and the denizens of his castle makes for some very compelling reading.  Another bright spot is Dr. Seward’s retelling of his encounters with Renfield, who is one of only two interesting characters in the book.  Other than that, there is strewn here and there tidbits of compelling reading, but it never lasts for very long.

To show just how poor Stoker’s sense of pacing is, he goes straight from Harker in Transylvania to an overly long description of Lucy’s courtship of three suitors.  The sole purpose of this is to establish how the three of them end up joining in on the hunt for Dracula.  So we get to read page after page of courtship nonsense just so we can be introduced to Jack Seward, Arthur Holmwood, and Quncey Morris.  Of the three, only Dr. Jack Seward has a real reason to exist as he is the connecting tissue between all of the main characters.  The other two are blandly one-dimensional window dressing.

Interesting character number two is Wilhelmina Murray, or Mina, as she is called throughout the book.  Mina is probably as close to feminist as female characters were allowed to be in the late 1800’s.  She is strong-willed, intelligent, and comes up with almost every breakthrough in the group’s hunt for Dracula.  Of course, it’s still the late 1800’s so she is also the plot device to keep what flimsy of a storyline there is going.  Time after time, we have the men praising her for her strength only to immediately backpedal and go with the “oh, but you are a woman and thus must be protected by us manly men” trope.

The story itself relies on a series of not fully explained details, like Jonathan Harker’s escape from Castle Dracula, and poorly reasoned decision making to keep things moving.  This turns what could have been a page-turning monster hunt thriller into an eye-rolling, saw that coming a mile away, yawn fest.

Despite the book’s many flaws, I can still see why hundreds of years later the world is still enthralled by Dracula and by vampires in general.  Like many good ideas with poor follow through (I’m looking at you H.P. Lovecraft), much that has come since is superior to the source material.  It is still worth while to read where it all began if to only see how far Dracula has come.

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before

Everyone knows the twelve inch pianist joke.  It’s a mainstay of comedy.  But did you ever wonder what happened after the punchline?  Well, wonder no further!  It goes from the joke, to awkwardness, to sentimentality, to hilarity, and back to awkwardness once again.  It’s some brilliant writing.

Movie Review: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A beautifully produced film that once again gets to show off the brilliance of Andy Serkis of Gollum fame.  Some third act implausibilities spoil the movie some, but it’s still a worthy successor to “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”.

Andy Serkis is pretty awesome.  He plays Caesar, the leader of the ape tribe that escaped in the end of the previous movie as it maintains its empire 10 years later.  Serkis does all of the acting for Caesar, the movements, the voice, the facial expressions.  He does such a good job that Caesar might as well be human.  That isn’t to say that the other apes are two-dimensional, but Serkis makes Caesar almost four-dimensional.

The other headliner apes are also well played and the personality of each was well fleshed out, all without words being spoken, but with sign language and facial expressions.  Not an easy feat.  My only complaint about the apes in general was the insistence of the director to adorn the female apes with jewelry so the audience could distinguish sex.  Maybe there’s something else going on there that I just don’t recognize, though.  It was also annoying how much of a backseat the female apes took given that I’m pretty sure that most ape societies are fairly egalitarian about such things.

While the apes definitely stole the show, there were some good human performances as well.  Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman play the leaders of New San Francisco, with Jason being the ape friendly one and Gary being the ape hostile one.  As with the ape society, the human society was very patriarchical with only one female (Keri Russel) given any real role to play.  At least they didn’t make her the damsel in distress, which they very well could have.

The plot is mostly believable except for a few sticking points.  There’s a part in the beginning where Ceasar claims they haven’t seen humans in 2 years which seems unlikely given how close New San Francisco is, but it’s really a throw away point that doesn’t add or detract from the story.  Then there’s the apes’ use of guns.  What do you think would happen if an ape society that has absolutely no experience with guns suddenly gets hold of an arsenal and attacks the humans with it?  The apes would pretty much accidentally slaughter each other in the attack.  But no.  In this, they are really good marksapes and are able to perform a successful frontal assault on the heavily guarded human position.  I know, this was for special effects fun and allowed the movie to keep moving, but it still bothers me.

Aside from those minor quibbles, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is a good time and I would highly recommend it.  Be sure to see “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” first if you haven’t yet.  It’s not necessary to see the first, but it will add some context and it’s really a better movie in general.

I Bet You’ve Never Had This Dream

No matter how many weird dreams I have, I continue to be amazed at how weird dreams can be.  The one I had last night may be the strangest.

I was my adult self and I was playing kids games with all of my adult friends outside what I am pretty sure was my childhood home.  At some point during all of our frivolity, a large something falls down and hits me on my right upper arm.  The impact of this hit forces almost my entire humerus bone to be forced out of my elbow in some macabre Wolverine-like claw.

“Someone should probably take me to the hospital”, I state matter of factly as I pull the rest of the bone from the orifice.

What ensues is a giant argument among my friends as to who will take me to the hospital.  At one point they decide that they’ll all take me and pile into a sub-compact car leaving no room for me to fit in the car.  At another point, I somehow lose my erstwhile attached humerus and a great hunt commenced.  “Guys, if someone hid my humerus, this isn’t funny”, I said proving that even in my dreams I crack crappy puns.

I also remember being really weirded out by the motions I was able to still perform with my hand and that despite my missing bone, I was able to put pressure on my arm.  There was no pain and no blood to speak of.

I woke up before we ever figured out how to get me to the hospital.  Worst friends evar.

Weird Al Is Back!

This will probably go down as one of his best songs.  “Word Crimes”, sung to the tune of “Blurred Lines”.  Brilliant!


Maya Angelou And Dave Chappelle? Yes Please!

You should watch this.  It’s from a show called Iconoclast.  Dave Chappelle meets Maya Angelou in her home and they just talk.  It’s beautiful.  I wish they’d release all of the footage that they gathered from the meeting.


Movie Review: Transformers: Age Of Extinction

Jean-Paul’s Rating: -10/ 5 stars

Bottom Line: Every time you see a Michael Bay film, god kills a kitten.

I am a masochist.  That is the only reason I can give you for why I went to see this movie after hating every other “Transformers” movie that Michael Bay has released.  “But this one will be different,” I reasoned with myself, showing all the signs of being in an abusive relationship.  “This one has Mark Wahlberg, I like Mark Wahlberg.  Michael Bay has changed, I just know he has.”  I need an intervention badly.

The movie started off decently enough in that “so bad it’s good” kind of way.  You have an intro where it is revealed that aliens destroyed the dinosaurs by turning them all into metal despite the fact that none of the present dinosaur remains are actually metal for some reason except one that they find in a mining complex.  There is all of this really amusingly bad dialogue and acting between Mark Wahlberg, the Michael Bay token hot chick, and the Michael Bay token annoying sidekick guy.  Then Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci show up as the villains and I’m thinking that this may be a decent movie after all.  Boy was I wrong.

The rest of the movie was an insult to good taste and intelligence.  There is not a single plot point that makes even the remotest sense.  For instance, all the transformers are being hunted by a special branch of the CIA because of their metal which should have been in abundance on Earth because of the previously alluded to dinosaur extinction.  The action scenes are an assault on the senses that make no coherent sense whatsoever (except for a pretty decent fight scene between Optimus Prime and random space robot dude #1).  This, too, must explode for no reason at all because there hasn’t been a good explosion for over one second.Even ignoring the fact that there were supposed to only be 30 enemy robots in the final epic battle but the good guys ended um killing umpteen millions of them, the enemy robots have the ability to transform into this swarm of metal that can apparently fly anywhere and yet they consistently decide to turn into cars and robots.  All the better to shoot you, my dear.

I feel stupider after having seen this movie.  The following is a partial list of what would have been a better use of my time than spending the 2 hours and 40 minutes it took to watch this clunker: watching lead paint dry, peel, and crack for 40 years and then eating the paint chips, running a barefoot marathon over a surface of broken glass, getting killed by a pair of tweezers that was only used to pick the skin off of my body one tweeze at a time.