Monthly Archives: November 2016

Movie Review: Allied

Jean-Paul’s rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Either a poorly done love story that wants to be a spy story or a poorly done spy story that wants to be a love story.

“Allied” opens with Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting from a plane somewhere over the deserts of northern Africa.  The camera pans and rolls and moves through the fabric of the parachute as Max floats to the ground.  This is the first in a series of really weird camera views interspersed throughout the movie.  As if the director can bring some sort of liveliness to the movie to a pedestrian movie through camera stunts.  And pedestrian is the right word because we’re then treated to Max walking through the desert for 5 minutes.  Yep, pacing is going to be a problem in this movie.

Max is a Canadian spy and he’s in Africa to meet up with his “wife”, Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), a French resistance spy, so they can assassinate a Nazi ambassador.  Because that’s how you win wars, by assassinating random ambassadors.  Their master plan is to snag a rare invitation to a heavily armed and secure party for the ambassador, hid guns under the drinks table, and flip over the table and shoot up the place when the ambassador arrives.  This plan somehow works.  Oh, and they also fall in love in the short period of time they are together even though most of the time is spent talking about how falling in love is stupid for spies.

Fast forward a few years and they’re married and have a one year old child.  But what’s this?  Marianne may be a Nazi spy?  The real Marianne Beausejour was reported killed?  What’s a doting husband to do with this information?  This could make for a good movie!  But instead, we’re treated to Max doing a bunch of stupid things to try to prove her innocence.  There is some intrigue that makes for some decent suspense, but that doesn’t last too long because of the absurdity of the whole Max side of the story.  Then there’s the ending which is ridiculously drawn out even though you know exactly how it must end.

Was Marianne a spy?  I guess you’ll have to not watch the movie and not find out.  Because really, you shouldn’t see this movie.  It is mostly lifeless except for the acting ability of the two stars.  Such a shame because a double agent wife has such great possibilities and they are mostly spoiled in this movie.

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: Lots of style.  Lacking in substance.  Filled with interesting characters with nothing interesting to do.

The wizarding world of Harry Potter skips almost a century into the past and across the pond to the good old United States.  It’s a completely different world over here as evidenced by the muggles being called no-majs and the constant massive damage to no-maj buildings and streets without the consummate massive loss of lives.  Yeah, this story is kind of lazy.

Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, an Aspergers spectrum type wizard with little regard for how his actions affect muggles (I refuse to call them no-maj because it sounds stupid) unless it’s necessary for the plot.  He’s a Brit traveling to the U.S. to release a Fantastic Beast back into its natural habitat of Arizona even though U.S. law strictly forbids such actions.  Since this movie is Fantastic Beasts, not Fantastic Beast, there are all sorts of beasts that he brings with in his Suitcase of Holding.  And since we need a story, some of them escape when he gets his suitcase mixed up with a wannabe baker named Mr. Kowalski (Dan Folger).  Oh, Newt, what tomfoolery will your indiscriminate use of magic and your criminal disregard for the animals under your protection get you into this time?  Enter Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), an agent of whatever the U.S. version of the Ministry of Magic is.  The name escapes me, but it is just a lame as no-maj.  She takes the bumbling Newt in for illegal use of magic and creature even though it’s no longer her job because she screwed something up in the not too distant past and boy would that have probably made a better story than this.  Meanwhile, Graves (Colin Farrell) (hint: bad guy, if the name is not a giveaway) thinks Newt might be responsible for the creature causing destruction around New York (hint: it’s not him).  The rest of the movie is Newt trying to get his creatures back that Kowalski accidentally releases and a quick wrapping up of the thin plot that ends with Johnny Depp for no reason at all except I assume Colin Ferrell decided pretty quickly he didn’t want to be involved in any sequel.

The good news is that, despite the plot, the characters are very likable.  Mr. Kowalski especially.  And they’re likable because they’re kid-like.  The problem is they’re adults acting like kids acting like adults.  It works, but mostly just for kids.  I didn’t not like this movie, but nor did I like it.  I give it a Deathly Hallows Part 2.

Movie Review: Arrival

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: One of the best movies about language you will ever see.  Still a movie about language.

Fair warning to those of you expecting a movie about aliens and maybe some awesome alien action scenes or some hot alien on human sexy time.  This movie has none of that.  Oh, there are aliens, but all they do is arrive.  This is still a good movie, but the aliens are just a vehicle for a story, not the story itself.

The very first scene in “Arrival” showcases the life of Dr. Louise Banks’ daughter as she grows fro baby to young adult.  It then shifts immediately to the arrival of the alien ships.  Dr. Banks is a linguist and is recruited by the U.S. army to figure out what the aliens want.  Much of the rest of the movie is her trying to open up a line of communication with them.  Not exactly what you would expect from an alien movie.  It is quite well done if your idea of a good time is hearing a bunch of dialogue about language theory and how it shapes interactions between individuals.  I’m not selling this at all, am I?  Really, trust me, it’s good.

This is also one of those movies that is very difficult to talk about without giving away its secrets (Yes, a movie primarily about language can have secrets), so forgive me for being vague.  The language you speak can tell a surprising amount of information about you.  It actually shapes how you think and being able to tell how you think can go a long way in understanding you.  That is much of the premise of the movie.  It’s not important just to know what is being said, but also what is the implication of what is being said.  If I pointed to a gun and I said “weapon”, you’d likely interpret that as a tool used to fire a piece of metal at high velocity at another target for the purposes of destroying that target.  Someone not familiar with the concept of weapons might think you mean simply “tool”.  This is how miscommunications occur.  Even if you are using the exact same language, you may interpret many different things just because of how you say it.  Now imagine you are starting from scratch with an entirely alien race whose vocabulary and alphabet shares absolutely no root with any language that has ever been spoken or seen.  It is a non-insurmountable task made insurmountable mostly by our inability to think like anyone except ourselves.

If the above doesn’t sound like a conversation you’d like to have, you may not like this movie.  If it does sound like a conversation you’d consider having or would like to have, this is an interesting take on languages and how they shape our thought.  I don’t want to leave the impression that language is all the movie is about.  Its also about our choices and if we’d change them if given the chance, but language has to do with that as well.

The Electoral College Is About Slavery

There is a lot of random nonsense floating around the interwebs talking about the electoral college and how it might save us or how it is meant to protect the farmers or the people with a smaller voice or what have you.  This is all utter bullshit.  The electoral college had one purpose and one purpose only and that purpose was, along with the three-fifths compromise, to enshrine slavery as an American institution.

We Americans loves us some revisionist history.  Our founding fathers are now gods that walked among us instead of the petty, vindictive, self-centered men whose biggest democratic breakthrough was counting human beings as chattel in our founding documents in order to create our country.  Our Civil War wasn’t about slavery, no, it was about States’ Rights, a vile lie retold ad nauseam to shelter our fragile egos from the mistakes of our horrendous past.  The electoral college was designed to make sure those running for president did not ignore the small towns and villages of the country, when in reality it was to make sure that a tiny minority who believed in a sub-class of humans could continue to treat that populace with as much scorn, contempt, violence, and death as they see fit.  In other words, the electoral college was designed so people like Donald Trump could be elected.  The Senate? Same thing.  Slave owning states would be vastly over-represented in our legislature.

Don’t get me wrong, intellectually, I’m sympathetic to the electoral college.  There is an argument to be made that it forces candidates to pay attention to rural states.  There is an argument to be made that rural concerns are so outside the experience of urban centers that a special weight of consideration should be given to their needs.  There is no basis in reality that these arguments were the primary reason or even much more than an afterthought into the creation of the electoral college.

And that’s what grinds my gears.

Personally, I think rural communities should be given some extra weight.  Slavery was brought into existence by a tyranny of the minority, but there is also such thing as a tyranny of the majority as well.  The problem is they have a bit too much weight now.  They can have the Senate or they can have the electoral college.  They shouldn’t have both.

I Was Up Most Of The Night Watching The West Wing

Oh, Jeb Bartlett, why were you not running for President?

Well, folks, Republicans control the House, the Senate, the Presidency, and will shape the Supreme Court in their image.  And Donald Trump is at the helm.  Flying Spaghetti Monster help us.  We’re in for a bumpy ride, buckle up.

There is a lot of “oh, things won’t be too bad” and “there’s another election in four years” and “people were scared when Obama was elected” and “we can correct the ship then” going around now.  The people that are saying this look to be exclusively white and mostly male.  And they’re right, we’ll be fine.  Whatever damage Trump is able to inflict these next four years, white, male, middle America may have a few scrapes and bruises, but we’ll be just fine.  Everybody else?  Not so much.  Oh, I mean, sure, other groups will recover too.  Eventually.  The damage done to them, though, will take decades to repair.

We’re already seeing this somewhat with the Supreme Court’s decimation of the Voting Rights Act back in 2013.  “Congress just needs to tweak some things, what could possibly go wrong?”, John Roberts said, apparently having no historical background into the realities of voter suppression efforts both past and present.  Three years later, still no tweaks, voter suppression is in full swing, and the Republican “fix” is likely to be a simple repeal of it altogether.

Then there’s the absolutely terrifying reality of Rudy Guiliani as Attorney General.  For those not keeping count at home, we have an incoming President who won in large part on whipping up fear of Muslims that is likely to appoint a person who has spent every day since 9/11 whipping up fear of Muslims.  How do you think that’s going to turn out for Muslims this next four years?  You think things are going to get magically better for them if we manage to vote Trump out?

Oh, and did I mention that the incoming President thinks abortion should be illegal and women should be punished if they have one and he chose as a Vice President one who feels exactly the same?  And did I mention that states have been biting at the edges of Roe v. Wade for over eight years now and there are more states in Republican control now?  Oh, and there’s that pesky fact that Republicans now control the entire Legislative Branch of the federal government.  How much more damage do you think they’re going to be able to do in the next four years?  How many years post-Trump do you think it will take to repair that damage?

Latinos?  My imagination just comes up with way too many scary scenarios for them.  The mind boggles.

Of course, there’s also the rest of the world to consider.  The U.S. has still not fully recovered from George W. Bush’s World Tour of Bombardments.  Obama has deftly rebuilt our reputation with our allies fairly well, but the bombardments continue.  NATO being scrapped is an actual possibility with Trump.  His statements on the rest of the world have been so bizarre that really anything is possible.

I don’t know what to say except sorry, world.  Sorry, women.  Sorry, minorities.  LGBT community.  Religions other than Christian.  I really thought we were better than this.  I was wrong.

The One Thing I Am Certain Of In This Election

Entirely too many people are going to vote for Donald Trump today.  Right now, it’s looking like somewhere around 45% of voters will peg Donald Trump as fit to be President of the United States.  This represents a scar on the psyche of our nation that will not easily be healed.  I have no answers to give.  Like The Weekly Sift, I don’t even know why we’re having this conversation.

This election has scared the hell out of me like no election ever has.  Even though I knew logically from the beginning that it would result in the first female President of the United States, there is still agony and angst at the fact that this election is way closer than it ever should be.  There is this cult-like fanaticism surrounding Trump that is absolutely terrifying.  He’s a successful businessman despite all the evidence that the only thing he has even moderately succeeded at outside of his inherited real estate empire is building a brand around his name.  He has a great respect for women despite every single word that has ever come out of his mouth about women being abhorrent.  He has a great relationship with The Blacks despite the African-American community as close to unanimously as you can get being against him and his characterizing the community as ghettos and war zones, always to white audiences.  He has a great relationship with The Latinos as well except for the fact that he regularly demonizes them and wants to break up their families and attacked an American judge of Latino heritage and said he wasn’t able to do his job because of that heritage.  Then there’s Muslims.  At least he’s consistent with his denigrating that group without claiming any affinity with them.  That, I think most of all, his followers admire him for.

How do you combat this?  I don’t know.  Support for Trump is just so outside the realm of reality that I don’t know any solution except to stare dumbly like I would if an alien spaceship proceeded to land in front of me.  Never since I’ve been politically active has there been someone so distinctly unqualified to be President and yet here we are with Trump having a non-zero chance of winning.  When Sarah Palin hit the national spotlight with her ill-conceived Vice Presidential nomination, I was convinced we couldn’t get any lower as a nation.  Trump is the super-Palin. playing to even baser fears and even less articulate, and I have no faith anymore that we have hit bottom.  Flying Spaghetti Monster save us.

Movie Review: Doctor Strange

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A good mix of drama, comedy, and action backed up by Benedict Freakin’ Cumberbatch.

With “Doctor Strange”, magic enters the Marvel universe.  It is a difficult topic to broach in a world of superheroes with pretty well defined powers.  Magic is amorphous.  What exactly can’t you do with magic?  Well, uh, nothing?  Then how do you create a compelling movie featuring a bunch of people who are basically limitless?  Sounds impossible, but “Doctor Strange” succeeds.

Much of the success of this movie has to do with pacing.  First off, you have to devote a decent amount of time to Doctor Strange’s origins and there’s a lot of material to work with given he’s an egotistical, self-centered and brilliant neurosurgeon who loses it all and turns to mystic medicine to try to get it all back again.  Second, sure, magic is unlimited, but it’s also really difficult and most of the world destroying magic is well out of the reach of everyone except our hero and a few other trusted souls.  Third, put lots of moral restrictions on the use of said spells so that they would be used only in the direst of circumstances.  It’s not perfect, but it works well for this movie.

The thing that works best about this movie is the comedy.  It is interspersed throughout and fits perfectly within the dialogue and the personalities of the characters.  Most comes from Doctor Strange himself and you will probably not be surprised to see that Benedict Cumberbatch has exquisite comic timing.  In a world of infinite retakes and precision editing, you don’t really know who the good comedian is, the actor or the post-production people, but regardless, it works.

The action in the movie consists mostly of time warping and running through fractals and twisting landscapes while martial artsing with various magic-conjured weapons.  It is mostly well done, but can be a bit disorienting at times, but no more so than most modern action scenes are.  It’s kind of half psychedelic trip and half “Inception”.

“Doctor Strange” is so far outside the norm of Marvel superheroes, it’s hard to rank it with the others.  It is definitely one of the more entertaining and engrossing of the universe.  If you can look past the all-encompassing nature of magic, you will likely enjoy this one.

As a postscript, I think this is the first Marvel movie which I understood both closing credit Easter eggs.  Not to give much away, but they promote the next Thor movie and the next Doctor Strange villain.

Trump Wins!

After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs have finally won the World Series!  And the first seal of the Trumpocalypse has been opened.  Actually, it may be the third or fourth seal.  Wikileaks and the FBI need to be thrown in there somewhere too, I think.

Growing up, I was a huge Cubs fan.  This was complicated slightly by the fact that I also lived on the South Side.  And while it’s true that my friends and I went to many more Sox games than Cubs games growing up, thanks to the Sox basically giving away tickets, we were, at heart, Cubs fans all the way.  We would watch every game we could.  I recall senior year in high school, my best friend had a van with a tiny black and white TV in the back and we both got out after 8th period but would wait in the parking lot in the back of that van watching the Cubs play until our brothers got out after 9th period.  We would play baseball almost daily during the summer.  I was known for my outstanding skills in the outfield.  I remember a black kid that played with us once telling me that I played just like Andre Dawson when I just wanted to be compared to Andy Van Slyke.  Good times.

As I grew older, I slowly withdrew from baseball.  There was still nothing like going to see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, but my interests turned to other thing and gone were the days of my being able to name every starting lineup and rattle off statistics of who batted what in 1987, though the latter is more because of my obsession with the Earl Weaver Baseball video game in which my friends and I would play entire seasons against each other and my lead off hitter was Vince Coleman who hit .405 for me with 45 home runs and 80 stolen bases.

I can still talk baseball, but I couldn’t even name the Cubs starting lineup at the beginning of this season.  Needless to say, besides knowing that the Cubs had a young team and that Theo Epstein had done a good job putting a talented team together and that Joe Maddon was an unbelievable manager, I didn’t follow the Cubs too closely this year besides going to a couple games and getting regular updates from my mom and brother who have managed to keep the obsession.  That changed when the Cubs made it past the Division Championship.  I started watching games again and I have to say, the Cubs team is just electric.  They are talented, young, and just the right amount of brash.  And, boy, they are a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

Game seven of the World Series was one of the most exciting games I have ever watched.  It was a roller coaster of emotion, going from cool confidence that the Cubs have got this to pacing back and forth when the Indians tied it up, then to relief as the Cubs pulled ahead again, and back to nail biting agony as it gets tied up once again to go into extra innings.  Then, finally, in the 10th the Cubs pull ahead and make the bottom of the 10th one of the most harrowing sports experiences you will ever come across before finally winning.  And Chicago goes wild.

I wasn’t part of the over 300,000 people that descended upon Wrigley Field after the Cubs victory.  I was a mile away, sitting at home, listening to the celebrations that were going on all around me.  The cheering lasted well into the 1:00 hour.  Raucous, but mostly peaceful.  Chicago has a history of over-celebrating their victories, but that didn’t happen this time.  Kudos to the residents and the police for showing the world how it’s done.

Now, a new day dawns and the Eamus Catuli sign resets to AC00000000.  People are calling off of work and Starbucks is serving a few more hangover cures than usual.  Do the Cubs have the makings of a dynasty?  I think yes.  Regardless, their team sure makes baseball a whole lot more interesting.

And if the Cubs’ win portents a Trump presidency so be it.  At least Chicago got to see the Cubs win the World Series before Trump accidentally glasses over the city with a nuclear bomb.