Bye Bye AUMF?

After 9/11, in an incipient bit of cowardice and fear that still plagues our country decades later, Congress passed the Authorized Use of Military Force Against Terrorists Act (AUMF).  This was a bald faced dereliction of duty that passed easily because of a large faction of authoritarians and an even larger faction of cowards in Congress.  It basically gives the President carte blanch when going after anyone the President determines is a terrorist anywhere in the world.  Under the auspices of the AUMF, we have killed U.S. citizens, bombed sovereign states without a declaration of war, and killed untold numbers of innocent human beings.

At the time, there was one lone voice that spoke out against this abomination of legislation.  Her name was Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA).  She, and she alone, voted against it.  Well, today, she proposed an amendment to the 2018 Defense Appropriations bill that would rescind the 2001 AUMF and it was approved by the House Appropriations Committee.  Almost unanimously.  The lone holdout was Representative Kay Granger (R-TX).  This is still only a first step, being still in Committee, but it’s an important one.  Let’s hope the amendment stays in and gets passed by all of Congress.  It will put a very dark time behind us.

Book Review: Garlic And Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

Jean-Paul’s rating: 3/5 stars

I have been living my life all wrong.  Instead of cultivating friendships with restaurant critics who would then take me for free meals while they review restaurants, I have this motley group of friends every single one of which is decidedly not a restaurant critic.  Friends, you have all failed me.  Completely and irrevocably.

How cool would it be to be friends with the New York Times restaurant critic?  Especially if hat person is Ruth Reichl.  That is the main conclusion I come to after reading “Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise”.  The book follows her time as a restaurant critic between leaving the LA Times in 1993 for The New York Times till her departure from there for Gourmet magazine in 1999.  Now, you might be thinking that a book about a person’s time as a restaurant critic sounds like an incredibly boring story, but you’d be wrong.  Reichl, you see, has a hook.  After discovering that her likeness was pasted across all the popular restaurants with instructions for the staff to be on the lookout for her, Reichl decided to develop disguises complete with alternate personas.

The book is equal parts Reichl developing her disguises and trying them out at restaurants and just random weirdness that happens to you when you happen to be The New York Times food critic.  It is then padded with some filler copy of reviews straight from the newspaper and fleshed out with select recipes of some of Reichl’s favorite dishes.  The personal experience stuff is fun to read, if a little too polished.  In the afterword, Reichl does explain this polishing for time, flow, and various other literary reasons to create a book worth reading, which I appreciated.  The newspaper articles, with an exception or two, mostly break up the flow of the narrative and feel out of place.  And as for the recipes interspersed throughout, I WANT TO MAKE ALL THE THINGS!

If you enjoy food, you will likely enjoy this book.  It’s light reading and perfect for a beach vacation or airplane fodder.  People who do not like food will probably not get much enjoyment out of it, but you people are barely human so you don’t even count.

Now, to begin stalking Phil Vettel

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

Jean-Paul’s rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Finally, a solid DC Comics movie.  Solid story.  Good acting.  Wonderful supporting cast.  Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman.

Never let it be said that DC can’t make a good Superhero movie.  All it takes is a female Superhero and a female directory.  The director of this delightful movie is Patti Jenkins.  You may know her from her disturbing directorial debut film, “Monster”, about female serial killer Aileen Wuornos.  And that’s it.  She’s directed a few TV movies and shows, but nothing big screen until “Wonder Woman”.  All I have to say about that is get this woman a blank check and a script to her liking.  She should be doing more stuff.  I hope her lack of directorial credits is of her own choosing and not something more nefarious.

“Wonder Woman” begins on the island of Themyscira, where the Amazon women have lived, training and preparing for the day Ares returns to Earth to wreak havoc upon the world.  This entire back story is wonderfully retold in a sort of moving Renaissance painting style that is both effective and beautiful.  There are, in fact, many scenes like this where you can tell that a lot of love went into the labor of bringing this movie to the screen.  Themyscira itself is breathtakingly gorgeous and scene after scene on the island is so full of detail that you can get lost in it all.  The island is, unfortunately, made mostly out of whole cloth so you will be booking your airfare tickets in vain if you choose to try to visit the real world Themyscira.  Not that I scoured the credits and the interwebs looking for clues as to where to find this island paradise…  It definitely has influences of Italian islands with some Southeast Asian flavor thrown in for spectacle, so those destinations will have to do.

Diana becomes Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) when she helps Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), a World War I pilot/spy who crash lands on the island while being pursued by Germans leading to one of the most badassed movie fight scenes ever devised in which the Amazons square off against the Germans, escape the Amazons as she is convinced it is their duty to fight in the war and stop what surely must be Ares returned at last.  Chris Pine is a wonderful supporting actor opposite Gal Gadot, but Gal Gadot just steals it.  The looks.  The personality.  The accent.  Everything about her was just perfect for Wonder Woman.  As a friend said, “Gal Gadot’s personality such that you forget her looks (that’s a compliment!) but every now and then you’d catch her legs in that costume and…hot d-mn!!!”  The three exclamation marks are hers and well warranted.  I’d also like to give a little shout out to Lucy Davis who plays Etta, Steve Trevor’s secretary.  She’s there for comic relief and doesn’t have a large role, but she plays wonderfully off both Gadot and Pine.  She was absolutely delightful.

Wonder Woman, the Superhero, and thus “Wonder Woman”, the movie, does suffer from many of the problems that plague DC Comics Superheroes in general in that her powers are largely undefined.  See Superman and Green Lantern for other examples.  This leads to an epic final battle in which two massively powered individuals with undefined abilities square off against each other and inevitably leads to them throwing each other around and flinging impossibly large objects at each other until someone finally succumbs to one of the other’s ill-defined powers for ill-defined reasons.  But, while “Wonder Woman” the movie has that, it is kept on even footing with the all too mortal humans quietly saving the day in the background.  It’s a nice touch that other Superhero films often forget.  It also ends in one of the most beautiful cinematographic visuals I have ever seen.  In it, Wonder Woman is standing all badass in front of a massive crater where Ares was blasted into oblivion and the sun is rising in the distance and the battle’s wounded are struggling to their feet on both sides of her.  Like the Amazon backstory at the beginning of the movie, it is very Renaissance painting-ish and makes a good bookend for the movie.

I am so happy this film is doing well.  Not only because it is awesome and should rank up there as one of the best Superhero films of all time, but because it’s also pissing off all the right people (or I guess wrong people) for all the right reasons by its success.  And while I, for one, will celebrate this momentous movie making miracle of women headlining a male dominated genre and being badass on the silver screen and making obscene amounts of money all at once, I can’t help but recall comedy maven Michelle Wolf’s words, “You know when it will feel like women are equal at the box office? When we get to make a BAD superhero movie and then immediately make another bad one.  Men get chance after chance to make superhero movies.  No one left crappy “Batman vs. Superman” movie saying ‘well, I guess we’re done making man movies’.”  Watch the whole thing.

Missus Ann Rand

*sung to the tune of Mister Sandman

** for any words in parenthesis, imagine Ayn Rand popping out the side of the screen correcting the pronunciation.

Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb
Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb

Missus Ann Rand (Ayn), bring me a dream
Give me the best government that I've ever seen
Make it so only rich people are in charge
Then our economy will surely grow large
Ann Rand (Ayn), look at the poor
Let's take what they have and then show them the door
What a big bunch of moochers and fakers
Missus Ann Rand (Ayn) get me away from these takers

Missus Ann Rand (Ayn), let's run away
This government is toothless and full of decay
Let's take with us only the makers
And form a country filled with movers and shakers
Ann Rand (Ayn), here we'll call home
We'll build an empire more glorious than Rome
All the others will look on us with despair
While complaining that their life's not fair

Missus Ann Rand (Ayn), things are just swell
'cept for the riot that we had to quell
Just because there's not enough food
But besides that everything is good
Ann Rand (Ayn), you've got my back
You'll provide us with the things we lack
All we're missing now is clothes and shelter
Oh, and society's sort of gone helter-skelter

Missus Ann Rand (Ayn), we'll still pull through
We found a man who knows just what to do
He'll fix everything for merely a song
There isn't a thing that could possibly go wrong
Ann Rand (Ayn), our country's on fire
And our prospects are increasingly dire
It turns out that those who think they are makers
Are really some of the biggest of takers

Missus Ann Rand (Ayn), it's fallen apart
Turns out your ideas are not very smart
Why'd we think that we'd be able to build
A world in which our dreams would ever be fulfilled
Ann Rand (Ayn), Objectivism's sad
Because, you see, that the selfish are bad
Looking out for just number one
Is a thought that most other people will shun

Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb
Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb

 

Movie Review: Alien: Covenant

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 1/5 stars

Bottom Line: Sloppy. Lazy. Dull.  Improbable.

“Alien: Covenant” is a story about man’s hubris and how it inevitably will lead to our downfall.  In it, Ridley Scott attempts to make a movie so bad under the assumption that his subjects are so dense that they will go see an movie with the name “Alien” in it just because there were once two good movies in the series.  Ridley Scott was correct.  Humanity is doomed.  I think the movie itself was also about man’s hubris, but I was too busy rolling my eyes and wanting to punch something to much pay attention.

If you have seen ‘Prometheus”, I’m sorry.  But also, you’ve already seen “Alien: Covenant”.  Only this time, instead of finding a mysterious ship and acting stupid, a whole new set of supposedly smart people find a mysterious planet and act stupid.  Let’s back up a bit, though.  The movie begins with a bit of a preamble in which the creator of androids first brings Michael Fassbender online and treats him like a dick.  The purpose of this scene is to make the movie over two hours long.  Michael Fassbender takes the name David which, if you will recall, was the android in Prometheus.  Fast forward some indeterminate amount of time and now we’re on board the Covenant, a colony ship en route to planet QRQ51521 or some-such.  And Michael Fassbender is on board!  Only, he’s totally not David, but Walter this time and thus totally trustworthy.  Or is he?  Dun dun DUNNNNNN!  While in the middle of this journey, the ship is subjected to a one in a billion star event while at its most vulnerable, recharging its batteries, which kills a bunch of people and wakes up the crew from hibernation.

Let’s meet the crew, shall we?  The crew consists of: one char-boiled captain cooked in his own juices for five minutes just because it would look cool, a first officer who you should know is some sort of religious and is certain that is the reason why he isn’t captain but now he is since the ship decided to have a barbecue, at least two married couples which seems like a really bad idea for people who are expected to make life and death decisions for others, another couple who are bumpin’ uglies and thus must be punished for it in true horror cliche fashion, Michael Fassbender, and various other people who will sacrifice their lives in the name of stupidity.

While doing repairs to their ship, one crew member hears a transmission of a John Denver song on his piddly little space suit while the massive ship doesn’t hear it at all.  Because reasons.  The transmission is coming from a planet that all of their scans somehow completely missed and is almost perfect in every single way and is much better than the crappy planet they were planning on inhabiting and screw their orders and let’s go check it out!  Up to this precise moment of the movie, we’re still kind of ok.  Sure, they’re not making good decisions, but they’re at least in the realm of probable bad decisions that a crew in their position might make.  Then they land on the planet.

Here is just a sampling of the bad decisions these people make.

  • They go down to the planet, which is a tempest of storms and hurricanes and electricity.  It’s going to be a scary, bumpy ride and communications will be almost impossible at times.  Let’s do this.
  • They land on the planet.  You might think, “Well, sure, why wouldn’t they?”  Ah, but you’re forgetting, my friend, that they’re there to track down a transmission and it turns out that the transmission is coming from a crashed ship not far from a massive dead city that if they even bothered doing a fly-by first, they would have discovered had plenty of space to land.
  • They separate from the group.  This place looks like a great spot to take water samples on this completely unexplored planet.  You guys go on ahead.
  • They romp through the planet like a dog rolling in its own shit.  Let me just go take a piss and dig my foot really deep in this mass of weird spore-like looking filth.  I, too, am going to put my face up really close to this mass of weird spore-like looking filth and poke at it.
  • They interchangeably freak the fuck out and behave calmly whenever the mood fits.
  • They calmly follow a complete stranger who appears from nowhere without questioning where he came from or how he got there.  Spoiler alert: It’s Michael Fassbender, er, David.
  • They separate from the group.  “You know what, I know I just watched my friends die and we’re in this massive dead city, but what I could really go for is a nice bath.”  I’ll be right back.  No you won’t.
  • They continue to listen to David even though he repeated lies to him.  “Oh, here, follow me down into this dank hole so I can show you something after you just saw me communicating with the alien that has been making a smorgasbord of your crew.”  “OK!”

There’s plenty more, but I’m  making myself plenty angry reliving the movie so I will stop there.  There is no good reason to see this movie.  Oh, wait, no, there is one.  With every stupid, preventable death, you will secretly whisper to yourself, “Thank god they died!  They were intolerably stupid.”

Movie Review: Snatched

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Reasonably fun and funny.  Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer have good chemistry and deserve better material.

I love how easily Amy Schumer can slip into the oblivious white woman role.  She is very obviously not that type of woman given her writing abilities, but she puts the role on like she were slipping into her favorite sweatpants and sweater.  In “Snatched”, she plays Emily Middleton, who is, you will be shocked to find out, an oblivious white woman.  Emily is recently broken up with her boyfriend with whom she planned to go to Ecuador on vacation.  In desperate need of a traveling companion, she decides to bring her mom, Linda (Goldie Hawn).  While there, they are kidnapped, held for ransom, and hilariously escape.  As a side note, it was really great to see Goldie Hawn in a movie again.

The movie was written by Katie Dippold, who has a few decent female buddy comedy movies under her belt now, including “The Heat” and “Ghostbusters”, but she was also a writer on “Parks and Recreation” and “MadTV” before that, so she’s a comedy writing pro at this point.  Dippold’s humor is more awkward funny than laugh out loud funny.  Having a mom and daughter combo certainly sets up the possibility for the awkwardness to be ramped up to 11.  To some extent, Dippold delivers.  There are scenes like the breakup and family dinner that are awkwardly funny in all the right ways.  But then there are scenes like the suntan lotion slathering scene and the tapeworm scene that are just forced and not terribly funny.

The movie did raise an important question that I had never thought about.  Say you were kidnapped and managed to escape and phone the United States State Department to let them know you were kidnapped.  What would they actually do?  What can they do?  In the movie, Linda and Emile are told to get to the nearest U.S. Consulate as soon as possible.  I have no idea if that is actually what would happen, but it feels about right.

If you’re jonesing for an Amy Schumer comedy, I’d recommend renting “Trainwreck” which is far superior to this movie.  “Snatched” does, however, have a certain amount of charm which makes it worth watching, even if it’s not the type of comedy that sticks with you afterwards.

I Dream Of Dentists

Don’t worry dentophobes, this is a dream that does not include dental work of any sort.  Unless you count paperwork.  Which is painful.

I mentioned to a few people over the weekend that I need to go see a dentist because I think I may have a cavity.  This would be my first.  The horrors!  So, of course, I have a dream about going to the dentist.  It starts with me needing to choose a dentist.  I do so by the very scientific method of walking down the street from dentist to dentist and choosing one.  The one that I finally decide upon is run by a Hispanic looking man with a bushy black mustache.  I chose it because I liked the waiting room which consisted of a long, narrow hallway with dark wood paneling.  On one side of the hallway were cheap plastic chairs and on the other side was one long counter like you would see in front of a receptionist’s window.  There was no receptionist’s window.

The dentist proclaims that I must fill out the paperwork before I can see him.  He then proceeds to pull out all of these clipboards and starts lining them up along the counter, gives me a pen, and then disappears.  I begin to fill out all of the paperwork, but there are a bunch of pages that make absolutely no sense so i leave them blank.  The dentist eventually comes back and asks me if I have any questions and I respond “No”, even though I clearly do.  He starts looking over the paperwork and, noticing some blank pages, asks why I haven’t filled them out and I respond that the questions don’t make any sense.  He retorts that it couldn’t be made any clearer what “You agree to pay a $2000 fine in the event you are ever accused of theft” means.  Yes, i agree, it is clear what it means, but why should I pay my dentist money if I’m accused of theft?  He responds that we can’t trust the police to do the job so we should all come together to develop a series of fines and self-police. I concur that the police have their problems, but this doesn’t seem to be an enforceable answer.  He then goes on this rant about how his hard earned money is being stolen from him by the government and his system will create a more perfect union and blah blah blah.  “Oh great, my dentist is a Libertarian”, I lament.

And then I wake up.

Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

In the history of literature, you would be hard pressed to come up with a character who is more full of himself than Humbert Humbert.  This is a man who believes all his actions justified and all his reasoning flawless.  A man who finds everyone around him faulty except for one; his Dolores, his Dee, his Lolita.  The words he uses to describe Lolita and his actions with her and his thoughts about her are absolutely beautiful and flowery and flowing.  Coming from the right man, they are words that would make women melt and Humbert Humbert will readily tell you he is the right man.  And he’s right.  They are gorgeous words and they flow effortlessly and effusively from his tongue to his object, Lolita.  Then you remember that Lolita is a 12 year old girl and you get the heebie-jeebies.  Nabokov must be greatly commended for pulling off that feat.  This is not a puerile or erotic book despite its subject manner.  You won’t find lurid descriptions of two people rutting, but you will find incredibly imaginative ways of Humbert Humbert telling you that he has an erection or that he came in his pants.  Seriously, there were parts where I had to reread because I was like, “Did he just describe what I think he described?” and the answer was always yes.  it takes a while, but you get used to it.

This is not an easy book to read, not just for its subject matter, which is disturbing, but also for the depth of its prose and the breadth of knowledge of its author.  The allusions and references are so obscure and the use of the French language so frequent that I was left wondering if maybe the joke was on the reader and the whole purpose of those passages was to make them think that Humbert Humbert was a man of the world when in reality he was mostly talking out his ass and just making this stuff up.  This belief was solidified by the fact that not only did I have to look a record number of words up, but many of the words were not found in the dictionary provided by my Kindle.  The artists and poets and philosophers he references are, indeed, real though, and there’s nothing I can find that says much of Humbert Humbert’s words were BS so I have to assume that it’s my poor dictionary and my lack of vocabulary that are to blame.  Do not worry too much about this if you decide to pick up the book.  I would have liked to be able to fluently read the French in the book, but the rest of the dense passages have enough context around them to maintain comprehension despite the feeling of ignorance you may feel.

I have a theory.  Everything that happens in “Lolita” is all in Humbert Humbert’s mind.  From the introduction by a psychiatrist, to his “affair” with Lolita, to his eventual unwinding and jailing.  The only truth may be his remembrance of his childhood and possibly his predilection for nymphets.  His story is a little too perfect, a little too full of coincidences to be real.  “Lolita’ is his imaginings of what he would have liked his life to be.  The psychologist’s foreword represents his need to feel important.  Lolita represents his repressed childhood romances.  His manic search for justice, the longings of an impotent man to make his mark on the world.  No, Humbert Humbert is sitting in a psych ward somewhere getting the help he needs but will not accept.

Hitting That High F

The woman you are about to listen to is Diana Damaru and she has the most amazing voice.  But it’s not even just that in this piece.  She’s also incredibly emotive when she’s singing, which is apparently quite rare for opera.  As my friend who is really in to this sort of thing said, operas are known as “park and barks”.  Which is hilarious.  This clip is of her playing the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte) opera.  The song is called Hell’s Vengeance Boils In M y Heart, but like everything angry, it sounds better in German: Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen.  Every single time I listen to this piece I giggle with glee when she hits that high F note.  In fact, I’m giggling just thinking about it.  How in the world does that come out of the mouth of a human being?  Enjoy.

Gravity

You have gravity
And everyone around you
Longs to be in your orbit,
Feels that imperceptible tug
That draws them inexorably towards you.
Some feel it but for a moment,
That nascent pull calling to them
Before continuing on into the universe.
There were those that that were trapped,
Pulling them faster and faster,
Burning them brighter and brighter,
Until they disintegrate in your atmosphere,
Never to be seen again,
And yet others whose pieces explode on your surface
Leaving fragments that will remain forever.
There are those that dive deep into your well,
Feeling the fullness of your world,
Before slingshotting away into the void.
Then there's your solar system,
People describing perfect orbits around your being,
Drinking of your warmth and radiation,
And giving of the same in return.
Their orbits may differ,
But here they will stay
And no act of nature
Will take them away.
You have gravity.
All eyes turn to see you,
The fire in your eyes
And the bounce in your step.
You have gravity.
The melody of your voice,
All ears tune on in
To hear your sweet song.
You have gravity.
Your touch is a shock,
Jovian storms start to spin
and supernovae explode.
You have gravity.
Your smell pulls me in,
Ten seconds to contact
and all systems go.
You have gravity.
Your taste is delightful,
I am lost on your surface
And here I will stay.