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18
Dec 17

Off the Cuff review of THE SHAPE OF WATER

We saw THE SHAPE OF WATER tonight. This fine film is the overall-best del Toro film I’ve ever seen. His films are always rewarding but this one is the best-balanced, the best paced, the most effective. It only cost 20 mil to make and it’s in limited release right now but it’ll be a success for him and will get many award nominations. Sally Hawkins is superb in this as the mute girl who encounters a strange creature trapped in a secret govt lap–a creature which, yes, was probably in part inspired by the Creature from the Black Lagoon. And there is a line in the film that seems an homage to that movie. But this isn’t some kind of sequel concept or reboot of Creature from the BL. This is a branch, an offshoot, a volunteer growth with a life of its own. It is its own movie. It’s not at all dependent on that film. It’s a way better film too (though actually the C from the BL is a damned good movie of its kind).

THE SHAPE OF WASTER shows us once more that an auteur with a good vision is always way better than a lot of creatures from the green-fixated studio–always better than a movie  under  significant studio control. del Toro co-wrote and directed and it’s a seamless vision. There are a couple of dream sequences, in a sense, and a surreal quality that never is too heavy handed. There’s just enough of it…I don’t want to say too much because it’d risk spoilers. There are surprises in the story, and there are things that probably play out the way you thought they would, but this film has no shortage of suspense, you’ll probably never feel bored. Unless of course you have no goddamn heart…I’ll just finish by saying that sometimes I thought of the French movie Amelie, oddly enough, but it reminds me more of the better Tim Burton films except this does human feeling, suffering, romance, far better than Burton could. Oh and actually all the actors in this are really, really good.


12
Dec 17

A Simple Dilemma: The Internet Intensifies Idiocy

There are a thousand complex, nuanced theses about the value of the internet and, alternately, about its destruction of values. But I suspect the main thing to be concerned with is madly simple. It is this: the internet magnifies stupidity. It’s like one of those converters that boosts voltage…the voltage of sheer stupid. It’s like insistently wearing the wrong prescription glasses–glasses intended for clarity suddenly make things blurrier. Lenses that increase blur! The internet intensifies imbecility. If we quantify stupidity, if we look at stupidity as a kind of data-set, we can see that the internet tends to magnify it. It’s like gravity, erosion, and where the water goes.

We can blame the internet for the astounding increase of people who are *not joking* when they insist that, yes, the world is flat. This is a THING now. We actually, truly have to get in complex arguments explaining that no, those pictures from space aren’t faked, no, planes aren’t flying around the edges of a disc, no no no. They overlap with the clueless clods who claim we didn’t land on the moon…Conspiracy-theory political groups, radically idiotic racists, were relegated to a tiny little corner before the internet. But the web allowed them to find one another and they propagated ideologically on the web, using its cheap marketing methods to sell ideas…and Alex Jones became a big name, an actual success, who influences the President of the United States. The people who claim that gun massacres are faked–they propagate their fallacy through the internet.

You can choose your filter, your bubble of pseudo-info on the internet. You need never get another point of view–ironically–if you just keep following the same links in a moronic circle reinforcing falsehoods. The internet is the greatest tool of the Big Lie. Repeat, repeat, and repeat in variations. And its superpower is this: it rewards laziness and impulsiveness, it rewards what’s low in us…

Oh I could go on and on with examples…Like the degree to which it helped Trump get elected…Yes, I know I’m using the internet to say this, and intelligent people magnify one another on the web too–but we are in the minority. Because thinking requires thinking–it requires effort. It requires a willingness to engage complexity. The internet seems designed (or has devolved) to do a better job of spreading lies than truth; of supporting stupidity instead of sense.

We have to find some proactive way to change the goddamn thing before it gives us permanent societal brain damage.


9
Dec 17

My off the cuff review of the JUSTICE LEAGUE movie

Superman, Superman, does whatever a soup-can can. . .We finally got it together to see JUSTICE LEAGUE and we both enjoyed it. You know, I’ve been waiting 55 years to see this movie. I wanted such a movie when I was ten…My ten year old self watches it with me, as if sitting on my lap, and he was goggled eyed with pleasure. My older self simply enjoyed it… The complaints I’ve heard are, one, villain didn’t have enough characterization/background. What, they want to show this ancient godlike being weeping because his mother abandoned him or something? (Actually he does have mother issues of a sort…) He’s just not that kind of character. No, he’s a force of nature. He’s more of a Jack Kirby comic book character. And he is one, too. Kirby left Marvel for awhile and created the New Gods for DC, which are referenced, along with Darkseid… You want more characterization, go for Lex Luthor.

Two, people bitched CGI not up to speed, other FX not up to speed. I dunno. It’s *not the same* as the Marvel Productions style of CGI. It looks more like something from a comic book, without being cartoony. Marvel’s look (at its best) is always grittier, somehow, a little more fully dimensional. But I think this is about a company style. Oh maybe it could’ve been a little better, in Justice League. But it was still in the upper echelon of CGI.

Three, complaints about the action. Mostly I found it quite easy to follow, though there was a certain patchiness now and then. In truth, Zack Snyder can be a tad clunky, in editing and in the way he shoots dialogue between two people, for example… But it was still a delight to the ten year old in me and worked well enough for the adult. The adult noticed that some of the byplay between League heroes didn’t quite come off. I blame the director. He’s not terrible but he could’ve worked everyone harder.

I think fans today are spoiled. They expect too much. To me, if a superhero movie is reasonably coherent–especially one with all these heroes–and if it is more or less internally logical, and looks pretty good, I feel lucky. I shake my fist at the spoiled fans and tell them to get off lawn…There are many delights in the film. The guy who plays the Flash is a lot of fun, is funny, has good timing and has a *wonderful* face. He could play an elf or a Vulcan. Enjoyable character. Aquaman, a powerful presence–you know how people are said to have been raised by wolves? He acts like he was raised by California surfers. It works for him. Wonder Woman a pleasure as always. Opening scene with her in action was one of the best things in the film…Fierce! In fact you get to see a whole bunch of fierce muscular Amazons really roaring through combat and some guys I know will re-run that part over and over, their eyes wide…Opening scene with Batman in action was very like old comics, which was something I loved.. His behavior toward the burglar toward the end of that scene puzzled me though…And of course the return of Superman, which I very much dug–that’s no spoiler, it’s in the trailers…The interaction, bickering and teamwork, between the heroes was entertaining….Cyborg character worked well–the actor manages to project big charisma despite all the metal on his face…

Hard to make a film like this, with so many superheroes, really flow smoothly. They juggled all the balls well enough…This is an “origins” movie of the Justice League and it worked fine as one. I give it Three …what? Three hero fists? Three batarangs? Three lightning bolts?


25
Nov 17

An off the cuff review of COCO

We saw COCO. Certain Caucasian *dweebs* have been hissing malevolently about “cultural appropriation” relating to this film. *Some* Hispanic critics were concerned about it too, in advance of its release, because of the Day of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, underpinnings of the story of this boy in Mexico having adventures with ancestors in the afterlife, finding clues about his family’s secrets, and more…But I think they’ve changed their minds by now–it’s a big hit in Spanish speaking countries–and every *actual* progressive person (that is, an actual progressive person is not ignorant–and only the ignorant think that culture is ever purely any one thing) should take their families to see COCO. It’s definitely a movie glorifying cultural diversity.This movie, keep in mind, is the most successful film of all time in those countries — partly because so much care was taken with the Spanish language dub, which apparently is far better than they usually get from American distributors.

Hopefully this film will calm remaining Hispanic critics, partly because its originating writer and co-scripter, co-director, and producer, is Hispanic, partly because all the voices are by Hispanic people, and partly because the music is written and performed by Hispanic artists, and partly because of its great fondness for this aspect of Mexican culture. Anyway, this excellent animated film has the true state of the art animation going–it’s some of the most startlingly real, startlingly detailed, startlingly well designed animation I’ve ever seen. It’s worth going to just for that. It’s visually gorgeous. You’re gonna love the spirit guide animals…And if you like Halloween or Day of the Dead imagery, or even, say, The Nightmare before Christmas, you’re going to enjoy the boneyard antics of this…

At first I thought the story was going to be a bit predictable–it seemed on that path. But then, a surprisingly well-hidden plot twist emerges, and another, and the story takes on new life just when I thought it might flag. They went to great trouble, as you may’ve heard, to animate the fingers of the characters playing guitar so that they were playing accurately, fingering properly for each note. And that kind of shows you the lively attention for detail and appreciation for culture in this film. Strongly recommended. I saw it with my wife and adult son and his girlfriend–had no little kids to take–plenty in it for grown ups. Has a great character for dog lovers too.


14
Nov 17

“Everything there was razed at the turn of the 20th century”

The assholes came in a vast locust-like swarm over the horizon and tore away everything pleasing and built whatever would route all that remained into their mouths as feed, and then they left their geometrically striking housing complex shaped defecations across the landscape and moved on, and moved on…

And moved on and on and on.


13
Nov 17

ONLINE AD FUNGUS SPREADS INEXORABLY TO YOUR BRAIN

I have said that the internet is a wilderness, where predators roam. Sure, sex predators, spammers and scammers, but there are sites that are mostly quite reputable–and yet they host con artists. This kind of thing is “very internet”. There is a hothouse atmosphere of haste and desperation, that sizzles around finding ways to monetize websites. CNN dot com, even MSNBC online, BBC news–they’ll monetize by putting up sponsored “stories” and and flatout ads, without checking the companies (or “companies”) out. In fact, cable channels do the same thing–ads for fly by night, often outright fraudulent products they should know perfectly well are bullshit…But the online links, if you accidentally click on them or are seduced to do so, are worse, because they’ve more fully drawn you into the world of their bogus ad. The initial “headline” makes it seem like an actual news or “scientific discovery” link…They’re often with a group of other links and I have three times clicked on one when trying to click on a legit link, just a slip of the finger. In one case I found myself in a website that seems to advertise something and then turned out to be a delivery system for actual ransomware/malware. I was able to defeat said ransomware, but it made me furious that it was caused by a link these ransomware scumbags had paid for at a reputable site. . .But that’s rarer, I think. Mostly what you end up at is fraudulent product sales, often taking advantage of the dotty elderly or poorly educated people.

This happens because CNN or CBS, whomever, has a separate sub sub sub dept that sells ads, and gets to put them up wherever, to make the website profitable, without any oversight. No one seems to vet the ads and it’s crazy irresponsible. I just ran into one that sent me to an ad for a fake substance (a fake herb, which does not appear in any legit place if you google it, I checked when I reported it to the FTC) for losing bellyfat and there was an “endorsement” by Oprah Winfrey–only, she never endorsed it. It’s really common for these online con men to have a made-up, utterly fallacious endorsement–one was for a brain enhancement pill “endorsed by Stephen Hawking”! Oh yeah, Hawking “takes it every day!” they told us. The celebs being used this way–Neil Degrasse Tyson was another–should work to take these guys down.

There is no address given for the “company” selling these goods. Just an online ordering system. By allowing scumbags to sell via their site, CNN and others–even the Raw Story–are in effect lending credibility to these con artists…One common “story” repeated with variations is about how “veterans don’t know about special twenty thousand dollar payment due them” — if you follow the link, as I did once to confirm my suspicion, it’s a come-on for a company that says it’ll help you get the money, if you pay a fee. But they don’t actually exist, except as an entity taking your fee. So they’re screwing over veterans. And CNN and pals are blindly, stupidly, helping them do that. The internet’s hothouse of monetization desperation has grown some strange fungi. It has allowed in predators, or, if you like, invasive species of scammers who could be easily weeded out. But somehow the whole “anything goes on the internet” myth allows otherwise decent websites to shrug off responsibility..


10
Nov 17

Those of You Who Feel We Should Not Surrender to the Extraterrestrials

Those of you who feel we humans should not surrender to the extraterrestrial invasion force have not seen what I have–their vast superiority in fire power. They can burn us into powder and blow us away. Whereas if we surrender, we’ll all be guaranteed jobs–some will be miners, some will be employed loading special minerals onto ships, some will employed as food, it’s all important work–and we’ll have true worldwide peace for the first time! Some of us have been asked to act as special intermediaries, supervisors over the rest of humanity, because of our pro-actively signing up for the job, when we got the private notifications. I’ll be happy to answer your questions at the UN this Monday. I’m sure when the news about the invasion came out this evening you were all quite horrified but–oh. What? Today isn’t the eleventh of November?! Oh! I thought…I mean…We’ll talk saturday when, uh..that is…I was just kidding. The whole thing. A joke. Forget it.


6
Nov 17

The Casting Couch: Just Another Kind of Rape

We’re all talking about sexual harassment. I hear a good number of social media people chuckling about “the casting couch”. Sometimes they add, “Oh she has to be prepared for that, it’s just what that industry’s like…They all did it, y’know, ha ha…” There were plenty who side-stepped or just refused and walked away. But what about that actress who let Weinstein in a second time–after he’d assaulted her the first time? What about women like her?

A powerful, connected man lies to the actress, and manipulates and intimidates; he’s dangling her heart’s desire in front of her and at the same time, flexes his business muscles at her, and, in a sense, clenches his fist, hinting that things will never go right for her if she doesn’t play along. He has *the whole weight of the male dominated industry* behind him. She’s spun with confusion.

The actress has put every other possibility aside in the pursuit of her chance; she knows she’s got talent and appeal and she can do this if they’ll just give her a chance and it’s such a difficult obstacle course and–then thugs like Weinstein get her alone, and push her around. She’s got an agent, or she doesn’t, but either way, she’s really alone. And the whirl of the business, the prospects and the obstacles, are confusing–they’re confusing to anyone in her place. And while she’s probably no virginal child, she’s still fairly naive. And he’s taking advantage of all that. In fact he’s not so far from a drooling stepfather alone with his wife’s confused pubescent daughter.

There’s more than one kind of rape. Manipulating, intimidating a woman, can be part of rape too. It’s not a joke.


6
Nov 17

Only One Thing Can Save This Country from Fascism

Actually there’s only one thing that will save this country. Because the problem isn’t just Trump; it isn’t just his cabinet bent on ruining schools and the environment. It’s also the right-wing stranglehold in the Supreme Court; it’s voter suppression; it’s the vacuous who buy into fraudulent news sources, and the yawners who sneer at the value of voting; and of course it’s the Republican party…It comes down to laws; to congress, and courts.

And the one thing that will save us, ultimately, is fundamentally altering the makeup of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives; which means *getting out the vote*, getting more people than ever before to vote for progressives in the mid term elections and in 2020. Large numbers of people who basically feel as we do just don’t vote. That has to change.

There has to be so many new and determined voters the Republicans and the alt-right can’t stop them with gerrymandering and suppressing voters and fake-news. It has to be overwhelming. And it could be done–if we made finding new progressive voters our primary mission. Which means convincing caring, decent people that voting *does* matter; it means spending more to educate people on the issues so we fuel their determination for action at the ballot box. Only a major change in voting patterns will save this country.


6
Nov 17

My off the cuff review of THOR: RAGNAROK

We saw THOR: RAGNAROK. The Jewish/Maori New Zealander director of such relatively modestly budgeted films as What We Do in the Shadows had to really step it up to get this gigantic thing done. The scope of this film is huge. We had a good time watching it, and drinking it all in… The decision to bring so much comedy into it–there’s drama and serious stuff and  lotsa action but the comedy is there most of the time–might’ve been controversial at the studio, but it paid off for this, people seem to dig it. Also the film would be too ponderous without it. It comes right up the edge of being the tone of a sitcom in many scenes. Even a bit of slapstick. (Eg, the scene with Dr Strange.)

I felt that Taika Waititi’s directing was good–especially with the comedy–but some cuts and edits and directorial moves didn’t quite work. As an example when Strange was magically moving Thor from room to room, that wasn’t set up very well, in terms of continuity and comedy, but just well enough that I enjoyed it when I figured out what was up. Mostly the direction is good, and the imagery is so rich, it’s so very eye candyish (with occasional lapses of “realism” in the background images), that one feels quite rewarded for this ride. There’s some great satirical moments especially Jeff Goldblum’s grandmaster turns–and as for the comedy writing…Occasionally it’s a bit too cutsey sitcom, with predictable lines too much like internet snark, and other times it’s rather witty. It kept me smiling and sometimes laughing. Chris Hemsworth does comedy quite well…Visual inventiveness was really at a high level on this film. Set designs, art design, stunning…oh and Cate Blanchett makes an excellent super-Maleficent type villainess in this. Very sexy as the goddess of death…And yes the semi-comical tone was likely influenced by the success of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Here’s the thing–if you are into going to an ESCAPIST film, right, this is it. It’s fast paced, writing ranges from good to very good, acting is all good–the director  voices the big rock guy Korg and he’s SO funny, the incongruity, and his style–lots of Thor heroic action, moments of Thor without his shirt for those who particularly enjoy that, lots of funny scenes with the Hulk…and there’re lots of science-fiction space opera-ish action as well as the fantasy stuff…well, nothing’s perfect, but for escapism, yeah, this offers it. Spend your money.