Monday, October 26, 2015

Some movie reviews: Boyhood, The Mission, Monsters Inc., The Breakfast Club

Boyhood - Richard Linklater, over the course of 12 years, tells the story of a boy growing up. Meeting with his cast each year for a few weeks each time, we see a kid and his relationships with his family, change. An innovative story-telling approach, Linklater relied on his memories and a general outline to frame each year's action. We see the star of the movie, Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) starting in Kindergarten, having to suffer through an embarrassing hair cut in 4th grade, and dealing with peer pressure in high school. Seeing the actors grow older and seeing their characters develop is unlike anything I've ever seen. The kids' growth, both physically and character-wise, is the most amazing part of the movie. It feels so natural and organic. I really loved the movie. It is the least flashy and the most authentic-seeming film about childhood I've ever seen. Linklater's bold choice to commit to a 12 year production and the continued interest of two children is something that never would have happened in a Hollywood movie. Credit to him and his crew for remaining trend-making and original. I don't have kids, but I can't imagine that outside of real life, childhood can seen this real.

The Mission - Heroic, magnanimous men of the cloth, right? That's what you think if you believe this film. A gorgeously shot movie, it depicts the commitment of Jesuit priests to the Guarani natives of South America while Spain and Portugal fought for control over the land. There is some fine acting from Robert DeNiro, Ray McAnally, and Ronald Pickup, but Jeremy Irons seems overly detached and wooden. While the movie is gorgeously shot, the story is largely fictional. The priests followed the orders of the church and did not fight with the Guarani against Spain and Portugal. I enjoyed the film but given that the priests didn't stay heroically with the Guarani, I found it hard to get too excited over a film that is so flattering to them.

The Breakfast Club - Back into the heart of the '80s with this film. It is fabulously written and very well-acted by the whole Brat Pack cast. Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, and Ally Sheedy are totally gnarly particularly noteworthy. It wouldn't work without a fantastic script and Hughes has painted a rich (if all-white) depiction of the cliquishness of high school in suburban Chicago. Dude.

Monsters Inc - Saw this movie again after seeing it initially in the theater and it holds up well as an entertaining movie for kids as well as a wise comment on the importance of laughter. Effortlessly stylish and fantastically voiced by John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Steve Buscemi, Meg Tilly, and James Coburn, it is a film that doesn't set a paw wrong.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Gabe Kapler?

So Don Mattingly is out as Dodger manager. That is great. I have wanted Mattingly out for a while and called for it just a few days ago. He couldn't get a $300 million dollar team to the World Series. He'd had a loaded team for years, and how many chances do you get? 5 years is enough. You have arguably the best pitcher in the league and you have some great bats and you can't get to World Series? So I'm REALLY glad he's out.

But now the talk is that Gabe Kapler will become the next manager. Gabe Kapler? A guy with no managerial experience? That Gabe Kapler? Really? There are tons of black managers out there who are viable candidates at the moment. At the moment there are almost no black managers in the game. There is only one Latino manager, Fredi Gonzalez of the Braves.

There are lots of black managers out there with experience and smarts.
  • What about Dusty Baker? Dusty Baker was recently cold-calling the Padres trying to get work. He's a proven, capable, experienced manager. He took the Giants to the World Series. He took the Cubs to the brink of the World Series. He's been a very successful manager.
  • What about Don Baylor? He's been a successful manager with the Rockies and Cubs.
  • What about Jerry Royster? He was always a hard-nosed, tough player, and he wanted to manage so much that he went overseas to manage! He's paid his dues as a coach and manager in the minors as well.
  • What about Ozzie Smith? He is a legend and beloved by baseball fans.
  • What about Ron Washington? He was a great manager for Texas and is well-respected.
  • Gary Pettis has been a coach for years now. Where's his chance?
  • Hal McRae who has been a manager and coach.
  • What about Eric Davis who had a great career and has interest in giving back to the game?
Then on the flip side, you have managers like Joe Girardi who walked into a bench coaching job the year after retiring, was manager of the Marlins two years later, and the year after that, in spite of a mediocre record as Marlins' manager, became the Yankees' manager.

Mike Matheny got a job working for the Cardinals in the front office after one year of retirement.

Brad Ausmus also got a managing job having had no prior coaching experience.

This is quite apart from the absence of Latinos in management positions. There are guys like Jose Oquendo and Sandy Alomar Jr. who have been out there for some time. Ozzie Guillen led the White Sox to a World Championship. Joey Cora and Alex Cora have earned the right for consideration as managers. Same goes for Carmelo Martinez

It seems a travesty that these younger white ex-players have leapfrogged many black and Latino players to get jobs. Baseball is doing a terrible job promoting diversity in management. There isn't even the requirement that MLB teams interview Latino or black candidates.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Movie review: "Her"

"Her" deals with possible future situations in which computers are so developed that people have satisfying, fully-committed relationships with them. I think that the premise of the film is intriguing, and I found that the first half of the movie, in which the relationship is less serious, was believable. I had a hard time believing in the depth of the relationship as it developed over the second half. The world as depicted in the movie seems almost current and I didn't believe that such a complex relationship with a computer was possible right now or in the next 25 years. Yes, the computer (Scarlett Johansson) is very smart and obviously scientists in the future, according to this movie, are able to program computers so well, that people engage in relationships with computers. I just found the depiction of this relationship to be implausible and I couldn't believe in the realization of such a film, at least not at this time. Perhaps I don't want to imagine the sort of loneliness that could propel Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) into a relationship with his computer. I suppose these sorts of relationships will be plausible, perhaps within 50 years. Obviously people have Siri on their iPhones and some robots are able to fulfill specific needs in peoples' lives. People value their electronic devices and I don't exclude myself from that group. I just don't like the idea of them as intimate partners. It's a development that doesn't sit well with me. The notion of the autonomy of a computer which understands you enough to submit your writing as a book proposal is disturbing to me. I found the idea of not having any sort of image of the partner disturbing also. The idea of going on picnics with another couple and having your computer girlfriend's voice piped in via the ear feed which practically implants her in your head, is also disturbing to me. Fortunately, I think we're quite a way from this occurring. I think that we will continue to allow computers into our lives more, but giving computers a lot of emotional depth to connect to the arbitrariness and complexities of humans seems a long way away. The premise is fascinating and the idea is intriguing. However, as someone who thinks that in spite of the promise and capacities of computers, there is no replacement for relationship with another human, I am profoundly depressed by this film. I never see the genie being put back in the bottle. Our electronic devices are more intrusive and more indistinguishable from the people who have the technology. The immersion continues apace with this film and it's certainly not a trend I like. Perhaps this movie is prescient, but I hope not.

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Dad's been gone 6 months

Death is a hell of a thing. The death of a parent is terrible. I can't imagine losing a child or a spouse, before that person's time. Losing my Dad at 65 when his health hadn't been good for years is bad enough. Losing a spouse in an accident or a kid to a freak accident or some disease is unfathomable to me. Even though Dad and I were only in contact by phone the last 6 years, except for three lovely visits, the bond is still strong. What can I say? It hurts - six months later - a year later I'm sure, Dad will be missed. The permanence of death is so indisputable, unlike anything else in life where you realize that there is a chance, if you wait long enough, or make the right call, or fill in an appeal, or file some document, or know the right person, that your situation will change. Not death. I remember in P1 (1st grade for Americans), we had a thick door to our classroom that was very heavy and thick. One time it was slammed and the noise was very foreboding. Something about a door being slammed always sounds quite final. Anyway, that sense of finality is definitely what death feels like. It's cruel. There are no do-overs. So Dad, you're missed. Thankfully we had 14 years of getting along really well. I wish we had more, but we don't. You're missed Dad, you made the world a nicer place, and if more were like you, the world would be completely different. Love you.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Dodgers knocked out of NLDS by Mets

So that's what $314 million gets you.

Congrats to the Mets. Daniel Murphy was lights out in this series, and in this game hit a big homerun, stole a base on Dodger inattention, and drove in a run with a double. The Dodgers went 0 for their last 11 with RISP. Cory Seager, Kike Hernandez, Yasmani Grandal, and Andre Ethier came up short in particular. Zach de Grom wasn't dominant but managed to gut out the tough outs. His career looks bright with his ability to deal with tough situations. The Mets' pitching is scary looking forward. De Grom, Harvey, Syndegaard, Matz, and Zach Wheeler. Absolutely scary - better than the Braves' mid '90s pitching of Maddux/Smoltz/Glavine/Avery.

Don Mattingly continues to tinker too much. Why did he start Joc Pederson again today? Joc Pederson hasn't hit since about mid-July and yet Puig was largely relegated to the bench during these playoffs. Then during this game he puts Carl Crawford in late. I never understand why he makes the moves he makes. Mattingly has insane resources but never seemed to take control of the club and establish any sort of a regular depth chart for his team. It seemed he wanted to keep everyone happy and I imagine that it left players feeling off-kilter. Mattingly seemed really unpredictable and one doesn't know what he's going to do next. I'm betting that when Ethier yelled at Mattingly during this game that was the run-off from a couple of years' worth of frustration.

Kershaw won one of his games in this playoff series and that is an encouragement. Overall, I wish the Dodgers had a manager who would establish more of a depth chart and stick to it more. He tinkers too much and micromanages and I get the sense (of course I could be wrong) that the Dodgers get frustrated with it. The sense of unease within the Dodger organization is pervasive and the feeling I get from the Dodgers is not that of a dominant team.

Congrats Mets, you gutted it out and your pitching is astonishing and Terry Collins obviously got the most out of his team by trusting them.

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Movie Review: The Act of Killing

A truly amazing movie. In this film, director Joshua Oppenheimer goes to Indonesia and interviews some of the hatchet men during the 1965 slaughter of opponents of General Suharto. The hitmen are not hiding and are not embarrassed. Indeed, they are important and powerful elders, people who one does not cross. They associate among the elite of society and they are well-respected. Oppenheimer invites them to recreate their slaughter, however they see fit. This they do, to uncomfortable effect.

They try to re-create their killings in a manner in which they are the heroes, treating criminals with the cool dispatch of a Robert Mitchum or a Humphrey Bogart in a film noir. They create dark, smoky interrogation rooms in which they are the reluctant but willing authorities. They have so distanced themselves from their acts that one wonders at their mental acuity. The most prominent example of this is Adi Zukary. He is perhaps the most disturbing character in that his life seems utterly normal now. He has a wife and a kid and we see them living a most dull suburban life. They go to the mall, his wife does some shopping. He drives a car and they are concerned about which cell phone to get. He is brutally honest about what he did, but he still cannot face the fact that the victims did not deserve their fate. He rationalizes their evil and fails to see the cynicism and lawlessness of which he was a crucial part. That he was and is able to live a somewhat normal life makes him a truly upsetting psychopath.

The other killer most prominently featured is Anwar Congo. He seems to have been tortured by the memories of his actions more than Zukary. Whatever steel trap of a mind Zukary has that allows him to detach from what he has done, Congo does not have. Congo has tried everything to stop the memories of the killings. Drugs, partying, and living the high-life give him temporary relief but not surprisingly do not pardon him. He is haunted by dreams and yet at the same time, like Zukary, cannot accept that what he did was unwarranted. Rationalization allows him to imagine that his victims were deserving of their fate. He doesn't recognize them as humans or people with families and that allows him to get up each day believing himself a decent person.

The fact that the US was so integral to Suharto's rebellion and the slaughter of a million people over that year should give people pause before they imagine their society morally superior. Not a word was said by numerous US administrations throughout Suharto's tenure as President. He resigned in 1998, passed away in 2008, and it was only earlier this year that his estate was ordered to repay $315 million, a pitiful fraction of the $15-35 billion that he is believed to have embezzled during his rule. The fact that he was able to rule for 30 years and retire in peace is a travesty, but it meshes with the fates of Zukary and Congo. The fact that they lived and continue to freely speaks to the failure of Western countries to promote human rights or the rule of law for governments which they find politically expedient. It also provides context for Zukary and Congo. They are evil, certainly, but what sort of evil tolerates governments where Zukary and Congo are important figures?

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Rand Paul's fake libertarianism

Rand Paul likes to claim that he is a libertarian. He's all for the rights of the in-duh-vid-uals. Protect peoples' rights and let people prosper without interference from big gub'mint! People are smart! They hate anyone trying to tell them what to do. So government? Stay out of it! Fair enough. If that's what you believe, it's a bit socially Darwinistic for my liking, but if you're truly against government, so be it. If you think government shouldn't be sticking its nose in anything and should be small, well, we'd disagree, but I can respect that.

Exxxxxxcept, sometimes he's not for freedom. For instance, while he's supported a bill preventing the feds from prosecuting people for medical marijuana in states where it was legal, he's also played to the social conservatives by claiming he doesn't think marijuana should be legalized. C'mon Rand, either you're for freedom or you're not.

Gay people getting married? If you're for freedom, surely you're in favor of that? Right? Not in the case of Rand Paul. To him it's icky. Doesn't sound very live-and-let-live. That's not the worst of it though. In this case, the hypocrisy goes even deeper. He's willing to allow states to regulate marriage. But that is only because he believes it's the best way to ensure that marriage is defined as one-man-one-woman. So rather than allowing people to marry freely, Rand would actually use government as a weapon to enact his legislative agenda. Again, how is this man considered a libertarian? Maybe there were some asterisks in the Bill of Rights that I didn't catch? (Everyone had the right to free speech except for black people? Maybe that was in small print?)

Abortion. Allowing women self-determination over their bodies seems like it would make Paul's libertarian views on this pretty clear, right? Certainly he would want women to be able to control what they did to their bodies. Nope. Wrong again. He authored the "Fetal Personhood Bill" which defines life as beginning at conception. It would outlaw all abortions. Kind of the Anti-Libertarianism. Planned Parenthood gives him a 0 percent rating and the National Right to Life Committee gives him a perfect score. Hmmm...I'm sensing a pattern in unprincipled libertarianism.

He's also in favor of a massive increase in military spending. Again, doesn't seem like that would be the position of someone who wants a smaller government. But our Rand is a libertarian because...uh.....FREEEDOM!!!!!!

Drones? You wouldn't think that someone in favor of less government would like them. But again, Rand defies expectations. It's pretty clear that Rand likes the mavericky-impression generated by the term libertarian, but not so much its implications in real life. I'm not a fan of knuckle draggers whose unapologetic Christian conservatism would make the United States an analog of Iran, but on the other hand, at least I know where those legislators stand. That's what they want. Rand Paul likes pretend he's one of a new breed of Republicans, but he doesn't even have the courage of his convictions, as well as having icky Republican convictions.

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