Friday, February 26, 2016

The Lobster

Are you better off as a lobster or dancing alone to techno? Those are, in director Yorgos Lanthimos' satirical take on relationships, your choices. In the film, lonely people are sent to a hotel where they have 45 days to fall in love or else be turned into an animal. It is a marvellously wacky premise and one that few filmmakers would even conceive of. Lanthimos is bright and ambitious and perhaps a bit twisted, but it's all to our benefit.

Lanthimos clearly thinks that societal pressure to be in a relationship is to be ignored. He also thinks, (although it seems like a bit of a straw man, to be fair) that those pushing too strongly for celibacy are misguided.

For Lanthimos, excessive pressure to be in relationships puts one under pressure, in which situation you will probably make a mistake or change yourself for someone else.

The scenes in the hotel, in which the absurdity of the premise is most evident, are the funniest. Hotel residents must attend dances where muzak versions of '80s standards rule the day. Residents listen to motivational segments about the difference sex can make in a relationship. These are the lightest funny parts of the film. There are other darkly funny parts of the movie and they occur later when some of the residents break out and try to establish relationships in a very individualistic environment in which the leader makes blind one member who tries to embark on a relationship with another. Given the cynicism of the movie, it actually ends on a more hopeful note, leaving open the possibility of happiness for two escaped residents of the hotel.

The movie is well-acted and directed. Colin Farrell is fantastic playing a schlumpy, depressed nobody. Lea Seydoux is fantastic as an individualist who takes it upon herself to lead other escapees of the hotel, perhaps taking the individualism a little too far. Rachel Weisz is good as another escapee from the hotel who falls in love. Across the board there are great performances and I have to believe that this film brings to life Lanthimos' vision. It is such a unique film it's hard to see how different choices might have improved it. It isn't a film that exists on the spectrum of "good/bad". It's more a film that you either like or don't like. It's a unique, and for me, very enjoyable film.

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Sunday, January 03, 2016


While this is an interesting story and Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, and Channing Tatum are all very good - with Carell absolutely astonishing, I can't say I loved this film. It left me somewhat unsatisfied. The lack of music, the seeming indifferent direction of the movie and the dryness of the movie left me wanting somewhat. It is an interesting story and well-told. Clearly Carell's John Du Pont is an unsatisfied and angry scion who has too much time and not enough to do, but as a character, I wish I'd known more about him because he is so odd. Perhaps some flashbacks to his upbringing would have helped. It's hard to know what is driving him. I'd give it 7 out of 10 based on the technical and acting merits, but the strangeness off du Pont makes this hard to embrace.

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Gangs of New York

The Wolf of Wall Street - if this isn't an ad for financial regulation, I don't know what is.

In this Martin Scorsese flic based on the memoir of the same name, the wolf consumes EVERYTHING - the three little pigs plus their moms and aunties.

In this film about Wall Street's culture of excess, one has to wonder just how complicit government agencies were in fraud. The depravity in this film is blaring and unmissable. That the SEC couldn't see or had no knowledge of it is hard to believe. If they knew and did nothing, there's complicity. Having said that, before the '29 crash, the 1907 crash, the 1876 crash, there were bubbles. Certainly in those cases also there were people with enough knowledge of the past to know what would happen that time around. And, well, there wouldn't be this movie if there were regulators without powder up their noses.

Scorsese and his team bring lots of experience and know-how to the film and showing the rise and fall of a predatory, duplicitous trading company. Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a child of Long Island but with a special drive to be rich gets off to a slow start when Black Monday of 1987 hits on his first day as a stock trader. He soon gets back in the game though. He starts off selling penny stocks but has his sights set on bigger targets. He pushes "pump and dump" stocks - with he and fellow execs buying up large numbers of stocks and then promoting the stock. However, his company wants to reach wealthier customers so that they can sell them blue chips. They are soon able to do so and while pushing legit blue chips, they bundle in lots of penny stocks which creates massive profits for Belfort and his fellow executives. As they become wealthier, their appetites for drugs, booze, and women become greater and Belfort's life spins out of control.

Leonardo DiCaprio is hitting on all cylinders in this movie. He got an Oscar nod and knocks it out of the park as a charming, drug-mad, Master of the Universe. Rob Reiner is also fantastic playing against type. Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, and Jonah Hill are excellent in important roles while there are also superb performances in supporting roles from Joanna Lumley, Henry Zebowski, and Kenneth Choi.

Scorsese has created a compelling movie. It is a rollicking ride and really shameful that there is so little regulation. If there were, perhaps we wouldn't have movies this entertaining, but our financial world might be a bit more sane.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Scalia should be wearing different-colored robes

So Justice Scalia (R-KKK) recently commented in a Supreme Court hearing that non-white students would be better off in less-elite schools because such students would be overmatched in top schools.

He believes in the 'mismatch theory' which claims that non-white students at elite schools are damaged when they don't succeed to the extent of their white counterparts.

In an amicus curiae brief filed in support of the defense, constitutional lawyer Kimberly West-Faulcon writes that mismatch theory ”based on the unproven and unprovable mismatch theory” that posits that when African-American students are admitted to elite schools, that they are damaged in some vague, ill-defined way. While mismatch students' graduating GPAs are somewhat lower, those students have been shown to be better citizens. Studies have shown that when controlled for educational background that the educational outcomes between “mismatch” students and those admitted solely based on academic qualifications disappeared.

Additionally, and tellingly, while proponents of mismatch theory insinuate that beneficiaries of “mismatch” theory are black or Latino, the truth is that most 'mismatch' subjects are white or Asian.

The fact that Scalia makes his claims about the wrongfulness of affirmative action in the Abigail Fisher makes Scalia's white privilege even more galling. She claimed that her place at the University of Texas was taken by a person of color.

Nevermind that she didn't qualify for admission to the University of Texas based on the university's policy that the top 10 percent of high school graduates were automatically admitted.

Neither did she qualify among the remaining 25 percent of the University of Texas' class that granted admission based on a broader range of wholistic experiences that the university values.

Yet Scalia still has the nerve to claim that people should be admitted to university based on their academic qualifications.

I guess legacy admissions don't count as affirmative action.

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Republican war on women

Republicans like to claim that their inflammatory language on the topic of abortion doesn't lead to violence. They like to say that they didn't explicitly instruct anyone to go and kill an abortion doctor.

Generally that's true, but when they say things like abortion doctors should fear for their lives, they are clearly lying. Youtube psycho/fame whore Josh Feuerstein - calls for the killing of abortion doctors in the above link. What might even be more offensive is the glib way he switches from baying for blood to rustling up social media followers immediately after.

Yes, after saying that abortion providers - who provide lots of health care services - should be killed, he turns on a dime and starts trawling for social media follows. The prospective murdering of abortion doctors troubles him so little that he quite easily transitions to securing more followers on social networks. Cynical, unsympathetic, dismissive of the rule of law, arrogant, callous toward women in need, and grasping for fame.

What a guy.

Another figure who bears responsibility for murders at abortion clinic is Bill O'Reilly. He trolled abortion doctor George Tiller for several years. During that time, he pooh-poohed women's reasons for getting abortions, suggesting the women thought little of ending their pregnancies He said Tiller was guilty of "Nazi stuff". He also damned Kathleen Sibelius, claiming that the afterlife would be bad for her because she allowed Tiller to do abortions. Citing Nazi stuff is troubling while invoking hell for Sibelius is also troubling. O'Reilly's focus on Tiller over the course of four years put the doctor in the spotlight on the topic of an issue that elicits strong reactions. O'Reilly's use of the term "Tiller the Baby Killer" was used on the floor of the Senate by Robert Dornan. So it refutes the idea that words don't matter, when a congressman is quoting Bill O'Reilly. Trying to cast someone you disagree with in such inflammatory terms did not kill Tiller in and of itself, but it put him in the spotlight for people of limited intelligence and extreme values. I wonder if, in the dark of the night, O'Reilly thinks about his role in endangering people.

O'Reilly might decry the actions of someone like Robert Dear, but his inflammatory speech to sympathetic and low-information viewers facilitated the murderous actions of killer Scott Roeder.

This is why it's clear that there is a Republican War on Women.

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Monday, December 07, 2015

A couple days later....

The smoke has cleared, a couple of days have passed and people, myself included are still trying to come to terms with the San Bernardino massacre. I feel everything at the moment. I feel such pain for the people of San Bernardino. I feel horrible for the families of those who lost their lives, one of whom, I've now found out is a relative of one of my friends. and I feel for those who witnessed the events.

I feel sad about the futility of what the attackers did. I feel angry at them, of course.

And I fear for the future. I'm wondering what sort of nasty backlash this will open up on Muslims in the US and I await the horrific parade of gun horrors sure to come because of lack of gun restrictions.

I'm wondering who was the driving force among the two shooters in San Bernardino. From an interview with Syed Farook's sister, she sounds genuinely at a loss for what could have led her brother to do this. Syed Farook's brother-in-law also said he was not a radical.

It definitely sounds to me as though Farook was turned by his wife who was raised by an adherent to the conservative Deobandi sect of Islam leading to a split between her father and his family. She also attended a conservative school in Pakistan where she and her religious beliefs became more mysterious to her family.

Friday, December 04, 2015

We're all San Bernardino

Another horrible act of terror, more lives cut short and destroyed. Mass violence came to San Bernardino on Wednesday. 14 dead and 21 wounded.

The horror of mass shootings came to my town. Although the grim statistics, reports, and interviews sound similar to those reports seen so many times, this one is different because it's all so familiar to me.

The perpetrators' home was a mile from where I used to do my MA research.

It's a few hundred meters from where an elementary school friend lives and near where I completed the Run Through Redlands on several occasions.

It's close to Redlands Bowl, the longest-running free summer music festival in the country.

The location of the massacre is less than a mile from where my Dad lived for nearly 10 years.

It's less than a mile from the first elementary school my brother, sister, and I attended, wide-eyed, riding the yellow school bus, when we moved to the States in 1983.

My Dad used to live only a few hundred meters from where the suspects were killed.

I have a high-school classmate whose sister worked there...everything about this massacre and the aftermath aches with familiarity.

A friend's daughter attends a school where a student took out a gun and shot someone. That hit close to home.

This one hits home even more.

San Bernardino is where McDonald's was founded in 1940. It was a stop on historic Route 66. It's been on downward trajectory since the '60s when urban renewal replaced downtown San Bernardino with a mall. This made it harder to access downtown San Bernardino and made the city center less of a destination. Kaiser Steel in nearby Fontana closed in 1985 and almost simultaneously Santa Fe Railroad moved its operations to Topeka, Kansas, taking more economic stimulus. Then When Norton Air Force Base was closed in 1994, 10,000 more jobs were ripped from the city. Having lived there through much of the '80s-'00s, I've seen the slow decline of the city.

And now this.

And the sad thing is, none of this is particularly unique. Someone aged 40 could write a similar blog post to this one about Umpqua Community College, Newtown, Aurora, Colorado, or any of the many, many, many mass shootings that have happened nearly daily for over 3 years.

Those places all mean many wonderful things to people living in those communities.

Those places had bars where people drank.

They had restaurants where people ate together.

Fathers lived there and kids had their first experiences partying in parks in those places and people made their lives in those places. Only, one day, someone with a gun took people out in those places so that people couldn't go to those parks or get married or have families or live their lives.

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Erdogan muddies the waters in Syria

So President Erdogan of Turkey has shot down a Russian jet over Turkey.

Russia was helping Syria to fight ISIS and was flying over Turkish airspace to do so. At the same time, Turkey has been accused, most recently with the Ankara bombings of October 10th, of turning a blind eye to ISIS.

Erdogan has been unsympathetic to the Kurds because of their power in northern Syria and southern Turkey. Even though (or perhaps because) the Kurdish Turks did yeoman work in the summer in preventing ISIS from advancing in western Syria, Erdogan has been hostile to the Kurds.

He has insisted that in return for helping the US fight ISIS in a "60-mile bombardment zone", that that zone also be free of Kurds.

Erdogan has always been hostile to the Kurds and by bombing a Russian jet, Erdogan is trying to press Obama to choose between Turkey and the Kurds.

Currently the US is in a tenuous position with regard to Syria. In dealing with the butcher Basher Assad, the US has resisted siding with him because of his slaughtering of protesters during the Arab Spring while also avoiding siding with ISIS.

Consequently the US tried to square the circle by bombing ISIS but not siding with Assad. Erdogan has tried to seize on this fragile status by shooting down a jet belonging to a country which is allied with an American enemy. In so doing, I think he wants to test American support for Turkey.

Will Obama stand with NATO ally Turkey or will he condemn the Turks for shooting down the jet? Obama cannot afford to alienate Turkey too much because of Incirlik air base in eastern Turkey which allows it access to the Middle East. In allying with Turkey too openly, the US would be alienating the Kurds. This would be harmful because the Kurds have been helpful in taking on ISIS. Obama is in a tough spot.

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