Wednesday, August 10, 2016

YOUR 2016 PRESIDENTIAL VOTER'S GUIDE



The sociology of this year's presidential candidates is more easily understood if you analyze them through games.


Hilary Clinton sees herself as the queen on a chessboard.  She sees nearly everyone else as pawns--disposable pieces with limited abilities.

The notable exception to this is Bill, her husband.  He's the king on the board--a doddering old piece that can move in any direction but has no range.  His many moves make him unpredictable, but his lack of range renders him a liability.  There's only one reason Hilary wastes time defending Bill--she can't win without him.





















Donald Trump sees the world like a game of checkers.

While chess is a game of subtleties, checkers is simply a game of eat or be eaten.

The rules of checkers say players must attack any opponent that moves into their orbit, even if it means stepping into a trap.

When Khzir Khan spoke at the Democratic National Convention, he moved into Donald Trump's orbit.  Because of his checkers mentality, Trump saw not alternative but to attack.

Just as checkers can only move forward until they are kinged, Trump marches straight ahead trampling everything that gets in his way.






Friday, August 05, 2016

THE SUICIDE SQUAD DESERVES A BREAK!

Suicide Squad,  Warner Bros.Studio's latest DC Comics adventure, is getting a lot of bad press.  "How bad?" you may ask.  It's down to a mere 27 percent on Rotten Tomatoes; which, coincidentally, is the exact same score that Rotten Tomatoes gave to Batman v Superman: The Dawn of the Justice League as well.

So let me get this out of the way before I forget--Suicide Squad is a much better film than Batman v Superman.  It is better written and has a far more coherent story line.  Kyle Smith of The New York Post suggests it should be compared with Green Lantern.  That's a catchy, pithy comment, kind of like saying that The New York Post isn't as respected as The New York Times so maybe we should compare it with The National Enquirer.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, I used to write for The New York Post.  It's a paper I've always liked.)

Suicide Squad takes place in DC Comics's Gotham Universe, but this time it's the villeins who take center stage.  Pressed into joining a squad of disposable heroes, seven of Batman's lesser enemies are sent to Midway City to stop evil forces from destroying the world.  This isn't just The Dirty Half-Dozen; it's The Disposable Half-Dozen being led by a no-nonsense special forces operative named Rick Flag who has been instructed to blow their brains out with the tiny explosives should they disobey orders or attempt to escape.

And who's on Flag's team?  Well, he doesn't get Joker, Bane, Scarecrow or even Penguin.  Nope, Flag gets a B-team ranging from Deadshot, the hitman who never, ever, ever misses, to Captain Boomerang.

I'm not a die-hard comics reader, but I've read about Deadshot.  He's a bad guy I can respect.  Captain Boomerang, not so much.  Apparently he's an Aussie jewel thief who throws nearly sentient razor-sharp boomerangs.

The rest of Flag's dirty half-dozen includes Harley Quinn, a psychologist turned homicidal sociopath with deep romantic ties to the Joker; Killer Croc, a lumbering half man/half crocodile; Diablo, who's sort of a human torch; and Slipknot, who's sort of a human fly.  Personally, I see where having a never-failing sniper is useful.  Harley Quinn certainly proves herself.  Having a human flame on your team makes great sense.  The guy with the boomerangs and the one climbs walls but doesn't spin webs... RED SHIRTS!

So Flag, a team of SEALs and the eponymous Suicide Squad crash land in Midway City thinking they're going to fight terrorists and find themselves fighting the blandest army of movie morphetes since Guardians of the Galaxy showed us the Kree.

Like any Dirty Dozen, the Suicide Squad starts out dysfunctionally.  Harley Quinn is so crazy that no one takes her seriously, the ultra repentant Diablo doesn't want to cast his flames, no one trusts Flag, and, of course, they are all out for themselves.  To quote Harley, "We're bad guys; that's what they do."

The movie pretty much proceeds by the numbers.  If you're looking for originality, you're looking in the wrong place.  For the most part, Suicide Squad is about entertainment, not art.  In fact, the big finale battle at the end of the movie is dismal, predictable and downright anticlimactic.

What is not anticlimactic, what makes Suicide Squad worth the price of admission is the characters.  No, I don't mean Flag.

Let's start with Amanda Waller, the evil jailer/asylum superintendent who comes up with the idea of creating the Suicide Squad.  Played by Viola Davis, Waller is the cinematic expression of Hilary Clinton--a heartless, calculating political operative who dutifully sacrifices everyone around her in her effort to maintain power.  Waller takes no glee in sacrificing others, it's just another means to an end.

Diablo, played by Jay Hernandez, is Waller's polar opposite. Deeply troubled by past deeds, he wants nothing more than to vanish from sight.  This is a soulful super villein, and brilliantly acted.

And speaking of brilliantly acted and soulful, Will Smith does a sensational job of reminding movie goers why he was the biggest name in Hollywood not too long ago.  Smith brings integrity and sociopathic swagger to the role of Deadshot.  He's the natural leader of the group, a veteran killer who, for all appearances, can mix in polite society.  I had forgotten what a forceful personality Smith brings to parts that might otherwise have been bland.

Smith and Hernandez are quite good, but the movie belongs to Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, and she never lets you forget it.  Her melding of insanity and sensuality is hypnotic.  You can't look away.  There's not a scene she doesn't steal. Even when the script becomes insipid, and it does more than once, Robbie still breathes life into otherwise stillborn moments.

If this movie doesn't serve notice that Ms Robbie is the Michelle Pfiefer, of the millennial generation, nothing will.


And then there's the Joker.

A lot of noise has been made about Jared Leto's portrayal of Joker.  I hate to break it to you, but he's not a member of the squad.  The Joker is an A-lister with a capital A in the DC universe.

Leto's Joker makes a few appearances in Suicide Squad, he is Harley Quinn's main squeeze after all, but he's mostly a distraction.  Also, he's a bit of a disappointment.  (I mean the Joker, not Leto.)

Don't blame Mr. Leto for what the Joker has become.  I doubt he designed the look and he's not credited for writing the script.

Jared Leto's Joker is more gangster than super villein.  Oh, he cackles and he says strange and scary things, but so much of this Joker hearkens back to other movie gangsters that he loses his unique appeal.  There's a frame when Joker pops up with a machine gun that just had to be an homage to Flattop in Dick Tracy.

Overall, this Joker is all too familiar.  He's Tony Montana from Scarface.  He's Nicky Santoro from Casino.  He's Water Buffalo from The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight.  Sure he's a little crazy, but that's de regueur for dangerous guys in gangster films.


Even after all of that, I'm only giving Suicide Squad a seven out of ten.  First of all, the story may be told by the numbers, but the numbers don't always add up.  There are loose ends and silly moments that make no sense.

Also, it's never-ending barrage of special effects wears thin eventually.  The biggest problem, though, is the bad guys.

After all of that hype about Batman's baddies going against unconquerable foes, the movie devolves into a Ghostbusters ripoff in the end. Comparisons of Enchantress and Gozer are inevitable, so let me be the first.

Gozer from the 1984 Ghostbusters
Watching Cara Delevingne squirming amidst lightning and magic was eerily similar to watching Slavitza Jovan in the 1984 classic. (Forget the new Ghostbusters; I already have.)

As demonstrated in these pictures, the visuals were remarkably similar, and both devil women used similar speaking voices.  The scenes are so similar, in fact, that you can almost hear Billy Murray calling Enchantress a "nimble minx."

In the end, though, Suicide Squad is absolutely worth watching.  It may be special effects intensive and flow by the numbers, but the characters themselves are just the right amount of crazy, so much so that they make it a film worth watching.















Saturday, June 04, 2016

HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION, FATHER OF RAP, TAKER OF STANCES, MAN OF BELIEF

Muhammad Ali died today.

He wasn't the strongest fighter who ever lived, not physically.  Most  of Ali's knockouts came from an accumulation of punches.

You could argue he was the toughest fighter ever.  After having his jaw broken by Kenny Norton in the first round, Ali went eleven more rounds and lost the fight by unanimous decision.   Going eleven rounds with a broken jaw against a mauler like Norton, that alone could qualify you for the BA Hall of Fame, but Ali also went a round against Sonny Liston in which he was blind.

He wasn't the nicest fighter.  To this day, whenever I watch the "Thrilla in Manila," that fourteen-round colossus, I cheer for Frazier.  Ali wounded him more deeply before the fight than he ever did in the ring.

But Muhammad Ali was the greatest man who ever laced up a boxing glove.  His biggest fights weren't against other boxers, they were against prejudice and oppression.

I'll miss you, Champ.  The world isn't the same without you in it.



Muhammad Ali
SIMPLY THE GREATEST
January 17, 1942
June 3, 2016

Friday, May 27, 2016

STARTING TO LOOK A BIT LESS SUPER

I saw X-Men Apocalypse.  It wasn't bad.  A bit long.  A bit melodramatic.  Had it been the first superhero movie of the summer, I might have liked it.
The super villain of X-Men: Apocalypse is the eponymous Apocalypse, a refugee of ancient Egypt who ... now here's a big surprise, wants to conquer the world.  I bet you didn't see that coming.  To assist him in this endeavor, he enlists four "Mutants," humans with super powers, to be his new Horsemen of the Apocalypse.     One of his chosen horsemen is Magneto, who can control anything with metal in it, which in the past has included people with iron in their blood and, more recently, an entire baseball stadium.  He seems like a great choice for an apocalyptic horsemen.

He also chooses Storm for one of his horsemen--though she could be more accurately described as a "Horsewoman," Theoretically speaking, Storm can control the weather, though in this movie she's pretty much resigned herself to summoning lighting bolts.

Still, she's an pretty good choice from an apocalyptic point of view.
Apocalypse's two other horse are a guy with angel wings and a gal with a glowing sword--both of whom seem like minor leaguers when compared  to lightning and metallic mayhem, but hey, Apocalypse claims to be Yaweh, so his ways must be ineffable.  

And speaking of ineffability, Apocalypse could benefit from a visit with Toastmasters.  Oscar Isaac-the twice-surnamed actor who did such a good job as Poe in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, plays Apocalypse--a king-sized, world-destroying, self-aggrandizing blue guy who spends most of the movie brooding and mumbling religious psycho-babble.
Oops, not this guy, but the comparison is inevitable.
I won't give away more of the movie, but I will say the ending is cataclysmic, even, dare I say, Apocalyptic.  Sony says that over 10,000 people were involved in the making of this movie.  If you stay for the Easter Egg, you will see each and every one of their names scroll across the screen.  No joke.  It's like flipping through a Tolstoy novel.  

Okay, that's an exaggeration.  It's like reading the Dostoevsky Cliff Notes of a Tolstoy novel.

I do want to give a shout out to Evan Peters, who as Quick Silver, stole every scene from every actor.  The camera loves this guy.  So does the audience, and it's not just role.  It's what the actor makes of the role in this case.

Captain America: Civil War:

X-Men: Apocalypse's 150-minutes might not have seemed so long had I not just spent 150 minutes watching a vastly superior superhero movie called Captain America: Civil War.

True confession, I kinda sided with Iron Man in this film.  I can't really explain why without revealing spoilers, as if anybody hasn't actually seen the movie, but I sided with Stark.

Kudos to Sony for having the guts to release a B+ superhero movie on the heels of an A+-effort like Civil War.  Frankly, they might have done better to delay until August... August 2017.  I don't know about anybody else, but I'm feeling a bit of superhero fatigue having spent 150 minutes watching Civil War (Yup, I only watched it once) only to invest another 150 minutes watching Apocalypse.
I have to say, in the battle of the superheroes, Disney seems to do the best job of mixing humor and fun in with the action and pathos.  And who, you may ask, has got this formula the most mixed up.

Batman vs Superman:

As I may have mentioned in a previous post, I went to Batman vs Superman thinking Ben Affleck was a terrible choice for Batman only to be proven me absolutely incorrect.  Affleck was fine as Batman, good even.

I also went to BvS thinking Jesse Eisenberg might make an intriguing Lex Luther.  Again, I was proven wrong.  He was a dreadful Lex Luther, though I'm not sure it's entirely his fault. Luther is supposed to be strong and smart and ruthless.  Eisenberg's Luther came off more as feckless and irritating.

BvS isn't a bad movie.  I'll take it over any other non-Christopher Nolan Batman movie, which isn't saying much I suppose.

So here's the problem.  BvS was so not good that I walked away wondering if I was tired of superhero movies or put off by that particular edition.  Then Captain America: Civil War came out.  Like BvS, it was long, but, unlike BvS, it was charming and witty, and still I was relieved when it was over.  Now I have seen Apocalypse, which is better than BvS but a big comedown from Civil War, and I can safely say that, for me, superhero movies have lost their luster.

And now the true confession.  I feel the same way about Star Wars.  The three Lucas prequels were so bad that I couldn't tell how I felt about Star Wars.  I mean, I was so busy disliking the prequels that I didn't have time to think about the franchise as a whole.

Courtesy of Giphy.com
Then Disney and Abrams released a more than competent Episode 7--I liked it better than one of the original three movies--Return of the Jedi, and that gave me a measuring stick by which I could judge my interest in Star Wars as a whole.

It's gone.  I'm cured, and I'm starting to feel the same way about superhero movies.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM: WHERE THE PHRASES CAME FROM

Call them platitudes or cliches or conventional wisdoms, many of the the old sayings offer great advice.  After exhaustive research, I have discovered the origins of a few great chestnuts that I thought I might share.

Shooting Your Wad:

courtesy of votesprout.com
Courtesy of hunter-ed.com
The term "shooting your wad" refers to expending the material used to separate the projectile from the propellant in a bullet, shotgun shell or more particularly a black powder "load."

The saying dates back to the Revolutionary War when combatants needed to cram loads into rifles and flintlock pistols, but it is still apropos today--as shown in this diagram, modern bullets and shotgun shells contain "wads" to separate shot from propellant.

Back in the days when men dueled to defend their honor, nervous combatants were likely to fire their weapons quickly.  Those old pistols were anything but accurate, and a combatant who "shot his wad" hastily without aiming, would be forced to wait while his opponent took careful aim and returned fire.


Throwing Out the Baby With the Bathwater:

The phase "throwing out the baby with the bathwater" is connected to the old practice of entire households sharing a single tub of hot water.  In the days before modern plumbing, filling a bath with hot water was quite a task and the general public only bathed on a monthly basis.

When families filled their tubs with water, the male head of the household took the first turn, followed by other males, then females and finally babies would be bathed.  By the time the babies were placed in the tub, the water would be so filthy that that they could disappear in the murky depths--hence, people needed to make sure they didn't"throw out their babies with their bathwater."

According to Wikipedia, the first known usage of this phrase is in a German book called Appeal to Fools, published in 1512.

Pick Your Poison:

Rattlesnake Venom
This is a more modern phrase.  It refers to the U.S. presidential election of 2016.
Arsenic



Saturday, April 23, 2016

Words of wisdom from Amazon.com

Here is a page from Amazon.com's current list of bestsellers:





A certain sequence of events has taken place.  Have a closer look at numbers 84 and 85.










Wednesday, December 23, 2015

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS--WITH ABSOLUTELY NO SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!

Just saw it.  LOVED IT!

I would rank this as my third favorite Star Wars movie.  (Yup, I'm placing it higher than the Ewok-infested Return of the Jedi.)

Great seeing the old gang and ALMOST all of the new characters left me impressed.

My favorite new addition is Oscar Isaac, though John Boyega totally won me over.

When I saw the credits at the end, I spotted an untouted return that, in my opinion, was the deciding factor--Lawrence Kasdan is back on the writing team!  Kasdan did the heavy lifting on The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and most importantly, was NOT involved in the writing of Episodes I, II, and III.