Baltic Modernist Films Seen In 2021

I’m going in a slightly different direction for the posts about films I’ve seen this year, as The Anthology Film Archives is making a collection of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian films available on Vimeo for the next week and a half. So I’m going to watch it all. So far, it reminds me a lot of the Czech New Wave.

Movie #76/ Estonian Film #1/ Film About Films #2: The Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel/ ‘HUKKUNUD ALPINISTI’ HOTELL (Vimeo)
It is trippy, a rare example of Estonian science-fiction, as a detective story in a ski lodge takes a weird turn when suspected criminals start seeing duplicates. It gets into interesting moral questions about the right way to behave in an absurd situation. Can and should you follow the letter of the law when non-human entities are just trying to survive?

Movie #77/ New Movie #54/ Latvian Film #1: Four White Shirts/ ČETRI BALTI KREKLI (Vimeo)
The 1960s Latvian film (not released until 1987) that reminds me a lot of work from the Czech new wave. It’s a story we’ve seen before of an songwriter dealing with precious to change his lyrics, but in Soviet-Era Riga the censors have teeth. My Estonian-born mother was astonished that the film was even made, given the depiction of Soviet bureaucracy. The music was pretty decent, and it’s clever how the first censor is well-meaning, but gets the ball rolling. I might decide it’s 10/10 on a second watch. This was better than I expected any of these movies to be.

Movie #78/ New Movie #55/ Latvian Film #2: Redundant/ LIEKAM BŪT (Vimeo)
This generally feels like a well-made 1950s/ 1960s French crime film, albeit in a setting with different rules. It’s a story we’ve seen before of a middle-aged ex-con looking for a final score. What works is the sense of how trapped he is, and the alternatives available. This is a story where crime is not done out of economic necessity, but more to give a sense of purpose and to live big. We get to see the major relationships in his life: the prettiest Taxi Driver in Riga as his love interest, a sister who wants a normal life, desperate former colleagues, and the police officer who wants to help him find a good life.

Movie #79/ New Movie #56/ Lithuanian Film #1: Ave, Vita (Vimeo)
This was a take on the Holocaust released in the 1960s that feels modern in terms of how it deals with the topic, showing flashbacks to an atrocity while the present focuses on the survivors and the media attention to one man’s ritual. It seems like a bit like Godard. The strange editing choices (sudden cuts, obvious ADR, use of photos over text) work in that context. Unfortunately, scenes removed by censors make the narrative a bit hard to follow at times, and there is the icky compromise of removing Jewish references of key characters, which makes it seem vague why they were targeted. That was likely the only way the film could have been made at all, but it keeps the film from being great.

Movie #80/ New Movie #57/ Lithuanian Film #2: June, the Beginning of Summer (Vimeo)
It’s an interesting example of hyperlink cinema, reminding me of Altman or Rules of the Game, showing the interconnected stories in a small town, some of which are more compelling than others, or at least have better resolutions. It does have some nice touches about the specifics of the setting, like the question of whether the town can survive the addition of a new factory, or an injury caused by shrapnel embedded in a log.

Movie #81/ Estonian Film #2: Madness/ Hullumeelsus (Vimeo)
It was already one of my favorite Estonian movies (which I don’t mean in the sense of a backhanded compliment) and I like it even more this time around. Maybe it’s because I know the story, and that lets me analyze certain things differently. Maybe it’s the quality of the transfer. It’s a good idea for a story executed well, as a German official during the end of World War II searches for a British spy within an asylum. He interviews people with different forms of insanity, many of whom were affected by the war. Jüri Järvet, probably the best-regarded Estonian actor, is excellent as the official, starting out as sneaky but composed, and then getting more reckless and unhinged as the pressure mounts and he’s exposed to all the lunatics.

Movie #82/ New Movie #58/ Estonian Film #3: Ideal Landscape (Vimeo)
This is a weird one to make sense of. It follows a hapless Soviet bureaucrat, who can’t get the people of a small town to follow directions for a harvest. Complicating factors include local knowledge, as they recognize the climate doesn’t allow for a harvest yet. And he’s got a tough time figuring out if they’re telling the truth or lying to him. Sometimes it isn’t clear if they’re acting in good faith. It’s very Estonian, in the sense that it’s meant for an audience who understands the very specific context. Looking at it now, it just doesn’t feel like something set in the 1940s. It feels like what it is; people in the early 80s pretending it’s right after World War II. But it is interesting to see a Graduate-style story of a young man trying to figure out his life, in the very specific context of a CPSU official who just wants things to go well so he can go to college, and he can’t get the people around him to respect him.

Movie #83/ New Movie #59/ Latvian Film #3: Apple In The River (Vimeo)
This one has an almost anthropological take on young love, evident by the narration and one character’s job of working on an archeological dig. There’s a very specific sense of location (the small community in an island near the capitol about to be changed by the advent of a new bridge. It’s pleasant and captures the awkwardness of two young people in love trying to make sense of the world, and each other.

Movie #84/ New Movie #60/ Lithuanian Film #3: The Beauty (Vimeo)
The shortest of the films at barely over an hour. It does capture the world of children pretty well, with a little girl trying to figure out why the new kid doesn’t like her. The theme of inner beauty rings a bit hollow, because a sad speech about how outer appearances don’t matter is given by someone who doesn’t look too bad, but it does give a sense of how a kid sees things, and what she would prioritize and be offended by. It is beautifully shot.

There are some commonalities with the films. Asia and Africa seem quite exotic to people who see images of those countries, but have no hope of ever going there. The Soviet Union has no problem with Nazis being the bad guys, but while Jews are references in some of the films, there are no Jewish characters. There’s a mournfulness to the disappearance of an old way of life, and an understanding that bureaucrats don’t know best, which might be why some of the films weren’t widely distributed in the Soviet Union.

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Critical Race Theory

In a recent episode of the New York Times podcast The Argument, there was a discussion about the use of critical race theory in schools, with linguist John McWhorter taking the anti-CRT position, and Michelle Goldberg suggesting that the real problem was conservatives.

One point in favor of Critical Race Theory as an academic discipline is that it has resulted in useful understandings about things like the basic concept of structural racism. McWhorter suggests that something new has emerged that isn’t the CRT of the 1970s.

I usually don’t refer to all of this as critical race theory or CRT. I think that what’s happened today has evolved so far beyond those basic and interesting ideas that after a while, you have to start calling it something else, after a while what once was Latin has become French. The idea is that a movement now takes a page, maybe two pages from CRT, and instead has become a kind of punitive mob-like mentality that acquires disproportionate influence because most people are deeply afraid of being called a racist on social media. 

If the main dispute were that Critical Race Theory has useful observations about structural racism, and that the pushback against it will limit those discussions, that could be resolved by clearly identifying the theories that should be stopped, and coming up with a category for the thing that calls itself Critical Race Theory, but not. It seems to me that on the right, Critical Race Theory is essentially used as a catchall for stupid left-wing views on race, which can be inaccurate. But we can make sure that we’re only throwing out the bathwater by coming with different terminology. This isn’t the position I see from the Anti-Anti CRT people.

Goldberg said that academics she had talked to were more concerned about pushback from right-wing students than from being cancelled by the far left.

What I heard from them was enormous fear of getting on the wrong side of their conservative students, enormous fear that their conservative students were going to record something that they said and send it to the state legislature, or send it to college fix, or some kind of right-wing feeder media, it’s going to end up in Tucker Carlson. These are people who are, in often many cases, untenured. Some of them, adjuncts. They experience themselves as walking on eggshells. And I think it’s hard without some sort of rigorous study to see how widespread that sort of attitude is in conservative states where, again, you have both legislatures proposing laws banning both the 1619 Project and critical race theory from public institutions. And also, in the case, of Idaho, very specifically threatening their schools funding for doing things like expressing support for Black Lives Matter. I think the idea that there’s some sort of tyranny of progressivism in as much as that’s a reality for people, I think it’s really not clear to me whether that is just in certain sort of elite hothouse environments that we pay disproportionate attention to.

There may be academics worried that a student will record their lectures, and that there will be consequences from Republican legislators, but the discussion doesn’t mention what specific views would be considered objectionable. One concern with militant left-wing activism is that mainstream and defensible views are shouted down on campus. I suspect the progressive views that academics are worried about having recorded aren’t going to be shared by the wider population. People should still be free to discuss controversial or upsetting ideas. There is a difference in category and scale if progressives feel uncomfortable sharing opinions that are out of the mainstream, while academics on the center-left feel that there will be significant consequences if they reveal beliefs that are widely shared.

We can see major excesses from supporters of Critical Race Theory, or whatever you wish to call it. A Smithsonian (from the National Museum of African American History & Culture) exhibit on whiteness & white culture seems to share a similar view of white culture as white nationalists would have, suggesting that married parents, delayed gratification, the emphasis on the scientific method, planning for the future, valuing intent in legal matters are uniquely white. There was an infamous infographic used to present the position.

We should be able to avoid public support for this kind of garbage. It reflects the attitudes of higher-ups at the Smithsonian (the people who wrote it, and everyone up the chain of command who was in a position to veto it) who are presumably well-educated and carefully selected for their jobs, so it is worrisome how no one in the chain of command realized that this was a terrible idea. They use the excuse that it’s meant to facilitate discussion, but I’m not sure how that works as the text was informational rather than a conversation-starter. It’s certainly not done in a way that helps people of ordinary intellects and backgrounds have a discussion about sensitive topics. These are damaging ideas, and not conducive to equality in the workforce. If anything, it’ll discourage employers from hiring minorities, if the Smithsonian is saying what David Duke would say about which groups take time and effort seriously.

There could be a reasonable argument that positive attributes are wrongly associated with white people. The chart at the Smithsonian didn’t seem to be making it. Their argument is that these are attitudes that have been normalized and internalized, rather than these are virtues wrongly associated with white people. They’re combining things that are value neutral (children having their own rooms) and sometimes bad (an understanding that a person’s value is based on their salary, intolerance of polytheists) with some things they’re associating with whiteness that most people would consider to be positives. But there is one group that is overrepresented in American culture that may have different values.

Matthew Yglesias noted a problem with common norms from the antiracism training based on the work of Tema Okun. A claim that a need to measure results is symptomatic of White Supremacy Culture, provides a convenient cover if anyone asks to measure whether a particular type of antiracism training is effective. There have been a few projects that are ostensibly meant to be against racism and white supremacy that have a similar focus, and one question is whether this is about what appeals to white progressives rather than having anything to do with race, as they may be more likely to be against hierarchy and discipline.

She doesn’t put forward any evidence or arguments in favor of her claims (and indeed, “objectivity” is seen as a manifestation of white supremacy culture), but this is also not a lived experience argument. Instead she credits the second-hand wisdom of the late Kenneth Jones who was her co-author on the original version of the workbook that featured the list. And the reason it feels like an op to destroy progressive politics is that she’s pretty clearly not talking about race or racism at all. This whole document instead comes from a place of extreme characterological aversion to hierarchy and structure.

And we know from a range of evidence that if you look at the white U.S. population, being a Democrat correlates with the personality trait of openness to experience and being a Republican with the personality trait of conscientiousness. And indeed Christopher Frederico and Rafael Aguilera document that among the white population, having a high score on racial resentment batteries is associated with high conscientiousness and low openness.

In other words: if you filter the white people to find only the white people who are most fired-up about anti-racism, you will end up with a high-openness, low-conscientiousness group of people who are probably inclined to agree with Okun’s general sentiments.

But these are facts about white people.

White Democrats are eccentric because most white people are Republicans. In non-white communities, most people are Democrats and consequently, non-white Democrats are less ideologically left-wing than white ones and also have personality types that are closer to the broad population average. That’s why the ex-cop, tough on crime mayoral candidate in New York City is Black. That’s why religiously observant Democrats tend to be non-white. Generalized aversion to hierarchy and discipline is not a characteristic of people of color at all — it’s a characteristic of white leftists.

From any normal standpoint, the idea that “requiring people to think in a linear (logical) fashion” is racist is itself racist. People of all ethnic backgrounds can think logically! I promise. Go read my former professor Kwame Appiah’s intro to philosophy book, “Thinking It Through” and see for yourself. Obviously characterizing an emphasis on writing skills as “worship of the written word” makes it sound bad, but thinking that writing is important is not a distinctively white characteristic, as even a cursory read of the past several thousand years of human civilization would tell you.

This is an individual whose work is used to teach institutions how to handle sensitive topics. If a dollar of taxpayer money goes to support someone who thinks logical thinking is unique to white people, that’s a problem at a time when the country is paying more attention to reckoning with its racist past and present. It’s bad if companies, government entities or any other organizations pay crackpots money to pretend to be doing something about sensitive issues. It’s worse if people start believing untrue and stupid things.

We should all push back against this. We can do so without limiting discussion of things that reasonable people can believe.

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Films Seen in 2021 Part 3

This is a continuation of notes on films I’ve seen this year. For this batch, I’ve had a few sub-goals: five films from Arrow’s streaming service, five films nominated for Academy Awards this year (this was later changed to five winners of the Academy Award this year when I took long enough to complete this for the awards ceremony to come and go) and five films about movies.

Movie #51/ New Movie #34/ Arrow Film #1/ Film About Films #1: Deus Ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko (Arrow)
I thought this was going to be about philosophy and unanswered questions, but it’s more of a detailed behind the scenes of an ambitious directorial debut. It does seem like everyone views Donnie Darko is a perfect 10/10 film, which wasn’t quite my impression. It does do a decent job explaining the visualization of abstract concepts, although it’s mainly the story of a guy who succeeds with minor complications and absurd breaks (Katherine Ross coming out of retirement to play the psychiatrist, getting the second unit director of Close Encounters of the Third Kinds as the cinematographer) which makes it seem a bit like Bohemian Rhapsody when it comes to manufactured drama.

Movie #52/ New Movie #35/ Arrow Film #2/ Film About Films #2: They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé (Arrow)
These are generally enjoyable behind the scenes anecdotes of films that I’m not eager to see: independent regional films shot quickly and at a low budget. There are some surprising connections and excesses, especially with the accidental almost-hanging of Harold (Oddjob) Sakata, who would inexplicably work with Grefé again. The films covered are certainly not high art, but the making of it seemed to be fun.

Movie #53/ New Movie #36/ Arrow Film #3: Psychomania (Arrow)
It’s better than you would expect from a movie with a reputation for driving George Sanders to suicide. The supernatural teen bike gang story is not that bad, although it’s not that good either. The rules of the fantasy are weird, and there’s a mismatch between the mischief of the biker gang and the body count. Catchy soundtrack though, especially the folk song “Riding Free.”

Movie #54: A Few Good Men (AMC+)
The direction and score are sometimes a bit too obvious, which keeps this from being a truly great movie, but it is close, looking to serious moral questions with a decent cast and set of conflicts. Nicholson’s Jessep is fantastic, contrasting quiet control with his final outburst. There is a good sense of the preparation necessary for any legal case, and while the plot is complicated by obvious mistakes, this does make sense given how out of their league they are.

Movie #55/ New Movie #37/ Arrow Film #4: Dark August (Arrow)
It’s an oddly shot take on grief and guilt. Amateurish but there is some emotional honesty.

Academy Award Winner #1: Tenet (Arrow)
Even on a second watch, it remains a spectacularly confusing film. It starts with a vaguely defined mission with multiple forces in a shootout during a terrorist attack that is cover for something else, and gets weirder from there, when John David Washington’s unnamed protagonist joins a group so mysterious he doesn’t even know who he’s working with. There are some great concepts, the visuals keep it interesting, and the action sequences are clever, even if it remains rather confusing.

Movie #56/ New Movie #38/ Arrow Film #5: What Did You Do to Solange? (Arrow)
This giallo seems dirtier than most, The protagonist- a flawed gym teacher getting involved in a mystery that affects his student/ mistress – is effective.

Movie #57/ New Movie #39: The Dead Zone (Amazon Prime)
It’s shot in an off-kilter way which fits the character’s alienation. It’s kinda slow, although not dull. The central conflict between Walken’s psychic and Martin Sheen’s crazed politician (the exact opposite of Jed Bartlett) takes a while to get going, but is compelling when it happens.

Movie #58: Justice League- The Snyder Cut (HBO+)
This is easily Snyder’s best DC film. It has some impressive sequences, and sometimes doesn’t go in the obvious direction (IE- everyone is so traumatized about losing Superman they barely talk about it.) Even with a lame villain they get across the idea that this is too big a challenge for any sole hero. Cyborg is much improved, and I completely understand why Ray Fisher was so upset at the changes to his arc in the Joss Whedon version. The Knightmare sequence is comic bookey in the best way.

Movie #59/ New Movie #40: Godzilla VS Kong (HBO+)
This was a movie that knows what it wants to be- it’s Kong VS Godzilla, until they team up against Mechagodzilla. It isn’t much better than it needs to be, but some recurring scenes are good enough to keep it a solid B.

Movie #60: Idiocracy (DVD)
It seems to sometimes be shot in a boring way, although this works to highlight the absurdity of what’s going on, in a world run by morons.

Movie #61/ New Movie #41: Ghost of Frankenstein (DVD)
It adds a bit to the mythos with the most well-meaning Frankenstein’s monster of the Universal Horror films, though this version doesn’t make it clear why he’s one of the great film characters. There is a nice score and production design, although the affected family is bland. Mediocre follow-up to two of the best monster movies ever.

Movie #62: The Day the Earth Stood Still (DVD)
It’s a decently made Golden Age of Hollywood sci-fi film. It is about something and captures a truly alien perspective, with a unique spin on humanity’s potential for extinction.

Movie #63/ New Movie #42/ Film About Movies #3: Making the Earth Stand Still (DVD)
A well-made “Making Of” demonstrating what happened when a B-movie was made with an A-movie budget and cast. It’s a good extra for a standard DVD. It’s mostly an assortment of pleasant “Making of” stories, although it peters at the end as it suddenly shifts to collectors showing off obscure memorabilia.

Movie #64/ New Movie #43: The Swamp (HBO+)
It’s a solid documentary about underappreciated facets of Washington DC corruption which has become more relevant now that one of the subjects Matt Gaetz is under investigation for sex trafficking. He’s a prick but comes across better than usual; it’s the first time he seems to know what makes his district special.

Movie #65/ Film About Movies #4: Tropic Thunder (Blu-Ray)
It’s an excellent satire of Hollywood and war movies, elevated by Ben Stiller’s best performance, Robert Downey Jr as the ultimate insane method actor, and Tom Cruise’s transformation into monster producer Les Grossman.

Movie #66/ New Movie #44: La Llorona (Shudder)
This is a decent story about a prominent Central American family dealing with the trial of a patriarch, and realizing that it may be well-deserved, interspersed with a quiet ghost tale. This is not the poorly reviewed American film which used the same myth as a jumping off point.

Movie #67/ New Movie #45: Re-Animator (Shudder)
It’s trash, but that’s not necessarily disqualifying. The score really rips off Psycho. I do like the black humor.

Movie #68/ New Movie #46: The Woman in the Window (Netflix)
This movie is terrible in a fascinating way. It’s odd to consider how the director of Atonement and Darkest Hour made something so mediocre and derivative with such a great cast (Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh.) It’s tonally all over the map, and there are some weird misjudgments, like the final act that gets rid of some of the best performers.

Movie #69/ New Movie #47: Ghost Stories (AMC+)
It’s quite mixed. The shorter stories prevent you from getting to know the characters enough to care about what happens to them, as the lead hears about situations after the fact. The material is sometimes unsettling.

Movie #70/ New Movie #48/ Academy Award Winner #2/ Film About Movies #3: Mank (Netflix)
Making it in the style of a film about old Hollywood works really well. It has some interesting things to say about studios getting involved in politics, and what really matters, with Oldman’s Mank an interesting lead: a raconteur who is able to hide just how observant he really is, which makes his big outburst so cutting. It’s imperfect (the actress playing his wife is too young to be his contemporary, the clash with Welles about credit explicitly described as the third act twist comes out of nowhere) but it is really up my alley.

Movie #71/ New Movie #49: Mission Impossible (Paramount Plus)
The first Mission Impossible film does introduce Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as a decent action hero, with some great set pieces and clever twists, but these are good moments in a story that’s rather empty, hindered by the lack of a clear foe for much of it.

Movie #72/ New Movie #50/ Academy Award Winner #3: My Octopus Teacher (Netflix)
It’s beautifully shot, and lovely enough that I can completely understand how it won Best Documentary. It really captures the unusual sense of the environment, and Craig Foster’s growing comfort in such an alien world. There’s a sense of deliberately withheld material behind the scenes (who is filming him when he’s supposed to be alone? What exactly were the crises in his life that led him to escape?) It is sometimes unbelievable but it does capture a bond between a weird guy and a very different creature.

SOUND OF METAL (2020).Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Movie #73/ New Movie #51/ Academy Award Winner #4: The Sound of Metal (Amazon Prime)
The sound engineering is exceptional, showing the subjective experiences of Riz Ahmed’s musician. There are some clever decisions about how information is doled out, which sometimes makes it difficult to be grounded, but is often quite rewarding. It doesn’t go in the expected directions, dealing with addiction in addition to disability. There’s a good sense that this is the story of people who were hurt, before a new health crisis. When he recovers with a deaf community there is a great sense of the norms of a different culture, with its own set of rules, embodied by Paul Raci’s community director, whose clearly defined worldview leads to a complex reckoning.

Movie #74/ New Movie #52: Farewell to Manzanar (DVD)
It’s better than I expected considering it’s a relatively obscure TV movie about a family’s experiences in a Japanese-American concentration camp. It covers the conflicts within an abused community, even if there are some obvious artistic compromises, like the emphasis on many of the white people being so well-meaning.

Movie #75/ New Movie #53/ Academy Award Winner #5: The Father (Redbox)
This take on the subjective experience of an elderly man with dementia deserves all the awards it won. Anthony Hopkins excels in a tricky performance, flipping from casual cruelty to charming, while trying to hide his confusion and fear. It depicts a world that seems to be a dark horror movie for the lead, and how it all affects those around him. There are mysteries below the surface, some of which are resolved and some of which are not.

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Why My Mom Hates International Women’s Day


My mom is rather pissed off about the celebration of International Women’s Day.

She thinks the idea to celebrate Women’s Day is good, but there’s a history behind March 8 that makes it particularly awkward for her as someone who grew up in Estonia when it was occupied by the Soviet Union.

March 8 was proposed a long time ago by communists Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, and Alexandra Kollontai, largely to honor women the role of the working women of St. Petersburg in the revolution. As noted on

But this is not a special day for women alone. The 8th of March is a historic and memorable day for the workers and peasants, for all the Russian workers and for the workers of the whole world. In 1917, on this day, the great February revolution broke out.[2] It was the working women of Petersburg who began this revolution; it was they who first decided to raise the banner of opposition to the Tsar and his associates. And so, working women’s day is a double celebration for us.

But if this is a general holiday for all the proletariat, why do we call it “Women’s Day”? Why then do we hold special celebrations and meetings aimed above all at the women workers and the peasant women? Doesn’t this jeopardize the unity and solidarity of the working class? To answer these questions, we have to look back and see how Women’s Day came about and for what purpose it was organized.

Lenin was the first world leader to declare this as a national holiday in 1922 as International Working Women’s Day (there weren’t women who didn’t work in the Soviet Union). In Soviet occupied countries, it was not taken seriously, and much mocked.  It was also seen as a substitute for Mother’s Day.

Celebrating women’s day is a fine idea, but it should be done on a day that was not selected by communists. It won’t necessarily be an easy process, since there are a lot of considerations. It would make a lot of sense to honor a celebrated woman, although most political and religious figures would lack universal appeal. Hildegard of Bingen is honored mainly by Catholics, and honoring a feminist who was important to one country or area of the world (IE- Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton) is fraught. Murasaki Shikibu is considered one of the most important writers ever, but we have no idea what day she was born on. Marie Curie’s November 7 birthday might be too close to Veteran’s Day in the US. We should still be able to select a day that isn’t March 8th.

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Films Seen In 2021 Part 2

This is a continuation of notes on films I’ve seen this year. For this batch, I’ve had a few sub-goals: five films by black directors to coincide with black history month, five films nominated for Critics Choice awards this year, and five films starring Viola Davis (there is some overlap).

Movie #26/ New Movie #15: Shadow in the Cloud (Redbox)
This movie varies a lot tonally, but I enjoyed it. For the first half, as the lead is stuck in a gun turret, there’s a great sense of claustrophobia and just how difficult it is to figure out what’s going on out of sight. There’s a twist through the film that reveals what she’s fighting for, and why things are so intense for her. The gremlin here is a decent horror-movie monster, although there is a sense of unreality to it all. But it is fun.

Movie #27/ New Movie #16: Sinister (Showtime)
Ethan Hawke is decent as a flawed true crime writer who moves his family to a haunted house. When he has an argument with his wife, it’s different from what you expect in a horror movie; it gets to more intense places. There are some really creepy scenes and a twisted backstory. It’s marred by some plot-induced stupidity like a boneheaded decision not to call the cops when suspicious evidence of cult-like activity arrives, and scenes where the audience is ahead of the characters during key twists.

Movie #28/ New Movie #17: Spies- A Small Film With Lots of Action (Kino Blu-Ray)
It’s a documentary about the making and response to a decent Fritz Lang film. It gets to some nuances about his lesser-known work, and the particular difficulties of restoration with a style of film production that resulted in multiple versions of the same films being released all over the world, some using different and inferior cuts.

Movie #29/ New Movie #18: Conan the Barbarian (Showtime)
The fantasy epic is sometimes entertaining in a WTF way, but sometimes kinda boring. Schwarzenegger is decent as Conan, which is what you expect from a movie that was the breakout role for one of the biggest stars of the planet. The world of the film is surprisingly bland.

Movie #30/ New Movie #19: Legacy of the Niebulgen (Kino Blu-Ray)
It’s a decent slightly unfocused look at the post-production of Fritz Lang’s Niebulgen epic, which had some complications. The movie was embraced by the Nazis as evidence of Germany’s glory days, but still respected later, which is an interesting analysis in its own right. It was released in two films, the first part Siegfried being much more popular, with the second part Kriemhild’s Revenge having a less commercial story and a rushed director, which makes restoration difficult.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020): (L to R) Chadwick Boseman as Levee, Glynn Turman as Toldeo, Michael Potts as Slow Drag, Colman Domingo as Cutler. Cr. David Lee / Netflix

Movie #31/ New Movie #20/ Black Director #1/ Viola Davis Film #1/ Critics Choice Nominee #1: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)
It’s an excellent showcase for Viola Davis, playing a very different character than in her other August Wilson film adaptation, and Chadwick Boseman, whose horn player initially seems like an ambitious upstart, until some revelations about his past show that he’s much more deliberate, complex and damaged than we expected. It’s a great take on race, celebrity and ambition, with artists struggling against the limits of the time.

Movie #32/ New Movie #21/ Critics Choice Nominee #2: Malcolm & Marie (Netflix)
It’s more complex about what it says about film and storytelling than the backlash about how indulgent it is would suggest. The young director is pissed off about a critic, but the film doesn’t exclusively take his side. The characters sometimes come across more as vessels for ideas than people- it could’ve used a few rewrites/ more takes to get to a higher-level of emotional authenticity, even if Zendaya is often very good. The black & white cinematography is beautiful.

Movie #33/ New Movie #22/ Black Director #2/ Critics Choice Nominee #3: One Night in Miami (Amazon)
A scene where we see what a Sam Cooke performance looks like from the back row is one of my favorites this year, and a big part of why Regina King is in contention for Best Director. This is a movie about ideas and the best ways to make a difference featuring four famous young African-American men, two of whom are athletes and one of whom is a singer who just wants to party. It reveals complexities in the characters, and subverts expectations. If you think it’s about what inspires Sam Cooke to write “A Change is Gonna Come” it turns out that he already wrote it. Leslie Odom is exceptional as Cooke, seen as a sellout but navigating dangerous waters effectively to make things better.

Movie #34/ New Movie #23/ Viola Davis Film #2: Doubt (Blu-Ray)
An interesting pairing with One Night in Miami, as another theatrical adaptation set shortly after Kennedy’s assassination. It’s a showcase for four well-deserved Academy Award nominated performances: Amy Adams as a novice who gets swept into a power struggle and investigation into heinous crimes, Meryl Streep as a strict nun in changing times, Viola Davis as a mother in an absurd situation with limited options and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a flawed but compassionate priest who may have done something terrible. It gets into some serious questions about uncertainty; spiritually, politically and when it comes to the people around us.

Movie #35/ New Movie #24: Southland Tales (Cannes Cut) (Arrow Blu-Ray)
This is more of a rough cut than a directors cut, showing the unfinished version that had a mixed reaction in Cannes. I can certainly see why. Some ideas are modern, and if it seems dated, it’s because of references to things that happened a few years ago but still after the movie came out (a plot involving police body cameras, a porn star using her celebrity to create a Kardashian style brand) although the camerawork remains a product of the time. The mix of stars who broke out (Dwayne Johnson, Justin Timberlake, Mandy Moore, Amy Poehler) and hasbeens (Sean William Scott, Bai Ling) speaks to the mixed quality, how it gets some stuff right and some stuff just doesn’t work.

Movie #36/ New Movie #25: Bad Education (HBO Max)
It’s a decent take on an education finance scandal, which isn’t the most exciting topic, although the story is entertaining enough, but raises some meaningful questions. Hugh Jackman’s performance is a bit evasive, in that he has to hide major parts of himself (both in terms of crimes and his private life) from others around him.

Movie #37/ New Movie #26/ Black Director #3/ Critics Choice Nominee #4: Judas and the Black Messiah (HBO Max)
It gets to the messiness of a revolutionary moment. Daniel Kaluuya is exceptional as Fred Hampton, playing it with a sense of passion, purpose and regret. It does sometimes feel like a slow trudge to the inevitable conclusion, possibly because so much of the motives of the protagonist (the Judas of the film) are kept vague.

Movie #38: Warrior (DVD)
One of my favorite movies of the 21st Century. It’s got a winner take all tournament, but still does a great job of establishing the characters, and balancing competing characters arcs well. The fights are excellent, but they do seem different. It’s a movie where the underdog’s encounter against the undefeated celebrity isn’t even the final match. Nick Nolte is a standout as a recovering alcoholic who has burned all his bridges.

Movie #39: The Illusionist (DVD)
It’s a decent love story about a magician and the high-born girl he’s in love with, combining that with the nastiness of Austrian royalty revealed in the Mayerling Incident. The payoff to the master plan is predictable, but probably what the audience wants. It’s a fine enough film, even if it’s a little weird that all these American actors are playing with British accents.

Movie #40: Cabin in the Woods (Hulu)
It essentially creates a shared cinematic universe for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Ringu. It’s a good horror movie that works as a critique of a genre, and the story of survivors pushed to the limit by forces beyond their control.

Movie #41/ New Movie #27/ Critics Choice Nominee #5: Tenet (Blu-Ray)
It’s a movie about secret organizations and time manipulations, in which there are occasionally multiple versions of the same character, so it can be difficult to follow. The mechanisms for the time-manipulations are pretty cool, and lead to some great sequences. The film seems to spend way too much time on the saga of an arms dealer’s unhappy tall wife.

Movie #42/ New Movie #28/ Black Director #4/ Viola Davis Film #3: Widows (Amazon)
This is a complex crime plot with many different characters who have their own agendas and secrets, but McQueen makes it pretty easy to follow. It’s a well-made heist film with a great cast, and a focus on people who are usually in the background in crime movies. Viola Davis is excellent as a leader who has to be serious. Daniel Kaluuya is impressive as an especially vicious gangster who wants the money he’s owed. Elizabeth Debicki has a solid fish out of water arc. The political messaging isn’t subtle, and it is tonally all over the map.

Movie #43/ New Movie #29: Beauty and the Beast (1979) (DVD)
The Czech take on a familiar story (although the title translates to The Virgin and the Monster) is creepier than what we’re used to. Interesting sets (lovely is the wrong word as it showcases how decrepit things are in the beast’s lair) but sometimes a bit dull.

Movie #44/ New Movie #30: The Day the Earth Caught Fire (Kino Blu-Ray)
It’s a combination of a disaster movie that gets truly apocalyptic, and a journalism drama, where the reporters are starting to figure out just how bad things are, while stealing with the realities of the job (new special editions when a big event breaks, staff meetings, fact-checking, etc.) It uses a flashback structure really well, as we get to see how things get really bad. Some sequences and events are dated, but it is quite relevant with the concerns about global warming.

Movie #45/ New Movie #31/ Viola Davis Film #4: Beautiful Creatures (DVD)
This fantasy flop about a doomed magical teen romance has surprisingly impressive actors (Jeremy Irons, Margo Martindale, Viola Davis, Emma Thompson) doing okay with what they’re given. Some of the things that make this world unique are promising, but it’s a dull set-up to an underwhelming final showdown.

Movie #46: The Big Short (DVD)
It’s an excellent showcase for Steve Carrell as a moral blowhard, and Christian Bale as an awkward genius. It also has some of the best ever film exposition, as the story of how some people saw the great recession coming shows much of what went wrong.

Movie #47/ New Movie #32/ Viola Davis Film #5: The Help (Netflix)
The story of an unusual civil rights episode has an excellent cast. The criticism that the movie shouldn’t have been made is ironic as a major point of the film is how the stories of people who are often ignored are still worth telling. There’s a decent contrast between what freaks out white southerners (a prank involving commodes) and the legitimate concerns of the African-American help in 1960s Mississippi. Jessica Chastain is a standout as ditz with inner torments, while Octavia Spencer conveys her pride and pain well in her star-making Oscar winning role.

Movie #48/ New Movie #33/ Black Director #5: The 13th (Netflix)
It’s a decent take on the history of the prison industrial complex that has some clever choices in messaging (mixing conservative voices and regretful Democrats in favor of sentencing reforms) although it does get a little conspiratorial, and is similar to a lot of other recent projects.

Movie #49: Dracula (Blu-Ray)
It’s not the best film adaptation of Dracula: I personally prefer Murnau and Herzog’s versions of Nosferatu, but it is pretty quick, the set designs are nice, and Bela Legosi is one of the iconic film monsters. I keep forgetting that the point of view character in the opening goes on to become the madman Renfield, which speaks to Dwight Frye’s performance.

Movie #50: Hiroshima Mon Amour (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It might be the best version of the two ships passing in the night romance on film, conveying both how meaningful these brief relationships can be with the awareness that it will all be forgotten. It goes into some dark places as the leads have been hurt by the events of World War 2. Emmanuelle Riva is exceptional, recalling a doomed romance that suggests she may have had more pain than the man she meets from Hiroshima. Ahead of its time in terms of storytelling, and the maturity with which it handles really serious subject matter.

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Should Moderates Leave the Republican Party?

Right now, there’s a discussion about whether decent people should leave the Republican party. I’m not sure the implications have been fully considered.

Personally, I’m remaining a Republican in order to be able to vote for better candidates in future primaries. In the American political system, Moderates can have more impact by voting in primaries than by just voting in the general election. Ten million people voting for an independent party won’t help the party win, but five million people voting in the Democratic or Republican primaries would be an important constituency. Just under 37 million people voted in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, and turnout is much lower for other races. There’s certainly an argument that center-right people who don’t like Trump should stay in the Republican party so that there’s some kind of Anti-Trump constituency during the primaries. If the moderates and people who care about truth or standards of behavior leave, that makes it easier for the party to nominate mendacious nutjobs.

Another route would be for Republicans who don’t like Trump to create a third party. However, I suspect that moderates would also be temperamentally unlikely to do something radical like form a new party. If there is a new party it would probably come from people who think Democrats aren’t left-wing enough, or that Republicans aren’t right-wing enough. The main consequence of a third party is to split the vote. For obvious reasons, Democrats would like a center-right third party taking votes from Republicans, and might be happy in the unlikely scenario when a new center-right party replaces Republicans, but this drawbacks for anyone who likes conservative policy.

The final option would be for the center-right to join the Democratic Party. Let’s consider the implications of that, with five million conservatives who don’t like Trump (three million voters Gary Johnson gained in 2016 plus two million Romney- Clinton voters) joining the Democrats. The 2020 Democratic primary did have 36,917,179 votes, so an influx of a few million conservatives wouldn’t always be enough to determine the winner, but it would shake things up. This would not be the equivalent of Operation Chaos, or any moves by Republicans to organize in Democratic primaries to support someone seen as unelectable. In this case, when voters on the center-right would vote in Democratic primaries, we wouldn’t be voting to sabotage Democrats. We would be voting for our preferred candidate.

If Republicans dissatisfied with the Trump administration and the publicity garnered by the likes of Marjorie Taylor Greene (primarily in the mainstream media) stay in the party, they have the advantage of primaries where it’s more consequential, and in the event that Republicans nominate a flawed candidate and Democrats nominate a better one, they can vote for the Democrat in the general election. It seems pretty unlikely that Republican defections lacked an impact. The decision in Wisconsin (the tipping point state) was made by less than a percent. If 0.4% of voters nationwide had gone for Trump instead of Biden, Trump would have been reelected. So small differences really mattered.

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Films Seen in 2021 Part 1

As was the case last year, I’m keeping track of the films I watch. I’m not going to recordg what year they came out, although I will note the format.

For this group I added a sub-challenge: ten movies that have made me think and five films by African American directors.

Movie #1/ Movie That Made Me Think #1: Donnie Darko (DVD)
I haven’t seen it in a while, and remember being more impressed by the philosophical questions last time. It’s a bit pretentious, but I do appreciate how fully realized the people around Donnie Darko are. Darko is a bit of an exception, as he’s hard to figure out. When he does obnoxious stuff, is it because of side effects from medication, because his imaginary rabbit best friend tells him to do it, because of his mental health issues or because he feels like it? The answers may very well vary depending on the situation which makes for an inscrutable protagonist.

Movie #2/ Movie That Made Me Think #2: The Social Network (DVD)
Probably my favorite straightforward drama of the 21st Century. It’s simultaneously inspirational telling the story of someone making a fortune with a bold idea, and a cautionary tale about excess and having the wrong priorities. One of the things Fincher and Sorkin do very well is to have really loaded scenes with a lot going on at once. The soundtrack is also fantastic. Perhaps I should have accepted the message of not wasting so much time online much earlier in my life.

Movie #3/ Movie That Made Me Think #3: Daisies (Criterion DVD)
This surrealist farce makes me think in a different way, as I’m trying to figure out what’s going on, what the director is trying to say, the reasons for artistic choices (jump cuts, color filters) when not swept in by the mischief.

Movie #4/ New Movie #1: Remembering History- The Battle of Algiers (Criterion Blu-Ray)
This was historical context for The Battle of Algiers included as a supplement in The Battle of Algiers Criterion Blu-Ray. It’s a decent talking heads documentary from the people who participated in an international conflict, and have varying degrees of regret about what they did.

Movie #5/ New Movie #2: Gillo Pontecorvo: Dictatorship of Truth, Gillo Pontecorvo’s Return to Algiers, Marxist Poetry: The Making of Battle of Algiers (Criterion Blu-Ray)
I’m counting several documentaries ranging from 40 to 58 minutes included in The Battle of Algiers Criterion Edition as one film. They provide insights into the artistry of the film and what was going on behind the scenes, especially with the stories of how the cast was chosen. An episode of a French mini-series State of Arms is a highlight where a top official implies he may have killed someone and made it look like a suicide.

Movie #6/ Movie That Made Me Think #4: The Battle of Algiers (Criterion Blu-Ray)
A genius of the film is taking Italian neorealism to a new setting: the battle against (and I suppose, for) French colonialism in Algiers. There is a great sense of scale, and setting, along with a fantastic score by Morricone that seems to be an appropriate mix of folk music, military marching band and machinery. The extras on the Criterion Blu-Ray did help with the historical context.

Movie #7/ Movie That Made Me Think #5: 1984 (Criterion Blu-Ray)
I do appreciate how well-realized and lived in this version of Oceania is. The film conveys how broken everything is, and how defeated the people look. With all the talk about what is Orwellian, it is worth noting that the ultimate betrayal at the end reveals an even darker message and possibility than the majority of the film. John Hurt is really good at playing a cog in an alien environment, where it is difficult to articulate basic human needs and emotions, although Richard Burton may have the superior performance, with a tone that is just perfect for his role.

Movie #8/ Movie That Made Me Think #6: The Truman Show (Epix)
While the film has a lot to say about the media, and the reality we’re presented with, what I’ve thought about more is how much Truman was impacted by a college romance a decade earlier. It’s an excellent showcase for Jim Carrey, although Ed Harris is fantastic as the showrunner orchestrating every facet of Truman’s life while essentially loving him from afar. I do like the score; it reminds me a lot of Murray Gold’s Doctor Who work.

Movie #9/ Movie That Made Me Think #7: Town Bloody Hall (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s a Cinéma vérité about an interesting debate that does highlight differences between four strands of feminism (lesbian separatism, political activist, radical, old-fashioned academic) and has a lot of great moments. Norman Mailer is an interesting character as the male establishment punching bag although he focused way too much on his own neuroticism. It ends anticlimactically, which isn’t the fault of D.A. Pennebaker. It does have a really clever opening credits sequence, as a protester yells out everyone’s name.

Movie #10/ New Movie #3: The Current War Directors Cut (Showtime)
This is a type of movie I often really like (contest of ideas between intelligent people in American history), and it may be worth analyzing in greater detail for why it’s an okay film, but not great. It’s a standard Cumberbatch performance, and his Edison dominates everyone else, including the combined rivals. The conflict has good moments, but it just isn’t spectacular or meaningful for Edison, who loses something more important well before that.

Movie #11/ New Movie #4: Ham on Rye (Mubi)
This is a strange independent film about an odd ritual that isn’t much explained, which gives it an interesting tone, although it compromises narrative integrity. It starts with pleasant enough teen hijinks, but there is an unsettling undercurrent before we get to the one supernatural event. There is an emotional truth with the subsequent change in the narrative, as someone tries to figure out how things are suddenly so different. It’s not the most satisfying film, but every choice is deliberate.

Movie #12/ New Movie #5: Paradise Hills (Showtime)
This sci-fi film about young women being reeducated in a mysterious island setting seems to have a lot of elements inadequately cobbled together. The sets and costumes are nice, giving it a weird Alice in Wonderland/ The Fifth Element vibe. The central mistake may be the lack of attention to the dystopian world outside the events in this rehab center, which prevents the characters from being more than cliches. The acting, blocking and script are also rather weak.

Movie #13/ Movie That Made Me Think #8: Contempt (Criterion DVD)
The conflicts on the set of the movie get into some interesting arguments about art VS commerce, but the more interesting conflict is the collapse of the marriage, and the effort to pinpoint when and how it occurred. Jack Palanche’s obnoxious American producer is a false note (he should have been playing an American actor controlling a production), although there is some fun with mistranslations.

Movie #14/ New Movie #6: The Story of Temple Drake (Criterion DVD)
At one point, this film was so shocking that it disappeared from circulation for decades, and led to the creation of the Hayes Code. Now it’s a somewhat dated and weirdly paced crime movie, although it is beautifully shot. The first half is weaker, with Miriam Hopkins as a hedonist by the standards of 1930s Hollywood, although the second half is more interesting, as she finds herself stuck in terrible situations.

Movie #15/ New Movie #7: Brian’s Song (Epix)
This TV movie featured the breakout performances of James Caan and Billie Dee Williams as two very different NFL teammates from the beginning of their friendship to a final illness. It’s very quick, carried by the likability of the leads.

Movie #16/ Movie That Made Me Think #9: The Imitation Game (Roku Channel)
The story of a genius who accomplishes great things in World War 2 gets into some interesting questions about the right way to approach complex problems, the necessity of even geniuses building interpersonal relationships, the tragedy of how a great man was wronged, and the dilemma of figuring out what to do after they accomplish their great task. Cumberbatch’s Turing starts out a bit obvious, but reveals layers, which elevates some weaknesses in the film. It deserved the Oscar nominations it got.

Movie #17/ New Movie #8: Spontaneous (Epix)
I was a bit surprised that I hadn’t heard about a dark high school comedy that came out last year, and was at 98% at Rotten Tomatoes. The story of the reactions of a town to spontaneous explosions is weirdly prescient in showing the reaction and panic to an unpredictable medical event. There’s a major tonal shift, although it does work in a story about senseless mayhem and its aftermath.

Movie #18/ New Movie #9: The King and the Mockingbird (Mubi)
It’s a beautiful and strange animated film that has its own voice, separate from what we’re used to from Disney, Looney Tunes or the geniuses of anime. It’s a hodgepodge of a lot of ideas, but they generally blend together pretty well, creating a sense of a world where anything can happen.

Movie #19/ Movie That Made Me Think #10: I Am Not Your Negro (Netflix)
The transformation of an early draft of a never-completed James Baldwin memoir is a clever and thought-provoking take on race and storytelling, and the question of how much has changed since his time. When Bobby Kennedy made his prescient statement in the 1960s that there may be an African-American president in forty years, Baldwin was arguing that it was possible, but that it wouldn’t be enough.

Movie #20/ New Movie #10: Lone Wolf and Cub- Baby Cart in Peril (Criterion Blu-Ray)
This entry into the Lone Wolf saga combines multiple stories. The tattooed assassin story was one of my favorites in the manga, but this adaptation is just okay. The direction seems a bit boring. The film crystalizes what works and doesn’t about Tomisaburo Wakayama’s take on Ogami Itto. He can never be the instantly imposing swordsman from the manga, but it does make sense that he’s always underestimated.

Movie #21/ New Movie #11: Robin Hood Men in Tights (Blu-Ray)
It’s not on the level of Mel Brooks’ best parodies, but it is fun and certainly an improvement over Prince of Thieves, a film it riffs a lot. It makes me wish Cary Elwes had more lead roles after The Princess Bride.

Movie #22/ New Movie #12: The Vast of Night (Amazon Prime)
It’s a decent take on a story that’s been done before (alien abductions in a small southwest town) elevated by the story of how the leads figure out something weird is going on, and the hints of a larger mystery as they face something incomprehensible. There are some bold storytelling choices, most of which (extended sequence of a character using 1950s technology to communicate, a lengthy conversation with a caller to a radio show, an unbroken long shot through the entire town) work pretty well.

Movie #23/ New Movie #13: Croupier (Showtime)
I had never heard about the movie until I looked up old National Board of Review top tens. It had an interesting hook (British neonoir about a casino employee/ struggling writer who gets dragged into a robbery by a dangerous woman) and it was on Showtime. There’s a good sense of atmosphere, and it captures what these second-tier casinos are like. Clive Owen’s protagonist has a detached view of everything that fits pretty well, although the plot he gets into is rather vague, which makes the twists somewhat hollow.

Movie #24: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (Showtime)
It reminds me of Michael Curtz’s early two-color technicolor films, which weren’t that good either. I can see why the director was so hyped and then never did anything again despite working on a major studio film with a top-tier cast. The actors seem bored with what’s going on, and there’s a twist with the villain that explains why he’s played by Laurence Olivier (who had been dead for 17 years by the time the movie comes out) but that means we don’t have much of an antagonist for the generic aviator and girl reporter.

Movie #25/ New Movie #14: Martin Eden (Mubi)
There’s a weird anachronistic approach to this film, which transplants Jack London’s 1909 American novel Martin Eden to an Italy that is hard to place (everyone has TVs but the country gets involved in war, the debates on socialism seem to come from the early 20th century but the fashion and transportation comes later) which makes it hard to get a context for the struggling writer. Luca Marinelli is good at depicting the writer’s passion and individualism, as well as his transformation from a striver to a disillusioned “success.”

An aim for February will be to watch the five episodes of Small Axe, five more movies by black directors, and five films with Viola Davis.

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On Booting Cruz and Hawley From the Senate

There have been a few calls for the expulsion of Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley from the Senate, or even their arrest. When other members of Congress are pushing for it, it’s important to consider what precedent this would set. I should of course note that questioning whether two Senators should be expelled or pushed out (which seems to have occurred three times in the last thirty years) is different from suggesting that what happened is okay.

Tim Murphy of Mother Jones argues that what Hawley and Cruz did was unprecedented.

A week earlier, Hawley had been the first senator to announce that he would object to the Electoral College votes from a handful of key states. Not to be outdone in their loyalty to Donald Trump, more than a dozen colleagues (led by Ted Cruz) followed suit, turning a staid tradition into an unprecedented constitutional challenge.

It is worth noting that each time when Republicans have won the White House in the 21st Century, some Democratic members of Congress made similar futile efforts, and weren’t removed for it or tried for sedition. So there has to be some kind of neutral principle to establish what makes those attempts legal maneuvers from members of Congress in good standing with their party, and Ted Cruz’s bullshit call for a congressional audit worthy of arrest and/ or removal from the Senate.

One can argue that the 2000 election was much closer than the 2020 election, but there were similar objections in 2016, in which the margin in the tipping point states was about as close.

Another argument I’ve heard is that it’s okay to challenge the results when the winner of the electoral college is not the same as the winner of the popular vote. That’s not a standard in American election law, but it also doesn’t explain the challenge in 2004, which also marks the one time the Democratic members of the House were joined by a senator. I am unaware of any push to expel Barbara Boxer from the Senate.

The differences should be articulated, so that we can establish neutral standards going forward. These standards will of course be used to go after Democrats as well in future controversies that we can’t really predict at the moment, as well as other Republicans. We can also look at what neutral standards were violated by Cruz and Hawley, but not by earlier Democrats, to determine if Cruz and Hawley should be booted.

Some of the people calling for Cruz and Hawley’s removal seem to be under the impression they knew that rioters were going to come to the capitol. If the investigations demonstrate that they were aware of this, that becomes a very different situation, but there isn’t much evidence of this.

One argument is that Cruz and Hawley should be expelled because they advocated for a bullshit cause that idiots later used to justify actions that led to five deaths, including that of a police officer. This standard would suggest that any politician who advocates for a weak position should be held responsible if anyone’s killed in an ensuing protest. It would require some way of ascertaining which positions are so unreasonable that no one can be expected to advocate for it, but I don’t mind it as a standard.

Another point of view is that Cruz and Hawley should be removed because they still voted to challenge the results after the capitol was attacked. At that point, they had to know that people were responding to their views much more seriously than they did to Barbara Boxer in 2005.

One perspective is that politicians should accept the results of elections. Stacey Abrams is certainly an individual in good standing within the Democratic party, and noteworthy for not actually conceding.

A subtext of arguments is that when Democrats protest the results of an election it’s because voters weren’t counted, and that when Republicans protest, it’s because questionable voters were counted. This would be an argument to articulate clearly and unambiguously, to establish why one perspective is legitimate and another is not.

Whatever standard you use has to take into account existing law, and apply to all political figures. If heated rhetoric is not allowed from Republicans, than it’s not allowed from Democratic candidates. If Republicans are to be jailed because protesters rioted, Democratic officials can be held responsible if left-wing protests go bad. The law should not make a distinction between what is acceptable rhetoric or behavior because of what side protesters are on.

There are plenty of members of congress who show piss poor judgment and should not hold the office they do. The main way to get rid of them is to vote them out, or in some extreme cases, pressure them to resign (something that has only happened three times in my lifetime.) Whether Cruz should lose to Beto O’Rourke or Hawley should lose to Jason Kander in the next election is a separate question from whether they should be convicted or expelled.

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Films Seen In 2020 Part 8

This is a conclusion to a series of observations on films I’ve seen in 2020 year. While writing this, I did see a similar list on a financial blog by a writer who does a good job succinctly summarizing 30+ films. The sub-goals were to finish the list of 19 films from 2019, and 20 films from 2020, while rewatching five films from earlier in the year.

Movie #194/ New Film #112/ 1970s Movie #18: Mad Max
George Miller and Mel Gibson’s debut is pretty different from what the franchise has become. The post-apocalyptic details are rather vague, so it’s almost like a period piece in a part of Australia where crime got really bad. It takes a while for Mad Max to become the character we’re used to, although it’s an interesting journey.

Movie #195/ New Film #113/ 2020 Movie #11: The Trial of the Chicago Seven
For a guy who has only directed one other film, and who hasn’t even directed any episode of his TV shows, Sorkin handles his duties here pretty well. The material fits his wheelhouse, with an impressive cast playing colorful characters in a trial that gets to some big questions (How do we make change? How responsible are we for unintended consequences of trying to do the right thing?)

Movie #196/ New Film #114/ 1930s Movie #14/ German Film #3/ Criterion Film #34: Kameradschaft/ Comradeship
It’s a decent concept well-executed as miners in two countries unite to save lives in the aftermath of a serious accident. It’s a bit preachy, although the world of the film in which the Germans work with the French in the 1930s is better than the one we got. The individual stories are pretty good, as is the sense of danger and claustrophobia.

Movie #197/ New Film #115/ 1970s Movie #19/ Criterion Film #35: Town Bloody Hall
The documentary captured what might be the most bonkers panel discussion ever, as Norman Mailer addresses female critics representing different strands of feminism, ranging from old-school to loopy. It’s an interesting time capsule, although somewhat frustrating in that I keep hoping for the people to make better arguments. But that’s part of what makes it interesting.

Movie #198/ New Film #116/ 1970s Movie #20/ Criterion Film #36: Lady Snowblood
It’s a beautifully (if cheaply) shot revenge drama that bridges the gap between Lone Wolf & Cub (made by the same comics creators) and Kill Bill.

Movie #199/ New Film #117/ 2020 Movie #12: Enola Holmes
It’s a charming take on Holmes, which reminds me a lot of Steven Moffat’s work so much that I’m surprised there aren’t major creative links. The story is sometimes predictable, although there are some good twists.

Movie #200/ New Film #118/ 1970s Movie #21/ Criterion Film #37: Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance
The sequel has made Lady Snowblood a bit too tough in her ability to overwhelm entire police forces, and removes much of her motivation, until she gets involved in a plot involving an anarchist with a legitimate case against the government.

Movie #201/ New Film #119/ 1940s Movie #14 The Senator Was Indiscreet
George S. Kaufman’s sole directorial effort is ahead of its time in its depiction of the sketchy side of politics as William Powell plays an incompetent Senator making BS promises while running for President. It’s a solid political satire, even if it’s no longer as bold.

Movie #202/ New Film #120/ 1970s Movie #22: The Bird With the Crystal Plumage
Argento’s directing debut shows some of the themes that interest him in later work (how a witness may miss a crucial detail), and really demonstrates his debt to Hitchcock.

Movie #203/ New Movie #121/ 2019 Movie #16: Aladdin
The live action remake has some decent changes and set pieces, but it’s hurt by a bland lead, cliched love interest, and mediocre villain. It’s a weaker version of a story that’s been done well before. Will Smith’s genie is okay.

Movie #204/ New Movie #122/ 2019 Movie #17: High-Flying Bird
This cleverly shot relatively short film about a sports agent who sees a basketball strike as a potential opportunity to change the world is an intriguing take on sports, the media and racial issues.

Movie #205/ New Movie #123/ 2020 Movie #13: An American Pickle
The HBO Max comedy about an early 20th century Jewish immigrant becoming roommates with his sole descendant in modern Brooklyn is a decent showcase for Seth Rogen, as well as an examination of what’s changed and what’s possible in America.

Movie #206/ New Movie #124/ 2020 Movie #14: Emma.
It’s a clever take on one of the most successful English novels ever, with impressive country sets and Anya Taylor-Joy depicting Emma’s lack of self-awareness and growth rather well.

Movie #207/ New Movie #125/ 2019 Movie #18: Nova Lituania
It might be difficult to understand without some background knowledge of the pre-World War 2 Baltic states, which adds weight to the college politics, and the otherwise uncomfortable family drama.

Movie #208/ New Movie #126/ 2020 Movie #15: She Dies Tomorrow
It has an odd split with an 85% Rotten Tomatoes score, and a 5.1 score on imdb, although I can understand why critics would find much to appreciate, and audiences would be perplexed. The genre is weird to figure out, as a young woman’s belief that she is going to die the next day spreads to others around her. The relationships between characters are very specific and fully realized, and even if a choice the filmmaker makes isn’t satisfying, it is very deliberate.

Movie #209/ New Movie #127/ 2020 Movie #16: Bloodshot
The Valiant superhero movie universe is not off to a great start, which does highlight how lucky we are to get all the good superhero movies mainly from Marvel. The twist at the end of the first act has been spoiled in the trailers, and the film just isn’t that much fun after that.

Rewatch #1: Hamilton
Watching it again hasn’t diminished my response. Now, I’ve got an even better appreciation of the deftness with which the work reveals new facets to supporting characters, from one of the greatest unrequited love revelations ever, to Burr’s “lie in wait” song revealing the reason for his apparent inaction, the perfect entrance of another rival in the beginning of the second act, and the final moments hinting that someone else is the real hero.

Movie #210/ 1990s Movie #13: The Godfather Coda- The Death of Michael Corleone
I’m not going to count this as a 2020 film, even if it was finally edited this year. I saw the original cut a few years ago, and can’t really evaluate if this is radically different. It’s a decent crime movie that happens to star characters from much better films. Newcomer to the series Andy Garcia has a great arc, going from loose cannon to a new Corelone.

Rewatch #2: The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)
This mishmash of several Edgar Allan Poe stories (The Fall of the House of Usher, and “The Oval Portrait”) has a great atmosphere of nightmarish desperation. It’s responsible for Ebert’s great observation “There are times when I think that of all the genres, the horror film most misses silence.”

Movie #211/ 2000s Movie #14: Speed Racer
I can understand why this movie flopped and why it has its fans. There’s a serious mismatch in the combination of source material (a cartoon about a teenage racer) and the subject matter (secret cartel fixes car races to manipulate the stock market) combined with a convoluted narrative where the main bad guy is a middle aged Englishman in a suit.

Movie #212/ New Movie #128/ 2019 Movie #19: Knock Down the House
The documentary on progressive US House candidates has only gotten more relevant with the high profile of subject Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the election of Cora Bush. I’ll have some quibbles with omissions, but it does get to the nitty-gritty and uncertainty of activism, while showing some major insights into politics and campaigning.

Movie #213/ New Movie #129/ 2020 Movie #17: Soul
The story of a middle-aged music teacher trying to get out of the afterlife just after he gets his first big break may be the least child-friendly Pixar film ever. At times, it feels a bit derivative of some of their other projects (Coco‘s exploration of one version of the afterlife, Inside Out‘s take on personality, Ratatouille on artistic expression) but other times it feels like a continued and worthwhile exploration of themes the Pixar team finds to be important. There are also quite a few moments of genius, as a reminder that no one is better today in making clever animated film.

Rewatch #3: One Hour With You
On a second watch, this Lubitsch/ Chevalier collaboration remains slight, but I do appreciate the clever dialogue. There’s a bit of a charm to a film made so early in the sound era they’re trying to figure out stuff like how well rhyming can work if characters are just speaking.

Movie #214/ New Movie #130/ 2020 Movie #18: Antebellum
From the reviews, it seemed worth exploring to see just why critics really disliked it, and how the largely unknown writer/directors screwed up so badly with the cast and budget (to be fair, the budget was pretty low but they used it well.) And to be clear, they screwed up. It’s a fascinating ambitious failure, and worth studying for what not to do, and why it bothered critics so much. Part of it is that in order to get a twist at the end of the second act, they leave out potentially the most interesting part of a protagonist’s story.

Movie #215/ New Movie #131/ 2000s Movie #15: Sam Peckinpah’s West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade
It’s a decent but not essential documentary about what made Peckinpah’s best films work, and why he couldn’t go further as a director. On the Wild Bunch blu-ray, it was overshadowed by a feature in which the cast and crew went back to the original location.

Movie #216/ New Movie #130/ 2020 Movie #19: Onward
It’s Pixar, so of course it’s well-made and has great little details about a world that conveys a central idea very well (fantasy creatures have stopped using magic because it’s hard.) The quest is a bit ridiculous (two brothers briefly resurrect the bottom half of their father) although it does have some good payoff.

Rewatch #4: Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors
The second time I’m watching this, I have a real appreciation for how Sergei Parajanov conveys the specifics of the Ukranian Hutsul culture, and the Carpathian environment. The costumes, sets, landscapes and glimpses into the musical culture are astounding.

Movie #217/ 1960s Movie #22: The Wild Bunch
The great anti-Western has strong performances from a cast with multiple Oscar winners (William Holden, Ben Johnson, Ernest Borgnine) in a film that’s just about the bad guys, and refreshing for it. That aspect of it might never have been surpassed

Rewatch #5: Mad Max
Seeing it again with an awareness of the beats, I have a better appreciation for Max’s character arc, the specific details of the outlaw band, and Director George Miller’s skill at conveying forward momentum, to be fully realized generations later in Fury Road.

Movie #218/ 1950s Film #13: The Curse of Frankenstein
Hammer’s take on Frankenstein is quite different from the Universal Horror film, or the book for that matter, a version where the monster isn’t as bad as the man who created him. It’s easy to underrate Peter Cushing’s Victor Frankenstein, as one of the best takes on the common trope of the mad scientist. The production is nice, although it is sometimes slow and the direction can be dull.

Movie #219/ New Movie #131/ 2020 Movie #20: Black Bear
This is a weird film to describe because it takes a major turn halfway through. The lead actors are astounding, conveying a secluded trio who get into some vicious arguments in a modern Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? way that goes to some dark places. The new direction shows their range, although it can also make everything seem insincere while exploring the themes artistic inspiration and betrayal.

Movie #220/ New Movie #132/ 2020 Movie #21: Bill & Ted Face the Music
The Bill & Ted sequel explores the duo as middle-aged has-beens, who aren’t in the position to do what they’re supposed to do and save the world. It’s a charming time travel comedy, with decent cast additions in the daughters and the band of the greatest musicians ever.

Year-end Round-Up:

  • Best Movie of 2020: Hamilton
  • Best Movie I’ve Seen From 2020 if Hamilton doesn’t count: Soul
  • Notable 2020 movies I still need to see: The Father, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Hillbilly Elegy, Martin Eden, Pieces of a Woman, Da 5 Bloods, Tenet, Minari, Time, American Utopia, Small Axe, Nomadland, Bacura, Mank, Collective, News of the World, One Night in Miami, Wonder Woman 1984 (even if it’s unlikely to be as good as the others), City Hall (It’s on PBS for another two weeks; that will be a challenge)
  • Favorite 2019 Movie (seen in 2020): 1917
  • Ten Best Movies I Haven’t Seen Before: Soul, Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors, The Match Factory Girl, The Lovers, Little Women, Battle of Algiers, Truth & Justice, A Man Escapes, Army of Shadows, Hamilton
  • Worst 2020 Movie I’ve Seen: Bloodshot

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Movies Watched in 2020 Part 7: Halloween Horror

This is a continuation of observations on films I’ve watched this year, although I’m making a bit of a detour for Halloween. Every now and then, I’ve participated in challenges to watch 13 horror (or at least horror-adjacent) movies in October, and that’s always fun.

This year, I’m going with two sub-challenges: five movies produced by Blumhouse, and five films from the Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 horror films.

Movie #181/ New Movie #103/ 2019 Movie #15/ Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 Horror #1: Midsommar
This story about grad students going to a Northern European pagan festival kinda speaks to me as an Estonian-American. The basic story is pretty good, the mythology is well-realized and the story actually says something about grief and mourning.

Movie #182/New Movie #104/ 2010s Movie #30/ Blumhouse #1: Town That Dreaded Sundown
It’s a strange sequel/ remake, which shows how a town is affected by the publicity behind an actual 1970s horror movie, and the source material of actual grisly murders. Beneath it all is an okay meta-slasher.

Movie #183/ 2010s Movie #31/ Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 #2: It Follows
It’s probably one of the best concepts for a horror movie in the last decade, setting a well-realized world with characters encountering supernatural forces in an understandable way. The little details and mysteries really help sell a tremendous directorial debut.

Movie #184/ New Movie #105/ 2020 Movie #10/ Blumhouse #2: You Should Have Left
This straight to video (download) film about a family in a strange house isn’t perfect. The scary house is okay, but could be better realized. Amanda Seyfried (likely to get an Oscar nomination for Mank) is underused. There are some odd decisions in the adaptation (There isn’t much of an explanation about how a middle-aged banker accused of the murder of his first wife got to marry a much younger actress) and at the end, it’s not clear why we should care for the protagonist. It’s a decent showcase for Kevin Bacon as a flawed man encountering the supernatural.

Movie #185/ Silent Movie #11/ Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 #3: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
For a little while, this may have been the best movie ever made. It remains a great example of German expressionism in film. The Kino Blu-ray has a decent restoration, and a decent supplemental documentary on the historical context.

Movie #186/ 1980s Movie #15/ Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 #4: The Shining
Kubrick’s effort at horror may just be the best cinematic ghost story.

Movie #187/ New Movie #106/ 1960s Movie #21: The Devil Rides Out
This Hammer picture about a satanic cult is a rare chance to see Christopher Lee play a good guy.

Movie #188/ New Movie #107/ 2010s Movie #32/ Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 #5: Bone Tomahawk
I’ve heard Sonny Bunch mention this western-horror hybrid a lot, so I was intrigued. It generally works pretty well, establishing a new type of villain in an offshoot Native American tribe that kidnaps settlers on the frontier. High marks to Kurt Russel as a sheriff encountering things beyond his imagination, and Patrick Wilson as the prototypical civilized man forced to sacrifice everything for the possibility of saving his wife.

Movie #189/New Movie #108/ 2010s Movie #33/ Blumhouse #3: Happy Death Day
I do remain a sucker for time travel, and this film does combine a reasonably inventive college slasher film with a concept that provides for humor and horror, as the victim keeps experiencing her death over and over.

Movie #190/New Movie #109/ 2010s Movie #34/ Blumhouse #4: Happy Death Day 2 U
The sequel builds on the original in some interesting ways, providing an explanation for the chaos, as well as a world where the lead gets something she really wants. There are some big decisions that I don’t quite accept.

Movie #191/New Movie #110/ French Film #/ 1970s Movie #17: The Iron Rose
I saw it on a list of best horror movies, so I was intrigued. But this story about a young couple lost in a graveyard at night can be slooooooooow, even if it does occasionally have strong visuals.

Movie #192/New Movie #111/ 2010s Movie #35/ Blumhouse #5: Unfriended
The gimmick of a found horror film based on video messaging apps has gained relevance post-COVID. It generally uses the format pretty well, and has a decent story about teens forced to reveal secrets (even if it’s pretty clear all the actors are in their twenties) although the final monster isn’t all that convincing.

Movie #193/ Silent Movie #12/ Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 #6: Nosferatu (BFI Restoration)
The original Dracula adaptation has stunning visuals, and probably the most compelling arc for the young married couple for any of the films. Count Orloc may just be the best cinematic vampire

The ranking…

  1. The Shining
  2. Nosferatu
  3. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  4. It Follows
  5. Midsomar
  6. Bone Tomahawk
  7. Happy Death Day
  8. Happy Death Day 2U
  9. The Devil Rides Out
  10. You Should Have Left
  11. The Town That Dreaded Sundown
  12. Unfriended
  13. The Iron Rose

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