Why My Mom Hates International Women’s Day

8-march-1

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 marxists.org

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.

Posted in Eesti, Politics, Thomas Mets | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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.
7/10

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.
5/10

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.
7/10

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.
9/10

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.
7/10

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.
10/10

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.
9/10

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.
6/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
10/10

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.
8/10

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.
9/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
5/10

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.
10/10

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.
8/10

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.
8/10

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.
8/10

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.
10/10

Posted in Film, Politics | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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.
8/10

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.
10/10

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.
9/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
10/10

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.
9/10

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.
9/10

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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.
7/10

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.
3/10

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
9/10

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.
8/10

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.
8/10

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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.
6/10

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.”
7/10

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.

Posted in Film | Leave a comment

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.

https://news.yahoo.com/why-stacey-abrams-still-wont-concede-194648579.html

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.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , | Leave a comment

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.
8/10

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?)
8/10

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.
9/10

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.
8/10

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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.
6/10

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.
8/10

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.
8/10

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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.
7/10

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.
4/10

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.
10/10

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.
7/10

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.”
9/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
9/10

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.
7/10

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.
4/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
9/10

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
10/10

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.
9/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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

Posted in Film, Politics | Leave a comment

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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.
9/10

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.
7/10

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.
10/10

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.
10/10

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.
7/10

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.
8/10

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.
8/10

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.
7/10

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.
6/10

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.
7/10

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
10/10

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

Posted in Film | Leave a comment

Films Seen in 2020 Part 6

This is a continuation of observations on films I’ve seen this year. The sub-goals are 5 films with Michelle Williams, 5 films with Casey Affleck (I’ve been slacking with watching more recent work so picking these two seems like a way to catch up), 5 films in which three or more actors were nominated for Academy Awards, and 5 pairs of films that competed for Oscars. Manchester By the Sea counts in all categories.

Movie #151/ 1990s Film #11/ 3 Acting Nominations #1/ Casey Affleck Movie #1/ Pair #1A: Good Will Hunting
Too many of the characters in the film are world-class intellects, but this is otherwise a good story about conflicting views of how to help a man with tremendous potential, and some serious flaws. Robin (not Michelle) Williams is amazing as the wise psychiatrist. The film is legitimately inspirational, and quite rewatchable.
9/10

Movie #152/ New Movie #82/ 2010s Movie #20/ Michelle Williams Film #1: Venom
Thanks to recent Sony announcements, this is officially the worst MCU film, and probably the worst Spider-Man adjacent film. It’s not terrible, just bland, wasting actors like Tom Hardy and (Michelle) Williams on a generic superhero origin story.
5/10

Movie #153/ 2019 Movie #11: Knives Out
This is an immensely satisfying and entertaining mystery, simultaneously old-fashioned (a suspicious murder and a surprising reading of the will) and modern (dealing with immigration, race and social media in the 21sr Century.) The cast is extraordinary (the star turn for Ana De Armas is the highlight), and the script is clever.
9/10

Movie #154/ New Film #83/ 2020 Movie #8: The Hunt
The controversy here was way too overblown, especially since the whole plot about liberal elites hunting Trump supporter types was not going to make the left look good.
7/10

Movie #155/ New Film #84/ 1980s Movie #14: Clue
After watching Knives Out again, I figured I’d check out an obvious influence. It’s fine, with some standout sequences, especially when some of the suspects try to distract an officer from noticing the corpse in the room.
7/10

Movie #156/ New Movie #85/ 2019 Movie #12: Long Shot
Decent high concept for a political romantic comedy, as a shlub goes after the ultimate women way out of his league; a young Secretary of State/ Presidential candidate. Do I buy everything? Nope. Some of the satire is too obvious even with Trump in the White House. But it’s fun.
7/10

Movie #157/ New Movie #86/ 2019 Movie #13: Frozen 2
An interesting sequel that explores some dark themes, as the royal sisters learn about the flaws of their ancestors. Maybe it’s a difference between Pixar and Disney, but the songs do get on my nerves on this one.
7/10

Movie #158/ New Movie #87/ 2019 Movie #14: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
This is a decent buddy pic about a cynical reporter and the nicest man in the world. Tom Hanks is great at showing a Mr. Rogers who is a great guy, but who still has to work hard at it.
8/10

Movie #159/ 2010s Movie #21: The Martian
It solidifies Ridley Scott as one of the great science fiction directors, with this, Alien and Blade Runner among the best top three of any director in any medium. It’s a really enjoyable piece about one man’s survival, both from his perspective, and the forces of Earth, unable to fully help him when he’s literally on a different planet.
10/10

Movie #160/ New Movie #88/ 1940s Film #12/ Pair #2A: Wilson
The biopic of Woodrow Wilson is not a great example of the Golden Age of Hollywood. I could see why it flopped. It’s episodic, without much of a narrative, as the President of Princeton becomes President of the United States during World War One. Major moments are skipped, including his entire decision and rationale for running for President. They do also gloss over the racism and civil liberties violations.
5/10

Movie #161/ New Movie #89/ 2010s Film #22/ 3 Acting Nominations #2/ Casey Affleck Movie #2/ Michelle Williams Film #2/ Pair #3A: Manchester By the Sea
It’s not as draining as you would think, in a film about a damaged family, and a guy trying to do the right thing by his nephew after his brother dies (which is by no means the worst thing that has happened to the family.) It is a well made film about a truly troubled family.
9/10

Movie #162/ New Movie #90/ 1940s Film #13/ 3 Acting Nominations #3/ Pair #2B: Going My Way
This is a bit unusual in the 3+ performances category as one actor was nominated in two categories. It’s a pleasant film about two priests learning to get along (there are initial conflicts, but they’re not enemies), with an ending that is truly powerful and well-earned.
9/10

Movie #163/ 1960s Film #19/ 3+ Acting Nominations #4/ Pair #3B: Judgment at Nuremberg
Maximilian Schell won an Oscar for the best performance in a film with Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift, as a lawyer walking a very fine line between defending Germany after World War II, and suggesting that anyone else could be capable of that. It’s a terrific film about some serious ideas.
9/10

Movie #164/ 2010s Film #23/ Michelle Williams Film #3: The Greatest Showman
The musical about PT Barnum is historically inaccurate, but has some legitimately moving moments, and fantastic showtunes. I completely understand why it was such a hit, and wouldn’t mind a sequel introducing Bailey.
8/10

Movie #165/ 1960s Movie #20/ French Film #5/ Criterion Edition #31: Alphaville
Watching it again, this Godard curiosity remains aggressively weird. It’s very much a noir, with Eddie Constantine playing detective Lenny Caution, just as he has in many other films. Except this time it’s by Godard with Anna Karina as the love interest. And its a sci fi dystopia, with very little special effects. But the computer is kind of a fascist, controlling a world where no one is allowed to show emotion. It’s more interesting than great.
7/10

Movie #166/ 2000s Movie #11/ Michelle Williams Film #4: I’m Not There
It’s an odd avant-garde film, with multiple actors playing facets of Bob Dylan, that will include a lot of references that don’t make any sense to the people who aren’t familiar with his story. Even under those circumstances, it does remain quite accessible.
8/10

Movie #167/ New Movie #91/ 2010s Movie #24/ 3+ Academy Nominated Performances #5/ Pair #4A: Vice
This is an oddball biopic that has to cover a lot of territory since it’s about a man who was White House Chief of Staff, a member of Republican leadership in Congress, Secretary of Defense and a consequential Vice President. When watching it, I’ll quibble on timing before realizing that they just skipped a big moment (IE- a rather close presidential reelection.) It’s a decent take on a man pulling himself together, and a look at a major Washington power couple, although it doesn’t seem to recognize how Cheney could view his actions as correct, even if it understands that he does.
8/10

Movie #168/ New Movie #92/ 2010s Movie #25/ Casey Affleck Movie #4: A Ghost Story
It’s a decent quiet movie about what matters of a man’s life when he has become a ghost, and ends up part of the future and history of a location.
8/10

Movie #169/  1970s Movie #15: THX-1138
The vision of a dystopia is rather well-realized and often quite modern. It is somewhat disorienting to consider whether scenes work because the film worked, or because an A-List Director with unlimited resources could play around with it after the fact.
7/10

Movie #170/ New Movie #93/ 2010s Movie #26: Time Trap
I’m a sucker for time travel films, so this story about college students bumbling into a cave where time goes differently is right up my alley. And there are some decent twists as they realize the scale of the weirdness.
7/10

Movie #171/ New Film #94/ 2020 Movie #8: The Old Guard
It’s a decent concept about an immortal team of mercenaries that results in some solid action sequences, and good twists on the concept. The main villain isn’t that interesting, although they do seed a better one for the sequel
8/10

Movie #172/ New Movie #95/ 1930s Movie #12/ Criterion Edition #32/ Pair #5A: The Smiling Lieutenant
As far as I can tell, Ernst Lubitsch and Maurice Chevalier have a rare distinction as the only director/ lead actor duo to be responsible for multiple Best Picture nominations in the same year (Francis Ford Copolla and John Cazale did The Godfather Part 2 and The Conversation together in the same year, but Cazale wasn’t lead) which speaks to their success. The comedy about a lieutenant who pisses off royalty by accidental impertinence is perfectly fine, especially when he has to choose between love and responsibility, and the film doesn’t go for the cliched choice.
8/10

Movie #173/ New Movie #96/ 1930s Movie #13/ Criterion Edition #33/ Pair #5B: One Hour With You
The other Lubitsch/ Chevalier film to earn a Best Picture nomination at the fifth Academy Awards. The songs are better, and the basic concept of a loving couple stumbling into adultery is a fun example of Pre-Code Hollywood, but there’s too much of a contrast between the light touch and the topic.
7/10

Movie #174/ New Movie #97/ 2010s Movie #27/ Pair #5B: First Reformed
This is an interesting film, worthy of deeper study that doesn’t require any familiarity with the influences, although I’m a little bit worried about its success among critics. I’m curious what happens if someone who isn’t especially politically engaged watches the movie with the understanding that critics think that Ethan Hawke’s minister has an attitude that makes sense.
8/10

Movie #175/  New Movie #98/ 1970s Movie #16: Frenzy
This is what happens when Hitchcock gets an R rating. The rape and gags involving naked corpses suggest that he worked better when restrained. It is kinda funny to see British actors I know exclusively from one TV performance decades later (Bernard Cribbins from Doctor Who, Clive Swift from Keeping up Appearances) in a radically different mystery.
7/10

Movie #176/ New Movie #99/ 2000s Movie #12/ Michelle Williams Movie #5: Meek’s Cutoff
There’s much about the film I don’t care for, but it is very deliberate in showing a version of what the west was like: indecisive miserable people on a dangerous journey where much was unknown.
6/10

Movie #177/ 1990s Film #14/ Pair #1B: L.A. Confidential
It’s a fun take on police during the Golden Age of Hollywood, with Spacey, Crowe and Pearce having a decent dynamic as different types of cops involved in a major conspiracy that doesn’t reach the depths of Chinatown, but remains kinda fun. Kim Basinger is a standout as a woman who represents the seedy side of Los Angeles.
8/10

Movie #178/ New Movie #100/ 2010s Movie #28/ Competition #1A/ / Pair #4B: Fences
This is an excellent domestic drama, with Denzel Washington’s Troy Maxson fully realized in his flaws and disappointments, and Viola Davis shining as the long-suffering wife wondering when it’s her turn.
9/10

Movie #179/ New Movie #101/ 2010s Movie #29/ Casey Affleck Movie #4: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
The story about a woman who screwed up and the lover who takes the fall makes for a decent crime drama. I will admit this is the point where the subcategories made it less fun to watch the damn movie, especially with Halloween coming up and new sub-challenges. It’s fine and it’s interesting.
7/10

Movie #180/ New Movie #102/ 2000s Movie #13/ Casey Affleck Movie #5: The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford
It should not surprise anyone that a film with Roger Deakins is well-shot. Casey Affleck had well-deserved credit for his Robert Ford, a more complex figure than you may assume, although this film also has strong performances from Brad Pitt as the titular Jesse James, and Sam Rockwell as Ford’s brother. I may be a sucker for films that captures the mythos of America (My Darling Clementine, The New World, Bonnie and Clyde, Lincoln, Selma) but this is a competent example, and one I highly recommend.
9/10

Posted in Film | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

When Late Assignments Aren’t Penalized

San Diego is overhauling their system of grading in order to fight racism. Among the changes, students will no longer be penalized for handing in late work.

“This is part of our honest reckoning as a school district,” says SDUSD Vice President Richard Barrera. “If we’re actually going to be an anti-racist school district, we have to confront practices like this that have gone on for years and years.”

According to data presented by the district, under the old grading system, teachers fail minority students more than White students – a lot more.

During the first semester of last year, 30% of all D or F grades were given to English learners. One in four, 25%, of failing marks went to students with disabilities.

By ethnicity, 23% went to Native Americans. Another 23% of failing grades went to Hispanics. And 20% of D or F grades went to Black students.

By comparison, just 7% of failing marks went to White students.

In an effort to change that racial imbalance, the school board voted unanimously this week to make several big changes to its grading system.

Academic grades will now focus on mastery of the material, not a yearly average, which board members say penalizes students who get a slow start, or who struggle at points throughout the year.

Another big change, teachers can no longer consider non-material factors when grading. Things like turning work in on time and classroom behavior will now instead count towards a student’s citizenship grade, not their academic grade.

One major reason I think this is dumb is that it creates some misaligned incentives for the students. When there are no penalties for handing in late work, fewer students will complete it on time, and they’ll have a tougher time catching up, especially since many classes build on earlier material. History classes tend to be in sequential order, as what happens in the Civil War is relevant in understanding Reconstrution. If you’re reading a novel in English class, it helps to have read the earlier chapters. Math and Science build on earlier concepts. This could very well end up hurting students of color by making it tougher for them to get the mastery of subject matter they need in order to pass their classes.

I can understand behavior not being part of the academic grade, although that primarily works when there are significant penalties for poor behavior. Many school districts are doing away with suspensions and detention, which reduce the incentives for students to not disrupt their classmates.

It is also important to teach students the significance of deadlines. In the real world, we’re all dependent on other people completing their work on time. If a chef isn’t ready in time for dinner, that restaurant is going to fail. Maybe it’s because she was incompetent, or because a supplier didn’t get things in on time, or because someone else failed to clean the kitchen on time. Likewise, the courts require people completing their work when they’re supposed to.

Posted in Education, Politics | Leave a comment

How Voting For Joe Biden Helps Republicans

Joe Biden's friendship with Republicans.

Joe Biden has consistently led in polls of the 2020 presidential election, since his entrance into the race. One reason for that is that he’s got some support among Republican voters, as well he should.

This is a rare opportunity to vote for a major-party presidential candidate who legitimately likes members of the other party. Trump doesn’t like anyone, Democrat or Republican, who is not on his side. And most of the Democrats who might run in the future don’t care about Trump in the sense that they would be doing the exact same thing if Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Mitt Romney or Nikki Haley were President.

It may also be better for the Republicans in the long-term if Biden wins. If Trump wins reelection, history suggests the next few elections will go poorly for Republicans. To see what the 2022 midterms are like, take a look at what 2006, 2010, 2014, or 2018 was for the president’s party. Someone to Biden’s left will probably win the White House in 2024, and because it’s rare for a party to get kicked out after one term (Trump seems to be accomplishing this because he’s a terrible President) the Democrat will probably win reelection in 2028. Republicans would be unlikely to take over until 2033 when Clarence Thomas will be 84, John Roberts will be 77, and Alito will be 82.

With Biden, we’ll probably have a President who won’t seek reelection, due to his age. It is easier to win an open election (full disclosure, it may also be easier for Democrats to win in 2028 with Kamala Harris running for reelection if she’s able to get elected in 2024 than it would be if it were an open seat.) We’ll either have a competent one-term President (good for the country) or a flawed one-term Democratic President (good for the Republican party.) There is no way in hell the first woman elected to national office, and the first woman of color selected as a running mate, will not be the next Democratic nominee barring a major scandal. So Republicans will get to run against a person who dropped out of the primary because she ran out of money, and who won her first race for statewide office by a single point in California.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment