The End is in Sight

Tuesday is the end of my ten-day ordeal.  A Chinese water torture of sorts.  Tomorrow will feel like being beaten for twelve hours with a bag full of oranges but knowing that only a single day stands between me and freedom makes me anxious to get it started.  I anticipate catastrophic failure, mob violence and accusations of mopery and dopery.  But it’s as if I can see the daylight shining through the hole punched through the Earth by the screaming asteroid of doom.  So, I am almost giddy with anticipation.  Bring it on, bring it on, bring it on.

I read most of the news today and other than that Miller Beer manifesto for sucking all the joy out of men drinking beer, I didn’t see anything all that exciting.  There were all the lefty rags admonishing Trump and DeSantis, “Let’s you and him fight!”  And there was that idiot Durham with his 300-page report confirming that the FBI started the Russia-gate investigation without any evidence and yet without any criminal or professional consequences for the conspirators.  There were all the economic warnings of the impending financial meltdown.  There was Biden claiming he was going to prevent the millions of immigrants that he invited to the border from coming in, somehow.  There was the ridiculous budget battle between McCarthy and Biden.

And all sorts of other apocalyptic headlines.  But none of them were ready for prime time quite yet.  I’m curious to see if McCarthy scares Biden into creating a budget.  That would be a major accomplishment.  But we’ll have to wait.

The rest of it is just stuffing to separate the beginning and end of these news sites.  It’s something to keep these journalists off the crack pipe.  Or is it fentanyl now?

I was getting Camera Girl some cold medicine at Wally-mart and I went past the $5 bin of DVDs.  And I spotted a copy of John Wick 1.  Now I saw it when it came out and kinda, sorta enjoyed it.  I mean, it’s so cartoonish that I enjoyed it as a cartoon.  And when the second one came out, I rented it.  And it was too cartoonish to enjoy.  The volume of bullets flying and the sheer numbers of people being shot is dizzying.  It almost gives you motion sickness.  I missed the third one.  And now there’s a fourth one coming out.  So, seeing that copy in the remainder bin of venerable old John Wick 1 made me feel nostalgic for the comfortable 5X speed that I remember from that classic.  After my ordeal is over tomorrow, I’m going to find two hours or whatever it was and watch Keanu Reeves do whatever it is that he does in motion pictures.  Sure, it’s stupid and sure it’s not acting but so what?  Where is there acting anymore?  Certainly not on tv.

Of late Camera Girl has been watching some of the innumerable and interchangeable cop and fireman series that are sprinkled across prime-time network tv.  Once in a while she’ll have one on while I’m in the room and recently I’ve discovered what these shows have become in the last ten years or so.  They’re soap operas.  The most important component of the plot is the girl cops or fire girls or NCIS girls emoting about their feeling to their male counterparts or talking to the other girls about which boy they’re in love with.  Honestly, this is what the women of America think a police precinct or firehouse or SWAT team is all about.  It’s completely unwatchable and I have chastised Camera Girl for her horrible taste in entertainment but being a girl herself she can’t see the problem.  So, I’ve asked her to find some time when I’m out of the house or in a coma to watch this sort of dreck.

So Wednesday I’ll resurface and try to have something somewhat clever to say.  But for now, it’s horror and anticipation that holds me in sway.  Enjoy your Tuesday.  We who are about to die salute you.

Of Ricotta Cheese and the Seventh Circle of Hell

What to write about tonight?  Today was a day for chores.  One was my semi-annual trip to the dental hygienist.  Such a strange thing we have to do.  Twice a year someone has to torture you with dental tools while trying to make small talk with someone who can’t speak.  You know it’s an interesting thing.  Someone who’s good at that must be a gifted person.  My hygienist only sees me twice a year but somehow manages to continue the conversation from where it left off six months earlier.  Quite the trick.  Either she has an incredible memory or she takes notes.  Either way it’s kind of remarkable.  And it’s funny.  This time she told me that my teeth and gums looked better than usual.  For some reason this slight praise filled me with a sense of accomplishment.  I was now some kind of flossing ninja!

Anyway, when I got back home with my slightly whiter teeth and my “free” new toothbrush I read through the news articles and I even commented on the OPEC move to screw Joe Biden to the wall.  And that was fun.  But nothing struck me as the nucleus of a post.

So, I watched an old movie that I recently bought.  I got it used at a library sale.  I’d never consider buying it new because it’s not that good.  It’s “Constantine” with Keanu Reeves as a freelance exorcist who battles demons while smoking a lot of cigarettes.  It’s really a goofy concept.  Constantine has a gift that allows him to see demons.  But he is damned to Hell for a suicide attempt he sort of succeeded at when he was a boy.  He was “dead for two minutes.”  During those two minutes he experienced a lifetime of torment in Hell before the doctors revived him.  In this movie he is battling semi-demons, a renegade angel and lung cancer.  As I said it’s a goofy movie but every three years or so I seem to watch it again.  Another problem with the movie is it costars Shia LaBeouf.  Well, what can you do?  But it was a good way to stop thinking about Joe Biden for an hour or two.

Camera Girl put together a nice manicotti and meat ball dinner for us.  Now that’s comfort food.  So, I complemented her on this delicious meal and then she told me that the cost for the meal had doubled in a little over a month.  She said, for instance, that ricotta cheese went from $3.50 for a container to $7.00.  Being the frugal and practical shopper, this kind of thing strikes her as madness.  I started to explain to her how energy costs associated with the green new deal cascaded through the economy and caused multiple increases in the costs of food because of transportation, refrigeration, fertilizer and of course the ever-popular supply chain problems.  She gave me a look as if I had blamed it on the demons from the Constantine movie.  So, I stopped beating that drum and told her we’d find a way to save money by eliminating something “scholastic.”  That’s the word she uses for anything that she deems pseudo-intellectual.  Which covers anything that I am interested in that she is not.

But there was Joe Biden again.  Annoying my wife by sabotaging the economy.  This monster had doubled the price of ricotta cheese in a single month.  Looking back at the logic of the Constantine movie I decided that for this monstrous act Creepy Uncle Joe should be consigned to one of the worst circles of Hell, possibly the one where an arch-demon gets to clean the teeth of the damned with a pickaxe for all eternity and where they’ve completely run out of free toothbrushes.  I started to wonder if Joe’s fake teeth would be more or less sensitive to pain.  But then I remembered that arch-demons really know their stuff so he would be in for it either way.  So, I felt a little better.

You know all the little problems that come out of the sabotage of the economy seem trivial compared with crime waves, nuclear war and the sexual mutilation of children.  But those little things add up to something important.  The United States was called the land of opportunity because a good chunk of its citizens, the middle class, was prosperous.  They weren’t rich but they weren’t poor.  They couldn’t buy a new car every three years but they always could go out when they felt like it to a burger joint or a Chinese restaurant and enjoy a good meal to give everybody in the family a boost.  Not since the days of Jimmy Carter have we been worried about having enough money to pay for the groceries and the mortgage.  Now we do.

And so, if I was going to consign Joe Biden to Hell for his crimes, I wouldn’t leave out this charge.  Because along with everything else he’s done he’s killed the natural cheerfulness of the American people.  That’s a pretty monstrous thing.

Well, that’s what I’ve come up with.  It seems a bit random but life is a stew.

Shakespeare in Film – Part 3 – Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Back in 1989 Kenneth Branagh made a splash in the title role of Henry V and because of it became a movie star and was allowed to produce several of Shakespeare’s plays paid for by major studios!  One of the fruits of this strange marriage of Hollywood and Branagh was “Much Ado About Nothing,” one of the comedies.  The cast combines English stage and screen actors with American movie stars such as Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, Kate Beckinsale and Keanu Reeves.  And because at the time she was Mrs. Branagh, Emma Thompson co-starred.

Up front I will say that this film is a bizarre mix of good, bad, indifferent and unbearable acting.  The subplot that involves the thwarting of a marriage by a wrongful accusation against the bride is so emotionally overwrought and pathetic that I am tempted to fast forward through it.  On the other hand, the antagonistic love/hate relationship between Branagh and Thompson’s characters is at times very amusing.  But the stand out part in the play is Michael Keaton as the chief night constable Dogberry.  His bizarre appearance and mannerisms are very funny.  His malapropisms and nonsensical instructions to his men sound like they come from someone hallucinating.  My favorite exchange occurs when Dogberry tries to explain to the lord of the castle what he has discovered during his night watch.  When he speaks at length without making any sense the lord tells Dogberry that he is tedious.  Dogberry mistakes this for a compliment and promises that if he himself were as rich as a king he would willingly bestow all his tediousness on the lord.

Aside from the young love interests the worst acting of the play is provided by Keanu Reeves.  He plays the villain of the story Don John.  Never before or since have Shakespeare’s words been spoken so woodenly and so bereft of any skill.  Luckily he was able to move on and use this skill where it belonged, in John Wick 2.  Don John’s brother in the movie is Denzel Washington’s Don Pedro.  I must confess I couldn’t see the family resemblance but Don Pedro did acquit himself much more ably Keanu.  He was amusing and amiable.

For fans of the tv show House, the actor who played Wilson on that show, Robert Sean Leonard, plays the young love interest opposite Kate Beckinsale.  His emotional scenes which involved frequent tears are so embarrassing it’s a wonder he ever acted again.

So what can I say about this movie?  Anyone I haven’t scared away with my descriptions should give it a viewing.  It is most definitely a mixed bag.  But for someone who enjoys Shakespeare there are some fine scenes interspersed amongst the awful.  It’s your call.

Equilibrium – A Science Fiction Movie Review

I work with this young guy, he’s fresh out of college, maybe twenty-three-years old.  He’s an engineering graduate and is well read and has a good classical grounding in literature and history.  Good kid.  Sometimes we talk about popular culture stuff.  I can remember talking with him about the Matrix and saying there’s good and bad about it.  I think I said it would have been better if Reeves weren’t the lead.  And I think that’s when he recommended “Equilibrium.”  Now I think I know what he was getting at.

So, Equilibrium is set in a dystopian future after World War III has devastated humanity.  Mankind has decided that rather than chance another war, the root cause of war must be abolished.  If I remember the chain of logic is war is caused by hate.  Hate is an emotion.  Therefore, eliminate emotion, eliminate war.  So everyday every man woman and child self-inject with some kind of emotion deadening drug.  And of course, it doesn’t just eliminate hate and anger.  Love and happiness are extinguished too.  Brilliant.  Of course, it’s not explained why exactly they still want to live but whatever.

So just in case this premise isn’t bizarre enough, this society also has some kind of priest-like caste of ninja police whose job it is to hunt down and splatter anyone who doesn’t take his no-feelum medicine.  And of course, the Ubermensch of ninjas and protagonist of the movie is Christian Bale.  He is the most skilled proponent of the gun kata.  This stylized dance-like routine allows him to (somehow) avoid the bullets of apparently any number of gun toting opponents while literally mowing them down like grass.  The other mission of these holy stormtroopers is to root out any remaining pre-war artifacts that have emotional content.  And once located, apply a flamethrower to these emotional touchstones.  So, for instance, during one of Bale’s raids he somehow intuits that under a floor is the actual Mona Lisa.  He gives the order and the barbecue crew incinerates Leonardo’s mischievous lady.  So, what’s the problem?  It turns out there’s a resistance!  And it turns out Bale is not as emotionlessly happy as he could be.  It seems his wife unbeknownst to him was a secret feeler.  When she’s dragged away to be incinerated it seems to have left a mark.  And we’re off.  The rest of the movie is Bale going from emotionless executioner of the innocent to a guy who can’t let a puppy dog get shot.

Now let’s bring it back to my young co-worker who recommended this movie based on a comment about the Matrix.  Well, stylistically this movie is extremely dependent on the Matrix template.  Guns and swords abound and the wire work and fight scenes are very Matrix-esque.  Even Bale’s priestly cassock is like Neo’s garb in the second and third movies.  The emotionless police a level below the ninjas are close to the Matrix agents in appearance and behavior.  The Resistance is equivalent to Zion in the Matrix.  Without a doubt this movie is a reaction to the success of the Matrix.  But interestingly the dystopia is a completely different science fiction catastrophe from the AI revolution and human battery future of the Matrix.  What they share is humans fighting to be allowed to be actual humans.

What’s the verdict?  Well, it’s derivative in a number of ways but it is well done and Christian Bale is a slightly better actor than Keanu Reeves and there is the puppy dog, so there is that.  I don’t know.  I’m not a big Matrix fan.  So maybe I’m biased.  But I can’t say I recommend it unreservedly.  I will say if you really liked the Matrix you should give this a try.  It has all kinds of hyperkinetic gun and sword battles.  So, if that’s a big plus for you it’s definitely something to look at.  That’s where I’ll leave this one.

Since my readers don’t always stop by every day I figured I’d paste this poll on each post for a while to see what folks call themselves.  This is the post the poll came from  Who Are We?

… And that got me thinking. Who are the people who read my blog?  I thought it might be fun to see what the cross-section looked like.  If you feel like saying what you believe in, feel free to leave a comment and/or pick a label from the poll below.  I think it might be interesting.

 

[Total_Soft_Poll id=”6″]

John Wick 2 – A Movie Review

Earlier I reviewed John Wick.  And he killed everyone in sight and got a new dog, so story over and he lived (or bled to death) happily ever after.  But, doggone it, John Wick must have made some money so there’s gonna be a John Wick 2.

I watched it last night.  I even rented John Wick, just in case I needed to be refreshed on the details.  But it all came flooding back.  As luck would have it, there’s an evil crime lord who has a marker from John Wick that he can cash in if John comes out of retirement.  Wouldn’t you know it!  John declines.  Crime Lord blows up John’s house with some kind of a grenade launcher which based on its effect must involve anti-matter.  John is blown clear of the house (relatively unharmed mind you) and luckily for the Crime Lord the dog is unharmed.  You would think after what John did to a Crime Lord in the first movie word would have gotten out to the Crime Lord community.  Alas it hadn’t.

The remainder of the movie is the body count involved in first fulfilling his debt to the above referenced Crime Lord and then completing the vendetta against this self-same Crime Lord.  It is a ponderous count.

So, to review my take on this series, it’s based on John Wick being possessed of ultra-fast reflexes and a machine-like precision at killing men, whether with gun, knife, hands, head or pencil.  In fact, I think in one scene he stabbed his opponent to death with a rather blunt pistol.  In John Wick 2 he gets to mix it up a bit, in that a couple of his opponents are women (I think).

So, if you’ve already seen John Wick why would you need a second dose of the same?  The innovation in the second film is speed.  In this second outing a mere ten or twenty opponents would only be a momentary diversion, perhaps something for him to keep busy with between brushing his teeth and flossing.  During one sequence he’s armed with three guns (a pistol, a fully automatic rifle and a shot gun) and he’s barely able to reload anything fast enough to keep from running out of ammo.  And he’s not wasting bullets.  Amazingly, no matter what lighting conditions, distance or direction every shot is a head shot kill.  Sometimes he’s so busy that he’s forced to kill his opponents with one hand while reloading with the other.  And sometimes he’s so hard-pressed that he has to kill other attackers with a gun that’s still being held by a guy he’s also throttling.  It’s a dizzying dance of death that goes on and on and on.

The twist in the plot is that the Crime Lord has put out a seven million dollar price on John’s head and apparently all eight million inhabitants of New York City are hit men (and women).  So wherever he goes, subway, museum or restaurant, he’s assaulted by multiple assassins trying to collect on the contract.  So, knowing he needs help to survive he goes to the King of the Homeless (played by his old Matrix buddy Lawrence Fishburne) and is brought to the location of the Crime Lord.  The catch is he’s only given one gun and it only has a seven-bullet clip.  That would only last John Wick for at most four seconds.  But he agrees and away he goes.  The finale is another ballet of bullets.  Only this time exchanging guns with his victims is a pressing detail.

John Wick 2 is full of growth for Keanu as an actor.  At one point he makes a joke ( it’s about a knife in an aorta).  And he gets to banter with his friends and enemies in multiple languages, English, Russian, Italian and American Sign Language for the Deaf (one of his victims is a deaf woman, I think).  He truly is a Man for All Seasons.

By the end of the movie John Wick has now broken the code of the Continental Hotel and Hitman’s Club.  He is given an hour’s grace before all the same bounty hunters as earlier are coming to kill him.  We last see him heading south (I think) out of Central Park.  And he’s moving pretty fast considering the beating the movie has inflicted on him.

So, I once again recommend this new John Wick movie.  It provides fair recompense for your time and money in the form of ludicrous speed gangland killing.

My only worry is what about John Wick 3?  Based on the increase in killing speed between the movies, in the next one he’ll either have to upgrade his brain and body with cybernetic replacements or he’ll have to put in a lot of overtime.  I guess if he can learn to kill people while simultaneously performing his other daily activities he can get his quota up high enough.  Showering, shaving, eating breakfast, talking on the phone.  These things can certainly be done one-handed.  Working out at the gym could get tricky but I guess he could try shooting a gun with his foot while working the Lat-Machine.

John Wick – A Movie Review

Keanu Reeves is a bizarre phenomenon. He’s been making movies since the mid-eighties and is 54 years old.  Yet I think of him as basically Ted from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  It’s the same halting voice and basic appearance.  In the interim he has starred in a number of money making movies, most notably The Matrix.  And he has become an action movie hero.  The John Wick movies are the latest extension of this venture.

I watched John Wick probably a year after it was in the theaters.  The premise was of course ridiculous.  John is your basic retired uber-hitman.  He gave up his hum-drum nine to five life of garroting and mangling the enemies of his New York Russian Mafia Crime Lord to live a peaceful idyllic life in his spectacular suburban estate with his beautiful but short-lived wife.  She dies of cancer shortly before the movie’s start but is thoughtful enough to have a puppy delivered to John near the opening scene.  So, you get it, dead wife reaches beyond the grave and bestows gift of love to retired hitman?  Memory of dead wife and gift she left him is most important thing in his life.  Check.  Also, loves vintage sports cars and ’69 Mustang is second most important thing in his life.  Check.  The set up.  Check.

Somehow, completely coincidentally and without knowing who he’s dealing with, the son of John Wick’s crime lord ex-boss accidentally victimizes the now retired hitman and starts a vendetta by stealing his car and killing his dog.  Well I guess it could have been more blatant.  He might have gone for the trifecta and castrated Wick while he was at it.

After this the film embarks on an odyssey of shooting, stabbing and punching pleasure.  You’d think after the first couple of dozen gangsters are dispatched that it would start to get boring and repetitive.  But the hyper-kinetic fight scenes are strangely fascinating.  It was as if you were watching one of those loops they include with a first-person shooter game that show how someone who has memorized the game can dispatch all the enemies one by one in incredible speed and precision.  It’s the extension of the concept seen at the end of the Matrix where Neo has gotten the hang of his abilities and is fighting Agent Smith with one hand held behind his back, parrying every punch without even looking because his reflexes are an order of magnitude faster than his opponent’s.

Anyway, this goes on for the balance of the movie.  The Russian Crime Lord is kind of entertaining and we are introduced to the Continental Hotel and Club that caters to hitmen and forbids them to kill each other on its grounds under penalty of membership termination (which coincidentally includes death).  It’s lots of fun and there are gold coins and lots of automatic weapons and views of iconic Manhattan locations.

By the end of the movie, at least John’s absorbed a lot of damage from fighting the dozens of hit men who stand between him and the Crime Lord that needs killing.  So, you know it wasn’t easy.  And he finds a new dog.  So, balance is restored to the universe and John Wick can go back into a peaceful retirement since everyone is dead.

So, what’s my opinion?  Was it good.  Well, obviously, it has to be compared by the standards of the genre it belongs in.  It’s an action adventure.  It’s almost a comic book movie.  From that perspective, it’s highly successful.  It’s as full of action as it’s possible to imagine.  The fight choreography is meticulous and the cinematography is highly effective.  And he’s only killing bad guys.  He’s the strong silent man bringing down vengeance on his enemies.  He’s the modern-day Gary Cooper or Clint Eastwood but without the occasional complete sentence.

I liked it.  Admittedly it’s a guilty pleasure.  Basically, it’s an atavistic response to injustice.  Take justice into your own hands and clean house.  Scratch the veneer and we’re still just cavemen.  Sure, we’ve got indoor plumbing and 401K plans but the mindless primitive lurks right below the surface.  Once you recognize that, you can jump right in and enjoy John Wick for what it is.  High Octane Revenge.

John Wick 2 – A Movie Review