Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Why the Press Won't Report National Collapse

What Paul Loop said: 

"I think, generally, the Beltway scribblers, our national political press,  frame all their coverage to keep conservatives off their backs. Their bosses don’t want to piss off advertisers and the ruling class they lunch with. 

"The Beltway political press reflexively treats any news coming out of the Capitol as political grist. They mill it and then put it into the Good for Dems or Good for Repubs sacks and that’s that. We see it over and over again, political reporters on air and in print who lack the imagination or incentive to view what’s happening not as the business-as-usual electoral fight they’re comfortable reporting, but as the profound institutional collapse we're actually going through. 

"Stories like the January 6th coup attempt shouldn’t even be covered by the political desks, in my opinion. They should be treated as crime stories. 

"All the best reporting about Trump et al has come from the straight-news desks, the investigative reporters, the financial investigative reporters, the legal and court reporters. At best, the Beltway scribblers’ work has been hit or miss."

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Hercule Poirot Grapples with Ghosts

Hercule Poirot gets spooked! 

Bart, Paul and I just returned from A Haunting in Venice, a mystery based on the novel Hallowe'en Party. 

Sumptuous production values in a travelogue city, sufficiently satisfying surprises and a solution to the mystery that’s the best of the three Poirot whodunits Branagh has made so far. 

Tina Fey is fun as Poirot’s pal, the Agatha Christie stand-in Ariadne Oliver. And Poirot himself is more than usually tested by this one, a development that injects some atmospheric suspense into the familiar classic mystery mechanics.

Remember: “If you wake the bear, you cannot complain when he tangos.”

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Epicureanism: Anathema to Christianity

“Widespread but mildly disapproved of in antiquity because of its self-sufficient privacy, its acceptance of slaves and women into its communities and its professed concern with happiness and the good life, Epicureanism was anathema to Christianity. It denied a provident God, affirmed the value of life and the values of this world, denied immortality and advocated an account of the universe wholly at variance with the Christian. The account was revived in the 17th century to become the basis of modern science; but the world shaped by science has never seemed able to accept in full the world view and ethic that gave Epicurus’ system a reasonable claim to be complete, consistent and livable.”

— Prof. J.C.A Gaskin, The Oxford Guide Philosophy

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Saturday, September 2, 2023

The TV That Would Play Anything

When I was a small boy, I had a vivid dream about a TV set that would play whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. You just pushed large buttons bearing the faces of various TV characters. 

And so it came to pass…

Now, settle down at home any evening and you can summon up any television program that aired any given night since network broadcasts began in 1947 — hell, any movie that people once stood in line to buy tickets to see since the silent era, for that matter. 

It’s the next best thing to time travel.

The sheer volume of choice we have now mocks our ability to take it all in. 

I, a child of the 20th century, will never fail to be astounded at what children of the 21st century must certainly regard as commonplace and really rather dull. 

But then, biplanes, refrigerators, air conditioning, radio broadcasting, moving pictures and horseless carriages amazed my grandparents and great-grandparents. Not me.

We strangers simply accept whatever strange land we’re born into, however strange it may be.

As Johnny Williams recalled, “When Neil Armstrong took his famous first step, my maternal grandmother said to me, ‘When I was a little girl, there were people still using horse-drawn wagons. Now I’ve seen a man walking on the moon. I’ve seen a lot.’ She had such a look in her eyes and such a sound in her voice.”

“This came up the other day, but really we are getting everything we saw on The Jetsons, even more,” remarked Pat McDonald “Yeah, no flying cars ... yet. Another interesting observation that someone else made about The Jetsons, all of their buildings are on sticks and platforms, presupposing that the ground level had become inhabitable (due to climate change?).”

TV producer and author Patrick Hasburgh observed that “…the connectivity and synergy of film and television … is suddenly — and at once — both magical (and) commonplace in our culture. Everyone is famous, everyone knows everyone, our stories are everywhere; not only can I watch my favorite film or television show whenever I want, I can, if I’m pressed for time, just watch favorite scenes of hear bits of my favorite dialogue. 

“This overload might kill the art form, we’re gorging ourselves. Movies used to be so special — are they still as special? I wonder.

“Anyone with a few thousand dollars and script can make a decent movie with a bunch of their buddies — I think that’s the future of film and TV. My kid makes amazing surf films, edited with music and action — I’ve never told him how to do it and he’s never asked. It’s just what he can do, with his iPhone or a video camera. In 10 seconds he knows how to use it and where to point it.”

“I think what I am trying to say is that the artist, the amateur, the auteur with only passion and an idea will save the form — those little indie movies you stumble across, often brilliant and just minutes long, might be where all of this is going. I’m often knocked out by the brilliance, accessibility and simplicity of some of the work. That's not to suggest it isn’t complex; it very often is.”

“I think within 10 years or less we will be able to write movies on our computers, pounding out scenes at AI will instantly produce with likeness and tone, music, etc... we will be able to conjure up anything.”

“We’ll always have Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, etc. as sign posts to the possible re: film making,” Williams said. “Even with modern tech, while many may be able to make decent movies, ‘classics that stand the test of time’ is another matter.

“While AI is a threat, I’m pulling for ‘art’ to somehow win out. We still marvel at prehistoric cave paintings.”

Saturday, August 19, 2023

We, the Vampires and Werewolves

On a Washington Post analysis headlined “American Democracy Is Cracking,” I asked the following question:

What happened to make serial killers, vampires, werewolves, witches and zombies such sympathetic figures in American popular culture?

The American corporate right wingers made ruthless evil fashionable. That’s what happened.

And I don't mean Wiccans, but witches as a monster symbol. Popular culture is a funhouse mirror that distorts — but actually reflects — the society which spawns it. 

Ruthless predatory behavior is admired and rewarded in American society, so what's wrong with monsters? Nothing. They just want to rend and tear. Is that so wrong?

And Superman is only acceptable now if he breaks some necks.

SilkkyFire replied, “I'm 61 and probably a little bit of a weirdo, even among my own generational cohort. But I can tell you, the explicit violence and constant references to torture and suffering in streamed drama is both shocking and unbearable. It makes a lot of programming (some of which is otherwise excellent) almost impossible to watch.

“Many years ago now, I was watching an episode of CSI and there was a scene where the techs were pulling pieces of a man out of a tiger's gut while making catty comments. Network television! I shut the thing off, and I was done. Never watched that show again.

“We have become very blasé about explicit depictions of pain and suffering, taking it all in with crude cynicism. Does it make us more compassionate to be entertained by those things? I don't think so. I think it becomes more like porn, with the ante constantly rising, and the mind engaging with it, corrupted. It doesn’t bode well for what we are becoming.”

Habbbb replied, “Agree with you both, and would note that the insistence on ‘getting back to normal’ while covid continues killing and disabling large numbers of people, as well as tourists in Hawaii swimming and snorkeling where more than a thousand still are missing and where bodies were seen floating soon after the devastating fire, are real-life examples of this dissociative/sociopathic horror.”

SilkkyFire said, “Thank you. Our politics is a horror show, but the increasingly indecent nature of our culture (which our politics reflects) makes me deeply sad. When I say ‘indecent’ — well, I don’t care if you wear a tank top to the grocery store or say ‘damn!’ when you stub your toe. That is not what I am talking about. To me ‘decency’ really is comprised of two things: Honesty, and a caring attitude in regard to others. Is that who we are? Is that what we value?”

Disgruntled in CT replied, “It started long ago. Exploitation is not new. It was the bedrock on which this country was built. The culture reflects it. Long ago it was the brave gunfighter fighting the bloodthirsty Indian. All societies seem to develop in similar fashion. But in developed nations, we should want to progress toward a more equal society. Unfortunately, this can’t happen if our standard for success is wealth.”

The Door to Changing Your Mind

To change your thinking, cross thresholds. This is true both metaphorically and literally. Studies have shown that when we move from one room to another, our short-term memory of our environment "resets" and dumps data on the previous room, which is no longer required. But with that goes some other stuff. This is the explanation for why we go into another room for something, and then forget what it was when we get there.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

How Blue Was My Beetle

Back from The Blue Beetle, a back-to-basics superhero movie with a theme about family feeling (a motif it shares with the two Shazam films). 

It will remind audience members of both Iron Man and The Greatest American Hero (the idealistic young protagonist has an alien super-suit that he can’t quite operate).

I was surprised to see that the movie directly ties into the previous Charlton Comics and DC Comics incarnations of the Blue Beetle, a character that in one form or another reaches all the way back to 1939. Jack Kirby’s OMAC is in there as well. 

This makes for a richer story, yet manages to sidestep the pitfalls of too much clunky background baggage.

The film is surprisingly straightforward about the malignancy of class oppression and the military-industrial complex, a fact that works to make the climax thrilling and satisfying. Xolo Maridueña is appealing as the hero, and Susan Sarandon is effective as the cheerfully amoral, bright-as-a-poisonous-penny corporate CEO villain Victoria Kord.

Seated in a cinema with only two other people, I had virtually a private showing — an agreeable way to while away an August afternoon.

Comic book fans should be sure to stay for a post-credits surprise.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

The Demi-Beagle Lays Down the Law

George’s Rules

1) Motor scooters and bicycles are forbidden.

2) Horses are an outrage.

3) How dare squirrels exist.

4) The pillows are mine. I have plans for them.

5) Paul may not sneeze. Others may, but not Paul.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Re: The Perfect Film

I have a mental category of "perfect films," by which I mean movies in which every minute works, and every second ticks toward a satisfying conclusion. They don't have to be great art, though many of them are.

Off the top of my head: “Chinatown,” “Sunset Boulevard,” “The Apartment,” “Pillow Talk,” “Life with Father,” “I Remember Mama,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” the 1933 “King Kong,” the 1978 “Superman…”

I posted that on the TCM fan Facebook page and got an ongoing tsunami in response... hundreds of nominations from movie lovers.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

'Oppenheimer:' A Breathtaking Dramatic Detonation

Bart and I just saw Oppenheimer, a staccato film composed of time-hopping vignettes that nevertheless maintains an absolutely clear narrative line. 

This is really an intellectual history, but exactly the reverse of the kind of dry didacticism that phrase suggests. Director Christopher Nolan covers the ethical, political and social implications of the creation of nuclear weapons, focused through the lens of a handful of top actors at the top of their game. 

Against the backdrop of a threat to human civilization that has never really diminished, Nolan even points us toward an ending that’s a mystery and a solution as satisfying as anything that Hercule Poirot ever showed us.

This is a movie like Chinatown, like Sunset Boulevard and a few others — a film that will live on and on.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Monkeys with Money and Guns

Those who confront lies with documented facts are branded as liars themselves by the corrupt, the know-nothings and the moral cowards who foolishly claim that truth is only a yellow line down the middle of the road.

I always hoped we might someday achieve something that we could refer to as "civilization" without laughing in derision.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

When the Virgin Mary Appears in a Pancake...

Let’s give the science-vs-religion problem a shave with Occam's Razor, shall we? 

The world is chock full of claptrap religions making fantastic, contradictory, supernatural claims for which no credible witness ever sees any supporting evidence, unless you want to count the Virgin Mary appearing on pancakes and wall stains. 

What's the simplest answer? Is it more likely that all those fantastic, unseen miracles have happened, and that for example the universe actually does rest on the shell of a cosmic turtle, or that the people who make those claims are delusional and/or lying?

I'm afraid that once you let irrationality in the door — defined in this case as the ardent acceptance on "faith" of metaphysical assertions without visible evidence — you can hardly claim to be surprised about what comes in along with it. One person's "God" tells him to take communion, and the next person's "God" instructs him to kill everyone at an abortion clinic. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

'Across the Spider-Verse:' Kinetic Imagery

The kinetic imagery of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse feels like a natural 21st century evolution of the 20th century comic book — something as far beyond Snow White as a lunar lander is from a biplane.

Clearly someone has actually been thinking about what it would be like to have Spidey’s powers — for example, might you have a casual conversation while sitting around upside down?

The adventure element is a given, but this film contains a good deal more effective understated drama than a movie like The Flash, which is filled with “real people.” 

How ironic, as they used to say in the comic books.

But all these multiverses and mirror images, oh my… Can the multi-multiverse be far behind?

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Science vs. Pseudoscience

As Jeffrey Martini observed, we’ve reached a pretty pass when science and education are described as “liberal scams.”

And as I’ve noted before, I think what is really under assault in the U.S. these days is the philosophical and scientific superstructure of the Enlightenment. 

The only part of that American right wingers don’t want to scrap is advanced weapons technology, which they plan to use to smite their millions of enemies.

Republicans may sneer at science in general, but they always remain eager to deploy its latest advances in service of those activities they truly value: Killing, torture, invasion, police intimidation and the mass surveillance of American citizens.

Oh, and they want to keep advanced medical technology for when they become seriously ill, revealing that they don't really believe in all the cant they spew about prayer.

It is reason itself that the Republicans really and finally oppose. They have met their enemy, and it is sanity.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Cover Your Eyes, Marjorie!

My idea of a liberal is someone who supports a regulated market economy with social programs to protect the vulnerable and civil liberties in order safeguard freedom. It's NOT some glory-hound gadfly who regards cooking a taco as "cultural appropriation."

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Double the Flash and a Lot More Batman

So Bart and I went to see The Flash, a movie that does a 180 tonal shift from out-and-out comedy to muted tragedy. 

But it was good fun overall, with the wonderful Michael Keaton returning as “Batman Classic” (although I also appreciated seeing Ben Affleck again as the underplayed Batman, a good angle on the character).

Sasha Calle makes a badass Supergirl (in a world — oh no! — without Superman).

And the film has a laugh-out-loud finish that Lola Burnham will particularly appreciate.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Summer and Splash

Babbling babyishly,

the three-tiered stone fountain sounds

forever happy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

A Lesson in Humanity from Star Wars

Why popular culture heroes are so important, summed up in one anecdote.

"Hearts may inspire other hearts with their fire."

Thursday, May 25, 2023

A Wit Called Wanda

All the scapegoats Republicans cite are dodges. The right wingers don't care how many children are shot to death in this country. Literally. 

They only care about their REAL babies, the guns.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Ethics Begins in Empathy

Ethics begins with empathy, with the felt knowledge that others can be hurt in the same way you can. Dictators and mass murderers and torturers and Republicans aren’t ignorant of being wrong, they simply don’t care. They are power-hungry sociopaths.

The Devil is in the Dumbasses

Many are convinced that their problems are caused by other people’s sexual orientation and the teaching of scientific fact in classrooms. They pay serious attention when talk-radio hosts propose that everybody in schools be armed with guns, and when televangelists inform them that mental illness and hurricanes are caused by “the devil.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

'Succession' Dramatizes a Death Knell

I do like the fact that the concluding chapters of HBO's Succession are honing in on how a sufficiently corrupt “news” channel can, almost casually, destroy a democracy. 

Too bad this dramatic warning didn't air a quarter-century ago when we had a better chance of survival.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

CNN Parades Primal Resentment

Robert Freeman on the CNN Town Hall: "When you marry Trump’s force-of-nature demonic character with the money-seeking imperative of commercial media and stew it all in the primal resentment held by vast swaths of the public who believe that the country has shafted them, you get exactly, formulaically, what we saw last week: an almost satanic (certainly, sadistic) celebration of our worst side, our basest nature, our latent id, the devils of our lesser being. It couldn’t be anything but.

"The essence of Trump’s message and of Trumpism itself is this: “Tear it down. It’s shafted you, it’s rigged, and it cannot be redeemed.” This is exactly what Trump means when he says with deadly seriousness, “I am your retribution.” That is, “I am your retribution against a society that has shafted you.” The fact of Trump’s resilience is the proof of the depth — and the breadth —of this sentiment. It is fanatically shared by tens of millions of people. We ignore it at our peril.

"But “tear it down” is not a viable governing policy principle, which is why Republican policy proposals are nothing so much as nothing. There’s no “there” there. There are no actionable actions that can be acted on. It’s just vituperation, rage, conspiracy, histrionics and bile."

We Like What He Knew

Vincent Price examines his art collection in 1944

“Periods of discovery about yourself are seldom fun. It’s tough to realize how little you know just when you think you ought to know a lot, and that period immediately after graduation from college, when you suddenly realize for the first time than ‘commencement’ means beginning, and actually you are just beginning to learn — to live — it comes as a terrible blow to your ego. You become aware that all you really learned at college was HOW to learn and that continued learning is the true key to all existence. That is its real importance.”

 — Vincent Price, I Like What I Know

Friday, May 12, 2023

CNN Bellyflops into a Moral Sewer

On Wednesday night, ratings whore CNN actually PROMOTED a man who tried to violently overthrow American democracy. 

Their lack of even a pretense of journalistic ethics disgusts me. Nd I’m not alone. Journalists inside and outside CNN called the event a “disaster” and “CNN’s lowest moment.” Meanwhile, on Twitter, the hashtags and phrases BoycottCNN, DoneWithCNN and ByeCNN were trending.

With its latest “Trump Town Hall,” CNN did nothing but provide millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity to a nakedly fascist politician, the Republican rapist president. 

And that was the channel's intention all along. 

CNN is so desperately eager to dive into the Fox News sewer.

I’ve been expecting this kind of thing under CNN CEO Chris Licht. CNN’s new “non-ideological” policy is this: fire any reporters who might confront Republicans with verified facts, and sponsor lavish mob events to promote Republicans.

Donald Trump spewed a firehose of factual lies while CNN’s hand-picked audience of Trump sycophants laughed and cheered. CNN selected a hapless moderator as its “journalistic” fig leaf, knowing she’d be sacrificed to the pro-Trump mob they’d so carefully selected.

As a friend said: “My ‘Do Not Watch Ever Again’ List just grew. CNN is in good company on that list with 60 Minutes for interviewing Marjorie Taylor Greene. I refuse to be manipulated into viewership on ‘provocative’ alone. That never works. Don't they know that by now?”

And as SirCharlie said, “Why give Hitler a second shot at a Nuremberg rally? What could go wrong? Does a zebra change its stripes? Shame on CNN. Shame.”

“Putting him onstage, having him answer questions like a normal candidate who didn’t get people killed in the process of trying to end the democracy he’s attempting to once again run, normalizes what Trump did,” DC police officer Michael Fanone wrote. “It sends a message that attempting a coup is just part of the process; that accepting election results is a choice; and that there are no consequences, in the media or in politics or anywhere else, for rejecting them.”

As Umair Haque observed, “The Dems are seriously underplaying the danger of an entire media ecosystem basically being swung to the furthest right. That’s a gigantic warning sign of democratic implosion.”

When even Fox News attacks CNN for its lack of journalistic ethics, irony is officially dead, buried and rotted.

Sunday, May 7, 2023

'Guardians 3:' Ya Gotta Have Heart

Bart, Paul and I just saw and enjoyed the Oz-like extravaganza Guardians of the Galaxy 3, which was full of both action and comedic fun. It’s the best Marvel movie in a good while.

This superhero movie is, without belaboring the point, even “about” something — class and cruelty, and the thing that opposes them.

Monday, May 1, 2023

Song of Spring

New leaves sway and play, 

greenly restful to the eye,

yellowish with youth.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Just Before Dawn

Looking east, before 

dawn, you see a deep blue hint 

of encouragement.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

'Shazam:' Quirky Charm of the Gods

Meagan Good and Ross Butler in 'Shazam: Fury of the Gods'

Bart and I went to see Shazam: Fury of the Gods, which had the same quirky charm as the original but seemed overlong to me. These superhero sagas, necessarily lacking surprise, depend on pacing and rhythm, like a familiar piece of music. 

Helen Mirren chewed the scenery like a gourmet as an evil Titan. British Shakespearean actors can handle this sort of nonsense with their eyes closed.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The GOP's House of Fascism

The ever-clever Bruce Kanin improves upon the original 1960 DC comic. The GOP is full of comic book villains, so why not?

Monday, March 6, 2023

Howard Beale: Ever More Prophetic

“We know the air’s unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit and watch our TVs while some local newscaster tells us today we had 15 homicides and 63 violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

“We all know things are bad. Worse than bad.  They’re crazy. It’s like everything’s going crazy. So we don't go out any more.  We sit in the house, and slowly the world we live in gets smaller, and all we ask is please, at least leave us alone in our own living rooms. 

“Let me have my toaster and my TV and my hair-dryer and my steel-belted radials, and I won't say anything, just leave us alone.

"Well, I’m not going to leave you alone.  I want you to get mad …”

— Howard Beale in Paddy Chayefsky’s Network (1976). I always made that movie the capstone of my journalism ethics class.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Lies Are Fox News' Most Important Product

In its constant quest to gaslight its willing victims, Fox News uses panic mongering, character assassination and ad hominem arguments, psychological projection and flipping, the rewriting of history, scapegoating, conflation of violence with power, bullying, confusion, populism, invocation of the Christian God, saturation, the disparagement of education, guilt by association and diversion. 

Fox News’s most basic propaganda technique is simply to lie about facts, and it does so constantly. For example, which political party a politician belongs to isn't a matter of opinion. It's a fact Fox News lies about.

Fox News suddenly identified disgraced Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina as a Democrat on the very day he admitted his philandering.

A coincidence? But Fox News also suddenly changed Congressman Mark Foley's party affiliation from Republican to Democratic the very moment it was inescapably confirmed that Foley was sexually soliciting teenage male pages in Congress.

Every “mistake” Fox News makes manages to falsely malign Democrats and/or shield guilty Republicans. 

Odd, isn’t it?

Monday, February 20, 2023

Only Sometimes Am I Understood

I wrote this on a Washington Post thread: “Fox News propaganda is fogging up American reality with hateful lies, carefully building to a future of unimaginable violence in this country.”

Naturally, the remark drew a sneer from some brain-dead Republican. But another reader decided to explain.

OnlySometimes replied, “George, read the sentence for comprehension. The first part, ‘Fox News propaganda is fogging up American reality with hateful lies,’ this means that content put out by Fox News is fogging up its viewers’ sense of reality with hateful lies. This is a fact made clear by the Dominion Voting lawsuit that shows without a doubt that the ‘news’ team at Fox News puts out content based on what they think will generate ratings — not based on facts or truth. 

“Fox News has determined they get better ratings and therefore make MORE MONEY when they give their viewers content filled with garbage about how Dems are coming for guns, immigrants are coming to rape, teachers are trying to groom kids to be gay, the list goes on.

“The Fox News people telling their viewers this crap don’t believe this s#it. They know their viewers crave this worldview and know they make TONS of money off them. It’s GREED. 

“Now, the second part of the sentence, ‘carefully building to a future of unimaginable violence in this country.’ This means the result of this careful feeding of misinformation to Fox’s viewers will inevitably lead to unimaginable violence, whether that’s the intended consequence or not. “If you are a Fox News viewer and you trust their presenters/ opinion-ers, then you believe the lies they tell you, so of course you’d be afraid, angry and ready to take up arms to protect what you think is being stolen from you.

“Can you see the problem here? Fox News has viewers all worked up over imaginary bogey men. Dems aren’t coming for their guns — just sensible safety regulations. Immigrants aren’t coming to rape — they just want a chance to work hard and provide for their family in a country that’s not buried in corruption, or at war. Teachers aren’t trying to groom kids — they’re trying to educate kids to be kind to others, be knowledgeable citizens, to teach them to read and think for themselves so they can make up their own minds about the issues of the day.”

The Satisfaction of Stone Steps

Stone steps satisfy

in some subtle way, rising 

solid and secure.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

'Quantumania:' Let's Hear It for the Little Guy

Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) confronts Kang (Johnathan Majors)

Just back from Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania with Bart and William. I thoroughly enjoyed this cosmic melodrama, which establishes a family feeling among its five protagonists before sucking them down the rabbit hole into a quantum Wonderland. 

“Your building is alive?” asks the bewildered Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).

“Yours aren’t?” replies a puzzled alien being.

The film provides a proper build-up for Marvel’s next mega-supervillain, the time master Kang. Jonathan Majors underplays the role with skill, delivering his evil ultimatums casually but quite chillingly.

More entertaining than the recent Shang-Chi, Black Widow and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, this sequel is a roller coaster ride with a Star Wars vibe.

And as for critics who never tire of telling us how bored they are with Marvel movies, they should consider putting a sock in it. Those laughing crowds and those busy box offices really don’t care.

And speaking of worlds within worlds, did you know that the term “Quantumania” contains the words “Ant” and “Man?"

Friday, February 17, 2023

'Marlowe:' Neeson Channels Chandler

Not a parody but an homage, Marlowe has Liam Neeson as Raymond Chandler’s iconic 1930s/40s private investigator, an L.A. knight errant played previously by Dick Powell, Humphrey Bogart, James Garner, Elliott Gould and Robert Mitchum, among others. 

Bart and I saw it this afternoon, appreciating its old gold glow and sumptuous period detail. Neeson’s ironic diffidence nails Philip Marlowe’s tone. The film’s witty, erudite dialogue — worthy of Chandler — is delivered by such capable actors as Jessica Lange, Alan Cumming, Colm Meaney and Danny Huston. 

The pace, however, is a tad lackluster, despite some effective action scenes. It may puzzle contemporary audiences, accustomed as they are to a completely different beat (though not necessarily a superior one).

As in the ultimate private eye film, Chinatown, this fiction is stacked atop noir-ish real-life elements. Those familiar with Hollywood history will recognize that the mystery and corruption swirls around figures meant to represent Joe Kennedy and Gloria Swanson.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Emerson's Kenshō

Ralph Waldo Emerson highly valued a type of experience which is ineffable in English, but which the Japanese Buddhists have termed kenshō.

Late one January afternoon, Emerson wrote: “The western clouds divided and subdivided themselves into pink flakes modulated with tints of unspeakable softness; and the air had so much life and sweetness that it was a pain to come within doors … The leafless trees became spires of flame in the sunset, with the blue east for their background, and the stars of the dead calices of flowers, and every withered stem and stubble rimed with frost contribute something to the mute music.”

Biographer Robert D. Richardson Jr.  observed, “(T)he experience Emerson most valued is the exhilaration that can arise sometimes from our presence in nature, though we cannot say quite why.”

“If this is mysticism, it is mysticism of a commonly occurring and easily accepted sort. The aim of the mystic is to attain a feeling of oneness with the divine. Experiences of the kind Emerson here describes have happened to nearly everyone who has ever sat beneath a tree on a fine clear day and looked at the world with a momentary sense of peace and a feeling, however transient, of being at one with it.”

Saturday, February 4, 2023

America's Dizzy Delirium of Desire

One of the most difficult lessons to learn in life, because it is counterintuitive, is that if some is good, more may well be worse, even much worse. 

The whole of the American consumer advertising industry is dedicated to helping us forget that lesson, if we were ever smart enough to learn it.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Timeless Tennessee

 “I don't know what to tell you. A statement is easy, and here it is: Be yourself. Try to matter. Be a good friend. Love freely, even if you are likely — almost guaranteed — to be hurt, betrayed. 

“Do what you were created to do. You’ll know what this is, because it is what you keep creeping up to, peering at, dreaming of. Do it. If you don’t, you'll be punching clocks and eating time doing precisely what you shouldn’t, and you’ll become mean and you’ll seek to punish any and all who appear the slightest bit happy, the slightest bit comfortable in their own skin, the slightest bit smart.

“Cruelty is a drug, as well, and it’s all around us. Don’t imbibe.

"Try to matter. Try to care. And never be afraid to admit that you just don’t know, you just don't fucking know how you’re going to make it. That's when the help — the human and the divine help —shows up.”

— Tennessee Williams, Interview with James Grissom, 1982

Monday, January 30, 2023

How to Vet the News

Fox News and its ilk have been pumping a fog of fascist propaganda in the national atmosphere for more than 20 years now. You see the results all around you.

Real journalists are professionals who understand their responsibilities to the public and take them seriously. In other words, journalists are reporters who don’t lie.

Many half-awake members of the American public seem to think that the significant facts they require to live their lives will simply continue to arrive in their newsfeed somehow, without idealistic professional journalists clawing for them. They will not. The quality of truth requires some strain. It does not fall from the heavens like the gentle rain.

Unfortunately, many in this society always regard useful, verified facts as insider-trading information, material to be hoarded and used to blindside the suckers at the right moment.

Without some trustworthy source of professional journalism, a society will not, finally, stand, any more than bridges will stand without the honest efforts of professional engineers.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Duck and Cover, 2023

For safety's sake, let's stay out of all schools, all synagogues and churches, all movie theaters, malls, supermarkets and Walmarts, out of Vegas and Dallas and New York. 

Let's hide and cower at the approach of every stranger. I'll dash for groceries while you give me covering fire. 

But above all, let's never, EVer do anything about the guns. THAT would interfere with our FREEEEEE-DUMB.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Tippy-toeing around Stupid People

“The ideal subject[s] of totalitarian rule …[are]… people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” ― Hannah Arendt

Factor long-term exposure to Fox News and its ilk into the equation, and you do the math. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Why Hannity Rhymes with 'Insanity'

Fox News displays its open contempt for facts because it is a right-wing authoritarian propaganda machine, and I mean that literally. Fox News does not practice journalism. It SUBVERTS journalism. 

It is the Fourth Estate's Fifth Column. 

Sunday, January 8, 2023

A Biography and a Fable

Bart and I went to see The Fabelmans, a masterly and heartfelt effort. 

The theme of filmmaking is intricately and adroitly woven into the plot about decent, ordinary people trying their best in the 1950s and 1960s. I guessed how the movie was going to end — based on a biographical anecdote I once read — and it ended exactly that way. 

The Fabelmans is by the talented Tony Kushner, and another guy who’s spent the last half a century making famous fables for us.