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‘12 Years a Slave’ is a grueling antidote to the comparatively toothless ‘Lincoln’

Film review

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is “counseled” at knife point by cotton-plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) in director Steve McQueen’s grueling film “12 Years a Slave.”

I finally got around to watching “12 Years a Slave,” and while it perhaps has been a little over-hyped — I hate it when a good film is diminished because it can’t possibly be as great as so many claim that it is — it’s going to win a bunch of Oscars, and I consider it to be an antidote to Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” of which I noted at the time that it came out (a year ago) that “the evil of slavery itself is barely portrayed in ‘Lincoln’ … and blacks are only supporting (and mostly subservient) characters in ‘Lincoln,’ which gives the viewer … the unfortunate impression that perhaps the film is asserting that slavery was more of a burden for liberal whites than it was for the actual slaves.”

Indeed, in “12 Years a Slave” the “saviors” still are white men, but, given the fact that at the time white men held virtually all of the political power, what other “savior” could a black person have had at that time? The best that most black Americans, especially enslaved black Americans, could hope for at that time, it seems to me, was to have the fortune to have the mercy of white men who had power to make their lives less miserable.*

Indeed, in “12 Years a Slave” we see at least two grown black men run to their white-male protectors and embrace them as a child would embrace his parent. But, given the circumstances, one could hardly blame them.

I wrote of “Lincoln” that “The Southerners (and their sympathizers) in ‘Lincoln’ aren’t portrayed flatteringly, which probably will mean that the film won’t appeal to the ‘tea-party’ dipshits, since the slavery- and treason-loving Southerners depicted in ‘Lincoln’ are their true founding fathers.”

Ditto for “12 Years a Slave” (and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django,” too, of course).

Michael Fassbender and Paul Dano couldn’t have done a much better job of portraying what probably was the typical Southern white male of the era, and Brad Pitt, perhaps because he was one of the producers, got what to me is the plum role of the liberal, abolitionist Canadian whose action finally frees our hero.

Our hero, of course, is the real-life historical figure Solomon Northup, who in 1841 was a free man (well, “free” as in “not a slave,” “not someone’s property”) who was lured from his home in New York state to Washington, D.C., where he was promised well-paying work but instead was kidnapped and forced into slavery in Louisiana for a dozen years.

And the star of “12 Years a Slave” is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who no doubt will be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his harrowing portrayal of Solomon Northup.

The other star of “12 Years” is Lupita Nyong’o, who plays the slave Patsey, and who also very most likely will be nominated for an acting Oscar.

“12 Years a Slave,” based upon Northup’s autobiography of the same name and penned by American screenwriter John Ridley, is, first and foremost, the story of the slaves, and its portrayal of their trials and tribulations by comparison makes “Lincoln” look like it portrays slavery as a mere inconvenience to black Americans.

“12 Years,” among other things, portrays free blacks in the North being abducted and sold into slavery, slaves stripped nude and bathed for auction like livestock, a mother being separated permanently from her two children at auction, and the character of Patsey being serially raped by the cotton-plantation owner Edwin Epps (played by Fassbender) and, to add injury to injury, being hated by and thus violently attacked by the plantation owner’s wife (Sarah Paulson) because her husband is sexually predating upon her. We also witness one of our protagonists being quasi-lynched and the other one being brutally whipped.

“12 Years a Slave” does as probably a good job as a film could do to bring us into Solomon Northup’s world. You’re supposed to feel Northup’s struggle and large degree of helplessness, given how utterly disempowered he is. His spirit not only is violated repeatedly by the wrongs that are done to him, but also by the multitude of wrongs that he has to witness done to others, probably especially to Patsey.

“12 Years a Slave” is directed by Steve McQueen, a writer-director who, I surmise, because he is black and British, wasn’t overly worried about not offending white Americans in his portrayal of Southern slavery. (Of course, Quentin Tarantino wasn’t worried about that, either, with “Django,” but bad boy Tarantino can make just about any film that he wishes. Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” by contrast, suffers because the “upright” and apparently uptight Spielberg apparently didn’t want to offend white Americans too much.)

I wasn’t impressed with McQueen’s over-hyped 2011 “Shame,” which also starred Michael Fassbender, but after “12 Years,” which draws you into Solomon Northup’s grueling world so well that when he finally is reunited with his family you will, if you have any empathy at all, have tears in your eyes, I look forward to more projects by McQueen, and after having watched “12 Years” I’ll probably catch McQueen’s other project starring Fassbender, 2008’s “Hunger.”

My grade: A

*Indeed, we are told at the end of “12 Years a Slave,” as Wikipedia puts it:

Northup sued the slave traders in Washington, D.C., [who had kidnapped him and sold him into slavery], but [Northup] lost in the local court. District of Columbia law prohibited him, as a black man, from testifying against whites, and, without his testimony, he was unable to sue for civil damages. The two men were charged with the crime of kidnapping and remanded into custody on $5,000 bail, but without Northup’s testimony, a conviction could not be secured and [so] the men were released.

So, even in the North, which in Northup’s day was quite progressive compared to the South, Northup, as a “free” man, because he was a black man, did not have equal rights, and white men still could commit grievous crimes against black Americans with impunity.

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Greatness eludes ‘Elysium,’ but Blomkamp is getting better

Film review

This film image released by Columbia Pictures-Sony shows director Neill Blomkamp, left, and Matt Damon on the set of "Elysium." The film, opening nationwide on Aug. 9, is a rogue burst of originality _ a futuristic popcorn adventure loaded with contemporary themes of wealth discrepancy, immigration and health care. (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures, TriStar, Kimberly French)

Associated Press image

Writer and director Neill Blomkamp directs Matt Damon on a set of “Elysium,” Blomkamp’s second big entry into the sci-fi genre.

Like his “District 9,” writer and director Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” is a worthwhile and entertaining but imperfect sci-fi venture in which Blomkamp takes the opportunity to inject social justice.

“Elysium” hits much closer to home here in the United States than “District 9,” which is set in Blomkamp’s native South Africa, did, however.

“Elysium” takes on at least four large American sociopolitical issues: immigration, class-based access to health care, the environmental degradation of planet Earth, and the phenomenon of the gated community, which is a euphemism for what actually are becoming privately militarized compounds as the filthy rich get richer and the rest of us get poorer and the rich want to keep the shit that they’ve stolen from us safe from us.

Set in the year 2154, in “Elysium” Matt Damon plays Max, a member of the poor working class in a future Los Angeles whose residents speak both English and Spanish. Most of Max’s companions, including his best friend Julio (played by Diego Luna) and his love interest Frey (played by Alice Braga), are Latino.

Like poor Mexicans attempt to get into the United States (although not nearly with the same frequency since the U.S. economy crashed and burned, like everything else did, under the watch of George W. Bush), poor and desperate Earthlings attempt, via spacecraft, to get into Elysium, the name of the gargantuan wheel-like space station that orbits Earth in space like the moon, and that like the moon, is visible on Earth. (The full backstory of the construction of Elysium is not given in “Elysium”; like the moon, it’s just taken as a given, which is OK, since we don’t really need the backstory anyway, since we already have a very good sense of how Elysium came to be.)

Protecting Elysium from the poor and desperate Earthlings who wish to reach it — the “illegals” — is the space-station plutocrats’ defense secretary, the sometimes-French-speaking Delacourt (an icy Jodie Foster) and legions of humanoid robots that keep the “illegals” (who even on Earth are deemed “illegals,” because they are not allowed admittance to Elysium) in line, mostly on Earth but also on Elysium should any of the “illegals” actually make it to Elysium.

Max, whose job is in a factory that manufactures the robots that keep the “illegals” in line, is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation while on the job — there is no OSHA in Blomkamp’s dystopian Los Angeles — and is given five days to live, and he finds out that Frey’s daughter has terminal leukemia.

The elites on Elysium have the automatized technology to cure a human being of any malady (as long as he or she is still alive, anyway), and Max’s underground associate Spider (Wagner Moura), who is a futuristic coyote, has a plan that could take Elysium down, and so the film takes off from there.

True, as others have noted, “Elysium” does go off the rails a bit, as it goes from a social-consciousness movie into a typical Hollywood action flick, but then, it more or less saves itself at the end, when it returns to its social-consciousness beginning.

Matt Damon carries “Elysium” well. He is a reliable workhorse of an actor. And as his own sociopolitical views lean strongly leftward, my guess is that he infused his performance with the sense that with Blomkamp he is furthering good causes (because, methinks, he is).

I found Jodie Foster’s performance, however, to be remarkably stilted and lifeless. I mean, she was nominated four times for the Best Actress Oscar and won twice. Foster’s character is supposed to be icy, I get that, but Foster nonetheless seems to have phoned it in. Some of this might be Blomkamp’s fault, however; as we get no backstory on or real development of Foster’s character, perhaps the two-dimensional portrayal is about the best that she could do.

And while Blomkamp apparently likes Sharlto Copley enough to have put the star of “District 9” in “Elysium” as well, Copley’s villainous Kruger, a mercenary who is on Delacourt’s payroll, is, as others have noted, over the top. Indeed, this villain, when compared to the other characters in the film, even that of Delacourt but perhaps especially that of Max, seems to have been cut and pasted from another film entirely… (Ditto for Kruger’s immediate associates, who also seem like refugees from a “Mad Max” movie.)

And like “District 9” does, “Elysium” suffers from some inconsistencies and some explanations that don’t make sense, as though Blomkamp hadn’t really thought all of it out.

The ubiquitous humanoid robots that keep the “illegals” in line on Earth suddenly go mostly or even entirely missing when the action moves from Earth to Elysium, and while our protagonists and antagonists battle it out on Elysium, I found myself asking myself, “Where the hell are all of the robots? They’re all over Earth, but they’re missing in action on Elysium?”

Apparently a “reboot” of Elysium’s “core” (its central computer) somehow is going to remove President Patel (Faran Tahir) — whom the right-wing, merciless Delacourt despises because she considers him to be too soft and too merciful toward the “illegals” (whose spacecraft she just wants to blow from the sky as they try to reach Elysium, without exception) — and, presumably, put Delacourt in the deposed Patel’s place.

How, exactly, the mere rebooting of a central computer would achieve that change of guard, Blomkamp doesn’t explain. Nor does he explain how the mere reprogramming of Elysium’s “core” to recognize all Earthlings as citizens of Elysium would magically mandate that all Earthlings automatically are to receive the level of medical care that the denizens of Elysium get.

I mean, it’s not like reprogramming a computer, no matter how powerful it is, is the same as reprogramming human beings. (That said, the craniums of the denizens of Elysium apparently are linked with implanted, wireless circuitry that at the least allows them to communicate hands free [Google and/or Apple is/are working on this right now, right?], and there is a character [a CEO whose corporation Max works for, played by William Fichtner] who, much like how R2-D2 held the plans to the Death Star, holds the plans to “reboot” Elysium inside of the small computer that is implanted in his head, where he has downloaded the plans, but, presumably, the over-privileged denizens of Elysium cannot be reprogrammed into believing that they actually had elected someone else as their president or that the destitute denizens of Earth suddenly now are their sociopolitical equals.)

Also, if we are to buy the central premise of “Elysium” — which is that the rich and the powerful tiny minority (the 1 percent, if you will) have fled the increasingly overpopulated, diseased and polluted Earth for their own mega-gated community in the sky, and that they have done this in order to protect and to preserve the limited, apparently scarce reserves of life-enhancing things for themselves — then how can we buy “Elysium’s” ending, which apparently portrays the 1 percent’s hoarded resources, or at least their hoarded medical-care resources, as being enough to serve at least the entire area of Los Angeles, but apparently even the entire Earth?

This does not compute…

Still, despite “Elysium’s” flaws, it’s a more than watchable film, it’s an improvement over “District 9” (and so Blomkamp seems to have a promising career ahead of him), and it’s great, of course, to see a mainstream film take a socialist-y stance on current hot topics such as immigration, access to medical care, environmentalism, and, of course, the ugly phenomenon of the gated community, which is but a manifestation of the insanely great class division that we see in the United States of America today.

I don’t expect American wingnuts to love this film, and that’s a great thing.

My grade: B+  

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‘World War Z’ needs braaains!

Film review

In this publicity photo released by Paramount Pictures, the infected scale the Israeli walls in "World War Z," from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions in association with Hemisphere Media Capital and GK Films. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Jaap Buitendijk)

The Cool Catastrophes of 'World War Z'

This publicity image released by Paramount Pictures shows a scene from "World War Z." The zombies in “World War Z” move with Carl Lewis speed and a swarm-like mentality inspired in part by rabid dogs, furthering the eternal fan debate over whether the walking dead should actually run. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)

Zombies leap and pile atop each other like angry armies of ants in “World War Z,” produced by and starring Brad Pitt, but despite these impressive visual effects and a plot that has Pitt’s character jetting around the globe, “WWZ” overall is a fairly tepid entry into the zombie genre.

I walked into “World War Z” yesterday with one reviewer having stated that the film does nothing new with the zombie genre but with other reviewers (the majority of them) having stated that it’s an engaging, thrilling summer action movie.

Sadly, in a nutshell, my verdict is that “WWZ,” while watchable enough, does nothing significantly novel with the zombie genre.

I wanted to like “WWZ” more than I did. The zombie genre, done right, can be decent entertainment, and Brad Pitt usually doesn’t do shit. But “WWZ” won’t go down as one of Pitt’s best films or as one of the zombie genre’s best entries.

“WWZ” has some compelling special effects, such as its hordes of fast-moving zombies leaping and piling atop each other like angry armies of ants, but methinks that the proof that’s in the blood pudding is how the individual zombie is portrayed, and “WWZ’s” individual zombies aren’t very frightening, and “WWZ’s” lackluster zombie makeup effects break no new ground in the zombie genre.

Not that gore alone makes for a successful zombie movie, but perhaps one of “WWZ’s” chief errors, I suspect, is its producers’ decision to make a PG-13-rated instead of an R-rated zombie film. I mean, a G-rated zombie film would be considered something for kids, and so not very scary at all, so why would a PG-13-rated zombie flick be all that much scarier?

Indeed, far from being all that scary, most of “WWZ’s” individual zombies are (from what I can tell) unintentionally fairly funny. (My mate, who sat next to me, laughed throughout the movie, and laughed at scenes that very apparently weren’t intended to be comedic.) The tooth-chattering zombie, the zombie that Pitt’s character interacts with the most, I found to be creepy, but not scary, and zombies are supposed to be scary, especially in a movie that bills itself as a seriously scary zombie movie.

Further speaking of which, from what I can tell, the zombies in “WWZ” have no interest whatsoever in consuming human flesh — no, not even human braaains! — but have interest only in biting non-infected humans in order to spread the zombie virus. Perhaps that’s the best that you can do with a PG-13 rating, but yaaawn!

And while the whole concept of the zombie — a human being that is without a beating heart and thus without circulating blood and thus without any other functioning organs yet somehow nonetheless magically is animated — of course is entirely fantastical and not remotely scientific, it would be nice if “WWZ,” since it presents itself as interested in science and medicine, had strived for more medical and scientific accuracy in its portrayal of the viral-infection process.* (Spoiler alert: The material at the asterisk below is a mild spoiler.)

No virus, for instance, is capable of taking over the entire human body within a matter of seconds, and no virus can replicate without a living host, so of course a zombie, without even a beating heart, could not be a virus factory.

Didn’t early zombie movies just rely on voodoo or some other kind of magic or hocus-pocus as the explanation for zombification? When and why did viral infection become the new, unworkable rationale in the zombie genre?

OK, sure, I suppose, perhaps the fear of a Plague still lingers within the human psyche — large swaths of people have been offed in plagues during the past (and the plague of AIDS is still with us, and new plagues, such as bird and swine flus, have the power to scare us at least a bit today) — but even before “WWZ” we didn’t need another entry in the virally caused zombie genre.

And the “solution” that the heroes in “WWZ” find to deal with the zombies is less than credible and less than thrilling. (It’s so not thrilling that I won’t even bother to go into any detail about it; it would be a “spoiler” not even worth “spoiling.”)

With Brad Pitt’s involvement, you would have thought that “WWZ” would have turned out to be a smarter zombie movie. Instead, “WWZ” screams out for braaains!

That said, “WWZ,” regarded as typically mindless summer action-movie fare, is not entirely unwatchable. It’s just disappointing if you expected something more and something better.

I can forgive Pitt for this lapse — as long as he does not involve himself in a sequel.

My grade: B-

P.S. I found BBC America’s “In the Flesh” to be a fairly fresh take on the zombie genre, in case you are interested in feasting on such a fresher take — a take with brains (literally and figuratively).

*Indeed, the movie disappointingly kills off its most scientifically minded character quite early. Are we to take that symbolically as well — that without the scientist further in the movie there will be no further scientific orientation in the movie?

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Documentary ‘Bully’ flawed but spurs vital conversation

Film review

review-bully-movie-image-alex

Kelby is one of the bullied students who had a strong family and friend support system in "Bully."

Alex and Kelby, above, are two of the victims of school bullying who are featured in The Weinstein Company’s documentary “Bully.” Alex, who was born prematurely, in the documentary is portrayed as being called “Fishface” and routinely physically assaulted at school and on the school bus, and Kelby left her school because of very apparently coordinated anti-lesbian discrimination. Below is 18-year-old Sawyer Rosenstein (who is not featured in “Bully”), whose school bully put him in a wheelchair when he was 12 years old. Sawyer and his family just settled with the board of the New Jersey school district for more than $4 million. In the settlement the school board denies that the school failed to protect Sawyer, even though its failure to protect him is quite fucking obvious.

The documentary “Bully” should be required viewing for every American, even those who, like me (a gay man), don’t have a son or daughter in a public school and (most likely) never will.

“Bully” is not only about how cruel and abusive some students can be toward other students, but it’s about how chronically victimized students routinely are failed by the adults in their lives who are supposed to foster and to protect them — not just by school teachers and school administrators, but also by their parents.

An assistant principal featured in “Bully” especially is clueless and worthless — she’s a baby boomer, and it’s all about the baby boomers, so there you go.

In one scene, the assistant principal forces the victim to shake the victimizer’s hand, as though that superficial action were any true solution to the long-term problem of the one student chronically bullying the other. The assistant principal in this incident apparently makes the common, unthinking person’s error in basically asserting that whenever there is a conflict, both sides must be equally guilty. (Actually, that bullshit belief just comes out of the sheer laziness to actually sort it all out and see who truly is at fault, but instead to just try to sweep it all under the carpet.)

In another scene, when a couple of parents come to the assistant principal after having viewed actual video footage of their child’s being seriously, violently bullied on the school bus, the assistant principal (again, a baby boomer) surreally manages to make it all about herself, even whipping out a photo of her grandbaby, stating that of course she cares about all of our babies (of course, the student who is being bullied is not an infant).

The assistant principal also declares that she has ridden that bus herself and that there is no problem whatsoever on the bus. Never mind the facts that there is video footage of the serious problems with violent bullying on that bus and that of course the students are going to behave themselves on the bus when the assistant principal is on board.

What the fuck? With brazenly incompetent, self-interested school administrators like these in our schools, administrators who are more interested in playing politics and in portraying a false portrait of how things are rather than actually being responsible to the students in their care, no fucking wonder bullying is such a problem.

It’s not just the school administrators, of course. The United States of America’s number one spending priority is not its schools, but is the bloated-beyond-belief military-industrial complex.

If enough Americans truly cared about what was going on inside our schools, our schools would be much, much better — including being adequately staffed so that incidents of bullying would be reduced significantly. We have the resources to greatly improve our students’ lives; it’s not a lack of resources, but it’s a lack of caring, including a nationwide public apathy that just allows the powers that be to steal our tax dollars and spend them not on what we need, such as good, safe schools, health care and environmental protection, and to take care of the least among us, but to blow our tax dollars on the military-industrial complex, which is not about defense, but which is about making filthy, treasonously rich swine even richer than they already are through such avenues as colossal military contracting waste and waging bogus wars for corporate expansion, such as how Iraq has been opened to the profiteering of Big Oil via the illegal and immoral Vietraq War.

“Bully” raises these important issues, at least indirectly, but as a documentary is flawed.

“Bully” focuses on bullying that has occurred in public schools in the Southern and Midwestern states of Iowa, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Georgia, and ignores bullying that happens elsewhere in the nation. Bullying is a national problem. My guess is that it’s significantly worse in the red states than it is in the blue states, but it happens eveywhere.

“Bully” probably focuses too much on one child, the 12-year-old Alex, who was born prematurely and who, while he’s an affable kid, is different from the others (who call him “Fishface”) and who thus is bullied. That said, Alex’s life is an excellent example of a child who has been failed by most of the adults in his life, not only by his bus driver and his draw-droppingly awful assistant principal, but even by his own father, who advises him to just fight back, even though Alex is fairly slight and probably can’t effectively fight back physically.

Alex’s father tells him that if he doesn’t fight back, his younger sister will be bullied, too — and that’s putting way too much pressure and responsibility upon a minor, and letting the adults continue in their dereliction of duty.

Even Alex’s mother, who apparently is the most genuinely concerned about him, probably should have concerned herself more about what was happening to him at school and on the school bus before she found out through the documentarians’ film footage.

Another flaw of “Bully” is that while we don’t need grotesque details, it sure would be nice to be told in more detail why, exactly, some of the victims of bullying-induced suicide took their own lives. The young man named Tyler, for example. Why was he bullied? Was he gay or suspected to be gay? In “Bully” we are told a lot about Tyler, who hanged himself in his bedroom closet at age 17, but we’re not really told about why he was bullied.

For the most part, “Bully” doesn’t tell us what to think, but lets us come to our own conclusions. The story of Ja’Maya, a black teen who says that she only brought her mother’s handgun with her on her school bus because she wanted to scare the kids who had been bullying her, reeks of racism/white supremacism as we watch yet another stupid white male, baby-boomer sheriff — who perhaps never has been a victim of bullying himself, but perhaps has been a bully his entire life (bullies are, after all, drawn to law enforcement) — declare that no amount of bullying could justify what Ja’Maya did, and we are left with the sense that if Ja’Maya were, say, a white male jock instead of a 14-year-old black female, the “criminal” “justice” system where she lives would have treated her very differently.

Kelby, the 16-year-old lesbian who is featured in “Bully” is eloquent and intelligent and strong, but “Bully” probably doesn’t say enough about the bullying that happens to gay and lesbian and non-gender-conforming students, who comprise probably the most-bullied group of students.

“Bully” should be an invitation for us not only to declare jihad upon bullying in our public schools, but to tackle the bullying that happens in our workplaces as well. In many if not even most workplaces, bullying occurs on a regular basis. The belief that adulthood in and of itself automatically erases the dynamics that we saw in our public school days is a fucking myth.

The perpetrators of bullying in the workplace know better than to get physically abusive/violent in most cases, but verbal abuse/harassment, sexual harassment/sexual abuse and the abuse of power can make the workplace just as hostile as a public school. And just like bullies in school are careful about bullying when no one in authority is present, workplace bullies most often do their deeds when there is no one who might do something about their bullying is around.

Hopefully more documentaries about bullying will be made, although after “Bully,” school administrators might be much less willing to appear on camera.

Stories of bullying abound, such as the current news story about Sawyer Rosenstein, who became paralyzed from the waist down when a bully at school punched him when he was 12 years old. Sawyer, now 18, is in a wheelchair and just settled with the board of the New Jersey public school district for $4.2 million.

Admittedly, most individuals who are punched don’t become paralyzed — Sawyer apparently was the unfortunate victim of a freak medical event (a blood clot) — but Sawyer’s case illustrates how seriously dangerous bullying can be.

At least three months before his bully put him in a wheelchair Sawyer had informed his school’s administrators that he was being bullied, but even after Sawyer’s life-changing injury at the hands of his bully, msnbc.com reports,

The [New Jersey public school district’s] board denied [in its settlement statement] allegations that it or its employees had “failed or compromised its responsibility to develop and to implement effective policies and procedures to protect the safety and rights” of the school community, … noting that the district “prides itself for the role which it has played in recognizing and developing an awareness of the dangers of bullying, intimidation and harassment in the school setting.”

Bullying can’t be addressed if school administrators, in order to save their own skins, won’t even fucking acknowledge it.

It’s our own collective fault, however, that brazenly incompetent and self-interested school administrators like these remain in power and that our schools don’t have more resources, such as adequate staffing to supervise students, to combat bullying.

And until school administrators and teachers stop saying that it’s the parents’ responsibility, and parents stop saying that it’s the schools’ responsibility, and school administrators stop saying that it’s law enforcement’s reponsibility, and law enforcement stops saying that it’s the schools’ responsibility — and all of us (even those of us without children of our own) take responsibility for the well-being of our young people — our public schools will continue to be more like prisons than like places of learning and personal growth.

My grade: B-

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Deep thoughts on the week that was

I post only a fraction of what I could post, because my time is limited (like it is with most bloggers, I have to earn a paycheck, and that doesn’t happen with my blogging, which is a labor of love) and because I’m a bit of a perfectionist and don’t like doing something unless I do it right.

So here is some of what I would have posted in the past week or so if I’d had the time (and if I weren’t such a perfectionist):

Movie reviews

“Countdown to Zero”: This documentary about nuclear weapons was disappointing. It taught me little that I didn’t already know or that I couldn’t have discovered on my own via Google (which now is evil, I understand, and which is too bad, because I’ve always liked Google).

“Countdown” apparently lets the United States of America off of the hook for having been the first nation on the planet to nuke another nation. It’s an obvious conclusion that if nukes are bad and the United States is the first and thus far the only nation ever to have nuked another nation — what does that say of the U.S.?

“Countdown” also doesn’t delve into the uber-hypocrisy of the United States — the only nation ever to have nuked another nation (I never tire of saying that) — dictating to the rest of the world which nations get to have nukes and which nations don’t. No, I’m not big on the idea of Iran having the Bomb, either, but it was the United States that opened that Pandora’s box, and “Countdown to Zero” doesn’t even begin to address that adequately.

My grade: C+

“Inception” is entertaining enough, but it also could have been titled “Deja Vu,” because it’s a mixture of “The Matrix” and “Shutter Island.”

“Inception” explores what is real and what is not, and features characters kicking each other’s asses in a video-game-like fantasy land while their physical bodies are unconscious and wired up, a la “The Matrix.” What’s most bizarre about “Inception” is that in both “Inception” and “Shutter Island,” Leonardo DiCaprio plays a man who is tortured by the ghosts of his dead wives. The similarity is such that my having seen “Shutter Island” first made me able to enjoy “Inception” less.

Any movie starring both Ellen Page and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, two of my favorite young actors, however, can’t be all bad. (Marion Cotillard, as DiCaprio’s character’s deceased wife, is pretty good, too, although her accent sounds a bit like Arianna Huffington’s…)

“Inception,” besides being too derivative, is too long, though…

My grade: B-

“The Kids Are All Right” is more than all right. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening do a great job playing a lesbian couple with two teenaged kids. Each of them had been inseminated by the donations of a sperm donor (played by Mark Ruffalo, who can donate sperm to me any time…) who later is contacted by the older teen (played by Mia Wasikowska, who starred as Alice in Tim Burton’s latest film) and who comes into their lives.

Probably because I’m a gay man, I have no problem seeing any two people of either sex in a relationship, and having been in a relationship for almost three years now, I see certain dynamics in all relationships, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. (While my boyfriend and I watched “The Kids Are All Right” together, I poked him in the arm several times to declare: “That’s us!”)

I understand that the lesbian community is not thrilled about the type of porn that the lesbian couple in the film enjoy, but, as Moore’s character explains, human sexuality is complicated.

My biggest problem with “The Kids Are All Right” is that Ruffalo’s character isn’t all that believable. Is he a care-free Bohemian or is he a successful businessman? And how does he have all of that time and energy (and the money) to do all that he does, including having a romance with one of the lesbians? Still, the insightful dialogue and the realistic situations in “Kids” make it worthwhile.

My grade: A

Politics

Leave Michelle alone! Had Barbara Bush or Laura Bush gone to Spain on vacation, it would have been no big fucking deal. But because Michelle Obama went on vacation to Spain, and not, I suppose, to Haiti or Darfur or Uganda, she’s taken shit for it. Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker recently huffed:

Is it really such a terrible thing that the president’s wife took a few days off to enjoy the beaches of Spain? Yes and no. Michelle Obama’s trip, though expensive in the context of our dire financial straits, isn’t putting a dent in the Treasury.

But as a political move, it could not have been more out of step with most Americans’ reality. The obvious reasons include the stagnant job market, the depleted fortunes of the middle class, millions of lost homes and, for many, the prospect of an insecure financial future….

On balance, the vacation was poorly conceived but hardly a crime befitting the condemnation. Perhaps of more lasting concern is the missed opportunity for the first lady to set an example of restraint and even generosity. I hear the Gulf Coast beaches could use a cash infusion.

When do the Richie Riches of the Repugnican Party ever “set an example of restraint and even generosity”? Why the fucking double standard that a conservative white man is expected to be a selfish asshole, and gets away with it, but if a black woman takes a trip that any well-enough-to-do white woman would take, she instead should have “set an example of restraint and even generosity”?

And talk about pettiness. Parker notes in her column that

George W. Bush largely escaped scrutiny because his preferred getaway was a place no one else, especially the media, wanted to go. Crawford, Tex., in August? Fabulous.

Whatever else one thinks of Bush, he did have a sense of propriety in matters recreational, perhaps in part attributable to his life of privilege and attendant guilt. He gave up golf after invading Iraq because he felt it would look bad to be perfecting his swing while those he had consigned to battle were losing their limbs. A token, perhaps, but a gesture nonetheless.

A token gesture “perhaps”? And oh, please. The xenophobic, parochial George W. Bush never showed interest in other nations or cultures unless they had vast oil reserves that could be stolen. He didn’t take vacations at home out of some “sense of propriety in matters recreational,” but out of his utter lack of curiosity about the rest of the world.

And Gee Dubya gave up golf? Oh, gee, what a sacrifice! That almost makes up for the damage that he did to his own nation, including leaving office with (not in any certain order) a record federal budget deficit, an overextended military, a crumbling domestic infrastructure, far more enemies around the world than there were before he stole office in late 2000, and what economists have dubbed the “Great Recession.”

Why does Kathleen Parker get paid to write and I fucking don’t?

(Well, that’s mostly a rhetorical question, but the answer is that she’s a baby boomer, and boomers never have needed any actual talent to make big bucks, and because as a writer she supports the status quo, which includes keeping Americans stupid and disempowered by discussing such non-issues as Michelle Obama’s vacation, and my intention when I write is to destroy, not to prop up, the status quo. And, we Gen X’ers historically have been shit and pissed upon by the talentless boomers.) 

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a Gen-X hero!

Steven Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant (pictured above in a MySpace photo), had had it. As a (U.K.) Guardian columnist tells it,

…as the plane was coming in to land, Slater asked a passenger who was attempting to get her luggage from the overhead compartment to remain seated. After the passenger verbally berated Slater, a piece of her luggage fell on to his head. [This website states that Slater’s mother says that Slater was hit in the head by the door of the overhead bin the foul-mouthed passenger was yanking open, not by luggage.] Slater took to the plane’s PA system and announced that he was quitting. Then, after grabbing two beers from a food cart, he opened one of the plane’s doors, slid down the emergency chute, and was gone for good.

This story is being told as a simple episode of “take this job and shove it,” but I think that there is a lot more than that beneath the surface.

Slater is in his late 30s — a Gen X’er, like me, who, I am sure, is sick and fucking tired of being squeezed in the middle between overly demanding (mostly baby-boomer) customers and rich (mostly baby-boomer) overlords who do little to no work themselves but who reap all of the profits while we Gen X (and Gen Y) wage slaves, who usually live from paycheck to paycheck, make their wealth and their comfort possible. (I felt this big squeeze especially in nursing, which I left in 1998 and to which I’ll never return.)

I don’t know how old the obnoxious passenger is, but my guess is that she’s a fucking baby boomer. (I’d bet money on it.)

The passenger’s selfish, inappropriate and illegal actions — this website reports that the Federal Aviation Administration is looking for the passenger because she is accused of “several airline infractions,” including “unbuckling her seatbelt and walking while the plane is taxiing, [constituting] two separate fines of $1,100” — ended up creating a visible wound on Slater’s forehead, but, as a Gen-X wage slave in the “service sector” (the new slavery system) he was just supposed to take it.

The boomers clearly expect us Gen X’ers to continue to take it up the ass indefinitely. We Gen X’ers are overeducated and underpaid, and we’re quite clear as to the future that the uber-selfish boomers intend to leave us, yet the boomers expect their gravy train to chug on forever at our continued expense.

If we Gen X’ers — and the “illegal aliens” — all ever were to refuse to continue being whipped wage slaves for the overprivileged boomers — if we all were to activate and slide down that emergency chute — their comfort would come to a screeching halt.

We Gen X’ers and other wage slaves have the real power, not those parasites who are dependent upon us yet act as though we need them.

Severing the hand that feeds you (and slapping your benefactor in the face with it): I’d already decided long before Obama administration spokesweasel Robert Gibbs called us progressives members of the “professional left” who should be drug tested that I’ll never give another penny nor another vote to Barack Obama. So I can’t call Gibbs’ smug comments the final nail in Obama’s coffin. That coffin was nailed shut long ago, so I guess that Gibbs’ latest statements are just concrete poured over that coffin.

You know, George W. Bush is a major fucktard, but neither even he nor any of his spokesweasels, to my recollection, ever publicly bashed the Repugnican Tea Party’s far-right-wing base.

You may not like your base all of the time, but you don’t alienate your base.

Clearly, starting with DINO (Democrat in name only) Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party decided that it’s OK to promise some things to us progressives but then to do other things — because where else are we progressives going to go?

Well, this member of the “professional left” won’t support Obama anymore. Clearly, the Obama administration has decided to sell us progressives up the river for the unstable, volatile support of the “swing voters,” who can’t tell right from wrong, good from evil, or friend from foe.

I’m more than happy to pick up my marbles (which Gibbs claims I’ve lost) and go home, even if doing so means the quicker collapse of the American empire. I’m with Ralph Nader, whom I voted for president in 2000 and whom I should have voted for president in November 2008 (instead of Obama) — and of whom one of his detractors once claimed believes that things have to get even worse before they’ll ever get better.

And this pundit had it right when he remarked:

We “professional leftists” do indeed need drug testing because apparently the … hallucinogenic of “hope and change” has worn off and the ugly mediocrity of modern Democratic leadership stares us in the face with the not-so-friendly smugness of a hookah-smoking caterpillar.

Yup. It was the Obama campaign that had sold us the drug of “hope” and “change” and now criticizes us for having imbibed it.

Well, we of the professional left are going to have to find a new drug.

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