Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fooled

I wish I'd seen this review for the Huntsman sequel before I watched it myself. It's so slow and weird, and the fairy/animal CGI was as creepy as ever. Plus I kept thinking they were hinting that the black huntsman was in love with Sara too, but it didn't develop properly; some side plot got cut out perhaps. I guess this movie deserved to bomb at the box office, but I'm disappointed because I wanted to like this movie, to be pleasantly surprised like I was by Zootopia.

I mean, I'd heard other bad reviews for the film, but I didn't pay attention because the trailers looked so good, featuring Ravenna and her conflict with her sister Freya so prominently. Little did I know they these characters would be off screen for a large part of the film, and that the trailer actually spoiled a plot point that was supposed to be a surprise late in the movie. Instead most of the action is focused on the Huntsman, his wife Sara, and the quest to find the magical mirror. We don't even have all the dwarves.

Years ago, when I saw the Snow White and the Huntsman movie, I saw it mainly for Charlize Theron as Ravenna. I couldn't give a crap about Snow White. I was disappointed that we didn't get much backstory on Ravenna, let alone the magic mirror's powers. When Ravenna died in that movie, I assumed that she would not return for the sequel. When she did, and the trailers promised lots of backstory (and her coming back to life), I thought, "Finally! Somebody gets it. I watched for Ravenna, not freaking Snow White." I assumed wrongly that the writers were finally going to give me what I wanted all along, and were cutting out dull boring Snow White in the process. Though they did write out Snow White, they didn't give Ravenna more screen time to replace her. Again, she mostly is there to be villainous, sexy, and vague, with no attempt to really explain her character motivations or magic or anything. And if you're going to promise a war between Ravenna and her sister, then you better deliver an epic battle. Hmm, I guess this is how comics fans felt cheated of their epic Batman vs. Superman fight.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hooray for Harriet

I was excited by the news that Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, but less pleased later when the Treasury clarified that Jackson would go to the back of the bill. Just couldn't let a woman stand alone, huh? They also said that women suffragists would go on the back of the $10 bill, and some civil rights heroes on the back of the $5. So overall the changes are positive. Harriet Tubman certainly deserves the recognition, for all her work on the Underground Railroad and as a Union spy during the Civil War. That reminds me of that cable show about the Underground Railroad that I want to see, along with the Roots remake. I wonder if those shows will make it to DVD or maybe Netflix later. I'll have to wait and see.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Peas in a Pod

Speaking of politics, there was a big to-do about Bernie Sanders going to a conference at the Vatican and meeting the Pope. It wasn't really an endorsement, and I can shrug it off because Pope Francis does have much in common with Bernie. The pope does advocate strongly against climate change, the evils of unfettered capitalism, and economic equality, while still failing to evolve on birth control and same-sex marriage. Though people say Francis is more compassionate and welcoming to LGBT people, it seems to me that he's simply for the same old tolerance of "love the sinner, hate the sin." Bernie is Jewish, and not really religious, but he also is passionate about climate change and economic equality, to the point where he doesn't think other issues are as important. I mean, sure, he'll vote pro-choice, learn to say "black lives matter", and argue that Palestinians deserve justice, but these are merely secondary issues to him. (And he still has a bad record on gun control.) So fine, philosophically Bernie and the Pope go together, but I don't think it matters.

If I had any confidence that Bernie actually had a plan to punish Israel or bring about a two-state solution, I would definitely be tempted to support him over Hillary on this issue. But as revealed by his disastrous newspaper interview, I'm afraid Bernie is all talk and no plans to follow-through. And he's railed against the whole Democratic party as corrupt instead of working to try to elect more Democrats to Congress, so I don't see any of his pie-in-the-sky promises coming true. I don't like Hillary's stance on Israel, but there's always hope she can be pushed left with more time, like this primary has pushed her left. She's apologized for that crime bill and pledged to fix it; I don't mind people evolving, like they did over gay rights and marriage equality. When I was an uninformed kid I liked Republicans until I learned more; people can change for the better. At least Hillary's got detailed policies in a wide range of issues, and she's got plans and actions to elect more Democrats and get her agenda done. I just hope this primary ends soon, because it's taken too damn long and I'm sick of it.

The Jungle Book

I saw the new Disney movie this weekend and thought it was great. I still can't really believe that all the visual effects and characters besides Mowgli were CGI; the environment looked very real and convincing. The only thing that was hyper-unbelievable was the giant King Louie. He claimed that he was a "gigantopithecus" (an extinct ape species) but really he just looked like a massive modern orangutan. It was interesting that Christopher Walken played him as a gangster-type, somewhat of an improvement on Walken's bad portrayal of Captain Hook on the Peter Pan Live musical. The rest of the cast was great, and I loved Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, though I couldn't always hear his dialogue over the music and people talking in the theater. (I only got a vague impression of why the panther told Mowgli that elephants created the world, therefore other animals must bow to them.) The writers did a good job trying to make a coherent dramatic story about Shere Khan hunting Mowgli down. I've read the Kipling book long ago, and found it was loosely connected short stories alternating with "songs" which were merely poems or chants spoken by the characters. I liked that Baloo commented that the Law of the Jungle was not a song, but propaganda. There were nice moments of levity and fun in the movie, and the end credits had some cute stuff.

At home, I watched part 2 of the Jackie Robinson special that I recorded last week. After his first couple of seasons in the major league, he began to speak up for himself more and not just passively take abuse and discrimination. The Dodgers hired other black players on the team, but they disagreed on how much they ought to actively protest their unequal treatment. One of the commentators observed that it's a common tactic to try to pit minorities against each other. In fact, this also happened when Jackie was asked to testify against Communists, particularly the singer Paul Robeson. Jackie thought he was doing a good thing, confirming that blacks were loyal Americans, but of course nobody should be asked to speak for his entire race, like they're a monolith with one opinion. (Not to mention the whole witch-hunt against Communists was un-American in itself.) When Jackie's wife tried to get them a house in the suburbs, the realtors were biased against them until they got some celebrity help to settle in Connecticut. There were other family problems too. Eventually Jackie's health declined from diabetes, so he retired from baseball and started working at the Chock Full of Nuts coffee business.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Ken Burns's Jackie Robinson

I watched the first part of PBS's Jackie Robinson special, and will try to watch part 2 this weekend. I remember watching the movie 42 a few years ago, so some of the material is familiar to me, but it's still interesting to see the real life history as opposed to the biopic's dramatization, where they didn't have time to do more than a general introduction to Jackie's life. I don't personally know a lot about baseball, though I know the names of many famous ballplayers due to cultural exposure from movies like Field of Dreams. It's interesting to learn that major league baseball was under political pressure from many groups after World War II, including black newspapers and Communists, to integrate. So Branch Rickey was actually trying to announce his recruitment of Jackie Robinson quickly, so he could have credit for integrating baseball himself, rather than reluctantly bowing to outside forces.

Ken Burns includes other interesting stories, such as Jackie's older brother going to the 1936 Olympics with Jesse Owens, yet not being able to get good work when he came home. There's a lot of mentions of other black athlete pioneers such as boxer Joe Louis who helped Jackie get into officer candidate school while in the army. Speaking of Jackie's military service in WWII, he got into trouble for refusing to sit at the back of a bus in Texas, yet he managed to get acquitted at his trial and be honorably discharged. What's nice is that Branch Rickey must have researched Jackie's life and known of his past incidents of fighting discrimination, but that didn't make Branch reject Jackie for a safer athlete who wouldn't stir controversy. Still, Jackie had to endure a lot of abuse during his first two seasons, forced to hold his tongue and not retaliate so that public opinion would be changed. I'm sure there will be more civil rights action in part 2 when we get to his post-baseball life.

Meanwhile, I read a couple of online stories that made me smile yesterday. First, Inky the Octopus escaped from a New Zealand aquarium, squeezing down a drain to reach the ocean. Sure, the aquarium people were good, helping Inky to recover from a traumatic injury, but after he got well, Inky must have yearned for freedom, and I'm glad that the aquarium people were happy for his escape. Octopuses are intelligent and remarkable animals, as I've learned from some PBS nature shows. The other story was about an investigation in Loch Ness of an underwater trench that was recently discovered. Then a drone found a movie prop of the Nessie monster, and best of all, it was from Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes! In the movie, Mycroft uses the fake monster head to disguise some secret submarine testing that's occurring in the lake. I still love that movie very much, and it's funny to think that their long lost prop turned up at last.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

One Less Witness

Sleepy Hollow's finale confirmed my decision to drop the show. (I hope it gets cancelled, but there's wild talk about a renewal.) I can't believe they really killed off one of the two main leads. There was a report saying that Nicole Beharie had wanted to be written out of the show; I wish they had gone ahead and done it at midseason, instead of faking us out like this. It was nice to see Corbin, but I disliked Abby speaking like her mission was complete, that her only purpose was to help Ichabod, not have an independent life of her own. Really makes the Witnesses unequal, and the idea of her "eternal soul" going to another person makes it worse. Really terrible mythology, and I don't see how the show could survive recasting her. I wish Nicole well in whatever new career moves she makes.

Now that the late spring/summer reality shows are starting, I have less interest in TV. Probably will spend more time on Netflix or at movies. I'm looking forward to the Jungle Book soon. Lately I've tried again to read a fictional Pinkerton ebook I bought, but I find its steampunk elements annoying. Why can't we have just regular historical fiction, instead of this technobabble nonsense? I want to hear about the characters, not grand conspiracy theories.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Courts more like circuses

In other news, the FBI somehow unlocked the phone with help from a third party, so they dropped their case against Apple. But surprise, surprise, they now offered to help unlock a phone in another criminal case. And there's tons more phones that other law enforcement people will want to break into also, and the FBI isn't gonna share the method so Apple can fix it. This was never about the one phone; it was about the precedent they wanted to set.

North Carolina is getting sued for their new law, and the Attorney General refuses to defend it, so good on him. I hope he wins the election against the governor. But Kim Davis's lawyer already volunteered to defend the case instead. *Eyeroll*

I'm not sure what to think about the Supreme Court's decision about the religious exemptions from providing birth control. I read one article saying it's a good thing, that they're asking for briefs about what accommodation would satisfy the Nuns. Stop making the government offer alternatives only for the religious employers to say "No, I refuse. That's still a burden on me." Instead, the justices want the Nuns to say "This is the accommodation that will satisfy me." So if they refuse to offer an accommodation, it will expose how they'll never be satisfied at all. So then the Supremes will have to rule in favor of the government, because they made every effort to compromise, while the other side refuses.

But I read a more depressing article saying this ruling meant the Court would have a tie vote, making the law different in different states. It's so confusing. I wish the Court would just rule that it's unreasonable for the employer's religion to trump the personal beliefs of the employees about their own healthcare. There's so many other cases to get to later; we need a new justice now! Stupid obstructionist Senators! Even if you vote Garland down, at least have the damn hearings!

Some suspense

So sad to hear about Douglas Wilmer dying this week. I have his old BBC Sherlock Holmes series on DVD and enjoyed it a lot. Apparently he didn't like the running of the show, though, so he quit and they had to recast with Peter Cushing in season 2.

The finale of You, Me and the Apocalypse was a bit of a downer, especially knowing that the show will have no season 2. The protagonists kept killing people, and Rhonda tried to justify it as "that guy was gonna die anyway because of the apocalypse." Her sick husband looked at her with such disappointment, though other characters said they would have done what she did. I'm not sure how I feel about Gaines assassinating the President because he would have been an unfit leader, yet he doesn't feel bad about imprisoning those Saviour scientists before, or shooting their way out of the military base when rescuing Rhonda and Leanne. There's a lot of moral ambiguity in the plot, which I guess is realistic. I do still wonder about Jamie's fate and what would happen next in the bunker. (Are we sure Celine's baby is okay, after she drank all that alcohol before the pregnancy test?) Even though things aren't really resolved, I don't regret investing in the show because it had a lot of drama, mystery, and action unlike stupid Last Man on Earth.