Monday, May 30, 2016

X-Men Apocalypse is Exciting and Fun

    I like X-Men Apocalypse. It's an exciting movie with an entertaining plot, great action scenes and it explores several interesting mutant characters.  It's a bit of a reboot from its previous existence in 20th Century Fox studios.  But it follows the previous X-Men, who started in the 1960s with X-Men:  First Class and then in the 1970s with Days of Future Past, into the 1980s.  We are re-introduced to younger versions of the X-Men including Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Nightcrawler and holdovers such as Mystique, Beast and Quicksilver plus about five other characters I have forgotten. Plenty of interesting mutants for fans who are gluttons for superheros. 

    The Quicksilver character was brilliantly played by Aaron Evans.  The young superheroes should act like punks sometimes, and he does that.  He's talented, funny and definitely has his own personality.  One thing that bothers me, though, is how Quicksilver can be a young guy in the 1970s and 1980's, and yet is also a young guy in the Avengers movie which takes place in about 2016.  These movies are not helped by taking such giant liberties with the characters.  

Quicksilver is a surprising hit of the movie, upstaging some of his more well-known friends.  

       Similarly, Nightcrawler (Cody Smit-McPhee) is a very interesting character with the ability to teleport himself and his friends.  His flaws are that he is very under-confident and overly devout in his religion, which leads to some nice comic moments. In short, Nightcrawler rocks.    

     Magneto, played by Michael Fassbender, remains a fascinating character whose life is marred by evil tragedies.  I think the previous director wanted him to be like James Bond.  Meanwhile, Xavier is not nearly as inspirational, played kind of flatly by James McAvoy.   Magneto is basically a good character but one who is pulled by tragedy to embrace evil.  Fassbender is a very good actor, but we have seen this theme only about six other times in the X-Men movies and it is getting to be stale.  Time to move on.  To some extent this is accomplished by having a new bad guy for this movie.

    The bad guy is named Apocalypse, and he is really really bad. He does a decent Hannibal Lecter voice in addition to having all sorts of cool powers.  We learn that he had been active in ancient Egypt, but like the Mummy was entombed for a few thousand years, and then awakens to menace the world again. Apocalypse believes he is the answer to humanity's misplaced values (for example, their tendency to create nuclear weapons--tsk, tsk--instead of worshipping his godlike self).  But at his core, Apocalypse is kind of a horse's ass.  His ability to attract other mutants to support him perhaps could have been better developed, since he is really so creepy that we can scarcely imagine that a misguided good guy is actually going to work for him.  

Can you imagine an ancient godlike Pharaoh coming back to life to oppress the world?  Uh, maybe so.

Apocalypse gets great helpers, like Magneto and Psylocke (Olivia Munn).   Psylocke is into electrified whips and chains and is just mean.  

    Wolverine is in the movie, just so that they could add Hugh Jackman in the cast.   He doesn't add much to the plot.  He is just thrown in and then leaves, sort of like Stan Lee's cameo but with more violence.   This was a major blemish on the movie.  

     The plot is just average, but good acting and directing, along with exciting action sequences lead to a very enjoyable film.   


Sunday, May 8, 2016

When Marnie Was There --Review by the Village Elliot

I took my Mother to the Little Art Theater in Yellow Springs for a special shoing of "When Marnie Was There, " which they say is the last great cartoon from this generation of Studio Ghibli, which is the most famous creator of Anime movies in Japan. It is one of the most fantastic movies I have ever seen, never mind that it is a cartoon. In America, you could absolutely not make a movie like this. How can you have a movie with no sex, no romance, no violence, no guns, and no jokes and expect people to watch? It just can not happen. But Ghibli made an incredible movie. It is first of all unbelievably beautifully constructed with scenery from Japan that makes me long to return to that beautiful country. In some ways the cartoon is actually even more real than live film. The colors are brilliant and glorious, and the art is sensitive and gorgeous. In some ways, I think Japanese people like to see themselves as having some closer resemblance to European people, while nevetheless maintaining their cultural identity, and this comes into play in this movie both directly as well as indirectly as a form of artistic expression. "When Marnie was There" tells the story of an adolescent Japanese girl named Anna who is sent to the countryside to regain her health, and she meets a beautiful young European girl named Marnie, a few years older than herself, who lives in a mansion that appears to be abandoned at times. Marnie is from a wealthy family and is rich, outgoing and beautiful, all the things that Anna is not. Anna is so impressed by Marnie that Anna begins to doubt whether she even can be real. Is Marnie simply a figment of her imagination? It's partly a story of coming of age, but it is also an intricate Mystery movie, almost like the Twilight Zone in some respects. I will confess that I am a big softie and often cry at movies including Kung Fu Panda and Despicable me. I'm afraid the Little Art Theater may have suffered water damage for this engagement, as I was not the only one in tears.

Captain America and Iron Man Duke It Out in Civil War`

     I loved Marvel's Civil War, especially after the dumb-but-entertaining Batman versus Superman.  There is no question in my mind that Marvel derivatives have a much better understanding of human nature than the DC counterparts.  

     Civil War is an interesting theme, especially since many of my friends seem ready to start a war over relatively trifling differences between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, say. But in this movie, Iron Man (Tony Stark) is at the forefront of the ethical issue of advocating vigilante justice while also taking responsibility for collateral damage.  Specifically, innocent people routinely die during spectacular superhero operations, but you never hear about it.  Until now.   And the superheros naturally feel remorseful about the death of innocents, even if it seems unavoidable.  This is a worthy theme for superheroes to ponder.

     To deal with their dilemma, some of the heroes want to submit to the United Nations, while others want to work with no accountability.   It's a serious issue.   Marvel develops the case for both sides of the issue, and you might be surprised at which heroes come down on the side of law and order and which prefer vigilante-ism.  In fact they change sides and are forced into combat in a series of clashes, which my senior brain was too slow to fully comprehend. 

     The strongest characters continue to be Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Captain America (Chis Evans), both of whom are totally believable both in terms of their acting as well as the way their characters are defined.  Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle) are also very convincing. However, some of the others are a bit more dubious.  Hawkeye, for example, is really kind of an oddball. What does the bow and arrow do that an AK-47 does not? It's the dumbest weapon since the Empire rolled out the ineffective and slow light saber.  Conversely, Scarlet Witch seems to have kind of the same powers as Yahwe, if only she would concentrate a little better.   The Vision is also too powerful and would be a better character if his abilities were better defined. 

   Speaking of Gods, I guess Thor may have not fully recovered from his last concussion, and the Hulk my have had a bad hamstring, because both cleanup hitters sat this one out.  That strikes me as a very odd decision. Perhaps it means that Hulk is going to take on Thor in an upcoming movie, and they thought it might be redundant to have the same two characters whaling on each other in consecutive movies (?)  I think I will go out on a limb and predict that that indeed will be the case, as Hulk seemed to enjoy beating up Asgardians the past few movies. 

Hulk Smash Thor?  Next movie...

     On the other hand, there are some other fan favorites that show up as a replacements.  I won't tell you everyone who shows up, but they are cool. 

The plot is a little complicated, and after a while I had to give up on figuring out who was changing sides and why and just enjoy the action scenes.  And if you haven't heard, you should stick around after the credits for a few extra scenes that might be important in the future. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

Superman vs Batman vs the Writers

Face it, you have to see Batman vs Superman, even if it is not a great movie, just because Batman and Superman are comic book legends who solved cases together for more than 50 years. They are the most iconic characters in the history of American comicdom.  I won't spoil the plot for you, but I will tell you that these superheroes are well acted by Ben Afleck and Henry Cavill.  

However, the writing and direction cause the pair to be angry, cynical old men in their mid to late 40s, rather than the dynamic superheroes they used to be.  The tombstone for Bruce Wayne's parents is dated to 1981, meaning that if the movie takes place in the present, Batman must be around 45, about the same age as actor Ben Affleck. Superman has a receding hairline, and Lois Lane (played by 42 year old Amy Adams) is actually matronly.   I guess they figured that the audience for these movies is not 10 year old kids anymore, and they are definitely aiming for fans who are now middle aged.  

  Yet this movie purports to tell the story of the first meaningful interaction between the two heroes.  How can Batman and Superman have had decades long careers of crimefighting without knowing each other?  A movie that seeks to tell the tale of the first major interaction between Superman and Batman should obviously take place with the two heroes at the beginning of their careers, not when they are ready to retire.   The idea that they have never met because Gotham City and Metropolis are too far away is just ridiculous.  

     The depiction of the main characters was very hard to take. Not only are they middle aged, but they wear dark, gloomy costumes and play the part of grim warriors used to meting out violent justice.  They may be still at the top of their game, but they actually look kind of paunchy and they seem to like cloudy, rainy depressing weather. 

     My main complaint is that neither Batman or Superman (nor their alter-egos Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent) are likeable individuals.  Superman is depressed, and Batman is deranged.  They are cynical, angry middle aged men who have no business being superheroes.

Suck in that gut, Batman and Superman. Get your uniforms dry cleaned.   And at least smile when you are hanging out with the likes of Wonder Woman!

Luthor's son is one of the bad guys in this movie, and is mainly an annoying nerd with no substance.  Like the Coyote in Road Runner, he hopes to kill Superman, but it has to be with some kind of crazy harebrained and complicated scheme.  Young Luthor's plans are not brilliant, just complicated and erratic.  

DC comic movies are consistently outdone by Marvel, and for that reason they have tried to add drama by having the heroes lose the trust of the people, and by bickering among themselves.  It's quite a bit like the  Republican Presidential debates, with neither Cruz nor Trump quite making any sense.  It doesn't work for Batman and Superman to misbehave like that.  

Wonder Woman does not appear to be middle aged at all, but we learn that she is actually hundreds of years old, having appeared in World War I. The reason for Wonder Woman's reappearance after 100 years of being retired is unclear.  Perhaps she is like Michael Jordan and just likes to retire and un-retire.  Yet she too prefers to run around in drab and dreary earth tones.  Nevertheless cool drums play whenever she strikes her battle pose, and she is definitely in shape. Woo hoo!

OK, so I've described my reaction to the movie, and not given away any parts of the plot.  That's easy, because I didn't understand it one bit.  Something about Luthor making soup out of Kryptonian body parts, and that's as close as I can get.  Evidently, only criminal masterminds can comprehend what Luthor Jr. is trying to do.

The special effects are excellent, and the battle scenes last long enough to satisfy all but the most bloodthirsty of fans.  That makes it worth watching even if we have no idea who is fighting who, and why.  Batman has a few tricks up his sleeve to make up for his lack of firepower compared to Superman. 

I hope that someday Batman and Superman come out of their respective depressions and work together against common foes.   And the Wonder Woman movie might be worth watching despite her poor fashion sense in this movie.  At least she is not as depressed or deranged as Superman and Batman were in this movie.  



Friday, March 18, 2016

Regime Change: Bush, Obama and our Next President

Hillary Clinton and George Bush have taken turns championing the concept of Regime Change, as a reason to commit the United States to overseas wars.  Bill Clinton and Barck Obama have also endorsed this principle.  

The US is entrenched in its belief that we have the right of "Regime Change."  Briefly, that is the right of the US to use military force to depose military dictators such as Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and other despotic rulers, especially in the Middle East.  

Regime Change was codified in 1998 in the Clinton administration, with the Iraq Liberation Act, which stated that the US would encourage the removal of bad boy Saddam Hussein.   It also bears mention that the US bombed the former Yugoslavia, Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo, and attempting to aid Muslim rebels in the name of Human Rights.  The Serbs--allies of Russia, in part due to their mutual Slavic heritage--were the target. 

Regime Change was put in force in the George W. Bush administration. Initially the second Iraq War was seen as necessitated to put down the nuclear weapons ambitions of Saddam Hussein.  When it was finally realized that Saddam had no significant capability for nuclear war, it was decided that Regime Change was an adequate justification for removing Saddam from power, especially since it had been passed during the previous Democratic administration.   Opponents of the Second Iraq War were few.  The resolution that authorized President Bush to use force in Iraq passed the Senate by a vote of 77 to 23, and the House by 296 to 133.  Hence both Democrats and Republicans were thoroughly on board.  There is no sense in blaming any one individual, as the great majority supported war.  However, it is worth noting that Senator Hillary Clinton was a strong supporter, while junior Senator Barack Obama was against it.  
The eurphoria surrounding the American invasion eventually wore thin as it was realized that conflict in Iraq was not coming to an end.  Barack Obama narrowly defeated the more hawkish John McCain in 2008.    

However, with Hillary Clinton becoming Secretary of State, the new Administration had an advocate for Regime Change. Indeed, President Obama came eventually to embrace Regime Change not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also  in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria with different forms of American support including military aid.   

The total expense of these operations is difficult to estimate, but estimates in Time Magazine (Mark Thompson) peg the range at between 4 and 6 Trillion Dollars.  Remarkably, Americans feel that the American military is weak, and many are willing to support additional spending. According to Gallup, 37% of Americans feel that not enough money is being spent on the military, with another 27% believing that military spending is "about right."  

It seems, then, that Americans are pretty much okay with spending hundreds of billions of dollars each year supporting persons and groups in the Middle East that we know nothing about.  So who are we are supporting with billions or even trillions of American dollars?  Can you name a single person in Syria that commands such respect that we need to invest billions in them?  Do we need to really cause the death of thousands of people to support these unknown revolutionaries?  Is it a good idea to train 100,000 young men to use weapons, in the hope that they will create a peace loving society?    

Most Americans enthusiastically embrace the Regime Change doctrine, and its supporters.  The torch has been passed from Bill Clinton to George Bush, to Barack Obama, and presumably next year it may  go to Hillary Clinton, one of the original proponents of Regime Change and wars of liberation.  

Perhaps there is some movement out there that is so just, so pure and so wonderful that a compelling argument can be made to support it.  However, I'm not aware of it, and I doubt whether you are either, dear Reader.   

My belief is that we simply support our leaders and tacitly endorse the Regime Change principle.  Likely we will simply nod and give our consent to our smiling leaders who need our permission to commit billions of dollars on behalf of unknown persons and groups in the Middle East, hoping that a Pro-American government will somehow emerge in Syria and other countries that we don't like.     
"Regime Change"  will likely be regarded by future historians as one of the most stupid ideas in American history.  Yet is an idea which enjoys great popularity from Republicans and Democrats alike.  


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Manufactured Cheers, Jeers, Boos and Heckles in Corrupt Campaign 2016

    OK I'm calling it.  Earlier in this primary season in facebook rants I called attention to fake sounding cheers for the Republican establishment and fake boos for Donald Trump.  The debate of February 13 was particularly surreal as the audience wildly cheered for innocuous statements by several candidates and especially Jeb Bush.  To me, it sounded like American Idol type cheering rather than political applause, a kind of "WOOO!" signifying a brilliant artistic triumph rather than a well made political point.  Meanwhile they booed Donald Trump lustily.   Both were completely manufactured, as is all the more evident realizing by now that few voters actually supported Mr. Bush, while support for Mr. Trump ran much deeper than anyone believed. 

     This is not necessarily illegal, just packing the house with supporters of a savvy candidate in attempt to sway TV viewers with booing and cheering in the places that they picked.   

     Any number of commentators, including this one, noticed that the cheers and boos sounded manufactured.  

      Now, just days before the Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina, and Florida primaries, there is an upsurge in violent protest, mainly at Trump primaries.  Am I wrong to think that it looks manufactured?  

      Any PAC with an interest in a brokered convention might seek to tip Ohio to Governor John Kasich's favor by making Trump look bad.  It would be easy to do, by funding left-wing PACs with an interest in disrupting Trump rallies, perhaps with a few helpful suggestions via anonymous helpers. It's very corrupt, but possibly not illegal if done properly.    

    Who would do such a thing?  Despite the obviousness of Bernie Sanders, he probably has other things to worry about, especially since last I heard he is running against Hillary Clinton and not Donald Trump.  I would think that PACs supporting potential "brokered convention candidates" for the Republicans might smile upon such an idea, with a lower probability that someone still in the race might do it.   Let's not mention any names, since this is conjecture. 

      My suspicions are further heightened by ads I have heard in the past 24 hours that are anti-Trump, telling horror stories of his supposedly sordid past, but not advocating some other candidate.  What's the point of that?  
    But we've already had fake boos and cheers in the debates.  It's not much of a leap to imagine that someone is paying for fake heckling as well.  It may not be illegal, but it stinks.  

Is Bernie Sanders paying his followers to attend Trump Rallies and protest?  I doubt it, but someone with an interest in tipping Tuesday's elections might give money to groups interested in heckling.  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Has Mitt Romney Lost His Mind?

      What next?   Mitt Romney goes on national TV to blast the Republican candidate--not the Democrat--and propose that the candidates conspire to deny votes from Donald Trump: 

Say what?   Everyone is supposed to vote to stop Trump instead of voting their consciences?

"Given the current delegate selection process, this means that I would vote for Marco Rubio in Florida, for John Kasich in Ohio and for Ted Cruz or whichever one of the other two contenders has the best chance of beating Mr. Trump in a given state,"  (Source:  Associated Press).   

The idea is that they can deny Trump the nomination, and then come up with a compromise candidate at the convention (Romney?).   

I can't imagine that this wild scheme can possibly work.  I don't see why Republicans are crying, as Trump has recruited more newcomers to the Party than ever before.  

The Republican hierarchy can just not accept that voters are fed up with their failed policies of supporting the super rich with more tax cuts and obstructing all legislation.  I think the average voter is disappointed to see Republican Senators literally quaking in fear of President Obama, unwilling to even hold hearings for a Supreme Court Justice nominee.  They can't pass any major legislation, can't offer any constructive modifications to Obamacare, can't negotiate anything with the President.  They cry over their powerlessness to rectifiy a 400 billion dollar deficit, while boldly talking of new tax cuts aimed at the wealthiest Americans.   

Is it just me, or do the Republics appear to be terrified to engage the Democrats on issues like selecting a Supreme Court Justice?

      The party insiders thought the candidate would be Jeb Bush.   But who wants to return to an era with a mistaken war against Iraq, ballooning federal debt, collapse and bailout of the banking system and major economic recession?  Gosh, I just couldn't wait to vote for more of that!

      Romney made himself look very foolish indeed, taking blind swings at Trump while hoping for a deadlocked convention.   It looks like he is desperate to not let go of his own thwarted dreams for the presidency. Dude, you are looking ridiculous.  

    The successful candidates this year have been outsiders, including Trump, Ben Carson, and Tea Partiers Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.  I don't think the people want to go back to the traditional agenda.  

     The attraction of Trump is that he knows how to communicate and to win, especially given the "reality TV" format encouraged by the networks. He's not scared to negotiate with Democrats and can not be cowed into inaction. He may be the most erratic candidate in history, but perhaps voters believe that that is better than electing an establishment candidate.