Saturday, December 9, 2017

Rehabilitating The Movie Batman

It's been on my mind for a while that The Batman is in a terrible slump in the movies and needs to be fixed.  I think the original Batman movie with Michael Keaton wanted to take an entirely different direction that the children's Batman of the 1960s, and so for that reason Batman was a much more somber character, and actually they went back to Bob Kane's 1939 character who wanted to terrorize crooks.  This may not have been a good decision, because the moviegoing audience is not going to understand a scary Batman.
The movies have emphasized Batman's plan to gain an edge over criminals by frightening them by dressing up like a bat. But are crooks of the 21st century scared by a bat suit?  Doubtful.    
   In 1939, it may have been terrifying to see a person dressed as a bat. Plus, initially bad guys may not have heard of Batman and might be surprised by him as an unknown force.   But in 2017, everybody knows Batman.  He is not scary any more, if he ever was.  
    Starting with the 1989 Batman with Michael Keaton, Batman has gotten darker and darker, even to the point of being psychologically disturbed.  Frankly, I find him to be depressing, boring and generally inept.  He has become a handsome version of Wile E. Coyote, who was always getting fantastic devices to use against Road Runner, only to be beaten every time.

The stuff that the Coyote used to buy from the Acme Company worked way better than the decrepit stuff that Batman gets from Wayne Industries.

     In particular, the Batplane is a disgusting piece of junk, and the American military should definitely buy from Stark Industries instead of Wayne Industries. As an Air Force guy, I cannot accept that the Batplane can be brought down from a single shot from a clown revolver (Jack Nicholson's, plus Riddler shot it down again with a laser pistol for good measure). That is utterly pathetic and totally unrealistic. Jeepers, Steve Trevor did much more damage in his World War I jalopy in Wonder Woman than the Batplane ever did.  Similarly, Penguin sabotaged the Batmobile using a jamming kit he probably bought on E-Bay.  Even in the new Justice League movie, Batman's futuristic Spider Tank breaks down.  Somebody is going to do a monolog on late night TV to point out what a joke Batman's hi-tech machines are.    This is not entertaining, and kid's aren't going to buy a toy Batplane or Batmobile if they crash all the time.  It's pathetic. 

     Now let's talk about Batman, mano i mano. To be worth a darn, the Batman should be as good a fighter as Bruce Lee with the knockout power of Mike Tyson.  But no, Batman has to brawl with ordinary thugs these days, usually taking significant damage.  His long bulky cape gets in his way, and he really looks clumsy. When he fought against Keith Ledger's Joker, he pummeled Joker with his fists, but Joker just laughed at him.  That's not a superhero.  That's far below the level of fighter from your local kung fu studio, who would simply destroy Joker with one punch.  
     Look, if Batman is fighting a non-super-badguy, one punch should knock his opponent out, break bones or shatter joints.  Otherwise, don't bore us with his pathetic lack of skill in combat.  

Keith Ledger's Joker just laughed off Batman's puny attempts to punch him out.  Conclusion:  Batman can't punch and can't fight.  

   So, what is to be done with this aging bat? I have a few modest ideas.  Ben Afleck put Batman on the road to rehabilitation in Justice League.  In this movie, he at least thinks about organizing and working on team with difficult personalities.  That's better, but I think he should be allowed to take the role even further down the road to recovery.
    Batman needs to rediscover his role as a detective.  After all, his comic book home was Detective Comics (in fact that's what DC stands for!), and he was billed as the World's Greatest Detective. 
      Like Sherlock Holmes, Batman should be able to get in the head of an evildoer and predict his next move. He should be able to figure out where traps have been laid and outsmart them, like an urbanized Indiana Jones.  

     Batman should stop losing fights to non-entities. He needs to be a superhero, not a marginally effective brawler.  If he goes one on one with the Joker or Luthor, they should not stay awake at the end of the scene.    
    Perhaps he could also develop a sense of humor.   Like Spider-Man, he could take a special delight in humiliating bad guys when gift wrapping them for the authorities. For example, I could imagine a scene in which Batman would catch a bad guy and then attach him to a crane and leave him suspended ten stories high in the air.  Or bad guys might wind up covered in unpleasant substances (think Biff Tanner in Back to the Future, or Marv and Harry in Home Alone 2).   
    They absolutely have to stop the plot device that Wayne Industries products break down on the job.  It's not cool, just stop it.   The Batplane and Batmobile represent DC's answer to Tony Stark's armor.  The way it is now, if DC had Iron Man as a character, his tag line would be, "Oil my mouth."  Riddler would soon make him into a beer keg.  
    No, Batman's weapons should be fantastic and highly effective, rather than simply ineffective as in the past.  The Batplane should be at least as awesome as a military aircraft. In fact, I think it would a prototype built by Wayne Industry's "skunk works," modeled after the real life "skunk works" of Lockheed Martin Aircraft.  That's the only way you could plausibly have a Batplane. It was to be on the books as an exotic prototype fighter (the F-1000 or something), and it has the extra capability to turn into the Batplane, which almost no one knows about.  Batman could press a secret button and it reconfigures into the Batplane, with some special secret weapons that even the Air Force doesn't know about.    He should be able to take on a third world country's Air Force and win, though he might be a bit more concerned if the US Air Force should ever decide to contest its flight.   A bad guy (like James Bond's Dr NO or Goldfinger) should not be safe in a fortress in some Caribbean island.  The Batplane should reduce it to a pile of rocks, and then vanish using active camouflage to blend in with the background.   
    Bruce Wayne could use a facelift also, to compete with Tony Stark. I don't see him as the hard-luck bachelor we have sen so far. His love life should be at least as exciting as James Bond's or, for that matter, Adam West's!.  Adam's Bruce Wayne got to go on dates with Catwoman.   In fact, I think with his rediscovered detective ability, he might be able to deduce that Catwoman is actually Selena Kyle, and so he might decide to go undercover and have an affair with her in order to collect information from her.   Or perhaps he might even have a thing for Wonder Woman, if he can figure out a way to not be crushed by her.  
Amazingly, Adam West's elegant and clasy Bruce Wayne had a much more exciting social life than Ben Afleck's. Ben's Bruce mainly hangs out in a cave with his butler.   Here is Bruce on a date with a disguised Catwoman (Lee Meriwether).  Now that's a hot date! She's a killer--really!  
    Lastly, the Alfred character is brought up to date by Jeremy Irons, who is a truly great actor. This character started to make sense in the past few movies, but we're not there yet.  At least now he's a military expert.  Still, we can not imagine that a Butler is able to build fighter jets by himself as a part time job.  That makes no sense. 
  I think Alfred needs also to have a secret identity as the head of the aforementioned Wayne Industry "Skunk Works."  Very few people would realize the full plan, but there has to be an organization to support Batman, not just a butler.  

    So those are my modest prescriptions for rehabbing Batman.  He's a comics icon and will always draw an audience even if the movie is a bomb.  But maybe the next movie won't be bomb.  Hire me, DC.  I'll help out! 

Friday, November 24, 2017

The Justice League Scores Big

What is wrong with this picture?  With all due respect to Ben Affleck, Wonder Woman should be at the center. 

The Justice League movie was surprisingly good, despite bad initial reviews.   What kept you guys?  I've wanted to see a movie about the Justice league for, oh, the last 50 years or so, or ever since the first Batman movie came out circa 1965. Why did it take 50 years for you to figure out that a lot of people wanted to watch this film? 

I have hated, absolutely hated most DC movies, bottoming out with the deathly plodding Superman vs Batman (honestly, I was wishing that Luthor would succeed in killing both of them).  In Justice League, DC manages to lessen the somber, dark, dark, dark tone they had gotten addicted to since the initial Batman movie with Michael Keaton.  

First of all, Gal Gadot is a mega-super-star.  I promise to watch anything that has her in it.  She, not Superman or Batman, is the new star of the franchise. She is an idealist, charismatic, and has the ability to make others around her perform at a higher level.  DC, just get out of her way and let her do her thing and it is going to work out.  Trust me on this.  

Ben Affleck is a great actor and in this movie is allowed to play a more intelligent and balanced Bruce Wayne and Batman, in contrast to the wretched kooky old man Batman of the aforementioned Bats vs Supes.  Batman is still somewhat in a slump, however, as he routinely brings billion dollar weaponry to a fight, and bad guys routinely trash it.  Put it this way, the US military is better off buying from Lockheed Martin and General Electric, and should never ever buy anything from Wayne Enterprises.  But at least this Batman is likeable, personable, and a good team player.  We learn that Batman has deep regret over his encounter with Superman (and comic fans also regret that encounter, but for different reasons).  

The Justice League has an entertaining diverse cast with a cynical Aquaman, an underconfident but brilliant Flash and a brooding Cyborg, who must come together, against their normal natures, and learn to perform as a team. Athough Aquaman is a compelling character, I don't think he really fit the team, however.  His main useful power is controlling sewer water, and other than his talents didn't really contribute to this movie.  But he's an interesting personality, and might be better in his own movie.  I'll watch it for sure, but if you want it to be a certain success, put Gal Gadot in it. We also didn't see Green Lantern in this one, perhaps because of his box office struggles.  But the character of Green Lantern would have been great for a Justice Leauge movie.  I hope he finds his way out of the DC doghouse.  

DC bad guys still tend to be one dimensional and want to take over the world, or better yet, the universe.  The main bad guy in Justice League is not memorable. He's not getting anything good from Santa.  There are also some minor bad guys, sort of like the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, but they seem to be characters introduced simply so that they can be blown away in a future video game.  This is a shame, because they could have been very interesting, but we never learned much about them.

Special effects are fabulous, and in particular we get a feeling for what it's like to be super-fast like Flash.  

One more detail:  Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons as Alfred is the greatest supporting "bit part" character in history. I've been a fan since "The Mission" which is one of the greatest movies ever made (no it's not a superhero movie, but a story of missionaries caught in a power struggle with European politics). 

Alfred J. Pennyworth is technically savvy and far more than an ordinary house servant. 

For some reason, some of the early reviews were negative, but I can not understand why.  I've hated DC movies for years, but they have gotten much better with three in a row that I thought were very good to excellent:  Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman (one of the best ever, and by far the best from DC) and now Justice League.  This one left my 12 year old and me wanting more.  It is not a short movie, it was just that good.  

It's in the Wrist Action...


Friday, November 10, 2017

Tax Silly Season in Congress

An inside view of deliberations in the Congressional Joint Committe on Taxation.

In the movie Animal House, they used to yell "Food Fight" at random times, and everyone would throw food at each other. It made no sense, and there was no rhyme or reason to it. That is the same decision making process for having a tax cut. It's completely random and makes no sense. Our federal government operates at a large deficit that almost all economists regard as dangerous and unhealthy. There is no surplus to give away in the form of a tax cut. 
     The money has already been spent and we have to borrow to cover existing obligations. It's pathological to believe that Americans can just vote themselves additional money, without consequences to the stability of the economy and money supply.  The Congressional Budget office says that the current tax plan will increase the deficit by $1.7 TRILLION DOLLARS in the next ten years.  Is that sound fiscal policy? 
    Congress needs to cut spending and increase revenue. They don't have the stomach to do either one, and instead inculcate the belief that federal spending is free of cost to the American people.  Thus, they plan to destabilize the country by giving away tax cuts like Halloween candy, while also increasing spending on worthy projects such as wars in the Middle East.  Last time we did this, the economy almost imploded and we needed a trillion dollar bailout of the banks in 2008-2009. Here we go again.... 

Sunday, November 5, 2017


Thor and Hulk get the opportunity to let off some steam.  

Thor rages and Hulk smashes in the latest of a series of entertaining Marvel movies.  Thor:  Ragnarok is very original and unlike any other superhero movie.   I give them an A for originality, though some of the scenes fall flat individually.  But I would rather see a new original movie rather than watch a re-hash of Batman  . 

Thor has a self deprecating sense of humor, not unlike some of Shakespeare's comedies in which the characters make snide comments to the audience.  In addition, the characters in this movie all have kind of a nerdy Monty Python sense of humor.   This gives the movie a very different feel than previous superhero movies. 

Marvel movies also do a very good job of providing three dimensional bad guys, rather than the stereotypic super-despot who wants to rule the world (see Dr Evil in Austin Power movies for the character profile of moviedom bad guys).  Ragnarok introduces us to several types of evildoers with different motives and a different blend of good and evil characteristics.  

One thing that troubles me is Superhero movies all (all!) have fight scenes like Rocky 2.  Superhero movies have more colorful special effects, but still, a lot of punches land on both sides, but the good guy usually can take one more punch than the bad guy.   Thor and Hulk are not quite as predictable as Rocky.  Still, somebody needs  to create  a different choreographic approach for the next one.  The fight scenes need to be less predictable.  

As far as acting is concerned, Chris Hemsworth is so good that Thor should have been cast to play Chris Hemsworth.  Jeff Goldblum plays Jeff Goldblum in this movie, which is a totally off-the-wall concept.  Jeff is not going to earn an Oscar for his performance in this one, but his uneven performance is outweighed by the originality of the character.  I won't tell you everyone who is in the movie because some of it will come as a surprise.  I will say that Cate Blanchett is an incredibly good actress, and very likely you will be impressed by her performance as one of Thor's Asgardian relatives.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, and I just want to assure my young friend George G. that Hulk does indeed SMASH. 

Thor and Hulk reflect on their new life as cosmic gladiators. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

I am SO OLD SCHOOL on this NFL National Anthem Protest Thing

Boy, am I old school on this NFL protest thing. First I was an old school protester, some 40 plus years ago, wanting to desegregate the schools. Back in the day, we always had a purpose for a protest. For example, we wanted to desegregate a school system, or stop the war in Viet Nam, or end Jim Crow practices, or stop polluting the air, or whatever. The protest organizers were usually thoughtful people who had a specific agenda. You might not have agreed with it, but there was a rhyme and a reason for it.
Not so today. Today, it's about being on TV and getting lots of "likes" on social media. We want to "call attention" to issues, without proposing a solution. So, yeah, I'm old school. It is a crock to have a protest just to get on TV.
Now let me fast forward to the 1980s. I served in the US military during that decade, and came to respect the flag and the institutions that it stands for. One of those is the US Constitution, which guarantees you and me the Right to Assemble and the Right to Free Speech. That's the First Amendment to the US Constitution, by God. It's okay if I don't agree with you. You want to demonstrate for some stupid cause of your choosing, fine. I was committed to fight and kill those who would try to take away that right from you. That's what it meant when I wore the uniform. That's Old School. So no, I'm not aghast if kids want to have a do-nothing protest. But I'm not impressed either.
That brings me back to the NFL protest. I think these kids are well intentioned, but they have no idea what they are doing, other than getting on TV. They are getting TV attention by embarrassing the NFL and insulting the flag. To me it's really stupid to damage your employer in order to make a point. Would I protest against my employer in Ohio because police in some other town did something bad? Of course not. I might be willing to work for more police training or something like that, but I don't see how punishing my employer advances that cause. Protest against the NFL if the NFL is at fault. Don't protest against the NFL for what someone else is doing.
There are a lot of things that could be done to improve race relations, police/community relations, police training and other concrete issues. Protesting the National Anthem does not do much to advance those causes, other than getting people invitations to TV talk shows. Ho hum.
But there I go thinking Old School again. Accomplishing something via a protest movement is Old School. The New School is just about getting publicity on TV and social media, while doing absolutely nothing to affect police recruitment and training at the local community level.

Mr. Kaepernick, you want to exercise your FIrst Amendment RIghts? Knock yourself out, man.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mitch McConnell Harder to Get Along with than Donald Trump

Obstruct, obstruct obstruct.  It didn't stop when a Republican was elected President, did it?  If you want to drain the swamp, here is the swampmeister. 

    The American politician who is the most difficult to get along with may not be President Trump after all.  It may be Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.  
    First of all, I called my shot.  Back in January 2016, the Village Elliot predicted both a Trump victory and a strong Sanders candidacy:

The week after Trump was elected, I also predicted  that the President would not be able to get any meaningful legislation on his desk.  My belief was that the Mitch McConnell (and let's give Paul Ryan some credit also) policy of 100% obstruction of President Obama's agenda would carry over to the new Administration.  Check it out: 

You know what?  I was right.   I don't want this article to seem like I am touting President Trump's diplomatic skills, other than in comparison with Senator McConnell's.  
     Senate Republicans could not get along with President Obama; could not get along with Senate Democrats when the Dems were in the majority (highest partisanship and frequency of straight party-line voting in history), and now they still can not get along with Democrats, and they can not get along with the Republican President either. Senator McConnell is the most ineffective personality in US politics.   

Even though President Trump is the most antagonizing and divisive personality in the White House in history, he was able to carry out a bipartisan deal, whereas Senator McConnell could not. Moreover the Senator whined like a child because  the system worked the way it is supposed to.  Is that the best the Republicans can do? 

President Trump, for all the outrageous things he has done, has nevertheless been able to work with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.  This minor diplomacy has been far beyond the capabilities of supposed political mastermind McConnell. 

The Republican agenda is untenable.  There has to be a better health care plan besides destroying the healthcare insurance system and giving more money to the richest Americans in the form of tax breaks.   Tax reform is going to again give money to rich Americans, while deliberately destabilizing the American economy by increasing the deficit. I'm all about fiscal restraint and limited government, but that is not what this is.  Senator McConnell has led the Republican party far, far astray from its roots, or indeed any credible form of government.  

   A few Republicans have broken ranks with McConnell publicly.  My suspicion is that many more have voiced serious concerns to him in private. 

     The fact is, Mitch McConnell can not cut a deal with anyone.  Not with the Democrats.  Not with his own Republicans.  Not with a Democratic President.  Not with a Republican President.

    Can we please get someone else in his place?  

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What Does Russian Meddling Really Mean?

     American politics and news media are going ape over Russian Meddling in the 2016 elections.  It's not just Democrats.   Senator McCain and former Vice President Cheney have called it an "act of war." Okay great, I can get behind a war with Russia that destroys the entire universe, but first I want to find out what exactly this "act of war" actually is.   "Meddling" has no strict definition. So perhaps we should turn to specific actions.  
    Things we know the Russians do and have done include 

    a.  Creating fake Facebook and other social media personalities, in order to spread false information.  The Russians are not as good at is the Republicans and Democrats, but that is not the point.  

      b.  Making up fake stories and disparaging information about American politicians.  Again, we do a better job of this than the Russians.  

        c.  Hacking different political sites.  The feds say that they are the ones that hacked the DNC and released emails from Hillary Clinton, leading to confusion.   The emails for the most part are legit, it's just the timing that was objectionable.  
    What has not happened, as far as I can tell, is Russian sponsored voter registration fraud.  Zero fake voters creating fake votes.  Zero hacked voting machines or vote counting software.  The Russians did not hand the election over to Donald Trump, as implied by Hillary Clinton.   
     I'm not even sure if any of this is a crime.  Possibly hacking is illegal, but spreading lies about political candidates is an American pastime.  My favorite was an email alleging that John McCain fathered an illegitimate child with an African American woman.  However, this was done by the Bush campaign during the 2000 primaries, not the Russians, and it was totally legal because it was done in the form of a question.  Rather than putting Republicans in jail for spreading lies about a candidate, we stand up and applaud.  
     We used to call obtaining information illegally "spying" and yet Russia does it to us and we do it to them.  We even spy on our so-called allies in Europe.  In that sense, the US "meddles" in elections of other countries, and probably even hacks computers in other countries, and Russia does that also.  But that is not new or out of the ordinary.  
    Is this really worth starting a war over?  Killing a multibillion dollar economic deal?  It would be different if it were found that the Russians committed voter fraud in America  or hacked the vote tallying process.  But that has not occured as far as anyone this side of Hillary Clinton can tell.  
    For some "meddling" is so terrible that war with Russia may be the only solution to alleviate our national humiliation. Maybe someday they will get their way.  But if by some miracle the world survives a third World War, people are still going to make fake Facebook personalities.  

Hello! Captain Jack Sparrow, please, not Comedian Jack Sparrow

 I hope for the sixth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, we get to see Captain Jack Sparrow again.  Some of this character has been lost.   In the early Pirates movies, Captain Jack was a lying, conniving con man and philanderer, and it was funny to watch him try to con his way out of difficult predicaments.  But he was still the Captain, and his crew loved him and (usually!) would gladly follow him to the ends of the earth.  That was cool.  

Johnny Depp is a Great Actor!  Just not nearly as great as he thinks he is.  

     Later on, the Captain gave way to Comedian Jack Sparrow.  The problem is, when you let Johnny Depp do whatever he wants, that's what he does.    Now, when Jack faces a life threatening predicament, his first priority is to make a joke and create an amusing facial expression, rather than saving his life.  That is a huge distraction.   
       It's very hard to worry about Jack's life, when Jack himself does not worry about dying.  The same can be said for his Co-Star in Dead Men Tell No Tales, Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario).  "Ah, facing an imminent painful death, eh?  Well let us engage in witty repartee!"   
    The jokes were not that funny, and at least in the theater I attended, no one laughed. 
      Still the reason I liked Dead Men Tell No Tales was that we did catch a glimpse of the Captain, when  (SPOILER ALERT)  he has a flashback to a brilliant naval maneuver he once used when being chased by a heavily armed attacking ship.
        It's not that the Captain can not be funny, it's just that being funny should not be the focus of the film.  He's supposed to be a Captain of a Pirate ship, rather than a guest on a talk show.
      I hope we can see more of that charismatic leader next time, and less of the B-rated comedian.    )

Saturday, July 15, 2017

War of the Planet of the Apes--Off Beat But Entertaining

The Shakespearean Cast of War of the Planet of the Apes
I am definitely willing to suspend my disbelief and accept the premise that in some apocalyptic world, apes may be as smart as humans.  Heck, I think they could give our Congress a run for their money right now.  It's part of a long running series of movies that have mainly flopped, but they keep making enough money to pay for the next generation of gorilla suits.  The latest installment is quirky and thin on plot, but I was interested in the movie all the way through.  Not better than Wonder Woman, but maybe close to Spider-Man.  
     Surprisingly the acting is at a very high level, and it is possible to really believe in the characters even though they all are apes.  They are engaged in a battle with humans, and struggle with their temptation to give into racism (specie-ism?).  I didn't think it was a war though.  You're supposed to believe that there are almost no humans or apes left in the world after a series of apocalyptic events.  Still, the main drama involves a small group of apes, and maybe a battalion of humans.  I found that confusing.  Why is a battle with just a few characters considered a world war?   Meanwhile we find out that there is some other group of humans left, probably the Russians, though they never really do much in the movie.  
     But okay, if you're willing to settle for a Battle for a county involving apes and humans, it's a decent movie.  It could just as well be a cowboys and Indians movie, with the Cowboys tending towards treachery, and the Indians showing much higher morality.    

     You could also draw a parallel with Hogan's Heros, in which the humans play the part of the Nazis.  They are mainly bad, but not very bright and do a lot of dumb things that allow the apes to take advantage of them.  To some extent the apes are also kind of dumb.   I mean if you take some of them prisoner, maybe next time you will remember to post a guard to prevent them from plotting an escape.  
       The movie succeeds as a drama, probably not Oscar material, but not that far from it either.  As a science fiction story it's a bit of dud because the story line is weak.  The battle scenes are fairly realistic, and there may be some blood and guts spilled.  Maybe your ten year old doesn't need to see that.  But if you like science fiction, apes, cowboys vs Indians and Hogan's Heroes, you will like this movie. Overall I give it a B.  


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Petition: Deny Health Care Insurance Coverage to Congress

I started an online petition to make it a federal crime to offer ANY healthcare insurance to Members of Congress, if they vote to take away coverage from US citizens. They need to know what it feels like to not have the opportunity to protect themselves in their families, if this is what they want millions of Americans to do. To clarify, I'm not saying to simply force them off their current plan and get private insurance, but to actually DENY ANY healthcare insurance for Congress. Fair's fair. You want to take away insurance from us, we're going to take it away from you.  And by the way, if the American people are mad enough, we can indeed force you to pass this law.
Feel free to comment and paste a link on social media.
Make it a crime to give health care insurance or discounted medical service to members of Congress if...

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Spider Sense Tingling---I Think I'm Going to Hurl!

   Marvel inexplicably botched the new Spider-Man movie, after finally wresting control of the franchise back from Sony.  Everyone liked the new interpretation of Spidey in Captain America:  Civil War.  Young actor Johnny Manziel does a great job being a high energy, cocky kid, and that performance carries over to Spider-Man homecoming.  The actors are all rather good, but the script is a bit of a letdown.  

    Marvel realizes the importance of minor characters in carrying the movie, and tried to do something great with Spider-Man's friends. Plus they did a great job of getting an ethnically diverse cast.  The problem is that the characters seem to have been written for Welcome Back Kotter, in which a whole group of kids get into trouble, have precarious romances, squabbles with the school bullies, school dances, sporting events, part time jobs and all sorts of stuff that is just not interesting.  You have to have some of that because Peter Parker is a high school kid, but the movie shouldn't be about high school.  There are over a dozen characters in the movie who derived from decades of stories, and it is simply not possible to develop that many characters in a two hour movie.  I like the characters, like the casting, but there are too many of them and they are not interesting enough to carry the film.  Put them in an entire season of Welcome Back Kotter, but they should not have been crammed into a single movie.
     We see cameo appearances from other Marvel heroes in this movie.  It is totally believable that the Avengers would be a major presence in New York City, so why not?   It seems natural to bump into one or two.
    The bad guys in this movie are basically organized crime figures who have some really high tech illegal weapons for sale, probably made by the Acme company preferred by Wile E. Coyote for catching road runners.  Or perhaps it's the company that services the Evil Dark Side in Star Wars, because none of their weapons are actually as good as a decent M-16, and I don't think they were actually able to shoot anyone in the whole move. They have complete dolts in charge of marketing, which is why the bad guys can't make much money.  
As it is, they are kind of like an Army surplus store gone bad.  A single Wal-Mart store definitely makes more money than they do even with super-villainry.  So why be a Super-villain?  Well, I guess if you love your work, it's okay.  Let's just say that the bad guys don't make much sense, and their bark is worse than their bite.  
    I was glad that we didn't have to suffer through the death of Uncle Ben for the fiftieth time in moviedom, nor do we have to hear that with great power comes great responsibility. The problem is that we replaced those campy features with other campy high school dramas.  
     So if you like superhero movies and you liked Welcome Back Kotter, then this is the movie for you.  If you love Spider-man but not Kotter, you still have to see it but keep your expectations low.  It's not that great of a movie, despite it being one of the most enormously popular franchises in movie history.    

Geez, is it just me who thinks so, or is Spider-Man played by a younger version of Johnny Manziel?  

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tom Cruise is Top Bomb in the New Mummy Movie.

Don't even watch the new mummy movie, because it is just a trailer for Mummy 2, and I'm not sure that is really going to happen.  The producers are so greedy they are already promoting it in the current Mummy movie which ought to be called Top Bomb.  They might be disappointed, as I predict people will stay away from this stale movie in droves.  Spoiler alert:  Normally I never give away elements of the plot, but in this case I actually give away a lot.  But the events are so stupid I'm confident you won't believe me unless you've actually seen the film. 

The Mummy Lady throws up in this movie.  I almost did too.  

Tom Cruise is almost old enough to remember when the pyramids were being built, but he's actually rather good as the lead actor.  Then Annabelle Wallis is fine as the incredibly-beautiful-for-no-reason government scientist, Sofia Boutella is the mummy (semi-sexy but not much), Jake Johnson is Tom's sidekick, and I have no idea what Russell Crowe is doing.  I think he showed up for the wrong movie. They were filming a remake of Dr Jekyl and Mr. Hyde next door and he went to the wrong studio and showed up in the Top Bomb movie by mistake.   Honest, that's what happened. 
Speaking of casting, I was happy with the performances, but once again, another movie fails to have an ethnically diverse cast.  It's basically a bunch of white guys messing around with evil Egyptian magic.  

The essence of the movie is about collecting the right sort mumbo jumbo needed to use ancient Egyptian magic to prolong life. It's complicated.  Let's see, you need to make friends with a bad Egyptian God so that they will give you an ancient magic curse.  Or maybe you need a spell to read, and a magic knife. No wait, you need a magic jewel too or it doesn't work.  Or maybe you can use modern chemistry to make a potion to skip all the worship-related stuff and that might work about as well.  

Then you have to decide who is going to stab who and whether or not stabbing is helpful or harmful to your desire to come back from the dead.  And if they do come back from the dead, will they be in a good mood when they come back?  
I give up.  I can't explain how the coming back from the dead thing workds.  I have no idea why, but some people die and come back in this movie and some don't.  It would be better if they had all stayed dead, frankly.  

Everyone wants to stab Tom Cruise and most of the time it's kind of a friendly, laid-back California style stabbing.  They just hope he is basically okay with it, and try to talk up the idea of being stabbed to death. It could be good for science! Good for religion!  It might save your girlfriend!   Whaddya say, Tom?  

Well, all the rules are very confusing, and sorting through the rules of immortality substitutes for a plot.  There is in fact no plot at all.  I still am not sure why some people become zombies and some don't.  Plus some retain most of their personality and other's don't.  

I also dislike the minor mummies and miscellaneous zombies, who are thrown into the movie in case someone wants to make a video game out of it (they won't).  Anyway these tiny mummies are about as dangerous as chipmunks, and just annoying.   

The movie does a good job of providing startling surprises, so if you like being scared it's okay to watch.   Don't let little kids see it though; I imagine a 10 year old might get really scared at certain points.  

Friday, June 9, 2017

What Did We Learn from James Comey?

It seems to me that former Director Comey is highly ethical and principled.  But he wouldn't participate in coverups for Secretary Clinton or President Trump, so of course everyone hates his guts.
     Yesterday's hearing of testimony from James Comey was illuminating on many issues, but still left me wondering about the investigation of American ties to Russia.  Senators Richard Burr and  Mark Warner are to be congratulated for carrying out a truly bipartisan hearing at a professional level. It's proof that it can be done.  But they needed more specificity.   

    First of all, let's drop the jailhouse rhetoric.  Nobody is sending James Comey to jail for leaking UNclassified information.   That's not illegal.   By the same token, you're not going to send the President to jail on Obstruction of Justice, when it is his constitutional duty to be the supervisor of the Director of the FBI.  Of course he has the right to fire him.  It might have been a bad decision, but you are not sending the President to jail for that (I refer you to Alan Dershowitz's analysis of that fantasy).   So let's drop the sensationalism for a minute and ask what was actually learned from the testimony.  

      The answers were seemingly very clear, but in reality some of the questions were way too broad, and didn't elicit much information.  For example, consider the following exchange below (Blue type used for the actual transcript, my comments are in black).

BURR: Do you have any doubt that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016  elections?
COMEY: None.

Well, what do you mean by "Russia?" Does it mean President Putin actually ordered operatives to attempt to swing the election to Trump?  Or was it some agency of the Russian government?  Or are we talking about independent hackers?  And what does it mean to interfere?  The question isn't specific enough to understand Comey's true conclusions.  Some clarification appears below:

BURR: Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the intrusions in the DNC and the DCCC systems, and the subsequent leaks of that information?
COMEY: No, no doubt.

I think this means that the Russian government agencies hacked email accounts in the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Community.  Others may also have hacked them but Russian spy agencies were definitely involved in some way, in Comey's opinion.  According to legal sites on the web, "Hacking" can range from a misdemeanor to a Class B Felony punishable by 20 years in jail if you get caught. However, what I would like to know is whether the Russian SVR intelligence agency pulls these shenanigans as standard operating procedure, or did a high official (President Putin or SVR Director Sergey Naryshkin, for example) order up something special for the election?  Can we be sure that this sort of activity goes way beyond the norm, and that the US, for example, would never do this to Russia or some other sovereign government? 

BURR: Do you have any doubt that the Russian government was behind the cyber intrusion in the state voter files? COMEY: No.

Again, this is a hack and likely illegal in America.  In Russia, it's probably not illegal and in fact people are getting paid to carry out such activities.  So I want to know whether this is part of an ongoing cyber war (are we in a secret war with Russia, and nobody bothered to tell us??), or whether the SVR cooked up something special specifically for this election.  

BURR: Do you have any doubt that officials of the Russian government were fully aware of these activities?  COMEY: No doubt.

Senator Burr, what officials?!  Do you mean Putin?  The head of the SVR?  or some bureaucrat who is paid to make mischief?  "Fully aware"  suggests  explicit understanding and approval if not direction of the activities?   

I have another question that I haven't seen asked in the press.  I've heard that some of the most effective operations involved the use of social media.  In other words the maximum damage to the voting base was created via LEGAL means. For example, they are said to have infiltrated Facebook and social media, and to promote "fake news" about the candidate.     Maybe these damaging narratives were hatched in Moscow.  If so, it is terrible, damaging and alarming and also effective in turning votes.   But does it actually violate any US laws??   I believe it is legal to create fake accounts in Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Making propaganda is also legal.  Lies about politicians are welcome in the American system, not criminal, not considered libel.    It may even be legal to ask for volunteer helpers from outside the US.  Unethical, yes. Tacky, yes.  But does it violate a US law?   I'm not a lawyer, but I don't see how.
     Turning it around, American politicians often express admiration or outright endorsement of foreign politicians.  That is legal, isn't it?  And what if Americans publish a slew of websites for some political party or another using fake identities.  What crime would they actually be charged with, and has anyone ever done time for it?
    In the internet age, it may be very hard to bring charges against a foreign person who wishes to deceive Americans about specific people or political parties.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Waiting for Gadot: Wonder Woman Arrives

Look out world, here comes Wonder Woman!

     Hello, DC, what kept you?  Wonder Woman is an awesome,  incredible movie finally breaking out of DC's terrible slump of repetitive boring movies.  
        We were introduced to Wonder Woman in the excruciating Batman versus Superman (my review of that pathetic film is linked here: Batman vs Superman review ), in which two plodding middle aged Superheros were upstaged by a Woman with 90% of Superman's abilities (glass ceiling you know), who swung a sword and grunted like a Pro Tennis player.  I guess they thought that was sexy.  I thought it was dopey and mainly showed that the creators had a fetish for tennis players.  
       I suspect that the last several DC movies have been overly dark and gloomy because the Joker was their best character, and he was a very dark, ominous figure. So DC decided "Gee, let's make everything dark and ominous!"  So we have had dark and ominous Batman, dark and ominous Superman, dark and ominous everyone.  Well, that doesn't work for everyone.  
       I'm happy to report that Director Patty Jenkins moved beyond that.  The backdrop of World War I provides a serious and grim tone for the film, but it is not limited to that.  
        The basic premise is that Wonder Woman comes from a race of Amazons who have been isolated from humanity for thousands of years.  But they learn about the Great War in the outside world, and conclude that humanity is being influenced by an evil cosmic power to descend into a state of perpetual warfare (I might add that 100 years hence, it is still not clear whether we ever made it out of that state).  Princess Diana must decide whether to intervene, and if so, how.  In a world at war, are there any good people left? 
        Wonder Woman avoids the stereotypic bad guys that have hitherto been characteristic of DC movies.   This movie explores the motives of evil at both the human level as well as the cosmic level.  Are the War Machines of Europe the source of evil in the world?  Or is there something beyond, and if so, how can it be discovered?
        Gal Gadot is magnificent as Wonder Woman. First of all, she looks the part, but more importantly she is totally believable.  On the one hand Wonder Woman is naive about humanity, but on the other hand she understands the mythological nature of the universe in a totally different way from her mortal contemporaries.  Gadot's Wonder Woman is sexy, but she is clearly a warrior and not a beauty pageant contestant.   
      I don't believe the movie industry has ever understood the value of the superhero franchises.   Batman vs Superman proved that people would see a movie based on its title alone, since it was one of the worst movies in its generation. Once word got out that it was a terrible movie, people stopped turning out for it, but it's opening weekend showed how intensely interested the public is. 
     Wonder Woman is the most compelling female character in the superhero universe, and yet no one realized that it would be worth making a movie about her until now. Fortunately this movie has much greater artistic merit, and so I predict it will continue to score at the box office rather than falling off a cliff like Batman vs Superman.  
     Now, some of the picayune details that I didn't understand.  First of all, it seems clear that Paradise Island is some kind of Greek Mediterranean island with perpetual warm weather.   But about 1/3 of the way through the movie I finally figured out that the movie actually places it in the North Sea, and it's actually rather easy to travel to Jolly Old England from Paradise Island.  Oh.  
         I mentioned previously my dissatisfaction with Wonder Woman's sword in Batman vs Superman, which was a throw-in because the creators had a thinly disguised fetish for the likes of Serena and Maria.  Well, ok, there is a role for the sword in this movie, but she may or may not need to use it again in the future.     
         Wonder Woman is also an ethnically bland film, with very few parts for persons who are not Caucasian.  I suppose you could blame that on World War I not being ethnically diverse, but they are going to have to do better in the future.  
        I'm also hoping that Wonder Woman will one day break through the glass ceiling imposed by comicdom, in which no female superheroine is allowed to be more than 90% as powerful as Superman.  No, a musclebound humanoid alien can not be more powerful than a Demi-Goddess.  Wonder Woman deserves to be the cleanup hitter in the DC movie universe.   Let her do some things that Superman can not.   WW is going to far out-gross Batman vs Supes, she's earned her spot. After the first billion dollars rolls in, the producers are going to ask, "duh.....why didn't we try this a bit earlier?"  


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Who Are the Mennonites?

Great Great Grandfather Jacob (right) and Katharina Garber Kennel (center) and one of the Kennel beauty daughters or granddaughters, in the early 1900s.   Am I really related to you?   

     What do you get if you cross an Amishman with a Korean?  
      No joke, most of my father's ancestors were Mennonites who came from Switzerland, and the border region between France and Germany:  Alsace Lorraine, Rhineland Palatinate and Hesse.  The Mennonites were followers of Menno Simons (1492-1565), a church leader and theologian who is probably one of the most influential persons that you never heard of. My Dad suggests that the Mennoites represetned the left wing of the Protestant Reformation, and perhaps that is so.  
       Menno carried first of all a message of a warm, loving Christianity.  He believed in hard work, humility and avoidance of frills and fads.  I like the title of a book by Horst Gerlach "My Kingdom is Not of This World,"  which is an apt summary of their belief. Don't place your faith in things of this world, Christian, but keep your eyes on the Kingdom beyond this one.  
    The Amish were related to the Mennonites.  They were the followers of Jakob Amman (born 1644 in Switzerland) who among other things introduced more strict rules concerning excommunication and "shunning" (strictly ignoring them, as if they no longer existed) those who were excommunicated. It might be added that prior to the Industrial Revolution, there was less visible difference between the Mennonites and the Amish, as everybody used horses and buggies, but today the Amish stand out for their strict refusal to embrace change. With the Mennonites it's more of a tendency rather than  a strict code.  
    But what really got the Mennonites and Amish into trouble was that they actually believed in Christ as Prince of Peace. Hence they did not carry guns, and they would not serve in the Armed Forces, rejecting the earthly authority of royal rulers.  
This made them a threat to European royalty, and they were systematically persecuted, fined and thrown in jail and were ultimately chased out of Netherlands, and wound up settling in Switzerland and the border region between France and Germany.   They had the reputation of being excellent farmers and hard workers, so the local barons were willing to tolerate them in exchange for having them provide food for the populace.  This was stable for a long time, but eventually the decision was made to leave Europe and travel to America, where they would be alllowed to own the land that they farmed.   Likely, my ancestors came to America in order to be able to continue their Old World traditions.  This put them into conflict with the rapidly changing Americans.
      The elders no doubt preferred for the young generation to follow their practices.  But this was not to be. My great grandfather was named Thomas Jefferson Kennel, a slight hint that the Kennels regarded themselves as Americans by 1870 when he was born.     
    Things came to a head in World War I.  That's the time when both the Augsburgers and the Kennels stopped speaking German.  I'm sure it was no easy decision, but ultimately they decided that they were not going to side with the Kaiser, who was the one who kicked them out of Germany in the first place.  
     Granny Blanche told me she spoke German at home until America entered the war.  At that time her father Henry told the family that they were done speaking German.  The Augsburgers, like the Kennels and many other Mennonite families, would be Americans henceforth. 
      Grandpa Elmer heeded his country's call and joined the Army.  He was made a Medic, probably because of his Mennonite religion, but I'm told that Elmer didn't ask for Conscientious Objector status.  In the next generation my Dad joined the Navy in World War II and I became an Air Force officer.   
      There's an old cliche, "How will you keep them on the farm once they've seen Paris?"  Yeah, that was Gramps. Grandpa told me one time, "I didn't know there was any kind of a job besides farmer before I went in the Army."  He wasn't joking.  He was the first person in the family whose main job was not farming.  I'm sure that was not easy.   He went to college after World War I and met Grandma Blanche...then they moved to Dayton and Gramps got a job at the YMCA on West 3rd Street, and Granny worked at the Department Store which eventually became Rikes. Wow, they were not farmers! 
    Years later his son Byron got some even more crazy ideas and even married a Korean lady, an exchange student from Western Reserve College in Cleveland.  I didn't think about it as a child, but I'm sure that traumatized the family.  There are some wedding pictures that I've seen, and some of the people I can recognize.  There was bridesmaid Lily Rosenbaum, from France, and an African American flower girl, daughter of Julius and Yolanda Lee.  Wow, Byron and Sue were politically inclusive way before it was popular...but I'm not sure how well this went over in a Mennonite family.  
    You know what?  I'm lucky I even exist.  These changes happened as each generation moved further and further away from our Mennonite Amish roots,  but they didn't come easy.  I'm starting to understand that there must have been a lot of soul searching and inner conflict.  
     Today, the Mennonites are not that different from other Christians.  They go to "normal" churches and usually don't adhere to the  strict code used by the Amish.  
    But still, generations later, even though I am far from being an Amishman, maybe I still carry some of the teachings of Menno Simons inside me.  
    I'd like to think of myself as a modern sophisticate, very cross-cultural with friends all over the world,  and all that blah blah blah...but maybe deep down part of me is still Amish. I still tend to be anti-war, much more so that most of my contemporaries.  I believe in working hard.  You won't see me wearing the latest fashions or driving a flashy sports car.   I think I might look good with a straw hat and suspenders.  And maybe I ought to grow a beard.