Dope *

Dope

I knew Dope was going to be a waste of my time early in the film, when a female homosexual character stated that she was gay, but that Justin Bieber made her wet. The line added nothing to the plot, it wasn’t a set up for any future plot device, it was just this character saying someone made her wet. So I knew this going to be a very immature movie, and I didn’t take it seriously. 

The film centers on an African-American kid name Malcolm that wants to escape south central Los Angeles for a better life… that plot has never been done before… ever. Here’s the big twist on the film: The lead character is a nerd who is a fan of early 90s rap. His clothes look dorky, he’s socially awkward and he just doesn’t fit into the south central community he is living in.

Malcolm also dreams of getting into Harvard University. Through a series of unforeseen circumstances, he finds himself unwillingly in possession of a backpack of cocaine. He wants to get rid of it, because he is not a part of that lifestyle in the least. However, getting rid of the backpack is easier said than done, when cocaine is so valuable and so many people want it.

Dope bills itself as a comedy, but it’s not funny. It’s characters are too over the top and the gags mostly are scatological and about nether-regions. I am not upset with scatological jokes in the least. But Dope falls into the same trap so many other modern comedies do: I get the feeling modern movies are trying to shock you more than they are trying to make you laugh. Like so many other films, Dope can’t stop snickering when it hears the word ‘penis.’

The film’s premise isn’t bad. But it’s so poorly executed, top to bottom, there’s no way to enjoy it. Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa can’t decide if this film is a serious film or a comedy. In theory, the film can be both, but Dope doesn’t try to have a proper identity. Famuyiwa is a talented director, and he’s done fine work, but he should hit the reset button after this one.

Former LA Laker Rick Fox has a very small role, possibly as a nod to the film’s LA setting. I also think it’s highly likely he signed on to do the film as a way of getting funding for this very low budget film.

However, other people seeing this film did not share my sentiments. When I watched the film in the theater, some members of the audience clapped when it was finished. The only reason I would clap for this film is that they theater finally opened the door and I was free to leave this monstrosity.

Schultz still knows nothing

Schultz!

There’s no question. Howard Schultz is one of the most successful businessmen in international history. His company, the iconic coffee shop Starbucks, is found all over the world, and was a game changer for international culture. The company became a folk hero among progressives, for it’s numerous social justice initiatives.

Schultz is now seriously considering a run for president as an independent. On paper, Schultz seems like a great candidate. He has all the money a candidate could want, and a very well-known and respected name. But that’s where the positives of his potential candidacy ends.

Schultz appears to be building a platform on centrist positions. He once called himself a ‘lifelong Democrat.’ But recently, he is unhappy with the economic positions of progressive Democratic presidential candidates like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren. But he remains a progressive on social issues, such as gun control and gay rights. This appears to be the same platform that got Bill Clinton elected in the 90s.

But in Bill Clinton’s era, politicians had to be centrist, and take positions that wouldn’t upset the status quo, in order to get elected. But times have changed, and the days of the moderate politician are all but gone. In 2019, politics is more or less a battlefield where conservatives will battle progressives for legislative control of America, without any real hope of compromise. 

Schultz’s bid for an independent candidacy for presidency has incensed many liberals, who fear he will siphon off enough progressive votes to guarantee Trump a second term, the way Green Party candidate Jill Stein did in 2016. But Schultz does not have a natural electorate in the era of hyper-partisanship.

Voters really aren’t looking for the centrist pragmatist anymore, in the mold of a Clinton. People on both sides of the political spectrum are angry. Donald Trump got elected because he tapped into the fury and uncertainty among conservative voters. Hillary Clinton, whom Schultz seems to be emulating, was a centrist who took great strides to come across as a status quo politician.

In a low turnout primary, her name coupled with legions of voters eager to elect a woman president was enough to secure the nomination. But when Clinton had to rely on the broader progressive coalition to win a general election, centrism wouldn’t get progressive voters to the polls.

And that’s the problem Schultz faces. Clinton had a perfect storm at her back to almost push her centrist candidacy past the finish line. Schultz doesn’t have that storm pushing his candidacy, and moderate positions won’t gather that many votes in this current political climate, especially as an independent. Jill Stein was such a viable candidate because she was a proud liberal, when there wasn’t another strong liberal on the ticket. There will not even be a fraction of Stein voter’s passion for any centrist candidate. 

Then Schultz has his business dealings to consider with any political run. Liberals across the country have begun vehemently opposing a Schultz candidacy. Just the other day, I was in a Starbucks, and I overheard a patron saying that she wouldn’t set foot in a Starbucks if Schultz ran and got Trump elected. Schultz is no longer Starbuck’s owner.  But that company is his namesake and legacy. If he does run, and does act as an enabler to push Trump to a second term, would all of those progressive voters still pay for that expensive coffee? If the answer is no, that may be a cup of joe too bitter, even for a billionaire like Schultz.

Blade Runner 2049 **

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Blade Runner is the ultimate exercise in Hollywood self indulgence. That isn’t to say there are no bright spots in this entirely too overdramatic and overblown film. The technical achievements are unbelievable. The lighting, the set design, those aspect are worthy of an Oscar, but the film’s technical brilliance cannot make up for it’s inexplicably long run time and incoherent story. I suspect the film’s length is due to the fact Blade Runner fancies itself as an epic in the style of Lawrence of Arabia, but unlike Lawrence of Arabia, this film is superficial with uninteresting characters and an uninspired story.

The film takes place 30 years after the original Blade Runner movie. The opening prologue explains that the Tyrell Corporation went bankrupt after the 2020 Replicant Rebellion, because said corporation manufactured the rebellious replicants. The Wallace Corporation took over the remnants of Tyrell and began manufacturing robots that wouldn’t rebel. So now Earth and it’s space colonies are being ran by Wallace Corporation robots.

Enter Officer K, played by Ryan Gosling. Officer K is a blade runner, someone who makes a living finding replicants from the 2020 rebellion and ‘retiring’ them. Here’s another problem with the film: Ryan Gosling can’t act. His whole range of emotion in almost any role he’s ever been in is sit there and look handsome. And there’s no question, Gosling is a handsome man, who is in great shape. But that doesn’t mean he’s a great actor. I know, he plays a robot, but even robots have to be interesting for cinematic purposes!

While the officer is at work, retiring a replicant, he discovers the remains of a deceased replicant. Medical evidence from the deceased’s remains suggest the replicant had a child, about the time of the rebellion. This is significant, because replicants are supposedly unable to have children. The head of the Wallace Corporation uses it’s trickery to find out about the birth, and then the film becomes of a bit of cat and mouse game, as both the Wallace Corporation and Officer K want to be the first to find the missing child. Officer K wants to kill the replicant to preserve Earth’s social order (if the replicants give birth, then they can potentially outnumber humans humans.) The corporation wants to use the born replicant to create a whole new line of  superior replicants.

While I was not a big fan of this film, I have to heap praise on Harrison Ford, who reprises his role from the first Blade Runner. Ford’s part is terribly written, but he makes the absolute best out of it. Not everyone can command a presence the way Ford can, but I wish the rest of the actors in this film would have tried to pretend they wanted to be here.

The person next to me in the movie theater fell asleep. To be honest, I almost did too. There are scenes in this movie where the characters stare at each other for seemingly 5 minutes, with only 2 lines of dialogue. The film’s score is so loud in places, I felt like it was going to break the sound barrier. The best way I can describe the film’s score, is Donald Trump on a synthesizer.

The biggest problem with the newest Blade Runner is that it acts like it has such an important story to tell when I can’t figure out what the story is. There’s nothing new or innovative here. Blade Runner is all machine and no thought… and unfortunately I think the filmmakers were okay with making a film that was so hollow, but looked so beautiful.

Republicans and the rebellious cool kids

 

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I grew up in a very conservative household of a different era. My grandmother was an old-fashioned conservative woman. She put on a nice dress every Sunday, and went to church. She expected me to be a calm and conservative young man as well. She had absolutely no desire to be one of the cool kids. In fact, the few times she often talked about her past, she prided herself on the fact that she wasn’t one of the cool kids growing up. And a number of her friends, who were of her same era and generation, said the exact same thing. They didn’t want to be associated with all of the drinking and carousing that went with ‘being cool’. And the idea of my grandmother being rebellious against anything was as foreign to her as the Internet.

That was conservatism of a different era. I have dealt with many conservatives in the modern era, and many of them think a lot differently than my Grandmother’s generation. Many modern conservatives try to hide that sheer venom and contempt for modern society behind thinly veiled attempts to be cool or trendy, or even funny.

Case in point: Look at a number of the women on FOX News and female conservative pundits in media. They have immaculate hair, nearly perfect bodies, and they give off the energy and aura of high school cheerleaders in their boy-chasing mall shopping prime. These very sexy pundits argue for political positions that take us back to the 13th century. But their demeanor makes it seem like disagreeing with them is like turning down an offer to make out with the cutest homecoming queen in your school.

But the epitome of trendy rebellious conservatism is, Savannah, Georgia-based Graham Allen. Allen is a textbook trendy conservative. According to his bio, he served 11 years in Iraq, and had two combat deployments. He calls himself the daily rant guy, and prides himself on saying what other’s can say. While he bills himself as this rebellious hellion, he often repeats the exact same talking points that his more highly paid conservative media pundits state. But Allen’s delivery of his conservative message is… unusual.

He always seems to talk with this staccato voice, with an unusual forced grin. In many of his videos, he has a very large and powerful rifle. As he is ranting for gun rights, for Christian values, or for Donald Trump’s border wall, he seems to be presenting himself as a humorous jovial man. I guess hunting rifles are funnier than Johnny Carson to some people. He possibly could appeal to like-minded conservatives, but I highly doubt that he will appeal to anyone outside of his conservative circles.

Here’s something else that sticks out to me about Allen: His body is covered with tattoos, and he has facial hair. I personally do not care what he does or doesn’t do, but I am intrigued by his appearance: He boasts himself as a defender of traditional conservatism. In a different era of the rigid conservatism he defends, having a tattoo or any kind of facial era made you a dreaded hippie, the kind of hippies Allen preaches against. My grandmother and her old lady friends would be terrified of Allen.

This is what is so sad about Allen and all of the blond pundits: Those blond pundits may have bodies that will last until the 33rd century, but they’re advocating for a social order that will return America to the 13th century. Allen is not a rebel by any stretch of the imagination. He spent 11 years following orders, and is advocating for people following a strict religious social order. No matter how much Allen proclaims to be a rebel and a truth teller against those that are trying to silence him, he is repeating the exact same diatribes his president are. How exactly is that rebellious?

Casablanca movie review

Casablanca ****

casablanca

As time moves along, things change: Our fashions, our music, the technology in our lives. But Casablanca is a film that is timeless. People will watch this film centuries from now and be affected by it’s brilliance. Part of the reason the story is so timeless is that it discusses World War 2, arguably the greatest conflict in the history of our planet. But Casablanca is so brilliant for this reason: The film shows the conflict of war, but it doesn’t show a single battlefield. Casablanca’s premise is that everyone, not just the Soldiers fighting, are effected by war and tyranny.

And this is where Rick Blaine comes in: The time is December 1941. America is officially neutral in the conflict between Great Britain and Germany. One particularly apathetic American, named Rick, lives in the Vichy French colony Morocco. The American own’s Rick’s Café Américain, a high end casino, frequented by the Nazis and Vichy French, as well as an endless number of refugees, hoping to escape Nazi Germany. From Casablanca, the refugees can fly to neutral Portugal and then to America. Casablanca is under control of the Vichy French, who are loyal to Hitler, in theory anyways.

Rick maintains he is neutral in the war. He doesn’t care if the Nazis or the Brits win, so long as his cafe is making money. But every so often, he shows his human side. Rick has some highly coveted transit papers in his possession, that can guarantee his safe exit from Casablanca to Portugal. Out of the clear blue, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman) walks into Rick’s cafe. Rick and Ilsa had a wonderful history together, living in Paris in 1939. Ilsa left Rick as the Nazis were occupying the city, without any explanation. To complicate matters, Ilsa is now married to Victor Laslo, a resistance leader against the Nazis.

The local Nazi leader, Major Strasser, will do anything to keep Laslo from leaving Morocco. Now here’s where RIck’s dilemma comes in: Does he give the transit papers to Victor, to help continue the resistance movement from America, or does he use them himself to escape… possibly with his lost love?

The vast majority of the film’s characters barely speak above a whisper. You know all of the character’s motives, be they altruistic or selfish, but they are not always implicitly stated. The characters have intense conflicts with each other, but they do not scream at each other in the least. This goes against almost every film in the modern era, where everything is over the top and it seems everyone is screaming at each other.

And these characters all well-aware they are all involved in the struggle for the direction of humanity, in their own way. But their understated style makes the film, and it’s legendary dialogue, that much more memorable. 

To me, Casablanca is the best film ever made. Much of the reason this film is so spectacular is the film’s unforgettable cast and their performances: Bogart, Bergman, Paul Henreid as Lazlo, Conradt Veidt as Strasser, Sidney Greenstreet as Ferrari, a friendly rival nightclub owner, Peter Lorre as the petty thief Ugarte, Dooley Wilson as Sam, (who never heard the phrase ‘Play it again Sam,’ contrary to popular opinion) and my favorite, the extremely corrupt but unpredictably charming Vichy police Captain Renault, played to absolute perfection by the timeless character actor, Claude Rains.

Casablanca also has one of the 5 best scenes in cinema: While Rick is ambivalent to the world around him, throughout the film, he ultimately shows he is no friend to the Nazis, nor are his customers. Some Nazis come into Rick’s, order a few rounds and they start playing a German song on the piano. 

Laslo, who detests the Nazis for obvious reasons, is in the cafe. He instructs the house band to play the French National anthem, in a bold act of defiance. Confused, the head of the band looks to his boss Rick, who quietly nods to play the anthem. A small battle of the bands ensues. However, the Nazis are drowned out when everyone in Rick’s stands and sings with the band. That scene brings a tear to my eye every time I see It. Even though Rick is a very bitter and sad man, he knows to fight for what is right when the time comes. The reason that scene is so powerful is that you have to believe every customer in Rick’s knows their life is in danger by challenging the Nazis, but they do so anyways.

I could go on and on about why this movie is so powerful. Here’s the underlying brilliance of Casablanca: The raw emotion and the conflict of war plays out in the film’s smallest of details: The performances, the camerawork, the music, everything in this film is so meticulous and precise, choreographed and planned out to perfection. And when a film pays as much attention to the most precise of details the way director Michael Curtiz does with Casablanca, it’s the beginning of a beautiful movie. 

A tale of two Facebook friends that deleted me

four-no-three

Many many Facebook friends have deleted me over time. I’ve deleted a few myself too. But I knew two of my friendships were going to end, as they were beginning. I’ll call my two ex-friends Friend A and Friend B.

I never actually met Friend A in person. She is from Ukraine. I met her when I was on a messenger service called ICQ, before Facebook was popular. We maintained our friendship over the years, and then when Facebook became popular, we became friends on Facebook. From the outset, even in the ICQ days, she was very opinionated, and really couldn’t accept anyone disagreeing with her. 

She lived in the Crimea, the area Vladimir Putin annexed in 2014. She was also unapologetically pro-Russian. When I stated Putin should not have annexed Crimea, she got very upset, and she unfriended me a few days later. 

As I can recall, I only ever had one conversation with Friend B. She was assigned to help me with my paper in an English class. In high school, she was very visible, always had something to say. She was very cute, she knew how to emphasize her physical features, and she was a flirt. She was also very arrogant, and the few times we did ever interact, she seemed very condescending to me. A little over 10 years after we graduated high school, she sent me a friend request on Facebook. I knew this would probably end badly, because I remember how opinionated she was.

I am a very adamant liberal, but I do not always believe everything liberals tell me to do or think. When Donald Trump was elected, I had a nervous breakdown, like many of us did. But I found myself really turned off by the protests and how so many celebrities felt like they could take on Trump singlehandedly, and I voiced my opinion on the subject on Facebook. This upset Friend B. Then a few days after the argument, I posted some page that listed the best high schools in each state, and I made significant note about how my alma matter wasn’t even in the top 100 of my home state’s schools. This upset Friend B greatly, and she unfriended me almost immediately thereafter.

I didn’t want my friendship with either on to end at all. I enjoyed speaking with both of them, both had a lot of intelligent things to say. But both of them do not want to hear anybody disagreeing with them, under any circumstances.

What’s even more strange is that we agreed on pretty much everything else. But individuals like that feel you have to agree with them on everything. From the outset, I had a feeling both Friend A and Friend B were somewhat toxic and they were going to try and drag me, if not other people, with them. And if they ended our friendship, they did me a favor.

Baby Driver Movie Review

Note: This is my first published movie review. I Rate on a 4-star scale, 4 stars being the highest possible rating, no stars being the lowest rating. I publis the reviews based on the order I write them in, not the order they were released. I watch all kinds of movies, so get ready for all kinds of movie reviews.

My first review will be the film Baby Driver.

babydriver-rearview

Baby Driver ***

There’s a scene in the middle of Baby Driver where the lead character, Baby, is waiting in the getaway car, while his group of robbers is undertaking a daring robbery. Up until this point, we have seen Baby be a miracle worker as a getaway driver. He seems able to get himself, and his robbers, out of any traffic jam and away from every cop with his second-to-none driving abilities. 

But then, in the middle of this heist, Baby finds religion for some reason: He doesn’t want to drive anymore. Here’s where I had the problem: Baby seemed to accept his place in the violent world of bank robbery, no matter how much he disliked it. He gave little, if any real indication that he was no longer going to drive for these robberies. So the lead character seems very inconsistent, strictly for plot purposes.

I don’t want to make out that I didn’t like the film, I did. Baby Driver tells the story of an enigmatic young man with a tragic past, which unfortunately led him to a powerful underworld figure, named Doc (Kevin Spacey, in an excellent performance.) Doc recruited Baby as a getaway driver for whatever heist he plans, seeing his unlimited potential as a driver and cohort. Baby’s inspiration for driving is music. Baby is always listening to music, and he performs all of his unbelievable getaways in rhythm with music his iPod is playing.

Baby clearly does not belong in this world or criminals. He is a clean-cut young man who is quiet and keeps to himself. However, the bank robbers he drives for would scare the Marines. These are men with many guns, covered in tattoos and itching for a fight, and also itching for any drug they can get their hands on. Many of them pick on Baby, but to be fair, they almost kill each other as well. When Baby is not driving, he is taking care of his mute elderly foster Dad, who is now wheelchair bound. And then of course, there is the mandatory love interest, who comes in the form of a waitress at a diner Baby frequents.

During the film’s opening, we witness some of the best car chases ever in cinema. These fascinating chases feature wonderful stunt work, unbelievable cinematography, great editing, and oddly enough great character development… and are quite funny to boot. There is also a wonderful mise-en-scene where Baby walks to get coffee. This scene is so neatly choreographed with so many tricks and small perfectly timed jokes to so along with the soundtrack. I never knew walking 300 feet to get coffee could be so interesting.

But then comes the aforementioned Baby’s change of heart. This is the point where the film goes from being a stylish action film about an enigmatic prodigy to just being a standard action film, with way too much gun play and not enough substantive story. But here’s my biggest problem: I was expecting the car chase of car chases for the film’s big finale and I got a foot chase through a mall and a call in a phone booth. I sat there for the last hour hoping for a big car chase that never came.

Edgar Wright is one of the better writers and directors working today. The first portion of Baby Driver shows his talent and sheer ability to tell a story. I got the feeling that Wright got lazy or lost the motivation to write for the second portion. Or maybe Wright was trying to combine two film styles into one, and didn’t quite succeed in doing so. But no matter, Baby Driver comes recommended, so long as you’re willing to experience the let-down at the end.