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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Manchester by the Sea

I realize that Manchester by the Sea has been out for awhile, but we just got around to it. The movie has not had a wide release in our area. At the theater we usually go to, it was only showing once on Friday at 4:40 and once on Sunday. For those of you who are impatient and want my opinion, I liked it.

The film is a character driven story. No car chases, little violence and no nudity. It is about a very damaged man, Lee, dealing with his past and the death of his brother. That now dead brother has designated Lee as guardian of his teenage son and executor of his estate. 

As expected, it is not a smooth transition. There is also the side story about Lee's family's horrific tragedy and contact with his former wife. It is well into the movie before we are let into the tragedy via flashbacks. His nephew's relationship with his estranged mother also comes into play. 

This is a very serious and often dark film. There is little comic or light relief. Nobody seems happy with their life, they just go through the motions. On the bright side, the performances are outstanding and some of the scenery is gorgeous. For those of us not from the northeast, the Massachusetts accents can be amusing. 

Casey Affleck is tremendous as the tormented and flawed Lee Chandler. Lucas Hedges is terrific as the 16 year old nephew who just lost his father. The relationship between them is the main driver of the film. Michelle Williams plays Randi, Lee's ex-wife. All the players do a good job.

The story takes an up and down winding road path to what some may see as a less than satisfactory and abrupt ending. I won't give anything away, but it does not appear that everyone lives happily ever after. Maybe not a completely happy ending, but pretty pragmatic and realistic. 

Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams and the film are nominated for a total of six Oscars including best picture. Casey and Lucas are very deserving and could win. Michelle is OK, but I don't see an Oscar for her this time. The other categories, best picture, direction, and writing are all deserving of the nominations.

I give this movie a solid A rating and recommend it. Not for everyone, but a well written, well acted, well executed film. 
wjh

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Bridge of Spies


Finally got around to watching Bridge of Spies. I enjoyed it. The movie takes place in the late 1950's and early 1960's and revolves around the true events of the capture and spy exchange of U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers and Soviet spy Rudolph Abel

Tom Hanks plays James Donovan, the lawyer who defended Abel and negotiated the exchange. If you want to know all the details, watch the movie. It received six Academy Award nominations and Mark Rylance (Rudolph Abel) won the Oscar for best supporting actor. Steven Spielberg produced and directed the movie.

The movie is very well acted and well done. It captures the look and feel of the 50's both here in the United States and in what was then still Soviet East Germany. 

The movie shows us how paranoia can take hold and effect an entire nation. We were so scared of the USSR during this period of the Cold War that we were willing to compromise our laws and ideals. Our government knew best. Anything was fair game if it was against Russia and made us feel a little safer. The judge, lawyers, FBI, CIA and the public were all willing to ignore our Constitution and laws to convict Abel of spying. It is worth noting how easily we are willing to surrender our rights for even a false sense of security. It seems an appropriate lesson for these times. Give it a watch for a little history refresher and some entertainment. 

The movie is a little long at almost 2½ hours. It is playing this month on Showtime and available at Redbox so there should be plenty of opportunities to catch this movie if you missed it in the theaters or just want to see it again. 

The movie is a little long at almost 2½ hours. It is well worth the time though and gets a solid A from me. 
wjh

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Very Random Thoughts - January 2017

  • Don't forget, the new year is MMXVII. It will also be the Chinese year of the Fire Rooster. 
  • OK, we all know now from those Facebook quizzes that you are cute, honest, sincere, loyal, a descendant of Cleopatra, most like Beyonce. We know your heart or soul or spleen is blue or red or purple or green. 
  • Confusing geography. North Carolina is in the South and South Dakota is in the North? West Virginia is in the East.
  • No matter what job or profession a person has, they think it is really hard work. 
  • When did bamboo become a miracle product? We have miracle bamboo pillows, sheets, seat cushions...
  • We now have to investigate the investigations and the investigators.
  • You know you're old when the "Oldies" radio station no longer plays your music because it's just too damn old. I need an "Older" or "Oldest" radio station.
  • Remember when you used to answer the phone without knowing who was calling.
  • Same thought, you would identify yourself when someone answered the phone.
  • I can not honestly remember how I found my way around before GPS. I rarely had a map in the car nor did I usually ask for or write down directions. 
  • How did we watch TV before there was a pause feature? Was everybody's bladder in sync with the commercials schedule? 
  • I see a lot of Facebook posts complaining about what other people post, especially about politics. Get over it. Either ignore the posts, delete it, block the person or engage in the dialogue. Did it ever occur to you that what you post is of no interest to others too? BTW, I find cat videos very annoying. 
  • Semantics, you can't really disagree with facts. You can disagree that something is a fact or not and you can disagree with the conclusion(s) drawn from the fact(s). There is no such thing as an alternative fact despite what the current administration says.
  • If a performer uses so much technology that the instruments and human voices are unrecognizable, is it still singing and music? Is it artistic or technical talent?
wjh

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Swinging Pendulum

The Foucault Fulcrum at USF Tampa

Donald Trump is claiming a landslide victory and the beginning of a new populist movement. Although Trump is about the same age as I am, he apparently hasn't been paying attention. I also doubt that he knows what populist means.

The American electorate is a very fickle group. They swing from the left to the right every few years. In recent memory, we have not had three presidents in a row from the same party and rarely have we had two. Congress regularly changes makeup. Usually in the exact opposite as the president. Although probably subconsciously, Americans like the conflict and checks and balances when the branches of our government are controlled by different political parties. Even if things are working, we want change. The unknown has to be better. 

Let's do a cursory review of the past 50 or so years of Washington politics. In 1960 we had a very close election between what would now be viewed as two moderates. Kennedy, a Democrat, and Nixon, a Republican, were not that far apart on policy. Nixon, the VP, had the advantage/disadvantage of the Eisenhower years. Kennedy had the advantage/disadvantage of being the new guy and far better looking. He also had a big hurdle because he was a Catholic. Many feared that the Pope would be the real ruler if we elected a Catholic president. Kennedy squeaked out a victory and the pope never did take over. 

In 1964, Johnson (who became president after Kennedy's assassination) crushed Goldwater 486 to 52 in the electoral college. LBJ won 44 states and DC. Despite the loss for Goldwater and the Republicans, it was the beginning of the change. Five of the six states that Goldwater carried were the deep south states of SC, GA, AL, MS and LA. The other was his home state of Arizona. Prior to this election, you would be hard-pressed to find a Republican in any of those southern states. Johnson fixed that by pushing through Civil Rights legislation. 

In 1968, Nixon won a close popular vote victory over Johnson's VP Herbert Humphrey. The electoral college was more convincing 301 to 191. A third party candidate, staunch segregationist George Wallace, got 46 electoral votes and carried five deep south states. Those states would probably have gone to Nixon had Wallace not run. The southern switch was in place.

Nixon won a landslide victory in 1972 over George McGovern. Nixon won 49 states and 520 electoral votes. How did that work out? Nixon was forced to resign under threat of impeachment in 1974. His vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned in 1973 because of bribery charges. A stellar administration. Maybe landslide victories are not really a good thing.

1976 saw a return for the Democrats with Jimmy Carter after the scandal of the former administration. The economy was a mess too with high inflation. Carter, a Georgia native, won a close race and managed to recapture the deep south for the Democrats. The last time for the Dems.

In 1980, 84 and 88 the Republicans triumphed. First Reagan and then Bush 41, Reagan's VP. These elections cemented the southern switch to the Republicans. Carter lost the south and the election in '80. Reagan won in a landslide. 1984 was even more embarrassing for the Democrats. I doubt half the current southern voters can even fathom that Democrats once ruled the south. In 1988, George H.W. Bush won the election as the former Reagan VP. He was also helped by a poor Democratic contender.

By 1992, the country was tired of the Republican administrations and the poor economy. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, won the election fairly convincingly. He and Bush split the South. Ross Perot, an independent, garnered almost 20 million votes (18.9%). Most of those votes probably would have gone to Bush in a two person race. Maybe Perot gave the election to Clinton. Nevertheless, the Dems were back in the White House after 12 years.

Clinton won re-election in 1996 despite his personal problems. The GOP did manage to take back the deep south once again. 

After eight years of a Democratic administration, it was again time for Republicans. In 2000, George W. Bush, a flawed candidate, ran against an even weaker candidate, Clinton's VP Al Gore. It was close, so close the Supreme Court had to intervene. Bush won all of the south for the Republicans, although we will never really know about Florida. It was a little easier for Bush in 2004. The GOP once again swept the south.

After eight years of a Republican and Bush administration, plus an economic meltdown, it was time for "Change". 

In 2008, Barack Obama, a Black man, rather easily defeated GOP nominee John McCain. Still, McCain won most of the old South. 

Obama retained his presidency in the 2012 election over GOP candidate Mitt Romney.

Now in 2016, Trump, an alleged Republican, takes the White House. He is definitely right of Obama. So what now?

Now after two Democratic terms, the nation is again ready for a "change". The electorate went far right. Why? The country and economy are in good shape. Is it just the usual swing of the pendulum to the right after a few years left of center? Is it the effect of celebrity and social media? Is it the disregard for truth and science? Is it the dumbing down of our nation? Is it a racial backlash to our first Black president? Is a backlash to the social strides that have happened in the past few years? Yes, probably a pinch of each. It depends who you ask. 

My point, in a rather verbose manner, is that the current southern Republicans are exactly the same as the old southern Democrats and Dixiecrats. Staunchly conservative, afraid of change and social progress. 1955 is a wonderful year for them and their family. Of course, it probably wasn't that great, but at least they were better (off) than the Blacks and other minorities (in their minds). 

It is also fairly obvious that we get tired of whichever party is in power. Obama rode in on a wave of hope and CHANGE. Trump won on a platform of CHANGE. Now Obama's change and Trump's change are very different but just the thought of something different seems to enchant the US electorate. It doesn't seem to matter which direction the change takes us. 

The pendulum swings from left to right. It swung a little left during Clinton's administration, back right during W's. Then left again in the Obama's years. Just a wild guess, but I'm betting we swing right for the next four years.

The fulcrum in the photo at the top is at the University of South Florida Math and Physics building. I can attest that it has been swinging since at least 1965. Left then right, repeat. Be careful that the pendulum doesn't hit you. Be agile. If you don't like the current climate, wait, it will change. 

wjh

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Late Night TV Revisited


About a year an a half ago I wrote a post about the changes in late night TV. Over an 18 to 24 month span, all these shows had new hosts. You can see my original impressions here. Since I was fairly critical of most of the new hosts, I think it is only fair that I revisit the genre as this new year begins. It takes time for these shows to jell and for the audience, including me, to get familiar and comfortable.

In addition to the review of the previously mentioned shows, two new players came on the scene. I'll give my opinion of those shows a little farther down this post. 

Jimmy Kimmel remains the dean of the late night hosts. There have been no major changes on his show. It is a decent program that I watch occasionally when Jimmy has an interesting guest or none of the others do. 



Next up is Jimmy Fallon and the Tonight Show. This is the rating winner of late night. Not in my house. Although Fallon has talent and the show has a few good bits, I usually find it hard to watch. Jimmy is still weak in the monolog although slightly better. No improvement on the interview skills either. The next insightful question Jimmy asks will be his first. His insistence on having guests play games and participate in skits is hit and miss. Some OK and some very bad. Fallon continues to fawn over every guest. I find it hard to believe that everyone who goes on the show is the very best in the world. The Roots, the house band, remain the best thing about The Tonight Show. Like Kimmel, I rarely watch this show. 

The follow-up show on NBC is Late Night with Seth Meyers. This is the biggest surprise of the bunch. When Seth first started, he was unwatchable. The monolog was painful, the set was tacky, the band and interviews were mediocre at best. Well, Seth and his staff must have realized that too. They ditched the standup monolog for a sit-down opening and got new furniture. That opening often includes the best commentary on the day's events, particularly the political scene. Seth has become a much better interviewer. He asks good questions and appears to actually listen to the answers. He also doesn't have a stack of notes on the desk that he refers to while doing the interviews. The band is still just fair, but they don't play a major role. Overall, I rate this the most improved. I often tune in for at least the opening segment. 


Moving over to CBS, we have Late Show with Stephen Colbert. I thought Colbert started out slowly or more specifically, too fast and hyper. He has calmed down some but it still seems to me that the show is too jammed packed and rushed many nights. The monolog has gotten better and Stephen is often good in the interviews although sometimes he gets off track and talks about himself. The house band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, remains outstanding. The show is better than when it first came on but is not must see TV. He hasn't made me forget Letterman yet. 



James Corden follows Colbert on CBS. This show is about the same as when it started. Corden is still not very good at the monolog. He is awkward with the teleprompter/cue cards and is obviously reading the jokes. The Jokes are usually not that great. He has a few standard bits that are not that funny and now seems being stretched after being used several times. His one big success has been "Carpool Karaoke" which is him and a famous musical artist singing in an alleged drive to work. He has had some big stars join him and the videos have been very successful on the internet. Like his other bits, it seems to be getting old and forced. The show still brings all the guests out at the same time for a group interview. It usually leads to a very disjointed interview segment. Very rarely is there any meaningful interaction or chemistry between the guests that adds to the segment. Much like Fallon, James fawns over every guest. They are all the greatest. Corden is a talented and pleasant guy but the show is mostly mediocre. There has been little or no improvement. I still miss Craig Ferguson and his robot sidekick, Geoff.

Over at Comedy Central, there is little good news. The Daily Show continues to disappoint. The host, Trevor Noah, has not grown into the shoes left by Jon Stewart. He is a terrible interviewer. He often dominates the interview with overly long questions and comments. I usually learn little or nothing about the interviewee. Some of the fake correspondent bits are OK but no one really stands out. This is a show that peaked a few years ago. Noah and the cast are just mining that old formula without adding anything new. It is a disappointment particularly given the wealth of material in this election year. 

The worst news from Comedy Central is the cancellation of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. This show replaced the Colbert Report and had a slow start in my opinion. They quickly made some changes that vastly improved the show. I liked all the contributors too, especially Mike Yard. It was an irreverent look at the day's news. Unabashedly liberal and from a black/minority viewpoint. Although a comedy show, some of Wilmore's commentary was very serious, poignant and heartfelt. I am very bummed and disappointed that Comedy Central canceled the show, particularly prior to the end of this election season. I miss this show. 

There have been a couple of new entries in the late night scene. Both hosted by women. The first is the Chelsea Handler Show on Netflix. The only good thing about this show is that since it is on Netflix you can easily watch it on demand. I choose to not watch it on demand. This show is terrible. There is no structure, substance or any redeeming points. It appears to be thrown together with no thought or preparation. Do yourself a favor and skip this one.

Better news about the other new show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS. No, this is not a porn show. Samatha, a long-time Daily Show "correspondent", stays fully clothed the whole time. It is a biting comedy show about the absurdities of our society, particularly the political process. There are long field pieces that explore issues in more depth than a two line joke. Sometimes Samantha goes a little overboard on the sarcasm and false outrage but overall it is a good show. 


In summary, the late night scene is mostly the same as a year ago. Fallon and Corden are about the same. Both over complimenting every guest. Colbert has improved marginally. Kimmel is the same, OK but not outstanding. Trevor Noah has not grown nor has The Daily Show. Chelsea Handler is unwatchable. Larry Wilmore and company is sadly MIA. The two bright spots are the significant improvement of Seth Meyers and the addition of Samantha Bee. 

I might point out that Charlie Rose is also on PBS every late night. It is not a comedy show but is very informative, probably the best long interview show. Tavis Smiley is also worth watching.

I'll continue to be a consumer of late night TV. I am a night owl and a news and comedy junkie. Let's see what this new year brings.

wjh

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Very Random Thoughts - December 2016


  • Do you ever grab something out of the fridge or cupboard that has already been opened then wonder why did I save this little bit? Not only isn't enough left for even a decent snack, you may have also looked while making a shopping list and thought, I already have some of that. No need to get more. Double whammy. 
  • I am so sick of reporters and interviewers going on and on and on and on... when they ask questions. Shut the hell up and let the person answer.
  • Why do food companies make it so hard to find the expiration or best by date on their products? I particularly like the ones that print the date on the clear bottle or jar with the same color ink as the product inside.
  • Isn't is amazing that leaders and politicians who were intimately involved with and take credit for things that go right and are successful, yet they have absolutely no knowledge of the screw ups, mistakes or anything illegal.
  • Isn't white chocolate an oxymoron?
  • Ironically, you can not use an & in an AT&T password.
  • In this "post-truth" era, I'm beginning to think it would be easier for PolitiFact, FactCheck, Snopes, etc. to just report the factual stories and we assume that everything else is false. 
  • How many "last chance" sale emails did you get during the holiday season? Now it's time for all the after Christmas clearance sales. 
  • Atheists and agnostics need something to celebrate during the holiday season. Maybe Festivus?
  • It is now really true. Any kid can grow up to be president. You don't even need to study in school.
  • The older I get, the more I hate the industrial strength packaging that everything is now contained in. You shouldn't need power tools to open a new purchase from Amazon. 
  • We now know what a "sore winner" looks like.
  • Is there a required course in journalism school that teaches how to ask stupid and inane questions?
  • Were the "good ole days" really?
  • You know you're getting old when you have to hand the jar to your kids to get the lid off.
  • Even in this era, it seems to be required for recording artists to put out a Christmas album. Most suck.
  • Now that we have so much fake news, I think we need fake weather and fake sports to make up a complete fake newscast. Oh wait, we have fake sports in the form of wrestling, which is apparently good training for cabinet level positions.
  • I bet the tenants of TrumpTower are just thrilled about all the security and traffic.
  • Never underestimate a TV reporter's ability to find an inarticulate toothless eyewitness to interview for their report. 
  • Is it auto-fill/correct or doesn't anyone know the difference between to and too?
wjh

Monday, January 2, 2017

Fences


I saw this movie on New Year's Eve with some friends. Three out of four of us liked it. I was one of the three.

Fences is the story of a 50 something black man in the early 1950's. A flawed, angry, bitter man trying to make it as a garbage man. The job allows him to barely own a home and support his family. Once a star ballplayer in the Negro Leagues, his color, age and some prison time kept him from the Major Leagues. The movie chronicles his relationships with his family and the demons of his past.

The cast is fantastic. Not a weak performance in the bunch. Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson, the lead. Viola Davis plays his wife Rose. Jovan Adepo plays Corey Maxson, Troy's teenage son with Rose. Russell Hornsby is Lyons Maxson, Troy's 30 something year old son from his first failed marriage. Mykelti Williamson (Bubba Blue from Forrest Gump) plays Gabriel Maxson, Troy's mentally disabled WWII veteran brother. Stephen Henderson depicts Jim Bono, Troy's best friend. Denzel also directs. There should be some Oscar nominations.

This is a character driven movie that takes place almost entirely in the house and yard of Troy and Rose. There are no guns or car chases although there are a couple of scenes of a slow moving garbage truck. There is a lot of dialogue and raw emotion. Denzel talks and talks. He is a hardass parent who suffers the scars from his hardass father and racial discrimination. He will not or can not change his views and attitudes, ultimately pushing away all in his life. 

I won't give away all the trials and tribulations that Troy and his family endure. For those of us old enough to remember the days of segregation, the story seems right. Before condemning any of the characters, remember, the story takes place 60 years ago in a still mostly segregated country. 

This is a long movie, 2:27, so prepare accordingly. It is rated PG-13 for some language. Most of that language is the infamous N-word by Troy. The film drags a little in places but it's worth it. The ending lacks some detail and leaves some loose ends but you'll figure it out.

A fan of character driven movies with great performances, go see it. Need some car chases and hectic action, skip it. 

BillyJim gives Fences an A
wjh