Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Big Sick (a movie review post)

Have you seen Silicon Valley? You should see Silicon Valley; I love it.
Which has nothing to do with The big sick other than that Kumail Nanjiani is in it, and that's where I first came across him. He's pretty great, actually. The relationship between his character, Dinesh, and Gilfoyle is possibly the best part of the show for me, and I love Silicon Valley. Did I say that already?

So, anyway, when I heard that Kumail was doing a movie... Not just in a movie, but doing a movie. He wrote the movie, too, along with his wife, Emily Gordon, so he wrote and starred in The big sick, and... and it's a fictionalized true story about how he met his wife.

So why should we care about that, you might be asking yourself. Well, a few reasons.
1. It's a touching story.
2. It deals with the complexities of interracial relationships.
3. And intercultural relationships.
4. And, especially, what it's like to be from a Muslim family growing up in the United States. [I use the term "growing up" loosely since Kumail was already 18 when he moved to the US to go to college.]
5. Not to mention that Kumail is a stand-up comic, so it's funny. And romantic. You know, a romantic comedy, and there aren't too many of these around anymore.

Kumail is from Pakistan and plays himself in the movie. His not-yet-wife Emily, who is from North Carolina, is played by Zoe Kazan. That should be enough to tell you that there will be... issues.

Surprisingly, the larger issues for the relationship are from Kumail's side of the family because his mother is determined that he should marry a good Pakistani girl and is working on arranging a marriage for him. Not that the problems are actually because of his family; they're not. The problems are because Kumail neglects to tell his family that he's dating a white girl. And he continues to meet these women his mother is trying to set him up with.

Those dates are more like job interviews. Seriously, they bring what can only be called resumes accompanied by a head shot.

And that should be enough to get you started.

Nanjiani is great in the movie. Of course, he is playing himself (remember: true story), so I suppose you could say that the role was written just for him. Especially since he co-wrote it. Kazan is also good. But I think the true gem of the movie is Holly Hunter. She plays Emily's mother, and she's wonderful.

Oh, also, Ray Romano is in the movie as Emily's father, and he's good, too. Which actually says a lot, because I don't particularly like Romano. Not that I dislike him, per se, but I always thought Everybody Loves Raymond was pretty dumb, so I never developed any kind of liking for him. But he's good in this.

The bottom line is that you should see this movie. No, seriously, see the movie.

The other bottom line is that this movie represents all that is good about America and what America stands for. Kumail Nanjiani is a more valuable member of our society than Trump has ever been or could hope to be. Nanjiani adds value to society and to the world while Trump is just a leech, a parasite, taking value from everything he can to engorge himself only.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Orders" (Ep. 6.4)

-- The popular belief isn't always the correct one.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season six, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

What's worse than looking for a needle in a haystack? Looking for a needle in a needlestack,
I mean, sure, the clones have adopted identifying markings and such, but being tasked with finding one specific clone among, at least, thousands... Well, that's a job I wouldn't want to have.

But it is the job of the security forces on Coruscant after Fives take flight after a frame up to make it look like he was trying to assassinate Chancellor Palpatine. And, of course, we know it's a set up, and that's part of what makes this episode so difficult to watch. We know who Palpatine is, and we know how those around him are playing into his hands, and we want to yell at Shaak Ti, "No! Don't do it! Don't leave Fives alone with him!" But she doesn't listen to us.

To say this episode ends tragically is an understatement, because we now know just how close the Jedi came to finding out about Order 66, how close one clone came to changing everything...

For me, that makes Revenge of the Sith even more sad.

Aside from all of that, it seems pretty clear to me as of this episode that Count Dooku had no idea that Darth Sidious and Palpatine were one and the same. Interesting...

"Have you seen this clone?"

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Point of Dissent

When I was young, my mom used to tell me things like, "Don't rock the boat," and, "Don't speak up; it won't do any good," and, "Just go along; it's easier that way." This was never an idea I was able to buy into, even at a young age, probably because I had a string of really great teachers from 4th through 6th grades, teachers who taught me that it was not just okay but good to question authority.

Don't get me wrong; I don't mean questioning authority just for the sake of questioning authority. I mean that you don't accept something just because it's being told to you by someone "in authority." Of course, the fact that I grew up in a house where my father expected to be believed "because he said so" didn't leave me very inclined to think anyone in authority knew what they were talking about.

By high school, I was quite adept at "asking questions" when I thought the person in authority was wrong. That translates into, "I was very good at pointing out when the person in authority was wrong and asking for the data." This was something that especially happened at church where I found out that in most circumstances, because I did my own studying and research, I was the authority on whatever subject we were studying. More so than any of the Sunday school teachers, more so than the youth pastor, and more so than even the pastor in many instances. It was very common for both my pastor and my youth pastor to say to me, "I'm not going to tell you you're right, but you're not wrong."

I felt good about bringing these things up, about dissenting with what was being said, because, frequently, it led to a redaction of false information and/or a correction of what was being taught.

Which brings me to the point of dissent...
It brings me to the point of dissent and, more specifically, why you should bother.
(And I'm not going to elaborate much here; I'm just going to go through the points I want to make.)

1. Dissenting can cause people to take a second look at the information being offered and catch errors that might not otherwise come to light.

2. Dissenting in a matter of a position (such as a political or moral position) [see this series of posts] clearly states which side you are on, which can be incredibly important [just ask all of the Republicans in a couple of years when they lose their spots in the House for not standing up to Trump].

3. Dissenting can give others who agree with you but who are staying quiet the courage to stand up along with you. Sometimes, it takes only one person to stand up and do the right thing to give other people the strength to also stand.

Look, folks, we're at a crux in history. It's not a dissimilar crux to that of the one that caused the American Revolution. There are a few corrupt but rich and seemingly powerful people in control, but there aren't really that many who agree with them, even among those who supposedly agree with them. It's time to dissent.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (a movie review post)

I don't think I've made a secret of my longtime love of Spider-Man. Spider-Man goes back before Star Wars for me, back to at least when I was four. As such, I waited a long time for a Spider-Man movie. When that movie finally came in 2002 -- the Sam Raimi/Toby Maguire feature -- it was pretty perfect. Toby Maguire really captured Peter Parker, and I couldn't have been happier.

I was less happy when Sony decided to reboot the series. It's not that Andrew Garfield didn't do a fine job -- he wasn't as good as Maguire, but he was fine -- but a reboot just wasn't needed. Sure, change the actors, but keep the continuity of the series going.

Needless to say, I was a little unsure of how I felt about another reboot of the series. On the one hand, Marvel Studios was taking a hand in it, and Marvel has proven themselves a master at handling their own characters. [Unlike Warner Brothers, who continually show they don't know crap about how to make a super hero movie. For their one real success so far (Wonder Woman), they had to steal the plot of Captain America: The First Avenger to make it work.] On the other hand, it was going to be another reboot.

But Marvel, evidently, felt the same way I do about the idea of doing another reboot and went around it by not doing another origin story. It was pretty brilliant, actually. They summed it all up with one line, "I was bit by a spider." It was great.

And Tom Holland was... Okay, I'm going to skip the "amazing" joke. Tom Holland was incredible. Better than Toby Maguire, which I didn't think was actually possible. Of course, I thought that might be the case after Civil War, but I wasn't certain. Homecoming dismissed any doubt within the first few minutes. Seriously spectacular. [Sorry, I had to slip something in.] It's not that he's a wisecracking super hero; he's a nervous teenager. I'm looking forward to more from him.

All of the cast was great, though I wish Donald Glover had had a bigger part. I hope he becomes a recurring character. However, summing up everyone with "great" is probably devaluing Michael Keaton, and I wouldn't want to do that. Keaton was a better Adrian Toomes than Toomes ever was in the comics. Yeah, I was never much of a Vulture fan. But Keaton was wonderful and believable. And more than a little frightening. And I'm not going to say more than that because of spoilers (but my son was in full suspense mode as we watched, so I know it was working; he's a tough audience, even tougher than me).

I also really liked Bokeem Woodbine as The Shocker.

Oh, and Damage Control. That they introduced them was pretty great. I have the original limited series from 1989. Not that it seems it's done anything for the prices of the issues. It's still fun.

My daughter came out of the movie saying it's her favorite Marvel movie ever. I think Homecoming probably lands in my top three super hero movies. I'm not sure what that order is, actually. The top five, at this point, are all pretty great movies, and it's very difficult to tell which is better than another. It might be somewhat flexible depending upon how I'm feeling at the time. Right now, I just want to go see Homecoming again. Seriously great movie. And you don't really need to have seen any of the other Marvel movies to "get it," so don't let that get in the way if you haven't seen the other movies or aren't up to date on them. Just take the Tony Stark bits in stride and enjoy the movie.

Oh, and the Steve Rogers cameos are brilliant. Especially the one at the end.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Fugitive" (Ep. 6.3)

-- When in doubt, go to the source.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season six, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

What is life?
And is it yours?
I mean, that's one of the fundamental questions, right? And it's a question becoming more and more difficult to grapple with, especially as we become more and more able to produce life on our own terms. This question they deal with in the Clone Wars about whether the clones are independent beings or just property isn't really hypothetical anymore. We could clone people at this stage. To a certain extent, we can even make them to order. Are they property?

And, for that matter, aren't my kids just products? It's not like they made themselves. Or raised themselves.

So where do we draw the line?

It seems not even the Jedi have an answer to this one. One the one hand, there's Yoda, who seems to see each individual clone as an individual, independent being; but, on the other hand, you have some Jedi who see the clones as no better than droids, just biological machines.

It's hard to tell precisely where Shaak Ti falls on the scale, but she seems to lean more toward the "we own you" side of things.

All of these are the conflicts driving Fives to go rogue in order to figure out what killed his brother, Tup. Because, sometimes... actually, frequently, especially in this day and age of corporate law and Trumpism, doing the Right thing means going against the establishment. And not because there's any kind of conspiracy, but because of things like implicit bias. That's really what Fives is up against, the bias in the system against clones because they aren't full people. Probably, they only count as 3/5 of a person.

"I am not a piece of hardware! I'm a living being!"

Monday, July 10, 2017

We Are Not Your Machine

Let's imagine for a moment that you have a great machine. When I say machine, I mean machine. This is a purely mechanical contraption, no electronic parts. No internal computer. Nothing digital about it.
It's all gears and cogs and nuts and bolts.

Machines are fairly straightforward devices, even the delicate and complex ones. I mean that from the stance of that when a piece wears out or breaks, you remove it and put a new piece in its place. The old piece is, at that point, a piece of trash.

Machines are built with a purpose, to do a particular task, even if that task is purely ornamental. But they only work if all the parts are good.

And herein lies the problem, the corporate view of people, and, thus, the Republican view of people, is that we are all parts of some great profit machine. We are all here to generate money for them. For them, and that's the part you have to understand. We, the people, are all parts. Cogs. Gears. Pegs.

It is this view, the inherent view of people from corporate America (and the Republicans), that makes them disdainful of the "unproductive members" of society. "Unproductive members" equates to "broken pieces" of the machine. And what do we do with broken pieces? We throw them away. We do not keep them around as clutter, and we certainly don't "take care of them." That's just wasted resources.

And you wonder why the healthcare plans being offered up by the Republicans are so bad for the sick and elderly and poor...? Really? You wonder about that? These "people," because the Republicans barely view them as people, are a waste, a drain. They suck up resources that are more deserved by "productive members" of society, i.e., the rich, the 1%, the [leaches]. [Yes, let's feed the parasites even more.] So you're cries of, "But people will die if you take away their healthcare," do really fall on deaf ears because, you know what?, that's the actual idea.

Get those broken pieces of the machine out of society!

Of course, then, the problem (it's not a problem) is that we are not a machine. We are not some great biological wealth machine for the rich despite the fact that we've allowed them to turn us into one. [Over and over and over again throughout history, I might add.] That's the actual problem, we have allowed them to use us as this, and we need to stop.

Well, that's part of the problem. There's also the part where the "Christian" (because they're not really) Right, the Evangelicals, have abandoned charity and mercy in favor of the more hard-line Pauline philosophy of "if they don't work, don't let them eat." And they've taken up this philosophy because it fits in with the whole "God rewards [with money!] the just and worthy, and punishes [by taking away their money] the sinners." So, you know, if you're having financial difficulties, it's because you're a lousy sinner being punished by God and, if you'd just "get right with God," he'd reward you financially and you wouldn't need any charity or mercy. [These people are fully behind Trump and the Republican agenda, just by the way.]

All of it is about money, and,while I don't really agree with Paul on the whole "money is the root of all evil" thing, it is the root of an awful lot of evil.

No, I don't have "an answer" to all of this or how to deal with it, but I think "the answer" begins with people realizing that they've been "turned into" a money-printing machine for the wealthy. People need to realize that they are not cogs, not pegs, at least not round ones. Not even square ones.

If people are pegs, they are all strange pegs. At least, that's how we all start out, with weird little growths and arms and awkward angles and edges. Unfortunately, many of us spend our years as parents trying to take of the edges and angles of our kids and make them into these unified little round pegs that can grow up and fit into any hole. If not that, we don't do anything to stop the education system from doing that for us.

But it's time to stand up for the things that diversify us, differentiate us, make us unique. We are not pieces of a machine, and it's time that we stopped acting like we are.

Friday, July 7, 2017

La Boheme (an opera review post)

Roughly translated (okay, not so roughly), "la boheme" means "the bohemians." It's loosely based on characters from a series of short stories by the 19th century French novelist Henri Murger, and, when I say "loosely," I do actually mean it.

Giacomo Puccini, having been himself a starving artist at one point in his life, felt a great affinity for the characters of his opera and, evidently, caused a lot of frustration with his librettist because he kept changing the words. He seemed to be a believer in the "ask forgiveness, not permission" philosophy. You can't argue with the results, at any rate. La Boheme is one of the top operas in the world more than a century after it's introduction and has been the most performed opera at the San Francisco Opera House.

As such, any production of it seems to have a really high bar it needs to meet with the critics. This being my first viewing of it, I have no such bar, and I thought this production was great.

First, the set was great.They did a great job of putting together something that looked like a studio apartment being shared by four poverty-stricken artists: a poet, a painter, a musician, and a philosopher. But, even better! The apartment piece of the set separated and turned around to form the city streets. It looked nice and gave the right feel.

Then, the cast was great. All of them. The opera has a lot of comedy in it despite the fact that it's a tragic love story and, as such, requires some serious acting. This is definitely not an opera that would work if the performers just stood in place when they were singing. They were all great. I can't even pick out a favorite.

Here's where it really works for me:
When Picasso first went to Paris, he was exactly one of these starving artists. His first winter was so hard that he was forced to burn all of the paintings he had thus far produced so that he wouldn't freeze to death. It's a horrible thought. The opera opens with Rodolfo and Marcello burning the manuscript to one of Rodolfo's plays just so that they can have a little heat. This production did a good job of making that real, of making the poverty and the desperation that goes with it real.

Not just in that they had no fuel for the fire and no food but, also, they had no access to healthcare. You could make a case for this being a play about poverty and how people with no access to healthcare deal with illness: They try to pretend it isn't there. Rodolfo knows immediately upon meeting Mimi that she's not well, but what are they going to do? There's no money for a doctor. And Mimi? Evidently, she's been dealing with her illness for so long that she's able to pretend even to herself that she's perfectly fine -- "It's just a little cough." -- so she's surprised, later, to find out she's sick.

But, you know, no one has ever died from lack of access to healthcare.

The only complaint, and it was a small one, was from my wife. She said Mimi and Rodolfo spent too much time looking at the audience during their love duets rather than at each other. I didn't notice, but, because they provide viewing screens for those of us up in the nosebleed section, I may have been watching the screen instead of the stage and I wouldn't necessarily have noticed that particular issue.

What I can say for certain is that La Boheme is definitely an opera I want to see again. In fact, I would go back to see it again today if I could, and we just saw it last night (as I write this, not as you read it). Puccini is my wife's favorite opera composer, and I can definitely see why. I don't know that I have a favorite at this point, but Puccini definitely wrote some of the most memorable opera music ever written.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Conspiracy" (Ep. 6.2)

-- The wise benefit from a second opinion.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season six, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

The Jedi have sent Tup to Kamino to find out what caused him to assassinate Jedi Master Tiplar. This is somewhat like Brer Fox throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch. Not that it's exactly the Kaminoans fault. Apparently, they really just don't "get" the Jedi and don't understand that "Lord" Tyrranus is a Sith and not part of the Jedi Order. And it doesn't really seem to bother them that they are taking secret orders from one "Jedi" that they must not let any of the other Jedi know about.

Or maybe they just don't care because why question the money?

At any rate, it puts the Kaminoans at cross purposes with the Jedi and, specifically, Fives.

Fives, of course, doesn't much care for anyone else's agenda if it puts Tup, his best friend, in danger, and he's willing to do whatever it takes to save Tup's life, a life the Kaminoans plan to end to cover up the fact that clones have inhibitor chips in their heads put there at the behest of the Sith.

Again, this is a great arc and one of the most significant ones in the series. You should do yourself a favor and watch it.

Also, the droid character AZ-3 is a good addition for the episode. Its relationship with Fives is interesting to watch.

One other interesting note: There are empty seats on the Jedi Council. I'm not sure if they've shown that before, but there are at least two seats empty during a consultation in this episode.

"I always wanted to have human feelings. But I do not. Goodbye."

Monday, July 3, 2017

Don Giovanni (an opera review post)

At long last, we're finishing up the 2016 opera season at the San Francisco Opera! We have three this month (June, as I write this), the first of which is Don Giovanni by Mozart.

Don Giovanni is rather appropriately timed considering our political climate. Not that Don Giovanni is at all political, because it's not. However, it is about a man, Don Giovanni, who has no control over his impulses and has no problem with the idea of grabbing a woman by the pussy. Or a girl, for that matter. He's a noble, a star, and expects to get to do whatever he wants, which is mostly how it goes for him.

Until he kills someone.

Look, Giovanni is so smooth (and rich, because you can't leave out the influence of money) that he walks into the wedding of a young couple and walks out with the bride after sending the groom on his way.

You should also keep in mind that this opera premiered in 1787. More than 200 years later, it's one of the top 10 most performed operas worldwide. It is, after all, Mozart.

Being Mozart, the music is very solid, but none of it really grabbed me. It's the kind of stuff that would, say, make great background music, but there's none of it that I wanted to sing along with. So to speak. Because I'm not likely to ever be singing along with opera. That's just a bit beyond me.

My experience so far with Mozart (this is my third Mozart opera) tells me that he's very good at "sidekick" characters, and this was no exception. The character of Leporello provides the comic relief, and Erwin Schrott gave an amazing performance. He was easily my favorite even though Ildebrando D'Arcangelo, as Don Giovanni, was also great.

Generally speaking, all of the performers were great... with the exception of Stanislas de Barbeyrac as Don Ottavio. de Barbeyrac had that problem of standing in place when he was singing and not emoting at all. Even when other people were singing. He tended to do nothing more than stand around on stage when he was on stage. It was kind of weird considering that all of the other performers were also acting their parts but this one guy just stood there looking bored all the time.

The set was also kind of... well, I don't know. It was almost cool but, then, it fell short. They had these large mirror/screen things on the stage that they did some interesting things with, but one of the things was projecting images of people onto them. So, like, when Don Ottavio is singing of his love for Donna Anna, there are images of her in the "mirrors" as he sang. But that's really the only scene where they effectively used those. At other times, a face might pop up and would be gone within moments; considering that there were at least half a dozen of the "mirrors" on the stage most of the time, it always made me wonder if I missed something because I was looking at some other part of the stage. Overall, I think they were underutilized and a distraction rather than adding anything to the production. Wasted potential.

So let's get a bit spoilery.

Don Giovanni is completely unrepentant about his lifestyle. He uses and damages people and considers it his right to do so. He never apologizes. [Does that sound like any orange gremlin you might know?] At the end of the opera, Giovanni is visited by the man he murdered. Giovanni somewhat inadvertently invited the dead man to dinner, and the dead man accepted the invitation. Not that Giovanni expected him to actually show up despite the supernatural occurrence in the graveyard. But the dead man does show up and explains to Giovanni that there are bad things coming for him unless he repents. Giovanni, being true to his nature, refuses... and gets dragged into Hell because of it.

Now, seriously, who does that remind you of? This philosophy of not apologizing but always hitting back harder only goes so far, and I think some prominent people in our government (>cough<Trump>cough<) are about to find that out.