Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘After-Action Report’ Category

Sometimes, you are faced with a disconnect that is so profound that it is alarming in its implications.  One such example is the conduct that I and other friends have been on the receiving end of since Tuesday night.  The vitriol itself would normally be bad enough, as it has come at the hands of people who are usually vocal to the point of preachiness about “tolerance” and “diversity”, but when its coming from people we thought were our friends, it is as disappointing as their venom is disturbing.

Earlier today, I read a long post on Facebook from someone whom I have known a long, long time, explaining his justification for such behavior.  In several ways, this was a continuation of a series of disparagements and slanders he started Tuesday night, but to read just how much he’s allowed this poison to cloud this thinking really took me aback.  I had resolved to sleep on it before writing this piece, but when I got home, I saw this from another friend who I have only known for about ten years, a friend who I first befriended online, but who I later met in person (he lives in the north part of the Puget Sound region, and whom I have since met up with several other times):

so I’ve been called a racist three times in the last two days….twice by people who know me well and who should know better, and once by some idiot who doesn’t know me at all. So, I make this request of all of you…….If you consider me a racist for how I voted (which I’ve explained numerous times). Instead of dirtying yourself with that kind of ugliness, unfriend me both here and in real life…..It is wrong and ignorant and prejudiced and you know it. I have a pretty high opinion of all of you and would like to hold onto that opinion…..so just unfriend me and not ruin my perception of the better person that I believe you to be.
I wish you well.

Reading this angered me.

It angered me, because I know this man.  I’ve done business with this man.  I’ve had coffee with this man.  I’ve met his wife, and I’ve done work for the both of them.  This slander angered me.  And my disappointment tempered it.  I was disappointed because two other people who knew him could still hurl this accusation in a way that clearly displayed serious enough intent that he took it seriously.  I was disappointed because he was not the only person I knew experiencing this.

Which brings me back not only to the friend justifying this kind of behavior, but all my friends.  Facebook is really an interesting development.  While it can be a timesuck, it has also been a means  for me to keep in contact with family all over the country, to renew friendships with people I went to college with, people I went to law school with, people I worked pre-law jobs with, or to strengthen friendships formed in other places on the internet, as well as make new friends with friends of my friends, and join some online communities based on shared interests, some of which don’t really have too much at all to do with politics.

Now when you think about it, having friends from so many different experiences and times in my life, it should not be too terribly  shocking that some of them hold political leanings to the opposite of my own.  While this can “get loud” sometimes, I have never considered “unfriending” anyone because we disagree about something.  I have often said, my tongue only partially in my cheek, that if I were to act in such a manner every time someone else was wrong, I would have long ago given the world the finger, and moved to a remote cabin up in the mountains where I would no longer have to deal with such effrontery.  The truth is that I’m actually used to having relationships of various degrees with people who believe differently than I do.  Much of my family actually falls into this category, but it doesn’t dim my affection for them.  Some of my friends on Facebook are people whom I chose to be friends with, knowing full well their opposition to my viewpoint on various matters. I was able to do so because I still shared some sort of interest with them, or because I enjoyed the exchanges I had with them, because they were able to debate without the hyperbole, the slander, and the pigeon strutting which is all too common in my experience when dealing with those who have political views which oppose my own.  As for those who subscribe to a different view who are my friends from previous shared experiences, the point remains the same; I chose to be friends with them, if only because my previous experiences with them taught me that they weren’t bad people, regardless of their political views.  Put another way, their opposing viewpoints do not dim my affection for these people whom I made a conscious decision to associate with and  “friend” on the social media platform.  So when I see these same people unflinchingly and reflexively assert that the possession of an opposite opinion can ONLY be the result of evil intention and/or some debilitating form of ignorance or intellectual disability, which then somehow justifies the ongoing slander and disparagement, like some perverse cadence of curiously permissible hate and intolerance of the now “unfriended” or soon to be “unfriended” individual, my sadness becomes profound.  When the justification includes naked assertions of “facts” which are no such thing, and when the justifier is someone you know to be smarter than the things they are saying, I am disappointed.  When the justification is then wound up with this rather remarkable pronunciation:

People are not “unfriending” their “friends” because of an election. They are separating themselves from people who have exposed themselves to lack the benevolence, intelligence, sophistication and good-will-of-heart to participate in the advanced citizenship known as “America”.

I realize that some of the people who cry loudest about “tolerance” and “diversity” are least capable of living in a society that values it, or can benefit from it.  Henry Ford once famously quipped at an early point in his company’s life “You can have one of my cars in any color you like, as long as it’s black.”  That kind of restriction doesn’t live up to the ideal presented in either word, nor does it make for a healthy society.

My unfriending friend also made a point often made by various members and followers of the Left over the last decade or so…his own variation on the slightly humorous assertion that he and others who share his view are the “adults” in the room:

We can relate to children because we were all children once upon a time. However, as we grow older and wiser and more sophisticated, we do not socialize with children. They are not part of our peer group. We do not pass notes that say “yes, no or maybe” when we are 30 or 40.

That is, of course, his view.  For myself, once I moved away from the community we both grew up in, and went to law school, where I started to ask questions which made some of my professors uncomfortable, and started reading the treatises that used to be used to train lawyers, but have been long since abandoned in favor of the case method, I grew to form more conservative views than those I have been exposed to (less diplomatic people might be inclined to say “indoctrinated in”) when I was younger.  The irony is that the more I read, and the more I observed, and the more my body of knowledge grew as I continued my education, the more I developed these views.  The key to this is the “I”.  I didn’t come to these conclusions because they were what I was being taught.  I didn’t come to these conclusions because it was what my professors were telling me.  I did that, as my knowledge and experience grew and developed.  These weren’t conditions that lend themselves to “regression” to some troglodyte lens through which the world is viewed, and while I’m not hurt by the endless broad brush assertions to the contrary, I have grown impatient with apparent apprehension that is excuses people who state this from having to take me seriously, and instead somehow get a free pass to insult me and my friends, and casually ascribe all manner of ill or evil intent to our views.  If you’re a friend of mine, and you’re doing this, the question I challenge you to answer is this:

“Are you really that unwilling to focus your wit and intellect on persuading me to see the reason in your position, or are you simply incapable of successfully doing so, and your actions are instead some kind of coping mechanism?”

I submit that the question is one that you should answer honestly as much for yourself and your own well-being as it is for mine.

Will any of this cause my unfriending friend to engage in any serious introspection, or will he simply continue his social media crusade and unfriend me too?  I hope that it is the former and not the latter, not just between us, but between all of the people in this country right now, because it is one thing to call me an enemy, but still engage in a dialogue for the sake of our shared experiences and amity (Hell, if Jefferson and Adams could do it, there is no reason for us to want or believe otherwise).  It is quite another to call me an enemy, then set out to treat me as one…and if this happens often enough, to enough people, then that is exactly what we will have, and nothing about that is “American”.

Read Full Post »

I gave up trying to predict the outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election.  If I spoke out about the very real reasons why Hillary Clinton, a/k/a Felonia von Pantsuit, could not be allowed to win the election, I was usually greeted with responses asking how Trump could possibly be more acceptable.  While I loathed the idea of President Trump, the idea of a person who clearly flouted public records laws in order to conceal a pay-to-play scandal that monetized a government sinecure and put US policy up for bids by interested parties.

Having said that, I wasn’t sure that Trump could actually take down the great Clinton criminal enterprise.  I decided that I wasn’t even going to watch the election results, but at about 8:30 pm, my curiosity got the best of me, and I turned to the CBS coverage, and discovered that it was actually a fight.  I ended up staying with it, rotating around to the various networks and ended up really enjoying watching the various talking heads struggling to contain their disappointment.  But what has been simultaneously disappointing and amusing has been the post-mortem the legacy media has engaged in after their humiliation Tuesday, and how so many of them fail to grasp the real cause of the Trump victory.

No, this wasn’t a “whitelash”.  No, this wasn’t misogyny.

This was about the average American deciding that they are fed up with constantly being lectured to, with serious looks, smug condescension, and wagging fingers about how they are everything wrong with this country, and how the way they have lived, and want to continue to live, is a crime against humanity, and that even considering that they are being fed nonsense is somehow a thought crime for which they should feel utterly and completely ashamed for not abjectly debasing themselves and groveling for the pardon of their fellow citizens who fancy themselves to be the intellectual, cultural, and yes, even moral betters of the people they deign to look down upon.  I’m not the first person to make this observation, or to be disappointed that instead, the introspection of these “experts” too often leads to the conclusion that it is someone else’s fault.  The pollsters.  The voters who could have only voted for Trump because of evil motives and dark hearts.  But this is only part of the story.

The other factor is the incestuous relationship between the Left and the Media, and what they have done to Republican Party for decades.

While Trump was not my first choice, nor my twelfth choice, I did previously note, with not a small degree of amusement, Trump’s ability to take everything the Democrats and the media could throw at him, shrug it of, and essentially say “AND???”  Even the Republican Party failed to understand how he was able to do this, but the answer lies in the votes of the people who made him the President-Elect:  Double-standards and political correctness are not embraced by average people.   For decades, Democrats have catered to excess.  They have constantly advocated the use of liberty as cloak for vice.  Republicans, as a general rule, have aimed for a different demographic, hence the generalization about “family values”.  This has provided a powerful tool for Democrats and the Press, because while everyone is human, human failings have only been suitable for pointing out as it applies to Republican candidates.  At the same time, we have had a creeping transformation of expectations focused around the dubious notion that we each have a “right” to not be offended.  As this cancerous idea grew, and metastasized, victimhood has become both a sword and shield as everything has become offensive to someone.   The result is that Democrats could condemn their opponents for weaknesses that they themselves would never had to defend in their own lives, and over decades, Republicans became conditioned to being cowed, to pulling punches, to not uttering obvious truths aloud, and to slinking away in the face of opponents who could be caught red-handed in all manner of morally questionable deeds, criminal acts, blatant lies, or influence peddling, and never ever display a shred of shame, and under no circumstances ever, ever,ever back down.

And into this scenario, where the average person is fed up with being told they’re the problem with America, that there is the law for the average person, and the law for the rich and powerful, and that subsets of government can pick and choose which laws they want to follow, walks a man who could never be elected.  A man who has said crude things.  A man who has been married multiple times.  A man who has been bankrupt more than once.  A man with an outsized ego (a trait he shares with many politicians, but in his case, this was “unacceptable” to our betters because he wasn’t a member of the political class.)

And when the accusations were flying like mud, he didn’t cower.  He didn’t slink away.  He pushed back.  He’d say stupid, feisty things, rather than getting quiet.  And he would say the things that average people were thinking, whether or not they were politically correct.  As I look back, I am reminded of the Vulcan proverb: “Only Nixon could go to China.”

He has an opportunity that hasn’t come in a very long time.  We have one party in the White House, the House of Representatives, and Senate.  If he chooses smart people to advise him and to be in his cabinet…if he chooses to approach Congressional leaders with an intent to actually work with them, and he pursues an agenda of shrinking government, of cutting regulations and reversing the administrative state, and enacts tax cuts and tax reforms, then we could see a real economic improvement the likes of which we haven’t seen in this country since I was I child.

I’m feeling cautiously optimistic that we could have some real change, and I find myself praying, yes truly praying, that he is visited with divine wisdom, and that he appoints and listens to people who can destroy “business as usual” which has spawned a complacency which has converted public service into a sinecure that creates previously undreamt of wealth for the arduous task of creating nothing but laws and regulations formed by experts with no practical experience or skill.

And I hope he doesn’t blow it.

Read Full Post »

Over the last few years, Hollywood has been slowly building a library of space disaster movies.  And I have ended up watching most of them.  While some tell the story through telemetry (Europa Report, Apollo 18), the others have used first person/third person  “as-it-happens” narratives (Last Days On Mars/Interstellar/Gravity).  I think that the telemetry story telling is more difficult, but I also think that it has a greater potential that the films using it haven’t quite managed to use to full effect.  However, I like the fact that some in Hollywood have decided to embrace exploration as a theme again, rather than simply using it as a vehicle for other messages, even if in most of these films, it comes down to traveling a long way to meet a sudden and horrible death.  While it is always a possibility, it isn’t the reason for making the trip.  We make the trip because we want to go somewhere where very few others, or no one has been before.  We make the trip because going is the challenge.  We make the trip because there is always something to learn, even if it is just about ourselves.  We make the trip because making the trip helps us to grow.

Apollo 18

I wanted to enjoy this movie.  I think NASA lost something when it stopped manned missions to other planets, and I think we are poorer as a society for them stopping.  The start of this movie made me feel a nostalgia for a time I never really knew, as I would have only been two when this mission was to have taken place in 1974.  But watching it, I could feel the cultural schism that still gripped the country.  It was a time when nerds with slide rules and pencils teamed up with clean-cut, square-jawed men who were much smarter than their outward all-american jock exteriors would lead a casual observer to believe, and braver than counter-cultural footsoldiers who preached a gospel of excess, self-gratification, and navel-gazing that birthed the whiny, entitled, self-serving attitude so prevalent in our society today, to actually DO something of consequence, and inspire those paying attention to achieve and do more themselves.

I watched, as the three-man crew trained for a mission that wasn’t going to get the glory and headlines of previous missions, due to the clandestine nature of the tasks they were being sent to perform, and I marveled at their willingness to strap themselves on to flying bombs, with large computers that have less power than what is contained in a modern car’s emissions control system, or a smart phone.

Of course, it soon becomes clear that the people who sent them failed to tell them everything, and that’s when the movie started to fall apart for me.  These men were career military officers.  And yet they let their emotions override their training, which was fatal for all of them.  It made what started as a solid B+ slide to a C.

Interstellar

I liked that this movie explored the wonder and curiosity implicit in the act of exploration.  I loved the fact that it examined humanity, with all its faults and blemishes, alongside of its best examples of courage, sacrifice, and resolve.

But throughout, I found myself wanting to know more about what happened to make it necessary to leave Earth in the first place.  The film offered some tantalizing clues, but never comes out and describes the events that changed everything.

In the end, it was a breakthrough not in science itself, but our understanding of forces and phenomena that we’ve been aware of forever that allowed humanity to find a new home among the stars.

My initial reaction to the ending was “That’s It?”, but the longer I thought about it, the more I thought it was actually correct.  That said, it isn’t a film I think I’ll be watching again anytime soon.

Gravity

Out of the three films reviewed in this article, I actually liked this one the best.  The visual elements were stunning and convincing.  And I enjoyed the transformation of a scientist who was dead inside into a human being who WANTED to live.

If you can only see one, and want to take in the best story of the three, get Gravity.

Read Full Post »

When I was much younger, my friends and I regularly spent a summer evening watching movies.  We all had jobs, and various places offered specials that made it possible to rent 3 VHS tapes for dirt cheap.  Our plan was simple:  We would rent one “good one” (usually a blockbuster or a vanity project for some well-known star), and two “bad ones”, which were films we’d either seen or read were terrible, or decided from the description, must be craptastic to some varying degree.  It was a fun way to pass an evening, and even as most memories of that time take on a more static and incomplete quality in my reflection, I can smile and reflect on four memories which I still carry and hold dear from that time:  The Blue Monkey quarantine, which is the worst in cinematic history; the Millennium paradox, about which one of my oldest friends and I still argue; The worst script ever, Interface, which I remain convinced to this day that they never finished filming (it was so awful we actually turned it OFF), and that you can sleep with a friend’s wife, and he’ll naturally try to kill you, but when he responds by killing your dog, it’s on like Donkey Kong (Revenge).  When I watched John Wick the other night, I recognized one of the bad guy’s errors for what it was: FATAL.  Never, ever kill a man’s dog, and expect mercy.

John Wick opens with a look at a man consumed by an incalculable grief.  He is obviously a man of means, living in an upscale, tidy home, who appears to be controlled, yet rudderless at the same time.  As the movie starts rolling, it is clear that his aimlessness is the result of his wife’s recent death.  The flashbacks tell us little about Wick himself, but make it clear that he adored his now dead wife, who looks to have passed away from cancer.  The only hint we get that there is something out of the ordinary about him is the exchange he has at the cemetery after the funeral, in which he and Marcus, played by Willem Dafoe, exchange emotionless pleasantries before Wick goes back to his home, which is filled with mourners.

As he picks up after they depart, the doorbell rings.  A delivery driver drops off a puppy, with a card from his wife, explaining that the puppy is there to give him something to love in her absence.  Never succumbing to any show of affection, Wick nonetheless makes the puppy his companion, and clearly carves out a place in his life for the small dog, who accompanies him everywhere.

It is on one of these outings where Wick crosses paths with flashy russian thugs at a local gas station, where one becomes attracted to Wick’s car, a ’69 Boss Mustang, and crudely offers to buy it from the circumspect Wick.  Wick informs him that it isn’t for sale, prompting the thug to fall back on his thuggishness, and attempt to intimidate Wick, only to learn that the quiet man speaks Russian quite well, and wasn’t intimidated at all.

The Russians are not deterred, and later break into Wick’s home, brutally beat him, kill his dog, and steal his car.  They take it to a chop shop, and tell the alarmed owner that they would like new vins and clean papers.  The owner, played by John Leguizamo, recognizes the car, and decides he would rather face the wrath of the thug leader’s father than the owner of the Mustang.  When word gets back to the father, he places a call to Leguizamo, who informs him that his son just beat up John Wick, killed his dog, and stole his car.  The father, realizing just what a grevious error this was, simply said “Oh.”, and hung up the phone.

Meanwhile, Wick is making preparations, and we start to get a sense that his aimlessness is gone, only to be replaced by a bloody and single-minded resolve.  Meanwhile, the father, accompanied by his consigliere, played by Dean Winters (Mayhem), confronts his son, and lets him know the gravity of his offense, and the inevitability of a permanent penalty.

That fucking nobody is John Wick. He once was an associate of ours. They call him Baba Yaga. Well John wasn’t exactly the Boogeyman, he was the one you send to kill the fucking Boogeyman. John is a man of focus, commitment and sheer will. I once saw him kill three men in a bar, with a pencil. With a fucking… pencil. Suddenly one day he asked to leave, over a woman of course. So I made a deal with him. I gave him an impossible task. A job no one could have pulled off. The bodies he buried that day lay the foundation of what we are now. And then my son, a few days after his wife died, you steal his car and kill his fucking dog. John will come for you and you will do nothing because you can do nothing.

The rest of the movie is a tale of a father trying to save his son, while knowing it is an impossible task, and a man so focused on revenge that he steps back into a world he was fortunate enough to walk away from years before.  The body count was otherworldly, and the way in which Wick dispatched those between him and his objective was brutal, but it was done in a way that didn’t come across as gratuitous or pointless, which made watching the movie much easier than it could have been.  But the other thing that made this movie enjoyable was the fact that there was a code of conduct for the assassins, and when one of their number did not observe that code, and decided to “break the rules” to take the chance of getting the huge bounty placed on Wick’s head, the others didn’t remain on the sidelines, wagging their fingers.  They acted to enforce that code, because in the end, they too needed a place to take shelter, and have one place where they didn’t have to look over their shoulders.  In the end, the only time where Wick showed any emotion other than an appetite for revenge was in a scene where he answered the one question on everyone’s lips.  I won’t spoil that for you, but I will tell you that in the end, he walks off with another dog.  Maybe it is from dealing with autistic people, maybe it’s from having it myself to a degree, but in that scene, I thought he showed a glimmer of hope that he could still “get out”, and find a measure of peace.

_1JW5817.NEF

_1JW5817.NEF

Read Full Post »

Black Sea

Captain Robinson has a problem.

The movie opens with the veteran submarine captain being informed by a desk jockey that his employment with the salvage company he works for has come to an end.  Robinson’s reaction is a mix of shock and anger, as he realizes that the career he has lost his family to has discarded him like so much refuse.

However, a conversation with other unemployed salvers in a pub offers the hope of a privately finance salvage job in the Black Sea…one that would allow him to retire richer than he could ever imagine, so he could attempt to rekindle his relationship with his 12 year-old son, who is being raised by his ex-wife and her new husband.  Soon he and his fellow conspirators hatch a plan to reach a Nazi U-boat, which supposedly disappeared in 1940 after taking on a cargo of gold paid to the Nazis by Stalin in a desperate attempt to buy peace with Germany at the outset of the Second World War.

He is soon introduced to a mysterious individual, who offers to provide the necessary financial backing in exchange for 40% of any gold found up to $40,000,000.00, and 20% of any gold above that amount the salvers recover.  From there, Robinson, and his friends hatch a plan to buy an old Soviet diesel submarine to use in their attempts to salvage the gold without either the Georgian or the Soviet navies learning of their efforts.  In order to keep the costs down, they decide on a half British, half Russian skeleton crew of misfits and psychopaths, and travel to Sevastopol to purchase a floating wreck which is no longer adequate to be repurposed into razor blades, and set to refitting and provisioning for the trip.

You can guess that this is a recipe for disaster, and you would be right, but Jude Law’s performance as the haggard captain convincingly portrays the kind of desperation that would push a man who should know better to seal himself in a tin can with a small crew of people who don’t like or trust their own countrymen, and mix them with an equal number of foreigners who they despise even more.  Once the predictable series of events and disasters start to unfold, the good captain becomes even more desperate, and ends up compounding the problem, returning to balance only when he discovers that he and his shrinking crew have been set up by their former employer, and weren’t ever going to be able to keep the tons of gold they sacrificed so much to retrieve, because the corporation and the Georgian government had already divided it among themselves.  At this point, the clichéd reimagining of “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” ended, as the captain ended up sacrificing himself to save the only two characters who weren’t modern-day pirates.

Black Sea

While there were some “liberties” taken with the script in terms of the science involved in undersea adventures, there was really only one that managed to pull my attention from the story to the gaff and make me say “oh, c’mon…”.   I was also put off a bit by the language, but it would be foolish to expect a movie about sailors to feature sailors who didn’t talk like sailors.

Overall, it was an ok story, and a decent diversion for a short time, but it isn’t one that I would be looking to purchase for my collection.

The Equalizer

When this movie first came out, I made some jokes about how Hollywood had to put some old white male actor out of work in this “reimagining” of the 80’s television character, and how disappointed I was that some social justice warrior wasn’t starting a hashtag campaign in protest.  I confess that while I did so as a joke, I do suffer from a certain annoyance with Hollywood’s proclivity to “reimagine” my childhood, and often cast it in a darker light, rather than simply telling a new story, and that is why I took so long to get around to watching this movie.

My original memories of the show are somewhat vague, as I was still fairly young, and it originally aired at 10 pm on Saturdays, a time when I was normally in bed.  I recently borrowed the first season from my local library, and found that the Joel Surnow produced show was fairly well written and acted.  It featured Edward Woodward as the “retired” spy who set up shop in New York City after an operation was botched badly by a jittery agent who prevented Robert McCall from keeping his word to the subject of the operation.  Because he still had some highly placed friends in the Agency, because he knew where the bodies were buried, and because he agreed to make himself available for certain ops that required his expertise and skill set, the Agency unofficially agreed to look the other way, and not bring him in from the cold.  As I watched the episodes in order, I found myself reasonably impressed by the tradecraft written into the series, although some of the technology seems horribly dated in this day and age.  However, I believe that one of the things that the original series got absolutely correct was that its main character carried himself like a successful operative would, which is anything but what we see James Bond do in film after film.  Woodward’s McCall is an older man, without any distinguishing features that would make him stick out in the average person’s memory.  Yes, he had an English accent.  Yes, he drove a Jaguar, which was much less common on the nation’s roadways at that time than today.  But he also knew how to blend into the crowd.  He could, and often did observe without drawing any attention to himself, and if you ran into him on the street, there was nothing about him that would raise your awareness or pique your curiosity unless he wanted it to.  That’s why the character worked for several seasons.  And that’s why I found it easier to believe he was who he was supposed to be than Denzel Washington’s Robert McCall.

The movie opens quietly, and it doesn’t take long to see that McCall is a man who is hiding, and it isn’t until fifteen minutes or so into the movie that you start to get a glimmer of what it is…who it is…he is hiding from.  But it is obvious from the  introduction that while he lives a quiet life, it is not who he is.  His apartment is spartan, and spotless.  Nothing is out-of-place.  His bed is made so tightly that quarter could bounce on it.  He’s clearly been up since well before dawn.  His morning routine shows a rigid discipline, and his own personal maintenance, appearance and demeanor is too focused, too ordered, too strack for him to be the quiet widower working for a home improvement warehouse that he appears to be.

It is his routine that guides him into the conflict, and the confrontation with himself that drives the story, however, as his middle-of-the-night trips to his local 24-hour diner draw him into a friendship with a much younger prostitute working for the local Russian mob.  When she makes the mistake of believing that she could be something more, the local mob boss puts her in her place with a brutal beating that sends her to the local ICU, and McCall finds himself, almost absent-mindedly using his formidable skills against the gangsters, and the local cops who are on their payroll.  This brings him into conflict with the crime family’s enforcer, “Teddy” (brilliantly portrayed by Marton Csokas), a former Spetznaz member who is unburdened by emotion or sentiment, and who shows a singular determination to find the party responsible for upsetting the enterprise’s apple cart, and make an example of him.

McCall and Friend
When McCall realizes that his own message has invited a much larger response, he makes a trip to visit his former boss, who still has connections with the Agency, to get intelligence about his new and lethal adversary.  She, and her husband are both pleasantly surprised (but not too surprised) to learn that McCall is still alive, after having apparently faked his death shortly after his wife passed away.  This lead to one of what I felt were the two most telling sequences in the film, where in a moment of candor, his former boss tells McCall that it is time for him to go be who he is.  After he left, her husband asked “Is everything alright? Were you able to help him?”, and she sagely responded “He didn’t come for help. He came for permission.”
This permission wasn’t just official sanction, it was permission to be the person who he promised his dead wife that he would never be again, because that was the person who the world needed him to be.  This was the part of the story that the movie got absolutely correct, and because of it, this was the story that I had vainly hoped to see when I watched Harry Brown.  Washington’s McCall was the man I expected from Caine’s Brown.  A man who could afford to be quiet, because everything about him screamed the motto “Be polite, be courteous, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

The movie’s other telling moment came after Teddy, who is impersonating one of the dirty cops on his employer’s payroll, confronts McCall, because he doesn’t believe that the intelligence the police have gathered on McCall is correct.  While each knew who the other was, neither stepped away from the charade that they had decided to play.  McCall played the sort-of-informed citizen, who just happened to be at the restaurant where the mobsters were rapidly and efficiently dispatched, a bystander who wanted to help, but hadn’t seen a thing, and Teddy the detective, just trying to follow up with all potential witnesses.  However, McCall’s body language and actions didn’t match those of a harmless and ineffectual widower, and instead sent a very different message than his words.  The encounter ended on an awkward note, when McCall’s average citizen asked a provocative question, leaving Teddy to make a poor excuse as he retreated to the waiting SUV driven by one of the dirty cops, who had listened to the exchange without any idea of the conversation the two had physically carried on with each other, leaving Teddy to utter the one truth about Washington’s portrayal of the former spook that was obvious about him from the opening of the movie: “Everything about the man is wrong.”

It isn’t often when there is such an obvious disconnect in a film, and I end up liking it anyway, but this is the case with “The Equalizer”.   This might only be because I concluded that Washington’s McCall was never a spy so much as he was a fixer.  He wasn’t a man who could be inconspicuous unless he chose to be very conspicuous.  He was a man who would be sent to deal with problems in a very permanent fashion, and that would be what would allow him to be the Equalizer in today’s society, in which reason is much discussed, but rarely practiced, and in which the veneer of civilization is polished much more brightly in order to hide just how thin it has come to be.

This is a film I would watch again, because it reflects the world we live in.

Read Full Post »

*******SPOILER ALERT********

Avengers  Age of Ultron

Today my oldest son took me to see the latest Avengers movie as my belated Father’s Day gift. I enjoyed it tremendously. I have a bone to pick with one of the central plot points, but for other reasons, the film redeemed itself spectacularly. Let’s start with the “bad” first.

Like so many other people, I grew up reading comic books, and the Avengers were one of my favorite titles. And in the world of Marvel Silver and Bronze Age and the 80s, Ultron was Hank Pym’s cross to bear. I realize that many of you may be saying “C’mon, you’re being silly. It was a great story!”, and you’d be absolutely right. I freely admit that the hang up about this is my own, and as stupid as it sounds, it is because these characters were as much my friends growing up as any flesh-and-blood people actually were. And because I actually give a damn, part of me was wondering all the way through “Is it too much?” Ultron was, and is, an extinction-level baddie, who was one of the many bad pennies that The Avengers had to deal with time and again. Because of this, I couldn’t help feeling that putting his creation on to the consciences of Tony Stark and Bruce Banner was a manifestly unfair act in story-telling. Tony is a man whose entire life has been shaped by his self-doubt and failure, a man who is divided between constantly running from his demons, and trying to make up for them. No matter how tormented be may be privately, at least he gets to hide behind the image of success, and a million-dollar smile, even if the music he hears when he closes his eyes is a thundering rendition of “Eminence Front”. Bruce Banner can only dream of that kind of peace. Instead, the best he can hope for is a life of anonymity in the shadows, where he can hide from EVERYONE, especially himself, and the monster that is freed by rage and anger. He lives a life in which he can’t close his eyes, because all he’ll hear are the screams of the hundreds of thousands the beast within has killed or maimed since being freed in an accident of science. This is why I questioned the retcon of the old familiar story. These two have enough on their plate without throwing Ultron into the mix. But that said, “It is done”, and so the cinematic universe continues.

Moving on to the “good”, first and foremost, the team has completed its metamorphosis from a group of unique individuals, into an actual “team”, with even a haunted Bruce Banner willingly freeing The Hulk when the team gets in over their heads with Hydra forces at the beginning of the movie and Hawkeye is injured. The team calls in a “Code Green”, bringing the gamma beast into the fray, and tipping the balance into the team’s favor.

Even so, there is still room for surprises, and we get to see Natasha let her guard down, and admit her attraction to Bruce Banner, which in a fun scene, she herself admits is improbable. We also got to see them all having fun in moments where nothing of consequence was at stake, and it very much felt like we got to enjoy it with them. But the part that hit it out of the park for me was the fact that Hawkeye got his due in this film.

In a world where so many spend so much time and effort attacking symbols for what they want to see in them and spend so little addressing the actual issues, because doing so might offend someone, or laud men in dresses for their “courage” while vilifying those who patiently ask “How is that courageous?”, Hawkeye reminded us what real heroism looks like. I know, I know, he’s a fictional character on a team of super heroes. How can that possibly represent real heroism?

The answer was plain as day in the story. Hawkeye and the Black Widow aren’t like the rest of the team. They aren’t invulnerable. They don’t have super powers, or a special suit to help keep them safe. They can be injured…severely…or even killed. And yet, they suit up. They play their parts on a team as members of a team. They are unafraid to put their lives on the line to save a teammate, or anyone else. When other people are running from danger, they run toward it. And they don’t have to.

When everyone on the team is paralyzed by the visions of their fears, the juxtaposition couldn’t have been more jarring to me. Captain America, in looking to those dreams, had to confront the truth that he fought for something he never got; the right to come home, and enjoy the peace he gave so much for and do it with that special someone. And now, he fights to give others that opportunity. And yet Hawkeye opened a home that only two others knew he had when they needed a safe place, and when the team had to leave, maybe for the last time, in order to settle accounts with Ultron, he left that oasis, a pregnant wife, and two small children, in the hope that whatever sacrifice he made, and whatever price he paid, other people would get that chance to go home, to be surrounded by their loved ones, to live.

His wife didn’t hesitate to support his decision to do so, and she clearly understood that even if he wasn’t super-human, he was still central to the team being a team, and only asked that he made sure that they were worth the sacrifices he was chancing. But the finest moment came when he put himself in harm’s way to save the Scarlet Witch, who he had been fighting only a short time earlier, and gave her the game-winning pep talk when he could no longer ignore that there was still much work to be done if they were to carry the day.

Doesn’t matter what you did, or what you were. If you go out there, you fight, and you fight to kill. Stay in here, you’re good, I’ll send your brother to come find you. But if you step out that door, you are an Avenger.

And then he pulled an arrow from his quiver, kicked open a door, and went back outside.

The men and women who run toward the danger.

They are the heroes.

The ones who will STAND when the odds are against them, because the fight matters.

They are the heroes.

And although Joss Whedon can be the world’s biggest knucklehead when he gets in front of a microphone, he understands how to tell stories that inspire. And for that, I can forgive him.

Read Full Post »

***SPOILER ALERT***

For some people, having to relive the worst day of their life, over and over and over again would seem like a private hell.  And Major Bill Cage finds out the hard way that he doesn’t much like it either.

Cage, played by Tom Cruise, is an advertising exec who finds himself in uniform after an alien invasion and a years long conflict with the invaders puts him out of business.  He’s still in sales, as the smiling face of the United States Army, selling enrollment in the United Defense Force, which is trying to reclaim continental Europe from the aliens (call “mimics”).  His job is made a little easier by the UDF’s recent victory over the mimics at Verdun, when he is seconded to the leading general at the UDF headquarters in London, who informs an incredulous Cage that the UDF was about to mount a D-Day like offensive, and that Cage would be hitting the beach with the troops to tell the story.

Cage is a coward, and is not afraid to say so, and attempts to refuse the assignment, unsubtlely implying that he would have no trouble convincing the public after the coming bloodbath that the General should be to blame.  The General, not one to be cowed by a smart-alec yank, has Cage arrested, and tased.  Cage wakes up the next day at the UDF staging area at Heathrow, stripped of rank, and in the care of a master sergeant who has been told that Cage is a deserter.

Cage is reluctantly taken in by J squad, who take an immediate dislike to Cage, and refuse to give him even the basic knowledge of how to operate the battle exo-suit that he will wear in the invasion of the mainland on the next morning.  The invasion is a disaster, and Cage is predictably killed, but in so doing, takes a larger mimic (an Alpha) with him…and he wakes up the previous morning, again in handcuffs, being yelled at by a sergeant before the master sergeant steps in and starts working on his reluctant charge all over again.

EDGE OF TOMORROW

Each time he dies, he gets a little farther, before coming face to face with the hero of the Battle of Verdun, played by Emily Blunt, who seems to understand the unique predicament that he is describing to her.  Working with her, he repeats the two days over and over, until he learns enough to actually be a stone killer, the same as her, and the two embark on a plan to bring an end to the war.

I’ll admit to not being Cruise’s biggest fan, but I enjoyed this movie.  I became completely engrossed in Cage’s predicament, and the way that Blunt’s Sergeant Vrataski brutally trains him to become the selfless (and suicidal) killing machine that they will both have to be to win the ultimate victory, and how they make the ultimate sacrifice to save all of humanity…or do they?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »