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Archive for the ‘After-Action Report’ Category

“The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy.”
-John Galsworthy

Logan the Old Man

I’m not often challenged by a superhero movie, but as the end credits started rolling up my tv screen last night, and my son started asking me “So…what did you think?”, my initial reaction was to shrug my shoulders.

But as I made my breakfast this morning, it occurred to me that once again, a screenwriter had used to the inhuman, or maybe more than human to explore the nature of humanity, and it was this undertext that made the movie more than it was on the surface.

When the movie opens, we’re confronted with a Logan who has grown old…a startling transformation for someone who is actually much, much older than many of his peers.  His short temper and quick action have been replaced with an obvious fatigue.  But when pushed, his lethal brutality manifests itself.  When the rage evaporates with the threat, his momentary surveillance of the carnage add to the weight of the tired resignation that surrounds him like a cloud.  This, and the fact that he no longer heals like he once did, give him the appearance of a sad old man.

This is a world a few decades into the future.  It is slightly recognizable, yet harder.  Logan, going by his given name of James, is a limo driver for hire, ferrying the callous and the oblivious from deal to deal, drink to drink, and door to door, and is plotting an escape from a world that seems to have passed him by.

Before long, we are shown that he is living at an abandoned smelter, along with Caliban, and Charles Xavier, who is clearly unwell.  Charles is suffering from some kind of deteriorating brain condition, and Logan’s and Caliban’s lives are centered on keeping Charles medicated enough that he doesn’t have seizures, which paralyze anyone who is too close, and cause seismic disturbances.  Charles is at times incoherent, and abusive, causing Caliban to defer to Logan, whenever he is present, in order to see to Charles, and his doses of medication.  The two mutants, who don’t really like each other very much, bicker like adult children, dealing with the stresses of an aging parent who is failing by inches every day.  But like such children, they bear the abuses and indignities of such roles with a love and determination that wouldn’t be reserved for anyone else.  This world doesn’t seem to have any other mutants in it, and we are never given an explanation, although it is strongly implied later in the film that they were all hunted down, cataloged, and exterminated.   So when Charles claims to be “in communication” with someone who needs their help, Logan is naturally skeptical.

Father and Son

Logan continues this existence of miles, driving other people through their own lives, while drinking heavily, and clearly deteriorating when he is approached at a funeral by a woman who knows his real identity, and begs him for his help.  Logan angrily refuses, fixed on the idea of making enough money to buy a boat and leave the country with Charles for a life on the sea.  He is then approached by a cocky and menacing young man with a mechanical hand who knows he has been contacted by the woman who talked to him at the funeral.  This man makes it clear that he knows who Logan is, and that he is likely harboring Charles, who has (rightly, given his condition) been identified by the government as a threat to humanity.

As the story unfolds, we learn that the woman is shepherding a girl who looks harmless, but who is, in fact, quite dangerous, and has adamantium claws of her own, including in her feet, along with a healing factor much like Logan’s when he was younger.  When circumstances bring the three of them together, running from the mysterious mechanical handed stranger, and the government operators who accompany him, Logan finds himself becoming the girl’s protector and teacher, and getting angry at Charles every time he refers to her as Logan’s daughter.  In a quiet moment, Logan reviews files that the girl has with her, and realizes that although he never met the girl’s mother, his genetic material was used by the shadowy corporation that created her “sisters and brothers”, and that for all intents and purposes, she was his daughter.

Father and Daughter

When stopping to help a family of farmers involved in a traffic altercation, Logan introduces Charles as his father, and the girl, Lora, as his daughter.  It is a deception, and at the same time, the truth, as Logan has, for years, shown the same dedication to Charles as a son would to an aging father, and for all of their conflicts, and arguments over the years, Charles has truly come to regard Logan as his son, something revealed in a deathbed confession by Charles.  Conversely, in their short time together, Logan has come to regard Lora as his daughter, even going so far as to selflessly sacrifice himself (repeatedly) to protect her from a younger clone of himself, also created by the same corporation which made her.

As the movie came to the obvious and predictable climax, in which Lora reveals herself to be Logan’s daughter in spirit as much as in body, the real “hand off”  from one generation to the next didn’t come in Logan’s sacrifice and death to give Lora and her sisters and brothers the chance to escape.  It came in a conversation started when Lora watched Logan sleeping, tormented by a nightmare. When the juxtaposition of their nightmare experiences was discussed (she having nightmares about people hurting her, him about hurting other people), she remarked on him having killed people, and acknowledged that she too had killed people.  He replied that she would have to find her own way of dealing with that, and she made a very simple response that they were bad people.  This caused Logan to simply stare and nod.

When the final confrontation came, and with it, Logan’s death, Lora is consumed with grief as she calls him “Daddy.”  She lingers over his grave, after her brothers and sisters have continued walking toward sanctuary in Canada, and pulls the cross out from the head of it, turning it onto its side, making an “X”.  Then turns and follows the other, leaving the audience to wonder if she will be better for remembering this experience, and the loss, or if she would be better living with no memory, as Logan had for so many years of his own life.

In the end, I enjoyed the film, but I found that I didn’t mourn Logan’s passing.  Instead, I was encouraged, even uplifted by the thought that he would be reunited with so many people he loved who had died long before him, and as I write this, I realize that this is only possible because unlike family and friends, he was someone I knew of, but didn’t have as a fixture in my life.  And maybe that’s for the best, because I can only see the good, and not the sorrow in the ending.

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Sequels are a tricky thing.  Generally, if a movie is a sequel, but still ends up with its own name, then I expect that sequel or not, I’m going to see a film that is a story in its own right, and not merely a half-hearted attempt to capture whatever made the first movie a success. (The various Disney sequels of the 90’s come to mind.)  So with this in mind, you might understand my hesitation in watching this movie, given the typical dreck that usually is put out with a “2” in its name.  As it turns out, I think I liked this installment of John’s story more than the first one.

The movie business has known for some time that gratuitous violence puts people in seats, but there is a subgenre that can only be categorized as “ode to violence”.  Sometimes, it takes the form of a stylized, almost cartoonish violence, such as Quentin Tarantino employs, and sometimes it is just raw, and brutal, like in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” and “Straw Dogs”, or the original version of “Get Carter”.  John Wick, Chapter 2 seamlessly melds the stylized with the brutal by hitting the trifecta of film making.  It has a good story, good dialogue, and each and every frame is beautifully composed. I mean truly beautifully and heartbreakingly composed.

The movie opens with Wick continuing to pick off outlying members of the Tarasov family, largely because the remaining Tarasov was stupid enough to steal Wick’s car.  When Wick comes to get it, and the predictable body count ensues, the gangster has time to dread the knock on his door which he knew was going to come.  A conversation Tarasov has with his lieutenant about Wick’s lethality harkens back to the first film, and what Wick can accomplish with just a pencil…a moment of foreshadowing made bloodily manifest later in the movie.  While the encounter, when it came, did not end as we have come to expect, it still felt right.

We are then given the impression that he will now get to live the rest of his life in peace, while knowing that John will never ever get that peace, and so when the knock on his door finally comes, it is odd that John himself is almost more annoyed than afraid.  We learn that John’s famous “impossible task” came at a price.  John had to give a marker to a soft-spoken Italian gangster who is a scion of crime royalty.  This man, Sabatino, wants John to kill his sister, who inherited their father’s “seat at the high table”, a governing body of crime.  John, begged him not to ask for the favor, and Sabatino accepted, regretfully, before leaving, and like others before him, he chose to take something from John that was dear to him.

There was so much more to this movie than the first installment.  We learn more about the world that John blazes a bloody trail through, including the fact that it has rules, which are enforced by people even more brutal than he.  But we also learn the scope and reach of Wick’s own reputation in this world, and the calm acceptance with which so many of its characters acquiesce to the choices they have made in life.  When one of his intended targets reacts not with fear, but calm when he comes for her, the exchange is intriguing.  In perhaps one of the most honest moments in either of the films, she refers to him as “Death’s own emissary.”

The truth is that even without the good story and dialogue, this film is still a feast for the eyes, as the composition and lighting create a treat, including a sequence in a hall of mirrors that is reminiscent of the climax in “The Man With the Golden Gun”, but much, much more thoughtfully filmed.

In the end, when John breaks one of the cardinal rules of the world he lives in, he is confronted one last time by Winston, the shadowy owner of the New York Continental.  Winston informs him that his life is forfeit, and after a demonstration that starkly shows that there will be no safe place for him anywhere, Winston gives him an hour.  Wick, true to form, tells Winston to tell whoever choses to come after him that he will kill them.  All of them.  Winston smiles, and says with conviction, “Of course you will.”

I was left with the belief that Winston actually believes it, and although he could never be obvious about it, that is rooting for John.

The film’s deleted scenes also lead me to this conclusion, as in two of them, Sabatino acts in ways that clearly break with the traditions and norms of this violent world, and in an exchange between Winston and Sabatino about the latter’s excesses and naked ambition, Sabatino reveals his contempt for these rules and norms, because they “stand in the way of progress”, while Winston calmly retorts that he believes just the opposite.  It is a theme repeated throughout the movie, once when Sabatino angrily makes a demand of Winston, who calmly reminded the upstart prince that he was in Winston’s house, and according to the rules of their society, he, and he alone was master there, and again when it was stated that “without rules, we run with the animals”.

The story is a tragic tale.  Wick is feared by his peers, beloved by the servant class, and the leaders of this world alike.  As the truth is revealed, we learn that the boogeyman (Wick) made a deal with the Devil (Sabatino) to leave the life.  When the Devil came to collect, he asked the unthinkable in order to satisfy the debt…putting the boogeyman in an untenable position.  When Wick came for payback, as a marked man, his only leverage with people in a position to help is that in killing the Devil, he will stop his unquenchable desire for power, and in so doing, stop an all-out war in the underworld.  When he actually kills the Devil, he breaks an unbreakable rule, causing the only people he could call friends to turn on him in order to maintain the order of their society.   In one fell swoop, Wick made himself both the savior and pariah of his world, and when the severity of the consequences become real to him, he appears to resign himself to face it the way he always has…with a murderous resolve.

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I knew when I read the synopsis of this film that it would be an emotional experience for me. What I did not anticipate was enjoying it as much as I did.

As the film played out, I could see Afleck’s character, Christian Wolff, exhibit some of the same characteristics I would expect of an individual who is on the Autism Spectrum, but I was encouraged by the fact that he seemed to be outwardly successful and independent, even as the unfolding story shows a man kept in check by unusual rituals that go back to childhood, and a father whose training compelled him to acclimate his son to the world, rather than insisting that the world create a bubble around his son.

The flashbacks are not evenly paced, and the shifts back to the present are sometimes jarring, but the picture that forms is that of a person who is instantly capable of grasping complicated information and using it to his advantage.  His condition allows him a great deal of focus on the tasks at hand which make him invaluable to his clients and deadly to those who violate his moral code.

Against this backdrop, we are introduced to a high-ranking bureaucrat at the Department of the Treasury who ruthlessly recruits a smart and talented analyst to figure out who this mysterious accountant who has been tied to some of the most evil people on the planet actually is, with the idea that he could be an informational gold mine.

The flashbacks reveal how Wolff cultivated his effortless brutality, but they also reveal that the bureaucrat, played by JK Simmons, owes his career and station to Wolff, and that their history is an odd symbiotic relationship, in which Simmons’ character had to decide what he was willing to compromise with in order to bring down infamous criminals. When this is revealed to his reluctant protegé, she has to face the expectation that she will replace him when he retires.

Meanwhile, Wolff has taken what he and his “agent” believed to be an “honest” job, only to find calculation and intrigue of a degree that only someone with his skill set could have uncovered, and in a manner that is contrary to his normal instincts, he feels a duty to protect the innocent who inadvertently discovered the financial chicanery at a robotics company. This puts him on a collision course with a mysterious enforcer, hired by the owner of the company to clean up the loose ends, including the lowly account clerk who discovered the missing money in the first place.

As the flashbacks progress, you see how Wolff changed from a boy who was very obviously autistic into a man who is very controlled, very precise, and very deadly. We see the conflict between his parents, a mother who is out of her depth and at her wit’s end…at one point making a very revealing remark that made me deeply, deeply dislike her, and a father who is an Army officer working in psy ops. The mother is eager to leave her oldest son with strangers, and let them raise him and teach him how to live in a controlled environment. The father refuses, because of a love for both of his sons that his career and training can never allow him to express in a “normal” way, but exists just the same, and because he wants his oldest son to be able to meet and interact in the world the way that it is, and not in a bubble created for him. These conflicts eventually take their toll, and the mother leaves, causing the oldest son to slip into an epic meltdown, and the younger son to express his resentment of his mother and her inability or unwillingness to give both boys what they need in a simple expression when she departs. As the father continues to travel the world, he takes the boys with him and subjects them to brutal training, while eventually revealing to them at a crucial moment that his purpose is to keep them from ever becoming victims.  He also instilled in the boys the same sense of loyalty, borne in love, that has caused him to soldier on as a solo parent. One of the final flashbacks completes the transition from past to present, while revealing to the audience just how much the father loved his oldest son.

This is a movie about decisions.  Decisions always matter, but I don’t think movies always focus on just how much decisions are fulcrums in people’s lives.  And while decisions drive every story, my biggest surprise in this one was the decision made by the Treasury Agent’s reluctant protegé, who made a decision about compromise, and whether or not the calculus she had to use had expanded beyond just herself.

Conversely, the final showdown between Wolff and the mysterious enforcer lead to a decision that couldn’t really be considered a difficult choice at all.  It was violent, bloody, loud, and shocking to the man who hired the enforcer, but ultimately, I found it to be one of the film’s most rewarding moments.

Ultimately, I can see why this movie is controversial for people. To some, it appears to paint a portrait of a high-functioning autistic as a soulless monster, but this is really far too facile a conclusion. Wolff doesn’t consider the right or wrong of what many of his clients do to make their money. For him, the payoff is the challenge of diving into their books and finding the cause of the issue that brought him there. His apparent lack of emotion puts the monsters he works for at ease…sometimes fatally, when they underestimate his ability to take care of himself.  It would be easy to believe that he doesn’t have emotions, but the reality is that he just cannot comprehend what to do with them, and he himself is quite surprised when he makes a decision based on emotion, against his training and instinct, for reasons he himself does not fully understand.

I can see where people would feel justified in condemning the father, and his very hard way of raising his sons, but that would ignore the fact that he wasn’t the one who left them, despite a demanding career that required travel all over the world. Like his oldest son, he saw the world in a way very different from most, based on a reality that many are never exposed to, and because of that, he knew the best way to protect both of his sons was to teach them how to never be hurt by the world or caught flat-footed by it. I expect that I will catch heat for saying so, but I think the biggest villain in the film is the mother, and it wasn’t lost on me just how much pain she caused for her sons, even in death.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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