Posted: July 23, 2014 in Current Events

Let’s create a hypothetical situation.

I live in a community of homes where many of the people around me hate me and want me to move away. I’m not going anywhere. I was born in this house and I’m not allowing anyone to force me to leave my home. Many of my friends outside of the community understand this and support me.

I have a particular problem with one neighbor who lives in the cottage on the edge of my property. It’s actually kind of my property, but there’s some dispute about that, so things are a little awkward. Like the others in the neighborhood, this guy hates and resents me. He’s got a 22 rifle and likes to take pot shots at my home. (I’ve got an assault rifle and a shotgun.) Most of the time he doesn’t do any real damage, but only because I’ve installed special security. He is a real threat though, destroying property, causing considerable anxiety and he even killed my dog and wounded one of my children. I worry about my own kids and pets when they are outside. If he starts shooting, I have to call them inside right away. It is actually quite harrowing and threatening.

Calling the police doesn’t help as they say they can’t do anything about it other than talk to him. I’m told I should make peace with him, but that doesn’t seem to get me anywhere. His hatred is pretty deeply rooted and is encouraged by the other neighbors, -who otherwise won’t have much to do with him. They also have cottages on their land, and could let this guy move into one to get away from me, but they don’t.

So once in a while it is necessary for me to defend myself by forcing my way onto his property and taking his ammunition. He gets new ammunition from his friends in the neighborhood, but I get ammunition from my friends outside of the neighborhood.   My friends understand my need to protect myself, and are even willing to help me do it.

When I invade his property to destroy or capture his ammunition, he does something very distasteful and evil. He protects it by shielding it with his children. He obviously does not value the lives of his children by putting them in harm’s way like that. But I have to defend myself, so I shoot the children anyway in order to capture his ammunition. I have no choice. And even though he knows I’m going to shoot them, he continues to use his children as a shield each time I come to get his ammunition. So I continue to shoot them. What else can I do? I care about my children. It is his fault for using his children that way, and it proves that he does not care about them.

But for some reason, a number of my friends outside of the neighborhood are telling me that it is wrong to shoot kids. I don’t understand. What’s the alternative? He’s the monster, not me. If he cared about his children I wouldn’t have to shoot them.

And it is unfair for those other people to single me out like that! They make a big deal about me shooting this guy’s children, but they don’t talk about all the other crime and child abuse in my neighborhood! They just criticize me!

So I get angry at the people outside of the neighborhood who are criticizing me. And for some reason, now I have fewer friends. It’s not fair.

It’s an amazing idea, so I expected amazing things.

Boyhood took 12 years to film so that they could use the same actors playing the roles in a family, with the focus being on Mason, the son, who begins as a six year old and ends as an 18 year old high school graduate. It is an incredibly ambitious idea that has all kinds of potential, but falls a bit short of expectation. The novelty and the character development are both there, and all the actors are in good form, but the plot is a little flat. In fairness, I’ve never been a fan of Richard Linklater, finding many of his movies to be masterfully mundane. I know that many would not agree with me.

And yet there was enough there to keep me interested for the full length of the film, at just under 3 hours. And that’s quite a feat in itself. The family issues and the adolescent milestones are reasonably well portrayed, and the viewer is more invested in them because we’ve seen the boy grow up right in front of our eyes. But there’s nothing terribly notable in the whole thing. I kept thinking to myself that they could have done more with it. It doesn’t help that the character of the boy is relatively introverted and quiet. This gives rise to some interesting introspection and philosophy of life, especially with the somber, straight laced, psychologist mother on one side and the fly by night, wild father on the other. Watching these characters develop over the 12 years is a sidebar in itself.  Also interesting is to see the technology and music imbedded in the film evolve over that period.

I was definitely of two minds about the film. On one hand I really enjoyed it, to the point that I might even watch it a second time. On the other hand it has Linklater’s brand of trying to glorify the ordinary, albeit this time with a unique twist.

I would give the move a B+ (with the plus stemming from the novety)

CHEF : Movie Review

Posted: July 21, 2014 in Entertainment, Movies, Reviews

I’m not terribly fond of comedies, either on TV or on the big screen. But every once in a while an intelligent one slips through the cracks of mindlessness and really entertains me.

“Chef” was such a film. It oddly stars and is directed/written by Jon Favreau who directed all of the Iron Man movies. It’s refreshing, original and clever, with the plot centering around a famous chef who makes a move to a food truck. Actually it is more about him discovering a relationship with his son and also a relationship with himself and what he really is passionate about. It is a film that should engage everyone, young and old, male or female. It also taps into Twitter and the whole idea of how it can make or break businesses. The generational difference in the approach to social media is fun to watch.

If it has any flaw it is that it takes a little while to get revved up. It could lose about 15 minutes, but mainly in the first third of the movie. I wouldn’t touch the last two thirds and, frankly, I had no real problem with the first part.

I would give this film an A-.

Chef has been playing in limited engagement for a while now, so I don’t think it is going to make it to wider distribution, even though it has such actors as Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downy Jr., Scarlet Johannson and Sofia Vergara. Catch it while you can.


Posted: July 20, 2014 in Current Events

The most damning evidence against Russia in the recent attack on the Malaysian airliner is not all of the factual reports of missiles and telephone conversations. It is their response. Even if all of the other evidence was in question, even if there was some question of the Ukrainian government itself being responsible, the way that Russia has responded to this tragedy speaks volumes.

Russia was in a position to act in a humanitarian manner in response to this crash. It could have called for a cease fire and could have facilitated access to the site in many other ways. It could even have provided resources and transportation. (Whether the Ukrainian government and the western powers would have accepted it is another matter.)

Russia is the only authority which could have reigned in the pro-Russian Rebels and facilitated access to the site by proper authorities and investigators. Putin and the Russian handlers connected with the rebels have influence if not control over these rebels and could have paved the way to access for relief and investigation personnel.

Russia has significant forces close to the Ukraine / Russia border and would have been able to mobilize assistance quickly.

They did neither of these things. They sat back and did nothing while pro-Russian rebels impeded access to the site and the actions of the investigators. Agents that needed to get to the site were unable to because of fear of planes or helicopters being shot out of the sky by rebel forces. This is the principal reason for the slow pace of reaction in this case.

Reports of heavy weaponry being withdrawn to Russian soil suggest that Russia is much more concerned with spinning the information about this incident than they are with assisting in any way. Now there are even reports that the airliner’s black box, found not by legitimate investigators, but by rebels, may be on its way to Moscow rather than to the airline or the international investigators. If this is true, then it is nothing short of theft.

You don’t need a smoking gun to point a finger of blame in this case (although that smoking gun will almost certainly be found). The way in which Russia has responded to this crisis, and the way in which Ukrainian pro-Russian have impeded and obscured the evidence, are damning all by itself. It is almost more of an offense than the original act. It is quite feasible that the airliner was shot down by mistake, rebels thinking it was a cargo plane. I don’t think that anyone would bring that kind of grief to the world and eventually to themselves, intentionally. That Russia provided such a powerful weapon to such a group of immature and incompetent rebels is reprehensible, but I’m sure they never intended for this kind of outcome. However, the reaction and response is not an accident; it is quite deliberate, and demonstrates the true stripes of the people involved.

In the meantime, the fact that a bunch of probably half drunken, incompetent rebels can operate a sophisticated weapon and shoot down an airliner flying at over 30 000 feet, is just a touch disturbing.

Response to the movie Maleficent has been strikingly mixed. I’ve seen top reviews for it and ones that pan it. Even on Rotten Tomatoes, the Tomatometer rating is 49% and the Audience rating is 75%. Quite the variance.

Maleficent, if you don’t know already, is a very wide interpretation of the Sleeping Beauty story, -and I do mean very wide. The character, Maleficent, played brilliantly by Angelina Jolie, starts off as a very positive, good character. After experiencing a cruel betrayal, she casts a spell on the newborn daughter of the king, condemning her to eternal sleep on her 16th birthday. (I don’t think I’m writing any spoilers here, as the basic plot outline for Sleeping Beauty is common knowledge.) But at this point the plot diverges sharply. Suffice it to say that the rest of the movie has Maleficent regretting her curse.

At face value, the plot seems to be a simple fairy tale. The movie, acting and special effects are well done, with a good dose of surrealism to perpetuate the fairy tale atmosphere. But if you take a moment to reflect on the story, it takes on a depth which goes far beyond a simple fairy tale.

I was encouraged to see the movie after listening to a podcast by Jeff Salzman (Daily Evolver #93) where he talks about the post-modern and integral slant of the movie. Generally he says that, unlike classic fairy tales, there is no absolute good and evil in this story. There’s a transcendent quality in the reworking of this story that shows deeper perspectives behind good and evil, and how they need to be resolved in order to have a positive outcome. That’s a post-modern view of things.

He also briefly mentions Shadow Work, which is the interpretation that I found most striking in this film. If anything, this is a classic tale of Shadow Work in both the Jungian and Integral sense. It can be traced almost plot point by point, through the happiness at the beginning, the betrayal and the separation that occurs, even to the point of the building of a wall, to the acts of pure love and acceptance that diffuse the Shadow and lead to the ultimate outcome of resolution and happiness. I’ve simplified it here so as not to ruin the discovery process for someone watching the film, but even the final kiss to waken the sleeping beauty was delivered by the only person who could do so to fulfill the analogy of Shadow Work. I was so overjoyed that the writers got it right.

This may be why the film has such mixed reviews. If you are unaware of the deeper elements, or are just not really concerned with them, the story is your standard, run of the mill, fairy tale, -perhaps even a little cliché. However, if you are sensitive to the deeper currents in the film, whether you fully understand them or not, I think the film becomes a truly mythic tale with a deep moral. The fact that it can be interpreted on multiple levels makes it a successful Integral level film.

I would give this film an A-.

Courtroom dramas aren’t as popular as they used to be, but from Boston Legal to Law and Order to Alli McBeal, they still seem to get respectable ratings, and they always make a comeback.  Also, the broadcasting of real trials always seems to draw an audience, the most notable being the O.J. Simpson trial, but there being several others just in the past year.  Even Judge Judy has a core of devoted watchers.  If done right, people like to watch trials.  That’s because it can be very good drama, with suspense and emerging characters, all done with continuous explanation.  The narrative is clearly presented.  The audience is encouraged to make judgements themselves, and I think that a majority of people would secretly love to be part of a jury.

So why hasn’t there been a courtroom based reality TV show?  One where politicians and corporations are put on mock trial.  For example, you could put Brandon Smith on trial for fraud or conflict of interest.  It would be wishful thinking, but you could put Monsanto on trial for … whatever.  I’m not idealistic enough to think that that might every happen as I’m sure they would squash it somehow.  But you get the idea.

The trials could be real, even if not legal.  You could use a real retired judge, and I’m certain that real lawyers would love to take part as it could offer them some great exposure.  You could even use a real jury.  Mock trials, but of course with no commitment to consequences.  If somebody or some corporation doesn’t want to participate, the court appoints a credible lawyer to represent them and they are tried in absentia.  This would provide a stage for the dissemination and argument of important facts and issues in our society.  Information, on both sides, could be dealt out in an entertaining way.  It could be similar to a debate, but presented in an entertaining, dramatic manner.  Some effort could be made to keep it entertaining, but it would still require a serious approach.  Rather than just one trial droning on, it could incorporate two or three, just to be sure that the subject matter was appealing to a variety of people.

The idea is pretty rough around the edges, but I really think that it would not only be successful, but would be potentially informative and socially positive.

Is it possible to have a film with just too many explosions?  Transformers 4 answers that question with a resounding “YES!”.  Usually these kinds of films can make up for weak scripting and acting with some decent special effects, making them just fun, even if they are fluff.  However, after almost two and a half hours of non stop explosions, it just became tedious.  Towards the end I was actually looking at my watch and wishing it would just be over.  And I like these kinds of films.

No depth (which is no surprise).  Lots of credibility gaps.  The morphing scenes are neat, but fade in novelty quite quickly, as we’ve seen most of it before.  Cliche lines that made me cringe.

I would give this film a D.  It might have gotten a C if it had been half an hour shorter.