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Saturday, January 30, 2016

“Legend”

  I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.


The Cast

   Tom Hardy is an excellent actor that has done a lot of films I really like….and always delivers a great performance regardless of the film. In this film, he has the unique opportunity to portray the notorious Kray twins in their rise and fall as one of London’s prominent organized crime presence in the 1950’s and 60’s.

   Hardy’s performance clearly conveyed the personality differences between the twins and contrasted himself with ease as there was never any doubt which person he was playing…many times without even having to utter a word.


The Plot: 
   This is a biopic film about Reginald and Ronald Kray as told from the point of view of Reggie’s wife, Frances Shea. It doesn’t start with their childhood (which was a good call) and instead picks  up where Frances is introduced into Reggie’s life.

   At this point the criminal endeavors of the Krays are well underway while we get to sample the personality of Reggie before being treated to the insanity of his brother Ronnie.

   The London crime scene has many players on the field and the Krays navigate the terrain, dealing with rival gangs until their main competitors are taken off the board by London’s finest.

   With their main competition mostly muted, the door swings wide open for them to increase their influence both as local celebrities and politically as they dig their tendrils into several business through a combination of offers and intimidation.

   What follows is a telling of their story as only Tom Hardy can deliver, peppered with drama, comedy….and a bit of blood.


The Verdict: 

   I watch a lot of BBC television and even I had to really concentrate at times to understand the nuance of the dialog, which is a big part of the film.


   Hardy is great and I very much enjoyed his roles, although he may have played Ronnie a bit over-the-top, it was still a very entertaining performance.


   If I had to judge the accuracy of the film, I’d say it fell short in several places, especially if the Wiki accounting of the Krays life is to be believed. Other than that, I found the pace and tone of the film to be somewhat inconsistent at times and was totally taken back by the decision of Jack "the Hat" McVitie (Sam Spruell) at the end….given what had been going on all movie long between him and Reggie Kray…just made no sense to me.

   Overall it was a fun film to watch, mainly due to the delivery of Hardy, but could have been better leaving out some of the musical scores and deciding on a specific tone.




Rating 3.5/5

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Blowing The Whistle Shouldn’t Be Foul

  I was recently talking to a friend (that I will not name) who told me a story of his experience working for a fast food chain (that I will not disclose) and what happened to him when he tried to do the right thing. He became a whistleblower and as I began to think about his circumstances, I began to broaden my thoughts about the subject in general.

   Perhaps I should start by explaining exactly what a whistleblower is, then get into why situations surrounding them are so unbelievably tragic to me.

   It’s not often that I quote Wikipedia…but they summed it up so well:

“A whistleblower (whistle-blower or whistle blower) is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public.” 

   That definition is pretty simple to understand. What I don’t get is what soon follows:

“Whistleblowers face legal action, criminal charges, social stigma, and termination from any position, office, or job….However, whistleblowing in the public sector organization is more likely to result in federal felony charges and jail-time. A whistleblower who chooses to accuse a private sector organization or agency is more likely to face termination and legal and civil charges.”

   So wait…exposing wrongdoing is a good thing…but you can be punished for it? Yup. My friend lost his job and narrowly avoided being arrested. His story began when he was told to lay out rotten onions for consumption by the public. He told his boss the onions were rotten, but like a good boss (sarcasm), they didn’t care. He refused to do it and was threatened with termination if he didn’t comply. Instead of complying though, he took the onions and put them in the trunk of his car and drove to the police station…boss in hot pursuit. At the police station his boss informed the cops that he had stolen from the restaurant and tried to have him arrested. 

   Now…kudos have to given to the cop in this case as he actually took the time to listen to my friend’s side of the issue. My friend informed the cop that the restaurant was trying to serve clearly rotten food and that his moral code and religious beliefs prevented him from allowing that. When the cop asked for proof…a quick trip to the trunk erased all doubt. The police refused to press charges against him, and called the Health Department on the spot.

   Now…of course he got fired, and his boss got promoted, but what gets me is why on Earth, as the person in charge of the company, would you fire a guy that is looking out for quality assurance, and promote a person that clearly doesn’t care about your customer base?

   It gets worse though. 

   In looking into whistleblowing in general, it seems to be the norm to lambaste the person doing the right thing, and protect the person or organization doing the wrong thing. I know we live in a topsy-turvy world, but this is ridiculous.

   There was even a film made called “Whistleblower” based on the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac. Her story is incredible, but like most other stories, ends with her being cast into the light of a social pariah and those she brought to light virtually unpunishable.

   Of course no post about whistleblowing can ever be complete without the mention of Edward Snowden. Regardless of what is thought about him, his actions have affected us all. I don’t want to make a habit of quoting Wiki, but once again they have summed it all up very nicely:

“A subject of controversy, Snowden has been variously called a hero, a whistleblower, a dissident, a patriot, and a traitor. His disclosures have fueled debates over mass surveillance, government secrecy, and the balance between national security and information privacy.”

   The real question for me though is where do we want to stand? Do we want to stand with people that expose wrongdoing or do we want to stand in opposition to those doing the exposing? There is an old saying that “snitches get stitches” but is that really the position of those that benefit from the snitching, or those being snitched on?

   I guess the reason all this is unbelievably tragic to me is that I would not want my children eating rotten onions and getting sick. I would not want my children lured into a human trafficking ring. I would not want my children deprived of their privacy…and yet there are people out there that willingly stand on the other side of all this, effectively saying they would want all that for my children…and yours.


   If ever you want an accurate gauge of the moral consciousness of a society, look at how they treat those trying to do the right thing, and the legacy they leave for their children by such treatment.







Wednesday, December 30, 2015

“Pixels”

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Even though this film falls within the sci-fi genre (even though it’s heavy on comedy), please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.

The Cast: 

   Adam Sandler is struggling for relevance. In this film plays Brenner, a man who apexed in his teen years on video games, but now is nothing but mundane. Sandler is good at mundane, as his career has certainly prepared him for the role.

   Kevin James is Cooper, a childhood friend of Brenner that has now become the President of the United States. As cool as that is, he still has close ties to is buddy which conveniently plays into the plot.

   Peter Dinklage is Eddie, another former gamer from the 80’s who encapsulates the “bad boy” role in the film. His life has taken him on a path to prison , and it’s no surprise we learn later he was a cheater back in the day.

   Josh Gad is Ludlow, another friend of Brenner and Cooper and former gamer. Of all the characters, I think the film was most kind to him. None of these roles goes any deeper than what I have just described so there really isn’t much to say about the “acting” in this film and the direction and script aren’t much better.


The Plot: 
   Back in the eighties, Brenner, Cooper, Ludlow, and Eddie were all video game gurus. The teenage years were the best and life couldn’t get any better. At the same time, video feeds being sent into space of these game is interpreted by an alien race as a declaration of war….which they respond to in the modern era with renditions of the game characters that spread chaos, turmoil and death.

   Of course the logical response to this is to assemble all the former video game greats and outfit them with super military tech so they can save the planet by fighting the alien’s game armada on the designated terms (ala classic video game rules).

   What happens next is a jumble of silliness wrapped up in special effects and sprinkled with one-liners.

The Verdict: 

   It’s easy to pinpoint what has made this film suck…a bad script, and Adam Sandler. I don’t know if sander can do better, all I know is that he didn’t. I found it pathetic that he would have to chase past glory by using the same voice from “Happy Gilmore “ to say "Somebody's more important" in the tone of "Somebody's closer”. Perhaps Sandler should abandon comedy films altogether and try his hand at some serious roles. It worked for Vince Vaughn.

   Kevin James and Peter Dinklage can do better…much better. Dinklage is a bonafide star and I can’t even begin to fathom why he would appear in this film. James has had recent “success” with the “Paul Blart” films, so again, he really didn’t need the low point this film created for him.

   The idea of aliens using video game pixels to destroy Earth is already borderline dumb, but when the film can’t figure out if it wants to be a comedy or a science-fiction film, the only people that lose is the audience. If it had been genuinely funny (which it wasn’t) instead of just dumb, it might have been worth the time spent watching it.

   The only redeeming quality of this film is the special effects…and they really aren’t that special. Perhaps if they took a more serious tone with them, they might have elevated the film more. Instead I had to settle for a few good lines from Josh Gad…a few choice peeks at Ashley Benson. Unfortunately, those high points were not enough to blast more than one and a half cinnamon sticks, in my cup of tea.


Rating 1.5 / 5

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Conditioning of Mr. Know-It-All

   So…there I was wondering about what I would talk about this month. I was scouring my brain for recent experiences and lessons learned for discussing, when life simply presented me with the content I was looking for. It’s wonderful how things fall into place and all you have to do is be open and aware to capture the opportunity.

   Let me start off by saying that there is a good chance we all know someone that thinks they have all the answers, or knows everything there is to know (no matter how illogical such a fallacy is presented). We also probably know someone, or are ourselves, so conditioned in a certain circumstance as to be unwavering in our routine, even when it’s completely appropriate to do so. All that said, I’m not really writing this to tear anyone down, but if a careful observation of this experience can help us to look at ourselves in hopes of preventing similar acts, then I think it’s worth discussing.

   Yesterday I was at work talking with a co-worker when they mentioned that their dog had been skunked while taking his 5 am walk. I remarked how it must have been a process cleaning his four legged companion before coming to work (work does not start until 8 am….but the culture of the job sees a majority of the members arrive no later than 7:30 am). He replied that he had not yet cleaned his dog and that he had left the dog outside until his return home the next day.

Umm…what?

   I mentioned an option of cleaning his dog and arriving at work by 7:30 am, a two and a half hour window to deal with the issue. He wasn’t hearing it…since he was in the habit of arriving at work at 6 and viewed arriving at 7:30 am as being “late.” But…what about the dog?

   See…he explained to me his history on the job and how he felt he had to present himself, and so ingrained was this passive indoctrination that he could not fathom any deviation from this routine, even for the most unique and extenuating circumstances. But…what about the dog?

   I thought maybe it was me. Perhaps I was not getting the wisdom of his decision, so I asked other co-workers, both dog owners and non-dog owners and all of them said they would have cleaned the dog prior to coming to work. Needless to say, this conversation expanded as word spread and the number of people inquiring with concern and disdain increased. I don’t know if any  impact was made on the conditioning of a man that thinks it reasonable to leave a dog skunked for twenty-four hours just to arrive at work two hours early…and drink coffee.

   As if that wasn’t bad enough, this same co-worker decided my assertion that my genetic makeup did not include Chinese was actually a debatable subject. Logically, I expected him to ask me how I knew such things, but instead he just kept asserting that I did not know…until I told him I’ve had DNA testing. You’d expect such a revelation to end the debate, but when you know it all, the only real end can be that you are right…even when you are wrong.

   Of course…such a humbling did not stop him from making another assertion later on at dinner that I had Italian sausage on my plate, even though I assured him it wasn’t and it’s a well know fact throughout my job that I don’t eat meat. 

“I know Italian sausage when I see it”

   Apparently not…as it is Lightlife Gimme Lean meatless veggie sausage (and tastes oh so good). Seriously though, you can’t make this stuff up and the twist is that he is an older man you would think is given to careful contemplation through wisdom…but age does to equal wisdom, and thinking you have the answers does not equal contemplation.


   Learning is a life-long process…and ignorance is ultimately willful.

Monday, November 30, 2015

"Creed"

   I am an ardent fan of the cinematic arts. Although I have certain genre preferences, I don’t let that stifle my curiosity and close myself to different flavors of entertainment. That said...I am a huge fan of science fiction, super hero and action movies! Please visit my other blog The Boxed Office for reviews, exclusively, on these types of movies.


The Cast: 

   
   Michael B. Jordan is making his way in Hollywood and not letting the “downs” in his career (Fantastic Four) define him. I was amazed at the dedication he showed to the role just by observing the phenomenal shape he was in, and his performance complimented the legacy of the “Rocky” films that have come before.
   
   There is not much I can say about Sly Stallone that has not already been said. Back again as Rocky Balboa, the role has become a part of him and it’s just wonderful to have grown up with all the films and witnessed the progression of the character.

The Plot: 

   Adonis Johnson is a fighter. Since he was a child he has been unable to alter the call of his genetics. Taken in by the wife of Apollo Creed, she raises him as if he were her own, fully knowing what his true origin is.
   
   Raised in affluence and looking at a big promotion at a great job, Adonis fights in secret in Mexico…making short work of everyone he faces. Deciding he has to answer the call of the urge that has been driving him all his life, he quits his job and decides to fight full time.
   
   With nobody willing to officially train him in Los Angeles, he moves to Philadelphia with a plan to be trained by one of the greatest fighters of all time, and one of his father’s closest friends, Rocky Balboa.
   
   Rocky runs a restaurant named after his deceased wife called “Adrian’s” and has absolutely no interest in training anyone, even the son of Apollo Creed…but Adonis is a fighter that doesn’t know the meaning of giving up and eventually he and Rocky decide to see what will happen when they both commit to each other.
   
   What follows is a story that is the perfect complement to the Rocky franchise that travels in the only reasonable direction left…and having learned all the lessons from the previous films, is an instant classic.


The Verdict:
  
   It’s easy to pinpoint what has made the Rocky franchise so great. When you have a great story and you tell it with passion and sprinkle it with hard-hitting action and comedy…greatness is just inevitable.
   
   Michael B. Jordan did a lot of research and invested a lot of time and effort into this role and it’s evident when you see the detail and passion he delivers in his performance. By the end of the film I was left with little doubt that he is Adonis CREED…a person with not just the desire and passion for fighting, but the heart of a warrior that refuses to be denied the war.
   

   I was always touched by a particular scene in "Rocky Balboa" wherein Rocky goes to the cemetery and sits in front of his wife’s headstone. The tug on the heart is real…and that magic continues in this film for both he and Adonis which is, for me, one of the knock-out qualities of this film as such moments drive home the realism of the content. This wasn't just a film about fighters fighting, but a film about people living.


  If you are a fan of great films…and always wanted to know who won the third fight between Rocky and Apollo, go see this film. I’m certain we will see Jordan (and Stallone) again (trilogy?) and I encourage everyone to treat themselves to a film that easily punched four, out of five, cinnamon sticks in my cup of tea




Rating 4 / 5

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Strong Woman...?

   I can tell you now that this post is going to raise a lot of eyebrows and stimulate a lot of conversation. It may even garner outrage with some, but regular readers here know that provoking discussion is what this blog is all about, so prepare to be provoked.

   I was recently in a conversation with a friend when he mentioned that he was thinking about going back to giving women he was considering as potential partners, a test. Now…not one to leave opened doors open without at least peeking inside, I inquired about this test, and what followed was a profound exploration into what is, what makes, and what is being presented as a strong woman.
   
   First, let me clarify exactly what the test is (as some of you might want to take it…just because). The test is a simple question about a film. Who was at fault for the breakdown of the relationship in the movie “Love Jones?” We’ll get back to the test later (or not), for now…let’s take a trip down the rabbit hole this conversation created.
   
   The expressed opinion was that a strong woman in today’s society is viewed as one that is independent and self-sufficient and is in no way in “need” of a man. Further, that woman shares equality with men as reflected in equal treatment in all aspects of life. Many have just fully agreed with the previous statement, but probably have not given any thought to the plethora of such women that while, have no need of a man, also have no man. I’m sure there are some women reading this with the position that they don’t want a man, but has the strong woman philosophy contributed in creating this position? Is it really all the fault of men (keep this question in the back of your mind for further reference)?
   
   Let’s clear the air quickly about the fact that maintaining a household and raising children is one of the hardest jobs on the planet and this traditional role of women, even being done today by women under none-traditional circumstances, has proven they have a strength and resiliency that is truly divine. Anyone observing a woman doing this as a wife or single mother and not understanding they are observing a strong woman doesn’t understand the struggle. That said is there really a difference of applied strength between a single mother and a wife? One might say so considering that while a single mother has to provide as if there were a husband already doing so, a wife…a good wife, has to submit to her husband (uh-oh…here we go). While neither position is easy, if the husband is not doing right by his wife, submitting to him might be a lot harder than not having him around to deal with.
   
   Let’s talk about “submitting” though, cause I know there was a reaction when that word popped up. Here is what is does not mean in the relational sense.…it does not mean a woman is a slave to her husband. The only reference is was used in my conversation was from the biblical use and it simply means recognizing and accepting the role God has placed the husband and wife in. It is a voluntary act by the wife and as such, requires a tremendous amount of strength to do. That said, a woman should be very judicious with who she decides to partner with because all men are not ready for what is required of them (oh yes, there are two sides to this marriage thing)…while steadily dwelling on what is required of their wife.

   It has been said that the feminist movement killed chivalry. One could counter that regardless of circumstances, a man can still act thusly toward a woman. The counter to that being why would he even bother? If men and women share equal status, what is there left for a man to do for a woman and why? If equality was the goal, then why a different look at a man that suffers abuse by a woman? Why the disparity in the legal system for the same circumstances? There are a lot of rabbit holes we can explore when we really get into it, but I digress.


   The woman of today has many challenges facing her and I wonder if one of them is the the upholding of an image and ideology that might ultimately be contributing to a breakdown in family and relationships. So many questions…