Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Movie Review: “Gangster Squad”

   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

   Josh Brolin does very well as the no-nonsense, in-you-face, upholding-the-law...while breaking your face police officer, Sgt. John O’Mara. There isn’t much range to the constantly brooding one-man-wrecking crew Brodin portrays, but he doesn’t make it feel hokey. Ryan Gosling comes off smooth as warm butter in this film. He is well suited to play the silver tongued, easy walking Sgt. Jerry Wooters. Sean Penn is the bad guy. He plays Mickey Cohen, and plays him well for a role that calls for a warped sense of justified depravity.

The Plot: 

   Mickey Cohen owns Los Angeles in 1949. Every police officer in a prominent position, judges, politicians...all paid off or duly intimidated to ensure Cohen does exactly what he wants to do. He won’t let anyone tell him differently...not the law, and not rival mobsters from Chicago.

   Enter John O’Mara, a cop that’s not afraid to uphold the law...and doesn’t care about the delusions of grandeur of Mickey Cohen. A war veteran that hasn’t really come home, and recognizes the war raging in his city. Tasked by probably the last decent high ranking policeman, O’Mara recruits Wooters and four more willing souls (Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena, Robert Patrick, Giovanni Ribisi) to take the fight to the Cohen empire.

   Taking themselves off the grid, with orders not to arrest Cohen, but utterly destroy everything he’s built, Los Angeles becomes a backdrop for blazing gun battles, in a war that will have profound consequences before it’s even close to being over.

The Verdict: 
   A film set in the 1940’s doesn’t have too much need for big budget special effects. Although I did spot some CGI, specifically the old classic cars as they raced across the dessert in a rampaging gun battle, it wasn’t on the scale of  some of the blockbusters that always hit theaters in the summer.

   The story is not unlike the classic tale of Elliot Ness. Honest cop wants to fight crime and bring down the local crime boss...honest cop recruits other honest cops and wages a campaign of justice. The only differences are the actual players, which simply can’t stray too far from what’s expected given the subject and time period the story is set in.

   The story seemed a bit rushed to me, probably because with so many complex players on the field, they had to leave enough room to insert the action, and grisly gangster scenes...that weren’t too vivid, but alluded to being as bad as we envisioned. Gosling had the most interesting character in the film, and being the only one in a dangerous romance, added a smooth edge to the roughness of the film.

   This film wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be and fell short of really breaking from a mold that has already been cast. I suppose it couldn’t be helped as it’s based on true events...but it still only had me dipping 2 1/2 cinnamon sticks, out of 5, in my cup of tea.

Rating: 2.5/5

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Stay in Your Lane

   A very wise person wrote these words (at least there are some people that think the words are wise...even if they think the author isn’t):

“Social interactions are not unlike cars on the highway. Some are going fast, some are going slow, some are new, others are old. Every once in a while, there are some lane changes and exits to other frontiers. That said...we all have some social boundaries. The next time somebody crosses them, simply tell them to stay in their lane...and keep it moving.”   - The Pontificator

   Human interaction is complex. A lot goes into the relationships and bonds we form with each other. There is also much happening when bonds don’t form and when people don’t seem to click. That said, there seems to be some sort of social etiquette  that most of us find acceptable...and others just can’t seem to grasp.

   Looking at the highway analogy, it’s easy to see the correlations. For example, “Hello my name is John Doe, would you like to go out Friday night?” (too fast). “Hello, pleased to meet you” (new). “I’ve known her for 34 years” (old). “I’ve stopped drinking and started going to church” (new frontier). When you really take the time to look at our interactions, we seem to all be on a super social highway.

   Now, like a real highway, sometimes there are some lane changes that just shouldn’t be made. Simply put, there are just some people that can’t seem to mind their own business. I can’t begin to understand the affliction some have with being preoccupied with business that isn’t their own. I suppose we can just chalk it up to human curiosity...but at some point, the line between innocent (and controllable) curiosity and outright social awkwardness bordering on rudeness gets blurred. Like driving for long hours and succumbing to fatigue, these types of people swerve...and if you are the subject of their interjection or inquiry, then it’s your lane they are swerving into.

   Ever been in a conversation, and because of someone else being able to hear the conversation, they take it as an invitation to join it? What was your reaction to that? Where you gracious about their rudeness, or were you harsh in your response? Let me offer an alternative...four simple words that will stop anyone in their tracks, and get the point across: “Stay in your lane.”

   How about that person that likes to ask awkward and personal questions beyond the scope of their familiarity with you? Do you answer the question? Embarrassingly change the subject? Again, there is an alternative with four simple words: “Stay in your lane.”

   Some reading this might find it funny, but I can tell you that those four words work...really. People don’t know how to react or what to make of them, and inadvertently are forced into self reflection upon pondering what their lane actually is. For those individuals that just have this trait as a personality defect, it may become necessary just to let them know that they are swerving when they border on intruding into your business.

   Lest I forget another segment of the population that often swerves and needs a reminder to stay their lane, the hater. You’re doing something they can’t do, or being something they can’t be...and that drives them to try to interject their misery into your life, often by running their mouth about you behind your back. Such behavior is analogous to driving down the highway at night, and turning your headlights off. It’s reckless, stupid, and can get many other people hurt. Without lights, it’s a sure bet than many lanes are crossed. To these people, it can’t be stressed enough...illuminate and see what’s really happening, and above all...stay in your lane!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Sharing...Crime or Conscious?

   If you read the last post, then you might know where I’m going with this. From early childhood, we are taught to share. Interesting that we have to be taught that, since children instinctively share what they wish to share, and covet what they wish to keep. The lesson taught to us is that sharing is a good thing, and not sharing is bad. I really don’t agree with that, but society at large seems to have bought into this...and I don’t know why. I doubt many have even thought of the circumstances that seem to make sharing a crime in some cases, and an act of good conscious in others.

   Sharing food is often seen as a positive act. Indeed, not doing so (as evidenced by my own pizza story), can incite a gathering of peers to adopt a mob mentality. Suppose it wasn’t pizza but half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? It would be all good...until a newfound peanut allergy was discovered (uh-oh). That would be a hard lesson learned, especially in the case of peer pressured forced sharing the mob mentality tries to enforce. 

   The accusation that follows a decision not to share is, to me, so true that it’s silly. People are quick to throw out the label of being selfish...but every human being on the planet is selfish, in one way or another. The very same people that would easily hand over a slice of pizza (or readily offer the pizza belonging to another), won’t be as quick to hand over their car keys or keys to their home with the intent on “sharing” all they own. No, there seems to be limits to what can be shared.

   The share advocates don’t seem to be too keen on the idea of sharing their significant other. Refusing to share food makes you selfish...and it’s not alright to be that way, but refusing to share your boyfriend or girlfriend is just as selfish (heck, more so, as they have free will)...but that’s perfectly fine. Huh...?

   I can hear some of you now, thinking that these two examples are as far apart as examples of sharing can be...but when you really think about what it means to be “selfish” put yourself before others, there isn’t any difference at all. I mean, some people are serious share advocates, but refuse to toss the car keys, open their homes...or let other personal friendships romantically flourish, because they are putting their needs and desires before the needs and desires of someone else. I’d say those people are advocating the wrong philosophy.

   I’ve said it before, sharing is an option, not a mandate. Being selfish means we get to choose what we share, and when we share it. We are even so selfish and naive to believe we even get to choose who we share...without realizing that such a decision isn’t ours to make as everyone chooses for themselves who they share themselves with. Many will cry foul on this point, but would still have something negative to say about a single man or woman intent on spreading themselves the name of sharing.

   I think I feel a cold coming on. Perhaps I’ll share it with some close friends? I mean, it’s rather selfish of my friends to revel in my sharing good fortune with them, but want no parts of the other end of the spectrum. I believe in balance, and this scale is a bit off. 

   The next time you hear someone claim they are not a selfish person and that they believe in sharing...task them with the truth, or lack thereof, of their words. The truth is they will choose, like everybody else, what they are willing to share...and retain what they do not wish to share. By virtue of all of us being human, nobody is qualified to judge the decisions each of us makes on what we will and will not share (and yes, take that to the extreme...because life can be very extreme at times).

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Understanding Republicans Through Pizza

   I have always been an independent thinker, and so my political preference is to be associated with no particular party, but to instead be an Independent. I’ve always joked that when my income bracket changes to a much higher one, I would become a Republican. I thought it was all about the money (and it is), but today I got a very simple lesson in an old argument conservatives have been using...and I get it, finally.

   Nothing has ever been taken from me since I was a small child (besides the confiscatory taxes Uncle Sam steals from me weekly). So the conservative argument that there is a group of people in America bent on taking something from me has never really resonated. Honestly, I’ve never had much to take anyway (hence waiting until my income bracket climbs significantly before adopting the elephant). All that changed today at lunch. 

   I wouldn’t have called it a pizza party, cause it wasn’t. Call it a gathering of co-workers to celebrate the service of one leaving the fold. Everyone bought pizza for the occasion, their own pizza. There was no pooling of resources (except we all pitched in to buy the honored guest their meal), no preordained understanding of a shared bounty, just good food...with good company (or so I thought).

   Enter the employee with only a salad for lunch, and an appetite far in excess of the abilities of that salad. Understand...I ordered a large pizza, for me. I didn’t order a salad, nor was I responsible for not getting the dressing right in the order to cause said employee distress. Looking at my pizza with a hungry eye can only lead to bad things...but nevertheless, when they asked for a slice of my pizza, I shared a small slice (reluctantly). When they decided they wanted more, and I declined...that’s when I became the room villain.

   Now here I am, in America...the land of free choice, choosing to buy a pizza, eat it...and not share anymore of it than I already have. Where did I go wrong? Was it the “being in America” part...or exercising my freedom of choice? Saying I was shocked at the reaction of the room is an understatement...which only grew more hostile as the begging began and the understanding of the word “no” somehow disappeared from English vernacular of the person begging. It got worse when said person asked others for slices of their pizza, got them...ate them, and still turned back to me in hopes that my mindset regarding my food had changed.

   Folks...when I tell you the room became hostile, you could cut the disdain with a knife. All directed at me for making a decision about a pizza I bought with my hard earned money. I nearly fell off my chair when someone said “We should take it from him.” Wait...what? Take my pizza from me and give it to the person displeased with their culinary decision simply because after tasting it, they want more? It was at that moment I understood the Republican.

   Here I was, eating a pizza I had bought with money I had earned, faced with the machinations of a mob mentality fueled by empathetic feelings for someone that was a victim of their own decisions and circumstance. Then someone said “Aren’t you the guy that goes around the office asking everyone for food?” Of course, I am...and my retort was “Doesn’t everyone have the same choice to exercise the decision I’m making now?” Of course they do.

   I even heard “You probably aren’t going to finish that, so you might as well give it up” as if taking my pizza home and finishing it later is some alien idea (I actually think it was). Let me break it down...sharing is an option, not a mandate. Apply that nugget liberally in all aspects of life.

   Oh...and now that person vows payback for not sharing more of my food, completely disregarding the fact that I shared at all. just can’t make this stuff up.