Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Movie Review: “Brick Mansions”

   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

   Paul Walker is a talent that will be missed. Unfortunately, this film will not be remembered as one of his better roles, but in fairness to him, the script didn’t give him much to work with…at all. Playing a detective out for revenge for the death of his father, by taking down the city’s most dangerous criminals was a good start, and Walker sold it as much as the script allowed. However, without any real depth written for the character, there was only so much he could do.

   David Belle was actually a surprise here. As one of the founders of Parkour, his stunts were absolutely amazing and had me hooked at the beginning of the film. Again, with a sparsely written script, there wasn’t much for him to delve into so I guess I was just mostly impressed that he didn’t completely stink. Playing an ex-con trying to do right by the neighborhood, Belle isn’t going to win any awards for this one.

   RZA plays the bad guy Tremaine. Perhaps he was trying to go for “over-the-top” villain, perhaps not. It doesn’t really matter as his delivery was less than substantive, which says a lot considering he was probably the only person who’s character had enough leeway written into the script to do anything with. Honestly, the director should have said “cut” a few more times until he got it right.

The Plot: 
   In the near future Detroit is besieged with uncontrollable crime (wait, did I say the future?) and a section of it is so bad that it is walled off from the rest of the city with the people therein left to their own devices. The area hereafter referred to as Brick Mansions.

   The Mayor has decided that his nefarious plot for untold wealth rests in building up the area designated as Brick Mansions…after the buildings and people there are wiped out. Enter Damien (Walker) a detective with a score to settle, the perfect unwitting tool for the Mayor. Given a mission to “save” the area, he embarks on a journey of unpleasant revelations and realizations.

   Meanwhile Lino (Belle) is battling Tremaine (RZA) over the drug industry Tremain is running in Brick Mansions. Both become caught up in the intricacies of the Mayor’s plot as they cross paths with Damien and discover the truth. What follows is action without plot, and acting without substance.  

The Verdict: 
  It’s very rare I see a film this bad and I can honestly say that I was glad I didn’t have to pay for it (although now that I think about it, it was a complete waste of my Starpass rewards points). 

     The film begins to fail with the script and continues to fall apart with the lack of detail or attention paid to what is supposed to be going on. There are very few films that have this many holes in it, that I was audibly groaning in the theater and no matter how much they used slow motion (every other frame), it just didn’t help.

   Here are a few examples…
   After months of undercover work by Damien, on the night the police decide to bust the bad guy, they don’t have a single cop cover the back of the building? The bad guy conveniently escapes…into the ridiculous sequence of Damien holding onto the spoiler of a speeding car, while being shot at. It’s bad enough he picks the trunk lock during all this, but once inside the car (through the trunk), nobody thinks to STOP THE CAR to deal with him? I’m sorry, but for me, it’a a clear sign of a bad film when the driver doesn’t have enough common sense to realize he can’t fight or take continued shots to the face…and still maintain control of a vehicle going at ridiculous speeds. Stop the car.

   Later there is a chase as Lino and his girlfriend take Tremaine hostage and try to make a getaway in Tremaine’s car…a Mustang GT. Call me dumb, but if you really want to see a chase scene like this, you can’t have a 1980’s lemon, struggling to even maintain any motion, keep up with a Mustang. It just doesn’t sell in either the comparison of the cars, to the reason why Tremaine was so enamored by the car, when it’s revealed later he had access to some serious German engineering.

   Trust me when I say this doesn’t even begin to address all the stuff that was wrong with this film. I get that the Mayor was really the bad guy, and there was a message in the film trying to address the plight of the 99% against the 1%, but when the ex-soldier turned drug dealer in control of Brick Mansions runs for Mayor at the end…and they say he has a shot at success, it just goes way overboard for me.

   “Dumb” is the only way to describe this film as it was only able to flavor my tea with just one cinnamon stick, out of five, somehow snuck in when I wasn’t looking.

1/ 5

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Dear Facebook…

   Social media has changed the world. I can’t say if it’s been changed for better or worse as that depends on your personal experience with it. What I can say is that some of the stuff I’ve observed has given me pause to consider if people can generally be a bit more responsible when using it. Understand that this post is going to be purely opinion driven, but if people can use social media to vent…then I can use this blog to share my critique of their observed venting.

   Now I’m not going to spend too much time talking about those folks that have turned Facebook into their own platform to rant about the one thing that bothers them most in life…with…every…single…post. I suppose a need is met as I’ve observed these soapbox face bookers with audiences that participate in every discussion as if something new were being discussed, instead of the exact same rant. I’ll just chalk it up to a shared chip on many shoulders and keep it moving.

   I would like to discuss, however, those people that see Facebook as simply a free therapist or personal diary, that’s not so personal. For me it’s entertainment, for them I have to believe it’s therapy…with a bunch of people unqualified for the position of a therapist. In their defense though, sometimes an ear to listen is enough. I just don’t see social media in general, or Facebook in particular, to be the best venue when seeking help with mental or emotional instability. I’ve seen several recurring subjects here that I’d like to shed some light on.

   Status Subject: Nobody likes me.

   Umm…ok, I can see how you could come to this conclusion and then communicate it to the five-hundred friends you have. I’m sure none of them take it personally that you think they don’t like you, after all…what are friends for?

Status Subject: I’m lonely looking for my mate.

   Another great point to communicate to the five-hundred friends you have. I’m sure those friends you hang out with every weekend appreciate the sentiment and those friends thinking of becoming real life interactions instead of Facebook associates are thrilled. Not only that though, anyone you were thinking of as a potential mate on your friends list surely doesn’t see you as desperate and has confidence in your social filter.

   Status Subject: Advise me on my
mental/emotional issues.

   Now this is the million dollar status. I’m shocked you are surprised or offended by anything posted in response as you have opened up the floodgates for an opinionated and candid critique of the insanity you are displaying. Yes, everyone has problems, but using a public forum to solve them probably isn’t going to work. It’s more likely to turn into a dramatic spectacle wherein you get further damaged, and I get entertained.

   These are just a few examples of how not to use Facebook, in my opinion. Everyone is free to do as they wish, but you should realize that life is a series of actions and reactions, and social media is no different.

   Think it’s not true? Do you envision social media to be immune from the consequences of living recklessly? If so, just ask anyone that has lost their job in recent years behind pictures or status posts that were seen by the wrong people that decided to act according to their own moral compass. Is it right? I don’t know, it’s not for me to judge, I just observe that it happens and the responsible user recognizes this fact.

   So, the next time you log into your account ask yourself…are you about to post another episode of “Dear Facebook?” You certainly have the audience for it as it is human nature to stop and look at car wrecks, and there seems to be no shortage of those on Facebook…metaphorically speaking.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Who Do You Trust?

   Life is amazing and I find it interesting, insane, and sad (all at the same time) that there seem to be so many people, willing or not, living in the role of “sheep.” Don’t get me wrong, I don’t know everything and don’t claim to know any more than the next person, but I believe myself to have a small amount of practical sense that I use to reach good reason.

   I suppose the opening paragraph is the answer to the question of this post…for me. Who do you trust? I trust myself. I trust I can figure some things out and that in doing so, my decisions will reflect intelligence. Recently I have come to question this ability in others (well…to be honest, this isn’t the first time) when I see so many people still giving trust to entities that have no regard for them.

   I take my health very seriously…so why would I trust a company, any company with the primary goal to make money, with my personal well being? I wonder how many people really ask themselves this very same question, especially when I see so many on prescription drugs trusting that a pharmaceutical company really cares about them instead of their own profits.

   I’ve always been an advocate of taking your health into your own hands and being diligent in discovering what’s best for you. Now I see commercials advocating the exact opposite and promoting a complete trust in your doctor, after all…he or she is the expert, and you’re just an idiot. At least, they hope you are.

   Recently there has been a ruckus over the official position Wegmans supermarkets has taken in the controversy over GMO foods. For those not in the know, GMO stands for genetically modified organism. The debate over them would be a complete post unto itself, really…so I’m not going into it now except to say that if you think I’m going to trust and believe a company looking to increase it’s profit through modified food when it comes to the question of if that food is safe for me to eat, then you really haven’t been paying me any attention. That’s cool.

   Moving on, I really can’t believe anyone still trusts the FDA, but I know people still do. I just sit and scratch my head on this one. I mean, if the FDA were some independent body with no ties to the industry it regulates then maybe I could take it seriously. But when food and drug company execs are put in charge of it and FDA higher ups go to work for the companies they regulate after they retire…it just strains credibility to believe they’re thinking of me when they make decisions about my health.

   Corporations care about you. If I write it again, will you believe it then? Did you believe it the first time I wrote it? Think for a moment, people go to jail if they fail to make money for the shareholders. Do you really think they’re going to do time just to keep you healthy? I’m flabbergasted that when there is a person of conscience that leaves the company and blows the whistle, we treat them like they’re still the criminal, ignoring the atrocities for which they’re blowing the whistle. Yep…pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

   As if the culling of society by the corporations wasn’t enough, we also have to deal with the politicians. I mean, why are we still falling for the okie-doke? Why are we acting like there’s some huge difference between the Republicans and Democrats when both cater to the exact same special interests (back to the corporations)? Why is it when we come across a politician that tells it like it is (usually going against the grain…alone), we don’t rally behind them?

   We, the people, are our own worst enemy. We don’t seem to trust ourselves to have the sense to know what’s right (in all fairness, some of us just don’t…insert the woman that thinks deer read deer crossing signs) and so trust others that don’t care about what’s right. As I said at the beginning…interesting, insane, and sad. I grieve daily.

Monday, April 21, 2014

For The Flag

  Every so often I examine some innocuous event in my life and am often rewarded with greater wisdom and insight, not only into myself, but in the world in which I live. Although I describe the recent event I’m about to discuss as “innocuous,” at the time it was very much perceived differently by mostly all that bore witness.  

   While driving along here in Massachusetts, a loud pickup truck passed by with a rebel flag decal on the back window. I was returning from food shopping with some family and, being Americans of primarily African descent, the reaction to the flag decal was…interesting.

   The prevailing assumption was that the person driving the truck must be supportive of what the flag stood for. I really shouldn’t have to remind anyone about the old saying of judging a book by the cover, but there it is. I also shouldn’t have been surprised that upon my investigation into understanding this event, there is much more to the flag and those that display it, than the assumptions often made about either.

   Quick research into the flag reveals that it is not the official flag of the Confederacy, but the battle flag of Northern Virginia (The rectangular version being from the Army of Tennessee). Also the design of the flag is suggestive of simply wanting to be crossed out of the Union ala putting an “X” through something to signify it being removed from something else, with the stars representing the thirteen original united colonies. Today the flag has come to be known as a symbol for the South being called the Rebel Flag, Dixie Flag, and Southern Cross and is displayed by many as simply a symbol of southern pride and heritage, not racism and hate.

   The problem here is that although one can say they want a symbol to represent something, when it is used in a certain way, it often comes to represent something different to others. A good example of this is the Nazi’z use of the swastika. They were not the originators of the symbol, but it is now forever linked to their use of it. Something similar has now happened to the Rebel Flag partly due to the use of it by groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Dixiecrats, but also due to becoming a representation of the Confederate South and what it stood for. 

   The argument has been made (and rightly so) that the succession of the South was not all about slavery, but the federal  government infringing upon states rights. The truth is that no matter what the full grievances were, slavery was key among them as evidenced from the Confederate Constitution (Article 1, Section 9(4) and Article 4, section 2(1)). The introduction of any anti-slave law or policy would have been unconstitutional in the Confederate States of America.

   That said, I’m curious as to what exactly is meant by the saying “The South will rise again”…but that’s for another post.

   Even though the Rebel Flag was not the official standard of the CSA, it did appear as part of the official flag, and considering the negative presentation is has gotten from some and the tenants of the CSA, it’s really no wonder why it gets the reaction it does or why many think it to be a symbol of hate. That, however, should not automatically be translated into the motivations or intentions of those that display it. To put it bluntly, everyone that displays the Rebel Flag is not a racist in support of slavery.

   I’ll go further and say that if you think that everyone that chooses to represent themselves with the Rebel Flag is a racist, then you might as well think the same of anyone displaying The Stars and Stripes. What do you think the Cheyenne village of Chief Black Kettle at Sand Creek Colorado think of the American Flag? Let’s also not forget that the Ku Klux Klan also waves the American Flag. It seems to me that a personal choice of flag is not an accurate indicator of personal motivations.

   All we experience in life is a matter of perspective. Growing up in the North, I was taught the history of the Civil War. If I were born down South, I might have learned it as the “War of Northern Aggression.” History is past events that cannot be changed while the future is what we choose to make it. People are making choices daily, and I choose to understand why those choices are made before I condemn them.

   It's amazing what you can learn when you judge a book, not by its cover, but by the content within the pages. When everything and everyone you observe is the "book" you are choosing to read...self growth and inner understanding is inevitable.