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Posted by on Aug 11, 2020 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan (Documentary Film Review)

 

 

He was a receiver. 

He was possessed. 

He articulated what the rest of us wanted to say, but couldn’t say.

 

Writer’s Note:  No Direction Home:  Bob Dylan — (Duration — 3 hours, 28 mins) is currently available on Netflix.  Allow me to sum up the film-music-biopic documentary in one sentence:

 

Bob Dylan is nostalgia unless you were there and remember, or you know someone who was there and remembers, or you’re related to someone who was there and remembers that time and place before the matrimony of music and poetry and message and purpose that was changed by the lad born “Zimmerman” who appeared to be the most unlikely of poets and prophets, a lyricist not known for the quality of his voice nor revered for his ability to strum the guitar nor blow into a harmonica but who nonetheless shattered all the previous expectations and conventions of celebrity and superstardom and became the incarnate of an entire generation, the relectant recipient of a passed torch, and the shatterer of stereotypes — and all of this, and the man, and the music, and the backstory of how this perfect storm of a miracle in time happened is told in a sprawling nearly 3.5 hour long documentary stoked with rare footage, candid recollections, and (shocker!) arguably the most self-revealing interview ever done with Bob Dylan, who despite hundreds of prior interviews dating back to the start always seemed aloof and hostile to the responsibilties and pressures thrust upon him, who realizes this film might be his cinematic epitaph, a comprehensive collection of untold stories and set-the-record straight pronouncements on many of the singer-songwriter’s most memorable compositions which includes some of the most memorizing stage performances ever on recorded, some drowned out by hecklers, and the gaps in between of pensive introspection and outter expression of the shaggy sage who seemed not so much the origin as the conduit of a new sound, a new voice, a new expression, a new vision, a new aspiration, a new consciousness, a new conviction, a new idea, and new possibilities that music and words and idealoism mattered and were capble of greatness and had the power to end wars and cure racism and end poverty and bring awareness and heal and give hope to the helpless and that music and those words in his genre came not from grand orchestras nor amoed rock bands nor the roar of choirs nor techno wizardry but rather from solitude and the twangy strings of a weathered guitar and the pitch of a voice slightly out of tine and the look of a man who seemed frail and might otherwise be perceived as uncertain but who spoke and sang with the force of a sledgehammer, splintering all that was before and pounding the mantel of a new way of looking at things and thinking about things and doing things and all that’s expressed in this film, which must not be viewed as a look back but a vision forward as something sure to entertain, arouse, and inspire.

No Direction Home: Bob Dylan is an absolute must-see.  I recommend it highly.

Note:  Okay, so that’s three sentences.

 

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Posted by on Aug 6, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment

Will You Trust a New COVID Vaccine?

 

 

There’s a false assumption that a COVID vaccine is the cure to our problems.

Not so fast.

There’s growing concern that *if* and *when* a vaccine becomes available, it might not be as effective as we’re inclined to think.

What if a quarter of the population refuses to get vaccinated? Think that’s unrealistic? Read on.

A few points for discussion:

1. Trump’s recent pronouncements that he’s confident a new vaccine will be available “by the end of this year” are preposterous. Science (infections) doesn’t bow to political pressures nor is it concerned about the outcome of an election. The correct response to the question about a vaccine timeline from a non-scientific source and voice of authority (the President) should be, “it will be ready when we’re convinced it’s effective and it’s safe.” THAT should be the timeline.

2. Being wary of a new COVID vaccine isn’t the same as being anti-VAX, though there’s probably some crossover within this otherwise disparite demographic. Many of us who are strongly *pro-vax* also have (legitimate) concerns about a new drug that might be cutting corners during the research and trial phases.

3. I don’t trust anything that comes from this Administration. Not a word. Trump knows his re-election chances likely hinge on finding a “cure,” so all the stops have been pulled out on normal protocols. While a compelling case can be made that some short cuts do need to be made to get a vaccine out, based on the Trump Administration’s appalling track record of deflection, disastrous predictions, absurd statements, and misplaced priorities, I simply don’t trust the safety of a drug that’s been rushed to market.

4. Vaccine Origins: I am divided on the factor of the source of the prospective vaccine discovery. I would feel somewhat safer if the vaccine came from labs in Europe, where public/private cooperation has been in place for decades and there’s a long history of success. I am uncertain about the safety of a vaccine if it were discovered in China (certainly a possibility). China’s research capabilities rival our own and we better prepare ourselves for the possibility we could be forced to make some decisions. I’m also wary of a vaccine created by the US pharmaceutical industry, which is under enormous pressure from government (overseeing and financing) and is financially incentivized to cut corners to be first to get a drug to market to shaft the competition. I’d be very concerned if any pharma company that releases a vaccine is also given legal indemnification against damages (which I think is very possible).

5. The biggest fear as I understand it (and I am admittedly a layperson with no scientific knowledge) is a possible repeat of the Thalidomide disaster, when 60 years ago thousands of women mostly in the UK took a drug which later resulted in widespread birth defects. That might be an overreaction and fearmongering. But there is some chance that the recklessness of an untested medication rushed to market under intense political pressures could be problematic later on.

Curious to know the public sentiment on this question, I posted a poll on Twitter yesterday, which produced some interesting results. By about a 3:1 margin, most respondents stated they would agree to a vaccine. What this means is — 25 percent of the population say they will not get the vaccine (see my opening comments).

Note that I tinkered with this question just a bit by asking, what if the vaccine were released “this fall.” One presumes that if any vaccine were released under normal trial and testing the trust factor would be much higher.

 

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Posted by on Aug 2, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 1 comment

Movie Review: Joker

 

 

My whole life people didn’t know I existed; now they’re starting to notice.

                                                                                                                          — Joker

 

I finally got around to seeing Joker last night.

My confessed tardiness to this pop cinema campfire was, and very much remains, boredom if not utter disinterest in any movie about a comic book character, a superhero, or a spaceship.  Batman, Superman, Spider-Man Iron Man….if “Marvel” is listed in the credits, I am — the invisible man.

But now, we’re stuck in the age of COVID, addicted to Netflix, and even curmudgeons like me are changing our stubborn habits, and besides — there’s more television to watch right now than any one person can possibly digest in ten lifetimes.

So, Joker appeared on my streaming feed, and finally, my curiosity slew the dragon of prejudice.  Oh, I should also mention — someone ponied up $150 for me actually write a review of the movie and post it on my website (true story).  “Will work for food” and even compromise my principles — if the price is right.

 

Meet Arthur Fleck

Joker is a movie about the transformation of a simple human being who’s trying his best to exist in an inhumane, impersonal, imperfect, poisonously pornographic unfair world.  It doesn’t just pull back the curtains on mental illness so much as rip them off the wall.  Behind the wrinkled cloth, we find a lonely and vulnerable man staring helplessly and hopelessly into the lens, a victim whose life has passed him by and now distant.  Finally, he reaches his breaking point.

We meet Arthur Fleck who lives in Gotham, a fictionalized rendition of New York City during a garbage strike, in 1981.  Our anti-hero resides in a seedy graffiti-plastered tenement building struggling to make a living as a party clown.  He does low-paying gigs all over town, from spinning “going out of business” signs on sidewalks to cheering up kids inside a cancer ward.  Fleck, the lovable loser, even with his glaring flaws, battered and broken by life, is largely sympathetic.  Gazing outside of smudgy windows on buses we see the reflection of an empty man capable of so much more.  Indeed, for those of us who have struggled mightily, at times — in careers, in love, and in life — we all have a little Arthur Fleck, a.k.a. Joker, inside us.  We all have our breaking point.

Fleck’s life takes one bad turn after another, through no fault of his own.  He’s robbed.  Beaten.  Humiliated.  Fired from his job.  While watching the vestiges of humanity slowly evaporate around him with every setback, I was reminded of another film, Falling Down (1993), starring Michael Douglas, a similar character portrayal of a seemingly “crazed killer” who is slowly prodded off the moral and ethical cliff not out of decisions he made, but rather because he is desperate and had no other place else to go.

When Fleck kills his first victim (actually three victims) in a random act of violence on a subway, we see him taking control for the first time.  Up until these murders, Fleck had always followed others — his mother, his boss, any authority.  He’d played by society’s rules, even though he had no voice in creating them, believed in the system, and it got him nowhere.  He’d been a pawn, about to be rooked and captured in a chess game he didn’t much know how to play.  After blasting multiple slugs into the torsos of three rich Wall Streeters who are on a drunken binge, Fleck manages to win a small victory.  It’s a fleeting moment of satisfaction, a tiny measure of justice, temporary glory in an inglorious existence.  He’s in control and the rush is intoxicating.

 

Introspection

“My whole life people didn’t know I existed; now they’re starting to notice,” he tells a social worker.

There’s some debate about the condition of the psyche, still unresolved apparently in academics, about naturing versus nurturing.  Joker makes a compelling argument that many criminals, killers, mass-murderers, even psychopaths aren’t so much born as they’re created by stormy surroundings and a cruel society.  They’re molded by forces outside the mind and the body — parents, co-workers, associates, friends, romantic partners, even the guy on the street we don’t know by name.  One day, one act at a time, slowly, like stones wearing down by the powerful forces of the waterfall, over time, we’re sculpted by those things which shape us, and ultimately make us who and what we are.

Joaquin Phoenix in the title role is every bit as riveting as the rave reviews he received from film critics and the Oscar for Best Actor he collected at the last edition of the Academy Awards.  Phoenix, his onscreen persona boosted by his quirky offscreen reputation as a nonconformist with an affection for the unconventional, seems not only at ease in the Joker’s skin; he’s made the character all his own.

“They don’t give a shit about people like you, Arthur,” the social worker replies.  “And frankly, they don’t give a shit about me, either.”

He snaps.

 

The Point of No Return

Predictably, Joker is a dark and sometimes troubling film to watch, though it’s also an illumination of shadows we often chose to ignore.  It’s exfoliation in an art form of the phony veneer that separates not so much rich versus poor but, those who flourish within a chaotic psychological dystopia at the expense of all its victims and outcasts.

Out of work, impoverished, and desperate, Fleck (Joker) tries to perform stand-up comedy in a small nightclub.  Although he’s done his homework and the effort is sincere, he’s terrible.  Plagued by a rare mental affliction that triggers uncontrollable laughter during inappropriate moments, Fleck is a walking, breaking, ticking time bomb.  Reminiscent of yet another film, Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1982) — which stars Robert De Niro, who in this film plays a Johnny Carson-like role — Joker slides deeper into the crevasse of no return and ultimately goes beyond reactionary to premeditation.  I’ll be vague on this point so as not to spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen it.  However, for those who remember De Niro’s role as Rupert Pipkin, a lunatic loner obsessed with a talk show host, the parallels will be obvious.

Unfortunately, the script and the story take an annoying detour, which largely evaporates the audience’s goodwill.  Although he’s become a murderous clown, we’re so caught up in his condition, that we’re rooting for some consolation.  We don’t know exactly what we want — for the Joker to be caught or killed or perhaps continue on killing bad people who deserve to die.  So, we watch and wait, anticipating some conscientious resolution.

The unnecessary departure detracts from a fascinating meltdown when Fleck thinks he’s the illegitimate son of a rich power baron who refuses to acknowledge the long-lost relationship with his mother.  Again, without revealing more that might spoil the movie, the final scenes with acts of graphic violence seem gratuitous.  And pointless.

The first half of this movie sets up a fascinating premise, then the final half fails to deliver.

 

Grade:  5 on a 10 Scale

The shift to a more serious character-driven psychological thriller by Todd Phillips, best known for directing the comedy trilogy, Hangover, seemed like a natural progression.  The core of a great film was here.  But Phillips’ script (co-written with Scott Silver) gradually loses steam and becomes a one-man showcase for the thespian talents of Phoenix, and little more.

Joker has ephemeral moments of greatness, but not enough of them to overcome an aimless plot.  Phoenix’s best moments are not as the crazed Joker on various killing sprees, but rather the vulnerable void of a man with a blank stare, looking nowhere in particular, desperately seeking something to latch onto which will give meaning to his life.

I too, wanted this film to have some greater meaning, and although I was transfixed for moments, as the final credits rolled to the swansong of Frank Sinatra’s baritone version of the Stephen Sondheim classic, “Send in the Clowns,” I was disappointed there wasn’t more depth to this shallow portrait.

Joker is a film I cannot recommend.

 

Final Thoughts

My takeaways are:

  1.  Joaquin Phoenix can carry any movie, even with a weak script.
  2.  I remain correct in my negative assessment of movies made about comic book characters.
  3.  I just made $150.

 

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Posted by on Aug 2, 2020 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

My Position on the Kneeling Versus Standing During the National Anthem

 

 

Pro sports are back and the debate about kneeling versus standing during the playing of the National Anthem has returned front and center.

I don’t claim to speak for all leftists/liberals, but my position is probably shared by a large number of Americans, perhaps even a majority.

Here’s my opinion:

#1 — If a player chooses to KNEEL during the National Anthem, I respect that decision.

#2 — If a player chooses to STAND during the National Anthem, I respect that decision.

There. See how easy that was?

It’s called freedom of choice. It’s called the right to self-expression. It’s called civil disagreement. It’s called having mutual respect for one another, despite our differences.

This shouldn’t be a difficult concept to grasp.

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Posted by on Jul 29, 2020 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment

Let’s Flood the Zone With the Truth

 

 

“FLOOD THE ZONE WITH SHIT”

That quote, coming directly from the mouth of the man many consider the architect of the political virus known as “Trumpism,” former White House advisor and political strategist Steve Bannon. sums up much of what we see, read, and hear on social media.

“The real opposition is the (mainstream) media,” he said when asked about the Right’s unconventional political tactics. “And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

The tactic is nefarious — and brilliant, at least in a cold-hearted Machiavellian sense. It’s right out of the old Lee Atwater, Karl Rove dirty deeds done cheap playbook. First — create utter carnage and confusion, and then — provide clarity and an oversimplified solution.

The tactic is impossible to defend because it takes so much time for truthseekers and those genuinely dedicated to truth to expose, research, write, and try to counter-persuade those sadly gullible deplorables so tethered to trigger mechanisms (the flag, god, veterans, guns) that they’ll swallow any line of bullshit off the Breitbart and FOX assembly line, not to mention the troll sites littered with cockeyed conspiracy theories that number in the hundreds.

Flood the zone with shit.

It doesn’t matter most — if not ALL — of their “shit” consists of lies, exaggerations, and quotes taken wildly out of context to make their perceived “enemies” look bad. Truth has become irrelevant. It’s about destruction. Obama is a Muslim. Trump is Cyrus the Great. They want to destroy America. You’ve read the crap, and perhaps even shared it.

Fling so much shit we can’t beath.

That’s what we see here on social media, all the time. Memes, mostly unattributed (perhaps manufactured on some troll farm). Clever video clips showing violence with scary voiceovers, intended to frighten simpletons. OAN-style patriot news, that borders on self-parody.

Flood the zone with shit.

That’s what the Trump campaign, Right-wing douchebag media, Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, and the brigade of chickenhawk foot soldiers in the army of the 92 IQ company are going — 24/7.

They are flooding the zone with shit.

I recommend using this phrase often, and tagging posts you see from Trumpsters. Call them out. Let them know they aren’t fooling those who take the time to consume information from reliable sources, and filter out idiocy. Make their dirt backfire. Make them smell. Make them stink. And, if necessary, block them.

Flooding the zone with shit requires a mass cleanup.

Now.

Because, in the next few months, lies will spread faster than COVID. They are desperate. They will do anything and say anything. We all need to do our part.

Let’s flood the zone — with the truth.

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