Happy New Year

If you only listen to one year in review show, this is the one to listen to. It’s just six minutes. This is the tl;dr version of a review show, set to music:

Vox. com – Today, ExplainedThe Year in Review – December 30, 2020

Now, if you are in for more of a marathon, take a look at Netflix’s Death to 2020:

Netflix – Death to 2020

Bring spirits to this one, and be prepared to laugh and groan your way through the crazy attempt to bring humor to a year that is definitively beyond the ability to satirize. But they do try.

There there is Amazon Prime’s Yearly Departed:

Amazon Prime VideoYEARLY DEPARTED

It too is a respectable entry into the annals of the shitshow that was the year 2020. Stay for the credits. How they put the comics together digitally is a thing of beauty.

The Wife and I sat up drinking until midnight, watching both these shows before tuning in to the creepy-assed feed from an empty Times Square on Youtube to watch the ball drop for Central Standard Time, before they hauled that sucker back up again to drop it again the next hour.

NBC NewsNew Year’s Eve Celebrations – Dec 31, 2020 (Times Square NYC pulled down their video)

Or maybe they just put the video of the ball drop on on a loop and replayed the one-hour loop twenty-four times? Who can tell? What I can tell is that the official feed did not have the sad CST drop that I saw as part of my New Year’s celebration. Everyone had cleaned up and left aside from some holdouts who were still braving the cold at one am EST. NYC needs to break with tradition and embrace the universal time code (UTC) they should celebrate the new year at 7:00 pm EST and call it done. It’s no more midnight in NYC at 12:00 am than it is noon (as measured by the sun) at 12:00 pm. Tell those railroad barons what they can do with their time zones! Throw off the yoke of the tick-tock man!

Anyway, fuck you 2020. Your next of kin might well be worse, but I’m well done of you no matter what happens later.

Ticking away, the moments that make up a dull day, fritter and waste the hours in a off-hand way.

Pink Floyd, Time (The Dark Side Of The Moon, track 4)

Bag Man

The story of the downfall of Spiro Agnew, Tricky Dick Nixon’s Vice President. He was insanely popular with American conservatives of the time, just as Richard Nixon was popular with the majority of Americans of the time. They were both popular when they were elected. Spiro Agnew had a secret that wasn’t much of a secret in Baltimore where he had come from, and that secret would lead to some strange twists and turns in the near future as Richard Nixon broke laws in his attempts to stay in office.

It was the conjunction of these two popular people on the office of Vice President and President, two popular people who had both committed crimes that they could be removed from office over, that lead to the memo from the Justice Department that advised that a President can’t be indicted (the Atlantic) as Rachel Maddow discusses in this segment of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert:

The Late Show with Stephen ColbertWhat Mysteries Does Rachel Maddow Hope Are Solved Once The President Is Out Of Office? – Dec 10, 2020

Without that advisory from the Office of Legal Counsel Donald Trump would have been indicted for his crimes before he was impeached, and his impeachment and removal would have been a foregone conclusion because you can’t be President of the United States and conduct the business of the United States from prison. Well, Mitch McConnell and the cult-like followers of QAnon would have said he was railroaded and that the superhuman Donald Trump could easily do the country’s business from prison, but they wouldn’t have represented a majority. They would have been an even smaller minority than the one that came out and voted for Donald Trump in the November election.

Bag Man: The Wild Crimes, Audacious Cover-up, and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House by Rachel Maddow 

I’ve mentioned the podcast that spawned the book she is out stumping for three times on the blog over the past few years. Unfortunately all the links that were in previous articles now lead to non-existent feeds as far as I can tell, so I will have to re-edit them eventually to point to a new feed location (Done. However the feed was restored when I started editing, so I left some of the old links in. Fingers crossed that the feed stays up this time. -ed.) In the meantime, the podcast is also on Youtube just like the segment of LSSC that I linked above.

MSNBCBag Man Podcast – Apr 10, 2019

If you love a good yarn, especially a true tale of intrigue, check out this podcast and book. you’ll definitely enjoy the story. I did.

I’ve Reddit. I Don’t Like It.

I get banned from forums pretty frequently.  A username of mine has a lifespan that is generally numbered in weeks, not years, on any given forum on the internet. And since I historically have only used my real name on forums (belief in anonymity on the internet is a common delusion) that means that my time on a forum is strictly limited to how long I can manage to stay in the moderator’s good graces.

The one forum in history that I managed to not get kicked off of was Dan Carlin’s forum for his podcasts. There are other forums I participated in that expired before I managed to offend a moderator, but that offense would have occurred given enough time and interest in the forum. Dan had his own problems when it came to hosting a forum full of hate speech and bullying and confusing that thundering noise with a dedication to free speech, but the fact was that you couldn’t get kicked off of his forums.  Consequently I was a member on that forum when it too expired, even though I had long since fallen out of Dan Carlin’s good graces. Weirdly, I miss that dysfunctional place. I reminds me of my dysfunctional family.

Not only do I routinely get kicked off of forums that I join, I have even been asked to leave forums that someone has been silly enough to ask me to moderate. Perhaps one of my few saving graces is an unwillingness to linger where I’m not wanted, to the point of setting out on foot facing a walk of many miles just to get out of an uncomfortable situation that will only become comfortable if I leave. The latest place to reach that uncomfortable stage is the purported Front Page of the Internet, Reddit.

The biggest problem with Reddit is that it isn’t really one place. It is one system with a near-infinite number of sub-forums (subreddits) a confusing hodge-podge of purportedly different forums with completely different rules and readerships, each managed by it’s own little group of absolute rulers who enforce rules (or not) completely at their own whim.

Back when news aggregators first started showing up on the internet, there were several sites like Reddit that sprang up that allowed subscribers to recommend articles to other visitors to the website. Most of them have since closed their doors or been bought out and turned into spamming e-mailers, but Reddit remains pretty much as it was in the beginning, very nearly the sole survivor of an earlier internet age.

If you go back through my blog archive, as I have been doing since I started writing this blog (this is how you teach yourself to write. You try to figure out why your previous attempts to communicate failed to communicate even with later versions of yourself. A free writing tip for the newbs) you’ll notice links that say digg story (at least, you will until I manage to edit them all out. -ed.)  Digg was one of Reddits early competitors; one that allowed, even encouraged, self-promotion.  While Digg still exists, it was bought ages ago by another corporation that uses it to spam former contributors like your’s truly with articles upvoted somewhere as being popular for whatever reason.  I liked digg back in the day.  I liked the fact that it catered to various media types and allowed for a free-form interrelation of text and video and audio all mashed together in one location. But the fickle finger of fate choose it to fail and so it failed.

These days the dominant stream of information on the internet is Facebook, not Reddit. Facebook is not a news source no matter how many people treat it like it is. Reddit can be a news source, but the subreddits allow the kind of balkanization of information that you get on Facebook, potentially leading to as much disinformation as you will find on Facebook.

If you have the right sources on your twitter feed, Twitter can serve as a reasonable approximation of a news feed, and it does this by its very brevity, it’s cramped confines of 140 and the now expanded 280 characters. But the nature of Twitter, the fact that it is a glorified headline writing contest, also limits the time you spend on the platform. Time spent on the platform or engagement is how internet businesses are rated these days, and the way to increase engagement is to force the users of the platform to create their work on that platform directly.

Which brings me back to Reddit and my ongoing fights with the petty little dictators that run the various flavors of subreddits which you are required to post to in order to get content onto Reddit. I write political pieces reasonably frequently. One would think that /r/politics/ would be the place to post links to original political opinion pieces. One would be wrong to think that.

[–]from TheRedditPope[M] via /r/politics/ sent  You really aren’t supposed to submit your own content. If you have content that is on topic for this subreddit someone will come along and submit it themselves.

[–]from hoosakiwi[M] via /r/politics/ sent  Blogspot is a filtered domain in /r/politics. We do not allow personal blogs, so your submissions from your blog will not be approved here. If you want to promote your blog, take out an ad with reddit.

Well, that was news. Looking at the rules over at Reddit.com it doesn’t say anything about not being able to post your own material. In fact, it encourages you to post your own material as well as material from other people. How, precisely, is anyone supposed to find content if links to it are routinely autodeleted or treated as spam? When I posed this question to the moderators of the subreddits that I posted to, I was told to take out an advertisement on Reddit if I wanted to promote my blog.

…no seriously. A lot of bloggers have commented on the death of blogging and I think I’ve found one of the culprits. It is Reddit and Facebook and the advertising funding model that has been rejiggered to fund the internet, as if the internet was just one more entertainment source like TV or radio is. Were turned into, by advertising. If I had the readership that afforded me the ability to advertise on Reddit, I wouldn’t need to advertise on Reddit.

I think you can see the problem here, denying attention to bloggers which in turn squelches the blogosphere and promotes mass media and other commercial ventures which can afford to purchase advertising. I begin to realize why I’ve never taken the time to build a rep on Reddit. I’m simply not consumerist enough to buy into the capitalist charade going on there and on places like Facebook.

I’ve been banned from several of the subreddits now because I refuse to write my content on Reddit directly and instead link to it here on the blog. I won’t create content for Reddit to use to make money directly. I really don’t give two shits if they make money, anymore than they care if I can get readers for the blog or not. But they care if they make money, and they make money by keeping me on their platform creating there, clicking on ads there, getting people to read my work written there. It’s the same way that Facebook makes money, and that is also the reason I don’t invest my time creating work on Facebook, either.

All authority based systems will fail when tested in this fashion.  This is the reason why I consistently agitate for democratic approaches to policing and policies. Authority for authorities sake will always succumb to mob mentality. Always.


I noticed, after being kicked off yet another subreddit again today, that Reddit now allows me to self-publish links and full articles from the blog directly to my user profile, bypassing the requirement that I submit to the vagaries of the petty little modos that run most forums, including the majority of subreddits on Reddit.com. So I guess I’ll try posting links and shortened blurbs for some of my better articles straight to my user profile and see if I get any traffic from Reddit. Worth a try, guess. Can’t get any worse than the headaches I get trying to deal with moderators of any stripe.

I would like to thank the moderators and residents of /r/atheism for reminding me exactly why I don’t identify as atheist anymore even though I am one. Their harassment and then banning of me for daring to post on the sub and subsequently defend myself from attack has once again confirmed for me my firmly held belief that moderators and forum dwellers really don’t like conversation. Moderators especially hate posts and conversations because posts and conversations make them have to do the thankless job of moderating. A dead forum means that there is a happy moderator enjoying his porn videos on another tab, somewhere else on the internet.

When told “you have to write your material here, not link it” the only logical response after the way I was treated there is to say “why would I write for you assholes? I don’t even know why I thought a conversation with you would be interesting in the first place. Have a nice life.”

The Dark Side of the Moon

This entry on the blog exists to make a single statement. There are no tracks on Pink Floyd’s 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon. The track list is a lie, a fiction created by marketers who insisted that there had to be segments and names for all the parts of the life that is lived on the first side of the album that begins with birth and ends with death. Just as these same corporate shills insisted on there being labels for all the width of the lived life that is on the second side of the album, solid transactionalism to total madness.

Unfortunately there are few places where you can hear the album without track breaks, a fact that is quite maddening for those of us who understand that the two sides of the album are intended to be listened to by starting the needle in the groove at the beginning of the first side of the album, listening to the end of that side, and then turning the record over to listen to the other side. A cassette tape works similarly, this is the thing that I always loved about my cassette tapes.

Fortunately Vimeo does have a place where you can listen to full albums without track breaks. Fooled me. I listened, and it’s just another rip of the same CD I own, and poorly mastered at that.

Honestly? I’m still looking into the whole gapless thing. Supposedly it works on Spotify if you pay for Spotify. I don’t pay for Spotify. I do pay for Amazon music and it doesn’t do gapless while streaming. Windows media plays my CD rips of Dark Side of the Moon gapless, and yet Videolan puts gaps in between the exact same ripped files. Amazon will play the CD rips gapless, but not the stream. Go figure. I have toyed with making Dark Side of the Moon and other albums that should be experienced as an album into one long file so as to avoid having to deal with track breaks where no track breaks should be to get past this variability in players and playback, but then I don’t have tracks to start and stop on when inevitably someone interrupts my personal music concert.

This was supposed to be my gift to all of you today. A gapless playback of Dark Side of the Moon. I was awake for a solid thirty hours yesterday. I woke early this morning after a solid twelve hours of sleep. Twelve hours of running, hiding, yelling, screaming, whispering and pleading. All those dreams and other forgotten dreams. A lifetime of dreams as the thirty hours before that had been a lifetime of experiences. I awoke with the words of Brain Damage running through my mind (even though I remembered it as Eclipse before looking at the track list) and I knew what I had to listen to while preparing breakfast and getting ready for a nice morning stroll with the dog.

The lunatics are in my hall
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day the paper boy brings more

Dark Side of the Moon it is, then.

There is no dark side of the moon, really. As a matter of fact it is all dark.

Pink Floyd

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

This was her dying wish, expressed to her granddaughter. She hadn’t been dead ten minutes before Senate leader McConnell was assuring everyone around him that the thing he argued for under Barack Obama’s presidency did not apply to the vacancy left by the death of the Notorious RBG (Tumblr) Trump intends to nominate someone to the court as early as Monday or Tuesday, even though it can be easily argued that he is president right now because of Mitch McConnell’s refusal to do the very thing that they are both planning on doing, replacing a deceased jurist on the Supreme Court when a presidential election is impending.

The hypocrisy and demonstrable dereliction of duty that is shown on both Leader McConnell’s and Donald Trump’s part when it comes to stuffing conservative judges into the federal courts as fast as they possibly can is beside the point I want to make here today. They have both been bought and paid for by the oligarchs who run this country, have run this country almost from the time of its founding. Their entirely predictable intentions are irrelevant here.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was only the second woman to serve on the SCOTUS when she was appointed, the first being Sandra Day O’Connor. When she started practicing as an attorney, she had a hard time finding and keeping a job because the law at the time was a practice for men, not for women.

The notion until the ’70s was that the differentials based on gender riddling the law books operated benignly in women’s favor. So women were excused from jury duty—well, that was a favor. Who would want to serve if they didn’t have to? Michigan’s law saying women couldn’t be bartenders—that was a favor, because bars could be pretty raunchy places. Laws like that were rationalized as operating to favor or protect women. The challenge for me was to get the judges to see that, far from operating benignly in women’s favor, these laws, as Justice Brennan said so well in Frontiero, put women not on a pedestal, but in a cage.

theatlantic.com
NPR – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Champion Of Gender Equality, Dies At 87 – September 18, 2020

Nina Totenberg, the voice of the narrator in that nine minute NPR piece, has covered the United States Supreme Court since she was hired by NPR back in 1975. Nina Totenberg herself has fought many of the battles that the Notorious RBG had to fight. The canned nine-minute segment prepared by NPR in the event of RBG’s death covers the basics of her history on the SCOTUS. It is not enough information if what you want to know is “Who was Ruth Bader Ginsburg?” like I do. To further that quest I next queued up this episode of Radiolab, a rebroadcast of one of their spinoff More Perfect episodes about RBG and her impact on the court.

Radiolab – More Perfect: Sex Appeal – September 18, 2020

In that episode Jad Abumrad mentions that there were two movies made about Justice Ginsburg. I didn’t know about a second movie, so I had to go look it up and watch both of them.

RBG (2018)
Magnolia PicturesRBG – Official Trailer – Mar 7, 2018

I had always intended to watch this movie. I love documentaries and I have a fascination with the how and the why of a Supreme Court justice becoming a rock star. Becoming so famous that she inspired young women and men around the world to wear clothing and accessories (and even tattoos) with her face on it.

I watched the documentary on Hulu.com. It is also available from Amazon Prime (title link above) it is a proper documentary of a person, touching on all the parts of RBG’s life from childhood to 2018 when the documentary was made. Her time working for the ACLU is mentioned in passing, but they don’t appear to identify the attorney that worked with RGB to start the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU (Brenda Feigen) the movie also goes through several of the cases that she was notorious for winning or writing an opinion about.

…the movie opens with statements of loathing from famous conservative figures. The fact that they hate her so much is a tribute to her dedicated liberal views, which she defended to her dying day. In my opinion, the documentary is the better of the two films.

I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president … For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be — I don’t even want to contemplate that.

a faker

He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment.

RBG on Donald Trump. 200,000 dead Americans agree with her.
On the Basis of Sex (2019)
Focus FeaturesON THE BASIS OF SEX – Jul 16, 2018
The law is wrong.

On the Basis of Sex starts with a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg in college and follows her up through her first argument of a case before a court as an attorney. Being an attorney was the job she wanted to do but was denied a chance of doing because she was a married woman with children. There is considerable deviation from the reality of her history in this film. The fictional plotline works to drive the narrative, so it is forgivable. However, it is also two hours long and feels like a two hour film when you are done watching it. The ending is satisfying, so I would give the film a positive review if I were to sit down and try to write a full review, which this paragraph isn’t.

This episode of the Daily from the NYTimes tells how her real history transpired, as opposed to the history provided as a backdrop for On the Basis of Sex.

Part 1: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg – Sep 21, 2020 (Spotify is now embeddable. -ed.)
NYTimes – Part 2: The Battle Over Her Seat

Vox’s Today, Explained on RBG

VOX – Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy, and the future of the Supreme Court, explained

She fought, and she won, battles that put women on equal footing with men before the law, right in the face of an overwhelming majority of contrary opinion. Again and again, she staked out the battlegrounds that legal arguments would be fought over, and she succeeded in making women largely equal to men even without the Equal Rights Amendment to the constitution.

To this day women’s rights in this country are provisional, based on legal precedents won in court and not on constitutional law, and this is because of the actions of the Christianists of the Religious Right. It was through them and their leaders like Phyllis Schlafly that the Equal Rights Amendment failed to be adopted by the deadline in 1979. That women’s rights exist at all from a legal perspective is largely because of RBG; and make no mistake, this is the reason that conservatives and Republicans hate RBG and will ignore her dying wish that the next president be the one to pick her replacement.

This is the important fact, the fact that inspired me to spend a considerable amount of time reading, watching and listening to the history of Ruth Bader Ginsburg over this past weekend. Republicans hate RBG because she is a woman and she has the temerity to speak her mind in the face of legal male privilege. Remember this fact when it comes time to vote in November, not whether or not Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell succeed in making the SCOTUS an organ of conservative dogma. Conservatives and Republicans do not think women and their opinions are worthy of note. Women should be in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. They certainly shouldn’t be on the Supreme Court. If Trump nominates a woman, and McConnell hypocritically gets the nomination approved by the Senate, that woman will agree with this sentiment, just as Justice Thomas thinks black people should be forced into second class status. What he doesn’t say is that he believes this because that injustice will inspire the re-creation of the United States as a black nation.

Conservative/Republican women in politics believe themselves subservient to men and yet attempt to lead anyway. Contemplate this fact until you understand what it means.

Over a long career on both sides of the bench — as a relentless litigator and an incisive jurist — Justice Ginsburg helped us see that discrimination on the basis of sex isn’t about an abstract ideal of equality; that it doesn’t only harm women; that it has real consequences for all of us. It’s about who we are — and who we can be.

Barack Obama
Kiki Bader

What is a Bad Movie?

Campy films aren’t necessarily bad and cult classics really can’t be deemed good. There have been more than a couple of posts on Facebook (maybe as many as ten) asking me to pick films that I liked but I thought were bad films. I picked two movies (Joe Vs. the Volcano and Buckaroo Banzai) because I love them and I really can’t defend them. They don’t hold together and/or loose their audience halfway through. They didn’t make enough money in the box office and they haven’t gotten beyond a core cult following as time progresses. As an additional condition of love/bad I should add that I’ve seen both of these movies more than 10 times each and I never tire of watching them. I never tire of watching them while people who watch movies with me regularly object if I propose watching them again. The Wife’s film is ID4. I’ll scream if I have to watch that one again. But then she has about ten films that she cycles through, as well as two or three series that she has on repeat in the room while she’s constructing some art project or other, just as background noise, and I run screaming from all of them. That is the hallmark of a bad movie (or bad TV) that you love. You end up watching it by yourself.

Plot. Theme. Characterizations & cinematography. All of those bases have to be covered if you are going to make a good movie. Carpenter is the king of camp, and I consider Prince of Darkness one of his best films of all time. Big Trouble is another one. I wouldn’t put a Carpenter film in a list of bad films. His films (even his bad ones) are campy enough to be watchable. I’ve sat down and watched any one of a dozen Carpenter films with family more times than I’ve sat down to watch the two I’ve listed, and I still get takers to watch them (especially The Thing) I could go on for several more paragraphs but I’ve been a lifelong movie buff and I’m married to a woman who has been involved in more productions than a good number of professionals in the business. I know whereof I speak, even if I don’t have degrees to back my critical opinions up with.

CineFix – 2001: A Space Odyssey – What’s the Difference? – Jun 17, 2015 (h/t to openculture.com)

Visual and written media are different, this is an understood fact.  The adaptation of a written work to film is an important subject of discussion, not just a pedestrian piece of entertainment. Why a film adaptation of a written work is perceived to be better or worse than its inspiration is a subject of high importance to the funders of film ventures.  The buy-in of the author of the written work and their involvement in the making of the film does indeed seem to be key to a successful adaptation.

Let me offer a few examples.

The Harry Potter films all had the direct involvement of the author from the beginning of the film franchise.  I find the study of J. K. Rowling’s evolving talent fascinating.  I read the books myself, and read them out loud twice to my children. We then all went to see the movies. Now, while my daughter lamented at some of the parts left out of the story in question, I could see Rowling’s growing understanding of the film medium evolve from movie to movie, just as I watched her understanding of the written work evolve over the course of the several books she has authored. The films, just like the books, get tighter and more interesting as her understanding of the two different mediums grows. I would offer them as some of the best examples of book to film adaptation.

It can also be a good idea for the author to know his or her own limitations. I’ve read the Hunger Games series and watched all four movies. I find the movies far more interesting than the books were, and more believable.  The characters are far more sympathetic on screen and the actors that were chosen have all performed admirably.  I don’t know the level of the author’s involvement with those films, but I haven’t encountered her promoting them like Rowling did. Yet the films do seem to capture the essence of what was compelling about the Hunger Games novels. A worthy effort.

Fight Club is another instance where the film retains the essence of the book, and yet is actually better as a movie than the book was as a book. Very few adaptations not only don’t insult the original work, but mange to improve on it. It’s also one of the few internal stories that works on the screen, largely because the internal is external (as it is in the book) without the viewer knowing this. If you don’t understand the reference, then you haven’t seen the film. Stop reading and go watch it now.

On the other end of the scale we have every attempt to adapt Dune to the movie screen. I’m not convinced that any of the parties involved (much like the 007 movies and Ready Player One) ever read the books. Frank Herbert was still alive at the time of the filming, but never seemed to have taken an interest in the first movie produced. If Alejandro Jodorowsky is to be believed, then Frank Herbert was very much involved in the project when he was developing it. The final product of the effort taken over by Hollywood bore almost no resemblance to the book that I’ve read, and I’ve read it (and Dune Messiah and Children of Dune and God Emperor of Dune) more times that I’ve read the Lord of the Rings. The mini-series from SciFi comes close to capturing the essence of the novels, but still manages to fumble capturing the theme. The subtleties of the realpolitik have never been captured by any movie that I’ve seen. Most books that I’ve read also fail at giving it life (Hunger Games being the latest to attempt it that I’ve read) unless they are biographies of real historical figures. Even some of those fail at being interesting and real at the same time.

I, Robot remains the epitome of failed adaptations. Rather than simply destroying one character, as Peter Jackson did with Faramir in the Lord of the Rings adaptations, the entirety of Asimov’s work on the robot series was completely thrown out the door. None of the characters share more than a name with their counterparts in the books (a series of short works and novels) the tone of the film is luddite in nature, with all technology representing a fearful threat. This is a framing for the film that Asimov would have rejected out of hand. The plot hinges on a point that contradicts all of Asimov’s writing on the subject (the ability for a robot to kill a human) only to be countered at the last minute with a physics defying descent to an inexplicably located central computer system that isn’t even in Asimov’s works. The continued existence of the film serves as firm proof that there is no afterlife, because I can’t imagine Isaac Asimov not returning from the dead to correct this blasphemy enacted in his name.

The people who complain about minor character details being missed, or sections of the work, like Tom Bombadil (again, in Lord of the Rings) that don’t lend themselves to plot progression, simply don’t understand the constraints of the visual storytelling medium. However, it is clearly important that the filmmaker not only be a fan of the written work, but has to understand how to pull the plot, theme, and narrative out of one medium and place it in another in such a way as to be recognized by the literary fan, so that the people who paid to read the written work will also pay to see the movie. If the producer, director, writer and actors all don’t agree on this and make their best efforts to pull this feat off, you end up with just another blockbuster that you hope makes it’s exorbitant production costs back in the first few weeks of it’s public release. Because you won’t have fans buying it and talking about it years later.

Understanding the limitations of the medium that the story is told in can be key to being more forgiving. For example: A keycard is familiar and its purpose is understood by the viewing audience. Using a keycard to bypass security serves to advance the plot more easily than how you might describe the problem and its solution in a book. You don’t have to spend time explaining how to transfer fingerprints or the knowledge needed to understand bypassing security through the software, if you just have the protagonist steal a keycard. This simplification of the storyline removes at least 10 minutes of film time and who knows how many dollars from the budget. Most of the changes that are made to a literary work being adapted to the screen are done for just these kinds of reasons.

Putting Tom Bombadil into the Fellowship of the Ring movie introduces relationships and characters into the story that really don’t advance the plot and don’t increase the viewers engagement in the story itself. In the book, the brief aside of Tom Bombadil between Buckland and Bree serves to draw the reader into the story, into the world of Middle Earth. Bilbo never encountered any of the problems that Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin did because he stayed on the Great Eastern Road when he traveled from the Shire to the Lonely Mountain in the Hobbit. Tom Bombadil, for the reader, serves to illustrate the problems of leaving the road unsheparded. This makes the Hobbit’s willingness to follow Aragorn more believable when they meet him at Bree. They’ve just survived death at the hands of ghosts and magic because Tom Bombadil was there to save them. The screenwriters rightly decided that shortening the narrative there was without any real cost to the overall storyline. The only people who object to going straight from Buckland (mentioned as the ferry in the movie) to Bree with a single scene cut are the people who are anchored in the literary narrative, incapable of appreciating the different demands a viewing audience brings to the theater with them.

I loved Fellowship of the Ring when it came out as a movie. It remains a testament to what Peter Jackson thought he could sell to a bunch of rabid fans ready to tear the heart out of his three-movie project before the first movie was even cold in the film canisters.

The Two Towers is a completely different matter. The Two Towers is a bad movie in pretty much the same way every second movie is, plus a few other insults thrown in. I’ve already mentioned Peter Jackson’s treatment of Faramir as one of my objections. Dragging the Hobbits to Osgiliath served the purpose of having a crisis moment for Faramir where he and the audience see the danger of the ring for themselves. In my estimation it is unnecessary.

As a film editor I would have sliced off all hints that they ever left Ithilien, had the Witch King show up, have Faramir renounce the ring (he does anyway) and send Frodo and Sam on their way. No need to draw out the crisis moment. No need to have Sam utter that heartfelt speech about not being here that always makes me laugh and agree with him. No. You shoudn’t be in Osgiliath. Now you have to come up with a device to get the Hobbits back onto the borders of Mordor. Oh, look! A tunnel! Just what we needed.

The less said about Treebeard and the ents as they appear in the movie, the better. I don’t think that Jackson had all those sequences worked out in advance. They have a hurried quality to them, which (bararum) Treebeard himself would not have appreciated. The second movie was always going to be the connector between the grand achievement of Fellowship of the Ring, and the closing moments of Return of the King. The book The Two Towers is a long slog, too. That the series of movies were completed at all is a tribute to Peter Jackson and his crew.

…and then he went on to destroy the Hobbit. Peter Jackson’s the Hobbit is J.R.R. Tolkien in name only, just like I, Robot having the name Asimov’s in front of it makes it his movie in name only. I haven’t watched the third Hobbit movie, but I will eventually. The elf/dwarf river dance in the second movie combined with the liquid gold surfing was more than I could take. You strip out Jackson’s love of overly-long action sequences and you might have a set of movies worth watching (see Jackson’s King Kong) his weaving of the various themes that predate Tolkien’s writing Lord of the Rings, themes that aren’t in the Hobbit, was clever if not at all like the book itself.  The first movie announced Jackson’s intentions to not follow the book so I wasn’t too upset when he didn’t follow it in the second movie.

Since they weren’t really J.R.R. Tolkien and they were definitively Peter Jackson, warts and all, I saw no need to rush out and watch the last movie in the movie theater. Now that I am longing to see movies in a theater again it may be time to dust off some of the movies I’ve put off watching and try them out. See if I think differently about them now.

So what is a bad movie? It is up to the moviegoer at large to determine this, just as it is up to the reader to determine whether any given book represents good writing or not. Let me put it this way.

ranthonyings.com

On my laserdisc copy of Star Wars Han Solo is the only one who fires a weapon in the Cantina scene. That is the way it was supposed to be before George Lucas screwed up all the original movies re-editing them. It is because of the re-edits that I have said for awhile now that neither Disney nor the Abramanator could screw up Star Wars. George Lucas already did that.

…But then the Abramanator said “hold my beer” and proved me wrong. That is also why I won’t buy Star Wars on any of the new formats that are available. Not unless I get an original version of the movie to view. A New Hope is a bad movie. Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back were great movies. It’s just too bad you can’t buy them anymore.

Or you could just ignore the critics and go see the movie.

Stonekettle Station

Some of my thoughts on this subject were inspired by comments on this Facebook thread. The featured image is a screencap from the infamous watermelon scene in Buckaroo Banzai.

Let There Be Light

He fled the light and the knowledge the light implied, and so came back to himself. Even so do the rest of us; even so the best of us.

Stephen King, The Gunslinger

I went on and read/listened to volume two of the Dark Tower saga, the Drawing of the Three. I wasn’t nearly as impressed with the second volume, and I can’t recall a significant moment of the film purportedly based on the first book, which means I’ll have to go back and watch that movie again (Look for this to be updated then) in the meantime Stephen King’s afterword in the second volume, citing how this work was such a departure from his normal writing endeavors, made me pick up and start reading/listening to the Shining.

The one thing I noticed about the second volume of the Dark Tower saga that stuck (other than did-a-chick) was the references to the movie interpretation of the Shining that Stanley Kubrick graced the screens with back in 1980. Very little of what you saw on screen in that movie was even in the novel that Stephen King penned. No elevator full of blood, no encounters with the dead twin girls, no hunt through the hedge maze, no “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” repeated ad nauseum as a demonstration of the father’s madness. King’s tangential reference to that movie, as well as other movies of the time, leaves you thinking that King wasn’t very impressed with Kubrick’s vision of what the Shining was about.

It’s hard to translate the written word to the screen, even when what is written is written specifically to be filmed. Stephen King’s books are a lot like other novels that are worth reading. The language on the page draws images in your head, and those images will never be the exact same images that any other person has. The script writer/director/actor all have to agree on what the image on the screen should be, and they are all hampered in their ability to get their interpretation of the words onto the screen by the limitations of the technology that exists at that moment to realize the images.

When a book relies on the internal horror of the individual’s mind to advance the plot, every attempt to turn that into a movie is doomed to failure. It is doomed to failure because every single reader will come in expecting to see their mental pictures on the screen, and they aren’t going to see them there.

I take great pains to reserve judgement on a movie based on books that I’ve read. I try to set aside what I know about any given character that I’m watching on screen. Set aside what I know that isn’t in the movie I’m watching. This helped me get through all the Marvel movies based on characters that I’ve followed since childhood. Helped me watch the Harry Potter movies without demanding that this or that scene from the book just had to be in the movie.

There will be enough time to reflect on the whole achievement of the movie after the credits roll. Time to reflect, unless the movie lacks the hooks to make it relevant to your experiences outside the movie theater. That movie is soon forgotten. Does that make the movie a bad movie? Only a second viewing will answer that question.

Contagion. Pandemic. Outbreak. Because, Why Not?

I was inspired to go on a journey of epidemiological exploration by this segment of On The Media part of the show that aired on March 13, 2020.

On the Media – Rewatching “Contagion” During The Pandemic

This was the second or third podcast that featured an interview with Laurie Garrett, one of the scientific advisors on the film Contagion. She was in a segment of On The Media from a previous week, as well as being the subject of the Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Infectious Disease Edition episode of On the Media back in 2014.

Then there was this episode of Planet Money: The Disease Detectives or this segment from Morning Edition. It was beginning to look like everyone was talking about this movie. I remembered watching it, or at least starting to watch it. But I couldn’t remember more than the first few minutes of the film.

Contagion (2010) (Cinemax link)

Wesley Morris, writing for the New York Times, calls it an explanatory drama in his article. I think of it more as a detective story that understands why we might turn on a movie about a fictional pandemic while we are caught up in a very real pandemic all around us. We want answers, and by the end of the film we have those answers. The closing scenes alone are very rewarding, making the sometimes dry delivery of the film worth the wait, if any of you who watch it find that you feel like you are waiting.

I know why I didn’t remember watching the movie to the end the first time. When they start trepanning open the first victims skull and folding back her scalp, I’m pretty sure I bailed on the film. I almost did that again the second time, even knowing what it was I signed up to watch. We will be getting the most out of that frew week of Cinemax that got us access to the movie for free that first night.

After watching Contagion, I surfed over to check out the Netflix documentary that I had heard someone else talk about.

Pandemic (2020) Netflix

I wasn’t clear on whether this series was a documentary series or not until I tuned in to watch it. The first episode makes this very clear. It’s a documentary. All the episodes inter-relate, but there are different segments in each episode about the different facets of the problem of dealing with a pandemic in different countries. You come away with a pretty clear view of the problems we face dealing with any kind of healthcare crisis in the world, much less one as broad and crippling as the current coronavirus pandemic.

From doctors to anti-vaxxers and back again, the series gives you a broad but shallow look at healthcare in the world today. Since we all have a lot of time on our hands these days, and are probably curious about why we have a lot of time on our hands, this series should help you understand why that is.

Neither venture delivers the punch of an epic disaster movie, though.

Outbreak (1995) Netflix

Outbreak is just the kind of disaster movie you are probably looking for, if those two offerings aren’t to your taste. From devastating viral death rates to government cover-ups to an edge-of-your-seat ending, this film is everything the others are not. Including it being completely unbelievable to anyone with a shred of understand of how infections spread successfully or how government programs work. But it is a good popcorn movie with a rewarding ending. You can’t ask for much more in these times of stress and worry.

A Major Improvement

The Children of Hurin (2007)

I picked up The Silmarillion after reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings on a suggestion from a fellow reader that I was sweet on during my senior year in high school. The other works of J.R.R. Tolkien that I read had been a wonder to experience, but I wanted desperately to know more of the Elves, and to dig into the rich history of Middle Earth that was hinted at in them. The Silmarillion satisfied that curiosity, but left me wondering what the notes that Christopher Tolkien had used to create the compilation that was The Silmarillion had looked like before he had tried to arrange them into a cohesive narrative after his father’s death in 1973. I can only imagine the size of that herculean task, given the scattering of notes that every writer generates over the course of their lifetime.

Many people have complained over the years about the heavy slog that The Silmarillion was for them to read. That was not my experience of the book, but I could tell that The Silmarillion was not the direct works of J.R.R. Tolkien, or rather that the work it represented was not as refined as his later published works had been. I don’t place blame on Christopher Tolkien for this lack of refinement. He had nothing but notes to work from, a loose framework of tales written over several decades, as J.R.R. Tolkien pursued his passion for telling fantastic tales of Elves, Dwarves and Men. Tales that publishers of the time refused to publish for fear that the works simply would not sell.

I wonder what would have happened to his best-loved works, had his earlier passions not be frustrated by recalcitrant publishers? Would we even have the stories of Hobbits, the creation of Hobbiton as a location in Middle Earth, if Tolkien had been satisfied to see his earlier labors rewarded? We’ll never know.

I have wanted to get my hands on the twelve volume set of The History of Middle Earth, what was promised to be the definitive collection of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, published serially from the years 1983 to 1996, since I first heard rumor of its existence. I was desperately trying to stay in the business of architecture by that time, trying to raise two children to boot, and I had little time for reading for fun during those years. But I kept my eye out on the rare occasion that I made it into libraries and bookstores, hoping that I might run across them so that I could at least touch them on a shelf somewhere. I never have had the chance to find all twelve of them at a bargain price, and when I looked on Amazon.com today there are several sets of books listed that promise to be the definitive collection of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, some of them even calling themselves The History of Middle Earth, but aren’t the originally published twelve separate books. All of them requiring more cash than I’m willing to spend just to set them on a shelf in my library.

The back and forth eye motion of reading text on a printed page has gotten difficult, sometimes even producing minor bouts of vertigo when I have tried to push myself to read for any lengthy amount of time. I doubt that I could ever bring myself to go through all twelve volumes of the set all on my own, if I had to read them directly. The last few times I tried reading anything on the printed page I became fatigued so quickly that I had to resort to buying the works on audiobook just to be able to finish them.

When The Wife and I ran across the Children of Hurin on Audible recently, read by Christopher Lee, we both agreed that we needed to get it. She loves Christopher Lee having grown up watching him play Dracula in all the old Hammer films. His narration of Children of Hurin was beautiful to listen to. I couldn’t have asked for a better voice to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s words to life. The story itself is a major improvement on the rough draft of the story that is preserved in The Silmarillion. There is more depth to the work in this form, the story of Turin Turambar and his sister made all the more tragic by the voice of Christopher Lee. It is a credit to both of the authors who have worked on these stories over the course of their lives that this version flows so well from beginning to end. I can’t recommend it highly enough to any Tolkien fan.

TÚRIN TURAMBAR DAGNIR GLAURUNGA

Featured image: dartxo.artstation.com

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains (2019)

(No, it’s not that kind of movie)

Jacob Anders ReviewsVirgin Cheerleaders in Chains – Nov 13, 2019

This is how you do a movie review. The film he is reviewing is the one that I felt I had to write a Movie Rating for Dummies post for just to help the entertainment challenged understand that if you sat through the entire movie, it’s probably at least a three star experience. This guy gets it, and he understands how to mix praise with criticism.

Virgin Cheerleaders in Chains is better than three stars, as Jacob Anders does a much better job of explaining than I can. He’s nicer to the movie than I was, and he doesn’t have to sleep next to the producer of the film knowing she could kill him in his sleep if he trashes her movie.

Which I wouldn’t do to this movie anyway because it is hands down the best made movie she’s worked on. The credit goes to the writer, the director, the cast and crew, all of whom would never have found each other without the producer, the woman I sleep next to. So she gets credit too, even if she isn’t one of the named credits in the movie. The editing job is superb, the acting is excellent, the script won awards. It’s a great movie. Go see it.

I’m simply not a person who watches horror films and enjoys them. I’m still haunted by The Ring after watching it more than a decade ago. I laughed at and was traumatized by Scream when it came out. Halloween still gives me goosebumps, and I’m a certified John Carpenter fan. Don’t ask my opinion on horror films if you want more out of me than it’s not my kind of movie. I’m more at home with dry, intense dramas than I am with action and horror.

This movie scared me, too. So if you like scary movies, go see it. You’ll enjoy it. It is currently streaming on Vimeo (below) and Amazon (linked in the heading)

vimeo.com