Monthly Archives: August 2019

A Tear in the Fabric

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

-Albert Einstein

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April 16, 2007 was one of the saddest days of my life. That was the day one of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history took place at Virginia Tech.

Up to that point, I had maintained some level of childhood innocence. I had lived through 9/11 but had not yet grasped the impact it carried. More on that in a bit.

I was old enough, however, to feel the sense of loss and despair of Virginia Tech the same way I mourned the innocents at Sandy Hook, children who had not yet played their role, were never given the chance to make their mark. I remember the broken heart I carried that whole week, many times that month. I wish I could say I didn’t still feel it.

Since 2012, there have been hundreds of mass shootings, though that number varies based on definition criteria. An overwhelming majority have happened in the United States, seemingly the only country on the planet who is still befuddled by firearm regulation. Mass shootings do not happen with regularity in other countries; they generally do not happen at all and when they do, swift action occurs.

In New Zealand this year, two mosques were the targets of mass shootings. 51 dead and 49 wounded.

Within a month, New Zealand had passed a ban on semi-automatics and similar weapons in an unanimous vote.

New Zealand has taken further steps since, including the consideration of a national registration and more stringent vetting process.

It has not been without obstacles. There have been hurdles, as there are with all major legislation but action and progress nonetheless.

No such action has occurred in America.

We had Orlando.

Las Vegas.

Stoneman Douglas in Parkland.

And yet nothing.

Having a conversation is deemed politicizing an event that is by nature political. It is human to ask how to prevent a tragedy and posing such questions does not desecrate the lives of the lost. Inaction does and the U.S. has been a stagnant protector for a long time.

Avoidance and deflection have become part of the playbook. Among the many excuses paraded: media, video game culture, bad egg, lack of religion and of course, the most denigrating one of all: now’s not the time.

Not the time.

It wasn’t the time in 2007 nor the time in 2012 when parents put their children on the school bus for the last time. It wasn’t the time when the slaughter of homosexuals transpired nor after a man unloaded multiple magazines over a concert ground in Las Vegas. It wasn’t the time last year when my hometown of Pittsburgh had a synagogue shot up.

Not the time.

If a murder occurred and no evidence was collected nor leads investigated for a decade, those responsible would be in prison for dereliction of duty and the cover up of a crime. Our leaders have abandoned their post regarding this matter. All of them.

One party deflects, the other calls for change but ignorance nor press conferences will create gun control or a better mental health system. Neither qualifies as action.

This absolute silence from elected officials has caused a tear in this country’s fabric, one which began with 9/11. That infamous day changed both policy and perception in this country and in that sense, Osama Bin Laden accomplished what he had set out to do: he had made America fearful and vulnerable. This country has been afraid ever since and continues to demonstrate that nearly every day when our politicians and president lash out with derogatory, hate-filled rhetoric towards minorities and people they deem from an other place, people they believe don’t belong in the texture of America. Such a faith directly contradicts our founding principles. Bin Laden punctured a hole in this country’s heart and it’s been unraveling, becoming thin and fragile.

The flag used to be a bright red, white and blue symbol of integrity and prosperity but now hangs from the staff as a distant reminder of what was. Now, the flag cries tears of blood while its wave seizes with the loss of life and direction this country is suffering. Things some believed conquered, such as racism and inequality, seem injected with a new vigor. Steps taken forward have been retracted, deemed unsatisfactory.

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For those reasons, it is hard to take pride in standing during the anthem. I confess I purposely knelt during the anthem for a year in protest, because it is difficult to be brimming with zeal for something as lost and far from what you once believed. It is arduous to applaud a place which does not take seriously the murder of its members nor the healthcare or livelihood of all of them, regardless of status, culture, religion or race. That does not mean I should “go back to where I came from”, only that the ideals and values which brought me here, that I long for, I wish to fight for. The first step of recovery is acceptance, the second action but those in authority have become accustomed to the greed and sloth of corruption.

There was a time, perhaps only in my imagination, when politicians and leaders of this country served as stewards for the needs of the people. For most of my life, they instead have stood at attention for private interests, auctioning their influence to the highest bidder. On days and weeks like the ones following tragedy and travesty, it is daunting if not entirely impossible to not look at the so-called system as fraudulent, an assemblage built with the purpose of feigning order and control while chaos makes itself at home. White noise, not genuine language, fills the dead space but does not bring it life.

Instead, that dead space has widened with bigotry, xenophobia and chauvinism from our commander-in-chief. There are now more groups deemed infestations in this country than are welcome. Objective truth is questioned daily and false claims are paraded without shame while scandal, nepotism and controversy drown the administration.

There are human beings caged like animals on our southern border. This is not up for interpretation. This is an event that has happened, is happening and will likely continue to happen. Despite the uproar, no moves have been made, no changes enforced.

White supremacy and elitism have been given a wide platform while the foundations of equality and diversity have been targeted and scapegoated. Division, not unity, has become political policy.

This is America.

The days of me believing the story told to me by this nation, that America is the greatest country in the world, the land of opportunity and the beacon on the hill, are over. This country is not great. It is deeply flawed, rife with prejudice, bribery, denial and disenfranchisement. This place once had nobility, integrity and pride, served as a nation of unalienable rights and unwavering bravery in the face of tyranny. When countries were on the brink of collapse, America took on the role of savior. When people suffered and starved, America was looked upon as a refuge, a house of honor and limitless potential. America had a dream. We the people had a dream but dreamers are not allowed to dream anymore. Now, they’re deported.

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There were times we had heroes.

When storms approached, we charged forward into the fray.

In our darkest hours, men, women and children of this country rose to the occasion.

When our national identity was in question, our position in the world in limbo, young men took the podium.

When our hope faltered, our leaders inspired hope, reminded us of our history and not only promised change but fulfilled that oath.

When oppression became a national identity, a leader arose to speak of a greater tomorrow.

But now, near 56 years later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is still only artwork of the imagination. Freedom does not yet ring in the land of the free and life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not yet guaranteed to all now 243 years after that promise was made. This country for too long has been indignant, for too long has been ignorant of systemic oppression, police brutality and the imperfections of the criminal justice system.

Words used to mean something. Values and creeds used to be cherished. Visions, with hard work, determination and direction, used to become realities.

Used to.

I do not take joy in writing this. Succumbing to sorrow and sadness is never enjoyable, nor is the realization you were sold a false vision, a faith you wanted with all your heart to believe in undone.

I come from a family of immigrants, like many others in this land and my ancestors came, worked here, prospered here and died here because they believed. My ancestors from England believed life could be more than it was, dared to travel to America and were brave enough to fight for not just the land and the resources and the people but for an idea, the mere figment of independence.

My ancestors from Yugoslavia came to escape turmoil and an impending revolution. My ancestor left Nazi Germany and friends and family behind and everything he ever knew because America was the self-proclaimed land of opportunity. It would not be easy but step by step and brick by brick, he built the life he sought.

They all made the greatest of sacrifices because they believed with their whole hearts in what this country said it stood for. So did I.

But this court cannot be privy to the evidence and still empower false narratives. It is not who we claim we are but what we do that defines us. We have become frozen in our fears, volatile because of our insecurities and blamed our brothers and sisters for problems we all share responsibility for. We have abandoned the badge we once wore with such pride and distinction for a crown of personal gain. The stories of that badge are treated as fairy tales no longer repeatable rather than identities discarded. We have become a nation of “That’s not possible” rather than the country of manifest destiny. We’ve become the populace of “We don’t have the money for that” rather than the people of aspirations but worst of all, we’ve become the speaker of “send her back” rather than the gatekeeper, saying, “welcome to the home of the brave.”

America went to bed mourning a tragedy in El Paso, Texas and woke the following morning to the pain of a new one in Dayton, Ohio. A familiar nostalgia arose: a fierce want for change.

But now is not the time.

And I no longer can say with confidence that time will come again.

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Movie Review: Batman Begins

“It’s not who I am underneath but what I do that defines me.”

June 15, 2005. That was the release of Batman Begins. Depending on when I’ve published this, the 14th anniversary is either right upon us or just passed (haha, so much for that). Little did we know then that the beginning of what is, arguably, the most dramatic illustration of the Batman/Bruce Wayne persona was being revealed.

There have been a healthy variety of caricatures and molds but none, in my opinion, have ever done Batman the justice he truly deserves like Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, a course few in the superhero genre can compete with. Marvel is clearly the gold standard in comic book lore but its formula often dissuades serious undertones for a more humorous experience. Marvel is by no means one-note or incapable of doing so. Far from it. The Infinity War films are beyond reproach as is Captain America: Civil War.

That has always been Detective Comics calling card, however: a relentless dedication to the serious, dramatic and less perused material. D.C. has also built a reputation of messing it up. I’ve gone over this in a few critiques already (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Constantine, Suicide Squad, Catwoman, Watchmen). I need not mention it again here.

When they get it right (how few times that is), it can compete with just about anything.

Image result for batman begins movie poster free useBatman, despite being a billionaire, is heavily relatable, a man racked with guilt and a sense of powerlessness despite the absurd amount of weapons at his disposal. All that he achieves? Meaningless. It doesn’t take away the pain. Money is fruitless and offers no respite. He can only look back at what he could have done, what he should have done, burdened by regret over his parents’ murder. That angst fuels him, drives him to serve justice and hold those in power accountable. He is Lady Liberty.

As is discussed in the film, he is not a man. He is an ideal. A man can be killed but an ideal, an ideology? That’s more powerful than any man can ever aspire to be, a theme paraded in another of D.C.’s best pictures, V for Vendetta, which, speak of the devil, is a Wachowski film. It’s as if I planned all this. (If you haven’t read my comments on The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded and/or The Matrix Revolutions, please click!)

An ideal can be chased. It can be battered and chastised, drowned in a roar of denial and hatred. Assemblies of men in power will do what they can to twist it to their own ends, utilize it to win a war of their own but it will stay pure. It cannot be bought, cannot be ransomed with or threatened. Its being is never in question. It holds realm over all things, even those that would rebel against it. It won the war when it came into existence.

As we see in the first third, Bruce Wayne wants to fight injustice and corruption but man is and always will be limited by his own mortality and quantity of resources. A symbol has no such limitations. A symbol sacrifices everything for the cause but none of its identity. It will never betray itself. So became the Bat.

Batman is that symbol for Gotham, a city ravaged by poverty, economic turmoil, corruption and crime, a city with no hope for the good and the innocent. Batman is that beacon, the bat signal in the sky, the light in the darkness.

To those who would seek to prey on the helpless and the vulnerable, he is a monster in the shadows. He is no man and something greater than man frightens people.

Over the course of the film, Nolan demonstrates direction guided by an intricate knowledge of character and scope, captured in the film’s tape. Batman Begins runs like an opera, with smooth transitions in both key change and stanza whilst providing an oh-so-familiar melody. Nolan knows Batman deserves a serenade of severity and remains diligent with the sculpting of that tone but is aware when to pluck some humor into the chapters, not unlike a comic book-stylized work. The dark savior deserves a dark commemoration but not one without charm.

Alongside the maestro’s baton is some excellent writing from the quill, scripted by Nolan and writer David Goyer, who would go on to write the screenplay for Man of Steel, the evasive Superman success that took D.C. decades and multiple failed attempts to create. No character goes unrendered in these pages, each with their own textures and motives to pass along to our palettes. Films with great writing are interwoven with quotable moments and immersive messages. Count Batman Begins as one of them.

This edition is no doubt aided by excellent casting. Christian Bale serves quite well as our titular character, a man who knows what he will and will not do. He will sacrifice everything for the greater good. He will not betray the symbol, the idealogy that brewed him. Michael Caine is especially good as Alfred, both whimsical and cheeky. Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Liam Neeson finish off quite a list, not to mention Katie Holmes.

Last but not least, Hans Zimmer has been one of the most influential composers in Hollywood, crafting masterful product repeatedly. The list of truly impeccable work extends back more than 40 years. It is a near impossible task to pick any one collection as Zimmer’s best given the ensemble in his portfolio but The Dark Knight trilogy is my personal preference. Riveting, capturing and hopeful, Zimmer’s Batman disc is one of my all-time favorite scores. Many of my top-tier soundtracks originated from Zimmer’s beautiful mind but this delivery and this punch are too immersive to resist.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (The MatrixL.A. ConfidentialHerTakenCaptain America: Civil War)

80-89  It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Dumb and Dumber, Pokemon Detective PikachuThe Matrix Reloaded,WantedLaw Abiding Citizen)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (The Matrix RevolutionsTriple FrontierI am LegendIp Man 2Ip Man)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (2 Fast 2 FuriousDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide Squad)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (XXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the FuriousBrooklyn’s FinestDeath Race)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (DoomThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: Evolution)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (High-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturion)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (XXX: State of the UnionThe SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe Gunman)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The ExtendablesThe Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcast)

My score for Batman Begins: 93.

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” It’s a lesson we all need to read from time to time. Bruce Wayne had to learn how to pick himself up, too. Often our greatest successes come from the ashes of our defeats. It is never too late for redemption, not for the criminals, not for Gotham and not for ourselves.

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Movie Review: Dumb and Dumber

“I’m sick and tired of having to eke my way through life. I’m sick and tired of being a nobody. But most of all, I’m sick and tired of having nobody.”

That is a powerful set of lines from Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber. If you expected a serious installment to Carrey’s resume, however, I’m not sure what part of the title gave that impression.

1994’s Dumb and Dumber is a special kind of stupid and I mean that in the most polite way possible. Those lines displayed at the top are resilient and hit me where it hurts. I’m sure many viewers felt the same. As is commonplace, much of comedy comes from a dark place. That’s one of the reasons Lloyd Christmas (Carrey) and Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) are so funny. It’s because they’re so pitiful, so hopeless and there is something rather inhumane about our enjoyment of that. It’s schadenfreude, to find enjoyment in someone else’s suffering. I’m not shaming anyone. I’m a huge advocate of schadenfreude but for some reason, I kinda sympathize with these two, probably because of those lines above. If you watch the film for fun, it’s likely you don’t even recall them. They’re dropped and forgotten rather quickly, not dwelled upon and that may very well be why they pack such a punch. We were given a peek before the secrets were pulled back behind the curtains.

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These feelings of inadequacy urge Christmas and Dunne to do very desperate and absurd things, which is where much of the film’s entertainment comes from: acting out in ways, any way required, to be accepted. The film, perhaps unintentionally, looks at bullying and ostracization, though I may be absorbing the film far more poetically than it was intended to be. Christmas and Dunne are so lacking in intelligence and sense, so dramatically bumbling, it’s quite natural to look at them through a lens of disgust and neglect and many do during the course of their journey from Providence, Rhode Island to Aspen, Colorado.

Failing at seemingly every obstacle in front of them, Christmas and Dunne carry a weight of self-loathing and had this film wanted to, it could have turned down the path of dark comedy and had a stronger message than it does.

But this is Dumb and Dumber and Dumb and Dumber is really dumb.

There is such a thing as too dumb and every comedy, whether a college humor entry like Adam Sandler 90’s/early 2000’s or a Ben Stiller classic like Zoolander and Tropic Thunder have to mind that. There comes a point when too dumb starts to be detrimental to a film (Along Came Polly). Someone, whether the director, the writers or actors themselves, needs to know the difference between dumb and fun and thankfully, most do. Sidenote: the discrepancies between dumb and funny are not an objective science.

I’m sure there are some entries in Carrey’s journal that don’t but I’ve watched quite a few that have, The Mask being perhaps his finest work. The Ace Ventura installments are also quite good. Carrey’s slapstick is loud, absurd and in your face. It also has a very high success rate for me.

Add Dumb and Dumber to the list.

In addition to perhaps stumbling onto character connection, the dialogue writing is thorough. There are some sequences which exude the childish nonsense that would drive the insane mad. It’s no wonder our villains think them so dangerous. They might slip intelligence under the disguise of outrageous stupidity. Or just ride up their blood pressure to the point of a heart attack.

Bouncing gaffe to gaffe, Dumb and Dumber maintains solid pacing, transitioning smoothly most of the time from set to set. A comedy like this functions like a train: gotta keep shoveling coal to keep the fire burning and Dumb and Dumber is an astute worker. Jim Carrey has made a career manifesting material out of thin air. Like many other comedians, sometimes you need to let go of the reins and let the stallions run. I believe that to be the case with Dumb and Dumber. Too much of it reeks of Jim Carrey. I’d love to know how much input Carrey had in the writing.

Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey showcase contagious, organic chemistry. Sometimes things just mesh well and the Carrey/Daniels special does wonders for the funny bones. Truly a delight to watch.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (The MatrixL.A. ConfidentialHerTakenCaptain America: Civil War)

80-89  It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Pokemon Detective PikachuThe Matrix Reloaded,WantedLaw Abiding CitizenScott Pilgrim Vs. The World)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (The Matrix RevolutionsTriple FrontierI am LegendIp Man 2Ip Man)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (2 Fast 2 FuriousDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide Squad)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (XXXThe SilenceThe Fast and the FuriousBrooklyn’s FinestDeath Race)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (DoomThe Fast and the Furious: Tokyo DriftPirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: Evolution)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (High-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturion)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (XXX: State of the UnionThe SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe Gunman)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Extendables, The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcast)

My score for Dumb and Dumber: 83.

Dumb and Dumber was one of Jim Carrey’s earliest and most recognizable works. 1994 might have been Carrey’s best year, churning out Ace Ventura: Pet DetectiveThe Mask and this.

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