State of Play

I had never heard of this movie, or perhaps I simply blocked it out, as it is far too filled with pretty people, but I greatly enjoyed it. Two reporters (well, one's a blogger) are trying to unravel a mystery of a government intern suicide/murder, and what, if any, it has to do with a government probe of what amounts to the privatization of military forces (Think Blackwater). I was very impressed with the relationships between characters, commentary on the state of newspapers, and the fact that there was no gratuitous violence, only subtle romance, and no big action shoot them up scenes. Then again, perhaps that's exactly what killed the movie and made it so I never heard of it. state of play

American Hustle

A con man and his con man girlfriend and his con man wife all team up with a con man FBI agent to take down some con men politicians and some other con men. Con within cons take place in this movie with great action, plot, acting, characters, and intensity. Really enjoyed it, although it did end too abruptly and made me feel like I missed something even if I didn't. Maybe that's the art of the con. 

Scarlet - Brian Michael Bendis

For the record, I was a huge fan of Bendis back before most of you ever heard of him, and would push his indy crime comics on people all the time. So it would seem that his return to the genre would be a bonus, and it might be if I were 12, and knew nothing about cops, the Occupy movement, or the world in general. This comic is a revenge fantasy staring a very hot punk chick who decided that she is going to change the entire world by killing corrupt cops, which, naturally sparks a revolution of people on her side. Listen, cops have always treated me like garbage (at best) and it would be great if people would organize themselves to fight for their rights, but considering how many people I know that vote against their own interests--if they bother to vote at all--, and the lazy "what can you do" attitude that permeates society, and the complete dismissal of anything realistic in terms of what people and cops have the resources to do as displayed in this comic, I just can't express how pointless and sloppy this work is. And all that is without discussing Bendis' penchant for having characters talk directly to the reader and, well, just talk and talk and talk, in general. 

Divergent

So I won't get too much into the plot of this futuristic Chicago that is divided into five factions (plus the faction-less) in which a young girl gives up her faction to join the (reckless)fearless warriors: the Dauntless. There she discovers herself and her potential but also the horrible truth that she is what is called "divergent" (someone who is not clearly just one faction and thus can't be controlled (and thus a danger to the order)). For more details you can read my review of the book here.  I have to admit this is one of those movies that I liked better than the book, mainly because the book isn't incredibly well written and the film cuts through a lot of the crap. On the down side that does cut out some of the subtlety that does exist (I watched the deleted scenes and a little of it was actually there), but I still think most will be better served by the movie. Little addition: I talked to two of my teenage nieces and they felt the opposite to me in that they liked the book so much better than the film. Not saying they are wrong, but it might be valuable if I could get the mindset of those so different to me, namely different ages and genders. Oh well.

Templar - Jordan Mechner

I thought I wrote up a review for the first part of this book: Solomon's Thieves, but I can't find it, and thus much like where the rumored treasure of the Knights Templar is or the reason the warrior order, so popular in medieval christian Europe at one time, was branded heretical, the mystery might never be explained. I enjoyed this tragic and exciting (and very fictional) tale about a group of Templars who plot to steal back their order's treasure in an attempt to both reform their group and free their imprisoned brothers. The story is begging to be made into a movie and while much of it screams of other heist tales (e.g., Ocean's Eleven), there are climatic moments that, while reminiscent of other films, I don't think have been done and I expect would look beautiful and filled with pathos on the big screen. There are problems of characters that have no background/rhyme or reason, and as cliched as some of this comic is, I truly enjoyed it and was sad to reach the end. 

The Good Wife (season 1-4)

Granted, I've only seen about half the episodes of any given season as it is something my folk enjoy and I might simply be in the same room when out on Long Island as they watch the show. It is well done and focuses on Alicia, a former lawyer who took a generation off to raise her kids but is now back on the job after some trouble with her politician husband (think Anthony, Elliot, and Bill). The writing, plotting, and acting is pretty strong as Alicia attempts to get back into the swing of work life at a very successful law firm (a little too successful to take a chance with her after so many years off, but whatever, it's all who you know). My problems with the show are numerous. Everyone's beautiful as is natural in the entertainment world and if you ever see a real trail on TV you realize how fake TV dramas' versions are, but my real issue is that I think just about ever character in the show is an utter scumbag. Everyone is lying and cheating and manipulating while making money I could never dream of, but somehow we are sympathetic to them because we too undergo some of their problems (like failed relationships) and we can like them as they occasionally do pro bono work (as if it wasn't incredibly self serving).

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

[No, I don't know why there are different font sizes here.] This review is really for people that have seen/read at least the first installment of the movies/books. You can look at my first movie review or jump to my review of the trilogy in order to get you started, but the end result is that I just saw the second movie of the Hunger Games series of the same name and did enjoy it--but with the same problems as before. As mentioned, the book has some difficulties packing in so much history and conspiracy as well as character development for people who, for the most part, are as DOA; movies, naturally have an even harder time of that, and I didn't really get how anyone who didn't read the books would understand or enjoy the movie when there are so many gaps to fill. Also as mentioned, I enjoyed it because (besides the F/X and other nice visuals and pretty good acting) I could fill in the pieces (even if it has been years since reading it). 

RASL: The Drift, The Fire of St. George, Romance at the Speed of Light, & The Lost Journals of Nikola Tesla - Jeff Smith

I was a big fan of Bone and thought I'd give this more adult comic a try. The oversized formate and strong b/w art actually makes this seem like a coloring book until you read it. The story is about a scientist (as unlikely as he first seems), Rob, who is using his invention to cross into alternate universes to, well, rob them. While we know little of this character, we quickly learn that he is in way over his head. This first volume has many more questions than answers, but you'll want to learn more ASAP. Smith is a great storyteller and wonderful artists. It is good to see him back.  The second book, The Fire of St. George, give us more detail to the history of our hero scientist as well as my hero, the scientist Nikola Tesla, and the technology that allows Rob to cross dimensions (if that IS what is happening). Still a strong book, but I getting sick of ever gorgeous woman who meets Rob desperately wanting to instantly sleep with him. 

The creepy cover of the 3rd volume takes us to some new characters, or rather further presents some past one, but since about half this volume is notes on the creation of the comic (which can be great for some), we don't get a lot of new info. The Lost Journals of Nikola Tesla concludes our story, which I didn't expect as I thought this was an ongoing series (or at least for a while longer). I admit I am somewhat disappointed with the ending; while most of the threads of this story are tied up the key word is most and I felt it would have been better to extend the ending and more fully delve into the various ramifications of all that had been brought up. Still, it has been an enjoyable ride and it is definitely worth reading. Again, this volume has some behind the scenes insights which is always cool. I would suggest you try to read RASL in one sitting as it is easier to keep track of various elements.

 

2 Guns - Steven Grant

You probably seen the movie by now, but first it was a comic. Considering the cover has two white guys on it indicates that it may be at least slightly different from the film. In any event, two guys rob a bank, only to discover that they are both undercover government agents and that the robbery is the least of their problems. If they want to have a chance to get out of their situations alive they have to work together and unravel the conspiratorial web they are stuck in. It isn't a bad comic although I felt there were some leaps of internal logic (either you're a great shot or you can't hit the guy standing in front of you, pick one) and very little emotional resonance and can totally understand why such a fast paced, action-mystery would make it to the big screen.

The Hunger Games (on the roof, under the full moon, during the first day of summer)

Welcome to summer! What better way to start things off than to watch a movie about children forced to murder one another for the amusement of the decadent and corrupt, while sitting on a rooftop of a luxury building, in the capital of the world, sipping wine? I read this series about a year ago and posted my review, and was not sure I wanted to see the movie, but who can say no to such a summer-ish activity? I did enjoy the film, although the atmosphere was almost as surreal as the dystopian theme. As stated, it was a bit of a special event for some better-off-than-average New Yorkers, who brought their kids to see the film. Not the best choice of entertainment for such a crowd or their families; however, I had a fine time--and got a free hat too! In terms of the movie, I was able to fill in the gaps since I knew the concept of the "fake" love story between Katniss and Peeta and the struggle she endured, not knowing what she felt for this boy or what he might feel for her, yet knowing that they had to play it up to gain approval of the audience. Or the pain that the drunk and bellicose Haymitch suffered having to watch the people he cared for die year after year. The same pacing problems I spoke of for the books exited here: How do you spend the needed time to build up the characters AND develop tension of murder after murder AND fully explain the backstory behind the events AND the inner thoughts of Katniss AND well you get the idea. I did feel they needed to put more time in of the connection between Katniss and Rue as it is a gripping event and really is the spark for the following two installments. As is you have a hard time seeing why you should care more about Rue than any other player/victim of the Games. Many YA novels that are more than a single story seem to only have one movie made before Hollywood abandons them (I'm looking at you The Golden Compass and A Series of Unfortunate Events!). I hope that is not the case here.

Osborn: Evil Incarcerated - Kelly Sue DeConnick

Seeing how Halloween is coming up, it feels like a good time to post a review of this tale of true evil. Norman Osborn, you may recall, was once "little more" than the Green Goblin, a Spider-Man villain, and I loved him as that. Then he gets put in charge of the most powerful spy agency in the world (still fuzzy on that, something with Skrulls) and then he gets overthrown and arrested (even more fuzzy on that, something with Asgardians). I really didn't follow it enough to love or hate it, but I was looking forward to what happened to Osborn post all that. The story had potential; Osborn is in jail, the government wants him to disappear, a secret cult is taking action, and the evil genius has his own plans. Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of Emma Rios' art (something about the lips just freaks me out) and there was a whole cast of characters that I never heard of and probably won't every again. DeConnick tries to mix a Hannibal Lecture and All the President's Men vibe to the book and somehow it just didn't work. I guess in the end I didn't believe that Osborn was a mad genius, just mad.

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

In the future we are divided into districts controlled by the decadent in the Capital and must pay tribute for a past rebellion by having a group of teenagers fight to the death in a bizarre arena for amusement. Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take the place of her sister and face this almost certain death. But that is only the beginning of her troubles. The trilogy has now moved on to a movie series, which I may or may not see, but I will recommend the books. There are problems: the pacing, especially after the first installment until almost the very end, just doesn't work, and most characters come and go (what do I expect in books about casual murder?) without the details that would make them shine; however, I think it does a good job showing the horrors of a reality TV addicted, jaded society and illustrates the damage of post traumatic stress. I think it's inspired by Battle Royal for those of you that want an even darker version (and there is a movie, too).

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Scab – Peter Milligan

The amoral, black magician Constantine's new relationship is strained when his body is covered in a magical rash. No, there is no message of practicing safe sex here, although it might have made for a better story. Instead, the situation revolves around a union organizer who sells out and is likewise infected. Milligan attempts to tell a story sympathetic to the working man's plight and how a corrupt government might behave. I never felt the story really got going and it becomes yet another of Milligan's tales that didn't thrill me, which is starting to heavily outweigh the ones that have.

Political Advantage

Click to enlarge.

Do you think Congress seems aloof to the needs of average Americans? Perhaps it has something to do with all their political advantages:

  • The average member of Congress makes $174,000 per year. The average American is lucky to reach $50,000.1
  • Members get an automatic cost of living increase.2 I’ll bet you had to ask for your raise.
  • Members get a taxpayer-paid per diem, or more likely, they get wined and dined by a lobbyist. You probably paid for your own sandwich.
  • Most members get a guaranteed pension in addition to Social Security. You probably don’t have a pension (if you’re lucky, you have a 401K), and you may even have been fooled into thinking Social Security should be privatized.
  • Members who lose their job (by being voted out---they are never "downsized") typically have an even more lucrative lobbying job waiting in the wings. You'll have to search the want ads.

So unlike the average American, Congress's major concern is tax cuts. What more pressing problem could there be?

Of course, Congress can do the right thing when their own interests are at stake. After the financial accounting scandals of Enron, WorldCom, and the like, Congress moved quickly and unanimously (522-13 in favor) to implement financial regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley.3 And why? Because Members own stock portfolios, and they wanted to make sure they could trust the financial information they were getting. In other words, they were covering their own asse(t)s.

With this bit of recent history in mind, it seems to me that the way to make Congress care about the little guy is to make them a little guy, too. Here’s a few suggestions:

  • Members’ salary cannot exceed the national average. I’ll bet that raises the minimum wage.
  • Members cannot have better health care than the average American. Boom: universal, single payer.

When Members stop being millionaires, they may start to govern for the rest of us.


Notes:

1. Congressional data for 2011-2012. Here is a source of info on Congressional salaries and benefits. Average personal income is highly variable, depending on how you slice the data: education, race, and age make big differences in the final number. And really, economists say you should look at the median (the number that falls in the middle) rather than the average income. For 2010, that amount was about $27,000.

2. In the past, Congress had to vote for the pay increase, but they realized that doing so year after year really made them look bad. So they changed the law to make it automatic. Now they have to vote NOT to get a pay increase, which surprisingly hasn't happened.

3. Yes, the law could have been much stricter, but still: how often do you see Republicans vote in favor of regulation?

Privacy? Please...

In honor of Google’s new worrisome privacy policy and the news that the FBI may be using FaceBook and other social media to spy on Americans: Click to enlarge

In the Information age, data is power, and it should be no surprise that governments and companies want as much access to your personal information as possible. Because once you understand and can track someone’s behavior, you can keep tabs on them and/or sell directly to them. (I’m not sure which I fear more.)

Companies work hard to get a hold of your information. And while you may be willing to share some secrets in exchange for a product or service, you have no control over what is ultimately done with that information or who gets it.

It’s true that organizations are now required to disclose their privacy policies. But that doesn’t mean much, because if you actually read those policies, you’ll see that your rights are pretty limited. “Opting out” is always tricky or cumbersome. And even the most ethical company can change owners (and policies) at the drop of a hat.

But why should they have all the power? We’ve seen how far companies will go to protect their intellectual property. People need to start protecting their own intellectual property. In a world where data equals dollars, shouldn’t you be the one who decides how to buy and sell your info? I’m quite serious: I want a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing the right to privacy. But barring that, I want to require companies to get my express written permission to use my information—every time they want to use it. More than that, I want a dollar every time someone downloads my data. If iTunes can do it, I should be able to as well.

Vada a bordo, cazzo!

We live in a world where people are quick to pass the buck, to claim it's not their problem, to blame others, to manipulate the truth, to lie. It might not be anything new, but I feels like it gets worse every year. The outraged that Italian cost guard commander De Falco expressed at the seeming cowardly incompetence of the captain of the Costa Concodia cruise ship gets to the heart of the matter in the one phrase: Vada a bordo, cazzo. Roughly translated, it means "Get back on board, you dick!"

Capt Schettino: But do you realize it is dark and here we can’t see anything…

Commander De Falco: And so what? You want go home, Schettino? It is dark and you want to go home?

It is always dark, it's always hard to see, and we always want to go home. Stop your whining, cut the excuses, take responsibility, do your job.

You'll be surprised how quickly the world becomes a better place.