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John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) was a 21-year-old alcoholic when he went out bar hopping with his friend Dexter (Jack Black) in his VW bug. Late at night, Dexter passed out and drove the bug into a pole at 90 miles per hour. He walked away with hardly a scratch. John was paralyzed from the shoulders down.

But that didn’t stop him from drinking. He kept at it for another six years before he found himself in a group of Alcoholics Anonymous sponsored by Donny (Jonah Hill).

As he came to terms with his situation he discovered that he had a knack for dark humor and he started drawing cartoons. Eventually he was able to publish them in the local paper in Portland and, while many people were offended due to the nature of his subjects, he found an international following and fame.

The movie is based on the real life story of John Callahan. Adapted by Gus Van Sant from Callaghan’s autobiography, it is a powerful treatment of addiction and alcoholism, and it illustrates vigorously what it does to a person’s dignity and well-being. Obviously most people do not have Callahan’s zest for life and humor, and his luck and skill to pull off a successful career, partly based on his experiences in life.

A couple of observations: Joaquin Phoenix does a remarkable job with this role. Jack Black looks like he gained an incredible amount of weight. I hardly recognized him. And – this is the most remarkable fact – I didn’t even realize that Donny was played by Jonah Hill (see the person on the right in the photo above). He looks so different from his usual roles, he is so much slimmer, it never even crossed my mind that it was Jonah Hill. Now I want to watch the movie again just to observe his performance.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is a powerful movie that is NOT a comedy, as the trailer might make you believe.

Brazil has more homicides than another 154 countries together. I thought we had problems in the U.S.

Portal to the Forgotten: A time travel story

Tyler and Grace, a young couple in rural Arkansas, are out for a walk in the Ozarks, when Grace suddenly disappears into thin air on the trail right in front of Tyler. When Tyler tries to explain this to the authorities later he is arrested for suspected murder of his girlfriend.

Luke is Tyler’s cousin. His hobby is building primitive weapons, hunting with primitive weapons and tools, and playing survivalist in the woods of Arkansas. When he hears about Grace’s disappearance, the believes Tyler, and he goes on a quest to figure out what happened. On this way, a mystery woman who claims to be a writer, befriends him and they retrace the steps of Tyler and Grace.

Sure enough, there seems to be a “portal” in the woods. They traverse the portal and end up in “another dimension.” But they don’t have much time to reflect. Luke finds himself in a net, trapped like game in the woods by tribal savages.

Portal to the Forgotten is sold as a time travel story, and that’s how I stumbled upon it. But it really has little to do with time travel. The protagonists are simply tossed into a world that is completely different from their own, with seemingly no way back.

The author romanticizes his characters. Luke, for instance, happens to be a primitive hunter. He drives his pickup truck into the wilderness, parks the truck, walks away, sort of like they do in Naked and Afraid, and builds tools, hunts animals, and lives off the land. That’s his hobby. Supposedly he is REALLY good at that. Now what are the odds of such a person ending up jumping through a portal into a primitive prehistoric world, without any weapons or tools? Yes, the plot in this story is too contrived.

Luke is the perfect primitive hunter, better than any of the tribal adversaries. Moon turns out to be a one-man army – think of Rambo. Grace, a martial artist, is also a fighter in her own right. So the people stumbling into the “other dimension” are all super heroes with super hero skills.

The land where they end up is not quite the past, or perhaps the deep past, but a prehistoric world full of different tribes, some more advanced than others, but who all are killing each other. The world is so savage, that every time two human males of different tribes cross paths, one of them dies. Of course, our super hero crew always wins, and the savages fall like leaves. Still, a society where human males always kill each other on contact would not survive very long, but that seems to be the world they are thrown into. And let’s not forget, there is the obligatory Nazi named Karl who time traveled to the same world in an effort to steal ancient technology, kind of like in Indiana Jones. True to expectation, it’s the Nazi and his mission who makes everyone’s lives complicated.

Portal to the Forgotten is a somewhat clumsy story with an unlikely plot. It starts out interesting, but as it evolves, it gets boring. There is a lot of editing needed. Sometimes the author uses wrong words or poor grammar. The book could use some professional editing. There is a lot of exposition, where the author tells us what the protagonists are thinking. So we are constantly in the heads of the protagonists, and their thoughts are often just puerile.

For instance, at one point in the story, still back in the Ozarks, Moon had passed out drunk and naked and Luke had brought her into the cabin and put her into bed. So it’s established that Luke had seen Moon naked before.

But later, in savage land, there is the following passage:

“While you are whittling on that, I’m going to bathe.” She stood. “I trust you won’t look.” Luke immediately turned red. He hated himself for it. “That is so cute.” He turned redder and scraped harder and faster, wished she would just go bathe. He heard her behind him taking her clothes off. He was tempted to look, but he was too embarrassed to say anything, much less turn around.

Gschwend, John. Portal to the Forgotten: A time travel story (p. 55). UNKNOWN. Kindle Edition.

The passage continues for a while where Moon is all prissy about standing in front of the fire to dry off and making Luke close his eyes. So these two adult super heroes are stranded in a wild country and they are worried about seeing each other naked? The book is full of descriptions of such unlikely and inconsistent behavior, it makes the characters unreal and incongruent.

Portal to the Forgotten has too much crammed into the story that does not belong there or add to the plot. The science is babble-science. I like my science fiction to the SCIENCE fiction. The plot is contrived and the characters are just not very interesting.

There is a sequel, but I won’t read it.


 

[click for picture credit – reddit]

80% of the French soccer players are Africans

50% of them are Muslim

liberté, égalité, fraternité et diversité

 

Trump said in front of the world today that “there was no collusion.”

What I saw on that stage today was collusion. There was collusion all along and it was going on right in front of our eyes today. What we all witnessed was collusion.

Remember when Obama first became president and everyone chastised him after his first trip abroad for “selling out the United States?”

Obama did nothing of the sort. He systematically cleaned up our image in the world and established respect and dignity.

What Trump did today was sell out the United States. Trump trampled on the foundation of our democracy and our values. He undermined the justice system, the law enforcement community and the intelligence services of his own county, our country, to protect his own ass.

Russia is a nation-state built on organized crime. Putin is a thug and a killer who hijacked an entire country. And our president kowtows to him.

Trump and ilk in the White House are so corrupt and morally bankrupt, and we are getting so used to that, we have been desensitized. I am starting to feel sullied by our own government.

We need to go to the polls and vote democrat this fall and throw out all the Republican enablers in the Congress. They are no better than the crooks in the White House.

Throw them all out, we must!

John McCain’s Finest Hour

Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake. President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world. It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout – as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world. Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency. That the president was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisors makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable. No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.

— Senator John McCain – July 16, 2018

[picture credit: Irish Times]

From the Irish Times:

Read this article and watch the 2-minute video, and scare yourself shitless.

 

 

 

Oh, how the Tomatometer can be right on for me, and then completely off. Yesterday I reviewed Leave No Trace with a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. I have it 4 stars.

In contrast, Blockers has a score of 83% and it gets half a star from me.

It starts out well enough, when three girls walk up the sidewalk to their elementary school on the first day of school. Three parents stand there, slightly teary eyed, seeing them off. The girls hold hands and gingerly walk up the steps of the school into their new lives. The parents realize that they may see more of each other in the years to come.

Roll forward to the “end” of school – prom night. The girls have become fast friends, and so have the parents. Spying on a chat log one of the girls leaves on in her room, the parents realize their daughters have made a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. They freak out and make their own dubious pact to block this from happening.

The entire movie is a string of contrived situations, trite prom scenes that have been used in every movie about proms since movies have been made, with accents like unrealistic vomiting in the limo. I have a disdain for all movies with graphic and explicit projectile vomiting. Inexplicably, they had to add a couple of flashes of close-ups of hairy dad testicles being squeezed for no reason in the plot other than to be, well, gross. It’s hard to un-see those images once you were subjected to them. Yuck.

I watched the movie because it was late, I was too tired to read, and I kept thinking it would get better. I chuckled and laughed at times, not because it was funny, but mostly because the movie was so bad, it was a laugh of embarrassment.

83% on the Tomatometer, go figure!

Do not waste your time or money.

Will (Ben Foster) is a young homeless veteran haunted by demons most of us can’t even imagine. He lives completely off the grid in the woods outside of Portland, Oregon with his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie). By off the grid I mean under a tarp deep in the forest, hiding their footprints on the way in so nobody knows they are there. Tom’s mother died, we don’t know how, before she can remember. Will teaches his daughter survival skills as well as the laws of homelessness. She is surprisingly educated and well-adjusted.

But then they get caught, and social services closes in on them, trying to integrate them into society one step at a time. Tom takes well to her new environment, but Will cannot function in the normal world. Again and again he walks away with nothing but a set of boots, a backpack and his teenage daughter in tow.

Leave No Trace is an intense drama accentuated by brilliant cinematography and a poignant musical score. It gives us a view into the desperate world of homelessness and has us guessing about the horrible trauma a man must have gone through to end up like Will in the wilderness. And yet, the support system is not demonized in this story, the social workers are caring and giving and really trying to help. The friends they meet along their journey are a motley group of aged hippies, beaten veterans and country folks trying to find their way. We see a corner of Americana that is as real as Starbucks and freeways and iPhones, but just a few miles off into the hinterland, past a few stop lights at the edge of town. That is where life happens, accompanied by a guitar in calloused hands, stringy long hair tied in a ponytail by a scrunchy, in the shelters of beat-up trailers under giant trees.

Leave No Trace received a perfect 100% by Rotten Tomatoes and it deserves every bit of it.

Really, Rudy?

No Americans are involved in this indictment. How can a logical mind therefore conclude that Trump is completely innocent from that?

Russians were caught committing crimes against the United States, trying to make Clinton look bad and Trump look good. That’s why it’s called the “Russian Collusion Scandal” in the first place. Obviously, the attack happened. Some key Americans were involved, several have plead guilty, and one is in jail.

We have a crime. We have a number of Americans pleading guilty in relation to it. We have many Russians indicted supporting that the crime actually happened. And from that you conclude Trump is innocent?

If I were Trump, I’d be getting queasy right about now. The walls are closing in from all sides. The American people should find out, by investigators revealing the truth of what happened, one layer at a time.

Americans should not be listening to the propaganda of Trump himself and his ilk.

 

I am a Californian, and I am proud of it. We used to be the world’s 7th largest economy, if we were a country of our own. We’re now the 5th, after surpassing France and then just recently the United Kingdom. India has also edged ahead of France recently.

Germany, you’re next. Here we come!

For comparison, look at puny Russia. Putin likes to think he makes a difference, and by weaponry perhaps he does. But Russia’s economy is smaller than that of New York City.

And this is also a message for all those that keep bashing California and Governor Brown for being “liberal.” California has 12% of the population of the United States but produces 14% of its GDP. I can say that our state has a $6 billion surplus and pays into the United States treasury more than any other state. In other words, California taxpayers are subsidizing the “poor” states of our union to a large degree.

Now don’t make me put up a red / blue map superimposed over the map of the states who fund the United States treasury and those who drag on it.

And now, back to work!

Almost 20 years ago I did Flower 1 and Flower 2This year, I added three more. Each painting is on a 30 x 24 canvas. I cut raw canvas, linen or burlap into shapes, like stems, leaves, blossoms, or background areas, and glued them to the raw canvas. Each painting also got a two inch canvas “frame” around it. I gave the whole thing a coat of gesso. Finally, I painted the flowers over the glued shapes. So each of these paintings has a texture and I always invite the viewer to touch. So, Flower 1 and 2 below were done in 2000, and I just added the other three now in 2018. Is this now called a “quintych” analogous to diptych (set of two paintings) or triptych (set of three paintings)?

Flower 1

 

Flower 2

 

Flower 3

 

Flower 4

 

Flower 5

 

Pino Lella is a 17-year-old Italian boy living with his family in Milan in 1943 as World War II comes into its final chapter. To escape the draft of Italian boys into the Nazi’s war and face even odds of getting killed on the Russian front within months of deployments, Pino reluctantly volunteers and is assigned as a driver to a Nazi general. In this position he happens to be in a front-row seat to observe the war and the machinations of the Nazis behind the scenes. But along with the doubtful privilege of serving one of the top commanders comes the branding of being a traitor in the view of his Italian countrymen, friends and even family.

Beneath a Scarlett Sky is a novel, but it is dramatized around the true story of the real person Pino Lella and his actual experiences during the war.

Early on, Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler hit it off as two open fascists. When Hitler decided to wage war, he started an alliance with Mussolini and the Italy German pact was a powerful force early in the war. But Italy fell earlier, and Mussolini was captured, and then freed. He served as a puppet leader under the Germans in the latter years of the war. The Italian people were brutalized both by the Italian Fascists loyal to Mussolini, and the German occupation force that was in Italy presumably to “protect” the nation from the Allied Forces. In reality, the Germans looted Italy, both of its young men for the war effort, and later of its goods, food, manufacturing, and industrial output. As it was custom for the Nazis, Jews were rounded up and shipped to concentration camps or into forced labor. Any non-cooperating Italians were forced to perform slave labor duties until they died. The Germans called it Vernichtung durch Arbeit (destruction through labor).

Atrocities by the Germans abounded. Here is a passage describing how General Leyer, one of the central protagonists, separates a child from her mother – while he knew it was forever:

A few moments later, a woman pushed through the crowd, helping a pale, sweating little girl about nine years old.

“Tell her that I am going to save her daughter,” General Leyers said.

Pino balked a moment before translating.

The woman began to sob. “Thank you. Thank you.” “Tell her I will get the girl medical help and make sure she never comes to Platform Twenty-One again,” the general said. “But the girl must come alone.”

“What?” Pino said.

“Tell her,” Leyers said. “And there is no argument. Either her daughter is saved, or she is not, and I’ll find someone more agreeable.”

Pino didn’t know what to think, but told her.

The woman swallowed but said nothing.

The women around her said, “Save her. Do it!”

At last, the sick girl’s mother nodded, and Leyers said to the SS guards, “Take her to my car, and wait with her there.” The Nazis hesitated until Colonel Rauff shouted at them to comply. The girl, though weak and feverish, went hysterical when they took her from her mother’s arms. Her shrieks and cries could be heard throughout the station while Leyers ordered the rest of the people out of the boxcar. He walked in front of them, looking at each in turn before stopping in front of a girl in her late teens.

— Sullivan, Mark. Beneath a Scarlet Sky: A Novel (pp. 347-348). Lake Union Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Reading Beneath a Scarlet Sky helped me understand the nature of the war in Italy so much better than I ever knew. That is actually surprising, because I could have had much more insightful knowledge of what actually happened had I just sat down with my paternal grandfather when he was still alive. He died in 1985 at the age of 80. We don’t know much about his role in the war, but he was off with the Bundeswehr all through the war, and in the final years he was stationed in Italy. He never talked about his experiences with me, or with anyone as far as I know.

But he was there, he was one of the Nazis described in Beneath a Scarlet Sky.

Maybe that’s why he never talked about it.

 

 

Here is another word salad by the President of the United States. This is what he feeds to his supporters. It is really worth their while to listen to vapid fillers like this? I don’t see how you can admire somebody whose thoughts are so poorly organized that he will stand in front of a few thousand people and utter this.

Fifty percent of the people of the United States have a below average IQ. Perhaps this is what those people want to hear?

I prefer Crocodile Rock.

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