Movie Review: Hustle (2022)

Stanley Sugerman (Adam Sandler) is a pro basketball scout for the Philadelphia 76ers. The life on the road for a scout is brutal. His daughter is a teenager, and he has missed all of her birthdays. While his family is loving and understanding, the stress on him is enormous. The owner of the team and his mentor suddenly dies, and when his son takes over the management, Stanley soon finds himself fired.

He goes on a scouting mission in Madrid, Spain and accidentally discovers Bo Cruz, an amateur player who plays hustle basketball on the streets for money. When he sees a possible superstar, the convinces Bo to let him coach and train him for the NBA.

There is a bit of Rocky in Hustle, and the training scenes, even though they are somewhat drawn out, are very reminiscent of Rocky Balboa running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the steps that have become known as the Rocky Steps. Bo also trains in the early morning hours in Philadelphia. Hustle is a predictable underdog movie. If you like pro basketball, you’ll enjoy some of the legends who appear and play themselves.

Movie Review: Hell or High Water (2016)

Toby Howard (Chris Pine) is an unemployed oil worker in Texas. After his mother passed away, he is about to lose the family ranch due to the foreclosure by the Texas Midland Bank. He is divorced and his two sons live with his ex-wife.

His brother Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) is released from prison. To get even with the bank, the two brothers start a string of bank robberies, always targeting Texas Midland Bank branches.

Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is just before retirement, when he is intrigued by this case and decides to solve it. He gets into the heads of the robbers, tries to find their motive and expect their next move.

Hell or High Water is a story about despair and hopelessness in rural Texas. It’s an adventure story where the heroes don’t have superpowers and gun shots kill. Jeff Bridges does a great job playing a crotchety old ranger with a lot of experience who uses his brain to outfox the thugs.

Movie Review: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a wacky movie that works exceedingly well. Remember when John Malkovich starred as himself in Being John Malkovich? 

Well, here is Nicholas Cage playing himself: Nick Cage. He is an actor, and when his accountant tells him that his finances are disastrous, he is at a loss as to what to do. Then there is this obscure gig to appear at a billionaire’s birthday party on the island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean. Apparently, the playboy is a huge fan of Nick. After turning it down outright, he later comes to his senses and ends up going.

When he finally meets his fan, Javi Gutierrez, the two quickly become friends. That is, until the CIA approaches him, tells him that Javi is a drug lord and crime boss, and forces him to become an informant.

The action quickly gets out of control, and Nick and Javi are drawn in to a cat and mouse game that could end up deadly for both them and their families.

The film supposedly plays on the island of Mallorca, but it was mostly filmed in Croatia over a period of 15 days in October 2020. Croatia Weekly stated that several scenes were shot in and around “Dubrovnik at Villa Sheherezade, as well as in Konavle, Cavtat, Popovica, Trsteno, and Čilipi Airport.”

Reading this meant more to me than it would have otherwise, since I just came back from a two-week vacation in Croatia, with a stop in – yes – Dubrovnik. While there we saw extensive evidence that many episodes of Game of Thrones were filmed there. We actually saw a number of the locations. This has spawned an entire industry of paraphernalia and tourist attractions related to Game of Thrones. Yet nobody talked about Nick Cage that I remember.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a delightful action comedy that you will enjoy, unless you absolutely hate Nicholas Cage – which is unlikely. At the same time, I can’t imagine any other actor pulling this off – well, maybe John Malkovich could.

Abortion Bans are about Power

I don’t believe for a minute that the current flurry of abortion bans will actually reduce abortions. I don’t believe it will reduce a single one abortion.

It just makes them more difficult, more risky, more expensive and more traumatic for women. And without clinics where they can get help, there will be less facilities that provide the emotional support, particularly after hardships, crime, rape and incest.  And don’t even get me started about the effect on the medical community, and the situations of life-threatening complications to women due to their pregnancies.

Banning alcohol during prohibition didn’t stop drinking. It just pushed it underground, created a ripe market for criminals who would supply the illegal booze, supported organized crime, brought down the quality of the products and made them more risky.

Banning marijuana didn’t stop pot. It just made the stuff more expensive and put many people into prisons for “possession.” People smoked then, they smoke now.

This is about power religion wants to wield to control the masses, and men want to wield over women. After all, it’s penises that cause pregnancy, and those are owned by men.

It’s a ludicrous time we live through.

And we’re letting them do it to us.

Collected Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham

After the recommendation by my literary friend Wolfgang during dinner at the Munich Airport Hilton last March, I picked up a collection of short stories by Somerset Maugham.

I am not a short-story type of reader, but I respect Wolfgang’s advice and opinion, and I started reading some stories. I found them very entertaining, delightful, educational and yes, exciting.

I didn’t feel like reading a 900-book of many short stories cover to cover, so I resorted to reading a story or two between other books, and make my way through them over time.

I will not be reviewing that book in detail since every short story deserves its own section, and that would be too much. But I have to tell you that I am enjoying the book greatly, and some of you reader friends of mine would certainly do so too.

Go and read a few Maugham short stories!

Book Review: The Lincoln Highway – by Amor Towles

In 1954, Emmett Watson at age 18 is released from a juvenile work farm in Salina, Kansas after serving fifteen months for involuntary manslaughter. His mother had abandoned the family many years before. His father was a failing farmer. He had passed away, and the farm was in foreclosure. Emmett came home to the farm just to pick up his 8-year-old brother Billy, and his baby-blue 1948 Studebaker Land Cruiser, and make his way to California to start a new life.

However, two of his teenage friends from the work farm escaped and ended up joining them. The trip Emmett thought he was taking ended up turning into a completely different direction.

The Lincoln Highway is a novel that is structured unusually. The author took some risks by doing that. For instance, it has 10 chapters and it starts with chapter 10, and then works its way down to 1 as the book progresses. That’s unusual and strange, and if it did anything to help the story, I’d say that’s ok. But I could not find anything that made a difference, so why did he do that?

The chapters are divided into subchapters, each told from the perspective of a different character. Two of the characters, Sally and Duchess, tell the story in the first person from their own perspective. The other chaperts were told in the third person by an outside narrator. I also don’t understand why he did that, since it too didn’t add value to the story. It just made it read “odd.”

Emmett Watson is the main character. He is a person of solid values, honest, responsible and remarkably well organized and calm.

Billy Watson is Emmett’s 8-year-old brother, and probably the smartest of the whole gang.

Duchess is an 18-year-old youth who was abandoned by his father, a washed-out actor and drunk, when he literally sold him out to the authorities for a bauble, a golden watch he stole off a dead man, and had him sent to the juvenile facility when he was 16.

Woolly is a trust fund kid raised in a New York old money family. He has some type of autism and needs strong medication to remain functional.

Sally is the daughter of Emmett’s neighbor, who took care of Billy while Emmett was locked up and his father had passed.

Every one of the characters is well developed, and as the story progresses over a period of just 10 days, we get to know each one of them, and their lives in America in the 1940ies and 1950ies.

Sometimes I had to laugh out loud, and many times I was sad about the depth of the human tragedy and the realization that every human being has a completely different story to tell, a different set of memories, and a different character that developed from a string of endless moments that eventually brings them to this very point in life.

The Lincoln Highway is going to be an American Classic.

A Dark Day for Freedom and Individual Rights in the U.S.

With the Supreme Court striking down Roe vs. Wade, things are changing in this country, for the worse, for the much worse.

But then again, we have observed this circus happening since 2016, where somehow we have let “conservative” values roll over our freedom. What did we expect? We have seeded the Supreme Court for years now just to make this happen, and it started with McConnell’s blocking the nomination of Merrick Garland. It’s ironic that these same “conservatives” are the ones who proclaim their freedom was taken away by an election that didn’t go their way.

The country is heading down a path of darkness forced by religious zealots. I have no problem with Christians being Christians, and Muslim’s being Muslims, as long as they stay out of interfering with my life and my freedom, all the rest of us who don’t buy into their delusions.

Here they have crossed this border. They are interfering, and that’s deeply disturbing.

What’s next?

How about we make all our women wear burkas because that makes us men feel better about the powers we have?

I hear their God hates genitals. Maybe we can bring in genital mutilation – of course for women only. And for witches.

Do you think I am angry?

You bet I am.

 

Concert Review: Bob Dylan, San Diego, June 18, 2022

Bob Dylan, being my preeminent favorite music artist, I have obviously seen him in concert many times over the years. He has a 60-year career already, getting close to Queen Elizabeth reign duration numbers, which by itself is amazing. How many artists today can say that? Yesterday, my wife gave me a Father’s Day present and took me to the Bob Dylan concert at the Civic Center in San Diego.

If you had told me when I was 15 as a schoolboy in Germany, when I bought my first harmonica and practiced playing Blowing in the Wind in the city park, that I’d be going to a concert to see that artist when he was 81 years old, I certainly would not have believed it.

The San Diego Civic Center is a beautiful venue for concerts, symphonic events, with great acoustics and a capacity of about 3,000 seats. When we first arrived, they scanned our tickets off our smartphones as it is done nowadays. But then they took our smartphones away and locked them into pouches we could not open. Before they did that, they had to write our seat numbers onto little slips of paper. Kind of beats the paperless ticket process and creates a bunch of jobs for the people who have to handle the crowds. Then as we entered the venue, we were without phones. I usually sit there and read my book while I wait for an event to start. With no phone, I didn’t know what time it was, I couldn’t read, and I could not take the customary snapshot of the stage that I would then post along with these words. But none of that has to do with Bob Dylan.

The crowd was mostly old. Lots of folks in their 60ies, 70ies and 80ies. Some young people, some children, but I am sure the average was in the 60ies. Lots of pony tails and tie die shirts. Dylan has a lot of dedicated fans, and he can pretty much do what he wants and get away with it.

My first Bob Dylan concert ever was in 1978,  when I was 22, in the stadium at Arizona State University with 60,000 of my best friends. The last one was at the San Diego Sports Arena maybe five years ago. It was bad. Dylan’s voice was completely shot. He only played the keyboard. The sound was terribly distorted in the arena and too loud. I remember walking out of the concert thinking that, well, that was Bob Dylan. I don’t have to go to his concerts anymore.

But then I went again yesterday at a much different venue. There were just six guys on the stage and played a bunch of songs I had never heard. Of course, that is because I had not bought or listened to his latest album Rough and Rowdy Ways. That’s what the concert was about, and if I did it again, I’d listen to this album a few times before going to the concert. My mistake.

Except for a single song, which Dylan sang out in the open, he was mostly hidden behind an upright piano for the entire concert, so we only saw his head. He hardly plays plays the guitar anymore. Between songs, he would step out for a few seconds to be seen by the audience. He never greeted us, never said a word, except at the very end when he introduced the band by their names. But that’s how Bob Dylan does concerts, and we’re used to it.

I recognized very few songs. Either it was obscure material, or new material. A few songs I recognized by the lyrics, like When I Paint my Masterpiece, but not the music. But Dylan sang, with his broken voice, and it was mostly melodic, with good projection, not too loud. He would whisper into the microphone and we understood the words, for the most part. It was a good concert with wonderful music, performed by a legend.

But I missed Bob Dylan. There was not a single one of his hits. Blowing in the Wind would have fit perfectly into this playbook. I could have have used It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding, or of course the iconic Like a Rolling Stone to top it all off. That didn’t happen. Worse – in what seemed like the middle of the concert, when the audience got fired up and gave him a standing ovation for the previous song, the stage suddenly went dark, they walked off, and didn’t come back. He houselights went on and that was the end. No encore whatsoever. I didn’t even realize I was listening to the very last song. And then he was gone. No final bow. No final howling hymn. No Bob Dylan anywhere to be seen.

I didn’t know how to feel. I liked the concert. I liked the music. I liked the new, melodic Dylan. But in the end, I was let down. The concert ended like a popped birthday balloon and next thing I knew I was in the parking lot.

 

American Airlines Sucks

I hate to say this, but American Airlines sucks.

I have flown over 2.5 million miles on American over a period of about 30 years. I was in the top elite tier (Executive Platinum) for many years and the Covid travel crash bumped me off and now I am a “mere” lifetime Platinum member. So I still get some perks.

It’s always been bad and challenging to claim travel credits with American Airlines. Here is a post I made 11 years ago about how their travel vouchers are almost impossible to use. It hasn’t gotten any better – maybe worse.

A couple of months ago my wife and I were in Croatia on vacation. We flew on American, but the connector from London to Zagreb was on their partner, British Airways. We had a layover in London Heathrow. While I am at it, do not get me started on Heathrow. I HATE HEATHROW, everything about it. When going to Europe, I always try to avoid it as a stopover, but that’s another rant for another time….

While in Croatia, my wife tested positive for Covid a few hours before we needed to board our flight home out of Zagreb. She was not allowed to get on the plane. Since business and other matters required that one of us get home, we separated, she stayed marooned in a Croatian hotel for what turned out to be another 9 days, while I went home while I could – while I tested negative. The agent for British Airways told me that in order to get a flight credit, I’d better call my airline before I boarded, so I would not lose her part of the ticket. I called the elite desk for Executive Platinum at American Airlines, and after a two minute tape on how I should go online it told me that they were closed. It was a Saturday afternoon in Croatia, so it was very early AM in the U.S. Then I made another call to the general reservation line, only to get the same message after listening for a few minutes to their drivel.

Now mind you, American’s main reservation line is advertised to be open 24 hours a day, which is what I’d expect from a major airline. People don’t just need help on the phone with the largest airline in the world while it’s business hours in Dallas, Texas.

Eventually, I just had to board my flight home alone, wait for the weekend to pass, until I could get an agent on the phone during normal business hours in Dallas. It then took about an hour with that agent to get about $450 of credit back for her portion of the abandoned ticket. That credit is now in an account in the American Airlines’ system.

I have since tried to use that credit three times for three other bookings, but have not been successful. While the website says I should be able to use a credit when I pay for a ticket, it does not work.

As you can see in the screenshot above, there are two buttons at the beginning of the payment process, where you think you might be able to use your credit. When you click on either of them, it gives you this message:

Not very helpful, right? Why is the button there in the first place if you are not able to use it? When you click on “Contact Reservations”, you get to this screen:

The phone number shown at the yellow arrow is the main reservation line. At the red arrow, you see it’s open 24 hours a day. This is the number I have been calling. When you call this number, you first have to listen to about 2 minutes of bullshit stuff, like how much easier it is to go to their website, and then it finally tells you they are closed! On a Saturday afternoon at 3:00pm!

I just bought my third ticket at full face value without being able to use the flight credit I have on the books. My crime: I am not calling during normal business hours Dallas time. So in order to use my credit, I need to wait to book my next flight at just the right time, on a weekday (while I am working) and be prepared to be on the phone for an hour, first waiting to get an agent who can help me — they are all so busy all the time — and then fumble my way through applying the credit I have on file.

Maybe I need to take my travel business to another airline after 30 years of loyalty to American?

 

John Eastman – a Trump True Believer

I found this sentence in an article in Salon discussing the January 6th Hearings:

…The main player in this scheme was Republican lawyer John Eastman, who appears to have been a Trump true believer (as well as a highly credentialed, conservative, constitutional scholar) who offered his services to serve Trump’s pre-fabricated conspiracy theory that the election had been stolen….

— Source: Salon

My question is this: How does a highly credentialed lawyer, constitutional scholar and Ph.D. believe that Trump was even remotely a competent president and it would have been good for the country to have him serve another four years?

Anyone?

Movie Review: The Rose Maker (2021)

Eve Vernet is one of France’s pre-eminent horticulturalist. She creates and cultivates roses. It’s been the family business for generations.

Now, however, the business is on the verge on bankruptcy. While she knows how to create roses, she does not have much business sense. The only employee she has left is her secretary and helper Véra, who shows more loyalty to Eve and the business than is probably warranted. To help out, Véra contracts with a rehabilitation agency and signs up three ex-convicts as employees to get the business back on its feet. However, none of them have any gardening experience, let alone know about roses.

Through creativity, hard work, and a little bending of the rules, they come up with a plan to rescue the farm.

The Rose Maker is a French comedy with subtitles. Due to that, I am sure I missed a lot of subtleties in the culture and the language that probably diminished my experience of the film. Nevertheless, I learned a lot about roses, and I have looked at my own roses in front of my house with new appreciation. The Rose Maker is a fun movie, and so non-Hollywood it’s refreshing.

Movie Review: CODA (2021)

Alright, before I get into the movie itself, it’s important to note that CODA is a “highly decorated movie” with three Oscars.

First, it won Best Picture of the Year, and by doing so it became the first movie produced by a streaming service to win Best Picture. This is an Apple Original Film, which by itself boggles my mind. I still remember when Apple became a company in 1976. Who would have thought that the company would eventually become the most valuable company on the planet – and, as a computer company, it would produce Oscar-winning movies?

Second, it won Best Adapted Screenplay by Sian Heder.

And finally, Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role for Troy Kotsur, who is also the first ever deaf actor to win an Oscar.

And boy did he win that Oscar, alone for the “my balls are on fire” scene at the doctor’s office.

I watched this movie on the airplane from London to New York, starting about two hours into the flight. The windows were all darkened, I sat in a window seat in the exit row, headphones on, and I was outright crying during the ending scene, when Ruby, the lead, sang Clouds From Both Sides Now in the ending scene. The man next to me was into his own movie and so I had my privacy. After wiping my eyes dry when it was over, I pulled up the window shades and looked down on the clouds of Greenland – from above.

I didn’t know what CODA was all about when I picked the movie, I just knew it had won awards. I also didn’t know what CODA even meant, until I actually did the research to write this review now. It means “Child of Deaf Adults.”

Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is the only hearing person in her family. Both her parents and her brother are completely deaf. They operate a fishing boat. Ruby goes out with them early in the morning, they bring in their catch, they take it to the market, where Ruby leads a key role as the family’s communicator and negotiator, all before she gets ready to go to high school.

While life as a fishing family is hard, not only brutally hard and dangerous work on a boat, but also hard to make ends meet in a fickle market, the Rossi family is happy. The parents are madly in love and can’t seem to keep their hands off each other. They have wild sex in their bedroom with no thought to the fact that Ruby can hear the ruckus all over the house.

But what could Ruby possibly be interested in for her own life that is about as far removed from the appreciation of her family as it can get? Ruby has a passion and great talent for singing. Her parents need her on the boat and for the family business, and Ruby wants to pursue a life, passion and career that they can’t even comprehend, let alone appreciate?

So here you have it all, a powerful story, an emotional subject, a clash of cultures, and world-class acting – yes, a deaf man acting as a deaf man. It does not get any better than that.

I have seen clouds from both sides now….

Movie Review: Top Gun – Maverick (2022)

Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is one of the Navy’s most decorated and skilled aviators after thirty years of flying fighter planes. Most of his companions from his years at the Top Gun school outrank him by two or three stars. He has purposely dodged being promoted to admiral so he could remain in flying status.

As one of the most skilled test pilots, he is called in to lead a mission in the Middle East that is nearly impossible. He trains a group of pilots half his age, but he uses his maverick instincts, much to the dismay and disapproval of his superiors.

Top Gun is a well-crafted sequel to the original 1986 movie. It’s full of tense flying scenes and I am sure any aspiring or actual pilot will very much enjoy it. I have to admit that the movie far exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed the story, the cinematography, the sound track and the acting. Even the plot made sense and tied very well back to the 1986 edition, with some of the key characters woven into it now.

Of course, I had to disregard a number of impossibilities, one of which I’ll describe here without it being a spoiler. At the beginning of the movie, Maverick makes a record-breaking flight on a new concept aircraft similar to the famed SR-71, only with today’s technology. To advance in the contract, the plane has to meet a milestone of flying Mach 10 – which is ten times the speed of sound. For comparison, the SR-71 holds the aircraft speed record of Mach 3.3 at an altitude of 85,000 feet. At that speed, the aircraft heats up the 450 degrees F near the back of the aircraft. When fired upon, it can simply outrun the missiles shot at it. Well, Maverick reaches Mach 10.3 when the aircraft breaks up. In the next scene, he is walking into a restaurant in the desert, a little battered up, helmet in hand, asking for a glass of water.

Needless to say, the human body would be torn apart by the g-forces and then burned to a crisp flying near space at Mach 10 without the protection of an aircraft around it. There is no way Maverick could have survived the fall from that altitude and speed to see another day. But it’s Top Gun, right, and we like our heroes.

Once I discounted all the crazy impossible stuff, what’s left was a very enjoyable movie that kept me at the edge of my seat.

You gotta go!

Movie Review: The Adam Project (2022)

In 2050, time travel exists, and fighter jets can travel in time. Adam Reed is a pilot, trying to get to 2018, to save the future, but he crash-lands in 2022, conveniently in the backyard of his childhood home, where he meets his 12-year-old self. The two set out to fix a complicated future.

None of this makes much sense. The movie is an excuse for lots of Matrix-like action and video game scenes. There are even storm troopers who are wearing silver suits instead of white ones, but who are also just expendable ray gun fodder.

I was tempted to turn it off and leave it, but when I was half-way through, since it was, after all, a time travel flick, I stayed and watched it to the end.

Guess what, Adam fixed the future by fixing the past.