This week’s poetry entry

I’ve noticed that a lot of my poetry efforts lately end up focused on helping myself understand and come to terms with where my society is in the current political moment. This was no exception, and it demanded to be written this morning. So I present it, without further comment.

What I See

What I see
Is more than we just disagree.
I see hate,
Willful and arrogant.
I see ignorance,
Shameless and proud.
I see fear,
Controlling and winning.
I see the death of empathy,
A hard lack of care.
What you do for the least of these
Is slander and deface
Their beauty in diversity.
If necessity is the mother of invention,
I see a culture in need
Who refuses to create.
I see the pain
Felt by individuals
Aimed at faceless masses.
I see hypocrisy
That drains the color
From a flag
You claim to love
So much.
I see we failed.
I see we lost
To demons we fought
In our grandfathers’ time.
I see a cycle
In violence.
And I see little hope
As it goes on
To see our colors again.

Caffeinated review: Ocean’s 8

I have seen a new movie! -impressive drumroll sound fx- And it was a good movie, so let me share a few words about it, eh?

The movie: Ocean’s 8

A few words:

Well, Danny Ocean isn’t actually in it. But it is an Oceans movie. Pardon me a potential spoiler, but… Danny Ocean was dead to begin with. It says so right at the beginning and then again on the marble his sister and Ruben visit at the cemetery. And Ruben passes along a very clear message from her dearly-departed brother that Debbie Ocean should not do the fool-proof heist she has been planning for 5 years. So make of that what you will, but the baton was certainly passed on to the Ocean sister. (My money’s on the theory that there will be another Oceans movie and that was the setup.)

Armed with the non-blessing of family, Debbie sets out to do the heist she’s been planning for 5 years. She pulls together her team of 7 questionable experts, all of them female because “a man will be noticed” and the job they’re attempting requires invisibility. (That’s actually a conversation they have.) Some of them have worked together before, some are scouted, some are novices so green they give up the gig. It is not a professional team but it is pulled together by professionals with a foolproof plan, so of course it will work. It’s an Oceans movie.

Oh, and no matter what you have heard, they are not robbing the Met Gala, they are only robbing one person *attending* it. So it only needs a few people. They can fence the $150million dollar necklace and make off with their cuts, no one the wiser. Easy peasy…

If you know the Oceans movies, you know they go big and then they go home. This movie went a different kind of big entirely. The big deal in this one was the slight of hand throughout, and they show you the pass offs and the cons and the surprises along the way. They show the plans coming together and they show the places where it gets weak and gets shored up. No tunnel diggers are necessary for this scheme. It is all on the ladies, each of them doing their job flawlessly and anticipating problems. It’s all about the characters of this team and this movie does not let you forget that you are watching a bunch of women kick ass and take names in the criminal world without a single drop of blood.

On that note, this movie is a kind of accidentally big feminist movie. The conversation about women-are-invisible kind of puts it right on the nose. Otherwise, the references are more subtle. Characters put on lifestyle facades that make them the good-girl (or the bad-girl) stereotype, show their hustle and their lives, and then throughout the movie, you see exactly what a con job it was. Cate Blanchett is a human chameleon just as an actress in general, and Anne Hathaway redeemed an absolutely obnoxious character. I have never seen Helena Bonham Carter play a quiet-spoken, nerve-wracked, has-been, and didn’t think she was capable of it, but she was a joy to watch. Mindy Kaling was perfect, and I didn’t know Rihanna could act, tbh. The ladies played full characters off and showed that women work the system and know how to game it, too. Ocean’s 8 working title could have easily been The Secret Life Of Women and not been a lie. It was amusing to see.

That being said, this is an Ocean’s movie that Danny Ocean could not have pulled off. It felt like they had an idea for the story but couldn’t find the character-mix to fill it. So they made it a new movie with a heavy tie-in at the ready, thus continuing the series until the next green light comes along. That’s why it’s an accidental feminist piece, just an afterthought, a bit of a bonus.

Does it pass the bechdel test? Well, yes and then again, maybe not. The one weak spot in the movie involves the long-con, and it doesn’t present itself until the last act when we get James Corden and Richard Armitage’s characters brought in.

Up until that point, all the ladies are signed up to pull this gig for purely financial reasons. It’s part of the daily grind, it’s money, everybody’s gotta eat, and gee, wouldn’t it be nice to eat off a bank account with $16mill in it? But the script itself gets dicey when it tries to break off of that plain and believable motivation and weave the boys back into things. It felt forced and shoehorned and was the least genuine aspect of the script, leaving a few glaring questions unanswered all for the sake of making the story ultimately about all the boys.

Saying more would be unfair spoiling, but not mentioning it would be unfair to me, because I sat in the theater watching that hook play out and just kinda feeling let down a bit. If ever I have had a “Bitch, don’t you do it!” meme moment, it was at that one segment of exposition in the last act that dealt a huge blow to the otherwise Girl Power!!! theme of the movie. It’s like an afterthought they had to toss in to stroke the egos of the movie execs. So when you see it, I’m suggesting everyone ignore it, pretend it never happened, it wasn’t necessary to the story anyway.

But the girls did rally and they kick all ass. It is an Oceans movie, after all. It ended exactly where it promised it would. It’s a fun movie, with a great cast, and an enjoyable adventure into the criminal world of Cartier and the Met Gala.

Review: Solo – A Star Wars Story


At the suggestion of my friends, I have decided to try the whole “movie review” thing. It’s words, it’s movies, I should be able to form a coherent opinion on that, right?

Right.

So, brave reader, press on, if you wish to know my opinion on a movie. Which movie? Fair question!

Solo: A Star Wars Story

The obligatory disclaimer is that I have not submerged myself in the full world of the Star Wars Legends. I am a fan of the movies (minus a few of them…) but I did not once pick up a book (aside from the Shakespeare rendition of the tale) nor watch the animated series that are out there. According to one friend well-versed in the Legends, there were references to the Legends stories in the dialogue and events of this movie, and I will have to take her word for it. All I can comment on is Solo’s standing as its own movie and within the movie-verse I’ve grown up with.

To that end, I think Solo didn’t do so bad at all. It’s was thoroughly beat-up in the opening-weekend earnings race by pretty much every other franchise movie out there so far, and it hasnt fared well at all since, but I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of the movie. (For me, it meant that back when I saw it on a holiday weekend, I didn’t have to contend with a huge crowd or fight for parking, so YAY!)

I know the production had its ups and downs, and I’d forgotten Ron Howard was attached until I saw his name scroll by at the end. Whatever he was given to work with by the time he came on board, I think he got it all strung together seamlessly, as was his job. The script met its markers, and didn’t leave any glaring loose ends from what was promised in the beginning. The heart of the story is still boy-meets-girl, and after all the adventure and the battles and the Kessel run (12 parsecs, rounded down.) they managed to return to that thread in a very Han Solo way without forgetting the aloof nerfherder the rambunctious young scrapper grows up to be.

Since way back when I first learned about the movie, I was never in love with the casting of the lead, but I think what “Han Solo” character the actor lacked, (any utterance of “baby!” stands out as archaic here, for instance.) the script did the job in making up for. By the end, yes, I think they found a good match. This movie’s Han has a bit more energy and determination than Harrison Ford’s original incarnation, which adds to the world-wary charm by the time Han runs into Luke years later. The smuggler has seen some things by then, calmed down, learned better to pick his battles. There’s a believable progression there that adds depth to the character. I also think it respectfully sets to rest the whole “Han shot first” debate with a bit of fun.

The movie seemed to want to tie up a few origin-variances between the old Lucas-Star Wars and the new Disney-Star Wars. Watching Han and Chewie sort out their early differences was a highlight of the flick for me, and Han making all of his still-bold, early mistakes navigating a big universe was, as I said, a complement to the full growth of the character I think. The other characters that he learned from definitely left a mark on him, but none of them felt reverse-engineered or static at all. (And I think, if I’m honest, this is the best acting I have ever seen from Woody Harrelson.) As with the characters from the other movies, such as with Rogue One’s awesome crew, the good guys and bad guys in this one all had their own stories behind them and didn’t feel like they existed just to tell Han’s story. (Also, I kinda loved the implied backstory on why Lando is so attached to the Falcon. So that will be fun to watch for.) ((Also-also, Donald Glover nailed this character.))

This movie did get a little more 80’s style campishness with some of their designs in creatures and costumes and sets, (I promise, you will forget about the dumb Creature From The Claire’s Lagoon by the end of the first act.) but it was only distracting for me a couple of times. Mostly it was a fun exploration of the expansive world they’ve been building. It fits right in. There’s spaceship races and creepy monsters and explosions and an awesome soundtrack. There’s robots and aliens and Stormtroopers who can’t even aim their vehicles. There’s Warwick Davis even, but not an ewok or porg or Jar Jar in sight.

It’s a Star Wars story. I loved it. I wish this movie and Rogue One had been around when I was a kid so I could have seen those pieces in place from the start. If you haven’t yet, and if it’s still out in your area, go see it. You’ll have fun.

Secrets from the world of Hollyweird

Funfacts of the day:
1) Actors are often paid to wear designer attire to Red Carpet events. They essentially rent the dresses and agree to promote the designers when the press stick microphones in their faces and ask excitedly “Who are you wearing?” The dresses they wear don’t always reflect their ability or willingness to buy them, merely to wear them. They are showing off someone else’s work, someone else’s brand, and they are mutually raising each other’s  status.

2) Actors are essentially walking advertisements, just as sports stars are. Ya know the world famous sporty Wheaties boxes? Yeah, the athletes get paid for those. You know the logos on NASCAR drivers’ cars and jumpsuits? They get paid for those. They are mutually raising each other’s status by even momentarily aligning their names together. THAT is HOW they make their money. Actors are business-people, just like athletes are business-people, and that is why both have managers. (Hint: most businesses ALSO have managers!)

3) Do you watch sports? Then you watch actual commercials. That is also advertising. Advertising is how networks make their money. That is how shows make their money: the shows exist as a way to make people watch commercials, shows are a way to sell products, services, and –gasp– also elections. The shows make money for production because the networks can sell ad time. “But what about Game of Thrones and Westworld?” you ask. Those shows sell the networks, not the advertisements. The networks create demand for themselves by promoting (advertising) their flagship shows. People flock to subscribe to the networks because of the shows they host, ergo the network makes money and increases in value and the money goes into the shows to make them better and draw more subscription fees. It’s how TV works.

4) Every public televised event is –double-gasp! – scripted in some form. How and why? Because they have to know where to fit in the commercials. Sports events have a schedule that somebody has to map out, and yes, I mean that Live Hockey Game You Are Watching Right Now has a producer and a camera team and a planned order of comments, commentary topics, endorsements and camera angles. Ya know, the announcer saying “This Play of the Game brought to you by Chryforandi Widgets! Meeting all your widget needs without the tears!” counts as an advertisement and gets the scriptwriter who thought it up paid.

5) Reality TV is also scripted. Like, really scripted, just not ahead of filming. The way it works is that the camera crews follow their subjects around for the designated amount of time, then the footage is filtered through by some underpaid just-above-intern-status editor/writers. Then the editor/writers have to figure out the plot of their subjects’ lives after those lives have been recorded. They get to pick out any single sentence they choose and build an entire story around it, then go through some ridiculous number of hours’ worth of footage to find the snippets and sound bites that match that story. Then! They write up the interview questions that their subjects will be asked as followup to further feed that story. It doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be suggested and validated with footage. It’s a soundbite, with the context changed.

6) You know those political pundits and talking heads on FOX News, The Blaze, CNN, MSNBC, etc… most of them read from scripts. They argue with their guests on pre-selected topics that are along particular points and couched between bits of script. Pre-written lines are fit into the conversations to keep their guests on the topic the show’s producers planned for. Your nightly news is delivered to you by a human reading from a TelePrompTer of sorts, and the majority of the news is not material written by them. It was written by -or at least in conjunction with- somebody else. Which, effectively, makes your favorite television journalist actually an actor. They are a sports commentator reporting on the game they are watching with you, or they are a journalist bringing to you a segment written and produced by another journalist, everyone involved fully educated in the nuances of their craft as journalists before they present the information to you. (Bonus: all of these shows and their networks are ALSO funded by advertising!)

7) So. You have every element of Hollywood storytelling, from Actors to Writers to Cameramen to Editors to Interns to Craftsmen to Stuntmen, etc. in every little tiny thing you watch on tv or movies or listen to broadcasted on the radio. (Note how everything seems to get back to somebody selling something?)

8) Short of going out to the woods and never listening to a radio or tv or computer or Smartphone, you are constantly influenced by biased and filtered and scripted media in some form. There is literally no way to not be exposed to someone else’s way of thinking when it comes to a media source. You can’t actually only or never get your news from “mainstream media” because the influence of media is too broad; every scrap of anything ever reported on is influenced by some other form of media and the filtered perspective it offers. EVERY. SINGLE. SOURCE.

 (Disclaimer in point: This post right here is filtered by the bias of my education and experience of life, and it is also a reflection of media. Funny how that works.)
9) That is why writers, journalists, and yes, even actors, study the subjects they write about or otherwise present to people. They research. They become informed so that they can share knowledge. They spend time on the ground, “in the trenches”, learning about what issues impact whatever singular question or character they are looking to present to the public who are otherwise unaware of its existence. It’s not a myth that actors research roles, it is a common thing. Acting isn’t JUST memorizing lines. Acting is portraying a human being in all of its complexities, making their views and beliefs evident on the screen when perhaps the script doesn’t spell it out directly. That means understanding that character’s viewpoint and experience beyond the script page the writers presented to them. Writers research before and during writing a script and then actors research before and during their portrayal for an audience. 

10) Actors are not stupid people. They are informed and they are open-minded and they are observant. And, funfact, they aren’t all liberals. They aren’t all rich and famous. There are more actors in LA alone than can ever make it on screen, but not many of them will ever act in anything other than the community theater stages. It takes work to find out about roles to audition for, it takes networking and social skills to enter into a community run by money and the style that makes it. It takes determination to show up to audition after audition and deliver Oscar-worthy performances to a panel of people who won’t like you because, I don’t know, maybe your eyes are brown instead of blue. (Who knows, maybe blue eyes sell cereal better.) 

And assuming they do like you, you are that one person out of the thousands of faces they looked at for that character, you then show up on set for 8 to 12 to 17 hour work-days, reciting lines, making up clever additions to a scene that the script doesn’t show, doing physically demanding work either on-set pacing for scene after scene or stunts that involve sweat and blood-sacrifice. It takes smarts and savvy and intelligence to beat a numbers game using the human-element of the Hollywood business equation. 

11) Actors work very hard, and a very small percentage can make a career out of it. But they are, from start to finish, salesmen and saleswomen. They are the same as every blue-collar American who worked hard, made their name known, pulled themselves up by those mythical bootstraps, and earned the money that built them the lives they enjoy.  Not every store makes it into the status of a retail giant, but look at those humble beginnings of the Walton family’s fortune. It’s the same for actors. They start somewhere and they work to attain where they end up. They start in tiny dingy apartments in the worst parts of big cities or they start couch surfing on a family member’s couch, or they start out playing high school varsity and catch the right attention of the right person at the right time. That’s life. 

12) Money is not status. Money is numbers. Money isn’t a product of luck unless you were born into it, and then it takes work to keep what you were given. It takes knowledge and savvy to know where to put it to make it grow, when to risk it and when to protect it. 

13) Status is a product of work. Work does not guarantee money. That’s life. Work likely does, however, give a clue about status. Because status has to be earned, and earning anything takes work. 

14) Actions show work. The actions someone takes are the truest story they tell. There is no physical movement that can be a lie: either the muscle moved or it did not, yes or no, ones and zeroes. It sells or it doesn’t, it works or it doesn’t. The moves you make are how you get things done and also the actual things you do

15) Along the way, one becomes known by their works, their actions, (such as an actor, who acts) and that is status. This is why aligning an athlete with a cereal box is supposed to sell the cereal; it creates the assumption that the athlete achieved his success by eating that cereal.  At the same time, it creates the assumption that the athlete became well known because their face is on a cereal box and thus everyone recognizes them on their sports field. The consumer likes the athlete so the consumer will like the cereal, and viceversa.  If you like the NASCAR driver’s skills, then you will like the company emblazoned on the car’s hood. If you like the product, you will expect to like the driver. Skill and effectiveness become synonymous with person and position both, and expected with the alignment. When those expectations are met, the viewer is rewarded for their belief in the match between person and position, the match is rewarded by public appeal and an individual’s success. Status grows with exposure and experience. Status is a reflection of respect.

So it’s important to note, someone who shows respect will be respected. Someone who does not show respect is likely not worth respecting. It will not be status borne by their actions and it will not be portrayed in the actions they make, which makes it false.

Just some random thoughts I opted to share… enjoy!