Saturday, September 24, 2016

Interview with a Chinese Dissident

The New York Review of Books sits down with filmmaker Ai Xiaoming. (Her films are banned in China, by the way.) The whole thing is fascinating, but here is a piece of it:
Q; I’m curious about how you became politically active. During the 1989 protests you were not involved with the student movement. 
A: People like me who went through the Cultural Revolution, we are often skeptical of politics. I was a teacher and I watched the students but didn’t participate directly. I went to Tiananmen Square twice but mainly watched this from a distance. 
Q: What changed? 
A: In 1999 I spent a year abroad at the University of the South in Tennessee. It had a huge impact on me. I saw how people discussed social problems. I remember participating in commemorations for Martin Luther King, Jr. on his holiday. I thought: this is how a university ought to be; I want to bring this back to China.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Friday, August 26, 2016

Mini-Movie Reviews: 2 to See, 1 to DVD

Sorry, darlings, I've been busy with the Olympics and getting ready for school, but very quickly, since it's Friday and you might be heading off to the movies ...


Here are some micro-reviews:
  • The Secret Life of Pets: Animated fluff that's diverting enough but also disposable. The premise gets old fast, and so do some of the jokes. If you want animated critters in a much smarter tale, get Zootopia. I'll give Secret Life of Pets a B. (74% on RT)  Don't bother paying movie theatre prices. Catch it on DVD if you like, especially if you have little ones running around.
  • Star Trek Beyond: Director Justin Lin takes us on an action-packed adventure with loads of great visuals, an intriguing new character in Sofia Boutella's Jaylah, a few really good lines, and even a good bit of heart. It really is more than just Fast and Furious in Spaaaaaaaace. Grade: A- because (a) parts of the often-predictable plot are messy and not a little silly (come on, now, it's movie #3, and I'm expecting much more) and (b) people keep hiding Idris Elba under a mountain of alien prosthetics and dubious motivations, and that's no way to treat him! (83% on RT)  Still, see this flick on the biggest screen you can, because the scenes of space station Yorktown alone will blow your mind.
  • Kubo and the Two Strings: Astounding animation that flawlessly combines stop-motion and CGI to tell a poignant original (for Hollywood) story that will have you weeping into your popcorn Pixar-style. Grade: A. (96% on RT) Here's a flick that might actually be worth seeing in 3-D.

The University of Chicago Welcomes the Class of 2020

And does so gloriously. Would you like to read more about the University's robust commitment to free inquiry and expression?  Of course you do!

Granted, it's kind of sad that it even has to declare something that should be obvious at a university, but in this day and age ... 

Oh, and here's a bit from the letter to incoming freshmen (or do I now have to say "freshpeople"?):
"Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Cajun Navy

DIY rescues down in flooded Louisiana. That's some can-do spirit, initiative, and neighborly feeling: see a problem, do something about it, save some stranded folks.

Japan's Multicultural Olympians

I don't know about you, but I've about had enough of the various lunacies in Olympic broadcast coverage. Sometimes the most interesting things are elsewhere. Check out this writeup about Team Japan that I just found.

Currently Japan is sitting pretty in Rio with 33 medals, 10 of them gold.

Friday, August 12, 2016

From Rio: A Tale of Two Images in Sportsmanship

The Egyptian judoka refusing to shake his Israeli opponent's hand vs. the gymnasts from North and South Korea taking a selfie together.

Crushing the Competition ... and Commentators' Puny Vocabularies

The NBC Olympic commentators have been - as a collective - ludicrously bad this time around. I couldn't believe I actually read these words just now about the US women's gymnastics juggernaut led by Simone Biles and Aly Raisman:
The commentators, whose voices normally bounce with enthusiasm, sounded suddenly weary. Would people care about a competition that wasn’t competitive? Would they grow bored of greatness? Or, as one of them plaintively asked, "How many times can you say ‘Wow!’ and ‘That was amazing!’?"
What kind of question is that? As my buddy Alessandra says, "There's no kill like overkill."  When greatness is on full glorious display, you don't ask why. You watch and are glad you were there!

By the way, commentators, let me suggest this.  On second thought, if you can't come up with words, then just be silent. That alone would improve the broadcasts immeasurably.

Friday Fun: Cockatoo vs. Kittens

Advantage: cockatoo.

The Awesome Diversity of Team USA

Here's something you might not know! 48 members of Team USA were born in 30 different countries on 6 different continents. The melting pot is in the hunt for medals in Rio!

Monday, August 08, 2016

Monday Therapy: Take a Chance

Lawd, another Monday.  Here's a little Shakira to help get you ready to face another work week.   The song is featured in the animated movie Zootopia, so that's why the Colombian songbird appears as a gazelle with hips that don't lie.


By the way, Zootopia is probably the best movie I've seen this entire disappointing year of films.  No, really!  I'll try to write a full review, but it's an A+ movie.  It's also now on DVD, so hop to it!

Friday, August 05, 2016

Movie Madness: DC Fans vs. Rotten Tomatoes

HAHAHAHA - Apparently this is for real!  DC fans have started a petition to shut down movie review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes because the collected reviews for Suicide Squad stink.  Isn't that like shooting the messenger?

Personally, I've about had enough of DC movies. The idiotic and grimly pretentious Batman-Superman smackdown was stupid and awful, and I said so at the time.  After that mess (how did you screw up both Superman and Batman so badly at the same time? AND Lex?) I lost all hope that Suicide Squad could be any good.  After this latest kerfuffle I think I'll just save my money ... and maybe go see the new Jason Bourne flick instead. (Here's just one review out of hundreds.  The phrase that caught my eye: "Suicide Squad amounts to an all-out attack on the whole idea of entertainment.")  The DC movie universe is a joyless, grayscale cesspool where fun goes to die be brutally murdered.  In the rain.

Besides, this little temper tantrum by fans about reviews is pretty indicative about how DC as a wider community can't get its priorities straight.  Usually I'm slamming the studio and execs, but today my target is DC fans, and my accusation is the same.  Your priorities are all screwed up, dude.  How about you take your rage out on DC for making a crappy movie that reviewers hate instead of on reviewers for hating a crappy movie?  DC bigwigs:  How about you quit making crappy movies? 

Here's something relevant that made me laugh out loud:


Anyway, the only thing the DC moviemakers are doing with any effectiveness is driving me into the arms of Marvel.  Ah, Marvel, fun, colorful, freewheeling, quippy, whose problems and peccadillos now seem like mere nitpicking trivia after the sort of total self-immolation DC keeps performing.  How's this for a conspiracy theory: DC's movie division is run by a cabal of Marvel undercover agents who have managed to infiltrate DC at the highest levels and who have been tasked with destroying DC root and branch.  Seriously, DC couldn't be doing a better job of alienating its fans and destroying itself if it were trying.

Friday Fun: Nike's New Ad

Now here's a fun ad!  You may recognize the narrator. That's Oscar "Poe Dameron" Isaac. Keep an eye out for famous cameos, too.

Rio Games Start Today

The Rio Olympic train wreck hoopla's about to start, so it's time to cut to the chase: here's a half-snarky ranking of all the Olympic events so you can plan to watch or not watch.  By the way, I totally don't think equestrian sports should rank so low ... Then again I'm living up (or down) to the stereotype that girls love horses, right?

Also: some sports are pretty much servings of world-class eye candy.  Let's make a deal, ladies and gents: let's not accuse each other of ogling and objectifying so we can get on with watching - respectively - men's water polo and women's beach volleyball, OK?

I might not have much free time these days, but I will be watching the opening ceremonies tonight because - get real - I can't resist making stupid comments, especially about fashion choices in the Parade of Nations.  Every time at least one delegation wears (designer!) clothes that look like they were pulled out of Rio's festering, disease-ridden waste dump of an ocean.  Still, perhaps this year's most fashion-forward outfit might be mosquito netting.

By the way, I will also assuredly be punching the mute button on my remote control A LOT.  For the most part the TV commentators are completely insufferable. Bob Costas at least has a streak of sassy smart-aleck that makes him occasionally entertaining, but the others are an undifferentiated mass of Joker-like Botox grins and inane hype-spewing chatter.     

I may not have reached this point of grumpiness, but I'm getting really close.  I do think this argument has some substance to it, by the way, especially given that the IOC is now approaching FIFA-level amounts of scandalous self-absorption, corruption, and Scrooge McDuck-like piles of money. 

Sweet Christmas, I'm getting annoyed just writing this post.  I have no real interest in the Rio Games other than a morbid desire to see whether they (and the media coverage) are going to be as horrendous and silly as I think they're going to be.  Oh, all right, and also because anything's an improvement on the current nonstop media coverage of Hillary and Trump.  Yup, coverage of an actual toxic stew of sewage and trash is still better than coverage of those two figurative toxic stews of sewage and trash.  

Oh, all right. One last thought: on the up side. You all know that I hate the "everyone's a winner" sappy mentality of school culture where everybody gets a trophy just for showing up.  At least the point of the Games (the brutal REAL point, not the happy-slappy propaganda talking point) is flat-out WINNING. For the next two weeks, despite all the inevitable nonsensical claptrap about whatever and retch-inducing images of NBC broadcasters attempting to samba, we're also going to get coverage about athletes training and working hard and having goals and being dedicated and embracing discipline and aiming for excellence.  We're going to get coverage of just how bloody hard it is to get really good at something.  And I'm all for that as an antidote to the milquetoast, maudlin approach that celebrates general mediocrity.  Hey, thrill of victory and agony of defeat and all, competition and contest, winners and losers on the field, and even if you didn't win, you worked and trained and competed hard in the attempt to win or at least to improve yourself.  There's a life lesson to be learned.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

True Confessions: Instead of Watching the RNC or the DNC ...

Seriously! Instead of watching the GOP's and the Dems' dueling dumpster fires (*insert banjo music here*), I did just about anything else.  Sure, some people will complain that I'm not doing my civic duty or whatever by not watching ... to which I say, DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH MY OWN EYES.

On one night (I forget which), I actually watched the following flick on Syfy instead. The thing is laugh-out-loud horrible, but hey, at least (a) it was entertaining and (b) I know for a fact that neither Sharktopus nor Whalewolf is going to be the next president.

 
 
Yup, that was the dude from Starship Troopers, another laughably awful flick. (The Robert A. Heinlein book on which it's based is much better. Trust me on this, will ya?)
 
Then I proceeded to binge-watch a bunch of shows on Netflix.  I'm thinking of giving the coveted Mad Minerva endorsement to this candidate or possibly this one.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Fun: Real-Life Pokémon Go in NYC

OK, I laughed out loud.  Enjoy!

Star Trekkin' Across the Universe

I've had about all I take of political nonsense all around, so I'm just going to enjoy the fact that the new Star Trek movie is finally premiering.  Until I can get to the theatre and come back with a review for you lovelies, take a gander at this fan film:


And then watch this:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Fur Flies In UK Politics

Quote of the day: "There are tensions in Parliament. Stand-offs, bristling, screeching and hissing. And no, we aren't talking about the Labour Party."

If you thought people fighting in UK politics is bad, you have another think coming.

The Few. The Proud. The Pokémon Trainers.

Look who's playing Pokémon Go!


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Life Imitates the Onion On Every Front

A few days ago I thought I had found the perfect visual distillation of this deplorable year.  As so often happens in situations like this, the year has, within the span of a mere week, somehow managed to get even worse.

Today is a day in which these things exist in the universe (in no particular order and with no attempt at being comprehensive):
  • This loopy argument about an utterly reprehensible human being somehow still makes a certain kind of sick sense if you want the news media to stop being the lapdog of the executive branch and go back to being a watchdog. (Sweet Christmas, did I just say that?)
  • This fangirly writeup about Nigel Farage, one of the UK's most hated public figures, doesn't seem to be ironic.  I'll say this for him: he said he wanted the UK out of the EU, and he actually saw his once-quixotic dream come to pass.  How many politicians can say that?  I mean, really.
  • Since we're talking about the Brits ... The Tories have descended into a rocket-powered roller coaster of backstabbing and power-grubbing, and last I looked, the two top contenders are embroiled in a catfight of hiss-terical proportions because one apparently said something of such grandiose stupidity that it can't be real ... can it? One of these two is supposed to be the heir of Maggie Thatcher?
  • Meanwhile in Australia, some frightened French holidaymakers had to call the cops to save them from "spiders as big as dinner plates." Bonus Aussie goodness: the cops said offhandedly that the tourists really should have been more worried about the 6-foot-long snake that had crawled into in their camper without being noticed. Riiiiiiiiiight.
  • Oh, well, we can escape the nonstop bad news and overheated political polarization by enjoying a little art, right? NOPE.
  • Now from the bastions of cherished academic freedom ... Haha, just kidding! That's PROFESSOR Big Brother to you! 
  • Hell, you can't even play the universe's hottest new game without running into corpses.
  • Et tu?  ET TU?  The whole thing reeks of a tawdry publicity stunt showmance as paparazzi-bait, and I definitely thought you had better taste than to stoop to that.
So let me sum up the current state of everything: "dumpster fire."  I was going to go with "omnishambles" since there's so much Britishness in the word, but I think the image of a mountain of combusting trash is so much more evocative.  In fact, I'll even hit you with some linguistic factoids about the terminology for this epic dumpster fire of a world in which we all are living.

Oh, all right. Not everything is horrible. Some things are merely batcrap crazy. Behold my pick for Headline of the Day: "A Fleet of M&M-Shooting Drones is the Black-Footed Ferret's Last Hope." And you thought it was Obi-Wan. 

Monday, July 04, 2016

Happy Fourth of July! The Original Brexit

On this quintessential American holiday, haters gonna hate ... but living well and having fun is the best riposte and response!  Enjoy your cookouts and fireworks!

You can sign the Declaration yourself at the National Archives online, indulge in some deliciousness, and/or enjoy this snippet from the delightful musical "1776":