Thursday, May 31, 2018

"The Admiral: Roaring Currents" (a.k.a. "Myeongnyang"): review

2014's "The Admiral" is a Korean historical drama directed by Kim Han-min and starring Choi Min-shik as legendary admiral Yi Sun-shin. The movie's Korean title, which is simply "Myeongnyang (명량)," says it all: the film deals exclusively with Yi's victory, using only 12 vessels, over the 333-strong* Japanese fleet in 1597—arguably the most famous naval battle in Korean history: the Battle of Myeongnyang. As the story begins, Japanese forces have already been pushing confidently north toward Hanseong (one of several old names for Seoul; this was the name used during the Joseon period) while Yi's men, at the south coast, are thoroughly demoralized. Facing internal problems of discipline, a demand from the king to give up naval operations and shunt his men to the defense of Hanseong, and a Japanese navy with twenty-eight times his number of ships, Yi must devise a plan to stop the Japanese fleet from pushing north to join the Japanese army's inexorable advance. He does so by using his knowledge of terrain and tides to his advantage, drawing the vanguard of the Japanese fleet into a disastrous encounter with a mighty whirlpool. Yi's battle, in its clever use of nature and its creation of bottlenecks, bears some resemblance to the famous Battle of Thermopylae, immortalized and stylized in the movie "300." In the end, the Koreans are victorious, and against all odds, the Japanese attack is broken.

"The Admiral" was a smash hit in Korea, breaking any number of box-office records. From this foreigner's perspective, the movie is unabashedly nationalistic, but as an American who has seen plenty of Hollywood action films in which the US is the good guy and everyone else is the bad guy, I can't blame Korea for putting out a movie with similarly patriotic pretensions. There were, in fact, some moments in the film during which I could see what Yi's plans were, and I ended up cheering. (The initial Korean attack against the Japanese vanguard reminded me of the "Game of Thrones" scene now known as The Battle of the Blackwater, in which a row of ships was destroyed, thus creating a bottleneck that hampered the rest of the fleet. I don't know how historically accurate the scene in "The Admiral" was, but it was definitely crafted as a "cheer" moment. The battle scenes tended to switch back and forth between live action and CGI; the special effects for the churning water, showcasing the awesome power of Mother Nature, were excellent, but there were some ship-to-ship battle scenes whose effects could have used a few extra bucks. And as with so many Korean dramas, "The Admiral" was dragged down by far too much melodrama, which Koreans eat up, but which doesn't translate well for international audiences. Much of the screaming and crying and faraway-looks-before-dying made me do little more than roll my eyes. Luckily, Choi Min-shik didn't overact at all; he was the star of this film, and he carried the weight of the plot with believable gravitas. The beginning of the film establishes that Yi is old, coughing up blood, and possibly dying (this battle took place in 1597; Yi died after being shot the following year); we feel the pressure on Admiral Yi to win this battle, given how much is at stake on the peninsula.

For about two-thirds of its run time, "The Admiral" focuses only on the battle of Myeongnyang, and mainly from the Korean side, although it shows a few smug and sinister Japanese characters as well (these were, in reality, Korean actors speaking Korean-accented Japanese). I have to wonder why the movie chose to focus so closely on this one battle instead of on the life of Yi Sun-shin, who had led a very interesting life, indeed. I came away liking the character of Yi, as well as liking some of the men loyal to him. That aspect of the movie brought home the idea that, in any military operation, the chain of command is absolutely paramount: Yi's plans would never have worked had there been any doubters or cowards (we see Yi deal brutal justice to one captured deserter). Alas, I also came away wishing the movie had expanded the scope of its story to the whole of Yi's life, with more focus on his tactical and strategic genius, which was easily at the level of a General Patton or an Admiral Nelson. I wish the film had been more forthcoming about some of Yi's most important plans, which are revealed to us only as the plans unfold and not before. I wish the melodrama could have been toned down to imbue the film with more grim dignity and less weepy sentimentality.

Taken as a whole, "The Admiral" is a good but very flawed retelling of a famous moment in Korean history. I'll cautiously recommend it to you, but do be prepared for a big, treacly faceful of over-the-top Korean theatricality.

*The actual number of Japanese vessels was a little over 130, and not all of those vessels were fighting ships. Still, as the Wikipedia article on Yi's life points out, he experienced around 23 engagements with the Japanese, and in most cases, he was outnumbered and outgunned, but still victorious. That's impressive by anybody's reckoning, I should think.

gotta love the NY Post

The New York Post is well known for its shamelessly tasteless front page. This is no exception:

In recent days, I've seen plenty of lame "Kim Summit" jokes, but the above takes the cake. I think that single panel pretty much milks the joke dry.

And for the sentimental, here's a classic from a few years back.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Jesse takes on MMA and BJJ

Another hilarious bit of commentary from Mexican Martial Artist Jesse of Voto Studios:

Roseanne: hellogoodbye

Roseanne Barr, a star who, like Kanye West, seems to have made the switch over to the Trumpian side of the aisle, just had her fledgling show canceled almost immediately after she had tweeted an insult about black government official and Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett: "Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj," where "vj" means "Valerie Jarrett." (Jarrett was born in Iran to two African-American parents.) Barr quickly took to Twitter to apologize for her intemperate remark, and she also said she would be quitting Twitter.

What has resulted is yet another acrimonious debate in the ongoing culture war. Was Barr's offense serious enough to warrant the immediate cancellation of her sitcom? Haven't other celebrities said and done worse (e.g., Kathy Griffin and her severed head of Donald Trump)? Doesn't Barr have the right to express herself freely, however odious her thoughts might be? Is ABC, the network hosting "Roseanne," so naive as not to realize that Barr has been inflammatory before (cf. her Hitler photo, complete with Jew-shaped cookies coming out of an oven, for a magazine shoot)?

Some people are saying that Barr's transgression is serious enough that she'll have to "pull a Mel Gibson," i.e., contritely disappear for a few years until the furor dies down, and it's once again safe for her to poke her head out. Styx, in his video on the incident, contended that the real cause of Roseanne's downfall was the remark she made about billionaire George Soros, whom she accused of collaborating with the Nazis back during World War II: "...turned in his fellow Jews 2 be murdered in German concentration camps & stole their wealth."

I haven't watched any episodes of the new "Roseanne," and since I've long found Barr to be, at best, a noxious presence on TV (you'll recall her butchering of the US national anthem in July of 1990), I can't say I feel any sympathy for her, given that this is a predicament that she created herself. Let her hang, for all I care. I've also seen some stupid comments from the right to the effect of, "Why is it racist to call a black politician a monkey when liberals constantly called Dubya a chimp?" This is disingenuous because the question ignores the long, long history of associating blacks with simians as a racist dig, a practice that still occurs today. Upshot: yes, I think Barr's remark was racist. At the same time: yes, I think racist remarks can be dug up from sources on both sides of the political aisle. No one comes away from this looking, if you'll pardon the phrase, lily-white.

My suspicion, though, is that ABC, despite sitting on a cash cow with Barr's popular show, had been looking for a reason to can it, and Barr provided that reason gift-wrapped. Over on Drudge at the moment, we see a series of links that tell a story of sorts:

(4 of 5 of the above links lead to this article)

I hadn't thought of the matter in such tit-for-tat terms, but Drudge (well, does put a finger on the Punch and Judy nature of public discourse and action these days.

As for how much of a rightie Roseanne has actually become: I suspect she's a lot like Kanye West, i.e., more of a shit-stirrer and attention whore than someone with a self-consistent political outlook. I could be wrong; I can't say that I've ever paid any attention to Barr's personal life, but my instinct is to lump her with most of the superficially thinking Hollywood crowd: wherever the wind blows, that way turns the vane.

The Roseanne flap shows that it may be too late to back away from the cliff of a cultural civil war. Such a war won't be civil at all: it'll be mean and petty and coarse, and if it comes to physical violence, I have little choice but to bet on the side with all the guns. How sad.

"Revenge" (2017): review

[NB: spoilers!]

Not to be confused with the 1990 Kevin Costner/Anthony Quinn/Madeleine Stowe film of the same title, 2017's "Revenge" is a French production starring Matilda Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe and Guillaume Bouchède, and directed by relative action-movie newbie Coralie Fargeat. The movie has garnered a surprising amount of critical praise; we'll get into why this is surprising soon enough.

The plot is about as simple and straightforward as it gets: Jennifer (Lutz) is the fuck-bunny for rich playboy Richard (Janssens), who has a very nice house out in the desert of some unnamed—but definitely not American—country. Richard is married and has kids, but he's tapping Jen on the side, and he's brought her out to his desert hideaway for some sun and fun. Richard's friends—two hunting buddies named Stan and Dimitri—arrive the following morning and stay overnight. Drunk and/or high, Jen—who comes off as a cross between an airhead and a whore—flirts heavily with Stan, who gets turned on by her seeming advances. Come morning, however, Jen is no longer friendly toward Stan at all. When Richard leaves on an errand, Stan confronts Jen about the previous night's flirtation, and when Jen remains cool toward him, Stan rapes her. Richard comes back and finds out what has happened; in an act of pure tastelessness, he offers Jen a large sum of hush money plus a quiet job in Canada. Jen, for her part, only wants Richard to call for the copter to take her back home. This doesn't happen, and Jen suddenly takes off from the house at a run. Richard and his buds give chase, eventually trapping Jen against a cliff. To placate Jen, Richard pretends to call for the helicopter to come pick her up; as he does this, he edges toward Jen and pushes her off the cliff. Jen plummets toward the ground, but never reaches it: she gets impaled through the abdomen by a tree, and she's left for dead by the three men.

This is where the story actually begins. Jen miraculously wakes up to find herself impaled, with ants crawling around her bloody wound. Improbably, she manages to use a lighter to burn some tufts of kindling at the base of the tree, weakening the trunk enough to topple the tree and send Jen to the ground. She contrives to regain her feet, but she still has a length of branch sticking out of her gut. In one of this film's more plausible moves, Jen wisely keeps the branch in place, perhaps remembering from high-school first-aid class that yanking the branch out would cause horrific blood loss.

The rest of the story, in which the girl hunts down the guys, will be familiar to anyone who has ever read Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" or seen any one of hundreds of action movies in which a lone hero picks off his enemies one by one. There's really no need to spoil the rest of the plot; we all know how this ends, so the movie's value resides in the path we take to that ending. With that in mind, let's talk about some other aspects of the film.

Tonally, the film comes off mostly as a revenge drama with comic highlights. There's a surreal moment during which we get a nasty closeup shot of a fat guy grossly chewing on some sort of chocolate crunches. There's another surreal moment, later on, in which we see our heroine get high on peyote (I immediately thought of the peyote, which appears early in the film, as Chekov's Peyote: if you see it in Act One, you need to be using it by Act Three), then implausibly perform surgery on herself.

And while we're banging on about implausibilities, I should note that this problem was one that took me out of the film several times. I appreciate the critical praise for the feminist twist that the story gives to an otherwise conventional revenge plot, but the movie's sheer ignorance of human biology often got in the way of my suspension of disbelief. First, there's the matter of the tree that stopped Jen's two-hundred-foot fall down the cliff: in real life, the poor woman would have died from a broken spine. Hard on the heels of her miraculous survival, there's the goofy way in which she got off the tree: by burning both the tree and herself. Jen, who is seen to be bleeding heavily despite having a fat branch stuck in her guts, is now stumbling barefoot through the rocky desert with third-degree burns. The shock of all that blood loss, plus the shock from the burns, really ought to have put the young woman out of commission. But Jen apparently has the constitution of John McClane—another action-movie freak of nature—and even in scenes where she appears to stumble and land on her stomach, the branch in her guts remains firmly in place and doesn't damage her any further. On top of these stochastic events, Jen takes peyote to numb the coming pain, then removes the branch from herself and uses a peeled-apart, fire-heated beer can to cauterize her wound. How she manages such surgical precision while tripping balls on peyote is absolutely beyond my comprehension—as is the hilarious phoenix-shaped burn mark that she gives herself through her cautery. (The beer can has a phoenix emblem on it. This somehow translates into a phoenix-shaped scar, despite the can's surface being perfectly flat, and it makes for a pretty heavy-handed symbol of Jen's rebirth as a badass.) There's also the question of how cauterizing the surface of the wound in any way repairs the damage to Jen's lacerated intestines: she ought to be bleeding internally. But we're not done: in the film's final act, Jen somehow tracks Richard down at his desert house. How she knew he was going to end up there is anyone's guess. Maybe her hours or days in the desert, hovering so closely to death, gave her keen prophetic insight.

You can see, now, why I find all the critical praise surprising. I'm guessing that the thing the critics latched on to was Jen's character arc, and I have to agree that, despite all the technical ridiculousness, it was actually a very interesting progression. Jen starts the movie as little more than a shallow chick who doesn't mind banging a married rich man. She obviously knows little about the world, and she's just as obviously one of those girls who survive on their looks and not on their brains. In rapid succession, however, Jen is raped and then nearly killed. She teaches herself how to handle a gun, and she digs deep within herself to find the strength and the stubbornness she needs both to survive her situation and to prevail against the men who did her wrong. As character arcs go, this is a very good one, with super-rapid maturation, but my main complaint is that Jen's story is so filled with unlikely events that the arc itself becomes hard to take seriously.

So "Revenge" has a weak story. I'm also not convinced that the actors involved in this film were of the best caliber. Kevin Janssens, who plays Richard, doesn't have the cleverest lines to say; the film's dialogue is definitely not a strong point, and Janssens's delivery leaves something to be desired. Much of the dialogue is in French, and Janssens's French bugged me because his accent sounded off. He spoke with the rapidity of someone with native fluency, but his French didn't sound French. When I looked the actor up on Wikipedia, I saw why: Janssens is Belgian. His surname should have been a clue, but I then understood why he sounded like Jean-Claude Van Damme. Richard's buddies, Stan and Dimitri, were both played by French actors, which is why they sounded more natural to me. The men's acting—except for Colombe's—sometimes struck me as somewhat stiff and forced; Matilda Lutz (who is Italian), by contrast, seemed to improve as the story progressed: the more frazzled and disheveled she looked, the better her acting got: she evolved into the role of the kick-ass heroine.

Writer-director Coralie Fargeat (pronounce her surname "fahr-zhah") has crafted a story that could use some rewriting. As a director, she's got a good eye for the intensity that comes from jamming the camera up close to open and bleeding wounds (there's plenty of flowing blood, and a bit of gore as well, along with a painful, "Die Hard"-style moment in which one of the baddies has to pick shards of glass out of the profusely bleeding sole of one foot), and she knows how to ratchet up the tension via point-of-view shots taken over a character's shoulder as that character wends his or her way through the desert scrub or through the hallways of a large house. Fargeat has the potential to become an action director on the order of Luc Besson, but she needs to nail certain basics first. She has a kind of undeveloped, De Palma-meets-Grindhouse sensibility, but she needs more, especially when it comes to storytelling and character development.

I mentioned above that the movie strives to be a revenge drama with comic highlights, but in truth, I laughed way more than I probably should have. There were so many ridiculously unlikely scenes, so many violations of the basics of human biology (not to mention one embarrassingly fake-looking corpse in a lake), that I had no response but mirth for what I was seeing. Overall, I found "Revenge" bizarrely entertaining, but for much of its running time, the film was entertaining in spite of itself. It's definitely a feminist rereading of a familiar action subgenre, but that's not enough to give it an air of legitimacy, in my book.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Styx's cri de coeur re: Tommy Robinson

More animated and impassioned than usual, Styx rips into the UK for its arrest of Tommy Robinson (real name: Stephen Lennon), a journalist and activist who has been imprisoned in England for live-streaming during a trial involving several Muslims accused of child rape.

More information on the Robinson situation is here. Excerpt:

On Friday, British free-speech activist and Islam critic Tommy Robinson was acting as a responsible citizen journalist — reporting live on camera from outside a Leeds courtroom where several Muslims were being tried for child rape — when he was set upon by several police officers. In the space of the next few hours, a judge tried, convicted, and sentenced him to 13 months in jail — and also issued a gag order, demanding a total news blackout on the case in the British news media. Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was immediately taken to Hull Prison.

The home of Orwell gets Orwellian.

Monday, May 28, 2018

assembling a timpano

One of the most ambitious pasta dishes I've ever seen is the timpano, which in Italian can mean the eardrum, a kettle drum, or just generically, a drum. I first encountered this dish while viewing a "Binging With Babish" video devoted to it. Andrew Rea (Babish himself) normally re-creates food from movies and TV shows, and in this case, the timpano came from a movie called "Big Night," which I have yet to see. Here's the Babish video:

This would be an all-day prep for yours truly, especially given how slowly I cook to begin with. Aesthetically, I have to say that the outside looks awful: the "crust," such as it is, is basically a gigantic sheet of pasta that cradles the innards, gets wrapped over the top (which becomes the bottom once the thing finishes baking), and is exposed to the blast-furnace heat of the oven, thus producing exactly what you'd expect to happen to over-baked pasta: an unpleasantly brown crust that doesn't look appetizing at all. By contrast, the interior of a properly baked timpano looks miraculously beautiful, and it's probably because the crust endures so much punishment that this happens: the enormous pasta sheet acts as a shield, deflecting and diffusing the oven's heat, allowing the dish's innards to cook to perfection.

I might one day try my hand at baking a miniature timpano (then again, if I'm going miniature, you're justified in asking what the fucking point is), but a project like this either requires a single cook to spend all dingle-damn day on it, or requires two or more people to work on it simultaneously so as to get everything prepped in a timely manner. While the project is intimidatingly huge, it also looks like fun... which doesn't come through as much in the Babish video as it does in the following BuzzFeed video, in which two guys—posing as cooks—go at it and end up with what I thought was a pretty impressive result, arguably even better, looks-wise, than what Babish produced. Have a look for yourself:

In the latter video, when that first slice is pulled away from the main body of the timpano, you see how well it holds together structurally. The innards also strike me as more colorful than Babish's, and the final presentation, with that lovely sprinkle of cheese and herbs, makes for a prettier image. This is a case where, I think, the newbie cooks have beaten the pro chef. The second video also highlights the fun you can have when cooking becomes less of a lone-wolf endeavor and more of a social activity. The real payoff, of course, comes at the very end, when all the BuzzFeed staffers appear on camera and cheer the unveiling of this chef d'oeuvre.

I might seriously consider making a timpano at some point. Maybe I'll make it to celebrate the day I'm officially out of debt, which will most likely be sometime early next year. Something to think about, ja?

thanks, Europe

"Blogger no longer supports OpenID. Existing OpenID comments and your OpenID settings may have changed."

This is the message that greeted me this morning. Because of Europe's new General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, the way in which data are shared is now forced to be much more transparent. On one level, this is a very good thing because it obliges companies to be up-front about what they do with your personal data, as well as to offer the user the option of accepting or rejecting data collection by the company. On another level, though, this could present new inconveniences for the user. The regulation went into effect on May 25, and this site has some useful information on what the new regulation means. Here's a quick excerpt:

Much of the GDPR builds on rules set by earlier EU privacy measures like the Privacy Shield and Data Protection Directive, but it expands on those measures in two crucial ways. First, the GDPR sets a higher bar for obtaining personal data than we’ve ever seen on the internet before. By default, any time a company collects personal data on an EU citizen, it will need explicit and informed consent from that person. Users also need a way to revoke that consent, and they can request all the data a company has from them as a way to verify that consent. It’s a lot stronger than existing requirements, and it explicitly extends to companies based outside the EU. For an industry that’s used to collecting and sharing data with little to no restriction, that means rewriting the rules of how ads are targeted online.

This might affect the way you append comments to this blog, so please be on the lookout for any changes in the commenting procedure.

"Death Wish" (2018): review

[NB: some spoilers.]

Directed by horrormeister Eli Roth (who played "the Bear Jew" in Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds") and starring Bruce Willis, Vincent D'Onofrio, the inimitable Dean Norris, Elisabeth Shue, and Kimberly Elise, 2018's "Death Wish" is a remake of the Charles Bronson classic vigilante-revenge flick from 1974. The 70s were a time when "taking the law into your own hands" movies were gaining popularity: Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry," about a cop who has no regard for criminals' rights, also came out during this period.

Willis plays Dr. Paul Kersey, a trauma surgeon who works at an inner-city hospital in Chicago but lives out in the richie-rich suburbs with his wife Lucy (Shue) and college-bound daughter Jordan (Camila Morrone). Kersey, true to his Hippocratic oath, is impartial in terms of whom he tries to save: one moment, he's working on a dying police officer; the next, he's working on the lowlife who shot the officer. This impartiality goes out the window, however, when a trio of thieves tries robbing the Kersey household. The robbery goes wrong, and both Lucy and Jordan are shot while Paul is still working downtown. The two are brought into the ER of Paul's hospital, much to Paul's horror; Lucy dies, but Jordan is left in a coma, having taken a bullet to the back of the head. Paul's brother Frank (D'Onofrio), who has a reputation as a bit of a moocher, is all sympathy. Detectives Kevin Raines and Leonore Jackson (Norris and Elise, respectively) are put on the Kersey case, but the detectives have little to go on.

Thus begins Paul Kersey's descent into darkness. He's receiving therapy and talking about the helplessness, anger, and frustration he feels, but he's also acquiring a gun and learning how to use it in his spare time. When he feels he's finally ready, he begins to walk the streets, shooting evildoers when he runs across them. Paul dresses in a hoodie during these vengeful patrols, and a few people film him on their cell-phone cameras, thus earning him a viral reputation. Paul is dubbed "The Grim Reaper," and the movie shows us the crosscurrents of radio DJ commentary, with some folks siding with Paul while other folks express fear about a man taking the law into his own hands, inspiring copycats and fueling the cycle of violence.

By now, you can see where the plot is going. You already know the answer to the question of whether Paul will manage to track down the people who tore his family apart, and you probably already know the answer to the question of whether Paul will dispense an ugly form of justice (he does: not every criminal dies by gun; one gets a memorably gravity-assisted death). Given that this remake of "Death Wish" follows the beats of the 1974 film, you doubtless have a pretty good idea of this movie's tone and trajectory.

"Death Wish" got pounded by critics, and I'm pretty sure it's for many of the same reasons that critics hated the 70s-era film: glorification of violence, vengeance, and vigilantism, for one thing; allowing the pro-gun side to have an actual voice in a Hollywood movie, for another. The movie specifically includes a line long promoted by the NRA and by NRA sympathizers: "When seconds count, the police are minutes away."

The movie isn't one for subtlety. Along with the preachy radio commentary, which lays out the pro and con expositorily, there's a scene right after Lucy's funeral in which Lucy's father, shooting at some poachers on his land, tells Paul that the crux of the issue is that, sometimes, you can't rely on the police for help. You have to solve some problems yourself.

Willis's performance in this film is stony and stoic. This dampens the energy of the story and keeps things on a quiet, slow-burn level. There was a chance for the movie to turn Paul Kersey into a figure of hate, consumed by his quest for revenge, but in the end, the 2018 film went for something close to the 1974 ending: the police are perfectly aware that Kersey is the Grim Reaper, but they choose to do nothing about it. The movie even ends on the finger-gun gesture made by Charles Bronson in the original.

One area where I thought the film showed at least a little sophistication was in its discussion of racial politics. One black DJ, skeptical of the Reaper, asks the public whether it should condone the actions of a white guy murdering all these black guys (Kersey actually kills people of several different races, including white). A black panelist sitting with the DJ counters that "these were drug dealers," so the Reaper is performing a public service by cleaning up the streets. There was a distinct The Dark Knight Returns feel about all this media meta-commentary; Frank Miller's 1980s-era graphic novel also used the media as a framing device and a through-line throughout the graphic novel.

The biggest implausibility, though, is that not a single cell-phone holder is ever able to get a clear shot of Paul's face. Paul wears a hoodie during his nights out, but a hoodie isn't a monk's cowl—one's face is clearly visible unless one pulls the hood closed with drawstrings. On the other hand, the movie does a decent job of showing well-intended cops competently working a case: Detectives Raines and Jackson are good at what they do, but they're hampered by the system, which doesn't keep them from sussing out both the criminals who attacked the Kerseys and Paul Kersey himself.

I don't think "Death Wish" deserved the outpouring of critical hate it received.* I generally liked the film despite its predictable plot and some jerky-dry acting by Bruce Willis. If the movie had another major problem, it's that a remake of a seminal film isn't going to have much impact, given how so many Bronson-inspired films have arrived on the scene since 1974, including modern revenge-action dramas like "Taken," et al. "Death Wish" suffers the curse of being yet another unasked-for remake. That said, it's not a bad one.

*There was a significant "enthusiasm gap," as the critics were at a 17% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the audience-approval score was 78%.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Colion Noir trolls the media

"Fake news" is a problem on both sides of the political aisle, whether we're talking Alex Jones or CNN, but since many people are in denial of this fact, it's sometimes necessary to set a trap whose result clearly demonstrates one or another party's tendency to propagate fake news. In a recent video, NRA rep and YouTuber Colion Noir openly speculated on having the government control how the media report mass shootings. Specifically, Noir suggested banning both the mention of the killer's name and the showing of the killer's face. Immediately after speculating in this fashion, Noir turned around and asked whether we viewers felt outraged at this obvious attempt to curtail first-amendment rights to free speech, then he drove his point home: if you're outraged about an attack on the first amendment, this is how gun owners feel about the media's constant attack on the second amendment.

What happened next was predictable; Noir even predicted it in the video described above: the media went berserk and accused Noir of trampling on first-amendment rights. This led to Noir's followup video, which I've embedded below. This new video is essentially a ten-minute-long "Gotcha," and the point Noir makes is that most media outlets didn't even make it through the above-linked four-minute video: reporters and pundits watched maybe the first 90 seconds and formed their opinions based only on that. They didn't follow Noir's argument to its conclusion, thus misreporting what Noir had been trying to say. A trap was laid, the media collectively fell into it, and Noir quickly recognized the value of that lesson. In the embedded video below, Noir specifically calls out several prominent media sources. In fairness, he notes that a scattered few of those sources did delete their initial rage-tweets and/or changed their position after being called out for their erroneous reporting. Noir's point, though, is that the media reflexively do this: they are primed to distort, and this is a perfect example of that distortion. See why I prefer the alt-media these days?

"Smokin' Aces": review

Director Joe Carnahan's "Smokin' Aces" came out in 2007, but I only just watched it tonight. The movie features an ensemble cast filled with Hollywood veterans as well as with younger stars who have since moved on to bigger and better. Among others, we see Ray Liotta, Andy Garcia, Ryan Reynolds, Common, Alicia Keys, Taraji Henson, Chris Pine, Jason Bateman, Nestor Carbonell, Peter Berg, and Jeremy Piven as the eponymous card magician Buddy "Aces" Israel himself. For Common and Keys, this movie was their debut appearance on the big screen (both started out as singers; Common was in "John Wick: Chapter 2").

"Smokin' Aces" wasn't very well liked by the critics when it came out (30% on Rotten Tomatoes; 45% on Metacritic), but I thought it was pretty good. The film came off as a sort of homage to the directorial stylings of Guy Ritchie, whose influence on this work is fairly obvious: the breakneck speed of the plot, the almost ADHD rapidfire editing, the over-the-top characters and action sequences, and the madcap notion that a bunch of professional assassins might all converge on one gangster-wannabe magician holed up in a Lake Tahoe hotel suite—these are all the elements of a Guy Ritchie film like "Snatch."

The basic plot in a nutshell: Buddy "Aces" Israel (Piven) is a Las Vegas entertainer with mob connections who falls out of favor with a don named Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin). Sparazza is dying, but from what the FBI agents spying on his residence can pick up, the old gangster wants Israel killed and his heart removed as some sort of trophy. Israel rolled over to the FBI a while ago, and he is in the process of cutting a deal: crucial testimony to take down La Cosa Nostra in exchange for immunity and entry into the Witness Protection program. Sparazza, however, is willing to pay a million dollars to have Israel killed and his heart taken out, and when word of this leaks out to the hitman community, several teams of professional killers converge on Lake Tahoe, each with a plan for infiltrating the hotel, making it up to Israel's penthouse suite, and killing Israel. Caught in the middle of all this are FBI agents Messner (Reynolds) and Carruthers (Liotta), and when a major plot twist occurs around halfway through the movie, the two agents are left out of the loop, and quite a few unnecessary deaths occur. We don't find out the full implications of the plot twist until the very end of the story, but it's enough of a shocker to prompt one of the two federal agents to take radical action—a deed extreme enough to end his career.

"Smokin' Aces" has plenty of positives. I enjoyed the film's direction, overall: the pacing seemed apropos, given the comically violent nature of the story, which was striving for Guy Ritchie/Quentin Tarantino heights. The film also handled several converging plot lines quite well; I tip my hat to the screenwriters for that. The cast members were all on point; some characters were there as comic relief while others were meant to be varying degrees of dead-serious or downright scary. Chris Pine, Jason Bateman, and Joel Edgerton all stand out as hilarious in their various roles; Pine in particular is a hoot paying a character who is a far cry from Captain James T. Kirk.

But the film isn't perfect. Foremost in my mind is Andy Garcia's mega-weird accent throughout the film. Garcia plays Agent Locke, a higher-up in the FBI who is coordinating Buddy Israel's transition to Witness Protection when he's not withholding crucial information from Carruthers and Messner. Another problem is that the script for director Carnahan's movie generally lacks the sort of barbed wit you'd expect from a Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino production. While the story makes up for the lack of wit through the intensity of its action, the viewer is left feeling that something is lacking. This isn't true for Chris Pine's scenes, though: Pine's dialogue, and the way he delivers it, is funny and spot-on.

All in all, I'm going to stand against the tide of the critics and declare "Smokin' Aces" worthy of at least one viewing. The story's plot might have some logical holes in it, and the verbal wit may be a bit lacking, but the film is tightly paced and edited, and the overall direction moves the story along with urgency and emotional intensity. A tad more character development might have helped, but in a film with this many colorful characters, that's not an easy thing to realize. Watch the film for its action, for an interesting plot twist that didn't telegraph itself, and for Chris Pine's stand-out performance as one of the goofier assassins.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

a short walk

I met my friend Neil and did a brief walk with him from my place at Daecheong Station over to the Apgujeong neighborhood. At the moment where we left the Han River bike path, there was a graffiti-filled tunnel, at the beginning of which was a spray-painted image of Thanos in a Chicago Bulls cap and jersey. I suggested that Neil pull a Robert Downey Junior and pose with his finger in Thanos's ear while I snapped a photo. Neil gamely went along with that, then we walked into Apgujeong and stopped at a local A Twosome Place. After downing some drinks, we headed back to my place by cab, ate some pulled-pork sliders, and talked about a whole range of topics, from politics to psychology.

Our walk was barely two hours long, or about 12,000 steps, according to my pedometer. Neil had to leave around 3 p.m. to meet another friend later in the day; he (Neil, I mean) lives in Masan and is currently up in Seoul, making the rounds. I'll be trundling down to Masan next month: Neil has mentioned that there's a bike path around where he lives, so I might go walk part of that path while I'm down there.

do we really need this?

With Jon Favreau's version of "The Jungle Book" having come out so recently, do we really need another movie about Mowgli?

Friday, May 25, 2018

the real Star Wars Day

"Star Wars": US release date = May 25, 1977
"The Empire Strikes Back": US release date = May 21, 1980
"Return of the Jedi": US release date = May 25, 1983

The old Star Wars movies, now called "the original trilogy," came out during a time that spanned my childhood from early elementary school (1977) to early high school (1983). That's a huge chunk of my youth, so of course it's only natural that I would have felt the influence of this trilogy very deeply. Dad used to worry about my Darth Vader obsession.

As you see above, two out of three of the original movies came out on May 25, which for me has always been the real Star Wars Day. This may be why it feels so utterly strange to be seeing the movies in the newest trilogy in December. To me, these have never felt like Christmas movies, or to put it another way: Christmas has never felt like the right time to release a Star Wars movie. I've long associated these movies with the end of the school year. Arriving right around Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer-movie season, these movies usually signaled that the biggest vacation of the year was just around the corner, and summer would be spent re-watching these films. I was at the end of the second grade when the 1977 movie came out; I was finishing up fifth grade when the 1980 movie came out; I was about to make the leap into high school when the 1983 movie came out. Nowadays, having the movies come out close to Christmas break feels like a reduction in scope and significance. What is Christmas break, after all, but a week-long reprieve from the grind that is school?

But that's just me, I guess. As I continue my slow descent into crotchety decrepitude, more and more things feel wrong or out of place to me. Maybe that's only natural: I'm old enough to be misremembering and mythologizing aspects of my childhood; insisting that May 25 is the real Star Wars Day is merely part of that grumpy descent.

That said, May the Force—not the lispy Fourth—be with you. Happy May 25th.

today's luncheon

In my rush to finalize prep and get to the office, I completely forgot to take along my huge pile of potato chips, so I bought some on site. Aside from that, today's luncheon went well. Below are some highlights of the prep, and the final two pics give you an example of what the pulled-pork sandwich is supposed to look like (pickle on top or slaw on top? I let the diners decide).

First up: the slider buns, which are actually Costco dinner rolls, perfectly slider-sized. I halved, buttered, and toasted 45 of these bad boys on the assumption that 15 people would eat three sliders each. As it turned out, I forgot that Koreans are skinny because they eat like birds, so I had plenty of leftovers. Quite a few people had no more than two sliders. Still, as the boss noted, it's better to bring too much than to bring too little.

Toasted buns, which tasted great (I did half of them in my new stainless-steel pan):

Below, a better shot of teh pr0k, completely prepped. I started with over 4 kg of raw shoulder and neck; when I did a rough weighing of the fully processed, de-fatted pork, the weight was around 3.2 kg. That's a lot of fat to have removed. Da pig:

From Costco, I picked up a variety pack of deli cheeses, which I sliced in half to make the pieces more slider-friendly:

Below: my special, one-time-only blend of three barbecue sauces:

The cole slaw was fun to make. I grated and minced a fat carrot, then broke down a gigantic head of cabbage, then made my go-to cole-slaw sauce, a formula so simple that, once I discovered it, I haven't deviated from it since. Ready for the recipe? About 2-3 parts mayonnaise, 1 part pickle juice, and some cracked black pepper. Simple. Easy. And plausibly cole-slaw-ish. Behold:

At Star Super, the only sliced pickles in stock were this German brand. I had to look up knackig, which means "crunchy," as it turns out. Schnitten means "slices."

In an act of utter randomness, I also brought a load of chicken curry to the luncheon. I had made myself a ton of the stuff, and I wanted to get rid of it quickly because I knew I couldn't take curry to work several days in a row: the odor would start to annoy my coworkers. On the one day that I did bring a serving of curry in, I had to endure stage-whispered comments like, "Smells like curry!" and "Ooh, what's that smell?" Most of the comments were complimentary since everyone was already familiar with curry, but I felt self-conscious all the same.


Here's the first shot of a completed slider:

And here's the final shot of the series: a slider from a food-porny angle:

Lots of compliments from the Korean coworkers we'd invited, and one of my Canuck coworkers said my curry was "the best ever." One cautious, picky American coworker even tried cole slaw for the first time and said he liked it. Too bad the Koreans didn't eat more, but I also have to feed the native-speaker teachers later this evening, so we're not done yet.

The damage report:

Meat = about 50% remaining
Bread = of 45 rolls, only about 10 left
Cheese = about 50-60% remaining
Cole slaw = about 50% remaining
Curry = about 40% remaining (now boxed and fridged)

I need to be a better judge of stomach size, I think. That skill would definitely save me some money. But as it is, things aren't tragic: I've got plenty of leftovers to make plenty more sandwiches, and when the bread runs out, I can buy a small pack of tortillas and make pulled-pork quesadillas. Positive outcomes are where you make them.

UPDATE: a new damage report!

I fed the native-speaker English teachers, and some of the IT team came back at dinnertime for seconds! So the new numbers are now these:

Meat = about 25% remaining
Bread = of 45 rolls, only 2 left
Cheese = about 40% remaining
Cole slaw = about 15% remaining
Curry = nothing left (a coworker took the rest home to his girlfriend for a shared dinner)

very distracting

Donald Trump has canceled the summit with North Korea, which is consistent with my pessimism that anything meaningful was going to happen (although, for what it's worth, the blog ROK Drop argues that Trump has "flipped the script" on Kim Jong-un, a sentiment that Styx echoes... this may be right, but I plan to wait and see). Strangely, despite the important goings-on, I find myself distracted by a minor point: Donald Trump's signature, as it appears on the letter he sent to Kim Jong-un, looks disturbingly like the spiky, angular architecture of the US Air Force Academy's famous chapel. Here—see for yourself.

Trump's signature:

And the USAFA chapel:

You can't un-see it once you've seen it. Uncanny.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

a tale of two "burgers"

This is the Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods:

And this is the Moving Mountains vegan burger:

Judging purely on the visuals, I have to give it to the Impossible Burger. Moving Mountains feels like a ripoff, when you hear the listing of its similar ingredients, and it looks unpleasantly like a hockey puck made of spam. I've seen enough reviews of the Impossible Burger (whose bloodiness comes from an ingredient called heme, which can be found in both certain plants and all animals) to know that I definitely want to try it whenever I'm back in the States. On balance, reviewers almost universally note that the Impossible Burger doesn't taste or feel completely like real meat, but that, if you were to give it to someone without saying it was vegan, there's a good chance the eater wouldn't even notice that fact.

FYI, I've blogged, somewhat obliquely, about vegan burgers before.

next 2 kg: almost done

From last night to this morning, I slow-cooked the second and final load of about 2 kilos' worth of pork. It's always nice to wake up to a pleasant aroma. For this batch, I skipped the Coke and did a more classic solution of Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, apple-cider vinegar, liquid smoke, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. Had I added ketchup, these would have been the elements for a homemade barbecue sauce.

Here's what the second batch looked like while still in the pot:

A horror show, I realize, but it tastes and smells far better than it looks. I have yet to pull the above pork. I simply turned off the cooker and will do the pulling once I'm home from work. The meat is so fatty that I'm not particularly worried about it drying out while it cools.

Here's the first batch, pulled and sauced, after a whole day in the fridge:

My blackened toes make an appearance in the above pic. I'd say I was sorry, but I like to think that the appearance of my toes makes the food more appetizing.

ADDENDUM: still to do tonight:

1. Cut 45 slider rolls in half, butter them, and gently pan-fry them. Let cool before packing.

2. Turn a hypertrophic head of cabbage into enough cole slaw for 15 people.

3. De-fat, pull, and sauce the pork. Take a third of this latest batch and char it under the broiler, then mix in with the rest of the pork (how do you write "pork" in l33+? "teh pr0k"?).

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

to coin a phrase

While I was washing my hands in my kitchenette's sink an hour ago, a phrase suddenly came to mind, prepackaged and wrapped in a pretty little bow:

Them's fartin' words!

I found myself imagining that expression being uttered in some Wild West scenario. The thought brought a smile to my face. Later on, I began to wonder whether anyone else had used that same turn of phrase: a Google search for the exact phrase turned up only seven results, which is revolutionary. This means I'm one of the original coiners, and far from being an easy-to-arrive-at cliché, "Them's fartin' words" is a legitimately creative collocation.

"You only think you're original," I hear you growl.

Fill your hands, for them's fartin' words, hombre.

Ave, Charles!

My buddy Charles's massive, Tim Urban-style* review of "Ready Player One" is now out and ready to be read by you, your family, and all your countrymen.

*Tim Urban is the curator of the megablog Wait But Why. Urban is (in)famous for writing blog entries that, if printed out, would easily surpass the length of some grad-school research papers. Here's a recent example of Urban's writing. Good luck getting through it quickly.

2 kilos: done

I'm making a massive load of pulled pork for Friday's luncheon. My crock pot can't hold the entire 4 kg of pork shoulder and pork neck (moksal in Korean) that I bought, so I have no choice but to slow-cook in 2-kilo batches. Once again disdaining the pre-searing step (which I almost never do*), I plunked half the pork into the pot and poured in 700 cc of Coca Cola, which is great for breaking meat down and softening it.** Added a wee bit of liquid smoke and started the slow cook very late last night.

When I woke up, the apartment was redolent with the smell of nicely done pig. The next step was to take out my giant metal bowl and begin the process of flaking the meat apart and removing the chunks and lumps of fat that hadn't dissolved during the cooking process. I had bought some rubber gloves for the occasion, so I pulled those on and began the surgery. Some of the fat and fascia peeled away easily; other bits were more stubborn and clung to the muscles with a stubbornness born of the tensile strength of un-dissolved connective tissue. I tried to work as fast as possible so as not to let the pork dry out, but it was still slow work. I didn't worry too much about evaporation because I worked fast enough to create a large pile of meat. The surface of the pile blocked the heat from radiating out of the middle of the pile.

The process took long enough to make me late for work, so I texted some coworkers to let them know I'd be coming in later than usual. When I had finished removing the fat and flaking the meat apart, I splashed on a new brand of barbecue sauce that I had bought at Costco. Normally I buy Yoshida's, a brand that isn't too sweet. But this time around, I saw that, while there were crates and crates of Yoshida's teriyaki sauce, there was no barbecue sauce. Instead, Costco was selling large two-bottle sets of a sauce called KC Masterpiece. Curious, I opened a bottle up and had a taste on Monday night. It proved to be much sweeter, but it also had a pleasantly smoky undercurrent that Yoshida's lacked. So I sauced up my pork with KC Masterpiece, then jammed some pork into my mouth to see how it had all come out. Goddamn perfect, I'd say. I didn't even miss the fact that the pork had no bark.

With the second load of pork that I'm doing tonight, I'll take about a third of it, coat it in a bit of honey, and broil the hell out of it to produce my usual bark simulacrum. I'll mix the burned (well, charred) bits in with the rest of the pulled pork, and voilà: we're good as gold.

Then comes a logistical problem: I'll have done the pork by Thursday morning, and it'll be in the fridge, cooling off all day Thursday, before I take the meat and other stuff to the office on Friday. I want the meat to be fairly hot, or at least pleasingly warm, by the time I serve it, so to solve that problem, I'm going to heat the pork in batches in my oven (covered, of course, so as not to lose moisture) Friday morning. This needs to be a low-and-slow process, so I'll have to wake up early to do two or three batches' worth of pork.

If the second batch of pork is as good as the first, I think we'll be in for a pretty good luncheon.

*And for the one or two times I have done it, I can't say I noticed any real elevation of flavor.

**Dirty secret: in the Korean restaurants throughout northern Virginia, ajummas use Coke when marinading all sorts of meat, from bulgogi to galbi.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

a deep dive into pasta

Fascinating video of two noodle experts—one Chinese, the other Japanese—as they expound on their art and craft and wow us with their skill:

I ended up feeling a very "Tampopo" vibe while watching this video, which is a quiet reminder that, whatever you do in life, do deeply.

do you accept the challenge?

I'm a teetotaler, so I know next to nothing about alcohol. My friend Justin Yoshida, by contrast, is much more worldly, and he presents the beer-swilling blog-reader with an interesting challenge. See it here.

Leave your comments on his blog so he can behold the flaunting of your knowledge.

John 19:30

It is accomplished.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Kitty Hawk

It's kitten versus hawk in yet another "nature's red in tooth and claw" video. But what makes this video so damn awesome is the priceless narration by the dude holding the camera. And when the camera briefly pans across a sign in the front yard... that sign's text adds hilarious poignancy to the tableau. Weep not for kitty: he's serving a purpose.

not exactly instant karma, but...

For the video below, you have to wait almost two minutes, but please don't impatiently click forward: the payoff is fairly satisfying. Then again, if I'd had a shotgun filled with rock salt, things would have turned out differently at the Hominid residence.

the best online taekwondo lesson you'll ever see

I've finally subscribed to this guy, who is hilarious. He's legitimately good at several martial arts, but he's chosen the path of ultimate silliness for his "explanatory" vids:

Colion Noir: "Killers Inspire Killers"

A good video by Mr. Noir:


Bernard Lewis, an often-controversial Middle East scholar and author of one of the most memorable books I've read, Islam and the West, has died only a few days before his 102nd birthday. I know Lewis best for his work in Islam scholarship, but he was an accomplished and well-rounded expert on Middle Eastern history and affairs in general. I read Lewis's Islam and the West some years after having had to read Edward Said's awful screed Orientalism, which adopts a victimization attitude (the West raped and plundered the Orient) and takes what I consider to be an illogical and hypocritical approach to the question of the West's interaction with the Middle East. Lewis, in Islam and the West, devotes an entire chapter to mowing down the many flaws in Said's monograph; that chapter in particular is a work of art, in my opinion. Lewis's academic trajectory involved many controversies and a general falling-out-of-favor over the past few decades because his right-leaning views caused many to consider his approach to the Middle East to be overly biased. Lewis was sympathetic to neoconservative ideology during the George W. Bush era, and he was one of the supporters of the 2004 invasion of Iraq—an invasion that I vehemently disagreed with. I can't say that I share Lewis's neocon sympathies, but I respect the breadth and depth of his knowledge of the Middle East, and I think his death represents a major loss for that sector of academe.

RIP, Dr. Lewis.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

why no post on the royal wedding?

Because, as I saw on Gab:

Saturday, May 19, 2018

"Deadpool 2": review

[WARNING: big-ass spoilers! See the movie first unless you like ruining things for yourself.]

Let's get the obvious out of the way: "Deadpool 2" was never going to live up to the original. Oh, "2" is often gut-bustingly funny (e.g., the "dying Logan" doll that we see as the movie opens), but the sequel has to fight an uphill battle against problems like lack of novelty and sequelitis, the latter being a condition in which a sequel tends to crib tropes from the first film, match the first film's story beats, and overstuff the new film with too many characters. "2" doesn't transcend either of these problems, and that's a major strike against it. That said, the movie is a serviceable sequel with plenty of funny, gross, and vulgar moments in the spirit of the first film. Second, it's also arguably smarter than the first film, adding an extra layer of philosophy to the mix, especially thanks to a hilarious mid-credits sequence that offers the viewer much to think about. Third, the movie has a heart, if you can believe it, as one of the major themes of "Deadpool 2" is family—a fact that Deadpool himself points out, early on, during one of his fourth-wall breaks.

"Deadpool 2" is a 2018 superhero action-comedy directed by David Leitch and starring Ryan Reynolds as "the merc with a mouth" himself. As established in the first film, Deadpool is a Canadian ex-Special Forces soldier named Wade Wilson who undergoes a treatment that releases the latent powers of his X-genes, making him virtually indestructible thanks to a Wolverine-like rapid-healing factor, but also altering his body such that he looks like a burn victim. While he loves his firearms, Deadpool is equally in love with the two katanas he keeps strapped to his back. The new movie sees him once again flirting with membership in the X-Men as he trades barbs with Colossus (voice and mo-cap by Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), but Deadpool eventually forms his own group, the X-Force, whose members include lucky Domino (Zazie Beetz), brain-fryer Bedlam (Terry Crews), ninja-ish Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), acid-vomiting Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgård), invisible Vanisher (Brad Pitt in the movie's most hilarious cameo) and utterly normal Peter (a surprisingly fat and mustachioed Rob Delaney), who has no superpowers at all.

Before the X-Force thing happens, Deadpool, with Colossus and Negasonic, shows up in time to stop a young kid named Russell Collins (Julian Dennison of "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" fame) from tearing down a facility for mutant youth. As Deadpool attempts to negotiate with the boy—self-named "Firefist" for the pyrotechnics that can shoot out of his hands—it's discovered that the facility's headmaster and staff have been seriously abusing the children in their care, which is what ignites Firefist's rage. Deadpool himself, upon hearing this, actually shoots one of the creepier-looking staffers in anger, and he and Firefist end up being arrested and sent to a maximum-security prison for mutants, all of whom have their powers neutralized by a special neck collar (strangely unsatirized as a lazy plot device).

In prison, Wade/Deadpool rejects the kid's attempts to bond with him, and the kid turns to the huge fellow being held in The Cooler, the cell reserved for the most dangerous of inmates. Meanwhile, Cable (Josh Brolin) enters the scene, breaking into the prison, Terminator-style, on a mission to kill the boy. According to comics lore, Cable is the son of Scott Summers (Cyclops) and a clone of Jane Grey (Dark Phoenix); as a child, he gets transported into the future and trained as a warrior. He contracts a "techno-virus" (only comics writers could come up with this stuff) that has been eating away at his body for years, slowly turning him into a machine. "Deadpool 2" doesn't reveal this aspect of Cable's past; instead, it focuses on Cable's tragic history: it is an adult Firefist who, far into the future, kills Cable's wife and daughter, thus completing Cable's journey to becoming a badass killing machine whose only thought is to pull a Terminator and plunge into the past to kill Firefist while he's still a boy.

A fight breaks out in the prison as Cable goes looking for the kid. Cable's rampage releases Deadpool and Firefist from their shared cell, and Deadpool manages to stop Cable from capturing the boy, who escapes from both men but fails to escape the prison. Cable and Deadpool, still fighting, plummet over a cliff, with Deadpool landing in the water and having one of several visions of his lady-love Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), who was killed at the beginning of the movie by a criminal that Deadpool had failed to stop. This afterlife-Vanessa has been providing Deadpool with vague clues to help him reorient his life after her death. At one point, she tells Wade that his "heart isn't in the right place," and it takes him some time to figure out what Vanessa means.

The biggest action set piece in the movie occurs when Deadpool forms his X-Force and attempts to rescue Firefist when the boy is being transferred, along with several other mutants, to a different holding facility. In a copter and ignoring that there has been a wind advisory, Deadpool and his new team parachute down toward the convoy... and one by one, the X-Force members are killed off in gruesome ways as the wind blows them along unfortunate courses. Bedlam, upon landing, gets smashed by a bus; Shatterstar, presumably an alien, is ground into extraterrestrial pulp by a helicopter's rotors; Zeitgeist glides feet-first into a wood chipper, and when Peter tries to help him, he vomits enough acid to chew off Peter's arm and part of his torso, thus killing Peter. Domino, with her superpower of luck, manages to land right inside the prison-transfer convoy's main truck, the one holding Firefist and Firefist's soon-to-be-revealed gargantuan friend. Domino and Deadpool have to deal with Cable, who shows up and attempts to shoot Firefist, but all hell breaks loose when Firefist opens the chamber holding his prison buddy: Juggernaut, a man as large and strong as a bull elephant, and just as unstoppable. Juggernaut rips Deadpool in half, then the angry giant and Firefist escape with the intention of returning to Firefist's mutant school to wreak revenge on the cruel headmaster—a move that will set Firefist on the path of evil that culminates in the deaths of Cable's wife and daughter.

The rest of the film is devoted to stopping Firefist from going down the wrong path, saving Cable's future (he ends up teaming with Deadpool to stop Juggernaut), and giving Wade Wilson something to live for in a world without Vanessa. The ending is about what you'd predict it might be, with all the good guys getting what they want...

...and then comes the mid-credits scene, which introduces so much hysterical metaphysical mayhem that your head is left spinning when it's all over.

In order to do this review justice, I have to talk about that mid-credits scene, so here comes your major spoiler. This scene is actually two scenes in rapid succession: (1) Negasonic Teenage Warhead and her cute girlfriend Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna) repair Cable's wristwatch-shaped time-travel device, which Deadpool gratefully takes off their hands, leaving the girls to wonder whether they've just done A Very Bad Thing; (2) Deadpool goes on a series of quick time- and space-jumping adventures to correct parts of the timeline that he thinks need to be corrected. First, he zips back to the moment before Vanessa's death and kills the assailant before the assailant kills her. Second, he zips back to the moment before un-superpowered Peter gets killed and tells Peter to just go on home, thus saving Peter's life (but, strangely, not the lives of the other dead X-Force members). Third, he leaps into the events from "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and shoots the lame, mouthless version of Deadpool who appears in that film. Fourth and finally, he tracks down actor Ryan Reynolds (yes: the very same guy currently playing Deadpool) and shoots him in the head right as Reynolds is saying yes to starring in "Green Lantern" (and you'll recall that Green Lantern is from the DC Comics universe, so we're universe-jumping, here).

This series of events is designed to plunge the viewer into mental chaos. We're left with all sorts of questions: does Deadpool exist in our real world, such that he can kill the actual Ryan Reynolds? If he's just killed Ryan Reynolds, hasn't he just erased himself—Deadpool—from all timelines? If he's killed the Deadpool from the other X-Men cinematic timeline, does his action throw that timeline—which is already pretty confused—into further chaos? If all of this is meant merely as a joke, then does the saving of Vanessa also count as a joke, or will Vanessa be alive in the inevitable sequel?

This is, I think, one of the many ways in which "Deadpool 2" may actually be a much smarter film than its predecessor. The movie is satirizing the very idea of sequels and team-up movies: it immediately kills off almost all of the new team, and it very self-consciously calls our attention to the fact that it's a sequel when it deliberately relives certain moments from the original movie, e.g., Deadpool getting stabbed through the head; or Deadpool awkwardly regrowing body parts (this leads to a gut-buster of a parody of Sharon Stone's leg-crossing scene from "Basic Instinct," in which we get a quick, discomfiting shot of Wade's baby-sized dick as his lower body is regrowing; in the same scene, I was introduced to the term "shirt-cocking"); or Deadpool's interactions with Dopinder the Indian-American cabbie. "2" also satirizes and undermines the very notion of time travel as a story device; the resultant metaphysical messiness of Deadpool's mid-credits transtemporal escapade is meant as a fuck-you to most time-travel narratives out there, from "Terminator" to, quite possibly, the still-unnamed sequel to "Avengers: Infinity War." In the end, we viewers are clutching our heads and wondering how much of this movie was real and meant to be taken seriously. Now, when a movie that's already a satire can get viewers to wonder whether it should be taken at all seriously, that's about as meta as you can get.

My buddy Charles, who has made a study of tricksters, might appreciate "Deadpool 2" on this deep level. The movie as a whole, but especially that mid-credits sequence, plays such a degree of havoc with the question of textuality and the beholder's relationship to the text that Deadpool is, I think, a truer incarnation of a border-shattering trickster figure than Christopher Nolan's Joker could ever hope to be (and let's not even talk about Marvel's huge misinterpretation of Norse trickster-god Loki). As I noted in a long-ago post, the Joker is actually not as chaotic as he seems at first: his Rube Goldberg machinations require so much structured planning that the Joker can almost be seen as anti-chaotic. This leads to a certain irony when the Joker tells Harvey Dent, "I'm an agent of chaos." He is that, on the level of his intentions, but he isn't that when we consider his methods. Deadpool, meanwhile, throws several fictional universes into pandemonium.

So ultimately, for those of us who like to think about the movies we've seen, "Deadpool 2" is unwontedly philosophical, but in a gleefully playful way. While I didn't think the action or the comedy quite stacked up to that of the first movie, I give the film credit for absolutely shredding the metaphysics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a way that not even "Avengers: Infinity War" could manage. Deadpool is an anarchic force to be reckoned with, and he is perhaps more deserving of the mantle of superhero court jester than DC's Joker.

I haven't written much about this so far, but another thing that "Deadpool 2" gets right is the emotional side of the plot. The movie begins with Wade Wilson trying to commit suicide in the most nonsensical way possible: by lying on top of several barrels of accelerant while inside his grungy apartment. We find out that this is because he's just lost Vanessa during the aforementioned confrontation with the baddie that he had failed to kill earlier. Unmindful that he's going to be killing other tenants as well, Wade blows himself to smithereens, but when Colossus comes over and pieces Wade's pieces back together, Wade's healing factor takes over, and he ends up surviving the blast. Wade's several communions with the dead Vanessa convince him that he needs to find a family (which Wade initially dismisses as another f-word), and he ends up bonding with Colossus and Negasonic from the X-Men, as well as with Domino and Firefist—and possibly also with Cable, although Cable seems too prickly to accept hugs from Deadpool (Deadpool, mid-hug: "Is that a knife in my dick?" Cable: "That's a knife in your dick."—we'll leave the Freudians to interpret the homoerotic subtext). Of course, true to the movie's sandcastle-kicking comedic nature, it's questionable as to how powerful or meaningful any of this lovey-dovey stuff is once Deadpool gets hold of Cable's time-travel wristwatch and starts "repairing" timelines.

One of the major fan questions before "Deadpool 2" came out was whether the departure of "Deadpool" director Tim Miller was going to lower the quality of this new movie. I'm happy to report that David Leitch, who took over after Miller left due to creative differences with Ryan Reynolds, has proved to be a steady hand with a good sense of comedic timing and pacing. Leitch knows he's swimming in the ridiculous ass-end of the Marvel pool, so he lets the foolishness flow. Like Tim Miller, Leitch directs the action sequences in such a way that the viewer always knows what's going on, keeping any shaky-cam footage to a minimum.

The movie's jokiness doesn't quite rise to the level of the original "Deadpool," but as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, that was to be expected. This time around, the comedy is less of a one-man show and more of a team effort, with Deadpool's relationship with Cable at the center of the action. Josh Brolin's Cable is generally the straight man to Ryan Reynolds's wacky Deadpool; Cable cracks very, very few jokes of his own. Brad Pitt's hilarious, half-second cameo (enough time for me to think, "Wait—was that Brad Pitt?"), in which the Vanisher becomes visible right as he makes contact with power lines that are in his way as he's parachuting down, had me busting a gut. TJ Miller, back as Weasel, gets to have another funny "You look like..." rant moment when he sees the half-regrown Wade shirt-cockin' it in the apartment of Blind Al (Leslie Uggams, still looking and sounding like Nichelle Nichols to me). The Korean audience I was with lost it when Wade, in that moment, got off the couch and awkwardly midget-staggered toward Cable to shake hands on their deal to defeat Juggernaut and maybe save the boy. This being a Deadpool film, there are also plenty of jibes about DC Extended Universe movies, pop culture, and even comics artist Rob Liefeld, the creator of the Deadpool character. Some of these jokes land; some don't.

The special effects are of the bigger-budget variety overall, but not everything works, e.g., the effects for Juggernaut (voiced and mo-capped by Ryan Reynolds, his voice having been altered for the part). The downtown chase sequence involving Deadpool, Domino, Cable, Juggernaut, and Firefist looks pretty good on screen; there's a moment when Wade has to drive a Hummer—while standing bent-over on its hood and peering out at traffic from between his legs—that's pretty intense. There's also plenty of blood and gore to go around.

The actors all hit their comedic marks perfectly, which is to be expected from such a talented crew. Julian Dennison, who played a young rogue in "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," had already proved to be among the less annoying child actors, so I didn't have to worry about his performance. Zazie Beetz was bright-eyed and lovely as Domino; I wondered, for a bit, whether she might turn into Wade's new love interest with the death of Vanessa, but given the mid-credits sequence, it appears there's only one woman for Wade Wilson.

Domino's character presents her own metaphysical questions: for her to be as lucky as she is, reality basically has to walk on eggshells around her, constantly curving away any time there's any danger. Point a gun at Domino's head, and your gun will inevitably jam. Hurl a car end-over-end at her, and she'll be standing in the exact spot at which the car will miss her as it tumbles. Throw her into the air, and she'll end up landing on a giant balloon animal (you see this in one of the movie's preview trailers). Being lucky, when you think about it this way, is quite a mighty superpower because it's so damn ontological. One wonders what Domino could do if she ever found herself face-to-face with Thanos and his gauntlet. Domino reminded me strongly of Teela Brown, a human character from Larry Niven's classic novel Ringworld who was specifically bred by an alien race for luckiness. Niven's novel sometimes refers to Brown's special trait as "luck," but more often toward the end of the book, he uses the term "psychic luck," which is never explained in depth. At a guess, I take psychic luck to refer to a naturally lucky person's innate ability to see the most beneficial set of future possibilities and follow one of those paths flawlessly. That's the psychic part of psychic luck: an uncanny percipience about which branching possibility to follow among the constantly ramifying branches on the tree of infinite possibilities. Perhaps Domino is that way, or maybe she's just cruising along, with luck being more like a protective deity, floating alongside her and forever warding danger away and/or bending circumstances in her favor.

One movie-nerd panel discussion on YouTube speculated on what Domino's kryptonite might be, and the panel came up with the clever idea that there might be a state of affairs in which it would be luckier in general for Domino to die than for her to survive. This might involve some fate-worse-than-death scenario (e.g., the prospect of horrible torture), or it might involve Domino's having to make a choice that would save thousands of lives, but only at the cost of her own, thus allowing her to "share" her luck with others before she dies. Whatever the case, Domino makes for an interesting addition to the team/family, and since an X-Force movie is in the works, we'll be seeing more of her soon.

Overall, "Deadpool 2" is worth a second viewing. I didn't find it to be as funny as the original, but I do give the movie credit for its subversive smarts and for its surprisingly tender heart. The movie also casually slides a naughty middle finger up the bum of "Infinity War," given how it mocks the ultimately meaningless loss of multiple characters, most or all of whom we can assume will return thanks to the wacky benefits—and ultimate nihilism—of time travel, which sucks the value and significance out of everything. The plot leaves open a ton of logical holes, but that's kind of the point with any movie about Deadpool, our new trickster god.

run free, kitty

The most awesome video I've seen today is "9 Lives Parkour Cat," which answers the age-old question that cat owners constantly pose to their pets: "How did you get up there?" There's a horrific moment at the end of the video where a cat takes a long, long plunge; there's another, equally serious, moment in which a cat's parkour attempt ends in a wee bit of impalement. Not for the squeamish, but for what it's worth, the impaled cat, once it's been rescued by some kind humans, ends up running free, seemingly fine.

Friday, May 18, 2018

the ad

I created a goofy "ad," of sorts, as a way of inviting the IT team that works next door to come to the pulled-pork luncheon that I'll be hosting this coming Friday, May 25. I quietly printed out two copies of the ad, one for the IT team (which they have dutifully taped to one of their walls), and one for our office. I stuck the latter ad on the side of our fridge, using some McDonald's fridge magnets. When our resident graphic designer, a young Korean lady, saw my ad, she burst out laughing and couldn't stop. She ended up taking a picture of the ad, presumably to show off to her boyfriend and other friends later. Anyway, here you go:

Upper-left corner: Kevin's
Main text: Pulled-pork Festival
Blue box: May 25 (Fri.); 1:30PM; R&D Office; Welcome!

I'm rather proud of my expression, which is probably the reason why our graphic designer was laughing so hard. The tacky yellow aura is just icing on the cake.


I normally don't find conservative political cartoons that funny. Conservative wit tends to be dry and tweedy, producing little more than a weak chuckle. It's the rare rightie political cartoon or meme that puts a smile on my face, but thanks to Bill Keezer, who constantly emails a barrage of images and links to articles, I finally saw some toons and memes that passed my personal litmus test for amusement:

Just to clarify: I'm not what I'd call anti-abortion; I think abortion is actually justified in certain circumstances. What I liked about the above meme was the inconsistency that it targeted. I'm sure, though, that there are plenty of egg-eating liberals to whom the above does not apply, so if a liberal were to say that the meme is straw-manning, I'd at least partly agree.

ADDENDUM: I anticipate that at least one wiseacre is going to leave a "meh... not funny" comment. Well, bring it!