Saturday, August 31, 2019

"All is Lost": review

[WARNING: possible spoilers for this and other films.]

Having just watched "Arctic," I guess I was, in some ways, primed to see another survival film, and at my friend Charles's recommendation, I went for "All Is Lost" which, strangely, isn't currently available on Amazon Prime Video but is available via iTunes. "All Is Lost" is a 2013 adventure film directed by JC Chandor and starring Robert Redford and... well, it's pretty much just Robert Redford. I skimmed the movie-reviewer comments about this film after watching it, and many reviewers were impressed at how Robert Redford carries this film all by his lonesome. I made similar remarks about the incredible Mads Mikkelsen in my recent review of "Arctic," so I know where these reviewers are coming from. It really is impressive to see an actor dig into himself this way.

So I suppose it's inevitable, given how recently I watched "Arctic" and how similarly these two survival dramas play out, that I will focus on those similarities and spend most of this review comparing the two films. So let's get many of those similarities out of the way: both films center on one lone man against the harsh, merciless elements; both films contain very little dialogue; most important, both films end in almost the same way, which is enough to make me wonder whether "Arctic" took some inspiration from "All Is Lost."

The differences are in the details. "Arctic" gives us a frozen wasteland; "All Is Lost" is a drama that takes place at sea, somewhere near a shipping lane in the vast and unforgiving Indian Ocean. And while "Arctic" gives our hero a name, "All Is Lost" offers none: for us, he's simply "the man." However, whereas "Arctic" gives us almost no back-story about Mikkelsen's pilot Overgård, "All Is Lost" opens with an information dump about Robert Redford's protagonist: we hear a voiceover that turns out to be his inner voice as he's writing a letter to his family eight days after a random shipping container has slammed into his small boat, holing it just above the waterline and causing it to ship water every time the boat lists even a little. In the voiceover, Redford's character (I'll just call him "Redford" from now on so this doesn't become too tedious) essentially apologizes to his family for his arrogance, hinting at unknown and unexplored domestic problems. Later in the film, we see that this message ends up inside a bottle that is cast overboard and set adrift, at the mercy of Nature's caprice.

Much of "All Is Lost"—and this holds for all survival dramas—is devoted to the facing of problem after problem. If one message has been driven home to me about the nature of sailing, it's that going to sleep when sailing solo is always a risk. The movie actually begins with the banging sound of the giant metal shipping container as it crashes into Redford's boat, waking Redford up. Bad things seem to happen every time Redford goes to sleep; it's reminiscent of how, in "Pulp Fiction," bad things happen every time John Travolta's Vincent Vega goes to the bathroom. At one moment, though, Redford wakes up to a faceful of water after having knocked himself out against a support pole when seas are rough; it's tempting to frame Redford's misadventure as a series of rude awakenings.

With so little dialogue, "All Is Lost" relies very much on a show-don't-tell way of presenting a story. One recurring scene, which provides us viewers with both a sense of continuity and a sense of tension, involves Redford using a sextant to determine his position, which he marks on a chart. We see him drifting closer to a major shipping lane in the Indian Ocean, and our hopes go up with Redford as we assume that some ship will come by and see him. Two ships come by, one tantalizingly close, but neither one stops for Redford... and then our man drifts out past the shipping lane and into unpopulated waters.

I had a question, for a while, about whether we would ever see any sea life. The first half of the movie concentrates so hard on Redford's struggles to keep his ship afloat (and to survive punishing storms) that one could be forgiven for thinking Redford was navigating a huge swimming pool (trivia: the film was mostly shot in the same tank that had been constructed years earlier for James Cameron's "Titanic"—there are very few real shots of the actual sea in the movie). The sea life does appear, eventually, and of course, we get sharks. No maritime survival drama would be complete without them.

So that's the basic setup: Redford is on a boat; the boat has a big hole in it and is taking on water. Will Redford be forced to abandon ship? If he abandons ship, will he survive his ordeal? As with "Arctic," I don't want to spoil the outcome, so let's move to a discussion of the movie's merits and demerits.

"Arctic" came out in 2018; "All Is Lost" came out in 2013. I saw these films in the wrong order, and this is doubtless affecting my judgment because, ultimately, I think "Arctic" is a better film, but I can see how someone else who has seen both films might disagree, and that—the validity of my criticisms—is worth discussing.

First, the good: Redford is craggy and stiff, but he gives his character an air of competence, and also hubris: there are moments when it's obvious Redford should have done something differently to avert this or that disaster. And while Redford is the lone human on screen, the sea and the sky are characters in their own right, convincingly portrayed as alternately brutal and gentle, savage and calm. Thoughts of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea are inevitable. While much of the cinematography is actually artifice because most of the film wasn't shot on the open sea, the vistas we do see are impressive, especially the shots of those mean and brooding clouds as they march Redford's way.

One problem I have with "All Is Lost" is the choppy editing. Director JC Chandor takes what is essentially a quiet story about an old man's battle with the sea and, especially in the first reel, punctuates it with nervous, agitated jump-cut transitions that feel unnecessary. Then there's the matter of Redford himself. While Mads Mikkelsen's Overgård had several emotional scenes, primarily because his character had to take care of another character who was injured and dying, Redford's loner has no one to care for but himself. The information dump at the beginning of the movie leads us to think of Redford as a strong-willed, hard-bitten man who does things his own way, and it's only when he's finally faced with his utter helplessness before Mother Nature that he's able to confess his defeat on paper, along with an apology to his family. Toward the end of "Arctic," an exhausted and dying Overgård reassures the woman he's been helping that, "You're not alone. You're not alone. You're not alone." The compassion and selflessness of this man is poignantly evident. By contrast, and perhaps because of the nature of Redford's story, there are no moments of compassion in "All Is Lost." So after watching both films, I had to ask myself: whom did I root for more—Overgård or Redford? In the end, I think Overgård struck me as tough and humane, while Redford's character—assuming he were to survive his time adrift—would come back to civilization and revert to being the same arrogant asshole he had been before his boat trip.

There's also a scene in "All Is Lost" where Redford is vainly trying to flag down a large cargo ship by waving one of his few remaining flares. What struck me as funny was how lackadaisical Redford looks as he's waving, as if this isn't an emergency at all. The utter lack of passion about his own predicament seems wildly inappropriate. Ultimately, the ship passes by, easily close enough to see Redford, but it never stops. Redford's low-energy waving becomes even less energetic, and eventually he's just standing there with a look of disgust on his face as the ship recedes and his flare gutters out. So help me, I found that scene laugh-out-loud hilarious, and it really shouldn't have been. Whom should I fault for the sudden break in tone? My own warped sense of humor? The director's direction? Redford's acting? The scene really did strike me as unintentionally funny.

And that's the very thing I want to discuss: what if my complaints are missing the point, and the story has been written to be this way? What would a defender of "All Is Lost" say about my criticisms? If Redford's character is less appealing than Mikkelsen's Overgård because Redford seems colder and less sentimental, maybe that's simply because the character is written that way. And for that unsentimentality to prevail throughout the film is no sign of any inconsistency or poor writing. So what if I personally don't like Redford's character? Does this make the film worse than "Arctic"? What more could have been done, script-wise, to round out or flesh out Redford? Really, the answer is nothing. The writing is fine. And as for the unintentional humor of the flare-waving scene: Redford has been adrift for eight days. He's old, starving, and getting weaker by the hour. He's been pummeled by both sun and storm. His skin is starting to go from burned to cancerous-looking. Could it be that his insufficiently frantic waving is the result of the abuse his body has undergone?

We're mucking around on the borderline between the subjective and the objective, here. I'll grant that "All Is Lost" probably has as much objective merit as "Arctic" does, to the extent that one can even make objective judgments about art. But since a movie review is a showcase for a writer's opinions, I can only go with my gut feeling and say that, in the end, I didn't like "All Is Lost" nearly as much as I liked "Arctic." This isn't to say that I don't recommend "All Is Lost": I think it's a fine adventure when removed from a direct comparison with "Arctic," and Redford does indeed do a great job of carrying the movie. I read that Redford, at 77 when the film was made, also did most of his own water stunts, which is definitely something to respect. A lot of work went into this film. So, yes: while I might not appreciate "All Is Lost" as much as I could or should, I respect it, and I think the story it tells is compelling and watchable, barring a few twitchy stylistic gaffes from the director.

Ave, Hélo!

Héloïse Ducoulombier isn't my daughter, although I'd love to have a daughter like her; she is, in point of fact, the daughter of my best French buddy Dominique. She's about to start her final year of high school, and she's already decided that she'd like to pursue a career in filmmaking and audiovisual arts. She just won a filmmaking competition after making a 90-second short about her granddad Pierre, whom I call my French Papa. I've placed the video below; it's in French, but even if you don't understand the language, you'll still be able to hear the poetic lyricism of Hélo's voiceover narration, and you might even catch a few words that will sound familiar to English-speakers. I could try writing a transcript of the voiceover, but it might be easier for me just to email Hélo and ask her for the poem she wrote (update: I just emailed her). Enjoy the film. The opening title card "Prière" means "Prayer," and the closing title card "Merci à mon merveilleux Grand-Père" means, as you've probably already figured out, "Thanks to my marvelous Grandfather." Prière, grand-père, Pierre.

UPDATE: Héloïse has responded by sending me her poem. As I told her in response to her response, I got about 95% of the words, but now that I have her poem, that fills in a few blanks. Here's the poem, along with my quick-and-dirty translation (with explanations for cultural references that might not be familiar):

J’ai tes yeux, ton sang, dans mes veines; il y a
Ton histoire, tes savoirs, tes malheurs, tes joies.
Tu me parles de chanteurs, poètes perdus,
Et de tes parents que je n’ai jamais connus.
Tu me parles des Allemands et de la guerre
Et puis de la tuberculose, du cancer.
Tu me parles d’Athéna, de Bonne-Maman,
De tes quatre fils et de tes petits enfants
Yann, Timothé, Camille, Agathe et Hippolyte.
Tourne-disques et 45 tours crépitent.
Ensemble nous dansons, nous dansons, nous dansons,
Ensemble nous parlons, nous chantons, nous rions.

Profitons du temps qu’il nous reste, sans penser
Au lendemain, aux jours suivants, et aux années.
Emmène-moi sur la terre de ta jeunesse
Respirer, découvrir, aimer avec tendresse
Dépenser nos dollars, nos dirhams et nos euros
Valser, faire renaître les morts du Vrétot.
Et lorsqu’il sera trop tard, je noierai ma peine
Je maudirai ce jour, et je crierai ma haine.
Je larguerai les amarres, mettrai les voiles.
Dans mes yeux bleus, quelques larmes, mais plus d’étoiles.
Mon sourire ne pourra plus être le même,
Sans toi dis-moi, plongerai-je dans le blasphème ?

Un grand-père qui part c’est Vivaldi, Schubert
S’envolant, (l’orage) sur les quatre saisons.
Sans Notre-Dame de Paris, ou Lord Byron
Imaginez pays d’Hugo ou Angleterre.

Promets-moi de ne pas partir sans m’avoir dit
Juste une fois « que tu es belle, ma chérie ».

*** *** ***

I have your eyes, your blood in my veins;
Your history, your knowledge, your misfortunes, your joys
You speak to me of singers, lost poets
And of your parents, whom I never knew
You speak to me of the Germans and of the war
And then of tuberculosis, of cancer
You speak to me of Athena, of Grandma,
Of your four sons and your grandchildren
Yann, Timothé, Agathe, and Hippolyte.*
Turntables and 45s crackle.**
Together we dance, we dance, we dance.
Together we speak, we sing, we laugh.

Let us take advantage of the time remaining to us, without thinking
Of tomorrow, of the days that follow, of the years.
Lead me to the land of your youth
To breathe, to discover, to love with tenderness
To spend our dollars, our dirhams, our euros***
To waltz, to have reborn the dead of Vrétot.****
And when it's too late, I'll drown my sorrow
I'll curse that day, I'll cry out my hate.
I'll toss off the lines, put up the sails.
In my blue eyes, some tears, but no more stars.
My smile can never be the same,
Without you, tell me, will I plunge into blasphemy?

A grandfather who departs is Vivaldi, Schubert
Flying off (the storm of) the four seasons.
Without Notre Dame of Paris, or Lord Byron
Imagine the country of Hugo or England.

Promise not to leave without having said to me
Just once, "How beautiful you are, my dear."

*These are the names of some of the Ducoulombier grandkids of Hélo's generation.
**For you young'uns: a turntable is a record player, from back before streaming music and CDs. Records were made of vinyl and etched with patterns that could be read as sound by the turntable's needle. Records were recorded at different standard speeds, among which were 33.3 rpm and 45 rpm, hence "45s." Not a gun reference!
***A dirham is the currency of the United Arab Emirates. I had to look that one up.
****Le Vrétot was a commune in Normandy, so this is a World War II reference.

You understand the import of the second-to-last stanza: a world without Hélo's grandfather is like France (the country of Victor Hugo) without Notre Dame or England without Lord Byron.

the ships and the strips

A VFX-themed "Titanic" parody that lampoons several famous directors' styles:

A hilarious clip from "Whose Line Is It, Anyway?":

I need to watch this Dave Chappelle Netflix special

Jon Miller talks about Dave Chappelle's very un-PC Netflix special before switching gears and talking about Joe Biden's essentially false story of military bravery—a story that apparently conflates three different incidents and manages to get almost none of the details right. None of this is reassuring when it come to the question of Biden's mental acuity.

Tom Cruise impersonator gives it his all

This is commitment to your craft! Embedded below is a very well-put-together video of "Tom Cruise" telling us why we should vote for him in 2020. To convey the idea that Cruise is running for president, the actor portraying Cruise literally runs through most of the commercial. And it's fabulous.

Ave, Charles!

Charles writes about his recent trip to Europe with his wife.

you turn 50 only once

I have a few little toys sitting atop my work station in the office. One is a plastic squid that's perched on my right-hand monitor; another is a plastic octopus that sits on one of my bookshelves; a third critter is a cute stuffed walrus that keeps the octopus company. I got all of these toys at the Lotte World Mall Aquarium souvenir shop, hence the sea theme. But today, I introduce a new animal, an el-cheapo toy purchased on August 19 at the local Daiso (dollar store): it symbolizes and commemorates my having turned fifty today:

Can't say as I feel any different. I didn't sense my passage through any sort of cosmic, existential membrane separating my forties from my fifties. That said, the signs of age are there, but only because they've been there for a while: graying head hair (this began a decade ago), increasingly graying chest and scrote hair, pains that never quite go away, thoughts that push through my brain more sluggishly than in the past, words and turns of phrase that exit my mouth with greater difficulty. Indiana Jones told Marion Ravenwood that "it's not the years, honey—it's the mileage." I've walked a lot over the past decade. A lot. So, yeah: it's definitely the mileage. And it's not just the wear and tear on the feet, either, but also the way the sun bakes your brain. I love walking, but it takes a toll.

While I was in France last year, my French Papa reassured me that life is good through one's sixties; the real difficulties don't set in until one's seventies. Meanwhile, despite now being "in my fifties" (as I'll have to get used to saying), I have role models like Keanu Reeves to look up to: at 54, the man is an unstoppable athletic powerhouse, so really, what's my excuse for being in the shape I'm in, right? Your body is a visible record of your life-choices: the lifestyle you choose is a reflection of your values, i.e., what you prioritize. If my body looks and is unhealthy, then health obviously isn't my greatest priority, nor even a high priority. Change the values, change the lifestyle. QED.

Perhaps the upcoming walk will open a door to a new way of living. It's getting to a point where I do need to think about leaving my adolescent notions of diet and exercise behind; with diabetes and high blood pressure constantly haunting my steps, I really do wonder whether I'll make it much beyond sixty. To that end, I'll be swearing off soda during the walk, and I've also decided that, as much as possible, I'll eat real food at every place I can, i.e., real Korean food at local restaurants instead of the sort of crap I ate in 2017, to wit: fast food, convenience-store junk food, and little else. While it's true that burning 5000-6000 calories a day can make a person feel as if he can eat with impunity, bad eating also takes a toll, especially for those of us old farts who are now in our fifties. Maybe it's time to stop paying this particular tollkeeper, eh? And it wouldn't be a moment too soon: who knows what seeds I've already planted for future cancers, aneurysms, strokes, heart attacks, and degenerative disorders? Leonard Nimoy quit smoking decades before he died, but his COPD caught up with him—a long and patient strain of karma, a sly and methodical angel of death.

Then again, why worry overly? We all have to cark it sometime. As Sean Connery's Malone said in "The Untouchables": Oh, what the hell—you gotta die of somethin'!

still think fake news isn't a thing?

Tim Pool and Jon Miller are talking about the latest MSNBC shit show: yet another Russiagate accusation for which there is no evidence at all.



Friday, August 30, 2019

barfday party

I hadn't wanted a birthday party, but one came to me, anyway. It turned out to be pretty fun, as office parties go. Here are some pics.

Finally: a closeup of the moqueca, now stocked with seafood and boiling away happily:

We were supposed to start the party at 1 p.m. As usual, the Westerners were on time, but the Koreans took their sweet time. I turned off the gas burner a few times to keep the seafood from overcooking. At one point, I sampled the stew to see whether the seafood had been overcooked, and the texture was exactly perfect. But the final partygoer didn't show up until 1:30 p.m., and even with the stew's residual heat, the scallops were overcooked by the time I served everything. I think I'm going to just leave scallops out of this if I ever make it again.

Below, a wide shot of our long and narrow break room, which normally doesn't fill up with teachers until around 3 p.m. We've got little containers of Korean side dishes (banchan) sitting on the far table; the moqueca and galbi (Korean short ribs, boxed up and not visible, just like the rice) are in the foreground:

Korean short ribs, exposed:

I had requested a Korean saeng-cream cake, which is made with fresh cream and fruits. I'm not normally a fan of Korean cakes and cookies, which tend to be dry, dull, poor imitations of their Western inspirations, but Koreans do saeng-cream cakes very well, and I generally like them a lot. My former boss came by and brought a legitimate chocolate cake from the Stone Mill bakery in the Mido Building, where I used to work. You'll see that cake in a second, but meanwhile, here's the saeng-cream cake from Napoleon Bakery:

The aforementioned chocolate cake from my former boss:

The two Korean ladies who came didn't want to be photographed, so they took a picture of "the original team." On the far left is Filipino-American A.L., a coworker; I'm next; to my left is Louisiana native M.L., our immediate supervisor; on your extreme right is M.M., my former boss, now growing out a satanic-looking goatee. He goes through facial-hair phases.

A good time was had by all. The food got high praise, including another "you should start a restaurant" remark, and comments about being "in a food coma" were tossed around—I haven't heard that in months, ever since I stopped cooking monthly luncheons for the team in order to save money and pay down the last of my scholastic debt. There was much laughter, joking, and friendly ribbing of the now officially old man, yours truly. I'd say "Here's to another fifty," but I'll just be happy to live to sixty. Heh. Trivia: one of the Korean ladies, who's new to our company and is working as a teacher coordinator, is the one who asked me to hold that fucking cake for the camera. If I don't look entirely happy in that shot, that may be one reason why: I felt very corny.

barfday meal prep

As you know, I'm cooking for my own birthday party. (I turn 50 on Saturday, but we're celebrating at the office a day early.) I decided to host a luncheon because, otherwise, our department head would have taken us all out for a meal that I probably wouldn't have wanted to eat, anyway. Besides, I need to thank our department head for being so generous as to permit me to take a month off to go tromping across the peninsula again.

On the menu are moqueca, a Brazilian seafood stew, and Korean galbi (short ribs) with rice and side dishes. I couldn't properly grill the galbi in my apartment, so as I usually do, I painted the meat over with a sugary sauce and let slight over-caramelization simulate the burn marks of a grill. I cooked rice on my new electric burner, which is working out very well for me, and I'll be buying the banchan (side dishes) early Friday afternoon.

Here are some photos from the meal prep. The lovely Brazilian stew (damn, it made my apartment smell amazing) is done except for the addition of the seafood, which won't happen until late Friday morning, right before I head to the office. Also: I didn't include any photos of the rice because rice is boring, and I'm sure I've slapped up rice pics in previous posts.

Below: marinated galbi, ready to be cooked:

Meat, frying away:

Moqueca, without seafood in it:

During past luncheons, many people pointed out how Southeast Asian the moqueca smelled and tasted. This makes sense, given the ingredients in the stew, which are part of a Southeast Asian flavor profile: coconut milk, cilantro, soy sauce, onions, chili peppers, etc.

Below, we have frozen seafood! In the open door: a bag of Pacific cod fillets. Freezer's bottom shelf: a green bag of tilapia, and an orange bag of chicken breasts that I haven't finished eating yet. Also: a box of scallops. Freezer's top shelf: a blue bag of Costco sea scallops, some orange bags of frozen jumbo shrimp, and two more expensive boxes of scallops from the local grocery. Why is seafood so expensive on a peninsula? That is, frankly, an eternal mystery to me, and it's how I know I'm not an econ major.

See the food. See the seafood:

Finally, a shot of two finished slabs of Korean short ribs, nicely painted over with a super-sugary glaze. One day, I'd like to actually grill my galbi. That would be ideal.

All the food is ready to go. It's just a matter of finishing the prep in the morning, packing everything up, and lugging it all to the office. I'm feeding only seven people, including me, so there shouldn't be too much to carry.

A lot of people have asked me what I plan to do this weekend. I was thinking of heading out to Yeosu, which has become one of my favorite getaway spots... but I might want to save my money instead and go for a long, local walk. I also need to design a Kevin's Walk tee shirt to wear on my trek, so that's another reason not to travel too far this weekend. I already have a design in mind. Besides, the upcoming long walk itself is supposed to be how I'm celebrating turning 50—a month-long party—so there's no need to do anything special this weekend.

are 관자 (gwanja) the same as 가리비 (garibi)?

I was looking for large sea scallops in my local grocery when I came upon these expensive little boxes of "frozen pensheel" (FYI, the exclamatory Korean at the top of the box excitedly proclaims, "Perfect for a single meal!"):

The yellow-font Korean states that these are "gwanja-sal," where the word sal means "flesh" or "meat." I had a vague recollection that gwanja was one word for "scallop," but since I couldn't see inside the foggy window of the box, I couldn't immediately tell whether I was looking at sea scallops or at some sort of whitefish cross-section. When I did a Google Image search on gwanja, I came up with sea scallops, but when I asked one of the shop ladies whether gwanja were the same as garibi (another word for "scallop"), she consulted a coworker and finally said no. I was nonplussed, having expected a "yes," and I assumed some sort of communication breakdown had occurred. Did the two Korean words refer to different species of scallops? Did one term signify bay scallops while the other term meant sea scallops? Or could it be that the shop lady's coworker was simply confused? Naver Dictionary wasn't helpful, either: look up gwanja, and there's no definition that mentions scallops.

The term "pensheel" was throwing me off as well. I did some more Googling and soon realized the word was a typo: the correct term was pen shell, which actually refers to a type of clam, if you trust Wikipedia and Google Image. However, if you do a Google Image search on "pen shell meat," you get scallops.

This was only getting more confusing. It didn't help matters that scallop-related terminology in English was also frustratingly perplexing. There are, it turns out, many varieties of edible scallops, including calico scallops. I know, from watching enough Food Network, that bay scallops are the small, sweet mollusks that look a bit like cute little marshmallows. Sea scallops are the large ones, and so-called diver scallops are also large scallops, but the term technically means "scallops harvested by divers," and they can range in size from small to large. The term diver scallop is often associated with larger mollusks because those are the ones that divers are more likely to take from the sea.

I'm going to put my foot down and say that gwanja and garibi are interchangeable terms. Google Image searches of both terms lead to the same shellfish (specifically, do Google Image searches on 관자살 and 가리비살). Sure, I could be wrong to think this way. Look up the French terms poule and poulet in Google Image, and you'll get pictures of chickens, but a poule is specifically a hen whereas a poulet is a generic term for a chicken.

nifty new thang

I had to take a picture of this cabbie's fare meter, which is done up as a rear-view-mirror module instead of the standard, box-like piece of equipment that gets tucked into the dashboard down low, close to the radio. I imagine this design is a bit safer: the cabbie's eyes don't have to stray downward, off the road, every time he wants to flick a glance at his meter. His GPS (visible in the pic) is distraction enough. Click the image to enlarge it.

PJW on the Hong Kong protests

Paul Joseph Watson is actually in Hong Kong right now:

Thursday, August 29, 2019

poor subject-verb agreement

John McCrarey, in his most recent post (which features a slyly exposed dick among its many photos, so be warned), linked over to Ann Althouse's blog, which is currently showing a post in which is embedded a grammatically flawed letter from Forrest Maltzman, the George Washington University provost. At one point, Maltzman writes:

Our commitment to academic freedom and free speech are integral to GW's mission.
I winced. An educated man really ought to know better. Subject-verb agreement (SVA) is fundamental in European languages, which are all highly conjugated. The form of the verb depends on the person (first, second, third—I, you, he/she/it/one) and the number (singular, plural) of the subject. The simple subject of the above sentence is the third-person singular "commitment," and the simple predicate ought to be the verb "is," but as you see, Provost Maltzman fell into the trap of looking at the two objects of the first preposition "to" and thinking that those two objects were, in fact, the sentence's subject. Analyze the sentence this way, putting subject and predicate closer together:
Our commitment... IS integral to GW's mission.
This sort of grammatical analysis isn't that hard, and it becomes a reflex once you start practicing it routinely. Remember to ignore prepositional phrases (as well as parenthetical expressions surrounded by commas and em dashes) when trying to determine subject-verb agreement in English. Got that, Mr. Provost?

One other SVA rule regarding correlative conjunctions like "either... or" and "neither... nor" is that SVA is determined by the subject that's physically closer to the verb.
"Neither Jack nor his dogs are very tasty," muttered Thrag, disappointed.
Either Tom's evil sisters or Tom himself is bringing the sandpaper dildo.
More SVA rules:

Compound subjects (e.g., "Bill and Ted") are grammatically plural.
Candi and Toni have the clap, alas.
"Both... and" constructions are also plural.
No one mentions the fact that both Candi and Toni are lepers.
The expressions "a lot of + [plural noun]" and "a number of + [plural noun]" are treated as plural subjects. These are exceptional cases: the same doesn't go for, say, "a group of" or "a family of," both of which are treated as singular.
A lot of Antifa cunts were at the rally.
A number of squirrels have expressed an interest in your vibrator.
A group of Vikings is quietly snoring and farting in the corner.
An adorable family of otters was recently eaten by our mini dachshund.
Trivia: in British English, many collective nouns and company/organization names are treated as plural. Collective nouns are generally singular in US English.
My crew are being rescued?
Ford are experiencing a drop in stock prices.
"Chunks" of normally countable units, expressed as a single unit, are grammatically singular.
Three years is a long time to have an erection.
Ten meters is impressive when it comes to how far she squirts.
Gerund phrases taken as a single nominal (noun) "chunk" are treated as singular, but can be grouped into plural compound subjects:
Licking your girlfriend's nipples from ten feet away is quite an achievement. (singular)
Stamping on a leprechaun and mud-wrestling a fairy are not the same thing! (plural)
Some practice for you: figure out which of the following sentences have poor SVA.

1. The story of his three testicles make for quite an interesting read.
2. Sam—as well as his friends Lucy and Jenna—isn't coming to the orgy.
3. Each of the breasts you see, whether you examine the breasts singly or collectively, is a delightful horror of plastic surgery.
4. Neither my asshole nor my other holes is available for my lady-love's delectation tonight.
5. The mice of the infinite multiverse are, on average, far more intelligent than the relatively retarded mice that have the misfortune of living on Earth.

Answers [highlight the text to see]:
1. The story...makes (incorrect)
2. Sam... isn't coming (correct)
3. Each... is a delightful horror (correct)
4. other holes are available (incorrect)
5. The mice...are (correct)

There are other SVA rules, but they're a bit more obscure, nuanced, and pedantic (e.g., how US English deals with the singularity/plurality of collective nouns like "team"). The above rules all deal with fairly common, everyday situations.

more on moron Ilhan Omar

Katie Pavlich:

"Yikes: Did Ilhan Omar’s Campaign Funds Mostly Go Toward Her Alleged Affair?"

Tim Pool on the shit show:

And Jon Miller is all over this, too:

Of course, if Omar gets driven out of Congress (fat chance, but a man can dream), the voters and other parties who drive her out will be branded racists. Because, obviously, it's racist to want to eject a criminal from Congress.

"Arctic": review

Released to very little fanfare, 2018's "Arctic" (2019 US release), directed by Joe Penna and starring Mads Mikkelsen and Maria Thelma Smáradóttir, tells the very simple, stripped-down story of a pilot named Overgård (Mikkelsen) who has crashed somewhere in the Arctic, miles away from the nearest outpost or refuge.

The story begins with the crash having happened some time ago; Overgård has been stranded long enough to have lost a toe or two to frostbite; he has been counting the days since his stranding by scratching tally marks on a map, and he has formed a daily routine—punctuated by his beeping watch—that involves ice fishing, the maintenance of a large "SOS" sign he's dug out of the ground, and the broadcasting of an SOS signal from a nearby hilltop through the use of a hand-cranked generator and antenna. One day, Overgård discovers that his supply of frozen fish has been raided by a polar bear, which puts him on his guard.

A few days after that, someone responds to his SOS: a helicopter appears in the middle of a violent windstorm, and for a moment, rescue seems imminent, but then the helicopter crashes. Initially stunned, Overgård rushes to the downed chopper and discovers the male pilot is dead. A female copilot or passenger (Smáradóttir) is still alive, however, and Overgård unstraps her from her seat and extracts her from the wreck. Taking some items from the 'copter, Overgård places the woman and the items on a sled and heads back to his downed plane, which has served as his shelter since his own crash.

The woman turns out to have suffered not only a serious concussion from the crash, but a grievous abdominal laceration. Overgård does what he can to close, disinfect, and cover the wound, but he knows that, unless rescue is forthcoming, the woman is on borrowed time. Looking through some of the woman's possessions, Overgård realizes that the dead pilot is the woman's husband. Sure enough, the woman's condition worsens, and Overgård looks at his map again to see whether a trek to the nearest outpost is feasible. He decides it is, and he places the woman and some crucial supplies onto his sled, then heads out into the frozen wilderness with only his failing strength and his navigational acumen to help him.

"Arctic" is a simple story, but a brutal watch, and this is largely thanks to Mads Mikkelsen's incredible performance. The movie has very little dialogue; the woman is unconscious most of the time, and Overgård, when he talks, mostly mumbles to himself in English and Danish. Mikkelsen is on record as saying that this was the most difficult performance of his career, and I believe him. The film, sere and austere, was shot mostly in Iceland—just outside the Arctic Circle—and there's simply no way that the snow and wind I was seeing on screen were fake. There may have been some CGI work for the helicopter-crash scene (as well as for one or two other scenes), but if that was CGI and not a practical effect, it was well executed.

After watching the movie, I marveled at how such a simple story, a variation on the "arduous journey home" archetype, could contain so many twists and turns. An action movie's stock in trade is something called a reversal, e.g., when the hero victoriously grabs the treasure from the villain, runs out of the temple, and stumbles into the villain's two hundred waiting henchmen (basically, the first ten minutes of "Raiders of the Lost Ark"). But even though "Arctic" is—forgive the awful pun—glacially paced, the story nevertheless contains several reversals that keep the ending in doubt. Now, while I often include spoilers in my reviews, I'll say here that "Arctic" is one movie that I absolutely cannot spoil for you. The reason is simple: in a movie with two characters, almost no dialogue, and an extremely harsh environment, the viewer goes in already knowing that only a limited number of outcomes are possible. So you already know what the possibility-tree of the story's ending must be: the two characters live, or they die—or only one of them survives. The movie is so well crafted that you don't find out the answer to that question until the final minute.

Unfortunately, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir, who plays the injured woman, has very little to do except lie there, breathe raggedly, murmur occasionally, look wan, and ignore attempts by Overgård to slip food and water between her lips. Smáradóttir can barely be said to star in her own movie, and yet so much of the movie's plot depends on her imperiled existence. I suppose I could give the actress kudos for convincingly playing an injured, dying woman, but this would be like praising Kevin Costner for his performance as the dead body in "The Big Chill."

I should also note the movie's cinematography and sound design. Iceland does a fine job of portraying an unnamed region of the Arctic, and the cameras capture the bone-white vistas with graceful artistry. The soundscape of blustering wind, crumbling rock, and crunching snow makes the experience of Overgård's tribulation all the more real and intimate. The terrain itself is at times soothingly flat and forbiddingly craggy, reflecting the capricious nature of Mother Nature, a heedless goddess of both mercy and punishment.

If I had one quibble with the story, it was a technical one: there are several scenes in which Overgård walks around out in the open without any sort of headgear or gloves. It was my understanding—which may be wrong—that you'd freeze in an instant if you exposed yourself even for a moment to Arctic conditions. Then again, I've seen video of Bear Grylls crossing a gelid Icelandic river in below-zero temperatures and high winds, so what do I know?

That quibble aside, I found "Arctic" to be a magnificent experience. I don't watch many films in the "survival" genre; I've heard good things about Robert Redford's "All Is Lost," but I haven't had the chance to see it yet. The last survival film I saw was probably either Tom Hanks's "Cast Away" or Sandra Bullock's "Gravity." Survival anywhere on our planet can be a dicey issue if you're away from civilization; only the hardiest and the cleverest can manage it, and "Arctic" is an excellent portrayal of one resourceful, determined man who gives his all in an attempt to survive the impossible. For Mads Mikkelsen—a versatile actor with a background in dance, gymnastics, and comedy—this may be his most intense, most heartfelt performance yet. He utterly carries the movie. Highly recommended.

CORRECTION: I had written that Overgård muttered to himself in Dutch. An anonymous commenter corrected me and noted the language was Danish. The language in the post has been corrected, but the comment has been deleted because it was anonymous. Commenters: please, please read the comments policy, which sits right above the comment window.

moqueca: two-thirds made

Good God, the moqueca I just made smells and tastes amazing. I've prepped the stew about two-thirds of the way through because I don't plan to add seafood until late Friday morning, right before I take the stew to the office for my birthday luncheon. I'm letting it cool down right now; once it's cool, I'll add the cilantro, which will stay relatively fresh until I heat the stew up to put in the seafood. Upon reheating, the cilantro will activate and infuse the stew, and all will be awesome.

Everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.

life got you down? Jordan Peterson on depression

stormtroopers: not so bad when you think about it(?)

The following video is an exercise in the compelling power of statistics. Watch the vid, digest the argument, and ask yourself whether you're persuaded. I actually really like the guy's approach to the question of how good or bad a stormtrooper's aim is... but am I totally convinced that stormtroopers truly are soldiers to be feared?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Ilhan Omar did whaaaat?

Power Line Blog has the goods on Ilhan Omar, the toxic congresswoman who not only may have married her brother, but is now also lying about having an affair with political aide Tim Mynett, who has seemingly left his wife for Omar.

Omar, who appears to be not at all thankful for the rights and privileges she enjoys as an American—including the freedom to cheat if she so desires—should be grateful she's not back in her native Somalia, where she could very well be stoned for adultery.

What a lying, hypocritical piece of garbage. Vote her ass out at the next election, Minnesotans. You were idiots to vote her in to begin with. What the fuck is wrong with you?

Wanna see what a real woman from Somalia—one with guts and integrity—looks like?

Ilhan Omar isn't fit to lick this woman's boots.

ADDENDUM: Roger Simon says, "You can't go home again."

the environment: this dude understands me

Global warming (or as it's been less specifically rebranded these days, climate change) may or may not be a serious problem depending on (1) how severe you think the problem currently is, (2) how quickly you think the problem is worsening, (3) how much you think the problem is caused directly by humans as opposed to solar activity (or other factors), and (4) how soon you think we will reach a point of no return—which some might argue we have already passed.

I think there's room for a meaningful discussion when it comes to global warming/climate change; I'm not a denialist, but I also think the problem has been utterly politicized and blown far out of proportion by the media. Movie stars and other luminaries who preach the imminent destruction of the planet nevertheless travel about in their private jets, expanding their already-outrageous carbon footprints (if you think carbon footprints are a meaningful thing and not a clever way to deny plants the food they breathe) and proving what hypocrites they are. For these rich and privileged folks, it must be fun to preach eco-austerity to the masses while practicing none of it themselves. They should all be placed on an island and forced to either live off the land for five whole years or kill and eat each other in that time.

But despite whatever significance change/warming (charming?) might have, I've long maintained on this blog that the greater threat, the more immediate and provably visible concern, is the raw amount of pollution we produce, primarily in the form of on-the-ground and in-the-water garbage, chemicals, and free-floating atmospheric particulate matter* in places like Los Angeles, Beijing, and Mexico City. You'd think that international recycling efforts might be one legitimate attempt at relieving stress on the environment, but along comes Canadian YouTuber JJ McCullough to explain that, nope, recycling is basically just a scam, and that pollution is nonetheless a more urgent issue than climate change. This dude gets me. Meanwhile, watch the video below and weep manful tears.

*The snarky among you will want to throw this in my face by noting that particulate matter is a major factor in global warming—duh! To that, I respond that I take Freeman Dyson's conjecture seriously, to wit: it could be that warming is actually a patchy, localized phenomenon occurring in some regions of the planet but not in others. At this point, we don't have the data to say for sure. So places like LA, Beijing, and Mexico City might very well be experiencing local warming because of their air pollution, but since we're about to enter a solar minimum, I think it's better to wait five years and see whether the sun affects temps/climate globally. If it does, then that data will erode the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) thesis. Dyson also notes that there's no objective reason, at this point, to believe global warming, if it's real, is automatically a bad thing: would the thawing of the Canadian tundra—opening up millions of acres of real estate and allowing myriad heretofore frozen biomes to grow and flourish—really be so horrible? (That's Dyson's example, not mine.) What's more, thinkers other than Dyson who do think AGW is real also argue that the current warming may actually be staving off an overdue ice age—which probably would be a good thing by most human measures. Wouldn't it? Or do we want an ice age?

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

the counter-proposal

My boss, who got wind that I was turning 50, very kindly wanted to do something for my birthday. I told her I really didn't want a party, but she insisted she wanted to take me and the R&D team out somewhere. After I was fairly noncommittal about what sort of food I liked, she settled on taking us out for samgyetang, a traditional chicken soup. I like samgyetang, but it's not really my favorite, and after pondering the matter over the weekend, I contacted my boss today to offer a counter-proposal: howzabout I cook up some moqueca and rice for Friday? While other coworkers, and my previous boss, have all had this lovely Brazilian seafood stew, my current boss has never had it. So I'll be whipping up a huge batch for about seven people, along with a batch of my famous galbi (Korean short ribs). Once I managed to convince the boss to accept my offer of moqueca, she asked whether there'd be anything else, like a side dish. I found it a bit gauche for her to ask that ("You're making stew? Great! But could you also make some side dishes? Because, frankly, that's not enough."). But upon reflection, I realized it could be that she was obliquely offering to bring something to the luncheon.

There might be photos of the food on Friday. We'll see.

Paul Carver's maps: open-sourced for y'all!

I mentioned earlier that e-friend* Paul Carver (a.k.a. Daeguowl) had very kindly sent me some PDFs of bike-trail maps. These maps show routes shot all throughout South Korea, including an immense route that's making me drool: taking the "U" shape of Abe Lincoln's beard when seen from the front, this giant trail goes from Incheon down the west coast to Gwangju, then across the south coast to Busan, then up the east coast to about Gangneung. It's got to be close to 2000 kilometers, and there's no way I can do the trail as long as I'm employed and have to answer to a boss. I'd basically have to quit work, set up a Patreon or GoFundMe page, then train like hell to do the longest walk of my life.

Anyway, thoughts of such a long walk are still nebulous. In the meantime, for those who read Korean, and even for those who don't (because I assume you can understand maps, whatever language they're in), I'm providing links to Paul's PDFs, here and here. Click, open the PDFs, and download them to peruse at your leisure if you want. If nothing else, you can look at the lovely pictures of the various bike paths and dream about clear air, a big sky, and friendly Korean fellow travelers—because meeting people is part of the experience, too.

Many thanks to Paul for his generosity.

*For those who don't recall or never learned this, I use the term "e-friend" to describe friendly acquaintances whom I've never met in real life but only know from online exchanges.

Ave, John Mac!

Blogger, friend, and walker extraordinaire John McCrarey turns a hoary old 64. Go visit his fine blog and tell him to stop leering at teenagers, that fucking degenerate.

Jamaican beef patties: redux

I finally cooked up my last batch of Jamaican beef patties. They came out a lot better this time.

And maybe it was because the beef spent a lot of time just sitting and aging in the fridge, but the meat filling tasted better this time around.

Now, I'm wondering whether I can use this sort of pie dough to make a halfway decent Beef Wellington (or a "Pork Wellington" with pork tenderloin). I know that Wellingtons are made with puff pastry, but this dough recipe is so amazingly flaky that I think I wouldn't have to alter it much to create a "cheat" version of puff pastry, i.e., add more butter, roll and fold and fridge the thing a few extra times, et voilà...

Monday, August 26, 2019

the Kevin's Walk 3 blog is now more or less operational

I've finally established the Kevin's Walk 3 blog for the upcoming trans-Korea trek. Click here. For the moment, I've simply copied and pasted some recent walk-related posts from this blog, but starting tonight, if I have anything walk-related to say, I'm going to post it there and not here. I won't be announcing those posts on this blog, so it'll be up to you to keep up with my news by visiting Kevin's Walk 3 regularly.

Can't say I like the Photoshop job I did for the banner; the low resolution made the lettering look chunky, and using the blur tool didn't really cover up the problem, so I'll be redoing the image tonight as a 300-dpi graphic to get the smooth lettering I need, then I'll reduce the pic to the screen-standard 72 dpi. (This would all be easier on Illustrator, where you can do scalable vector fonts.*) Expect a better banner in about a day. Only the best for my readers.

*I just saw the question "How do I vectorize text in Photoshop?" on Google, so that might or might not be a solution to my problem. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: the new, improved banner is up.

another piece falls into place

My Survival Tabs have arrived, although not in the form I suspected. I had thought I was going to get a large pack with tons of tablets in it, but instead, I got lots of tiny packets, each with four tablets in it:

The purpose of these tablets is merely to keep me alive during the four days of camping that I'll be doing on the trail. Each little packet contains 240 calories of energy, plus assorted nutrients like Vitamins A and C, calcium, thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, folic acid, Vitamin B12, iodine, Vitamin B5, and zinc—not to mention protein, carbs, fat, etc. Above, you see only six of the eight packets I'll be taking along with me. Since I've got eight packets, I'll be eating two packets' worth of Survival Tabs every afternoon that I'm camping. This won't amount to much energy or nutrition, but it's written in the product literature that Survival Tabs are for exactly that: survival, and nothing more. In theory, I could survive walking without food (but not water) for two straight days, but that's an insane risk to take for a short walk across a small country. So the tablets are a sort of insurance, a way to keep my body going without fear of fainting or black-hole-style bodily implosions.

At some point very soon, I'm going to stuff everything into my backpack and take a shakedown cruise, a several-hour walk just to get out the kinks and see what it's like to hike with the pack on my back. My major worry is that the Gregory's chest strap, whose stupid design hasn't changed since 2008, is going to pop off after only a day or so of use. Luckily, I've still got my spare strap in case that happens. I've been tempted to nickname that strap Molasses, but thus far, I've resisted the dad-jokiness of the pun.

"John Wick, Chapter 3: Parabellum": review

Si vis pacem, para bellum.
If you want peace, prepare for war.
—De Re Militari

When last we left John Wick, the unkillable killer (reviews for the previous two movies are here and here), he was running from, well, everyone: the entire assassin underworld was about to try to kill Wick for $14 million because he had been deemed "Excommunicado"—fair game without shelter or harbor—by the High Table, the ultimate authority for all assassins in this universe. Running through the streets of New York City with his dog by his side, Wick knew that the single hour's head start he had received from Winston, the manager of the New York Continental (Ian McShane), would be running out soon.

And that's where 2019's "John Wick, Chapter 3: Parabellum" begins: with Wick's lone hour ticking down while he runs raggedly through the streets of NYC. The obvious question presents itself: when you've established, in your second movie, that the world is actually full of professional assassins, how do you show one man's struggle to survive pursuit by virtually everyone? Equally obvious—and this shouldn't count as a spoiler—is that Wick will survive this ordeal, which means the viewer's interest isn't in whether he survives but in how he survives. Without giving too much away, I can say that Wick gets by with a little help from his friends—or at least from certain acquaintances who owe him favors. The movie, thankfully, takes time to explore Wick's motivation for survival: why would a man who has lost his wife and dog—the only beings he ever loved—want to go on? The answer Wick provides to the characters who ask this question is an interesting one, and I won't reveal it here.

So "Parabellum" is much more of a chase movie than a revenge drama, which puts it in the same ballpark as Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto," a story about a young and capable warrior who must survive the wrath of an entire rival tribe. The plot takes Wick from New York City to Morocco, with Wick leaving a trail of blood along the way. Wick meets up with Sofia (Halle Berry), the manager of the Casablanca Continental, calling on a favor she owes him. Sofia and her highly trained German shepherds launch into action alongside Wick for some lovely fight sequences, then Wick must travel alone through the desert in search of the Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui), the mysterious head of the High Table. As Wick learns, you don't find the Elder; he finds you if he so wishes. This is all very spooky and magical, but it's consistent with the weird world-building accomplished in the previous two films. Eventually, Wick ends up back in New York with a mission he is unwilling to see through to its end, and this leads to the story's final conflict and quasi-resolution.

It might be best to think of "Parabellum" as a species of 1980s porn, back when porn movies actually had stories that tied the sex scenes together into something like a narrative. In that sort of porn, the narrative was merely an excuse to drive us from one fuck to another; in "Parabellum," there's a much better narrative propelling us forward, but it's still ultimately just an excuse for us to see some gonzo gunplay and martial arts. Fans of fight choreography, like yours truly, will gobble this sort of action up; people who are more interested in the finer points of story and character will quickly grow weary of watching John Wick double-tap, judo-flip, or aikido-cripple yet another bad guy. Most of what you see Wick do in this third installment will be familiar to you; it's Halle Berry and her dogs, however, who bring something new to the table.

Sofia is presented to us as world-weary, cautious, wise, and passionate. She has a daughter, whom Wick helped years ago (that's the favor she owes Wick), and she appreciates the nearly sacred duty with which she has been charged as the head of one of the many Continental hotels-for-assassins scattered across the globe. Sofia's two faithful companions are her German shepherds, and when she commands them to attack, they go straight for the balls. The dogs used in this movie apparently trained almost exclusively with Berry in order to establish an instant rapport; they do indeed respond to her commands with uncanny celerity. In one scene, a dog pulls a Spider-Man, leaping onto a prone person's back before wall-running vertically upward to attack an enemy on a fortress's parapet. It's the most awesome stunt in the movie, and I howled appreciatively. Sofia herself is portrayed as vicious when it comes to physical combat, but the fight choreographer kept her moves realistic: unlike so many badass female characters these days, Sofia's fighting technique doesn't involve brute force; it's more in the neighborhood of aikido/hapkido/jujitsu—holds, joint locks, and throws, usually followed by double-taps to the head and/or chest.

The world of this movie is peopled with memorable characters. Continental concierge Charon (Lance Reddick), a calm and professional presence from the two previous movies, gets a few action scenes himself this time around when the Continental is "deconsecrated" by the High Table's Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon), and the High Table sends heavily armored troops in to purge the entire building. Charon proves quite handy with a shotgun and armor-piercing rounds. Ian McShane's Winston remains a significant figure in this story, but he's more vulnerable this time around, torn between the bonds of friendship and the obligations of the High Table: the word "fealty" is tossed about with great frequency in this movie. Laurence Fishburne returns for some crucial scenes as the Bowery King; it was a surprise to learn that his "kingdom" was also under the authority of the High Table; I can't recall whether that had been made clear in the second movie. Real-life martial artist Mark Dacascos—whom most people know from his silly, ornamental role in "Iron Chef America" as the supposed nephew of The Chairman from the original Japanese "Iron Chef"—shines as the assassin Zero, a sincere admirer of John Wick who is also keen to kill the man. "The Raid" stars Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman appear as Zero's students—assassins who are also delighted and honored to engage in a gentleman's form of hand-to-hand combat with John Wick. Randall Duk Kim, who played the Keymaker in "The Matrix Reloaded," also makes a brief appearance as a doctor. Lastly, we have to mention Anjelica Huston as the Director, one of the shadowy Ruska Roma people, training youths in dance and combat. She ends up helping John Wick and paying a heavy price for her aid.

The movie isn't without its problems. The musical soundtrack is still superficial, tinny, and annoying; director Chad Stahelski really ought to hire a better composer. The dialogue remains corny beyond belief; the scene in which Wick meets Sofia to discuss the past and the future feels rather cringe-y, although I'll give Halle Berry credit for actually trying to emote during the scene. (Reeves, meanwhile, is his usual wooden self.) The movie also contains the normal boilerplate implausibilities, such as how John Wick takes an impossible amount of damage, and how no normal citizen or policeman seems to notice things like loud fights inside a quiet library or motorcycle chases across bridges and through tunnels. Then again, if this film's universe is so chock-full of assassins, maybe there are no normal citizens or regular police. Perhaps worst of all was the Adjudicator, who is woefully miscast. She was an annoying presence throughout the film, and I found myself fervently wishing her a violent death. I'd have found her more tolerable had Anjelica Huston played her instead of the way-too-young Asia Kate Dillon, who lacked the necessary menace and gravitas for the role.

But "Parabellum" keeps up a relentless pace with few lulls. The movie doesn't qualify as deep or edifying entertainment; it's merely entertainment. But sometimes, that's all a bloke needs: turn off the brain, sit back, and enjoy. And that's what I did—I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and while I can't rate it quite as highly as the second movie (the first movie is still awful, by the way), I'd say it's worth a rewatch, if for no other reason than to see dogs attacking testicles, people getting slowly stabbed in the eye, and cartoonishly destructive shotguns.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

"Booksmart": review

A 2019 teen comedy starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as two quirky, nerdy best friends who are now seniors in high school, "Booksmart" is actress Olivia Wilde's very first directorial effort. As with the myriad teen comedies that have come before, the story involves seniors who realize they have one last chance to touch greatness. Unlike those previous comedies, though, "greatness" doesn't involve losing one's virginity: it involves partying.

Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Dever) have been best friends since forever. Studious and determined to get into the best universities, they've spent their entire high-school careers hitting the books, shunning fun activities, joining all the best clubs and societies, and doing everything they can to ensure academic success. For four years, it's been one concentrated dose of seriousness. It's while Molly is in the restroom, though, that she finds out from three of her classmates—whom she scorns for their seemingly wild, partying ways—that they also managed to get into prestigious universities, all while having fun and living life.

Furious, Molly declares to Amy that the two friends have wasted their time studying when they could have been partying this entire time, and with only one night before graduation, Molly decides that the two of them need to hit classmate Nick's party because everyone is going to be there. In effect, the Quest to Lose One's Virginity is replaced by the Quest to Have Fun For Once, and the rest of the movie follows a winding, "Harold and Kumar"-style path as the girls ineptly try to figure out where the party is and how to get there. This results in many side trips and misadventures. There will be drugs and trippy hallucinations. There will be clumsy attempts at sex, culminating in embarrassing episodes of drug-induced vomiting. There will be awkward moments involving lesbian porn and the school principal, who encounters the girls in the course of performing his other job as a Lyft driver.

"Booksmart" follows the usual simple-but-nonlinear template of most American teen comedies, so it doesn't really break any new ground in that sense. The film is reminiscent of 80s-era movies in terms of its major plot points, and reminiscent of 90s comedies in terms of its occasional-but-gleeful surrealism. The rapidfire, catty line deliveries of some of the minor characters made me think of the TV show "Glee," which excelled at such witty repartee. Director Wilde proves she has a great sense of comic timing in terms of how scenes are set up and edited, and the viewer is left with the impression that the actors all had a lot of fun on set. This is a hilarious movie, and while some critics have noted that "Booksmart" primarily targets young women, I can safely say the movie is a human story that doesn't pander to a particular demographic the way it could have, had it gone the preachy route.

This is actually a point worth dwelling on. "Booksmart" does rope in certain social issues, such as being the homosexual daughter of conservative-Christian parents (Amy is an out-of-the-closet lesbian; bestie Molly, meanwhile, is hetero and secretly hot for partier Nick), global poverty, feminism, harassment and rape, among other things, but it treats these issues more as tropes that move the plot along, not as cudgels with which to hit the audience over the head. The idea taken most seriously in this movie is the friendship between Molly and Amy, two Gen-Z girls on the verge of young-adulthood who belatedly discover that they're becoming very different people who nevertheless still love each other. The movie's treatment of social issues is so blithe and un-self-conscious, in fact, that Amy's supposedly Jesus-freak parents are portrayed as rather bland and normal, without there being any scripture-quoting or Bible-thumping. Mom and Dad are simply a little awkward about the notion that their little girl likes girls. All of this came as a relief to me, and I see it as an authentic reflection of how Generation Z kids generally take the world in stride: they're post-9/11 youths who have grown up with the internet, social media, and the kaleidoscopic postmodern jumble of 2010s-era culture as a normal part of life.

So let's talk about the actors. Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, as Molly and Amy respectively, have perfect chemistry together in the roles of best friends. The movie trivia I read is that Olivia Wilde asked the girls to live together for a while to form a rapport; this must have been a successful strategy because the result is on screen for all to see, including certain hilarious moments that, according to the young actresses, were improvised on the spot. Feldstein and Dever make us care for Molly and Amy; we end up wanting the best for them, and it hurts us during those scenes when the girls fight. In the end, Feldstein and Dever give performances that are solid and deep. I'd happily watch them both in other movies, either separately or as a pair. Two supporting actors deserve shout-outs as well. First is Skyler Gisondo (for a while, he played young Shawn Spencer on the TV show "Psych") as cheerful rich kid Jared, a cluelessly optimistic dude who smiles reflexively but is disliked by his classmates. Skyler gets some of the best lines in the film, and his delivery is pitch-perfect. Second is Billie Lourd—Carrie Fisher's daughter—who plays Gigi, Jared's kind-of girlfriend. Gigi is portrayed as a magical character in the film: she has the uncanny ability to appear wherever Molly and Amy are, seemingly teleporting from place to place at will, almost as if the drugs she does have given her theurgic powers. Lourd's performance is easily as good as Gisondo's; she had me laughing out loud several times.

I had little clue what to expect before I watched "Booksmart"; I had seen a YouTube review or two, and had read online reviews praising the film, but when I finally watched the movie for myself, the actual experience turned out to be enjoyable. I like that "Booksmart" doesn't hit you over the head with any of a number of potential social-justice messages; I like that the movie treats lesbianism and being overweight as simple facts of life without making a big deal about either trait; I like that Olivia Wilde—whom I love as an actress and as a comic talent—has proved to be as gifted behind the camera as she is in front of it. (You'll recall a recent review of Wilde here.) I think "Booksmart" is a movie with a heart; in essence, it's a story about two friends whose friendship gets tested over the course of a very wild night. If you're fine with rapidfire humor and Gen-Z culture, go watch the girls' adventure for yourself with my enthusiastic blessing.

the Trump phenomenon

Here's Larry Elder talking about, among other things, how Trump became president:

Here's Tim Pool on how we all live in Trumpworld now, like it or not:

And here's Pool again on how most Americans are against impeachment:

The left doesn't have its finger on the pulse of the nation as a whole, and its continued failure to understand or connect with reality is guaranteed to cost it the 2020 election. While I'm pretty sure the president we elect in 2024 will be a Democrat, 2020 is pretty much a lock for Trump. On some dim, reptilian level, the left knows this, but because so much of the left is all id at this point, that side of the aisle has no impulse control. This is why an impeachment is likely to happen: it may be against the will of the people, and it may cost the Democrats cherished seats in Congress, but the left can't help itself. It's horrifying and sad to watch, like reviewing a slow-motion film of your family getting crushed to death in a car accident. There's nothing a rational person can do to stop the tide, and the tide has no way of stopping itself.

coming soon-ish

Not only is there to be a new Matrix movie that again stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss (we're not sure about Hugo Weaving and Laurence Fishburne), but there's a new Breaking Bad movie coming to Netflix:

Can't stop staring at that cheekbone wart. Props to the makeup crew.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

as the Starks say: reviews are coming

Stay tuned for reviews of the girl-centric comedy "Booksmart" and the hilariously bloody "John Wick, Chapter 3: Parabellum." TL;DR for both of these films: I thoroughly enjoyed them, albeit for very different reasons. More soon.

from Yeouido to Daecheong: 30,000 steps

Did my walk with JW today, from Yeouido Station all the way back to Daecheong Tower. It's a route I've done many times since 2017, so the following photos concentrate on some lovely flowers seen along the way, and there are two tantalizing pics of JW himself at the very end.

Not being much of a plant guy, I don't know the names of any of these flowers, and if someone among my tiny readership is a botany expert, I'd love to know what berries those are in the fifth photo. JW plucked them as we were walking by some bushes, and he assured me that they wouldn't kill me. He handed me a berry, and when I bit into it, I discovered it had the consistency and overpowering, pinch-your-face tanginess of a way-underripe apple. As JW said, the berry didn't kill me or make me sick, but I chose to eat only the one: JW plucked and ate a whole handful while I ineffectually told him to be careful.

Flowers, berries, and JW:

I tested out my size-12 shoes today; this was their first long walk. I'd call the test a success, overall, but the shoes didn't completely counteract the ache in my feet, especially my right foot. Still, having achy feet is a hell of a lot better than getting blisters and/or abrasions, so I count today's walk as a win. We managed almost exactly 30,000 steps in almost exactly four hours, over a distance of almost exactly 20 kilometers.

That's at my pace, of course. JW is far more athletic than I am, so he was tempted to walk fast, and he did often break away to walk twenty meters ahead of me for long periods. Not succumbing to the ego-driven need to keep up with JW, I hung back at my own pace, which is why I didn't end up with blisters.

JW confessed that this was his first time walking such a long distance since his long-ago military service, and he performed very well. Being a much lighter guy than I am, he didn't have any blister-related issues to deal with. He did, however, have achy feet, even if he didn't admit to it. He was the one who requested, twice, that we stop and take a break, and I know it's not because he was tired: his pace proved he had plenty of energy. His achy feet, meanwhile, proved a long-held suspicion, to wit: athletic people who haven't engaged in this particular form of exertion will have problems. We might charitably attribute his aches to his slightly inappropriate golfing shoes instead of to a lack of conditioning, but I think the same thing would have happened had he worn actual walking shoes.

My only complaint was that JW suddenly decided, like one of those annoying ajeossis whom I routinely encounter on the local bike paths, to break out some recorded music during the latter part of our walk; I could have done without that as I prefer to let the sounds of the world accompany me on my treks. But because he also tended to pull ahead of me, the music faded as JW became more distant, which was a good thing.

JW now has wild plans in his head to do more walking and some camping trips—probably during the summer. He of course wants me to accompany him and his family on these trips; we'll see. I love JW's family, I really do, but my inner introvert cringes at the idea of sacrificing a whole weekend to a social activity.

I'll probably be heading down south to Yeosu next weekend to celebrate my birthday by myself. JW works four days a week on nearby Geojae Island; he thinks I ought to give him a visit while he's down there for his job. I might take him up on that. Again, we'll see.