Ford v Ferrari (2019)

I saw Ford v Ferrari on a preview night, and generally found it an enjoyable romp, though somewhat “problematic”.

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If I had to describe the movie in 3 words, those words would be “Men Behaving Badly”.  About 98% of the screen time consists of men, and every single one of them is an asshole.  Driver & mechanic Ken Miles is constantly exploding into violent tantrums, including throwing a wrench at the head of a friend who suggests that race rules apply to him.  Car designer Carroll Shelby steals from his customers, evades taxes, and savagely insults everyone he meets.  Henry Ford II threatens to fire every worker on a whim.  Even Enzo Ferrari, who at first appears to be the dignified elder statesman of racing, lets loose an unprompted litany of profanity and insults that would shock a dockside prostitute.

You might imagine that such rude, obnoxious characters would turn off audiences, but Hollywood knows what they’re doing.  Classic move #1 is that people tolerate these men because they’re the best at what they do – it’s as if every character was House M.D.  Classic move #2 is that the film is set 50 years ago, and we excuse outrageous behaviour if it’s from the good ol’ days.  In fact, I suspect that’s why the producers decided to tell this particular story: their audiences want to fantasize about dropping their civilized restraint and wallowing in masculine misbehavior, and the past is an allowable place to do that.  It’s a western with brake fade.

There are two exceptions to the asshole cast.  One is Ken Miles’ Stepford wife, who supports him to an unbelievable degree.  Not only does she encourage him to continue racing when the IRS is threatening to take their house, but after he and Shelby get in a fist fight, she rewards them with soda pop and ice cream.  No kidding.  The other is Miles’ little son, who is apparently in the movie to show that being rude, unpredictable and irresponsible makes you a great father.

In a movie full of terrible people, how do you distinguish the villain?  Unsurprisingly, in this all-American, testosterone-fueled, 72-oz-steak-washed-down-with-whiskey world, the answer is to make the villain effeminate.

The film has some things going for it.  The action is exciting, and there are some jokes.  The men have enough vulnerability to be sympathetic, and Miles is so effusive that the audience can appreciate the perfect lap.  Like a lot of good art, understanding how it’s manipulating you doesn’t stop it from working, so even the masculinity is satisfying.  I give it 2.5 stars out of 4.

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Alternative Facts

It irritates me when people mock ideas that are actually sound, as if they’re nonsense.

For instance, “alternative facts”.  People take this as a synonym for “lies”, but the idea of alternative facts is legitimate.  You might say that there were 9,281 murders in some country last year, which is a lot.  That’s a fact.  You might also say that the murder rate per capita is 60% lower than it was 20 years ago.  That’s an alternative fact.  They’re both true, and they support different positions.  The premise of “yes, but” is based on alternative facts.

Another one is “unknown unknowns”.  People laughed at Donald Rumsfeld for this one as if he was a fool spouting meaningless gibberish, but this is a sophisticated idea.

Likewise Bill Clinton and the meaning of “is” – just because something sounds silly to *you* the first time you hear it doesn’t mean it’s nonsense.

Andrew Scheer was accused of comparing same-sex marriage to a dog (and therefore gross and dirty?).  That’s not what he said at all.  At worst, he compared heterosexual marriage to a dog’s leg and same-sex marriage to a dog’s tail, but even then only metaphorically.  This is a well-known aphorism about categorization and the limit to how far you can bend language.

By the way, Al Gore didn’t claim to have invented the internet.

Alternative Facts

Bear Headlines

The most entertaining and adorable headlines on the news are about the antics that animals get into, particularly bears.

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“Bear falls asleep on lawn after eating 20 lb of dog food”

“Bear breaks into bakery and eats 24 pies”

“Bear steals car with PB&J sandwich inside”

“Polar bear stole all my fish”

“Bears invade family pool: ‘They took my floaties’, says girl”

“Woman yells ‘bear don’t eat my kayak’ as bear eats kayak”

“Windows rolled up on safari – giraffe steals Doritos through sunroof”

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“Elephant ate my hat”

“Bear steals unlocked car”
Police report that the car was totaled, and the bear fled the scene.

“Seagull stole my dentures”

“Bundle of marijuana falls from sky and crushes doghouse”

“Tornado took my burger: ‘I don’t even know where it is’, says victim”

“Man calls cops to get car keys from goose”

“Three-year-old boy missing in woods for two days says friendly bear kept him safe”

Bear Headlines

Is Star Trek: The Next Generation racist?

TNG is recognized as a paragon of progressive thought, for its time.  Of course it is.  However, I think it might have an anti-black stripe that the writers held subconsciously.

 

Geordi is a respected officer with an important, cerebral job.  He’s a leader and has white subordinates.  He has many white friends, dates women of different races, and in the potential future of the series finale, is married to a white scientist.  Everybody likes him.  There’s a lot of evidence that racism is a dim memory, excised centuries ago.

 

However, what’s the culture of the 24th century?  We see Shakespeare, classical music, wine, chess, ships in bottles, painting on canvas, gardening, sailing, fencing, horseback riding, and Sherlock Holmes.  At one point, Beverly cajoles Geordi to sing a role in her production of HMS Pinafore.  It seems to me that in the mind of the writers, utopia means European high culture.

 

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Sure, people of all backgrounds are perfectly harmonized, with no racial prejudice, but it doesn’t happen through integration or blending – everyone is equal because blackness ceased to exist.

 

The casting direction in 1987 reads “Please do not submit any ‘street’ types, as Geordi has perfect diction…”, perfect meaning formal, educated, and mainstream.

 

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There is some counter-evidence.  Riker plays jazz trombone (but jazz was already part of sophisticated culture in the 1980s).  Geordi and Guinan have natural hair (Uhura’s was straightened).  There’s also little low culture from other human ethnicities: no demolition derbies or tractor pulls, no bowling, no toilet humor – they don’t even drink beer (in Hollow Pursuits, Duffy orders a “light ale”, to avoid having to say a low-class word like “beer”).  They do play a lot of poker.

 

DS9 improved the situation by making the central character black, and they actually address race instead of ignoring it (“I don’t see color!”).  Voyager adds characters that are not so high-minded: Tom Paris likes beer, schlock movies, water skiing, and sassing his superior officers.  Chakotay participates in hunting and boxing.

 

Thoughts?
Is Star Trek: The Next Generation racist?

Pet Peeves

It’s probably foolish to tell people your pet peeves, because they could be weaponized to irritate you.  But since nobody reads my blog, I’m probably safe.

Here is a partial list of pet peeves, off the top of my head.

  • People who say “tuh” instead of “to”, and “impordant”.
  • Adults who hold forks in their clenched fist, like a caveman.
  • People who use “micro”, “nano”, or “pico” to mean “mini”.  Something that’s 50% smaller than usual does not deserve a prefix implying that it’s 9 orders of magnitude smaller.  Likewise with “giga” for something that’s moderately larger than usual.
  • People who say that something’s “3x smaller”.   They usually mean 1/3 the size, but there’s often enough ambiguity that you can’t know for sure.
  • People who say “Stephen Hawkings”.
  • People who say “so X” when they mean “very X”.
  • Everyone saying that robots, clowns, or dolls are “terrifying”.  Maybe some tiny segment of the population has some genuine phobia, but everyone else is just being dramatic.  I love robots, so that one particularly irks me.  An automatic vacuum cleaner is not a sign of the robot apocalypse.
  • The pretense of knowledge.  This is perhaps my biggest peeve – people who are confident about a topic they have many misunderstandings about.
  • “Well-written”, to describe any piece of writing.
  • People who say “extremely” when they should say “somewhat”.  There are conditions other than “appalling” and “awesome”.
  • “He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.”
  • People who walk slowly in front of me, especially groups of people walking side-by-side.
Pet Peeves

Time Trap (2017)

I just finished watching “Time Trap” (2017).

It’s a really neat movie. There are no really famous actors (although the executive producer is Ben Foster, who played Angel in X-Men, and was in a bunch of other movies like Pandorum). However, it has a thoughtful sci-fi plot, not passable pablum like most movies today. They explore a lot of different consequences of the premise.

I give the movie 3.5 stars out of 5, which puts it among the top 10% of movies I’ve seen in the last year.

The baffling thing was the budget: this movie, filled with special effects, a complicated script, location shoots, and actual actors (even if they aren’t famous) was reportedly (according to IMDB) made for one million dollars. That seems like pocket change even by the standards of indie movies. The budget for Memento was $9M.

There are no signs of low quality, like you see in Primer. Even though it didn’t get wide distribution, someone must have cared deeply about making this movie, to a Jitlovian degree. The actors aren’t Meryl Streep or Daniel Day Lewis, but they’re competent, with a lot of small roles.

Do you want to see it? If not, spoilers follow.

SPOILERS BELOW
SERIOUSLY, SPOILERS RIGHT HERE. I SPOIL THE WHOLE MOVIE.

The concept is similar to a teen sci-fi book I had as a kid, William Sleator’s “Singularity”, although in reverse.  Some college students are searching for a cave where people have gone missing.  The further you go into this cave, the more time slows down. People inside the cave appear frozen to people outside. As a bonus, it’s hard to get out of the cave because of a steep cliff, so they’re trapped while time whizzes by outside. They do a pretty good job of showing the sun changing angles as the seasons pass.

Since the cave (which is hundreds of miles from anywhere) requires some technical climbing, they leave the kid brother (let’s call him Chunk) on the surface. After they spend a few minutes in the cave, days have passed from his point of view, with no radio contact, so he figures his friends got hurt or died. When he runs out of food and water, he decides he has no choice but to enter the cave to look for car keys on what he imagines will be their bodies.

They take this concept and explore a lot of different aspects. For instance, people have been entering the cave for a long time, so they meet people from many different eras: some hippies, a cowboy, conquistadors, all the way back to the stone age.

They also visit our future. When the uninjured people make expeditions to the surface, they variously find their truck rusted and overgrown by weeds, then a cold desert, and finally an alien-looking landscape with weird air, a giant space station in the sky, and haboobs (dust storms).

It takes them a while to realize what’s going on (and they realize it at different times), but there’s some powerful emotional moments as they realize that their friends and family lived and died centuries ago, and that they can’t go home because there’s no home to go to.

The stone-age people give our heroes serious trouble, although the cowboy’s gun is some help. Then a menacing 8-foot humanoid in a futuristic suit enters the cave. They have no hope against his powerful technology, but when he loses the mask he needs to breathe, they see that he’s a human, though his biology and language have evolved. He’s helpful to them, and his computer has centuries-old recordings that describe what happened while our heroes were lost, including a poignant scene where their parents plead for searchers to help look for them.

By the time they finish a battle with the cave people (which explores some neat concepts of time dilation), the giant humans have been superseded by things that can only be described as tentacles. It reminded me of the end of HG Wells’ Time Machine, in which the traveler pushes the lever as far as it will go, leaves behind the relatively comprehensible world of Eloi and Morlocks, and finds the Earth overrun by crabs 15 million years in the future.

The ending is a bit of a deus ex machina: the tentacles are friendly and their technology is sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic, and because our heroes are now living fossils, they’re kind of celebrities to the tentacles (who travel in space, BTW).

The cave also has improbable healing water, and it’s not ideal to have a sci-fi with two conceits that you have to accept.

All the protagonists except Chunk are inexplicably sexy teenagers. I mean, if you happened across such good-looking people in real life, you’d assume some sort of magazine photoshoot was going on. However, no one comments on it. I went to a dentist’s office that was like that once: everyone who worked there was a supermodel for some reason.

Time Trap (2017)

Shane (1953)

I watched “Shane”.  It’s hard to find decent movies from the last few years, so I’ve been trying classics I’ve never seen before.

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The McGuffin is a conflict between cattle ranchers and sodbusters – very Esau and Jacob.

We open onto some greedy ranchers who want to drive innocent farmers off their homesteads. One such family is being harassed (animals shot, buildings burned down, fences cut, neighbors murdered) when a mysterious stranger turns up.  Shane is a gunslinger, and flaaaaming.  Soft-waved blonde hair, fringed buckskin outfit, starburst belt buckle, etc. He befriends the family, takes off his shirt, and helps the father remove a stump.  The family also has a little wiener kid who is absolutely unbearable.

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“Sometimes nothin’ll do except sweat and muscle.”

During the first 105 minutes of the 118 minute run-time, Shane’s character as a reluctant soldier-philosopher is established. He’s very good at fighting, but doesn’t want to fight. We also establish the moustache-twisting wickedness of the antagonists. Shane and the father bond while fist-fighting a saloon full of baddies. Finally, the father decides he can’t take any more, and prepares to ride into town to confront the ringleader. Shane refuses to let him go, and beats him up. Shane is the one who will go to town.

Minutes 106-110 (nearly the end of the movie) give us tense, exciting music bizarrely matched to a scene of Shane unhurriedly riding 10 miles or so into town. Wiener boy and rover follow him. Shane enters the saloon, where the ringleader has hired a professional gunslinger of his own, with two guns and a black glove. Greedo draws first, Shane blows him away, then kills the ringleader. A sneaky coward tries to shoot Shane in the back from a hiding spot, but The Beav saves the day by yelling a warning to Shane.

The boy loves Shane, but Shane insists he has to leave. There’s no place among decent people for a killer.

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“Sorry, son.  I know you wanted to be my Milhouse.”
Shane (1953)