Wednesday, July 19, 2017


I guess I've been using Quora heavily since about March.  I originally joined Quora in 2015, but it was one of those things, eventually, that I quickly abandoned, until I decided it was a better and more interesting thing than I'd thought.

Quora is a community where you post questions and people respond because they think they have an authoritative answer.  The emails I get provide a digest of responses to various questions, picked because they've been voted by members as good answers.  I don't always agree.  Actually, that's half of why I started taking a more active role.

I've done a lot of Star Wars answers.  I never get tired of that.  It's fun challenging conventional wisdom, because conventional wisdom often seems to be wrong, which seems more appropriate the more you think about it.  People specialize in group think more often than they'd care to admit.  They become convinced that their thoughts are their own, but being social creatures we rely on the opinions of our peers for a lot of the decisions we make, and then convince ourselves that there are valid personal reasons why we reached them.  Yeah.  Few of us seem to have the courage for bold opinions. 

Well, anyway, you can check out my responses here.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Here's to you, Frank Anicetti

Frank Anicetti, legendary proprietor of legacy soft drink Moxie, the hometown hero of Lisbon Falls, Maine, has passed away.  Frank became well-known to Stephen King fans who'd never made the annual trip to the Moxie Festival, in the pages of 11/22/63, which also reminded even those who had just why Kennebec Fruit Company, the actual name of what was colloquially known as the Moxie Store, had "fruit" in its name.  If anyone was an institution in Lisbon Falls, if there was one person you had to visit, it was Frank, who was always happy to tell stories.  He retired last year, and it's not hard to guess that giving up the store took away his purpose in life.  The store is being converted into Frank's Pub, hopefully still on track to open by Moxie Day this year (7/8/17), and I'm guessing there will be even more incentive for devotees to gather and celebration Frank's legacy.
But don't let me tell you about Frank, let's listen to Frank himself:


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Well, damn, I think I just got all the hate for the Star Wars prequels

Before you read much further, you ought to know: I still love the Star Wars prequels.  I still love The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith.  But I think I finally get why they're so easy to hate.

And no, it's not what you think.

So let me explain.  I also love the Pirates of the Caribbean films.  I love Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man's Chest, At World's End.  But I don't love On Stranger Tides.  And so there's where we reach my point.  On Stranger Tides is the Star Wars prequels of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  As in, I don't really understand why its exists.  And the thing is, there's soon going to be another one, Dead Men Tell No Tales.  And I suppose the book's still open on that one.  But still.  The original three tell such a complete story.  The next two don't seem...relevant.  That's what I mean. 

Dead Man's Chest is actually hugely relevant to this analogy.  It's the second of the Pirates movies, and like The Empire Strikes Back (the second of the original Star Wars trilogy), it expands on everything that made the first one good, while doing it so well and in such a way that it makes both easier to love and gives the first further justification by making the experience deeper than it previously seemed to have any right to be. 

And like Return of the Jedi (for some fans, anyway; this is the third film in the original Star Wars trilogy, of course), At World's End finishes out the story, but doesn't quite measure up to its predecessor(s). 

On Stranger Tides focuses almost exclusively on Jack Sparrow, the breakout character of the original Pirates trilogy, just as the Star Wars prequels focuses almost exclusively on Darth Vader (specifically, his origin story).  To my mind, I don't see the point, if Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann aren't there somewhere, too.  Star Wars fans rightly kind of began to view the original trilogy to focus at least as much on Han Solo as any other element, Harrison Ford going on to be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and all.

So the Star Wars prequels, more or less, whatever their creative merit, probably seemed downright incomprehensible to fans of the original trilogy.  That's what I'm saying.  Incomprehensible, inexplicable, everything they...really didn't want to see.  That's it, really, they rejected these things because they seemed pointless, offensiveness in any number of ways because they didn't conform to what fans loved so much about the originals.

That's On Stranger Tides for me.  Dead Man's Chest, I loved it so much when I first saw it, became one of my all-time favorite movies, period, in and out of the Pirates movies.  I care about the Pirates movies today because of it.  But I'll never have that relationship with On Stranger Tides

I really, really don't get that one.  I just don't see the point.  Clearly much of it was developed to ape as much of the originals as possible, but because it lacked the specific cast that made them so memorable, the specific story, and replaced them with plug-ins that meant...less, I just can't understand the point of taking it seriously.

So that's what I assume Star Wars fans think about the prequels.  Feel free to disagree, but that's my theory. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

879. Box Office 2016

Here's a rundown of relevant movie box office totals, plus ones I personally cared about:

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story ($532 M)
I personally loathed this like the plague, but it gave a lot of other fans what they thought had been missing from Star Wars since about The Empire Strikes Back.

2. Finding Dory ($486 M)
This belated sequel to Finding Nemo was much like Rogue One: a quasi-reboot for a new generation.

3. Captain America: Civil War ($408 M)
The in-all-but-name third Avengers movie was by far the most popular nominal Captain America lead installment.  It does do some nifty stuff with Bucky, admittedly.

4. The Secret Life of Pets ($368 M)
Proof positive that any dumb kids flick can make tons of money these days.

5. The Jungle Book ($364 M)
One of Disney's live action remakes, another sign of the ridiculously conservative mood moviegoers have been in lately.

6. Deadpool ($363 M)
Although of course there are exceptions.  Unless you notice that all those Avengers movies are only a shade or two away from the same kind of superhero irreverence.

7. Zootopia ($341 M)
I have to admit this one looked pretty good in the trailers, but I can't for the life of me, without having seen it, figure out what about it specifically would make it a big hit, except it's a kids movie in an era where kids movies are easy money.

8. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice ($330 M)
As polarized a reaction as you can get, but obviously it still made money.  Enough money, it seems, where there's an equal amount of hate as love for its creative choices.

9. Suicide Squad ($325 M)
See the above.

10. Sing ($270 M)
See?  Kids movies will make money these days with any concept at all. 

11. Moana ($248 M) This one's the most traditional kids movie so far, so of course it earned less.
12. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them ($234 M) The first of the Harry Potter prequels.
13. Doctor Strange ($232 M) Somehow this made less than Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, but still gets touted as a creative success.  I admit that this baffles me.
14. Hidden Figures ($168 M) The highest grossing drama of the year. 
15. Jason Bourne ($162 M) Matt Damon returns to the franchise after skipping out the last one.
16. Star Trek Beyond ($158 M) The latest reboot film in this franchise pleased fans but underperformed, relatively speaking.  Still made more than any pre-reboot film.
17. X-Men: Apocalypse ($155 M) The end of an era (until Logan).
19. La La Land ($150 M) Here's the second highest grossing drama.  Er, musical.
20. Kung Fu Panda 3 ($143 M) They're on the third in this franchise.  But who even knows there's a franchise here???
21. Ghostbusters ($128 M) The all-female cast kind of backfired.  But that's still a respectable haul.
22. Central Intelligence ($127 M) Kevin Hart helps gives Dwayne Johnson a leading man hit.
24. Sully ($125 M) Tom Hanks hasn't been terribly reliable at the box office for a few years now, so it's always good to see him land another hit.
25. Bad Moms ($113 M) See how female cast comedies can be hits?
26. The Angry Birds Movie ($107 M) I have no idea why there was a movie made several years after it was at all relevant.  How could it take so long to develop a movie about a mobile phone game?
27. Independence Day: Resurgence ($103 M) Then again, waiting twenty years for a sequel turned out to be even more dumb.  Plus, omitting the one thing everyone really loved about the first one (some dude named Will Smith).
28. The Conjuring 2 ($102 M) Kind of the epitome of the ultimately bland if ridiculously lucrative horror era we currently inhabit.
29. Arrival ($100 M) My pick for best movie of the year.
30. Passengers ($100 M) Turns out all the marketing of how cute the stars are together can't really overcome bad word of mouth about how their characters end up in a relationship.
31. Sausage Party ($97 M) We're all officially going to hell.
32. The Magnificent Seven ($93 M) Less than magnificent.
33. Ride Along 2 ($91 M) Slightly less than Eddie Murphy strong, Kevin.
36. The Accountant ($86 M) Ben Affleck (aside from assuming the cowl of Batman) finally notices the success his pal Matt has been having as Jason Bourne.
38. The Purge: Election Year ($79 M) I actually think this is a cool horror concept, and if I were to start watching this series, I'd probably start with this one.
41. The Girl on the Train ($75 M) Like the book before it, really tried to be the next Gone Girl, but came up a little short.
42. Boo! A Madea Halloween ($73 M) Tyler Perry discovers there's still gold in cross-dressing.
44. 10 Cloverfield Lane ($72 M) This pop up movie release proved there's gold in surprises.
46. Hacksaw Ridge ($67 M) Mel Gibson's resurrection.  (Heh.)
47. The Divergent Series: Allegiant ($66 M) Apparently this particular young adult book series really wasn't that popular.
48. Now You See Me 2 ($65 M) Never saw the original, but I want to see this one just to see Daniel Radcliffe mock himself.
49. Ice Age: Collision Course ($64 M) Time to stop making these, I think.
50. The Boss ($63 M) Melissa McCarthy comes back down to earth.
51. London Has Fallen ($62 M) This probably should not have become a series.
55. My Big fat Greek Wedding 2 ($59 M) Another belated sequel.
56. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back ($58 M) Another sequel to a movie I haven't seen that I want to, in part because the trailer was awesome and also because it's the closest we'll get to a Maria Hill movie.
57. Fences ($57 M) I don't know, I'm not sure I was feeling Denzel Washington in 2016.  This was a passion project, one I'm not sure I'll see anytime soon.
61. The Shallows ($55 M) A younger me probably would've loved to catch Blake Lively's bikini adventures.
65. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi ($52 M) I wonder how many Hollywood careers were ruined by making this one.
66. Lion ($51 M) A would-be prestige movie that will probably be a family favorite in some households.
67. The Huntsman: Winter's War ($48 M) Like a who's who of the best actresses working today.
69. Manchester by the Sea ($47 M) Glad to see Casey Affleck recognized.
70. Warcraft ($47 M) Glad to see Duncan Jones get a shot at blockbuster filmmaking.  Sorry that it wasn't a hit.
73. War Dogs ($43 M) Wow, Miles Teller is struggling to find a breakout hit, isn't he?
78. Risen ($36 M) Innovative look at the resurrection.
79. The Nice Guys ($36 M) Destined to be a cult hit.
84. Inferno ($34 M) The third Robert Langdon movie was a huge box office dud.
86. Patriots Day ($31 M) Seems this would've been a bigger hit in a different era.
87. Gods of Egypt ($31 M) Gerard Butler has rediscovered that obscurity that he knew so well before finding unexpected success with another historic blockbuster.
88. Collateral Beauty ($31 M) I'm gonna see this Will Smith flick at some point.  Seems like another Seven Pounds.
89. Hail, Caesar! ($30 M) I'm always playing catch-up with the Coens.
91. Zoolander 2 ($28 M) The first was a cult hit.  The second came way too late to recreate Austin Powers.
92. Moonlight ($27 M) Won Best Picture at the Oscars.
95. Hell or High Water ($27 M) Chris Pine receives serious critic respect.
97. Ben-Hur ($26 M) Only in 2016 could one of the most popular stories in American history land with a dud.
102. Snowden ($21 M) The latest from Oliver Stone.
104. Free State of Jones ($20 M) A personal favorite.
116. The Birth of a Nation ($15 M) Seemingly tailor-made for critical success until its director found his reputation ruined.
120. Criminal ($14 M) I found the casting decisions interesting in this one.
124. Jackie ($13 M) As in Jackie O.  As in Natalie Portman.
131. Café Society ($11 M) The latest from Woody Allen.
132. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ($10 M) Could still become a cult hit (again).
143. The Lobster ($8 M) Critics rediscover Colin Farrell.
145. Loving ($7 M) Jeff Nichols makes a desperate bid for awards love.
146. Silence ($7 M) Martin Scorsese's latest.
162. A Hologram for the King ($4 M) This is how tough it's been for Tom Hanks.
163. Swiss Army Man ($4 M) Daniel Radcliffe can literally do anything he wants.
171. A Monster Calls ($3 M) Could probably become a cult hit.
172. Midnight Special ($3 M) Same here.
173. Rules Don't Apply ($3 M) But studios still expect a hit, Mr. Beatty.
211. Billy Flynn's Long Halftime Walk ($1 M) Kind of shocking Ang Lee's awards bid fell so flat.
219. Jane Got a Gun ($1 M) A Star Wars prequels reunion.
274. Knight of Cups ($566 T) Terrence Malick's latest.
465. The Take ($50 T) Idris Elba stars.
651. Frank and Lola ($9 T) Michael Shannon stars.

All numbers provided by Box Office Mojo as of 4/16/17. M = Millions, T = Thousands.  All numbers reflective of US box office results.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

878. Lost American Tribes of the 21st Century

Over at Arlee Bird's Tossing It Out, there's some talk about Columbus Day and the modern efforts to downplay his accomplishments in the interests of establishing a replacement Indigenous Peoples Day.  As we all know, Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered the New World (it's erroneous, however, to believe people in 1492, much less Columbus himself, thought the world was flat or just plain ended somewhere).  Yeah, and sure, Viking and Chinese explorers got there first, but with far less publicity.  And the whole history of a continent changed forever.

The thing is, it's a bit strange for Americans to complain about what Columbus did.  It's strange, because if he, or someone else, hadn't done it, there wouldn't be any Americans to complain about it.  Everyone you know, unless you're reading this on a reservation (generally speaking), is directly descended from the efforts begun with Columbus.  That's just a fact of life.

I despise what white settlers did to tribes living on their own land, across the whole history of exploration into the Americas, not so much the settlers themselves, but everyone who made it so easy for them to take and take and take, and in the meantime make it seem like the people they were taking all this land from were the bad guys.  Because no, they weren't.  I despise that not only did we take and take and take, but we tried our very best to eradicate, or merely severely marginalize, these tribes, right up to the current day.  As I indicated in a previous post, no one argues Red Lives Matter, and that's because they don't live in the all-important cities where everything of note happens, at least as far as the media is concerned.  Shailene Woodley, the Divergent series actress, was recently arrested protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.  This is merely the most recent in a long series of cultural battles that have nothing to do with buzz topics like gun control or terrorism, but have nonetheless been at the forefront of American life for centuries.

And yet, none of it means anything, and still we have people who otherwise claim Columbus Day should be a thing of the past.  Listen, I think every sports team with a Native American theme should rename itself.  Lately I've been referring to the team that just beat the Red Sox in the playoffs as Francona's Cleveland because I don't want to call them anything else.  These were all teams that were named early in the last century, when we'd finally "won the war" against the tribes that had the nerve to exist and demand any modicum of rights and dignity.

It's really about American self-esteem, American self-loathing, our collective inability to face the ugly truths about our past, not to mention our present.  So we invent distractions and allow ourselves to be fooled by straw arguments, when any idiot who gave any of it more than a second's thought could see how ridiculous it all is.  We can't even have Thanksgiving without people saying it can't possibly represent even the suggestion that anyone could get along back then, much less now.  It makes me far more ashamed to be an America to think of this than how terrible this election season has been.  But it's all related; we've never tried to work it out, just bury it. 

Except, the past is prologue.  We always seem to forget that, don't we?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

877. I legitimately haven't made up my mind yet about the election

I don't really like either candidate.  This is not a unique position.  Plenty of people like me have chosen to support a third party.  But who are we kidding?  None of them has a chance to win.  The leading contender, Gary Johnson, keeps betraying deep international ignorance.  There's also Jill Stein, but then there's also your neighbor, who you could vote for as a write-in, if you were so inclined.  Or Mickey Mouse.  I mean, Disney is pretty popular these days, right?

Trump is the consummate businessman, Clinton the consummate politician.  That's really all you need to know about either of them.  Strip everything else away, the specifics about what they've said or done, whatever their triumphs might be and of course their gigantic mistakes, how they conducted themselves in the first debate, all of it.  I think anyone can agree with that assessment: this is a battle between the two ruling classes of this country, the business people and the politicians.

I think we can agree that the country needs some work.  Both of them do.  Of course they do.  The only thing that bothers me is the persistent media insistence that Clinton is the obvious choice.  The media exists to be objective.  Theoretically, anyway.  If Clinton were such an obvious choice, it wouldn't be so easy to disagree.  It's not just diehard partisans and conspiracy theorists who think she isn't so easy to root for.  This is the not the basis for an argument.  You can't just say the other side is a poopyhead.  That's grade school reasoning, and I'll thank you to raise the bar of your self-worth before addressing anything adults might be considering before addressing the topic.

Because as adults, we owe it to ourselves to make reasoned decisions.  I get that we have a two-party system, and that most people tend to side with one of them, and that as a result they despise the other one.  I'm registered as independent.  Always have been.  I despise partisan politics.  Always have.  This country's history is a tapestry of partisanship.  George Washington was referred to as King George.  I kid you not.  People got fed up with Virginian politicians and Boston brahmans.  So we ended up with Andrew Jackson, a man so thoroughly likable and also so thoroughly incompetent that he sent the nation into a financial quagmire for decades, and we thank him by putting him on the $20 bill.  That's the kind of people we are.  We're basically idiots.  We're a nation of idiots, and happily so.  We're incredibly passionate about everything, no matter how stupid our opinions are, just so long as there are other idiots supporting us.

That's how we got Trump and Clinton as candidates for president.  This would hardly be the first time we've had less than ideal options.  The list of presidents is littered with incompetents.  We also thought Lincoln was incompetent, by the way.  We voiced this opinion loudly throughout the Civil War, right here in the Union (where we technically all reside today, thanks to him).  The famous anecdote about the Gettysburg Address is that he wasn't even the keynote speaker, and Lincoln's future historic speech was little noted that day (heh).  It took his assassination, and a lot of follow-up incompetence in the White House, for us to realize what we had with him.

Because we hardly ever know what we have.  We're too busy shouting our idiot opinions to stop and think what they actually indicate, about ourselves, our times, and least of all what history might say about us.

History is a fickle bitch.  The play Hamilton is a noble and worthy artistic achievement, but it also plays fast and loose with Alexander Hamilton's legacy, who he was, how he found a place for himself, and what led to the fatal shootout with Aaron Burr.  You'd expect the man to have been destined to shape the country into something truly great, instead of what we actually got.  Listen, a lot of Founding Fathers went on to become president, and none of them were universally loved, even amongst themselves. 

The United States of America is a unique creation.  It's continually a work in progress.  We find ourselves in an election that seems destined to put it in a new direction.  But I say, as I've suggested in the past, neither of these candidates will be the cause for change.  Actually, they will be.  We don't like either one.  This is hardly likely to change once they're elected.  But it will force us to think more carefully about who we want to elect next time.  Because I don't think any of us wants a repeat of this campaign season, and it's somewhat safe to say whoever's elected this November, they're destined to be a one-term president (hopefully).

The thing is, this exact thing happens every campaign season.  We allow ourselves to be suckered into partisan politics because it's supposed to make things easier.  In reality, it just keeps things in a holding pattern.  That truly is the American way.

No, I haven't made up my mind yet.  Despite how despicable they are, in their separate ways, Trump and Clinton both offer things that could incrementally benefit the country.  A vote for Clinton is essentially a vote for Obama's vision of America.  If you think Obama was a pretty decent president, Clinton's your woman.  (The historic nature of a woman as president has its own unique appeal.)  If you think four more years would be enough to fix glaring oversights from the last administration, even, vote Clinton.  The checks and balance system worked pretty well the last time a Clinton was president.  If you think the last eight years have seen a lot of egregious mistakes, Trump is your man.  There's really not a simpler way to explain him.  That's how Obama was elected, plain and simple.  Again, the checks and balance system would curb Trump's worst impulses.  We know this.  Put rhetoric aside.  Stop letting the pessimists convince you.  I understand pessimism.  Most of the time, I'm a pretty pessimistic guy, but this isn't a time for pessimism.  If you think Trump's worse impulses are themselves not worth supporting, then by all means don't take him seriously.  If you think Clinton doesn't have a decent enough record, then by all means don't take her seriously.  But one of them is going to be president. 

You have to weigh a lot of things, and above all keep things in perspective.  Don't allow yourself to be convinced by rhetoric.  Presidencies don't succeed on rhetoric.  There's a reason history still doesn't think Kennedy was a great president, because the best of him was essentially rhetoric.  Presidencies are what happen once you're in office, not what you said on the campaign trail or in your best speeches.  Anyone who says differently is just trying to get elected.  ("Read my lips;" still one of the cheapest campaign tricks I ever saw, those ads.)  The realities of the office are very different from what you tell your supporters.  It suddenly becomes far less easy to tell what the right thing is.

Kind of like being a voter.  That's why we have these ridiculous campaign seasons to begin with, to try and come to a reasoned decision.  Anyone who decided last year, or four years ago, or twenty years ago, isn't taking their responsibility seriously.  There are too many distractions for anyone to make up their mind that easily.  If you're depending on what other people are saying to choose your candidate, then you're not doing it right.  If you're depending on what the candidates are saying about each other, then you're not doing it right. 

Try to be objective about it.  That's what I'm trying really hard to do right now.  I registered as an independent.  That's got to mean something.  I realize most people are registered to one of the two major parties, or are trying to get smaller ones off the ground.  Most of them have already made up their mind.  I can't do that.  I'd like to think more people are capable of reaching their own conclusions, too.  It's a messy process.  So's democracy.  Clearly.  This is exactly what it looks like.  It totally sucks.  But there you have it. 


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