Anthony Bourdain, the famous world traveler, chef and Parts Unknown host was found dead in his room at Le Chambard, a luxury hotel in eastern France. The cause of death was hanging and local prosecutor, Christian de Rocquigny du Fayel said there was, “no reason to suspect foul play.”
Another tragic loss to suicide. I did not know Mr. Bourdain personally, but like most folks, I knew all about his world travels from his really fantastic CNN show - Parts Unknown.
I certainly don’t know what haunted Mr. Bourdain enough to take his own life so I won’t speculate. He leaves behind him a daughter, family, friends and legions of fans. It’s odd to think, “But he seemed like he was so happy - on TV!” Right? We like to think that we know people because we see them on TV, or in films, or through social media. We don’t.
His death, it seems has shocked Mr. Bourdain’s friends and colleagues. Usually, there are warning signs of depression and / or other things before an apparent suicide attempt. It really sounds, from what I’ve read, that no one had any idea he was suffering from whatever it was that drove him to take his own life.
Mr. Bourdain’s long time girlfriend, the actress, activist Asia Argento released a quick statement saying he was, “my love, my rock, my protector … I am beyond devastated.” Condolences seem to be coming in from all over the world which shows the vast reach of lives Mr. Bourdain has touched.
While suicide, or even a high suicide rate is nothing new in densely populated cities. In the US, the suicide rate has dramatically risen, with some states having an increase of 30% over previous decades. Nevada was the only state to report a decline (of 1%) while North Dakota reported a staggering increase of 57%. The report finds all sorts of factors as the cause - mental health, public health, addiction, alcoholism, economic hardship - to name a few. Just last week the fashion industry lost Kate Space who was unknown to me but was something of an icon in her field. And today we’ve lost Anthony Bourdain. Sadly, we all know it won’t be long before we lose someone else.
And suicide makes people - angry at the victim. And I understand. Bourdain’s long time friend, actress Rose McGowan broke down crying in a now deleted clip where she flat out screams at him that she’s “So mad at you.” Suicide is selfish. And I would probably feel the same way if a close friend of mine committed suicide. But I find it hard to judge someone I don’t know. So all I feel about Mr. Bourdain’s suicide is a tinge of sadness at a life lost too soon. He was only 61 years old and he certainly had a lot more to offer the world. Or maybe he didn’t. We just don’t know the struggles people face.
And so I can only offer the exact thing that everyone else is offering. Words.
Anthony Bourdain - Rest in peace.
Roseanne Barr goes on a Twitter rant and acts like a lunatic!
Not exactly news though, since she’s been a lunatic for at least ten years. Barr uses Twitter and other social media platforms to spread all manner of idiocy. That being said, she does indeed have the constitutional right to say such lunacy and spread such idiocy.
Also, we all know that her free speech right does not protect her from consequences. And today her lunatic rant has gotten her huge hit of a TV show - cancelled! (There is no sarcasm there, either. Her show was a ratings juggernaut for ABC).
It all started early this morning when, on Twitter (in a now deleted Tweet), Roseanne, while referring to Valerie Jarrett, an African American former Obama aide, wrote, “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”
Well, ABC wasted little time with a reply and two hours later publicly cancelled the Roseanne revival despite its huge ratings. ABC wrote:
“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.”
Barr quickly deleted the Tweet but the damage had already been done. Screenshots of it can be found all over the internet (here it is on TMZ). Her cast mates and the show producers quickly fell all over themselves condemning Barr’s words. One of them even quit - Wanda Sykes said she would not return to the show. Of course, that’s all moot now the show has been cancelled, but still. It’s nice to see.
Barr tried to pull the ol’ “It’s a joke” instead of offering an apology. And I agree with her here. It was a joke. She’s a comedian, comedians make jokes. That makes sense. It’s just that - this was a particularly racist joke. Barr should have the right to say it. And she does. And now there are consequences. Which is great!
Not so great for the entire cast and crew who just lost their jobs because Roseanne is a lunatic racist. But still - a step in the right direction if you ask me. Roseanne did get around to offering an apology writing on Twitter:
“I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me-my joke was in bad taste. I am now leaving Twitter.”
Meh, no big loss to Twitter.
Anyway, I should at least note I’ve not watched a single episode of the Roseanne show, ever. I’ve heard it actually did a decent job of tackling socio-economic issues. I don’t know one way or another and so I don’t really have a dog in this fight other than - I am happy to read that there are some things more important to ABC executives than money. The Roseanne revival made ABC piles of cash! But racism should get you fired every time and so ABC made the right call.
Well played ABC!
Without including a single player or union rep, the NFL has finally decided on a formal policy in regards to player protests during the National Anthem. NFL owners have decreed that players must stand during the anthem to show “respect;” however, there is an option for players to remain in the locker room.
Also, each team will be able to decide if there should be any discipline for a player protesting on the field during the anthem. Finally, the NFL will be able to fine a team (not a player) if any of the team’s said players protest on the sideline.
So, if a player decides to protest he can do so in the locker room where no one is watching. But if the player decides to come onto the field during the anthem and protests - the NFL fines the team and the team decides if there is any punishment for the player.
I have mixed feelings about the policy. On one hand, the NFL is a company and the players are employees within. And, in a regular business setting the company has the right to determine specific policies that employees must adhere to - dress code, workplace conduct, tardiness policies, etc, etc. Let’s face it, if your boss tells you that you have to wear a tie - and you decide to never wear ties - don’t be surprised when you’re fired. Because, a company should have some rights in deciding how their employees represent the company.
On the other hand, the NFL protesters are, by and large - black folks. And NFL owners are, by and large - white dudes. Which means we now have yet another policy where white dudes tell black folks what is appropriate for them to do and not to do. Which, is kind of tiresome. (Also, racist and gross.) And I'm not even getting into the inherent idea that, a person in a truly free society doesn't need to "respect the flag." Someone with the right of free speech is allowed, legally, to not stand and be forced to "respect the flag." It is literally their constitutional right to chose to stand or not, or to sing the anthem or not, and / or to show "respect" for the flag / anthem - or not. I am using a common sense attachment to the word "respect" but, yes, we could also quibble about "what does respect mean, anyway?"
On the other hand, again, as employees of the NFL, the company might be within their rights to say, "As employees of our company - you must stand and sing the national anthem." On the other hand it's not like the NFL has any competition. So, let's say a player says, "Well, free speech is in the constitution and therefor legal, and if your company policy takes away that right from me - then I quit and I'll take my talents elsewhere!" It's not like they can work at some other professional American football league. Their options are kind of limited.
I've already seen the Facebook rage begin. Even on my feed I have friends railing against the ruling and calling for an NFL boycott. I mean, first there was the ludicrous idea that the NFL was going to impose a 15 yard penalty on any team kneeling for the anthem. Which produced some online rage. Thankfully, it looks like that idea was shot down. But still - the very idea of it is insulting to reasonable thought. And now the idea that players can be fined - for exercising their constitutional rights - is burning some folk's britches. And I totally understand.
On the other hand - players are employees of a company who should have some say in how their employees represent them. Maybe. Right? Or is the policy too far? I honestly don't know. Some folks on Facebook clearly think they have the answer. Maybe they're right!
Or maybe they're overreacting.
Anyway, I hate to be wishy washy on the policy but I have mixed feelings about it. To be clear - I don't have mixed feelings about the obvious racial component. The new NFL policy is absolutely designed to make white Americans feel more comfortable watching the NFL. I mean, let's face it - if there is one thing that scares the F out of many white people, it's black folks exercising their constitutional rights and pushing for social change.
I mean, peacefully protesting by kneeling quietly during the national anthem seems pretty benign, right? This probably shouldn't even be a national issue. But it is. Such is the 'Murica we currently find ourselves in.
To be honest, I prefer the NFL's previous policy of - players are free to exercise their free speech. Or not. It's up to them. And I hate the racial component of this policy but I keep getting stuck on - but the NFL is a company and the company should be allowed some say in how their employees represent - the company. But the rage is building and I honestly don't expect the NFL to keep this policy.
I guess we'll see what happens now.
The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) had this to say about the new policy:
The NFL’s full policy statement:
The 32 member clubs of the National Football League have reaffirmed their strong commitment to work alongside our players to strengthen our communities and advance social justice. The unique platform that we have created is unprecedented in its scope, and will provide extraordinary resources in support of programs to promote positive social change in our communities.
The membership also strongly believes that:
1. All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
2. The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the Anthem.
3. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the Anthem has been performed.
4. A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
5. Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
6. The Commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.
Holy wow, Batman! “This is America” is sophisticated, genius art!
But I’ll get back to that.
First I just want to say that, oftentimes music and movies are too quickly labeled “genius” or “art,” simply because they are created. And if something is created it must be - art. Especially if it’s created by someone we adore! Well - maybe. But not all movies are art, nor do they try to be. The same, I think it could be said, is true for music.
And then there is the much maligned “music video.” A truly lost form of expression. Well, not “lost” exactly but certainly ramped way down from the 90’s heydays where music companies paid to produce music videos because, “If you don’t have a video - you don’t have a hit!”
Remember, MTV used to have two full channels dedicated to music video. Not so much any longer. Nowadays, rich musicians use their own money to finance their own music videos and take the loss in hopes that increased publicity from said video, will lead to higher sales and more clicks on YouTube (or similar stream channels,) which also brings in the bacon.
And then we come to Childish Gambino’s “This is America.” For those that don’t know, Childish Gambino is the musical stage name for freakishly talented Donald Glover - actor, writer, producer (no relation to actor Danny Glover). Gambino actually has several music videos out, most of them cleverly written with semi humorous, semi serious tones. And, for my taste - with mixed results.
So, this weekend, when I heard the crushing throng of folks talking about Gambino's “This is America,” I was skeptical. I mean, Glover’s talent is self evident. His writing is fantastic, his comedic timing is spot on, he’s going to be BADASS as Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Star Wars Solo film. (But that’s just a prediction. That will totally become truth!)
Anyway. Again, I was a bit skeptical because - as much a fan of Glover’s as I am in regard to his writing and acting, I am lukewarm on his music.
And then I watched “This is America.” Dear Bloody God was my skepticism misplaced!
As a song - “This is America” has choir melodies and trap rhythms that blend incredibly well together. The writing is blistering social critique from all angles of race. But as a video - it’s a work of genius art.
Movies, and music video are a world of images and imagery. “Show, don’t tell” is the most commonly used phrase told to young directors - “Show your audience what is happening - don’t have characters tell the audience what happened or is happening!” Show your visuals. Show your imagery. This is, after all, a visual medium.
And “This is America” drips with important imagery beginning with (but certainly not limited to) Gambino’s Jim Crow comparison. The NY Times has a nice collection of writers from all over the country commenting on the video’s imagery. And since the imagery is critical to understanding the video, I urge viewers to read into some alternate theories into the “meaning” behind Gambino’s “This is America.”
“You never know what’s in the head of an artist unless they tell you. So we have to interpret and sometimes we get it right. I did go out and read some of the critiques from various people and they’re just all over the place. I like it. I like it because, quite frankly, I like any art that pushes intelligent discussions about racism. Any art that pushes that is good for this country.”
In all his points here, I agree wholeheartedly. I would also add that in order to be “great art”, it has to have the capacity to scare people. And “This is America” is doing just that - angering & scaring folks of all races, all over the country. That being said, the positive praise far outweighs the negative. The video has a crushing amount of fervent supporters. Count myself among the supporters.
But if you watch the video and you “just don’t get it” or even if you hate it - that’s okay too. Great art, such as this, can handle the criticism. I would urge you to read up more on the history of the imagery Then watch the video again, watch the sharply directed & choreographed obfuscations in the foreground and the background and take note of the loving treatment guns receive juxtaposed with the cold indifference of dead black bodies.
“This is America” is a really great, and important work.
I am certainly not alone in my thoughts. In less than one week, “This is America” has racked up more than 65 million hits on YouTube alone. And so, like this upcoming fact I am about to drop, or not but - “This is America” will go down as one of the greatest music videos ever produced.
Maybe even the greatest.
And that title will be well deserved.
Former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested Tuesday evening in Sacramento after DNA matched him to evidence found at multiple crime scenes from the 70’s and 80’s. Authorities have now positively identified DeAngelo as the infamous East Area Rapist, aka, the original Night Stalker (as opposed to Richard Ramirez, who is generally now referred to as “the Night Stalker).
Between the mid 70’s and into the 80’s a string of rapes, assaults and murders happened up and down the Bay Area, mostly near the Sacramento area but stretching as far south as Irvine. Then, sometime around the mid 80’s - they stopped but not before (at least) twelve people were murdered and more than 50 women had been raped. But because they suddenly stopped in 1986, the case of the Golden State Killer has remained unsolved for nearly four decades.
Writer Michelle McNamara, late wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, wrote “I’ll Be Gone In the Dark” (a phrase the killer said to one of his victims), a well received book about the East Area Rapist, dubbing him the “Golden State Killer.”
Apparently, McNamara had a minor obsession about the case and spent years researching and writing the book. She died of cancer before completing the manuscript. Her husband, with the help of a few investigators, finished the book last year and published.
Police, for some insecure reason, quickly point out that Michelle McNamara’s true crime novel had nothing to do with their arrest. Oswalt had a few things to say about that on twitter, writing:
“It did, but #MichelleMcNamara didn’t care about getting any shine on herself. She cared about the #GoldenStateKiller being behind bars and the victims getting some relief. She was Marge Gunderson in FARGO, not Chilton in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.”
In a later tweet, adding:
“Also, the cops will NEVER and HAVE NEVER credited a writer or journalist for helping them solve a case. But every time they said #GoldenStateKiller they credited the work of #MichelleMcNamara and #IllBeGoneInTheDark.”
I don’t know if they have NEVER credited a writer or journalist but, he’s probably close to the truth. For a decades old unsolved serial rapist / murder case that has been cold for thirty years, keeping it in the public eye is important. Her book may not have solved the case, but it probably woke someone up to do - something.
And then, suddenly - authorities uncover DNA evidence! Remember, DNA testing was not around in the mid 70’s when the crimes happened and therefore is not even available from the majority of the crime scenes in question; however, there was enough found to link DeAngelo to multiple crime scenes including, at least, two murders.
I’m happy to hear the words, “The Golden State Killer has been caught” and am elated to know DeAngelo will spend the rest of his life behind bars. But I can’t help feel bittersweet because he got away with it for so long that, well - he basically got away with it. I mean, California doesn’t have the death penalty so, here he is, a 72 year old man that will go to jail and receive free meals, free health care and will probably only live another ten years. I want more punishment for him. I want the best years of his life taken from him as he rots in jail. Alas, justice has to settle for robbing him only of his senior years.
Anyway. The East Area Rapist, the Golden State Killer, the Original Night Stalker has finally been arrested and, I’m sure he will die in jail. And so I hope it brings his victims some peace and, from a few of the accounts I’ve read - it has.
So at least, there’s that.
Oh, how a few days of extremely bad press will get a CEO to do the right thing. Last week the Midwest was bombarded with another snow storm and several states slowed down. And I mean, everything pretty much ground to a halt. Especially the airports. Flights were cancelled all day long while the gods above sent two feet of snow to cover our Midwest lands.
Sun Country Airlines is based out of Eagan, MN and, just like all the other airlines affected by the snowstorm, they had to cancel flights for a variety of reasonable issues - employees couldn’t get to work, planes couldn’t take off, visibility issues, landing issues, etc, etc.
That’s not news. That’s just what happens when twenty four inches of snow blows up your state. The specific hot water Sun Country found themselves drowning in is related to about 250 passengers that the Airlines left stranded in Mexico following the blizzard. Apparently, the flights scheduled to carry the Americans home were the “last flights of the season” and they refused to extend their schedule or pay for the fuel to send another flight to bring the stranded passengers home and sent them a, “We’ll refund your ticket price but we’re not coming to get you. You’ll have to find another way home. Good luck!”
I mean. Wow. Just think about that. Sun Country Airlines actually told their customers that not only was the airlines leaving them stranded in a foreign country but it wasn’t even going to offer to assist them finding new flights home.
I don’t know about you but now that I know Sun Country will leave me stranded in a foreign country for reasons - I will not ever give them my money. Like, never. Ever.
Obviously, the customers turned to the social media to vent. Many of them had to spend thousand of extra dollars to buy a last second ticket in order to get home. Sun Country’s reimbursement for the tickets customer’s had already bought will, like all returns, take several days to process. But even once a customer received their refund for their original ticket - no way will it cover the cost of purchasing a last second brand new ticket.
And then both MN Senators send letters to Sun Country Airlines demanding an explanation and the customer relations nightmare began. Well it took a couple days but the social media blitz worked. Sun Country, after suffering horrendous amounts of negative press and loss of business - is going to do the right thing.
Funny how that works, huh? Sun Country made a business decision to not spend money on fuel to send new empty flights to go pick up stranded passengers because it wouldn’t be “cost effective” and now have lost incalculable amounts of money through negative coverage and bad will against the company.
Sun Country’s brand new CEO, Jude Bricker sent out a company wide email a few days after the idiotic decision he made to strand the passengers in the first place. The email is overly long and defensive, you can read the full text here but it’s very nauseating to read that condescending "corporate speak" sorry / not sorry apology. The gist of it though is, “But hey, we did some things right and our contract says we technically don’t have to do anything for you if you’re stranded. So, I mean - there’s that. And we can’t control the weather. You know? And some of our flights got home. So that’s good - we rock! I guess we need to work on our customer communication. Maybe that might be a super tiny (not really big deal at all) issue. I’m not saying it’s a problem though! But, maybe, like - a tiny, tiny, tiny issue. So, we’ll reimburse SOME of the costs that customers spent getting home. Sun Country Airlines forever!”
Sorry Bricker. You lost me for life. If they fire you. Maybe I’ll come back. But don’t hold your breath.
Update 4/20/18: MoviePass has updated their terms of service, which is explained below.
A few months ago I wrote Movie Pass: What is it (and is it too good to be true). At the time I wrote that piece I didn’t actually have MoviePass but I had ordered one and was waiting for it to arrive.
Well, it arrived and I’ve since used it for two glorious movie filled months! For those not in the know:
When I bought MoviePass it was a subscription service where you pay a monthly fee (usually $9.99) and then you can use your MoviePass card to see one free movie every day but they have recently updated their terms of service. New subscribers are limited to one movie per week and a maximum of four movies per month. If you are a new subscriber you also receive a free subscription to iheartradio all access.
Wait, seriously? That sounds too good to be true.
Yes. Seriously. MoviePass is totally legit! Since I received my MoviePass card in the mail on Friday, February 16th, here are the movies I’ve seen with it:
Ready Player One
Pacific Rim 2
A Quiet Place
I even kept track of how much each ticket would have cost had I not been using MoviePass - $126. I actually bought a full year subscription which gave me a discount ($7.95 per month) and a one time sign up fee of $20. So my total cost up front was approx. $120. Alas, that deal is no longer available. The new deal is nice but just not as good as those of us folk who have subscribed for a while.
I have now made my money back and still have another ten months on my subscription.
But you don’t have to pay all that money up front. You can sign up for the monthly subscription at $9.95 per month and cancel any time. But you should know if you cancel you can’t sign up for MoviePass for nine months.
But, wait - how is MoviePass sustainable?
Fair question! The average ticket price across America is somewhere in the $8.50 range so if a typical MoviePass customer attends the cinema twice per month - MoviePass loses money! And they have been losing money this last quarter claiming a $150 million loss. If that sounds like a lot of money to you (it does to me) that doesn't seem to phase the CEO of movie pass who says that they have enough start up money to operate well into 2019 when they expect to be profitable. (Of course, what else is the CEO going to say?) I guess I am reminded of Amazon - which lost money for a staggering six years in a row before turning a profit. I don't understand how that's possible but there it is.
So, how does MoviePass plan to survive?
Well, they've already raised the money so they're not going anywhere - just yet.
Second, MoviePass has 2 million subscribers. Third - MoviePass is the only company that can tell theaters exactly who and when people are going to the movies. This is valuable information for theater chains to have and it has led studios to pay MoviePass to advertise specific films through the MoviePass app.
Finally, MoviePass will sell your data in some situations but they are very open about it on their website saying,
“Except where outlined in this policy or otherwise communicated to you, we will not sell, rent or disclose your personal information to third parties without notifying you of our intent to do so. In such an event, Users will be notified in advance, giving you the opportunity to prevent your personal information from being shared.”
Finally, concessions. MoviePass, as of yet, does not get a cut of concessions but they are certainly pursuing that option. It is no secret that theater chains make the overwhelming majority of their money selling concessions. For example, that $12 bucket of popcorn you buy at the theater cost the theater chain about five cents. That, my friend, is a lot of profit.
And if MoviePass can demonstrate that it is driving customers to the theaters, customers that would not normally attend - why not cut them in? I am proof positive that MoviePass is driving me to the theater. And I am proof positive that I will NOT go to a theater that does not accept MoviePass.
Of the thirteen movies I have seen with MoviePass I bought concession twice. Which, to be honest, is probably unusually low for a typical consumer. I suspect the average cinema attendee buys concessions closer to fifty percent of the time. Maybe higher.
MoviePass has already shown the theater chains that it is driving about 5% of moviegoers to the theater but when MoviePass promotes a specific film that percentage jumps up to 20%.
Studios and theater chains are taking notice. MoviePass currently has approx. 2 million subscribers but if they can get that number up to four or five million that will be a game changer for them.
What about their lousy customer service?
Yeah, I read all about that too. When MoviePass jumped from a few hundred thousand subscribers to 1.5 million (in the span of about a month) they had serious delays in meeting demand. I mean, they still have to produce and ship an actual card to your house. It’s not just an app.
They just didn’t have the manpower to keep up with the sudden demand. They also didn’t have the manpower to respond to emails and phone calls.
Mitch Lowe, the CEO of MoviePass sat down with CNN money and discussed this very problem. Basically he was like, “Yeah, our customer service sucked for a while but we’re working on it.”
And they did. I signed up for MoviePass and recieved my card in about a week. It takes me all of fifteen seconds to use the app and check in to the theater and access my free movie. The only minor hoops you have to jump through:
These are very minor hoops and I have not had a single issue with MoviePass. It is a totally legit service and I will use it until the end of days!
To learn more about MoviePass and / or to sign up for the service, visit their site here.
Update 4/20/18: MoviePass has updated their terms of service. If you purchased a MoviePass before today's date you continue to receive your one movie a day plan. If you purchase a MoviePass starting today, their new plan allows one free movie per week (total of four per month) and comes with a free three month subscription to iheartradio all access. This is still a great deal but, sadly, not the awesomely phenomenal deal I wrote about when I put this story up last week. With the new change I would recommend you purchase the month to month plan and receive the free iheartradio subscription. You will be billed for the first three months and then billed quarterly. Hold off on buying the full year subscription. But for now - at $9.95 a month for one movie a week MoviePass remains a good deal!
Spielberg's new film, Ready Player One, is based on the once loved, now often ridiculed or outright disliked novel of the same name written by Ernest Cline. The novel is unread by me but I understand the premise. And I’ve seen the movie now which probably means all the good parts of the book have been spoiled for me.
The novel, from what I understand, is a nostalgic, geek lore Easter egg hunt oft criticized for being fun but not exactly a writing masterpiece, but whatever. The reader was bombarded with nostalgic, nerdy, geek references from the 80’s. And that nostalgic weight carried RPO on to the NYT best seller list for a long time.
And now Steven Spielberg, the man directly responsible for much of our actual 80’s pop culture and nostalgic geeky moments has his new movie! So what is it about?
“In the year 2045, people can escape their harsh reality in the OASIS, an immersive virtual world where you can go anywhere, do anything, be anyone-the only limits are your own imagination. OASIS creator James Halliday left his immense fortune and control of the Oasis to the winner of a contest designed to find a worthy heir. When unlikely hero Wade Watts conquers the first challenge of the reality-bending treasure hunt, he and his friends-known as the High Five-are hurled into a fantastical universe of discovery and danger to save the OASIS and their world.”
Okay. Fair enough. Dystopian world - bad. Super cool VR world - good! That premise seems Spielberg enough. And, for the most part the movie is charming, nostalgic, good fun. With only a single swear word (one delightfully placed F bomb) the movie is standard Spielbergian Hollywood family entertainment and kids of all ages will probably dig it. RPO has at least two beautiful action sequences and one perfectly recreated set piece from a beloved horror film (which I suspect will go down as the one truly great scene of the film).
Anyway. I like RPO. To get that out of the way. I was hoping to love it, I was worried I was going to hate it but - no, I like it. That being said, despite all its stunning technical charm, the movie is a little shallow and the characters are poorly drawn and one dimensional.
Right now let’s focus on the good in RPO. Remember the scene in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King where Legolas kills the Oliphant? Well, the technology was there to … well … make it look like a CGI Legolas awkwardly bouncing around on a giant moving elephant and finally sliding down its trunk. Despite my dislike of the scene, the CGI isn’t quite capable of pulling that off perfectly. Things don’t look entirely real. It kind of gets the job done. I guess. We get what was going on. The oliphant looks good but the motion of Legolas is just - bizarre and not based in real world physics.
Well, those days are gone! The CGI is now there and the work in RPO is stunning. Movement and motion of all CGI (and / or motion captured) characters are flawless. RPO effortlessly blends realistic looking monsters and creatures with virtual looking avatar figures and their realistic looking weapons, vehicle and gear.
The scavenger hunt / investigation portions of the film are as entertaining as the action. Nothing slows the pace of the film. The moments of humor all work and we easily understand the motivations off the lead protagonists, (Ty Sheridan and Olivia Cooke) and the story’s main antagonist (Ben Mendelsohn). If you are looking for beautiful looking family friendly action - RPO is your movie.
But it’s not exactly a sophisticated think piece - and it doesn’t have to be! But RPO is a bit hollow at its core for me to love it. Casting is a slight issue. Ty Sheridan plays lead Wade / Parzival. Sheridan was a fairly accomplished child actor and has turned into a totally adequate teen actor. He will not fuck your scene up. Nor will he take a poorly drawn character and breath true life into it. And Wade, as a character is … you know. Fine. Except for that one thing (which I’ll get to later).
Which is the polar opposite of wunderkind Olivia Cooke who wowed me a couple of weeks ago in Thoroughbreds. Watching that film I kept thinking, “Who the F is this incredible actress and where did she come from?” From many things it turns out, but most famously from Bates Motel. Cooke is great and watching the film I couldn’t help but wonder how fantastic a lead she would have been if they switched the genders of Wade / Samantha. (Imagine the nerd rage). Sadly, Cooke’s character, Samantha / Art3mis is a little underdrawn and mainly acts as a prize for Wade to win.
Of the additional three supporting cast - Aech gets the most virtual time with Daito and Sho rounding out the High Five (as they call themselves). But once we meet them in the real world they just kind of stand around. One of them drives a van. Not exactly the stuff of supporting cast legends.
But if you were to say, “But the story is about Wade! He is the only one that has to be a fully realized character!”
Fair enough. But do we really need yet another tent pole Hollywood blockbuster featuring a white male lead who is backed up by his super hot white trophy prize girl friend with a couple of people of color in the background who don’t get to do much other than stand around and be people of color? Steven Spielberg virtually has the clout to do anything he wants in regards to his film. Perhaps he could have pushed a little on this point.
The other main issue I have is the lack of real world empathy our lead, Wade, seems to have. There is a brutal tragic event in the film (which I will not spoil) that should leave Wade, at the very least - affected!
But no. Not so much. The very next scene Wade is ready to Game On!
It seems to me that there is a great movie somewhere in RPO or maybe it’s all there on the cutting room floor. But instead of delivering that, Spielberg delivered the safest movie possible.
And it’s a very fine safe movie. There are things I like. I honestly believe that most folks who see it will enjoy it. The visual spectacle is such an eye feast that I might actually see it again. Perhaps I will warm up to the supporting cast a bit more. Perhaps not.
Ready Player One is fun, energetic and totally Spielberg. I just wish it had been a little more, I don’t know - wiser.
Indie darling film director Steven Soderbergh officially “retired” from filmmaking in 2013 but since then has directed HBO’s Behind the Candelabra, Logan Lucky, and now the made in secret Unsane.
I mainly want to talk about Soderbergh’s process and less so review the film. This will be spoiler free for Unsane.
Soderbergh’s had a few mainstream hits like Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brockovich and the Academy Award winning Traffic but mostly he works on under the radar indie experimental films like Out of Sight, The Limey and the Solaris remake.
He’s actually been quite prolific in the last few decades since his debut feature film Sex, Lies and Videotapes wowed audiences at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989, winning multiple awards. He’s directed 30 something features since then and produced (which means he actually worked on producing the film) or executive produced (in where he “puts up the money”) another 30 something movies.
And he continues to experiment. Sometimes he uses non professional actors, sometimes he releases a movie without a marketing campaign, he was the first mainstream director (that I’m aware of) that released a feature film on the theaters and on VOD at the same time. He is often quoted in interviews saying he’s not a storyteller and he doesn’t make movies because he feels he has a story to tell. He makes movies as an exercise in storytelling form. And form is what he plays around with in many of his films, offering unconventional ways of telling his story.
Soderbergh’s 1999 revenge film, The Limey, starring Terrence Malick comes to mind. What could have been a fairly straight forward revenge thriller turns into something quite different with an extraordinary sound design / editing technique employed during the production. The film often uses dialogue clips from previous scenes or flash forward sound clips from future scenes, juxtaposed with the current scene you are watching. This is used primarily to punctuate a scene with emphasis but it also creates a rhythmic sound structure of the film which really has to be seen and heard to fully appreciate. Anyway, my point being - no one else had ever done anything like that and overwhelming critical praise suggests it was quite effective.
And, one would assume, if a director finds something that works, why not use the technique again? Because that’s just not what Soderbergh is interested in. He used his sound juxtaposition as an exercise in form for that one film and then moved on to other experiments.
Which brings me around to Soderbergh’s latest experiment, his newly released film, Unsane, starring Claire Foy (the Queen on Netflix’s The Crown). Soderbergh decided to shoot the entire feature film on the iPhone 7. Now, I know he’s not the first director to do this (but he might be the first "big name" director to do so). There are a handful of films I can think of shot on an iPhone in recent years, 2015’s Tangerine being the most popular, and also the Oscar winning documentary, Searching for Sugar Man.
Actually, Searching for Sugar Man wasn’t entirely shot on an iPhone. Some of it was shot on 8mm film but when the director ran out of film he used iPhone app called 8mm Vintage Camera to finish portions of scenes.
I can see the appeal of shooting on an iPhone. Inexpensive. No clunky rig set-ups, no apple boxes, no grip tape, no ten crew members just to track and push your dolly. Soderbergh acted as director, director of photography and camera operator. And he was able to just follow the actors around with relative ease.
The actors loved it, of course. Without all that excess gear and crew and Soderbergh allowing scenes to go on and on the actors were fully immersed in the scenery and the story.
Claire Foy talks about the process in an interview she gave for Entertainment Weekly:
"The thing I loved about it was that Steven was in the room, he was operating , so it really felt like he was there, watching everything, being part of it, which felt really amazing. I've never had that before … We shot it in 10 days, and it meant Steven had huge amounts of freedom in where he could put the camera, what he could do with the camera, what he could try and then get rid of … He was just experimenting all the time. We shot it entirely chronologically. It just moved. It just moved a lot. And it had an energy, and a rhythm, and a momentum to it that felt fresh, and unrehearsed, and full of life.”
Soderbergh was equally in love with the iPhone shoot telling appleinsider.com:
“I have to say the positives for me really were significant and it's going to be tricky to go back to a more conventional way of shooting. The gap now between the idea and the execution of the idea is just shrinking and this means you get to try out more ideas so I wish I'd had this equipment when I was 15."
Later saying that iPhone's 4K footage looks like "velvet" and calling the device a "game changer."
Well, I’m all for experimentation in art and storytelling. But experimentation doesn’t necessarily mean “good.” And, Unsane, for all its form experimentation - is okay. Unlike 2015’s beautiful looking Tangerine, which does not look like it was shot on an iPhone (but was), Unsane actually looks like it was shot … well … on an iPhone.
The Highlights: It certainly has a gritty, voyeuristic feel to the visuals. It’s almost like you’re watching this awful thing happening in real time on security footage. So, that’s creepy. Which, at times is effect since Unsane is a thriller.
The Lowlights: A standard iPhone doesn’t allow you to play much with deep focus. You can pretty much only create a flat space look. Another problem is that the iPhone lens can’t handle close ups, sadly, it “fish eyes” the edges of the screen rounding them out. Again, sometimes this works but most of the time it just looks ridiculous. The blacks all get crushed and the lights are overly pixelated.
So when Soderbergh says the final product looks like “velvet” I seriously don’t understand what he’s talking about. Unsane, quite literally, looks like your kid brother shot a movie in the basement using his iPhone.
Velvet it is not.
That being said, sometimes the crushed blacks and pixelated lights work in favor to the story. The movie is, after all, about a woman going insane (or is it?).
Unsane is kind of review proof. It’s experimental on so many levels that some folks will just like it for what it is, and some will not. I kind of like a lot of it but I also wish Soderbergh had just used a film camera. Super 16mm would have been perfect for the tone. But using super 16 would have been a story telling choice and not a “form experiment,” which is what Soderbergh wants.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think the problems with Unsane have anything to do with what camera was used. The problems, like the problems with many, many horror films, is that there are too many dopey script choices.
And by dopey, I don’t mean silly because Unsane, to its credit, goes out of its way to be believable and I appreciate the tone of the film.
I could also say bad acting is a problem with many horror films but that’s certainly not anything Unsane has to worry about. All of the actors are quite believable. Even when they’re screeching ridiculous lines.
When “form” isn’t getting in the way, Unsane is as effective as it tries to be. And there are lots of things I admire about the film. But “shot on the iPhone,” isn’t one of them.
Craigslist has just announced they will shut down its hugely popular personals section in response to the Senate passing H.R.1865, FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act).
Posted this morning to their website:
“US Congress just passed HR 1865, “FOSTA,” seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.
Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.
To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!”
Basically, this means that websites such as Craigslist could be held legally responsible for whatever kind of illegal sex work interactions users take part on their website. The problem here being is that much of said sex work is between consenting adults and poses no danger to either party. Sex work should not be a crime.
Yes, of course there are horror stories to be found. There is no end to the amount of violence against women you can find in the country and online. So I understand the general idea behind the bill - to protect women. But, maybe … also … to control women. A little bit. Just sayin.
Best case scenario, this bill is designed to curb the growing online sex traffic industry and some might feel that right there to be a moral victory. And if you feel that way - fine. Have at it. And if it does protect people - that’s great news! Personally, I don’t have a problem with consensual adults engaging in sex acts - paid or otherwise. And neither should the Senate.
If FOSTA was a bill fighting underage sex trafficking that would be another story. Underage sex trafficking is a huge crime and often involves kidnapping, slavery and brutality against children & teenage girls and boys. The Senate should be specifically tackling that issue and not generally going after adult sex workers who may or may not be (but probably are) consenting.
Much has been written about backpage.com and its blatant sex trafficking and many believe FOSTA to be a direct reaction to this site, specifically. But there has been a lot of controversy that backpage.com participates in underage sex trafficking. Again, underage sex trafficking is a serious crime and those caught working in such a field should go to jail for a long time. Or worse.
It does not appear there is evidence that Craigslist was purposely allowing underage sex trafficking on their site. That being said, I understand why Craigslist made the decision they did. They could be held legally actionable if consenting sex workers use their site to find clients. It looks like Reddit altered their “content policy” this morning too, posting:
“We want to let you know that we have made a new addition to our content policy forbidding transactions for certain goods and services. As of today, users may not use Reddit to solicit or facilitate any transaction or gift involving certain goods and services, including:
When considering a gift or transaction of goods or services not prohibited by this policy, keep in mind that Reddit is not intended to be used as a marketplace and takes no responsibility for any transactions individual users might decide to undertake in spite of this. Always remember: you are dealing with strangers on the internet.”
For more about fighting underage sex trafficking visit the unicef page here.
UNICEF - the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund.