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Because a Policy is Wildly Unpopular in America Doesn’t Mean It Won’t Happen


Consumerist’s Worst Company In America for 2014 (you guessed Comcast, didn’t you? – right on!) is trying to get bigger and more powerful. Where is democracy when we need it?

Comcast is trying to merge with another of America’s largest cable and Internet providers, Time Warner Cable. The proposed Comcast-TWC merger would create a juggernaut of a company that almost no one would be able to compete with. The merged company — which will be named Comcast — would control more than two-thirds of all cable television subscriptions in the country, and some 40% of the home Internet market.


Survey after survey shows that Americans wholeheartedly oppose the proposed merger. The latest survey, by Consumer Reports, finds nearly three-quarters of Americans believe it will result in higher cable and Internet rates, while two-thirds say it will likely have a negative impact on customer service and that Comcast would have no incentive to improve.

Let’s recall that Comcast is an enemy of net neutrality, which they underscored by the Netflix shakedown last summer. They are notorious for throttling your Internet connection. Comcast is currently trying to turn user home routers into publicly-accessible hotspots without telling customers. Their prices are too high (but it’s a local monopoly controlled by nobody). And of course their customer “service” is totally evil.

Will the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice roll over and play dead, letting this merger go through? Stay tuned.

More info:
You Thought Comcast Couldn’t Get Any Worse? Think Again
When Your Cable Company Attacks: Why Comcast Abuses Its Customers
Insults directed at consumers are proof that Comcast is rotten to the core.

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Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’

Gargantuan black hole

“Interstellar,” Christopher Nolan’s ninth film, is the most ambitious thing he’s ever done (this is the director of “Inception” we’re talking about here). It’s a $165 million visual masterpiece about an ambitious attempt to save the human race, trapped on a dying Earth. The science is shaky to say the least, and there’s an excess of melodrama IMHO. But it’s well worth seeing. Features include:

  • Big ideas
  • Terrific cast & acting
  • Plenty of plot twists
  • No sound in space (like “2001: A Space Odyssey”)
  • A wormhole to another galaxy
  • Time dilation
  • A gargantuan black hole (which doubles as a plot hole)

And Matthew McConaughey gets to say, “We don’t have time to argue about relativity right now.”


‘Daylight Saving’ – Movie Trailer

This November, they call it Daylight Saving but the thing that needs saving…is us! (via Nacho Punch).

“Daylight Saving” will not be in theaters (I think). So many movie trailers beg the question, “Is this an actual movie or a joke?” The first time I remember thinking that was when I saw the trailer for “The Postman” (1997). More recently, to cite some random examples, trailers for “Snakes on a Plane” (2006), “Battleship” (2012) the movie based on the board game, and “Casa de mi Padre” (2012) made me wonder.

Daniel O’Brien offers this thought:

Some filmmakers are embracing this idea of movies being designed to be consumed ironically, while other filmmakers are just making shitty movies. And the frustrating thing is that there is no observable difference between the two. Once upon a time, I could finish watching a trailer and my only thought would either be “That was good” or “That was bad.” Now, I watch most trailers and I just scratch my head, thinking, “Hey, filmmakers: Did you really mean that? …Is any of this a joke?”

What are your favorite “is this really a movie” trailers?


“Fury” – Best Tank Movie Yet

“Fury” is the best tank movie Hollywood has done to date (“Fury” is the crew’s name for their later-model M4A3E8 Sherman, also known as an “Easy Eight”). Of course, it’s still a Hollywood production; when Brad Pitt takes off his CVC (combat vehicle crewman) helmet, every hair on his head is neatly combed! And while the plot has elements of realism (how many lieutenants have made the mistake of putting their own tank at the head of the column?) it’s way too melodramatic. This film is very violent, as you might expect. Warfare can be horrifying, that’s why soldiers get PTSD.

Like a lot of movies today, the special effects are the best part. The actors do a credible job, especially Brad Pitt as SSGT Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier, and Logan Lerman as Norman Ellison, a clerk-typist newly assigned to the crew of “Fury” (and the guy the audience can identify with, because like most people he’s never seen the inside of a tank before). One thing that’s definitely NOT a special effect is the real German Tiger tank that makes its Hollywood debut (up to now, the “Tigers” you have seen in contemporary feature films have been modified Russian T-34 tanks). This one is an actual Panzerkampfwagen VI.

I had the somewhat bizarre experience of leading a tank platoon across Bavaria as a member of the 2d Armored Division’s 66th regiment (the same unit the fictional Wardaddy was assigned to). Except I did it in 1978, not 1945. We didn’t ask any Germans what they thought of us, because the answer to that question would have to be complicated and hard to understand. As Wardaddy says in the film, “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.”

More info:
Fury (2014) – IMDb


Half of the Country Hasn’t Taken a Vacation Day Yet In 2014

The Go-Go’s – Vacation from Dan Hunter on Vimeo.

h/t Think Progress.

From the travel website Skift:

We asked Americans, using Google Consumer Surveys, “Heading into Fall, how many vacation days have you taken so far this year?” The majority, almost 51 percent, say they haven’t taken a single vacation day in 2014 so far.

About 15 percent of Americans say they have taken more than 10 vacation days this year, while the rest is split between those who took fewer than 5, and those who took between 5-10 vacation days this year.

The other topline result from the breakdown, as you will see in the charts below: Women, young, old,and the lower-income Americans are the ones taking the least amount of vacations.

Of course, nearly 1 in 4 US workers don’t get any paid vacation days.

Nearly a quarter of the American private-sector workforce, some 26 million workers, doesn’t get paid time off, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — compared with less than one-fifth in the 1990s.The United States is the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee paid vacation and one of only 13 countries in the world not to do so, according to the World Policy Analysis Center at the University of California Los Angeles.

The American middle class was great, while it lasted.


‘Game of Thrones’ is Back

Game of Thrones

Season 4 of the best show on TV, “Game of Thrones,” began last night. Normally-evil Comcast actually let their customers watch the premiere episode, “Two Swords,” without having to subscribe to HBO. HBO’s online service, HBO GO, crashed.

The story picked up with the melting down of Ned Stark’s heirloom Valyrian sword “Ice,” and ended with Arya Stark recovering “Needle,” the sword that was stolen from her. In between, we caught up with Dany’s dragons and her army marching towards Meereen. Jaime Lannister is back at King’s Landing, but he’s a changed man and it’s not the same as when he left. His brother Tyrion is trying to cope with the arrival from Dorne of Prince Oberyn (aka the Red Viper), seeking revenge. Jon Snow has returned to Castle Black, carrying a warning of imminent attack by the wildling army of Mance Rayder.

If you haven’t seen “Game of Thrones,” you’re missing one of the best TV series ever.

More info:
Everything You Need To Know For ‘Game Of Thrones’ Season 4

Recap: ‘Game of Thrones,’ Season Four, Episode One: “Two Swords”


Right-Wing Loves Inequality in RL But Not on Movie Screens


“Elysium,” Director Neill Blomkampf’s dystopian vision of a 2154 where the poor (including Matt Damon) are condemned to live on the planet-wide shantytown on the Earth’s surface, while the rich dwell in comfort on an orbiting space station is inspiring a right-wing freakout.

Newsmax attacked the film for being “sci-fi socialism.” Rush Limbaugh denounced “Elysium” as “a full-fledged anti-capitalist, pro-socialism movie.”

Breitbart News claims the movie is chock full of decidedly 2013-era liberal propaganda on issues including illegal immigration and universal health care.

“Particularly towards the end, the political messages are just so overt, I don’t know how you can watch it without thinking of current events and connecting the dots that the director obviously intended to connect,” says Breitbart’s Christian Toto.

“It’s not just hypocritical to say this movie isn’t political, it’s hilarious,” Dan Gainor, VP of Business and Culture at the Media Research Center, told Faux News’ 411. “Filmmakers wear their politics on their sleeves, but it helps their careers to push liberal agendas.”

Roger Schlafly of Eagle Forum argues that both “Elysium” and Brad Pitt’s “World War Z” “seem to be saying that the Earth is being overrun by barbarians, and the only way to preserve a civilized society is to build walls to keep out the intruders, and to kill them when they try to invade.” He claims “Elysium” is “a warning against unrestricted immigration.” He suggests that “World War Z” has a similar message and that its zombie invasion is an allegory for immigration.

Entertainment Weekly opined, “If you are a member of the 1%, ‘Elysium’ is a horror movie. For everyone else, it’s one step shy of a call to arms.”

Sci-fi fans will tell you, good science fiction isn’t really about the future. Like Blomkampf’s first film “District 9,” “Elysium” is a reflection of the present.

UPDATE: Media Matters:

Conservatives aren’t angered by the political subtext they see in Elysium. They’re angry that it’s an accurate portrayal of the world their ideology will ultimately create — and that is a reality they cannot confront.


World’s Fastest Liars/Losers

Glenn Beck vs John Fund collaborate before the Obama win in 2012.

Who won the contest? There were – state of the art – roving cameras covering the event.

Who were those other guys at the keyboards?

Whose skull was that in the Oval Office – looking – scene?

Why, OH WHY, does George Soros keep letting Donald Duck vote?


Kathryn Bigelow’s Torture Movie #1 At Box Office

Zero Dark Thirty

It’s the height of irony that after the CIA illegally destroyed nearly 100 video recordings of torture sessions to avoid being held accountable, the number one movie in American theaters this weekend devotes most of its first hour to a Hollywood re-creation. Director Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-nominated film “Zero Dark Thirty” [Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the film and don’t intend to] turns torture into entertainment:

Those scenes …show terrified, disoriented and bloodied detainees kept awake for days on end by having their arms painfully suspended from the ceilings of secret jails; stuffed into tiny wooden boxes when they don’t cooperate with their inquisitors; and waterboarded on soiled mattresses while interrogators bark questions.

Bigelow ignores both the illegality and immorality of using torture. As if that’s not bad enough, “Zero Dark Thirty” delivers the message that it was CIA torture that led to finding Osama bin Laden’s hiding place in Pakistan. This is factually wrong. The statement “based on first-hand accounts of actual events” is deceptive because it causes the viewer to think the story is accurate, when what it really means is “based on CIA propaganda.”

In reality:

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation program concluded that the CIA did not first learn about the existence of the bin Laden courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques and that the CIA detainee who provided the most accurate information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.

Senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin have requested information and documents related to the CIA’s cooperation in the making of this film, which lies to the American people about one of the most critical issues of the Bush administration: the criminal use of torture by the CIA, for which no one has ever been prosecuted. We know that on many occasions, detainees were tortured to death in secret CIA prisons.

Sony Chairman Amy Pascal tried to refute criticism of “Zero Dark Thirty” by a member of the Oscar voting academy on Friday, saying her studio’s movie “does not advocate torture.” No one has claimed that it does – only that it lies about torture.

UPDATE: Kevin Gosztola on FDL:

[I]t is impossible not to conclude that this film is the kind of production that greatly pleases the national security state especially because it does not question what they do.

…This is the hunt for Bin Laden told with information from officials in government, who have no objection to America’s increased reliance on secret war or covert operations. Bigelow and Boal wanted the information necessary to tell the version of the story that they believed to be true in a way that would garner them high praise. The CIA gave them that while at the same time manipulating them into presenting torture tactics used to create learned helplessness in prisoners as part of the timeline of events that eventually led to Bin Laden. They showed the NSA intercepting communications and the dolly shot past hardware with wires and cords popping out is made completely innocuous and acceptable. A scene shows a video screen with imagery from a drone striking a target and Maya looks on coldly, completely numbed by the lethal use of force.

The filmmakers played their part. They were given access and what Americans are flocking to this weekend is nothing that would alienate the officials they collaborated with and nothing less than a conventional story of revenge on an American enemy.


Sci Fi Overdose In 2013

The future is here, in the form of 20 upcoming sci-fi films. Including long-awaited adaptations of the classic stories Ender’s Game and The Forever War. The list begins with a 2012 release that I missed – maybe it will turn up somewhere.

“Robot and Frank” (2012)
Starring: A robot (Rachael Ma) and Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon and Liv Tyler
Director: Jake Schrier (first feature film)

Frank is an aging ex-convict living alone. To help, Frank’s son (played by James Marsden) buys a robot (with the voice of Peter Sarsgaard) to help around the house and keep the old man company. Frank’s initial suspicion gradually gives way to delight when he discovers that the robot may be able to help him with his criminal exploits.

“Oz The Great And Powerful” (March 8, 2013)
Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz
Director: Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man 3”)

A stage magician is hurled into a fantasy world, and must use his wits to stay ahead of three enchantresses who have plans for him. Based on the novel by L. Frank Baum.

“Oblivion” (April 19)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko
Director: Joseph Kosinski (“Tron Legacy”)

Jak Harper is a drone repairman whose longstanding battle with alien invaders is drawing to an end. But when his aircraft lands on a barren Earth one day, his encounter with a mysterious woman named Julia throws everything he thinks he knows about the war into doubt. Based on a graphic novel the director wrote back in 2005.
Read the rest of this entry »

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Les Misérables Reaches into the Depths of your Soul

Here is my critique on the film adaptation of Les Misérables  and answer the criticism some are making of the film. First of all it was by far better than the adaptation of Phantom of the Opera and was much better cast and the emotional resonance was so powerful it would require a stone cold heart for it not to affect you on some level. I don’t always tear up in movies, especially where my family is present with a penchant to tease, but this overwhelmed even the risk of some ribbing and the tears flowed freely throughout the movie. I don’t know why the music and themes affect me so much but they always have from the first time I heard the music and the many times I have seen the stage play.

This was an unbelievably difficult task by director Tom Hooper to adapt a stage musical to the screen and not make the movie seem like a stage musical itself but he did it beautifully while remaining faithful to the source material.

The vocals were not perfect but that was the point of the producers to have the actors sing as they acted rather than prerecord the music. It worked with the screen adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera because that music is supposed to be grandiose but with Les Miz the music is supposed to carry an emotional punch that would have been difficult with canned music and probably come across too polished and overly produced.

Hugh Jackman was excellent and gave the needed gravitas and emotional grounding of the movie and masterfully presented the themes such as anger, hate, forgiveness, pain, forgiveness, redemption, and saintliness and gave it a gripping realism. Jackman is Jean Valjean.

Anne Hathaway stole the show and if she does not win an Oscar for her portrayal of Fantine it will be the biggest Oscar travesty since Annie Hall beat out Star Wars for Best Picture. Her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream” carried the emotional weight of Susan Boyle on Britains Got Talent.

Samantha Barks made you root for her to get Marius and her rendition of “On My Own” was nearly as good and heart wrenching as Anne Hathaway’s I Dreamed a Dream.

The two Children who played the young Cossette and Gavroche were outstanding. Some complain about giving Gavroche a Cockney accent but of all the times I have watched the stage version he had a strong British accent and it was probably by design. It is not unusual for Hollywood to give the French British accents. The Gavroche character reminded me a lot of the Artful Dodger in Oliver.

As for the Thénardiers I thought they were perfectly cast and gave the movie its much needed comedy relief. I can’t think of anyone else who fit the roles better than Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. It appeared to me the director gave them a lot of leeway.

Russel Crowe did much better than I thought he would so he exceeded my expectations. He brought to the part a coldness but also demonstrated the internal conflict Javert felt when Jean Valjean defied his skeptical view of redemption and his absolutist view of justice.

This is one of those few movies I will be able to see over and over again and never tire of it. Once it is out on Blueray it will be a permanent part of my movie collection up there with my favorites such as The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars (originals), Harry Potter and the Hobbit Movies.

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Les Misérables Isn’t Political – But It Ought to Be

The setting for “Les Misérables” is Occupy Paris – in the 1800s. The heroes of the musical are the 99 percent – idealistic but poor students, orphans, the unemployed and hungry, exploited workers railing against abuses by the obscenely wealthy. The villain of the musical is Javert, a policeman dedicated to crushing a revolt by working Parisians. As a mediocre musical, the show has broken box office records. Now director Tobe Hooper has made the long-awaited film. But the whole “Les Mis” phenomenon has had zero political resonance. I think it’s because the protagonist doesn’t know whose side he’s on.

Marshall Fine summarizes the plot, such as it is:

The story – distilled from Victor Hugo’s five-section, 1,200-plus-page historical novel (full disclosure: Never read it, don’t intend to) – focuses on Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), about to be released from prison after serving 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread. On his way out of prison, his jailer, Javert (Russell Crowe), warns Valjean that he will be dogging him, just waiting for him to violate his parole so he can send Valjean back to the clink.

Instead, Valjean disappears, popping up a dozen years later as the rich owner of a factory and mayor of a small town; these kind of story twists were so much easier in the days before mass media. But he’s still looking in his rearview mirror for Javert. So he’s understandably distracted when his factory foreman sexually harasses and then fires a poor single mother named Fantine (Anne Hathaway). Her life goes so far off the tracks that she’s become a dying, tubercular prostitute when her path next crosses Valjean’s – whose guilt at Fantine’s fate leads to his vow at her deathbed to find and take care of her daughter, Cosette.

Valjean stays one step ahead of Javert, even as Cosette grows from a tot into Amanda Seyfried, who later falls in love with a student revolutionary named Marius (Eddie Redmayne). Marius is involved with an uprising against the return of the French monarchy in 1832 (not to be confused with the French revolution of 1789, which most people assume this work is about). On the barricades, as the students hold off the government forces, Valjean finally confronts Javert for the final time.

More detailed plot summary from SparkNotes.

The short-lived Paris Uprising of June 5-6 1832 (aka the June Rebellion) was motivated by a reactionary move to replace King Charles X, deposed in 1830, with another king supported by an unrepresentative government. France at the time was suffering a severe economic crisis, and in 1832 the poor neighborhoods of Paris were ravaged by a cholera epidemic. Troops were called in, the insurrectionists were surrounded in the center of the city, and the uprising was defeated.

The problem I have with Jean Valjean is not that he becomes rich, but that he seems resigned to the various injustices meted out to him by the misguided Javert. For Valjean, nothing is political; it’s all personal. Then at the end he saves Javert’s life, which leads Javert (this guy is seriously screwed up) to commit suicide. Valjean only goes to the barricades to save the life of Marius, not to uphold democracy. He is indifferent to the uprising itself and everything else that’s going on in France.

Perhaps worst of all is a commenter on a blog that said the fictional Valjean was a hero because he “was a Taker who decided to become a Maker.” As if we could all just wake up one day and decide to join the 1 Percent if we wanted to. Valjean got the money to start his factory by robbing a church.

No, the true message of Victor Hugo’s story is captured in this quote from another novelist, Anatole France (Inspector Javert would not see the irony):

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

It’s like House Speaker Boehner’s “Plan B” proposal: Every American can get a tax cut on their first $1 million in income. What could be more fair?


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