A look back at 3172, Year of Our Lady of Discord*

*3172 in the Discordian calendar was 2006 in the Gregorian calendar.

In 2006,

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first female elected head of state of an African nation;

NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft;

The Winter Olympics were held in Turin, Italy;

Twitter launched;

The Human Genome Project published the last chromosome sequence;

Montenegro became an independent nation;

Paul McCartney, who wrote “When I’m Sixty-Four” when was sixteen years old, turned sixty-four;

Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet;

Ban Ki-moon was elected as the 8th Secretary-General of the United Nations;

The United States population passed 300 million people;

No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock was sold for $140 million, becoming the most expensive painting at the time;

Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death and executed;

Al Jazeera launched an English language version of its news channel;

Monday Night Football moved to ESPN after 35 season on ABC;

Big Love, The New Adventures of Old ChristineHannah MontanaMickey Mouse ClubhouseThe HillsCelebrity DeathmatchPsychRachel RayHeroesUgly BettyDexterFriday Night Lights, and 30 Rock debuted on American television;

Malcolm in the MiddleThe West WingThat 70s ShowWill & Grace, Charmed, and Alias aired their final episodes;

While Lou Rawls, Shelley Winters, Wilson Pickett, Chris Penn, Coretta Scott King, Betty Friedan, Don Knotts, Darren McGavin, Kirby Puckett, Maureen Stapleton, Buck Owens, Caspar Weinberger, Stanislaw Lem, Earl Woods, Floyd Patterson, Lloyd Bentsen, Billy Preston, Aaron Spelling, Kenneth Lay, Syd Barrett, Red Buttons, Mickey Spillane, Jack Warden, Mike Douglas, Steve Irwin, Byron Nelson, Jane Wyatt, Red Auerbach, William Styron, Adrienne Shelly, Jack Palance, Milton Friedman, Bo Schembechler, Robert Altman, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Augusto Pinochet, Peter Boyle, Joseph Barbera, James Brown, and Gerald Ford died.

The following is a list of my ten favorite films released in 2006:

Continue reading “A look back at 3172, Year of Our Lady of Discord*”

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Equus

Equus (1977)

When 17-year old Alan Strang blinds six horses with a metal spike, psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Richard Burton) investigates at the request of a court magistrate.

After a series of intense therapy sessions, Alan reveals he worships horses as the manifestation of the divine. When a girl took him to the stables to consummate their relationship, he felt his beloved horses watching and judging him. Ashamed, he lashed out in anger.

Burton is electric in the opening and closing monologues as he talks about the ways our desire to worship the divine manifests itself. Alan’s relationship with horses is taboo and reprehensible, but we often find examples of revered people of faith acting outside the mainstream of acceptable behavior. Despite Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son, we hold him as a supreme example of faith.

Dysart sees this paradoxical leap of faith as integral to the human experience and worries his professional work is undermining it. Echoing themes from A Clockwork Orange, Dysart worries his attempts to “cure” Alan will remove the passion and spark which makes him unique.

 

45 Years of Big Concussions

Concussion (2015)

Concussion (2015)

After forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) examines the body of former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, he believes Webster’s erratic behavior and suicide were the result of damage done to his brain during his playing career. Over a period of several years, Omalu investigates the deaths of several former NFL players and confirms his hypothesis.

His published findings encounter stiff resistance from the NFL. The billion dollar business uses every weapon at its disposal to discredit Omalu’s discovery.

The NFL’s attempt to stonewall are thwarted when former player and NFL Players Association executive Dave Duerson commits suicide, leaves a note about his ongoing cognitive problems, and donates his brain to Omalu’s research.

Smith is very good as the single-minded doctor and Albert Brooks is excellent as Omalu’s mentor, Cyril Wecht. This brave film implicitly asserts fans’s complicity in the deaths of Mike Webster, Andre Waters, and Junior Seau, among others. We cheered as they hurled their bodies at each other, and celebrated the deadly big hits on Sportscenter.

I’m sympathetic to the argument the players knew what they were doing. No one was fooled into thinking football was a nonviolent sport. However, the NFL intentionally downplayed the risks and suppressed evidence; they encouraged more violent action in their game, as they simultaneously learned the dangerous consequences.

The NFL’s ruthless business tactics have made football one of the most popular and profitable sports in the world, but profit margins and doing the right thing are often at odds. Invariably, businesses and other social institutions will choose the path which will least impact their bottom line, forgoing any responsibility to make the world a better place. Often their justification boils down to a variation of a familiar refrain, “it’s just business.” This rationale is unacceptable. Business is not a realm of life immune from moral considerations.

I love football, but even the most ardent fans and apologists understand the existential threat the NFL’s actions represent. It’s one thing to be unaware of risks, it’s quite another thing to hide and obfuscate them. I hope and pray the people making decisions about the future of the sport are wiling to adapt to the evidence before it’s too late.

The Big Short (2015)

The Big Short (2015)

Everyone remembers the financial crisis which temporarily suspended the 2008 President election and caused millions of Americans to lose their life savings.

We’ve seen documentaries and news reports and understand it was somehow related to ill-advised home loans. What we didn’t know is several individuals understood the structural inadequacies in the housing sector, foresaw the impending disaster, and bet against the market. While the majority of people lost their savings and retirement, these guys made a fortune.

This film is another indictment of the greedy, unscrupulous tactics which crippled the economy, leaving the less fortunate holding the bag. What sets this film apart from the glut of other films dealing with 21st century financial malfeasance are the series of short segments featuring well-known celebrities (Selena Gomez at a craps table with a Nobel laureate, Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, and Anthony Bourdain at work in a kitchen) elucidating difficult economic principles. Director Adam McKay’s experience with short comedy films on Funny or Die taught him how to present information in short segments and make it captivating.

This film was marketed as a comedy, but this undersells the film’s power. It’s not funny as much as infuriating that so many people profited from, and remain unaccountable for, their unethical tactics.

45_Years_(poster)

45 Years (2015)

Geoff (Tom Courtenay) learns the body of his previous girlfriend Katya, who fell into an icy crevasse a half century ago, has been discovered. Nearly fifty years after he last saw her, thoughts of this previous relationship dominate his mind, even as his 45th anniversary to Kate (Charlotte Rampling) approaches, causing the couple to reflect on their past and contemplate their future.

It’s a nice, sweet film about the accumulated memories and decisions of a shared life. At a certain point, familiarity becomes a crutch and we forget our spouses had lives before us. Kate no longer sees Geoff, she sees her husband, which are not always the same thing.

Rampling is great and deserves the accolades she’s received, while Courtenay’s work is subtle and heartbreaking.

The premise of the reappearing girlfriend is contrived, but the film provides deep insight into relationships and reminds me of Harry and Tonto or Wild Strawberries, only instead of a man reflecting on his mortality, we see a long-term relationship at its close.

The Week That Was, Issue 13

The Week That Was

January 18, 2016 – January 24, 2016

Monday, January 18, 2016

1) They Made Me a Fugitive (1947)

Why I watched: MUBI’s film of the day.

After World War II, financially desperate Clem Morgan works with Narcissus, a shady black market dealer.

After Narcissus betrays him and frames him for murder, Clem escapes from prison and seeks revenge.

There are a few moments of insight, but this is a standard lite-noir thriller.

Continue reading “The Week That Was, Issue 13”

Ex Best Enemies

Best of Enemies (2015)

Best of Enemies (2015)

During the 1968 Republican and Democratic National conventions, floundering ABC news shook things up, hiring conservative intellectual William F. Buckley Jr. and liberal intellectual Gore Vidal to debate the issues.

The “debate” quickly became personal and heated, culminating in an ugly exchange where Vidal called Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” and Buckley responded by calling Vidal a “queer” and threatened to assault him.

This is fascinating because the two men profiled are fascinating. The personal animosity and rage were unheard of in 1968, but have since sadly become commonplace; their confrontational rivalry is the template for today’s nightly cable news channels.

Their hatred for each other did not subside with the conclusion of the program. Each man wrote an inflammatory article recounting the experience which led to a protracted legal process alleging libel and slander. Their enmity lasted for the next forty years: when Buckley passed away in 2008, Vidal wrote he hoped Bill was enjoying his time in hell.

The film uses archival footage to recreate the intensity of their time together, as well as personal written material of the two principles, with Kelsey Grammer reading as Buckley while John Lithgow stands in for Vidal.

I love politics, and I love arguments, and I especially love eclectic characters. This is a great movie about an important turning point in our political discourse.

Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

Using data mined from his work as CEO of Bluebook (the world’s largest search engine), Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) has built Ava (Alicia Vikander), a humanoid robot with a sophisticated AI. He invites programmer Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson) to test his creation.

Isaac has, over the past half decade, established himself as one of the most electrifying, diverse actors in Hollywood. One of the most memorable scenes from any film in 2015 is his bizarre dance sequence with his maid.

2015 was a breakout year for Gleeson. The Revenant, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Brooklyn. His resume for the year rivals what many actors achieve in a career.

While the male leads are great, the star of this movie is Vikander. Most of the film, she exists as a disembodied face, but still makes us believe in her pain and suffering.

This fantastic essay on what it means to be human serves as a counterpoint to Spike Jonzes’s wonderful film Her (2013), and is destined to join the pantheon of sci-fi classics dealing with expanding notions of humanity.