Hey, let’s talk about progressive rock … wait … come back

In my efforts to do more multimedia, I am reviewing all of the albums by one of my favorite bands: Yes.

90125 was my introduction to Yes. Before that, it was all Duran Duran and Foreigner.

90125 was my introduction to Yes. Before that, it was all Duran Duran and Foreigner.

Are you still there? I know it’s common to knock progressive rock bands these days, but Yes produced some of the finest long-form active-listening music the 70s has to offer.

Rather than an album-by-album approach to these reviews, I am going with the albums in the order I heard them.


So enjoy my review of 90125. Next up: Fragile.

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Popeyes ghost pepper wings serve up the bland

ghost-pepper

I thought ghost peppers were spicy?

After seeing a poster for ghost pepper wings at my local Popeyes, I had to give these a shot. After all, according Guinness World Records, the bhut jolokia, ghost pepper is the hottest pepper on the planet.

It’s 900.5 times hotter than Tabasco sauce.

So today I tried Popeyes ghost pepper wings. First, take a look at this ad for the product:


It only implies that these wings are spicy. A marketing genius must have decided to target a portion of the population that likes to say they love spicy wings, but actually can’t handle anything hotter than vanilla yogurt.

I've had glasses of water spicier than this!

I’ve had glasses of water spicier than this!

After I ordered my six-wing lunch — including fries, a biscuit, and medium drink for $6.99, I had to wait about then minutes for my wings to be ready. When I got them, they looked like typical wings, batter-fried with a hint of red below near the flesh. My first bit tasted exactly like a chicken wing. There was not a hint of spicy. I’ve had mild wings that had more kick than the ghost pepper wings.

If you are thinking I’ve developed a tolerance to spicy food, I’d agree. Except spicy is still spicy. These wings were not spicy. I like Popeyes, but I suggest you stay away from the ghost pepper chicken wings. Apparently they mean’t “ghost pepper” in the figurative sense, not the literal. They certainly taste closer to a non-corporeal form than anything spicy.

Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies … Finale! … I mean FINALLY!

If you were disappointed that the "desolation of Smaug" part of the story never happened in the movie "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," you be glad to know that seemingly unimportant event is dealt with in the first ten minutes of the new film.

If you were disappointed that the “desolation of Smaug” part of the story never happened in the movie “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” you be glad to know that seemingly unimportant event is dealt with in the first ten minutes of the new film.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a lot like flirting with Evangeline Lilly, at first it’s going great, she smiles, and then Orlando Bloom walks up and cock-blocks you.

When I originally heard that Peter Jackson was going to direct The Hobbit, I had reservations. His Lord of the Rings films are great, but dark and violent. Jackson took advantage of every opportunity to add some PG-13 gore to those films. I would have preferred Guillmero del Toro’s take, which I would have imagined as being more whimsical and closer in tone to the book.

Then it was announced that The Hobbit would be two movies. That made sense. Even though the book is short, I could see it being split into two films.

But Jackson and New Line were not happy taking our money twice for an adaptation of a short story. The announcement of three Hobbit movies gave me pause. And I wrote a blog about it:

The Hobbit — Peter Jackson’s Cash Grab

I never reviewed the first two Hobbit movies, so here’s a quick look at them.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey starts off slow and spirals into stupidity. Jackson moves the story forward at a snail’s pace, yet manages take no time to truly introduce us to the characters. And everyone in that film is irritating.

Azog kindly leads moviegoers to the exit after a butt-numbing three hours of watching The Battle of the Five Armies.

Azog kindly leads moviegoers to the exit after a butt-numbing three hours of watching The Battle of the Five Armies.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has more action, but, again drags on. And just in case you thought this was an adaptation of The Hobbit and not a Lord of the Rings prequel, Legolas arrives! The Smaug’s desolation is no where. Instead the film ends up being a very long teaser for the final installment. Evangeline Lilly arrives too since Jackson has no idea how to develop the dwarfs. The only payoff, Smaug.

The Battle of the Five Armies begins exactly where the last film ended. The desolation of Smaug has begun, and will be over before you know it. While the first two films had a lot of travel, with Bilbo Baggins and his dwarf companions meeting all manner of friends and foes, Five Armies keeps all the action within the confines of the Lonely Mountain. The film feels geographically constricted.

Without Martin Freeman, these films would be beyond saving. He presents Bilbo as a sympathetic character, someone who was very content in his own little village. There are hints that Bilbo now sees himself as part of a bigger world, but not much time is spent developing Bilbo.

As a matter of fact, for a film called The Hobbit, Bilbo is surprisingly absent from most of the film. He has a few scenes involving the Arkenstone*, but spends most of the film on the sidelines.

These films drag. And I liked Chariots of Fire.

Unconvincing special effects mar the film. Instead of trying to create a fantastic reality, team Weta produced a bunch of scenes that look like cut scenes from a video game. At one point Legolas is jumping on stones as they crumble and fall. I haven’t seen such action since the Nintendo Entertainment System.

There just is not enough good for me to recommend the film. Freeman and a few good action scenes do not make the film worth the time or money to see The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

*I believe the Arkenstone will return in The Avengers: The Infinity Gauntlet films.

©  Paul Anthony George and The Reno Signal, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Anthony George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

A quick look at Bitch Planet issue 1

Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro's first issue of "Bitch Planet" was released December 10, 2014 by Image Comics.

Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s first issue of “Bitch Planet” was released December 10, 2014 by Image Comics.

With a title like that, how could I resist picking up the first issue of Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro? If you are looking for a sexy, women-in-prison comic with lots of pin-up quality nudity, then this isn’t for you.

The basic set-up for Bitch Planet is that it’s the future and women are treated like chattel. When a woman is non-compliant, she gets sent to a prison planet. Issue One introduces three women. Penny Rolle, is a big woman. Honestly, you have no idea what I mean. Rolle is a woman who complains that her prison uniform is only big enough for one of her tits. Next, we have Kamau Kogo, who remains something of a mystery in the comic. Finally, Marian Collins, who is in prison because she objected to her husband having an affair.

They are in prison. The prison may not be what it seems. And there’s a plot twist that doesn’t allow me to comment much more on the plot. As a matter of fact, I had to go back and re-read Bitch Planet because the twist caught me by surprise.

Bitch Planet #1. Image Comics.

Bitch Planet #1. Image Comics.

This is a feminist comic from top to bottom. DeConnick writes a compelling tale, showing a future where women are punished for non-compliance. However, and this is only based on the first issue, are there any men of character in this universe? Future issues will tell. But the comic does seem to believe men are incapable of anything good. But there is a lot of clever dialogue and the premise is great. De Landro’s art exists to tell the story. It is raw and, at times, able to make the reader feel uncomfortable about the material.

When discussions of this comic pop up online, I keep hearing Quentin Tarantino’s name mentioned. While this comic has some of the vibe of a women-in-prison movie, the comparison to Tarantino is unfair. DeConnick’s dialogue is great, but it is there to drive the story. The two writers may share some similar influences, but that’s where the comparisons end.

I love the pulp-inspired cover!

Image Comics has impressed my greatly lately. Another title they recently introduced, The Autumnlands: Tooth & Claw, is a fantastic fantasy story. And for the same price as a Marvel or DC Comics, readers get 32 pages, no advertising, unless you count the “Hey Kids, Patriarchy!” spoof on the back of Bitch Planet.

For those reading this that still cling to the outdated, and wrong, notion that comics are for kids. Give Bitch Planet a try. I may have some issues its view of men, but it was compelling and I plan to check out issue two when it arrives.

Crash: The Collision of Cultures in America

2005 crash poster

Race is a dirty word in America.

We refuse to talk about it.

When we do, it is rarely an open dialogue, and it is almost never honest.

Paul Haggis’ motion picture Crash is a character study that tries to deal with the issue of race in America. Critics praised the film for its “brutally honest” depiction of race issues in America (Williams). In response to this acclaim, journalism professor Robert Jensen and documentary producer Robert Wosnitzer wrote an essay, entitled “Crash,” claiming that the movie minimizes the systemic causes of racism in the country. According to Jensen and Wosnitzer, the film is “white supremacists because it minimizes the reality of white supremacy” (Jensen and Wosnitzer). While the film’s main focus is the effects of racism on a personal level, Crash frequently addresses the systemic nature of racism in this country. Crash is an allegorical tale that uses archetypes to personify the various groups and institutions that promote white privilege in America.

The first words out of detective Graham Waters indicate that the characters of the story do not inhabit a real city. His opening monologue has the air of parable. After an automobile accident, he says “we’re always behind this metal and glass.” Frequently, people carefully guard their speech and attitudes, especially when race is involved. The physical crash in Crash represents the filmmaker’s attempt to remove those “metal and glass” filters and have the characters speak in open, honest, and unfiltered dialogue.

Jensen and Wosnitzer contend that Crash fails because it “directs attention away from a white-supremacist system and undermines white accountability for the maintenance of that system“ (Jensen and Wosnitzer). Throughout the film, various white power symbols are represented by characters in authoritative positions. District attorney Rick Cabot represents the political system that caters to non-whites for votes and public image opportunities. Jean Cabot symbolizes rich white privilege, which views all non-whites as subservient and a threat to its way of life. Television producer Fred typifies the entertainment industry, which continues to promote racial stereotypes for material gain. Officer John Ryan represents not just law enforcement, but the racial attitudes are ingrained in the law enforcement culture. Officer Tom Hansen, who is generally decent, ultimately gives into racial profiling. While the laws of the country are intended to be for all, we have created rules that intentionally judge people based on race. When viewed as an allegorical story, the white characters say a lot about white authority in America.

Many of the black characters of the film represent those who, while affected by racism, refuse to challenge the system. Detective Waters has a career in law enforcement. When confronted with the inherent racism of the system, he gives into what is best for the white authoritarian structure. His mother accuses him of abandoning his brother and his mother. He has been too busy pursuing a career. Rather than continuing the fight for civil rights and equality for all, Waters has become a member of the white authority structure. Cameron Thayer, a television director, is essentially a black man in “whiteface.” The white powers that be have continued to put a carrot in front of him, fame, and he has consistently given into their demands. When an officer sexually assaults his wife, he refuses to do anything about it because a report in the paper would upset his white employers. Lt. Dixon is a black police officer who readily acknowledges racism in the LAPD, yet he doesn’t want his position to be threatened. He has worked too hard to get where he is in the police department. Anthony, who touts various white supremacy conspiracy theories throughout the film, considers himself sort of a black Robin Hood. Since he only steals from white people, he feels he is fighting the system. He starts to realize that he is part of the problem as he sits on a bus. He may talk a lot, but he really isn’t any different than the minorities on the bus. When he steals a van full of Thai people who are being trafficked as slave, he realizes that he is becoming the very thing he has been criticizing throughout the film, an oppressor. Even Dorri, a second generation Iranian-American, has become more American, and therefore white, in order to be a successful doctor. The system of white supremacy, as discussed by Jensen and Wosnitzer, is clearly demonstrated in Crash. The message in Crash is clear, if a black person wants to be successful, they need to obey privileged white people.

Peter Waters spends most of the film as a sidekick for Anthony. However, he represents those who simply do not buy into the system. He and Anthony have very different views of what it means to be a black American. He constantly defies any stereotypes associated with black Americans. He likes country music, hockey, and is interested in Catholic theology, all symbols associated with white culture. Ultimately, he is killed for having an open attitude. The message sent by Crash is that the system will not tolerate the tolerant.

Guns play strongly in the film and represent power. Frequently, when a gun passes from person to person in the film, it represents the passing of power. When a white gun shop owner begrudgingly sells a handgun to an Iranian man, he sells the Iranian man blanks. Frequently, white politicians talk about the United States being a land of opportunity and equality for all. However, the system does not always deal fairly with everyone. Ultimately, just like blanks in a gun, the assertion of constitutional rights by immigrants is rendered impotent by policies like the Patriot Act and racial profiling. Anthony and Peter discuss their fear of being in white neighborhoods. Their fears are relaxed because they carry guns. When Anthony attempts to car jack Cameron’s automobile, they struggle with a gun. Cameron, who has been complacent and unwilling to assert his rights throughout the film is suddenly emboldened when he confronts the police. During the entire altercation, he has a gun in the back of his pants. When Cameron leaves Anthony on a street corner, he gives Anthony back his gun. He gives the power back to Anthony, who must now take responsibility for his future actions. Constitutional rights protect Americans and empower them, regardless of race. White authority views such power as a threat when put in what it considers the wrong hands.

Crash, the film, ends where it begins, with an auto accident. The final message of the movie is that, even if some of the characters changed their attitudes during that day, there will be others to take their place the next day. There will be another John Ryan to harass innocent citizens. There will be another black director so hungry for fame that he will do whatever he is asked by his producers. There will be another young black man stealing cars from white people. The film simply says that everyone is a racist and there’s nothing that can be done to improve the situation. “Crash,” the essay, contends that white America needs to be “forced” to accept the issue of white privilege in America (Jensen and Wosnitzer). Neither offer any practical solutions for the race issue in this country. The United States has made progress, but it has been slow. Laws have been passed to protect the rights of everyone in the country. However, well meaning laws cannot actually change racial attitudes in this country. Forcing opinions on others is a poor solution. People need to be given information and a variety of opinions on this vital issue. There needs to be an open dialogue where everyone, no matter their race, gender, or belief, has the opportunity to share in the discussion. If we can accomplish this, perhaps this country will be able to one day embrace its pluralism and grow stronger as a nation. Perhaps then, race will no longer be considered a dirty word.

©  Paul Anthony George and The Reno Signal, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Anthony George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Originally written in 2009 for a class assignment.


 

Works Cited

Crash. Dir. Paul Haggis. Perf. Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle and Matt Dillon. Lionsgate, 2005.

Jensen, Robert and Wosnitzer, Robert. “Crash.” ZNet Daily Commentaries 21 Mar 2006. 18 June 2009 <http://www.zmag.org>.

Williams, Kam. “Movie Review: Crash.” Black News 2005. 24 June 2009 <http://www.blacknews.com>.

Mockingjay starves its audience with a dour, pointless exercise in corporate filmmaking

mockingjayposterThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I is not a bad movie, but it is a dull, uninspired, and downright cynical film. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is now the Debbie Downer of movies about dystopian futures.

The film is cynical, not because of the story, but the filmmakers’ lack of respect for their audience. The new trend of breaking the final chapter of a series into two parts has reached a point in which Mockingjay serves no purpose except as a trailer for Part II.

Almost nothing happens in this film. I enjoyed the first Hunger Games film. Catching Fire, however, was a much more engaging film and set me up to expect something exciting for Mockingjay. Instead, Katniss spends most of the film as a dour puppet of the rebellion against President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Rather than a film about a group trying to end a totalitarian regime, most of the film is spent with Katniss and a group of video journalists running around the various districts.

There’s a single, brief action scene in the film. If you want action, watch the trailer. All of it is there.

Most of the returning cast also seems to be stuck in downer mode. No one is passionate about anything. Katniss occasionally makes a statement – for propaganda videos – about the horrors of Snow’s attacks. But even Lawrence has a tough time making any of it seem legitimate.

haymitch

Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) returns briefly to coax a few chuckles from the audience. However, something is amiss when the cantankerous, dry alcoholic is more interested in the story than the rest of the characters.

Thankfully, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) appears in the middle of the film to give it a little energy, but the character doesn’t have much to do after a few witty remarks.

Since the film seems so indifferent to its main character, I’m surprised the filmmakers didn’t do more with the supporting cast. Elizabeth Banks returns as Effie Trinket. Trinket actually goes through some character development, making me wish the film was about her. Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta appears briefly in the movie, but plays an important part. In fact, during the film’s last 20 minutes, he’s the most interesting character. Like Trinket, I was more interested in Peeta’s story than Katniss’.

Mockingjay ends abruptly. It is all set up with no pay off. The film’s contempt for the audience is clear. The filmmakers know everyone will return next year and pay to see the finale.

©  Paul Anthony George and The Reno Signal, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Paul Anthony George and The Reno Signal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Image courtesy Sony Pictures.

Image courtesy Sony Pictures.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”  achieves exactly what Sony Pictures seemed to have in mind; make a film that will fill seats, make a profit, and insure an “Amazing Spider-Man 3.” It’s not a bad film, just pedestrian. And it adds as little as possible to the Spider-Man cinematic canon.

The film manages to be a long, painfully long, toy commercial that does not fall into the trap of “Batman and Robin,” a film people still talk about. To Joel Schumacher’s credit, he created a Batman movie that won’t, no cannot, be forgotten. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” however, is a forgettable film.

amazing spiderman 2 posterI saw it 24 hours ago, and I’m having trouble recalling much of the film. It is ephemera, not cinema. Am I being to harsh on a comic book movie? Not at all. People still talk about “The Avengers” and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films. Last month’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” featured superheroes and a strong plot.

The action scenes in this installment, or more accurately, Sony’s legally-necessary release, are typical of summer fare, full of impossible CGI shots and ultra-slow motion imagery. But the action scenes do almost nothing for the story. They just happen.

Yes, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” has a story, which is almost the exact story of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films. I’ve seen these chunks of plot too many times. Peter Parker’s love life is again, challenged by his career as a web slinger, aunt May is worried about Peter and sad, Gwen Stacy wants to do something with her life (it was Mary Jane in Raimi’s) and needs to figure needs Peter to figure out her enigmatic clues or she’s gone, some guy gets in an accident and decides he wants to be a supervillain, and so forth.

Yet the film is competent and, occasionally, enjoyable. The feeling is of a film written by committee, but an occasional emotion comes through. The cast is great, doing the best with what they have been given. Andrew Garfield turns in a strong performance as Peter Parker. Dane DeHaan enters the film as Harry Osborne. DeHaan has some great scenes early in the film, but, like everyone else, must turn into an insane villain before the film’s end.

My favorite scene has Peter and Harry by the waterline talking. For a moment, the film radiated sincerity. Maybe director Marc Webb — I kid you not. That’s his name — should make a Spider-Man film just about Peter’s relationships. The personal moments, along with a few Spider-Man moments, save the film from ruin.

As for the villains in this film, I don’t care. I’ve seen the same origin story many times. They exist to give Spider-Man something to do. Jamie Foxx does fine with a role that gives him little to do.  Paul Giamatti, playing the Rhino, has nothing to do in the movie. He is the film for five minutes.

If only to confuse the entire theater, Sony tacked on a teaser for Twentieth Century Fox’s summer Marvel film “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” This happens about a minute into the end credits. Unlike the Disney Marvel films, this teaser had nothing to do with this Spider-Man film or any future one.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” as its title suggest, is a product. In a few years, Sony will release “The Amazing Spider-Man 3.” Why bother with proper titles when a number will do. Kids seemed to enjoy the movie, but if you are over 12, I suggest you see “Captain America : The Winter Soldier” instead.