Plague Diary 4

This being allergy season is complicating things in lockdown. Every sneeze, cough, and headache sparks a moment of wondering, “Is this it? Did I touch the wrong thing? Did that cyclist with no mask infect me?”

Besides wondering if we’re infected, we’re also becoming amateur microbiologists with a primary focus on SARS viruses. The sheer amount of information I’ve picked up on how viruses work, how vaccines work & what factors decide how effective they are, to what it will take to produce 300 million doses is mind boggling.

And it’s nothing I ever wanted to know. But, in the same way the President used to be someone you didn’t have to think about every damn day, the virus has commanded center stage. And his politicizing of this tragedy has only increased the amount of time and energy we have to spend on political theater.

The day begins with a rash of headlines mixing the news of the depressing lack of leadership the President and Senate have shown in dealing with this slowly unfolding national tragedy. There’s a pervasive sense among rational people that stupid, ill-informed idiots being manipulated by Fox News and Russia have made themselves into the lever that destroys this country.

Lots of smart people, relying on science and historical evidence, have put forward plan after plan to end the lockdown in a coordinated, planned way that will minimize the second wave of infections. And each plan is met with crowds of unmasked, belligerent idiots demanding the 90% return to their underpaid service jobs so the 10% can get their hair done or be served in a restaurant.

And, of course, data now shows that when they leave their protests to return to the suburbs or rural areas they came from, they take the infection with them.

Prolonging the lockdown that has so inconvenienced them.

Current Events 53: Picard Finale

We cried, we laughed, we even sang a song. This trip through the first season of Picard comes to a landing with a most excellent finale that did not disappoint. Join us!

Picard Finale

Listicuffs

I had this idea once to take all my favorite fight scenes and edit them together into one sizzle reel I could watch when I wasn’t in the mood for a whole story, but still wanted to enjoy some quality violence. I never did it, because, why would I? But I was thinking about it today and decided to come up with the list of scenes that would go on it.

Picking the scenes, I realized that what really makes a fight scene great is adding something new to the conversation. The Matrix introduced gravity defying wire work to Western audiences, but afterward every fight scene looked like it had been copied from that film.

So what I was really looking for was game changers. I’ve listed the ones important to me here in quasi-chronological order, oldest to most recent.

The Wild Bunch (1969)

The Wild Bunch Showed the Bloody Chaos of an Actual Gunfight

Growing up in the 60s, I caught the tail end of the very long run of the Western. But the movies I grew up with were bloodless affairs where the good guys only got winged in the shoulder, if they were hit at all. Needless to say, The Wild Bunch blew my tiny little mind all the way up.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

This Elevator Ride in the Bradbury Hotel Showed Bond At His Most Vicious

Diamonds Are Forever is not a well regarded Bond Film, but the saying is true that your favorite Bond film is the first one you saw. This was mine and it was also the first hand-to-hand fight in close quarters I saw that exposed the true brutality of physical violence (and just how hard it is to kill a man).

Enter The Dragon (1973)

Really, Everything This Man Did

Before wire fights there was Bruce Lee, a man who had to slow himself down so the camera could see what he was doing. He was a one man ad campaign for the martial arts and after seeing him in Fists of Fury I promptly when out and signed up at my local dojo.

Raging Bull

It Felt Like Being In The Ring

I wanted to have a movie from the 1980s on this list, but that was a time of cartoon violence in live action films. Think about the ridiculous fights in Total Recall and Lethal Weapon, if you doubt that. But Raging Bull, even more than Rocky before it, made you feel like you knew what it was like to be in the ring.

The Matrix (1999)

The Moment That Changed Everything

I know now that wire fights like the ones choreographed by Wo Ping for The Matrix were already quite common outside of America by the time I saw The Matrix on its maiden run.

But for me, personally, the moment when a fight scene became a critical selling point for an action movie (the way a car chase had been) was when Trinity leapt into the air and just… stopped.

More than any other American movie, The Matrix upgraded the fight scene to art.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

Close Camera Work For Close Quarter Combat

The real tragedy of the Bourne movies for me is that control passed from Doug Liman in the first one to the vastly inferior (to me) Paul Greengrass in the sequels. Liman’s innovation was to get in very close with the camera during the fight scenes which gave them a chaotic feel but also made everything seem to happen faster.

Greengrass’s innovation was to go back to the 1990s and use jigglevision so badly I literally couldn’t watch his movies.

But the original not only has several of the best fistfights ever shot, it also has some incredible gunfights. Liman’s loss ruined the franchise for me and then, to compound the tragedy, he was saddled with one of the worst actors in Hollywood for what should have been a great movie, Jumper.

Equilibrium (2002)

Hell with Kung Fu, Ninja, Gun Up!

I was going to put this as an honorable mention because the movie isn’t very good no matter how much I love it, but then I remembered this is my list and I can do what I want.

What most people remember from this movie, if they’ve seen it at all, is the Gun Kata which is striking and new, but Equilibrium also has some of the best hand-to-hand fights.

Oldboy (2003)

Grueling

Oldboy is a seminal film for a lot of reasons, most of which I won’t go into here, but its fight scenes are grueling to the point of exhaustion. A beautiful and violent mystery with a truly disturbing secret, this movie opened me up to Korean cinema.

Casino Royale (2006)

Let’s Add PARKOUR!

They had to say a lot with the cold open of the first Bond Movie since Brosnan wore the tux. There had been a lot of pushback from the fan base about casting Daniel Craig and, more importantly, the Brosnan years felt like a lost decade of movies that had never figured out how Bond should exist in a rapidly changing world.

Parkour had been around for a long time, but incorporating into a long fight scene was new. This fight showed us that Bond was going to be Connery tough again and that he would break the rules with fascist fervor the way he does in the books.

Kick-Ass (2010)

Do Not Try To Take Her XBox Away

Kick-Ass was a revelation. There were so many excellent fight scenes that broke new ground in this one movie it was hard to pick one. Bid Daddy cleaning out the warehouse, Hit Girl cleaning out the party (and saving Dave’s life), Hit Girl making her way to Damico’s office, Hit Girl vs Damico, Kick-Ass vs Red Mist. Pick one. This entire movie is a gift to action lovers.

Kingsmen: The Secret Service (2014)

Welcome to Umbrella Fu

As he did with Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn innovated the hell out of this movie, but my favorite game changer was: manners. Who says you have to yell the F-word and spit on people during a proper dust-up? Also, would it hurt you to put on a fine tailored suit before you start handing out Glasgow kisses?

Remember, “Manners. Maketh. The Man.”

John Wick (2014)

Other movies had used jujitsu in their fight scenes, most prominently Mission Impossible III, but John Wick combined it with real, very serious close quarter combat skills right down to keeping your gun close to your body so no one can take it from you.

The movie is one long fight scene broken up by great car chases. It has the frenetic, exhausting energy of Oldboy, the CQC of Kick-Ass, and the gunplay of Equilibrium. Action movies haven’t been the same since.

ADDENDUM: John Wick III

Adding this because I’m literally just seeing John Wick III right now and what’s more brilliant than a very long knife fight in a knife store? This is a brutal mixture of hand-to-hand and edged weapon combat that went on so long I was out of breath when it ended.

Extra points for the coup-de-gras axe toss.

Current Events 52: Picard 1×9

This week’s episode is the first part of a two part finale entitled Et In Arcadia Ego, which as we all know is Spanish for The In Arcadia Ego. Join us for more incredibly wrong “facts” like this as Mike and I stumble toward the conclusion of Picard’s first season.

Just Plain Fun

One of the things I loved about the late Roger Ebert was that, unlike most critics, he seemed to understand movies are a kind of Swiss Army Knife of media. They serve many purposes. Art, Education, Business and also simple Diversion.

For instance, after listening to Gene Siskel excoriate the admittedly bad Chuck Norris film “Invasion USA,” Ebert’s review was, “If you like this sort of thing, you will like this one.”

Not requiring “Invasion USA” to perform up to the standards of “The Magnificent Ambersons” should be a given for any good critic, but that’s very often what they do.

And Rotten Tomatoes’ quiptastic format only intensifies this tendency. The world is besotted with online critics right now and they’re all aware they’re only going to get a single sentence on RT so they very often lose any nuance and just come up with something snappy.

Then, when they’ve trashed an average, mid-budget film from the Hollywood factories, they’ll spend a column opining about how Hollywood doesn’t turn out the mid-budget pictures anymore.

This (and no small amount of gamification by both sides) has given rise to the split score. The critics pan it and the audience loves it, or the other way around.

Any stand-up still using the “so you didn’t have to” punchline is now, by law, stoned to death on stage by an audience of angry, bearded women

I still use Rotten Tomatoes as a guide, along with IMDB, but whenever the critics’ score diverges too far from the audience score, I throw them both out and employ my time tested heuristics:

  1. Is this a movie I want to see? If yes, watch the damn movie. If no, watch Marvel stuff for four hours.
  2. Is this a fancy, art film? If yes, just watch Marvel stuff for six hours
  3. Is this a comedy? If yes, do I think the people in/behind it are funny? If yes, watch the damn movie. If not, watch Groundhog Day three times.
  4. Is this an action film? Eh, don’t watch an action movie with a split score in either direction. Action films are basically drek waiting to happen. They’re the wet fart that will only take an iota of force to turn into a splattering shart. You’re better than that. Watch Marvel stuff for nine hours.
  5. Is this a sequel? Does it have “Jurassic” in the title? If yes, watch Marvel stuff for eight hours. If no, does it have “Wick” in the title? If no, watch Marvel stuff for ten hours, otherwise watch the damn movie.
  6. Is this a Marvel movie? Does it have “Avengers” in the title but not “Captain”? If yes, watch Star Wars stuff for twelve hours. If no, why are you reading this when you could be watching Marvel stuff?

As always, you are welcome.

Current Events 51: Picard 1×8 – Broken Pieces

We, the audience, finally start getting some answers to all those questions brought up in earlier episodes so we, the podcasters, talk about that. Join us, won’t you?

Plague Diary 3

When I started this diary, I intended to make a short note every day to keep track of what it was like during America’s first pandemic in a hundred years. I didn’t take into account the drab blur of days that lock down would be become.

There’s not much to write about when not much changes from day to day.

No one we know has been touched by the virus yet, but there is this feeling of existential dread that it’s out there on the wire, probing our defenses, looking for the straggler.

One could argue we are in a better position to ride out a pandemic lock down than any previous generation because of our overpowered houses with internet supplied entertainment, zoom conferences, and delivery services running seven days a week.

But we also have the worst government in the history of this country and fully 40% of the population has decided to bathe themselves in willful ignorance and unsubstantiated superstition rather than accept anything a scientist says.

Whether it’s the pandemic or climate change or if drinking bleach cures what ails you, they seem overeager to believe anything that will trump a scientist’s finding if that finding in any way inconveniences them.

And while the virus rages on, now having killed way more Americans Vietnam — we’re basically having a 9/11 every week now and the GOP is refusing ground the planes — for-profit hospitals are laying off healthcare workers because profits are down.

The idea of going to the hospital right now is so frightening people are dying at home as uncounted victims of the virus. And this just adds to the spike of fear when something that may be a symptom pops up.

My wife had a splitting headache one day and we just sat around and hoped for the best, both of us secretly terrified she had picked up a case of C19 on one of her forays to the grocery store.

Turned out to just be a headache, but for a moment we felt the full weight of our vulnerability. Not just to the virus, but to a poorly managed system geared for profit rather than to support the people it claims to serve.

Whether it’s the GOP holding the government hostage or meatpacking plants not protecting workers or Amazon forcing employees into dangerous situations, the entire system is shaking at the joints. There will be gaps in the supply chain worse than toilet paper and if you think it’s ugly now, it will be worse then.

Current Events Spec Ep #1: Top Ten 20th Century SciFi Series

Oh, no, we’ve done something terrible. That’s right, we’ve settled a long running argument among the nerdosphere by ranking the top ten science fiction TV shows from the 20th century.

Sounds implausible, don’t it? Join us to find out just how implausible.

We’re right, you’re wrong, get over it

Current Events Ep. 50: Picard 1×7 Nepenthe

It was so good to see our old friends Will Riker and Diana Troi, especially since they finally had the writing to go with their impressive acting chops. Join us as we… talk about it.

Plague Diary 2

The existential dread is real and some days you feel it more than others, especially when you have to leave your house to run some errand and find yourself in a crowded space where no one but you is wearing a mask.

Probably the best encapsulation of how connected and yet simultaneously dissociated we are would have to be the trip my wife took to Lowe’s two days ago. She had her mask, but the hardware store was crowded, which confused and agitated her, and to make things worse, people weren’t keeping their distance. They didn’t have the paint she was looking for so she headed out to the next nearest place, only to get lost and for her phone to simply quit working.

She couldn’t get GPS, couldn’t call me, was lost and already in a heightened emotional state because of her experience at the store. By the time she got home, she was in tears.

On the day our country’s losses to COVID 19 surpassed those of the Vietnam war, my wife and I got stir crazy and decided to drive up the 101 just to get out of the house. We’d heard how empty the roads were and thought it would be a nice change of pace from the usual Southern California driving.

However, it was a nice day, a Sunday, and we weren’t the only ones to have this idea. The beaches were closed which pushed all the people off the sand onto the bike lanes of the highway. Most weren’t wearing masks. No one was social distancing. We kept our windows rolled up and looked past them to the empty beach.

We try to order food once or twice a week to break the monotony and to help local businesses. This week it was pub burgers from Peabody’s and BBQ from Phil’s. The burgers were great but it’s hard to feed a Texan BBQ and not have him be disappointed. It was serviceable.

Tyson foods has said there will be disruptions to the meat supply chain as their processing factories are rapidly becoming C19 hotspots. They failed to mention all the things they did to create this situation, so I’ll list them here as a note for future historians wondering why capitalism died out after it had been going so strong for so long.

  1. They instituted a “responsibility bonus” paid to workers who didn’t take time off. This brought sick workers into the factory.
  2. They got cheap about hand washing stations which helped the sick infect the healthy.
  3. They didn’t adjust work spaces for social distance requirements.
  4. They don’t provide healthcare insurance for their factory workers.
  5. They don’t pay enough for their workers to buy their own insurance.

I still believe capitalism, heavily regulated to rein in corporations and close the wealth gap, augmented by a robust social safety net to be the best possible economic system. We’ve seen capitalism work in the past. What we haven’t seen since Reagan pressed his corrupting influence into the Baby Boomer generation is anything that concerns itself with the rights or welfare of people. So it’s no wonder wealth inequality is now worse than when robber barons roamed this country.

My concern is that the upcoming generations who didn’t see capitalism work well, will simply throw the baby out with the bath water and switch to pure socialism. Now, socialism is a charged word that can mean many things, but primarily it means a political system which is primarily concerned with people rather than business. We’ve never actually seen that work, but we have seen if fail quite spectacularly.

Does that mean it can’t work? No, but as mentioned above, a hybrid solution would be better and easier to transition to.

What will the future look like? That’s the question that haunts me. We are a social people. Even homebody grumps like me need to get out to a restaurant or farmer’s market or movie theater every now and then. Sports! Theater! Concerts! Everything we do, in some sense, we do together. It heightens the experience. But all those theaters, arenas, and eateries are closing now and there’s no hint as to win we might be able to visit them again.

Everyone pins their hopes for this return on a vaccine, but it’s looking like C19 may not be susceptible to a vaccine. No one has been able to conjure one for any of the other coronaviruses. There is tangential evidence for reinfection coming out of Wuhan which means the human body’s immune response may just be too weak for a vaccine to work.

The only other hope we have is a cure that works fast added with adequate testing. We won’t get the testing until the Republicans are out of power and, let’s face it, scientiss still don’t have a cure for AIDs. So what will the world look like if the new normal involves six feet of distance and a high quality mask?

Virtual Reality will probably have something to do with it. But the question remains, even if you could slip on a VR set and find yourself in a “crowd” of people whom you could see and hear and look up at a “stage” and see a performer who could see every face in the crowd reacting in real time as well as hear them, would that be close enough to the shared experience we crave?

I don’t know. We did a Zoom conference with my daughters and grandson the other day and, while I was so glad to see and talk to them and hear their voices, it didn’t really take the place of being able to hug them or to sit in the same room and talk about all kinds of stuff. There’s a formality to a Zoom conference that robs it of some of the emotional feedback of actually being together.

Who knows? Maybe someone will figure that part out, too, and then we can all just stay home all the time. But I have to say, as much as I love staying home (only canceling plans is better than not having any), I miss the world.