Rule of Law…

BEWARE: POLITICS!!!!

Yesterday ex-President Donald Trump was found guilty of all 34 charges he was tried for.

He is now a convicted felon.

Not terribly surprisingly, Donald Trump claimed he was… well, what do you think? It was unfair. I did nothing wrong. If I did, it wasn’t worth this trial. I don’t know the lady. Etc. etc.

Depressingly -and not surprisingly- those on the far right, many in positions of power within the government, are also dubiously claiming this was a rigged trial and Trump shouldn’t have been pursued and…

…sigh…

The hypocrisy runs thick. These Republicans were right there pursuing Bill Clinton for a blowjob yet feel things are unfair when Trump is found guilty of sexual assault (E. Jean Carroll) and now for campaign finance illegalities.

You do know this was what the trail was about, right?

I mean, the “big” headline is that he forced himself upon Stormy Daniels, a porn star. In reality, the trial was about how he illegally paid her off to keep quiet about their tryst while campaigning for president against Hillary Clinton.

Worse, those claiming he was somehow railroaded seem to conveniently forget Trump effectively offered no defense in this trial. Trump’s lawyers never offered an explanation for the obvious payoffs made to the likes of ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

And when it was Trump’s turn to defend himself, he could have taken the stand -tough guy that he’s supposed to be- and set everyone right about what happened.

He didn’t.

Now, Trump -indeed any defendant- doesn’t have to testify. But Trump sure seems to be mouthy whenever he’s not under oath. He’s quick to talk about all the unfair things that happened and how this trail shouldn’t have happened and that he was being persecuted by the Biden administration…

…yet when he had a chance to swear to tell the truth and the whole truth and take the stand he declined.

Ah well.

A little more on Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024)

Way, waaaayyyy back in 1981 I was in High School and the movie The Road Warrior appeared in theaters. This movie, better known around the world as Mad Max 2, genuinely rocked my world.

I freaking loved it.

The action was intense, the stunt work mindbogglingly good -and scary! The climax had me on the edge of my seat.

The film was very low budget but not quite as low budget as the original Mad Max, which I would find and see later on. The film helped put Mel Gibson on Hollywood’s radar and he would soon after appear in Lethal Weapon and was well on his way to becoming a Hollywood superstar… before, of course, everything went bad.

When Mad Max: Fury Road appeared, I was very much there to see it and loved it… even if I felt Tom Hardy was somewhat miscast in the Max role. It just felt like the character was written as an older Max, which would have fit well with Mel Gibson’s age at the time the film was being made.

Still, this wasn’t a fatal problem and I enjoyed the film… even as I feel The Road Warrior remains my favorite Mad Max film.

Fast forward to the news of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga and I was certainly curious but, I have to admit, I wasn’t dying to see it.

Yesterday I wrote about how Furiosa is seriously underperforming/bombing at the box office and offered some ideas as to why this might be. Truthfully, I feel there has been a shift away from the movie going experience and I genuinely wonder if this shift might prove permanent in spite of movies here and there succeeding.

But after posting, I wondered why I, a fan of the Mad Max films (generally!) wasn’t feeling all that crazy about going to see Furiosa myself.

Granted, I’m at a point in my life that it’s tough to carve out time to go see a film. I could do so, mind you, but I have other things I’m focused on. Truthfully, I don’t see television as much as before either.

Regardless, I was curiously unenthused to go see Furiosa and, rather than focus on why others may not have wanted to go see the film, I wondered why to me it didn’t feel like a “must watch”.

Let me start with the advertisements/trailers. They didn’t do all that much for me, frankly. They sure did look like director George Miller was repeating himself. The “look” of the film was almost the same as that of Fury Road only more CGIed… which was a turnoff.

I know, I know: What did I expect from a film that was supposed to be a prequel to Fury Road? Things couldn’t be radically different looking, could they?

I suppose not but still… it didn’t feel like there was anything terribly new to see in this new film. Certainly nothing we hadn’t seen in the last.

Then there was the issue of the story being a “prequel”. Somewhere deep in my mind this too was a turnoff. Did I really want to see how Furiosa came to be what she was in Fury Road?

As someone who has written a novel series that bounces around in time, I wanted to make sure any/all of the novels offered a unique and new experience.

In the case of Furiosa, there’s not much “there” there with regard to her story. I figured we’d see how she lost her arm and became a valuable driver. I figured we’d find the paradise she was stripped from and wanted to get back to in Fury Road.

But, again, was that enough to justify a full 2 hour and thirty minute long film?

It seemed a little much, frankly.

Here’s the thing about writing stories: Authors fall in love with their works. Given the amount of time it usually takes to write a story one is satisfied with, one has to love one’s works.

However one also has to be cold about the process. One should second guess what they’re doing constantly. Does this work? Does this not?

You can’t just type away -a form of verbal diarrhea- and expect everything will work.

When I write, I tend to be very cold about my works. I tend to cut things out and, yes, there have been passages I’ve loved which were eventually deemed unnecessary and were stripped away and likely will never be seen.

I fear that Furiosa is one of those fancy concepts that, as Miller was coming up with the idea of Fury Road, he came up with the back story for Furiosa and so loved it he wanted to bring it to life.

The problem was that as good as these back story concepts were, Fury Road was successful -indeed terrific!– without the need to delve into all that minutia.

Hell, Max’s “origin” is presented in Fury Road in a crisp thirty or so second fever dream and we don’t really need to see much more.

Was it really necessary to give so much time to Furiosa?

I will eventually see the film. Hopefully, I’ll find myself on the side of those who felt the film was damn good.

Still, I wish George Miller pushed the story forward and gave us something set further in the future of Fury Road rather than looking back.

The Fate of Furiosa (2024)

So a few days ago Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga was released and the box office it’s making for the Memorial Day weekend isn’t just weak… it’s dire.

So far, and we’re on Sunday the 26th now, the film has earned a weak $31.9 million and is running neck and neck with Garfield… But the bottom line is that the box office for the Memorial Day weekend is the worst its been in decades.

You can read more about it from Hollywood Reporter:

Box Office Meltdown: Garfield Claims Victory Over Furiosa With Worst No. 1 Memorial Day Opening In Three Decades

Once again I’ll quote screenwriter William Goldman and his famous thoughts on movie making and those films that succeed versus those that fail…

Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.

So, of course, I’m going to offer -for what little its worth- my own thoughts on what’s happening here. Again, though, I strongly suscribe to Mr. Goldman’s quote so I could be just as wildly off about this as everyone else.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, the older I get the more I realize change is a constant in just about everything but especially in the entertainment industry.

When I was very young, Disco music was incredibly popular. Saturday Night Fever made a superstar out of John Travolta when it was released in 1977 and made The Bee Gees household names. Three years later and in 1980 the movie Airplane! comes out and, among the avalanche of jokes you can find in it, we have parodies of Saturday Night Fever and a sequence where the endangered airplane strikes a radio station’s tower as the host announces this is where “disco will live forever”.

See, just a few short years after its golden era, Disco became a pariah musical taste and was scrubbed from most people’s interests. The Bee Gees were viewed as laughable, what with their high pitched singing, and the suits they wore to the Disco were viewed as tacky.

What happened?

I recall a teacher I had way back then opined that what did Disco in was the fact that older people liked the music and started to show up at the Discos. Young people, aghast, fled and, for good measure, ridiculed the whole thing as they moved on to other music.

In the 1980’s we had alternative music, perhaps mostly derived from David Bowie’s work. We had the rise of heavy metal. In the 1990’s that went away and we had the rise of Grunge music. By the 2000’s we had rap/urban music and glitzy boy bands and Britney.

The point is that things moved on.

Which brings me to this: I fear that maybe –maybe– the era of going to movie theaters and seeing films there may be going away.

Not permanently, mind you, but a confluence of things have come together to hurt the box office.

Just to be clear though: I’m not saying that the apparently box office failure (and indeed it seems like it’s happening) of Furiosa -and The Fall Guy’s release and weak box office just a couple of weeks before that movie- portends bad things for all movies. But it does, I feel, expose the things that are hurting movie theaters and movie releases in general.

We went through COVID and entertainment companies began branching out into streaming services. We also have reached a point where we can own -for a reasonable investment- truly gigantic and beautiful TVs in our homes. I strongly suspect these things, in conjunction, have made people realize they don’t have to go to theaters to experience top movie entertainment. Hell, the rise of TikTok may have made people also less patient to sit through two hours of any work when they can be entertained for those same hours with a feast of smaller video bites.

Furiosa also, I fear, had too many expectations for a film series that for the most part was a cult thing. Yes, Fury Road and, before it, the original Mad Max and The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2) did well at the box office but the later two films were made with a minuscule budget and therefore made money quickly. Plus, there simply wasn’t anything like them. Fury Road came out decades after the last Mad Max film, Beyond Thunderdome, and benefited I feel from the element of surprise as well as having Charlize Theron -a usually bankable star- playing the lead along with Tom Hardy’s Max.

Thing is, Fury Road came out in 2015, nine years ago and maybe a movie featuring Theron’s character but not Theron in the film itself might have been a mistake. Making it a “prequel” might also have been a big mistake.

We kinda know where Furiosa -the character- wound up because of Fury Road. Was there really any big interest in finding out how she got there? Part of the problem about making prequels is that we know where certain characters will be. We know, for example, Furiosa will survive to appear in Fury Road so whatever dangers she faces in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga we know she’ll survive to fight again.

There’s one other element which has to be pointed out, too: While there are many who loved the film, I’ve also noted there were many who thought the film worked in spurts. They may feel the film is good but not as good as Fury Road.

Could word of mouth be hindering things as well?

Again, “nobody knows anything”. My opinions are just that and maybe I’m very off. Maybe there just aren’t that many people interested in seeing more movies set in the Mad Max universe.

I hope it doesn’t portend to darker realities regarding movie theaters and movie releases, but only time will tell.

Things, as I said before, have a way of changing over time, whether we like it or not.

Sugar (2024) a (right on time) review

Released through the Apple TV+ streaming service, Sugar is a 8 part series focusing on Private Detective John Sugar (Colin Farrell) who is investigating a missing person in sunny L.A. Here’s the trailer:

When I first heard about this series, it struck me as something very much in my wheelhouse. I’m a total sucker for Private Detective stories set in L.A. When I read reviews which stated the series was a good updating on the Raymond Chandler novels, I was there.

The show started rather …odd. In Japan of all places, before moving to L.A. We are introduced to Sugar, who is presented as an earnest, dedicated detective who has some kind of vague tragedy in his recent past and which makes his desire to find missing people a mission.

After arriving in L.A., Sugar meets up with Ruby (played by Kirby), his contact there, and she is preoccupied. Sugar, we’ve seen, has some weird hand/muscle twitch/reaction and seems to be hiding some kind of health issues. Ruby tells him he needs to see their doctor and that proves to be something Sugar is reluctant to do.

In the meantime, Sugar is contacted by a big time “old school” movie maker named Jonathan Siegel (James Cromwell) whose granddaughter -a woman who had been a history of heavy drug use but who has supposedly cleaned up her act- has disappeared.

Sugar is instantly connected to the job and, again, we get vague implied personal reasons (ie, he lost someone himself) which draw him into the job.

I won’t get into too many other details but instead offer the following: In the course of the case we find Sugar and Ruby are part of a larger group of mysterious people, Sugar meets and is often rebuffed by the other Siegel family members who hide their own skeletons, and we meet other odd and dangerous personalities while investigating the case.

The series, as I mentioned, goes eight episodes. Each episode is approximately 30 minutes long (give or take) for a total of about 4 hours of material. I generally enjoyed what I saw so if you’re into this sort of stuff and have the time, give it a go.

But be forewarned, this series gets really strange toward its end and, when all is said and done, it sure did feel like a wonky pilot to a series which I don’t know we’ll ever have. Or maybe we’ll get another 8 episode series.

The bad: I know A.I. is a big thing nowadays and viewed really negatively when used in the arts. And I have no way of verifying any of this but I get this weird feeling that the story was put together by some form of A.I.

I mean, it gets so weird and there is this weird internal logic to the story that doesn’t feel as smooth as it should be. It feels, frankly, like at times we’re seeing an A.I. story unfold before us.

If this is not the case, my deepest apologies to those involved.

To get into that, I’ll have to get into some really, REALLY big SPOILERS so for those interested, the bottom line is this: Sugar is worth checking out even if there are some bumpy moments.

Otherwise…

SPOILERS FOLLOW…!

Still there?

You’ve been warned!

So I mentioned it before but Sugar, we find as the series goes along, is tied in with an odd group of characters, including Ruby, his L.A. contact. They have this weird party and Sugar touches base with Henry (Jason Butler Harner) who seems to be a kindred soul.

But as viewers, we keep wondering what’s up with Sugar and these people. They act kinda weird and almost in a cultish manner, even if they don’t seem like evil/bad people.

Further, we find that there may be crosscurrents going on here, where Ruby and the group Sugar belongs to don’t necessarily want him to take on this case, much less solve it.

Then we get to the big, BIG reveal later in the show where we find that Sugar, and the group he’s with are… BIG TIME SPOILERS FOLLOW… are freaking aliens. Like, from outer space. Like, people from another freaking planet. And they’re here on Earth to observe us. There’s no greater explanation. They seem to be peaceful enough and they take on “real” jobs but their primary goal is to watch us and make reports on us. Why? It’s never really revealed beyond this and that’s part of the reason it feels like this is a pilot to a longer series.

The other part is that we end with certain discoveries. There’s a powerful politician/person who knows the aliens are there and, by the end of the series, is hunting them down. There’s also the fact that humanity is bleeding into the peaceful aliens, including Sugar himself. Are they being corrupted? That is answered by the end which, again, promises a longer story to come.

Now, the A.I. thing I mentioned.

I felt at times I was watching a story unfold without the usual smoothness of a “regular” storyteller. It’s like a program took elements from private investigator literature, then threw them into a blender, and added “surprise” elements. Things simply didn’t always go smoothly. We had a subplot involving human traffickers which… went pretty much nowhere. We get the alien stuff as a surprise near the end and, while decently done, it’s very much a “what the fuck?!” moment that needed perhaps a better build up. Again: it’s the little things which lead to the bigger things. So many story elements are introduced but many of them don’t necessarily lead to anything big. Some are outright dropped and the very big ones are introduced in the final three episodes.

It is what it is.

I still enjoyed the series, mind you, but I sure do wish there had been a little more thought in the story transitions.

New Book Update 5/17/24

So two days ago I finished the revisions, on computer, of my latest novel.

I’m really happy with the novel in its current state. Most of it is fine and a couple of spots still need a little revision but the bottom line is that it took me about 2 months to get all this stuff put into the computer file.

I feel like the book maybe needs another two drafts before it’s ready for release. I’m mulling an epilogue and there is one part close to the climax that could use a little work but, as I noted, I’m happy with the novel and feel its really close to being “finished”.

Keeping my fingers crossed!

John Carpenter’s Top 10 Noirs…

Are you like me and like John Carpenter’s films? Are you also a fan of the film noir genre?

Then how about taking a look at…

John Carpenter’s Top 10 Film Noirs

Have to say, he likes many of the ones I really like.

Mild Spoilers:

Of the ones he’s pointed out, Double Indemnity, The Third Man, The Killers, Kiss Me Deadly, and Blow Up are some of my favorites.

He doesn’t note it in his comments, but the screenplay to Double Indemnity is an adaptation of the John M. Cain novel by Raymond Chandler. Chandler is probably my all time favorite author. His Philip Marlowe novels (The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, etc.) are superb.

I love the original Burt Lancaster starring The Killers (yes, the movie is based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway!) but don’t go totally to sleep on the 1964 Lee Marvin starring remake. It features Ronald Reagan in his last acting role as a pretty slimy character…

Then there’s Kiss Me Deadly. If you haven’t seen that film, do yourself a favor and check it out. Incredible work that was light years ahead of its time! Also the source of the “glowing suitcase contents” which Quentin Tarantino used in Pulp Fiction

Finally, Blow Up is one wild work and Carpenter puts it best: It’s a meditation on what is real and what isn’t and the ending… it’s haunting…

There are, of course, other films very much worth checking out that Carpenter doesn’t mention.

Among them, I would recommend the following:

Out of the Past (1947): Easily one of the all time best film noirs ever made. Robert Mitchum gives career defining acting as the doomed protagonist and Kirk Douglas, also in a very early role, is appropriately slimy. And Jane Greer is perfection as the… oh… I’m not going to spoil it!

The Maltese Falcon (1941): Humphrey Bogart knocks the ball out of the park as Dashiel Hammet’s detective Sam Spade. Mary Astor is right up there as are the incredible co-stars he has to stay one step ahead of. All of them are searching for the titular falcon, a statue that’s “the stuff dreams are made of”.

Memento (2000): The film that first brought audiences to director Christopher Nolan… and which may still be his very best film. Guy Pearce is Leonard, a man who suffers from extreme memory loss. He can’t recall things beyond a few minutes at a time. The movie plays out in reverse, giving audiences the same disoriented feel Leonard goes through and yet, if you pay attention, the story unfolds logically and, in the end, devastatingly. A wonderful work of modern noir!

I could go on and on but I’ll leave it at that for now!

Oh Elon…

The latest news about Tesla and their vehicles is… not great.

There have been pretty significant layoffs, including the entire staff behind the wonderful Superchargers (I’ll get into that in a moment), following the news that sales during the first quarter of the year were slow/stagnant.

Is Elon panicking?

Unlike so many others who speculate about internal issues such as this, I genuinely don’t know but feel incredible sympathy for those laid off. Maybe there was an urgent need to tighten the proverbial belt around Tesla and maybe the release of the Cybertruck wasn’t quite as successful as hoped or maybe Tesla simply needs to provide a new “wow” product beyond the refreshed Model 3…

If I was to speculate, though, regarding the stagnant sales, I would say that Tesla may well be a victim of its own success. I’m a big fan of the cars (can’t say the same about Musk himself) and, frankly, I love them.

In 2019 I bought a Model 3 and in 2021 bought my wife a Model Y. Because of those stagnant sales and discounts offered following the disappointing first quarter sales, I wound up getting curious and decided to check our local Tesla dealership as to the cost of trading in my Model 3 for a Model Y. I was frankly shocked that, with the $7500 EV credit and a $22,000 trade-in value for my car, I could buy myself a brand new 2024 Model Y for a grand total of… $19.9K!

If that isn’t a great deal on a new car, I don’t know what is, so I took advantage and took it.

Going back to what I said above, though, is the idea that maybe Tesla is a victim of its own success. Granted, some of the batshit crazy stuff Musk has been saying since buying Twitter has turned many people who might normally be interested in buying his cars very off.

I don’t blame them!

But the reality is also that the Tesla vehicles are IMHO superior to pretty much everything else I’ve ever driven and I could have easily kept my Model 3 for several more years without a second thought. The only reason I decided to trade it in is because the offer was simply too good to not take advantage of.

There is this story told here and there online that the quality of Tesla cars is terrible and I know there are those who have had the vehicles and have had problems with them (this tale of woe has appeared for the Cybertrucks of late) but for me the reality is that the now three Tesla vehicles I’ve had and driven have all been superior rides and given me absolutely no problems.

So if we are to remove those who are so turned off by Musk’s craziness and therefore refuse to consider a Tesla, I wonder how many people are like me: People who enjoy their Teslas and are perfectly content to keep them for many years before even thinking of trading them in or getting a new vehicle.

Again: The only reason I got rid of my 2019 Model 3 was because the deals available to get a new one were simply too good.

It does raise the question of the future of Tesla and electric vehicles in general.

If Musk and company feel they have over-extended themselves and must now pull back and lay off people, one wonders just how deep the resources of Tesla are. There is also the threat of Chinese vehicles eventually making their way to the United States. The tariffs are keeping them at bay but my understanding is that considerable investment has been made in Chinese EV products and there are many that could easily threaten not only Tesla but all the other car companies out there.

As for me?

Well, I still love my Tesla and can never see myself returning to gas powered vehicles again.

I’ve noted before that EVs are not perfect. They are two innovations away from being truly magnificent (maybe 30-50 more miles of “real” range and cutting down full charging by maybe 10 minutes) but as they stand today they’re IMHO far and away better vehicles to own.

Understand: Since getting my Model 3, I have not had to do any work on my car. Obviously no need to go to a gas station or get the oil changed. I still go get gas for my daughter’s car if I’m up early enough on the weekend and its surprising to me the awful smell of a gas station… especially when one hasn’t had to go to a gas station with any regularity!

There have been reports of tires wearing out quicker but, frankly, I haven’t seen that either. If you drive like a maniac and like to “punch it” with the EV -and its acceleration is spectacular versus the gas powered cars!- then don’t be surprised if your tires wear out quickly. However, if you drive normally, the tires will last.

In the end, I hope Tesla has a rebound. I hope those who were laid off find work again quickly. I also hope -though don’t expect- Musk to have an epiphany and realize the crazy shit he’s been saying these past few years haven’t done him any favors. On the contrary, it actually turns off the type of people who may be more interested in buying EVs… his included.

One can dream.