Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mid-week Movie ~ Desierto and Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Around a couple of weeks ago (HERE) I was scribbling about allegory and mentioning how it is often used in movies - sometimes without simple-minds like mine being aware of that intention, until prompted. I, all unknowingly, happened upon this circumstance again last week. As a change from undiluted Netflix we decided to rent a handful of DVDs from our local video store. One of these, chosen purely due to its leading man, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, turned out to have been allegory.

We first came across Jeffrey Dean Morgan (hereafter referred to as JDM) in his part in the later seasons of The Good Wife when he joined the cast to play an investigator, and a new love interest for leading lady Julianna Margulies. Very engaging, thought I! He'll go far! He has, but in what I consider the wrong direction - but then, I'm old, what do I know?

I backtracked in JDM's career and found on Netflix (or maybe Amazon?) a series in which he had played the lead in 2012/3: Magic City. We watched both seasons of that - not bad! He was sans beard back then, and a tad heavier I think. I also read that he had a minor part in Grey's Anatomy (season 9) but so far we've not caught that one, not being big fans of hospital series. However, though JDM has said, in interview, that he could probably have spent his career playing romantic-comedy-type roles, when he was offered a change he gladly took the opportunity to widen his range. He has now played, and quite unromantically I guess, The Comedian in Watchmen and Negan in The Walking Dead. In Desierto, the movie I began to write about earlier, before falling down the JDM rabbit hole, JDM is the arch-villain.

I wasn't expecting to actually enjoy Desierto or admire the character JDM depicted, but decided I ought to sample this one to catch up with the arc of his career, as my stomach would probably not take kindly to either Watchmen or The Walking Dead.

In a nutshell, and basically that's what the theme of Desierto amounts to - a nutshell's worth of plot, with a very nasty nut in the lead! "Sam" [Uncle?] is a seriously obsessed murdering vigilate-type who lives near, or stalks around, the US/Mexico border, with a beautiful dog called Tracker, who has been cruelly trained (I blame not dogs - ever!) Tracker will, by the way, before the film ends, comply with my "Rule of Dog in Film".

David Sims' review in The Atlantic: Desierto Is a Horror Movie for the Age of Trump is a good and, for me, an enlightening read as to the film's allegorical intention. Maybe the heat is getting to me, but I hadn't connected the vigilante's name, Sam, to the US iconic avuncularity thing.

Jonas Cuarón’s film sees a racist vigilante stalking and murdering Mexican migrants as they cross the border. Sims' review begins:
The premise of Desierto is simple, and blunt. A truck full of Mexican migrants, attempting to cross the U.S. border illegally, is attacked in the desert by a lone gunman. For the next 90 minutes, the truck’s occupants are hunted by this demented figure toting a sniper rifle, a horror-movie villain who mumbles to his dog about keeping his country safe. If the metaphor seems obvious, well, it’s supposed to be — the Mexican director Jonas Cuarón has manifested a villain out of recent anti-immigrant sentiment, and is terrorizing viewers with it.

Desierto is not a good movie, but it’s an interesting pop-cultural footnote, especially given its release in the final weeks leading up to a U.S. presidential election in which Donald Trump seized the Republican nomination partly on the back of his extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric. It’s a horror movie first and foremost, although not a particularly original one.
Later in the piece:
Perhaps that’s Cuarón’s larger point — that viewers can reconcile themselves to this awful violence, especially when it’s presented in a genre format via an action thriller playing out in the landscape of a wide-open desert. But the film’s battle lines are drawn so quickly, and its point made so unsubtly, that it’s hard to go much deeper. Yes, the rhetoric of politicians like Trump, who tar Mexican immigrants as monstrous rapists and murderers, is worth investigating, and Cuarón’s obvious anger over it is both palpable and understandable.

But because of its one-note message, this film isn’t likely to change anyone’s mind about anything. Desierto succeeds in portraying the savagery of racism, but in the end, it’s completely cold.
Without at first being aware of the wider, allegorical, intention of the movie, I hated Sam anyway, which was the whole simple point of this movie. I suspect that JDM was offered the part of Sam due to the rather unromantic reputation he has been gathering from Watchmen and Walking Dead - obviously not from his yummy, and rather believable character in The Good Wife! Sadly, it seems that JDM could go the way of another of my early romantic favourites, Bruce Willis, with whom I fell in love aeons ago in Moonlighting; then fell out of love with a clatter after seeing him in his Die Hard evolution - as well as discovering that, politically, he's a Republican supporter. I don't know whether a similar fate awaits JDM, but I shall be watching for clues and evidence!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Enter Anthony Scaramucci...

By now most people in the USA will have become aware of the name Anthony Scaramucci, President Trump's newest addition (at the time of writing!) to his team. Scaramucci is to be the new Communications Director for the Trump administration.

I spent some time reading around to get an idea about the kind of guy Scaramucci is - or is seen to be by those who've met him. By all accounts he's charismatic, practical and charming - and that alone makes a change! He's a smooth talker, Harvard educated wealthy financier and entrepreneur, hedge fund manager, but did come from a Long Island working class background of Italian immigrants.

With new WH  Press Secretary, Sarah  Huckabee Sanders
A few other boxes ticked in his favour: several of his political opinions do not chime with others in Trump's administration. Some of his old Tweets show that he has embraced several liberal-leaning policy stances during recent years, just as President Trump did before he committed to running as a Republican. "I am not a partisan just practical. I voted for Clinton and Obama", Scaramucci wrote on Twitter in November 2011. He has also supported gun control, gay marriage, and unlike his new boss, Scaramucci believes the climate is changing. "You can take steps to combat climate change without crippling the economy. The fact many people still believe CC is a hoax is disheartening", he wrote in March 2016, weeks after the GOP primaries started. (See Washington Examiner, HERE).

I had to chuckle at the astrology reference while reading these paragraphs from a piece by Jessica Pressler, Long on Trump


When, to everyone’s disbelief, Donald Trump actually won the presidency and became someone to take seriously, so did Scaramucci. Since the election, Mooch’s stock has been way up: Yahoo Finance named him its “Wall Streeter of the Year,” despite the fact that his flagship fund had been performing poorly over the past two years. He has been a constant presence at Trump Tower, squiring bigwigs to meetings with the president-in-waiting. When I found him mixing a margarita for himself in an empty bar downstairs at the Hunt and Fish Club, his face still waxen with makeup after a day on TV, he told me it’s about to go even higher.

“Scaramucci, Exploring Government Post, Weighs Sale of SkyBridge,” he said triumphantly, reading a headline from Bloomberg off his iPhone. Then he launched into a sequence of stories about the first time he saw The Godfather (he was 8) and his uncle Orlando’s Perry Como impression, before returning to the subject of his new position.

“So I said to Vice-President Pence, who was here tonight,” he went on, “I said, ‘I’ll do whatever the hell you guys want.’ I know you probably think that’s, like, me being passive-aggressive,” he said to me, “but it’s not, it’s me being even-keeled. My best service to him is acting as a fair broker for the situation, because what happens in Washington is they will stab you right in the chest with a smile on their face. It’s like the Game of Thrones and the Hunger Games screenwriters got together with the writers of House of Cards and they made a story. And the other thing I have learned about these people in Washington, Nelson,” he said, turning to his partner, who had settled in at the bar, “is they have no money. So what happens when they have no fucking money is they fight about what seat they are in and what the title is. Fucking congressmen act like that. They are fucking jackasses. Do you know how many congressional liaisons we are going to have? I don’t either, but I told Pence, it should be four times whatever Obama had. I don’t know how many he had, but I’m telling you that didn’t work out. I’m telling him if you want to decrease the government, you gotta increase it in certain ways. Pence was great, right, you met him, Nelson, he was great.”

He suddenly stopped and squinted at me. “How old are you?” he asked. “You look good. No lines on your face. What are you, a Sagittarius?”

I told him I’m a Leo.

Scaramucci nodded approvingly. “Fucking king of the jungle!” he said, lifting his drink.

Which leads me neatly into Anthony Scaramucci's own natal chart - it has to be set for 12 noon as I haven't, yet, found any time of birth for him. He was born on 6 January 1964 in Long Island, NY.

He's a triple Earthy Capricorn (Sun, Mercury and Mars) - that's not at all surprising with his business and Wall Street background. His natal Venus and Saturn are next door in Aquarius, fairly close together, close enough to be termed conjunct in fact. Bear in mind here that Saturn is the traditional ruler of Aquarius, and also rules Capricorn. Therefore his Earthy Sun's ruler, in the Airy sign of Aquarius will modify, somewhat, both traditional Capricorn attributes and traditional Aquarian attributes.

Scaramucci's Moon in mid-Libra, at noon, means that whatever time he was born, Moon would have to be somewhere in charming Libra. I see this reflected in his facial characteristics - he's an attractive guy with, by all accounts, an attractive personality. I'm surprised not to find any Gemini planets in his chart, as he seems to be a good communicator (he'd better be - in this new position in the White House!) Perhaps he has either Gemini or Virgo rising.

Natal Jupiter (planet of expansion and publication) is in Aries, and in a helpful sextile aspect to Venus in Aquarius; interestingly these two sextiled planets also link by 150 degree aspects (quincunx) to conjoined generational outer planets Uranus and Pluto in Virgo. Bearing in mind that Uranus is modern ruler of Aquarius, the usual scratchiness of the quincunx, with Venus, could be somewhat softened by this sextile with Jupiter. I'm not sure, though, exactly what to make of this Yod formation, with its apex at Pluto/Uranus in Virgo. The Uranus/Pluto conjunction was signature of many of the born-in 1960s generation.

I'm guardedly optimistic about President Trump's latest addition to his team. It will be interesting to watch Mr Scaramucci's progress, or lack of same. I've read that both Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus were against his appointment - and Sean Spicer appeared to resign because of it. Perhaps their reasons were related to a dislike of the socially liberal attitudes Scaramucci has hinted - or maybe they are simply jealous of his good looks and charisma!

Hey - but it's Music Monday!

I forgot to mention, above, that Anthony Scaramucci's nickname among his friends is "The Mooch" - there's a jazz number with the same name (+ an "e"):

The Mooche - Duke Ellington

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Taking the 5th (House, that is!)

 Leo by Ronald Searle
The Sun is about to leave zodiac sign Cancer and begin its transit through the sign of Leo. Leo is associated with astrology's 5th house. 5th house represents, among other things, childhood and child-like activity.

We all, no matter how sophisticated or knowledgeable, retain remnants of childhood/child-like fantasies within our nature. As this summer progresses and nothing at all in current news cycles has much ability to improve a dismal mood, it might be wise to simply "5th-house-it", at least for a short interval, before heading back into the gloom.

Authors of books intended for children often had timeless wise advice to offer, for us all, whatever stage of maturity we have or haven't reached. The following wee snippets always cheer me during times of worry, and wondering about what could possibly come next:

Think (laterally) about A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh ~~~

'Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?'
'Supposing it didn't,' said Pooh.
After careful thought Piglet was comforted by this.

It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily.
"So it is."
"And freezing."
"Is it?"
"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."

The old gray donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about.

Then think about the Sesame Street story:

There's a Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone

Grover is horrified to learn that there is a monster at the end of the book, and begs the reader not to finish the book, so as to avoid the monster.
Fearful of reaching the end of the book, Grover constructs a series of obstacles, such as attempting to tie pages together and laying brick walls, to prevent the reader from advancing. Increasingly frightened (and also in awe of the reader's strength at overcoming the obstacles), Grover pleads with the reader to stop reading as the book nears its conclusion. However, the monster turns out to be Grover himself, making the story self-referential.

OR: the Harry Potter tales~~~

"Happiness can be found even in the darkest times if one only remembers to turn on the light." - Albus Dumbledore.


If You Give a Moose a Muffin, by Laura Joffe Numeroff ~~~

If a big hungry moose comes to visit, you might give him a muffin to make him feel at home. If you give him a muffin, he'll want some jam to go with it. When he's eaten all your muffins, he'll want to go to the store to get some more muffin mix.


But, it's always good to remember that:

Friday, July 21, 2017

Arty Farty Friday ~ From Hopper House to McMansions to Rapunzel & Pringles

The Sun will soon leave zodiac sign Cancer, for this year, but before it does I notice there'll be an important American painter's birthday anniversary tomorrow, that of Edward Hopper. I've blogged about this artist on three past occasions: HERE, HERE and HERE, between 2007 and 2013. Today I'm drawing attention, again, to just one of his works:

The House by the Railroad (1925)

Edward Hirsch wrote a poem about that painting, it begins:

The House by the Railroad

Out here in the exact middle of the day,
This strange, gawky house has the expression
Of someone being stared at, someone holding
His breath underwater, hushed and expectant;

This house is ashamed of itself, ashamed
Of its fantastic mansard rooftop
And its pseudo-Gothic porch, ashamed
of its shoulders and large, awkward hands......

Full poem can be read HERE

It ends:

...This man will paint other abandoned mansions,
And faded cafeteria windows, and poorly lettered
Storefronts on the edges of small towns.
Always they will have this same expression,

The utterly naked look of someone
Being stared at, someone American and gawky.
Someone who is about to be left alone
Again, and can no longer stand it.

I was reminded of this particular Hopper painting after spending much time nodding and chuckling though a website/blog McMansion Hell. There's a section devoted to the 50 States of McMansion Hell, where the author, Kate Wagner, has begun taking readers through the architectural horrors and decor mis-demeanors of high-priced modern mansions in each US state. There are also sections devoted to architecture, McMansions 101, history, as well as some of general arty-farty type interest. A visit is highly recommended. From the home page, to access heading links to all the good stuff available, just click on the three little lines in the very top left-hand corner of the screen.

Edward Hopper's House by the Railroad wasn't, of course, a McMansion, but many of today's over-priced, piles, filled with pretensions to opulence and historical relevance do owe a lot to similar styles from decades past - it's just that they their designers didn't know when to stop - or where!

I've wondered if, in decades long past, builders used a common catalogue of styles available as "sets" - a bit like a Lego set. The customer would pick one from the "menu" and could also order from a list of "sides" - as happens in restaurants. Perhaps the same things happen today, in the case of McMansions, but menus now have a wider variety of sides, and McMansion customers have bigger appetites and fatter wallets.
 "Rapunzel Towers"

 McMansion "Pringle Can of Shame"
As we drive around, just through some of our neighbouring "fly-over" states, we often spy much older houses, either left unoccupied, or currently owned by people of fairly modest means, sporting what we've come to call "Rapunzel Towers"; Ms Wagner calls these "Pringles Cans of Shame". Kansans, especially, during past decades, seem to have had a liking for this "side" of architectural kitsch.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Doggedly Plodding through the...

Dog Days. The Old Farmer's Almanac, a venerated publication first on the streets of the USA in 1792, tells that we in the Northern hemisphere are currently experiencing "the dog days" of summer - summer's hottest, most sultry days, spanning dates between mid to late July and mid to late August, depending on source, but generally around a 40-day span. Whichever dates are involved there's a link to the heliacal (at sunrise) rising of Sirius, known as the the Dog Star from its Latin name, Canis (=dog) Major.

Movements of the star Sirius have been noted by inhabitants of planet earth from as long ago as records exist - and probably long before. Sirius is a binary star system composed of Sirius A and Sirius B; there's supposition of a third star involved, but no proof of this. Sirius shines brightest of all bodies in the night sky. In case of difficulty pinpointing Sirius just look for the three stars in a row, forming Orion's belt, extend the line southeastward - there it is.

For some lucky people the dog days of summer are welcome - like a friendly cuddly puppy, eager to be taken for walks. For others (we in south-west Oklahoma included) the dog days come on, often in triple digits, more like a snarling, angry guard dog, ready to adversely affect any who dare cross the line. But, as Jonathan Swift once wrote/said:
"Every dog must have his day."

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

From Summer of Love to Mars (and back?)

Another 2017 anniversary has been noted by several writers and columnists this month: the so-called Summer of Love's 50th. Here's one writer's take on it - Todd Gitlin: Summer of Love and Rage.

Hippie-dom, and Summer of Love were something I only read about, back in England, and, otherwise engaged in my own throes of marriage, separation and frustratingly attempting divorce in an era when it was nowhere near as easy as it is today. I did fleetingly enjoy a few of the LSD-induced songs drifting through my transistor radio, but back then the other side of the Atlantic seemed as far away as Mars - and as alien.

Commenter "Rodmacd", in a thread below the linked piece had this to say:
The hippie era was pretty brief. The Summer of Love, followed 2 years later by Woodstock; thought, with breathless anticipation, to be an "OMG, What's Next?!" event -- and, as we all now know, "next" turned out to be a few years of a whole lot of not much until the hippies traded in their tie-dyes for tie clips and pasted over their "War is not healthy for Children and other living things" bumper stickers with ones that read "He who dies with the most toys wins". Mighty Mammon took a shot or two back then, but it rallied strong and remains the heavyweight champion of the American Dream.

Oh - and speaking of Mars... dragging myself back to 2017 again, here's an interesting piece by Tyler Losier:

The race to the red planet: How NASA, SpaceX are working to get to Mars.

Well then...speaking of space travel, and potential future ways to do it, or aid it: here's another interesting piece, this by Tom Spender:
Teleportation: Photon particles today, humans tomorrow?

As the always quotable and much lamented Sir Terry Pratchett once wrote:
“This is space. It's sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can't have a final frontier, because there'd be nothing for it to be a frontier to, but as frontiers go, it's pretty penultimate . . .)”
― Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures