Concussion

Concussion
*

Sunday, January 10. Two Stones Pub. 3pm:
After three quarters of futility, things went from bad to worse for the Seattle Seahawks. Quarterback Russell Wilson wasn’t ready for the snap and the ball sailed out of his hands, back to the 50 yard line.
The startled QB scurried back to retrieve the ball, Vikings defenders bearing down on him. Wilson ducked a pass rusher and looked downfield. On the broken play, rookie receiver Tyler Lockett had gotten free in the middle of the field. Wilson lobbed a pass right to him, and Lockett turned a potential disaster into a 35 yard gain – turning the game around.
The bar erupted in excitement.
It was a great moment. And I shared it with my best friend and many strangers at the bar. I shared it with my dad on the phone later. And with the guys at work the next day. I shared it with America.
The NFL is America’s game. In an era when people have 100 channels and don’t watch live TV anymore, it is the only thing that we watch when 50 million people are watching at the same time. It brings the country together like nothing else.
Taking football away from us is literally the most unAmerican thing I can imagine. To me, catching a bald eagle with an American flag and then burning them both while reading “Das Kapital” is nominally more patriotic than condemning the NFL.
I suppose that’s why I loathe the movie “Concussion.”
In 2002, forensic pathologist Bennett Umalu (Will Smith) discovered that 40 and 50-something NFL veterans were dying in unsettling ways. He dissected their brains and learned that their minds had been destroyed. He determined that the damage was the direct result of their brains having been smashed against their skulls thousands of times on the football field. He had discovered a new disease and he named it: Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
Dr. Umalu was right on the science. But he was wrong about how we’d all react to the news. As a Nigerian immigrant, he didn’t follow the NFL and he couldn’t comprehend how much it means to us.
Now if I immigrated to Nigeria and discovered that their favorite local sport was unhealthy, I’d tell people about it. If the Nigerians who were kind enough to let me into their country told me the sport was more important than their lives, I’d respect the local customs and let it go.
Dr. Umalu didn’t let it go. To me, Will Smith’s Dr. Umalu is a self-righteous trouble-maker at best. And an unforgivably ungrateful guest to our country at worst.
I am not diminishing the horrible effects of CTE. But it is worth remembering that most full time jobs for uneducated young men are pretty rough.
What does Dr. Umalu think that NFL players would do if there was no football? Does he think that they’d all get jobs as pillow testers and bunny rabbit breeders and clowns that specialize in balloon animals?
More likely, these men would get back-breaking jobs in warehouses at places like Walmart, Target, or Amazon – barely earning a living as their bodies slowly get destroyed.
I use two silly-looking cushions on my chair at work because I have chronic neck pain from doing the same desk job for 15 years. If I make it another 15 years, I won’t earn as much money as Mark Sanchez made this season as backup quarterback for the Eagles. And I’m better at my job than Sanchez.
In the end, all Dr. Umalu did was make trouble for his hospital, his family, and the country that graciously took him in.
Though it is obviously violent and dangerous, the NFL is here to stay. It’s America’s game. And I really love it.

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Obama’s Middle East Policy

Obama’s Middle East Policy
(zero stars)

At this point, most Americans agree that Barak Obama isn’t a great President.
But there is a vocal minority who takes their opposition too far. The Obama-haters think that he is the worst president in history and that he is destroying America.
They blame the president for everything that goes wrong. Weak economy? Obama. Bad race relations? Obama! Ebola? Obama snuck into the country from Africa and brought it with him because he’s a communist or a jihadist or both.
The irrational demonization of the president is funny and sad. However, the Obama-haters’ worst fears have come true when it comes to the Administration’s Middle East policy. It has been a spectacular failure.
President Obama made his first blunder at the beginning of the Arab Spring. Out of nowhere, Obama publically took the side of the Tahrir Square protestors and asked Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign.
Mubarak had been a force of peace and stability for 30 years and he was a loyal ally of the United States and Israel.
The speed with which Obama turned his back on Mubarak sent a clear message to current and potential allies in the Middle East: don’t cooperate with the United States; this administration won’t have your back and can’t be trusted.
No one can defend Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad. However, no one can argue that his embattled regime is a threat to the United States.
Foolishly, Obama drew a symbolic line in the sand in 2013 – vowing to attack Syria if the military used chemical weapons against the rebels.
The only thing more foolish than publically threatening to attack a country that is in no way your enemy is to go back on your promise when your bluff is called.
When Assad’s generals ordered a chemical weapons attack and the United States did nothing, it sent another clear message to potential Middle East evil-doers: you can wreak more mayhem than an Allstate ad and the Obama Administration will do nothing about it.
President Obama ensured that he is neither loved nor feared. Machiavelli would not approve.
The fact that Obama has no coherent Middle East strategy was confirmed this summer when he decided that we are going to war against Assad’s arch-enemies: ISIS.
I am not defending ISIS, obviously; they are murderous misogynistic monsters.
But fighting a half-hearted war against ISIS is like fighting against the tide of history. ISIS didn’t start this war. The conflict began a century ago when the British and French created Syria and Iraq after WWI.
This was another case of arrogant westerners drawing a myopic line in the sand. What they should have done is split the region into three countries: Kurdistan in the north, a Sunni state in the middle, and a Shiite Arab nation in the south.
There will never be lasting stability in the region until Iraq and Syria are dissolved and replaced by three homogenous nation states.
The tide of history is on ISIS’s side; it won’t be easy to stop them. They certainly can’t be defeated without an army. And since Obama won’t send ground troops, the Administration is doing nothing but killing people and angering Arabs with all of those bombs.
Barak Obama is not a communist and he’s not a Muslim. He doesn’t hate America and he clearly isn’t the worst president in US history. But, good grief, his Middle East foreign policy is unfocused and incompetent.

Noah

Noah
*

In the bible, the story of Noah is brief and unembellished.
Noah – a 600 year old vineyard owner – was the only faultless man in a world full of wicked jerks.
God told him to build an ark. Noah complied. And then God killed everyone on earth except Noah, his family, and two of every animal.
Actually, Noah saved more than two of the animals that godly people liked to sacrifice back then. After the flood, Noah sacrificed a few beasts to the Lord. When God smelled the burning flesh, He was so pleased that He softened His heart about humanity’s sins.
According to scripture, every rainbow is a reminder of God’s covenant: His eternal vow to never get get ticked off like that again and murder everyone.
Basically, the story of the flood is all about God. Noah is just a boring old righteous man. The only colorful thing he ever did was get wasted off his own wine one time and pass out naked. (Seriously. That’s Genesis 9:21).
The story of Noah simply is not interesting enough to warrant a 2 1/2 hour movie. And “Noah” proves it.
This is a long, grim movie with no interesting characters, no surprises, and no laughs. There is nothing that could have made “Noah” great.
And that’s proven by the fact that “Noah” was made by a truly great director: Darren Aronofsky. His masterpieces “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan” are brilliant films about obsessed entertainers.
Noah (Russell Crowe) is obsessed, too. But not in an interesting or comprehensible way. When he wakes up from a dream convinced that God has commanded him to build a huge ark, his family is completely cool with it. They help him build it, no questions asked.
When Noah takes his obsession a step further and determines that he must massacre his infant granddaughters, we never really understand where he came up with the idea. We just start hating the lead character of the movie.
If you’re going to turn one of the heroes of the Old Testament into a monster you have to give us a good reason. “Noah” never does.
The worst thing about “Noah” are The Watchers. Noah is aided by a bunch of cartoon rock creatures known as Watchers. They are angels who were cast out of heaven by God and doomed to roam the earth as big scary rocks.
I’m guessing the only reason The Watchers exist is to fight the climatic, “Lord of the Rings”-esque battle scene between Noah’s family and the angry mob that wants to steal the ark.
The only good thing I can say about “Noah” is that it made me want to go home and read the Bible. But that’s it. The movie is garbage.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

*

 

Rumor has it that millions of Americans have illegally downloaded “Wolverine” and watched it for free on their home computers. I think they still overpaid.

“Wolverine” is the first big hit of the summer, but it is the worst picture I’ve seen so far this year.

The film tells the perfectly ridiculous story of two mutant brothers – Wolverine and Sabretooth – who were born in the 1830s and have been fighting for a living for nearly two centuries because they are super strong and possibly immortal.

For no good reason, Wolverine suddenly becomes a pacifist and spends the rest of the picture at odds with his increasingly militaristic brother.

“Wolverine” is a clear step down from the X-Men movies that preceded it due to its unapologetic pointlessness.

I guess director Gavin Hood was too busy planning $10 million action sequences to look this up, but the mutants are SUPPOSED to be metaphors.

The X-Men are supposed to represent members of a minority group who are born different, pushed to the fringes of society, and struggle to find dignity and purpose in a world that despises and fears them.

And I’ve never picked up a comic! I learned that from watching the first few X-Men films, which are half-way decent dramas. “Wolverine” bears virtually no resemblance to them.

The only loose connection between the good X-Men pictures and this one is the appearance of Hugh Jackman as the title character. But that hardly means anything because Wolverine has his memory erased at the conclusion of “Wolverine,” in a lazy move to disconnect this boring, brainless version of the mutant from the more sophisticated character he became in 2000’s “X-Men.”

Long story short: “Wolverine” is a stupid action prequel, with indestructible characters who won’t die no matter how hard you root for them to.

But as Bruce Willis has proven on many occasions, a stupid action flick can be transformed into a likable movie by a great leading man with the right “relax, nobody is taking this too seriously” attitude.

Hugh Jackman absolutely doesn’t save “Wolverine.” He makes the unforgivable mistake of taking the ludicrous material too seriously. The cheesy one-liners that he delivers with a sneer should have been delivered with a Schwarzenegger smirk.

I’m not a fan of Jackman’s. I’d like to tell you that he is nothing more than a silly Aussie song and dance man who only belongs on Broadway, not the cineplex. However, the truth is that Jackman is actually a strong actor with a decent amount of range.

He was perfect as a rich arrogant Englishman in Woody Allen’s over-looked “Scoop.” He was tremendous – simultaneously empathetic and contemptible – in “The Prestige.”

When Jackman is working with a great director, he is capable of great things. And that makes it even more depressing when he makes awful movies like this. His 2004 dud “Van Helsing” was perhaps the worst action movie of the entire decade. “Wolverine” is almost as bad.

Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New York

????

 

There are a lot of unanswered questions about this bizarre movie. The first one is: how on earth did it ever get made to begin with? It is a film with a dumb name that no one can pronounce and a script that literally has no comprehensible meaning.

What brave studio executive decided: “THIS is just the sort of crazy cinema that we want to give our financial support to”? They would have had better luck investing all of their money in Washington Mutual and Ford Motors last year.

My guess is the only reason that the script for “Synecdoche, New York” wasn’t immediately tossed in the trash or forwarded to the nearest mental institution for psychological evaluation is that it was written by Charlie Kaufman.

Charlie Kaufman is arguably the most brilliant screenwriter of the past decade and definitely the most original.

He burst on the scene in 1999 with “Being John Malkovich,” an existentialist comedy about neurotic office workers on the 7 1/2th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper who stumble upon a mysterious portal. The portal leads directly into John Malkovich’s brain, where you get to experience life from the actor’s point of view for a few minutes, before being dropped off on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.

The film is weird, obviously, but it’s also a smart, accessible drama. Kaufman was on a role. He turned out one amazing script after another, culminating in 2004’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – the most insightful film ever made about the magic and madness of romantic relationships.

It was as if Kaufman had plucked a muse down from heaven to have all to himself. He seemed to have an inexhaustible spring of inspiration and the ability to channel his wild concepts into exquisitely crafted screenplays.

Charlie Kaufman’s muse has abandoned him. “Synecdoche, New York” – his directorial debut – is a train wreck.

This isn’t one of those movies that makes you debate the meaning with the person you saw it with. This film really has no discernable purpose or plot – just a series of absurd events that signify nothing.

Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Caden Cotard, a small time theater director who receives a sizable grant that he is supposed to use for creative purposes. He decides to use the money to build a life-sized replica of his neighborhood inside an enormous warehouse. Caden hires actors to play real people, including himself and his loved ones.

That’s it. That’s the whole movie.

Kaufman does infuse the film with quirky little comic flourishes, like the character’s house that is perpetually on fire and the paintings that keep getting smaller and smaller – to the point where the art gallery has to hand out magnifying glasses at the door.

But a few chuckles do not make up for two hours of ponderous, self-indulgent nonsense.

“Synecdoche, New York” doesn’t even deserve a star rating like a regular movie. It is so perfectly ridiculous that I am giving it: ????