The Shape of Water

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The Shape of Water

**1/2

 

“The Shape of Water” does a magnificent job of bringing us into its world.

The film takes place in an alternative version of early 1960s Baltimore: with huge apartments, secret military laboratories, kind-hearted Russian spies, and very few black people. Oh, and one magical sea creature.

Director Guillermo Del Toro is unquestionably a talented director. And he has a niche genre that’s all his own.

Del Toro makes fairy tale fantasy movies. The plots sound like they are for children. But children aren’t allowed to watch his films due to the extreme graphic violence, copious F-bombs, and full-frontal nudity.

Del Toro’s breakthrough hit, 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” is a 4-star classic. It’s the story of an imaginative little girl in 1930s Spain who creates a macabre alternative world. Del Toro’s point is that she is incapable of imagining anything as scary and terrible as her real life in the waning days of the Spanish Civil War.

“The Shape of Water” doesn’t have a clear point. And it’s not nearly as good as “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

“Water” tells the story of a mute lady named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) who takes a liking to the sea creature who is chained up in the military lab where she works. When Elisa sees him, it is love at first sight. That doesn’t make any darn sense, but it is convenient for the plot.

Unfortunately, military man Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) hates the creature as much as Elisa loves him.

The rest of the movie is essentially a Loony Tunes cartoon as Elisa’s Bugs Bunny outsmarts and hurts Strickland’s Elmer Fudd. Only this time, Elmer Fudd’s wounds bleed and get ghastly infections.

The problem with fairy tales is that they don’t have good characters – only heroes and villains. “The Shape of Water” is no different.

The film is perfectly entertaining. But ultimately I didn’t care about the love story and didn’t root for the heroes because they are so perfectly likable and bland.

Guillermo Del Toro didn’t foresee the problem with having a pack of flawless heroes and a villain played the great Michael Shannon who possesses every human vice. Eventually, intelligent viewers are going to begin to empathize with Strickland.

Strickland’s last words to the sea creature “****. You are a god” is the film’s only moment of true magic and wonder.

In the end, though, this is not a great movie. “The Shape of Water” does a magnificent job of bringing us into its world. But a lousy job of relating it to our world.

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Saving Capitalism

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Saving Capitalism

**1/2

 

The year was 1993. President Clinton nominated his old college pal Robert Reich as Labor Secretary.

Mr. Reich wasn’t just another juiced-in Friend of Bill with big pockets. Reich was a man of character and vision. He still is.

Secretary Reich understood the relationship between the government and the economy more clearly than his contemporaries.

At the time, Conservatives consistently clamored for less Federal intervention. They perceived government as the natural enemy of the free market. Liberals at the time, meanwhile, viewed government as the heroic police officer that stepped in and stopped rapacious businesses from getting their way.

Reich knew what we know now: both sides were preposterously wrong.

There is no free market. There is always government. Government sets the rules of capitalism in each country. But the rules aren’t always anti-business. Far from it. There are times when a government makes rules that are outrageously pro-business.

To Robert Reich, our economy is like an NFL game between two AFC powerhouses. There are always referees. You can’t have the game without them. But there is a serious problem when the referees rule that the go-ahead fourth quarter touchdown is an incomplete pass. Because then the refs have basically handed the game to one team. And now everyone is starting to lose faith in the sport.

The refs are the government. The New England Patriots are big corporations. And the Pittsburgh Steelers – the poor fools who had their winning touchdown stolen away in Week 15 – are the American workers.

For Secretary Reich, the solution was simple: next time there was a big rule change in Washington, he needed to make sure the new rule was NOT written by lobbyists for Bill Belichick.

Simple is not the same as easy. Reich completely failed. He resigned in quiet frustration in 1997.

Mr. Reich is too polite and loyal to explicitly say it, but he subtly admits the ugly truth: when it came to twisting the rules to give big business more power, Clinton was like Reagan on steroids. Corporate sponsored steroids.

“Saving Capitalism” – as the name suggests – doesn’t condemn capitalism at all. It states that the biggest threat to our glorious economic system is resentment caused by wealth inequality. And wealth inequality is caused by too much corporate money influencing Washington.

It’s a reasonable premise. Robert Reich is a reasonable man. I must warn you, my leftist readers, you may be horrified as he talks to Republican congressmen and lobbyists as if they are fellow human beings worthy of living. Indeed, you may faint when Reich chats with Trump voters and suggests that they are essentially on his side – the side of anti-Trust government action and populist reform.

His premise is reasonable. His dialogue with all sides is reasonable. His conclusion is idiotic.

Robert Reich concludes – quixotically – that if people get politically active we can turn the tide of history. We can boot big money out of Washington. We can change the rules and turn the Patriots into a .500 team again.

Reich is dead wrong. He was Secretary of Labor for a Democratic President with a Democrat-controlled Congress before Citizens United. And he accomplished nothing. Now he is suggesting that getting out the vote is going to solve our problems. Ha.

  The Truth About Alcohol

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The Truth About Alcohol

                                                    **1/2

    They say alcohol is a poison. And I suppose that’s technically true. But it isn’t that dangerous a poison.

    I know this because I have been to the UK a few times. And I can tell you from firsthand experience that there are, in fact, elderly people there.

    If some British people made it to old age, then it is a proven fact that booze isn’t all that deadly. For Americans, drinking hard is a choice. For the British, it is a cultural tradition.

    In England, it is not customary to tip the bartender when she serves you a pint. This custom began years ago when it was discovered that the hundred richest women in the UK were barmaids. I made that up. But I am not exaggerating about how much the British drink.

    In the event that heavy drinking is seriously hazardous to the body, it is inevitable that British doctors will be on the cutting edge of scientific discovery.

    “The Truth About Alcohol” is a breezy, light-hearted, occasionally informative BBC documentary by British ER doctor Javid Abdelmoneim. Dr. Javid was inspired to make this film when the British Health Service suddenly lowered the recommended healthy level of alcohol intake for men to 14 units per week.

   In the US, a nerdy health-obsessed doctor would simply be a non-drinker. Dr. Javid is British, though, so he attaches a sweat-monitor to his ankle to calculate exactly how much he drinks in a normal week.

   It turns out that the doctor consumes twice the recommended weekly quotient of booze, and he didn’t even drink on four of the seven nights.

   In other words, if you drink in any serious way, you drink way too much for your own good.

Dr. Javid spends most of the film performing experiments and studies with dubious scientific merit to answer some common questions about alcohol.

         Why does a woman tend to get tipsy quickly while a tall, fit man of the same weight can hold his liquor? Apparently, it is because blood-alcohol level is determined by how much water a person has in her body. And since muscle has much more water than fat, the man will feel less drunk from the same amount of drinking.

         It’s also possible that the man lined his stomach before starting to drink. Dr. Javid does a splendid job of explaining how the digestive enzymes in your stomach begin to break down alcohol before it even gets absorbed into your bloodstream. That’s why you can drink so much more after a hearty meal.

          That seems convincing, but some of the film’s anti-alcohol claims are ridiculous.

Dr. Javid argues that booze makes you sleep poorly. But his only evidence is a one-night sleep study – featuring Javid himself and a bottle of fine whiskey. He states that alcohol makes you eat more. But he bases this on a twenty-minute study at a pub with a group of college boys. “Colin ate more crisps than Nigel. We must alert the Oxford Journal of Medicine!”

I certainly don’t know how bad alcohol is for you. But I do know this: the British have been drinking steadily and heavily since at least as far back as they learned written language.

And during those millennia, the British built a remarkable, artistic, cultured, influential society. They even conquered 1/3 of the earth one time.

The British aren’t going to drink less. And I’m probably not going to either. I plan on spending my first Social Security check on a six pack.

Betting on Zero

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Betting on Zero

**1/2

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

-Genesis 3:19

 

I am thankful for the wisdom of this bible verse.

Without it, life would be a lot harder and more complicated. There have been hundreds of Sunday nights during my adult life where I lost sleep. I was dreading the long, daunting work week ahead.

But no matter how much I’m dreading it, I always go to work on Monday. That’s because I don’t view it as a choice. Genesis makes it sparklingly clear: if I want to earn the right to live and eat, I must labor.

I will work until my boss gives me a gold watch or until I expire at my desk. Either way is cool. I never feel sorry for myself. I feel sorry for the unfortunate people who haven’t internalized Genesis 3:19.

Life will always be harder for the chumps who think that there is a realistic path to wealth that doesn’t involve a 9 to 5 job. There will always be a Scammer trying to lure them away from their money. It could be the lottery. It could be the casino. It could be Herbalife.

Herbalife, I learned from “Betting on Zero,” produces health products. The company sells shakes, pills, and stuff that supposedly helps you lose weight.

Documentarian Ted Braun doesn’t tell us whether he thinks the shakes actually make you healthier and thinner. It hardly matters. Herbalife doesn’t make money selling health products; Herbalife is a Pyramid Scheme.

“Betting on Zero” is a half hour too long, but it is totally convincing. Herbalife doesn’t market its shakes to consumers; it markets them to its independent distributors.

The heart and soul of Herbalife are its shameless salesmen who are able to convince dozens of patsies to invest their life savings into Herbalife products and convince other people to do the same. That top salesman gets a cash bonus and an Alpha Romeo. The middle distributors break even at best. All the dupes on the bottom of the Pyramid get are products they can’t sell and bills they can’t pay.

The hero of this story is Hedge Fund manager Bill Ackman (seriously). Ackman saw what Herbalife is doing to its workers and set out to destroy the company and make money in the process. In 2012, he shorted $1 billion in Herbalife stock. Shorting a stock means that you sell shares that you don’t have. When the stock drops as planned, you buy them back for less and make a profit.

The victims of this story are the undocumented immigrants who fell for the scam by the tens of thousands. Herbalife used Spanish-language advertisements to target illegals because they are less likely to go public with complaints about being ripped off.

I don’t feel quite as sorry for Herbalife salespeople as Ted Braun wants me to. If somebody says: “I have a job for you! Now give me some money,” you should know that it is a rip-off, not a job. If you give that guy your money, you are not a victim – you are a fool.

To be clear: I’m definitely not defending Herbalife. The company is awful and I hope that its stock price does go to zero. However, we don’t need government probes or Bill Ackman to make it happen.

Herbalife would shut its doors tomorrow if everyone just woke up and realized there are no shortcuts to success in this life. All you have to do is read Genesis 3:19, get up bright and early on Monday morning, and then go to your soul-sucking dead-end job like the rest of us.

 

The Jihadist Next Door

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The Jihadist Next Door

**1/2

 

The most important year in European history was 732.

A century before, Mohammed had founded Islam. In just couple of generations, the conquering armies of Islam had profoundly changed the map of the world. Mohammed’s successors controlled an unbroken empire stretching from Northern India to Morocco.

In 711, North African Moors – led by General Abd al-Rahman – attacked Spain. They subjugated the Christian Visigoth barbarians with ease. Inevitably, the Muslim army crossed the Pyrenees and attacked an even more backward barbarian tribe called the Franks.

The Battle of Tours (732) was the greatest upset in Medieval history. The question wasn’t whether the undefeated Abd al-Rahman would triumph, but how badly the Christians would be slaughtered.

But amazingly, the Christian Franks – led by Charles Martel – stopped the Moors in their tracks. Western Europe would remain Christian for another 1300 years.

The second most important year in European history was 1985. By signing the Schengen Agreement, a group of myopic, greedy globalists undid the work of Charles Martel. The borders of Western Europe came down.

“The Jihadi Next Door” explores the new world that intolerant Islamists and idiot internationalists unleashed upon us. The documentary introduces us to some British men who are far from English, living in a new Europe that feels far from Christendom.

The most memorable Jihadi is Abu Rumaysah, a Hindu-born convert who moved to The Islamic State soon after the documentary was shot. He calmly explains what life will be like in Europe after Sharia Law is enacted. Abu speaks fondly of a happy future where adulterers are stoned to death in public and gay men are thrown off the roof.

His words are ghastly but unsurprising. The way he speaks them is the really interesting part. Abu Rumaysah is a normal-sounding British guy. He and his buddies sound like a pack of average blokes. Instead of drinking beer and watching soccer, though, they eat Middle Eastern take-out and watch ISIS execution videos on YouTube.

Abu is not an immigrant. He is the new face of Britain. It is not inconceivable that he is right when he predicts that the Islamic State flag will eventually fly over 10 Downing Street.

When we see Abu Rumaysah take to the streets with his provocative demonstrations, it feels like the Sharia Law takeover is pretty far away. He gets a solidly negative reaction. However, it also feels like the united Christian Europe that Charles Martel fought for is even further away.

The people who angrily fight back at Abu aren’t English people, they are fellow Muslims. Abu gets into shouting matches with Pakistanis, Kurds, Shiites, and kufaars (non-practicing Muslims).

The tide of battle has finally turned. After 1300 years, the Muslim forces of General Abd al-Rahman have begun to overwhelm Christendom.

Next time you hear Populists talk about the virtue of borders, please don’t dismiss them as racists. They are the successors of Charles Martel: fighting against all odds to save our world.

 

 

I Am Your Father

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I Am Your Father

**1/2

 

If you will indulge me here, I am going to list all of the accomplishments of my career:

  1. I’ve been with the same company for 15 years.

That is all.

I am a responsible and agreeable enough employee to avoid being fired evidently. Because, I assure you, I never go above and beyond in my daily work duties. I assure you of that.

Do I try to impress my boss to earn a promotion? No! Do I stay late or work overtime unless explicitly forced by my boss? Goodness No! Do I take work home with me, either in a briefcase or in my head? Heck No! If I ever find myself thinking of work when I’m not getting paid to, I drink until those shameful thoughts are out of my head.

Work is great, but if you try to turn your job into the primary source of meaning and happiness in your life, you are making a monumental mistake. No matter how much success you achieve, work will ultimately leave you disappointed.

David Prowse proves it.

Though you’ve probably don’t know who David Prowse is, you’ve certainly seen him. He’s Darth Vader. He’s the super tall Englishman who wore the iconic Darth Vader costume in the first three Star Wars movies. “I Am Your Father” tells his happy and heartbreaking story.

Prowse – who was 80 years old when this documentary was made – recounts the glory years of his remarkable career.

He won the British Bodybuilding Championship in 1962. He parlayed his gigantic 6’7’’ frame into a steady acting career. He played Frankenstein in low-budget British horror movies. He appeared in “A Clockwork Orange.”

Prowse is best known to older Englishmen as the Green Cross Code Man: a superhero who taught British kids to cross the street safely in the 1970s. He was honored by the Queen for his lifesaving work.

But Prowse remembers his time as Darth Vader most fondly. He recalls the amazing experience of watching the first “Star Wars” in a packed theater and discovering – to his total surprise – that he was part of a huge mega-hit.

Prowse recalls the excitement of watching “The Empire Strikes Back” in the theater and learning that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. The Star Wars producers were so obsessed with secrecy that they didn’t even tell the actors.

That paranoid secrecy would end up biting David Prowse in the back a few years later. During the filming of “Return of the Jedi,” the news of Darth Vader’s death leaked to the press.

The producers blamed Prowse. As a response, they cast another actor as the face of Darth Vader when the dying villain finally takes off the mask. Even worse, they didn’t inform Prowse at all. They filmed Darth Vader’s penultimate dramatic scene behind his back.

By all accounts, David Prowse should be proud of his amazing acting career. If success brings one joy, he should be the happiest guy in England. But he is tormented by the bitterness of how he was treated by George Lucas and by the unforgettable death scene that he should have been a part of.

Career success has also affected his family life. Prowse’s son is still wounded by the embarrassment of having a famous father. And Prowse’s wife – who refused to be interviewed – never understood the movies and hates that Prowse has to go off to Star Wars conventions every weekend.

The lesson of “I Am Your Father” is clear. It’s good to have a job. It’s good to retire with money in the bank and some neat stories. But if you expect your career to bring you happiness, the Force will not be with you.

13th

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13th

**1/2

 

Most of us can agree that it is bad for a society to have too many people behind bars. And it is a sad fact that the United States is the worst culprit. We have the largest prison population in world history.

What we may not be able to agree on is how it came to be this way. I have a basic theory. I call it: “build it and they will come.”

My theory holds that if you have a country with two million prison cells, you will inevitably have two million prisoners. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

The makers of the acclaimed documentary “13th” have a very different theory.

The title references the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. It forever outlawed involuntary servitude… “except as punishment for a crime.”

The film taught me about the period just after the Civil War when States arrested black men for petty crimes and used them as free prison labor – essentially as slaves owned by the government.

And then the film argues that the 13th Amendment and the racism of the Reconstruction Era led directly to the situation we have today: where there are 2.2 million people behind bars – mostly people of color.

I vehemently oppose the Prison Industrial Complex and I certainly agree that the United States always has been oppressive to black people.

However, I don’t agree with documentarian Ava Duvernay’s theory. Her understandable anger about racism and her less understandable hatred of Republicans clouds her judgement.

If the 13th Amendment and systemic racism naturally led to overflowing prisons, then it would have happened a lot earlier. In 1970, the American prison population was around 300,000 – pretty much in line with the UK and Australia.

It wasn’t hatred of black men that turned the US into a prison state – it was love of money.

The law of supply and demand is terrific when the product is life-saving medicine or tasty beer. The law of supply and demand is a calamity when the product is incarceration. As soon as prisons became profitable for big companies, big problems were certain to follow.

The unholy union of money and prison began with vendors like the food-service giant Aramark earning lucrative contracts. It got worse when corporations like JC Penny and Victoria’s Secret began exploiting dirt cheap prison labor to make their clothing.

The final nail in the coffin of freedom, dignity, and common sense was hammered in 1983, when Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) was founded. The privatization of prisons ensured that the number of prison cells would skyrocket.

And, as my theory goes, if there are more profitable prison cells, it is a certainty that the system will create prisoners.

President Clinton (The First) signed the Omnibus Crime Bill of 1994. The heinous bill allotted $billions for new prisons and ensured that they got filled by enacting mandatory minimum sentences for many drug crimes and the “three strikes and you’re out” rule for repeat offenders.

Before long there were two million profitable prison cells filled with two million human beings who were conveniently labeled as criminals. That is the situation we face today.

And just who fills those cells? “13th” argues that it is people of color. I argue that it is the weakest and most vulnerable members of society: poor young men. It is certainly true that most prisoners are non-white. But that is more because of their inability to obtain a good lawyer than the color of their skin.

OJ got away with murder while Zeke from West Virginia got 20 years for selling meth. Sadly, most non-white men have way less money than OJ.

Racism is a problem. The fact that most black boys grow up without a father or a decent chance of finding a solid job is a bigger problem.

One thing that “13th” and I agree on is that it is difficult and dangerous to be a young black man in our society. I don’t claim to have the perfect solution. But I do know step one: close the prisons.

USA vs. China: Empires at War

 

China vs. USA: Empires at War

**1/2

 

They have 1.4 billion people. 200 nuclear warheads. The largest industrial economy. And an unquenchable desire to be the world’s #1 superpower.

A showdown is inevitable. World War III. The United States vs. China.

I absolutely do not believe that. China is our economic rival, not our enemy.

I am certain that the United States would be a better, happier, more egalitarian country today if we had never granted China Most Favored Nation status and become its largest trading partner. However, there is one positive thing about doing so much business with China. We aren’t going to go to war.

The militaristic kooks who made the documentary “China vs. USA: Empires at War” have a different take on the subject.

This is a well-thought-out and substantive film. It interviews experts from both sides of the Pacific to analyze China’s motivations and military might.

They explain in detail why China is a formidable enemy. History Channel viewers will enjoy the description of the different ways that Beijing is preparing for the great war to come.

20 years ago, the Chinese recognized that US aircraft carriers were a menace that they couldn’t contend with. So Beijing responded by building a fleet of stealthy diesel submarines.

It was clear that America had a huge advantage in satellite technology which allows our military to coordinate battles better than any foe. So China responded by creating satellite-disabling lasers that can temporarily send American generals back to the age of battery-powered walkie talkies.

I have no idea whether this is a real threat or sci-fi paranoia, but “China vs. USA” claims that China could detonate a nuclear bomb in the Pacific Ocean that would fry all electrical equipment in the area – rendering an entire American fleet completely helpless.

But why would China want to use its fancy weapons on us, you may ask? Because, the film argues, The United States is going to declare war on China when China invades Taiwan.

War with China. For Taiwan? Like heck we are.

I don’t have any idea what you think of the good folks of Taiwan. But I know darn well that you aren’t willing to sacrifice your son or grandson in a war over Taiwanese sovereignty.

And as little as we want war, China wants it even less.

We buy $500,000,000,000 in Chinese-made stuff per year. As much as I hate all of the deindustrialization and materialism that comes with our trade relationship with China, I have to admit that it acts as a guarantor of peace between our great nations.

The United States could do just fine without all of those imports (we’d start making iPhones and iPads in America and hopefully just quit buying all that other junk). China would, at best, fall into a terrible economic depression without its fix of half a trillion US dollars each year. More likely, the regime in Beijing would collapse a couple of months into the war.

“China vs. US: Empires at War” is an interesting movie about an important topic. But it is hilariously wrong.