I saw "Woman in Gold" and had to walk for an hour to recover

Over Labor Day weekend I went to visit the girlfriend and see her new place. One morning's plans got torpedo'ed because she wasn't feeling well so we stayed in and watched a movie. We sort of picked "Woman in Gold" because it was something I'd wanted to see and missed in theaters and she's lived in Germany and knows a lot about history so we figured why not. (4/5 almost entirely because Mirren is awesome)

As advertised, Helen Mirren does an excellent job as Maria Altmann, the woman whose aunt is portrayed in the eponymous painting. The story revolves around Ms Altmann's efforts to recover the painting, which was stolen from her family by the Nazis. She's opposed by the Austrian government for whom the Klimt painting and its companions have become national symbols and for whom the concept of "reparations" was mostly an abstract concept hearkening back to a past that late-20th-century Austrians would like to put behind them.

Against Mirren's performance Ryan Reynolds comes off as scene-chewing and kind of spastic. He's trying hard and I can see how he can mature into a better actor with experience and work but dear gods he really highlights what a master of the craft Mirren is. She conveys a wide range of emotions with her expressions, intonations, and simple gestures But to Reynolds' credit he sticks with it and pulls it off.

Spoilers and triggers...
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It's a good movie to watch, if you're prepared for it. Me, I had to walk for nearly an hour afterward to shake it off.

I saw the Huntsman movies and they made one thing clear

I'm talking here about Snow White and the Huntsman and The Huntsman: Winter's War. (3/5 stars because I really didn't expect much)

These are generally fun, mostly mindless, movies of the genre that used to be called "sword and sorcery". It's pseudo-medieval, features people swinging and firing weapons typical of the Middle Ages, wearing armor, riding horses, and then you get a sprinkling of fantastic creatures and some fancy SFX magical effects. It's now clear to me that Chris Hemsworth's character in Ghostbusters is largely parodying the Huntsman.

In order to critique these movies you'd have to take them seriously, which I think would be a mistake. There isn't the level of whimsy in, say, Princess Bride but the films are clearly fairy tales being told in a fairly lighthearted manner (though there is a fair amount of darkness and PG-13 content). They're good for what they are, which is a few hours of entertainment.

Kristen Stewart's Snow White is a very modernized Joan of Arc-infused heroine. Hemsworth's Huntsman is your classic tortured reluctant hero. Charlize Theron is a scarily menacing villain (pay some freakin' attention Disney). Emily Blunt is a suitably psychotic second villain in the Winter's War. And Jessica Chastain's Sara is the kind of woman warrior I wish we'd see more of. You know they'll come into conflicts and there's absolutely no suspense about the outcome of the conflicts and that's OK. The costuming is not bad, the effects aren't overly intrusive and the settings are interesting enough to pique my curiosity about where the films were shot (IMDB lists locations throughout the UK).

The films are probably best seen in order so long as you don't mind that the second film completely erases Finn (Sam Spruell) who played a fairly menacing villain with a bad haircut in the first one. In the first film, he's Ravenna's brother and a fair bit is made of their mystical bond and longevity of relationship. In the second film, which supposedly comes before the first in the story chronology, Finn's nowhere to be seen and not even mentioned.

We saw "Suicide Squad" and I still don't like movies about villains

This movie was the hardest to review of the set I've seen recently. I really wanted to like it, and there were a couple of really good performances. But the script is an utter mess - incoherent, spineless, and nearly pointless in places. If Warner/DC can't get it together soon they should just pick up their marbles and go home. 2/5 stars because Will Smith and Margot Robbie are good at their craft and someone has to pick up the Joker mantle so why not Jared Leto.

Can't do this without end-to-end spoilers, sorry...
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Footnote: This movie is likely forever to be my counter-example to my rule of thumb that having a single writer/director leads to better outcomes.

I saw "Indie Game: The Movie" and it was a lesson on pursuing your dream

(I've seen a remarkable number of movies for me lately; I'll try to keep the reviews short so I can get through all of them.)

Indie Game: The Movie is a documentary about four main developers working on three indie games as they struggle to get their works completed, either for release or for demonstration. I went into it expecting it to be something about game design or development, but really it's a piece bearing witness to the idea that "you should quit your job and follow your dream" is a perilous path. (3/5 stars)

All four of these people are (obsessively) pursuing their dreams. They're making no money, losing friends and marriages, and enduring at a minimum disbelief and scorn from the public as their game releases drag out and take longer than expected. The documentary keeps us in suspense until the end about whether any of the games will make it. That worked for me because I don't know indie games and didn't recognize the titles; if you know the games' history it might be a foretold conclusion.

Either way the movie really is about the people and their personal struggles, not about game development. They could have been craft micro-brewers or unknown writers or really any other lonely hard-working penurious individuals. In that sense, I felt the movie was something of a let-down. Though I did end up caring (mostly) about the people and wanting them to be successful, I also wanted to learn something about indie game development other than "geezus working years on a labor of love you really care about that nobody else can understand is hard and lonely and destructive."

I also could not help but notice that the chosen game developers were all young white males. While I have no doubt that's the majority of the population involved in this, my experiences at Arisia (which had an indie game expo last year and will again this year) as well as at other cons shows that there are indie-game makers of different genders, skin colors, and so on. Given that the film could only focus on a few individuals it would have been nice to see something of how these differences, which play very large in the commercial publication game world, play in the indie-game struggle.

Speedy music post

Going to try to launch this one between the lines today, otherwise it's Monday and you want these sets to improve your weekend.
Before I start the longer-form things, I wanted to share this "future funk" track from Griz called "Before I go". It features singer/songwriter Leo Napier ( who looks NOTHING like he sounds, sorry. And who has a terrible Web site, but who cares when he can sing like that? Griz does a great job with the first half of the track then decides for some reason he need fuzz electronica to go along with the vocals and horns because Reasons. I don't think they add anything and fortunately they don't overdominate the soulful and, yes, somewhat funky riffs.
First of the long-form listens is Freemixed Nuts' EP compilation of funk and soul from eight new-to-me artists. Vocals that come straight out of motown, and liberal lifting of jazz riffs complement the underlying funk beats. As with the Griz tracks there's also fuzz electronica mixed in here and there so maybe it's a thing and I should get used to it. The EP is available for free download and there are links to each of the performers' sites and feeds in the More Info. Check 'em out.
Another good Innerstate collection from Ummet Ozcan. As befits the season it has more summer festival dance banger entries than other mixes. Of those, I think I like "Let's Go" from Rick Mitchells best for its unpretentious/unashamed let's bounce up and down fun aesthetic.
OK, back to the funk. I could say just play this because it's an excellent 85 minutes of funky goodness but let me tell you about some of my favorites from this set. CAZZETTE's "She Wants Me Dead" ( which I love for its horns and fast vocals. Or maybe you'd rather enjoy the vocals of Angela McCluskey as she does "The Little Things" with Big Gigantic, who actually have a couple entries in this set. But this lady has pipes and the music backs them well - it's a little torch singa, a little modern, a little funk, and a lotta phat horns. DeFunk has a lot of their own work in this set, like their remix of K Theory's "Things I Like To Do" ( which comes off as hip-hoppy, jazzy, fast-breakin' funk. I wish it was longer, but I say that about a lot of things. Or if you're more in a ghetto funk mood you might go for Stickbuds' remix of "Bust a Move" from Young MC (, which revives an old-school hip-hop favorite and updates it to very modern sensibilities.

We saw George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic and it was fan funkin' tastic

I've searched my LJ and cannot find any review of the first time we saw Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic at House of Blues. I remember it well because it was an excellent show and it cemented HoB as my favorite place to see music. The sound at HoB is usually quite good, always better than the abominable Paradise, I can get seats with a good view (unlike the Paradise) and it's clean and spacious, unlike... well, you get the idea.

Clinton and P-Funk returned last night for another edition of their show. It's definitely a performance, and it's definitely musical, but it's unlike most other shows you're likely ever to have seen. It's as much cabaret as it is rock show, with 14+ people on stage at any given moment. There's a solid backing trio of keyboards, drums, and bass and then there's... well, everything else.

And by "everything else" I mean rappers and singers and "back-up" singers about whom more in a moment, and Clinton himself and horn players and other vocalists and percussionists and one gentleman who has, let me tell you, not one ounce of fat ANYWHERE on his lithe and very gymnastic body. With that many people on stage it sometimes leads to amusing miscues but the group have toured and practiced together so much that they manage the transitions and hand-offs with aplomb. The only major stumble I saw was due to the sound system not working properly.

Clinton leads the ensemble, doing a bit of singing, some dancing and jumping around (pretty spry for a big man of 75 years) but mostly he's the impresario: bringing people on, encouraging attention to one place or another, getting the audience riled up. He's like the best combination of a rock star, cheerleader, and grandfather who never lost the love of what he's doing.

The performance went for an hour non-stop before the first break and then another hour+ of almost continuous play after that with shifting performers and styles. Around midnight-fifteen the venue shut off the sound system and turned on the house lights and we finally went home.

Notable highlights in this show:

  • the aforementioned back-up singers, two of whom did a really nice soul-infused duet. Lovely voices, but the sound mix wasn't helping them a lot.
  • the OTHER back-up singer, a skinny woman who spent the entire 2.5+ hours in some very high platform boots and whose solo performance would not have been out of place in a strip club (just sayin') except for the part where she was singing while gyrating. Balance, grace, and a sweet vocal range - also really nice.
  • a saxophone player whose name I sadly did not catch because dude was AMAZING. His range, speed, precision, and sustains were all out of this world. And then he put down the sax and sang lead, quite ably. There was also a trumpet player who on another stage would have been good but placed next to this sax genius, well, I'm not sure anyone could have measured up.
  • TWO extended solos from Blackbyrd McKnight. He's one of the few remaining traces of the old Parliament Funkadelic and he's just insanely good at what he does. His solos were incendiary, a throwback to old-school Clapton and Hendrix and Page. And yes, he did actually play the guitar with his teeth at one point, as if to prove he could do that, too. Last show I remember him kind of sitting out much of the first part while he fussed with his guitar only to blow away the stage and audience once he got rolling. Seeing him hit that mile-high groove again was awesome.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the opener: The Nephrok Allstars, whom I'd heard of before through kit_holliday and had watched videos but never seen live. Like most funk acts, Nephrok is much better live than recorded. They did a strong set with Nephrok himself giving some of the verbal vibe that I remember from the earliest P-Funk days.

---------- Music history aside ----------
Back in the dark ages, funk music and particularly P-Funk with its weird sci-fi-esque mothership and space alien vibe (see also Sun Ra) positioned itself as a force for intergalactic harmony and peace. At a moment in time when many Black voices were speaking anger (Nation of Islam, Black Panthers) funk artists stood up to deliver a "we are all one" message. It's something that has always stuck with me.

So last night Nephrok talked to the audience about being "love soldiers" - active, not passive - and paying attention to what was going on in the world. He did a song for Syria and pointed out that even though he doesn't personally know many Syrians it's still something that should touch us all deeply. He reminded people that we are all children of Abraham. Funk music and (Black) politics have always been entwined in my brain and I'm glad to see modern funk artists carrying on that tradition too.

Two technology updates

First and simplest to state: anyone have a good solution for blocking spam calls on a Droid mobile phone? For a while it was some credit BS thing multiple times per day; now it's "GE Home Security". They always spoof caller ID - I never pick up non-local numbers, but because I'm doing business with various local companies I do pick up calls from nearby area codes.

Second, a real update on the VW situation I blogged a few weeks ago. There's now an official site into which one can put one's VIN to see one qualifies and get an estimate of what they'd buy back the car for. The amount is surprisingly large. I didn't look up the paperwork but I think it's very close to actual purchase price (minus some options we added on). That makes the buyback option much more realistic than I had thought, but it brings up the question of what I'd get instead. A Tesla is still out of the question, unfortunately.

There's also information on the modification option. VW is anticipating that by November they'll have an EPA-approved plan to modify the emissions systems and software and will be able to tell me things like what mileage I'd get, what the impact on performance will be, etc. Those are really the key numbers because while it'd be nice to get my money back and be able to buy a new car I'm not particularly in the market for that. Then again, having the modifications done could be a great deal like getting a new car that might be inferior to my present car.

The settlement documents don't seem to talk about it so I'm guessing "do nothing" is not an option. At some point this vehicle is going to start failing annual emissions testing and not be legal to drive. Which is as it should be - everyone ought to play by the same set of rules. There are also options for not participating in the class settlement but I can't see any advantage to that.