Are You an Average American? You Should Read Andrew Yang’s The War On Normal People – A Book Review

waronnormalpeople

If you’re anything like me, when you first heard Andrew Yang’s idea to give every American citizen $1,000 a month, you probably scoffed. In fact, I’m so cynical that I bypassed any kind of reactionary positive response at all. My immediate thought was, “Where’s this money going to come from?”

However, after hearing Yang on the radio, I grew interested. He sounded intelligent, informed, involved, and interconnected with the general American society. I wanted to know more, so I picked up his 2018 book The War On Normal People.

To say this book altered my outlook regarding American’s future is an understatement. It served as a wake-up call, to be sure. The next five to ten years are not going to be kind to the average American. Automation and AI are going to severely transform the labor industry. Those without college educations are likely to suffer the most. The average American does not have a college education–this is, statistically speaking, normal.

Yang spends two-thirds of the book detailing the struggles of the current normal American. He uses legitimate statistics to make his point about how little money the average American actually has, how volatile the average American’s job is (such as retail, customer service, transportation, administrative support, and food service), and how much financial aid our country already provides. The truth is, the first part of this book literally kept me up at night. It’s horrifying.

The last third of the book is, as you would expect, a pitch for the presidency. However, he’s not wrong about anything he says in the first part of the book. Whether we like it or not, AI and automation are going to change everything. If you’re in the factory industry, it already has.

During his bid for office, though, he actually does make a compelling argument in regards to what he calls a Universal Basic Income. (That’s the $1,000 a month idea.) He makes a point to mention that Thomas Paine, Martin Luther King, Jr., Richard Nixon, Stephen Hawking, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bernie Sanders have all entertained a variation of the idea. He breaks down how it could work, how it could help the average American, and how it could stimulate local economies.

The fact is, to me, Andrew Yang seems the most invested in society of any of the current presidential runners. He understands the real America. He’s been to our decaying cities. He’s talked with the hopeless, the forlorn, and the disenfranchised. He understands our need to work, our need to provide, and our need to feel useful.

Furthermore, he has two young children himself. (One of those children happens to be autistic.) He’s married. He’s a first generation American. He’s only 45 years old. This is a man who cares deeply about America, his family, your family, and the economical conditions in which those families will live.

I’m not saying you have to vote for Andrew Yang, but I think you should at least read his book. It will probably hit closer to home than you ever expected. It did for me.

 

 

Little Women (2019) – A Movie Review

little women 2019

My wife, eleven and seven year old daughters, and I wanted to make special plans for New Year’s Eve. We decided on a movie and dinner, which, while not especially original, sounded delightful to us. My oldest daughter and wife wanted to see Little Women. The youngest daughter didn’t much care either way, nor did I.

I feel that it may be important at this point to mention that I’ve never read the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott. (Yes, I’ve read a lot of novels. Yes, I know it’s a travesty I haven’t read this particular novel. Yes, I understand I’m obligated to read every book ever written.) I also have never seen a theatrical adaptation of Little Women. In other words, I came into this film knowing almost nothing about the plot or characters.

Without a doubt, Little Women is one of my favorite films of 2019. Trust me, no one is more surprised by that statement than the person who wrote it.

In the beginning, I thought I’d made a huge mistake. The first ten minutes were, well … boring.

However, as you begin to meet the sisters and experience their interactions, the charm of the film comes into full effect. The chemistry between the four actors playing sisters Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth render Little Women irresistible.

Saoirse Ronan plays Jo, the lead character. I’ve seen Ronan before in Lady Bird. There’s no denying she’s among the best at her craft. Ronan delivers a fully developed Jo March, a young woman capable of earning our love and also of instigating our frustration. Like any real person, Jo has moments of wonderful triumph and horrible judgement. However, Ronan’s performance is so charismatic that we can’t take our eyes off of Jo, and we can’t stop hoping for her happy ending.

I won’t break down everyone, but Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen also offer fully realized characters. When they are laughing, we are laughing. When they are crying, we are crying. They make us part of their family, which is why this movie won me over so thoroughly. In fact, though I hesitate to admit it, the death in this movie brought a tear or two to my eye that escaped and trickled down my cheek. I could count the number of times this has happened to me in a theater on one hand.

By the way, Laura Dern, who plays the mother, fits perfectly with these actors. First of all, I think they all actually look like they could be family, and you see aspects of her in all of their performances. It really is quite amazing. I don’t know if this is simply the result of the novel’s characterizations, if it’s natural chemistry among the troop, or if it happened due to careful direction. Whatever the case may be, the multifaceted Dern also captured my heart.

Speaking of direction, I’d like to address Greta Gerwig, the director. I liked Lady Bird, but I’ve also heard that it’s essentially her life story. I have conflicted feelings when I hear that a director is basically just replicating actual events. That may be small-minded of me, but it’s the way I feel. With Little Women, though, I think Gerwig made some brilliant decisions. Again, I have not read the book, so perhaps this is done in the novel, but Gerwig depicts these people as actual human beings. They are not prim and proper, they are not saints (though they certainly have more charity in their hearts than most), and they are not above petty retribution. Best of all? They fight. Not just verbally, but physically. There’s a moment in the film where a brawl breaks out between two of them and I started laughing. Not because it was meant to be funny, but because it was so fresh. I’ve never seen a movie taking place in the 1800s, based off of a classic work of literature, willing to show young women having a knock-down, drag-out fight. Do sisters fight? Yes! Did sisters fight in the 1800s? Of course! Yet such realism, and bluntness, is rarely shown on film. There are many themes in this film, but chief among them is that women are people, too. I think Gerwig was very smart to show us women actually being people–not cherished artifacts, dainty assets, or beautiful trophies, but real people.

Gerwig chose to also unveil the plot in a broken timeline. In other words, the film does not start at the beginning and run through to the end. Instead, it starts in the middle and then jumps back in time at relevant moments only to return back to the present. It can be a little confusing at times, but, overall, it proved very compelling.

If you follow my reviews, you know that most of the movies that I see in theaters involve laser swords, muscular men in mo-cap suits, and robots with varying degrees of sentience. Bearing that in mind, I highly recommend Little Women to fans of any genre. Like Shakespeare did in his plays, this film captures the essence of that for which we can all relate: love, family, hope, death, anger, and living life.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker – A Movie Review

MV5BMDljNTQ5ODItZmQwMy00M2ExLTljOTQtZTVjNGE2NTg0NGIxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODkzNTgxMDg@._V1_

I loved The Rise of Skywalker because it pandered to my every desire.

I realize that this is something of a backhanded compliment, yet I don’t care. Did it have problems? Absolutely. Did those problems impede my enjoyment of the film? Not at all.

The Rise of Skywalker left me emotionally fulfilled–perhaps even giddy. It did its best to adjust to The Last Jedi, a film that, while well made, did not settle well with me. It wrapped up multiple story lines while leaving ample opportunity for future stories. We were also afforded the opportunity to say goodbye to everyone just the way we hoped we would.

I’d be lying if I said The Rise of Skywalker broke any kind of new ground. Even the surprises, once contemplated, proved to be obvious choices.

However, this did not bother me at all. I’ve been watching Star Wars movies since childhood. I’ve been on this ride for forty years. In regards to the main story line, the Skywalker saga, there are certain expectations that simply can’t be altered. Call this extreme fan-service, call it an adherence to the archetypal blueprint upon which Star Wars is built, call it whatever you want. When destiny and hope are firmly entrenched in a film series’ themes, there aren’t that many choices pertaining to the conclusion.

Without getting into spoilers, I found the action of The Rise of Skywalker impeccable, the dialogue snappy, the emotional resonance potent, and the characters engaging. The film moved so fast that it nearly achieved hyperspace, which resulted in an incredibly fun experience. There were a few “I can’t believe that happened!” moments, and there were several greatly appreciated cameos. Furthermore, Poe, Finn, and Rey were actually together for most of this film. Their on-screen chemistry guaranteed a victory.

Unfortunately, there were some issues. Quite honestly, The Rise of Skywalker felt more like a series of vignettes than a coherent, interconnected plot. Truthfully, unlike the Lucas films, Chapters VII, VIII, and IX felt quite disjointed from one another. I’m not convinced the new guard had a three-film plan in place before unveiling The Force Awakens. The movie moved so quickly, in fact, that the audience didn’t have time to process in real time the enormous plot holes arising.

The big reveal regarding Rey, while utterly satisfying, literally came out of nowhere and, frankly, made no sense at all. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but I’d be lying if I said there were clues throughout the previous films to lead us to that exact revelation. In the end, Rey’s lineage left me with more questions than answers.

Consequently, if you’ve seen the posters or trailers, you know that Emperor Palpatine (or Darth Sidious, if you prefer) plays a role in The Rise of Skywalker. His entire presence, while emotionally gratifying, also made very little sense when viewed against the entire new trilogy. I just cannot believe he amassed the army he did in total secrecy for thirty years. It served this final movie very well, but it also proved a little too convenient.

The fate of Kylo Ren also ended up being just a little too convenient. Again, I adored what they did with him, but his character arc ended up being a little too neat–a little too tidy. This is a man responsible for millions of deaths, after all.

Do not go to The Rise of Skywalker if you’re looking for a movie that breaks molds, bucks the system, spits in the face of fans, or any other appropriate cliche. But, if you want a satisfying ending to a forty-year-old story that will get you a little misty-eyed, entice you to whelp in delight, and perhaps even prompt an applause or two, this is the film for you.

Enjoy.

Joker – A Spoiler-Free Movie Review

Let’s first talk about what Joker is not.

Joker is not for children.

Joker is not a superhero movie.

Joker is not a super villain movie.

Joker is not funny.

Joker is not part of a shared comic book universe. 

However, Joker is a psychoanalytical movie exploring a mentally ill man who eventually comes to embrace criminality. 

I have not stopped thinking about this movie since seeing it on October 3rd. I honestly can’t remember a movie that left me so disturbed and … unsettled. 

It’s not that Joker is particularly violent–it’s not when compared to most R-rated crime films. It’s more that this movie feels so … real. Joker does not have any kind of a fantasy element. It’s absolutely rooted in reality. We watch this man slowly fall apart in a way that is completely plausible. We watch the world keep kicking him and kicking him and kicking him until he fights back, and he strikes back in a manner that is far too familiar. 

I think this is what has me so conflicted about Joker. He is a killer–that should come as no surprise. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s not a vigilante, he’s an average man who elects to murder people. However, throughout most of the film, he’s victimized by bullies. He’s beaten up by society. He’s shunned by the world. We feel bad for him … until we don’t. This kind of complexity is rarely executed in mainstream Hollywood.

In regards to the acting, Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerizing. I left the theater believing that this man may actually be insane. I don’t mean for that to sound insensitive or flippant, but his portrayal proved thoroughly convincing. His body language, his movement, his voice, his facial expressions, his laughter, the way he seemed to transform once he became “Joker” … it was unreal.

Also, the film looks to take place forty years ago. I felt like I walked into a time machine. The clothes, the cars, the props–it all looked authentic.

Furthermore, the “feel” of the movie cut to my core. This is a cramped, gritty, almost claustrophobic film. It’s literally uncomfortable to watch. It’s not a horror movie, but it certainly isn’t interested in coddling the audience.

People keep asking me if it’s a good movie. I don’t know the answer to that just yet. I’m still processing it. I can tell you that I can’t stop thinking about it. I can tell you that it left me with questions that I can’t stop trying to answer. I can tell you that it provoked me. In my opinion, those are all signs of a “good” movie, yet I can’t claim that I enjoyed Joker. It definitely wasn’t fun. This is not a movie to go see on a date or if you’re just looking to pass some time. This film takes effort to watch. 

On the other hand, though, Joker will certainly change the industry. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, and I believe it will strike a chord with audiences which will result in massive earnings. My hope is that we don’t get cheap knock-offs. I don’t want a Two-Face or Killer Croc movie made in the same style as Joker. I don’t want a sudden deluge of intense, psycho-dramas featuring comic book villains. Joker is a perfect storm created by unique talent. Let’s try not to replicate it. 

Believe it or not, Joker is a complicated movie that elicits complex thoughts. I still don’t know if I like it, I’m still not sure if it’s “good,” but it certainly made an impression upon me.

c0311e49d73c8b920a2b33b8fabd9c0dfd8fde41r1-690-1024v2_hq

In the House In the Dark Of the Woods by Laird Hunt – A Book Review

When browsing the “new” section at my local library, the cover to In the House In the Dark Of the Woods demanded my attention. Admittedly, I’ve never head of the book nor it’s author–Laird Hunt. Anyway, I read the inside cover, which sounded very interesting, and decided to take a chance on it.

In the House In the Dark Of the Woods is a brief, strange, even confounding read. It takes place during colonial times and features a woman who gets lost while walking in the untamed woods. She wants to return home to her young son and overbearing husband, but simply can’t find her way. She eventually meets a series of women, all of whom seem both helpful and dangerous. They also each wield a dark, supernatural aura–for though they each claim to want to assist the woman in finding her way, they never quite agree on what exactly “way” means.

Hunt brings you a book incredibly detailed in some facets, yet frustratingly vague in others. Like being lost in the woods, the reader stumbles around in this book quite a bit as though searching for a clearing. However, nothing is particularly clear with In the House In the Dark Of the Woods. 

Due to its brevity, I found In the House In the Dark Of the Woods an interesting,  fun read. It certainly kept me alert as I endeavored to make sense of it all. Hunt is a talented writer who executes some beautifully constructed passages. His descriptions are consistently easy to imagine, and the dialogue he provides is unique to each character. The plot, however, is not quite so discernible, but I suspect that’s the point.

In the House In the Dark Of the Woods is certainly worth your time if you’re interested in a fast, unusual read that feels “literary” but smothers itself in the arcane.

41IyfTOhNFL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_

Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy described as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2JUqte2 or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Foe by Iain Reid – A Book Review

I found Foe at the Normal Public Library as I wondered the new books section. The title initially caught my attention, plus the fact that it’s pretty thin. I read the inside of the jacket and was sold.

This book absolutely riveted me. I read it in three days, which, for me, is very fast. I really don’t want to tell you too much about the book for fear of spoiling it. However, I will say that it is sparsely written, quickly paced, and a real page-turner.

I thought I had this book figured out about half way through it, but Reid introduces so many possibilities, I couldn’t be sure I was right until the very end. And even though I had it right, Reid managed to throw in an unexpected twist that I didn’t see coming.

If you’re looking for a fast, captivating read with a plot that will enthrall you, I recommend Foe by Iain Reid.

foe by iain reid

Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2JUqte2 or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

Titans: The Complete First Season – A Review

Have you heard that DC Comics started its own streaming service with original content? It’s true. Their debut show, Titans, has concluded its first season and is now available on DVD and BluRay. (Special thanks to the Normal Public Library for purchasing it after my request to do so.)

I have to tell you, I felt very excited to see this series. I had no idea what the quality of the story would be, the ability of the actors, or the caliber of the production due to the infancy of DC Universe.com. I’ve got good news. Generally speaking, I give Titans high marks for all three.

Before I explore these aspects, though, I want to make it clear that this version of Titans is not for children. Yes, it has Robin, Beast Boy, Raven, and Starfire, but these are not the iterations of the cartoon series. This is a violent depiction laden with profane language.

With that being said, though the series is very uneven, I enjoyed it. I say it’s uneven because sometimes it’s a horror show, sometimes it’s an action show, sometime’s it’s a science fiction show, and sometimes it’s a drama. It never quite figured out how to be all of those things at once.

However, the production value is very high. I couldn’t believe just how good everything looked. The only moment in the eleven shows that looked “fake” was whenever Beast Boy became a tiger. They tried their best with the CGI tiger, but it never quite looked right. Otherwise, it all looked great. Robin’s costume, Starfire’s powers, the sets, the locations, the stunt work–it all impressed.

I thought the overall story had some issues as well. For the most part, it totally engaged me. Unfortunately, near the end of the season, Raven’s father and mother become a focal point and the show lost a bit of steam there. Up until that point, though, I thought the show made a lot of really smart choices with how it slowly revealed details about each character. There are major differences between what we know about the Titans and what this show chooses to do with them, but their essence essentially remains true to their source material.

For me, the standout story line actually centered on Hawk and Dove. I found them to be the most capable actors with the most captivating arc. I also liked them the best, which is ironic because I’ve always found Hawk and Dove to be uninteresting during my forty years of comic book reading.

I also thought Anna Diop was incredibly charismatic. I won’t argue against the fact that they deviate from established Starfire lore quite a bit, but I feel they really made this character work perfectly for the show’s general tone. Another standout includes Curran Walters, who plays Jason Todd, the second Robin. Walters’ accurately captures Todd’s cockiness and charisma, his spirit and darkness. I loved it when Dick Grayson and Jason Todd shared the scene together, and I love that Titans was brave enough to go that deeply into the Batman canon.

There were two things that did not work for me at all, though. The first is the decision they made regarding Raven’s father. If you know the character at all, you understand that he is the demon Trigon. Trigon is a giant, red, muscular, multi-eyed monster. Titans took the easy way out with him, and it totally deflated the series’ ending as a result. Furthermore, though Batman’s shadow hung over the entire season, the final episode really made it all about Batman. I thought this was a serious misstep after having worked so hard to establish Dick Grayson as a fully realized character disconnected from Batman. Everyone and everything took a backseat to Batman in what should have been an episode that pulled out all the stops for the main players. We can’t be expected to take these characters seriously if the show itself would rather be focusing on Batman.

Nonetheless, I had a great time with Titans. It is extremely violent, bloody, and profane, but it’s also brave, bold, and stylish. I’ve already seen some teasers for season two and I’m very excited. It appears that Superboy, Aqualad, Ravager, and Jericho will be appearing as well. If Titans can simply settle on a consistent tone, it’s got everything it needs to be a hit.

titansseaon1

Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2JUqte2 or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1