Friday, May 13, 2016

More Captain America: Civil War thoughts

Emily over at Pajiba has a different take on Civil War:

I’m not usually in the habit of publicly disagreeing with my fellow writers, but I feel it a service to warn you that both TK’s review and Rotten Tomatoes have lied to you. Captain America: Civil War is a garbage movie. Sure, it had its amusing moments. It had some terrific acting, and some amazing action sequences. And a plot so filled with holes I could use it to water my plants.

Emily, you brave soul. Thank you for this. I'm not sure if the "garbage" line is tongue-in-cheek. If it's not I'll disagree on that point. It was entertaining enough to overlook the problem of hinting at making a political movie in this universe.

I think Cap is a lot less wrong than others, apparently. Tony is a selfish prick who is doing this because being a selfish prick killed a lot of people. I don't buy the larger, political reason for him pushing the accords. I despise the UN hatred that goes on in the US. Read a fucking book, Americans. But in this movie universe, I think it is fair to question how the UN would handle Cap and the Avengers.

As we saw in Batman v. Superman, you might need to hold a committee hearing to determine whether they should enter a sovereign country and take action. That committee will be filled with some countries that probably have selfish reasons for keeping the Avengers out of it. So what happens then? Cap sits by while innocent people die? Or as Charlie Rose asks in BvS, you're going to tell a family that we couldn't save your kid because a fucking committee full of self-interested politicians from shitty countries don't give a shit? Sorry, but after typing that out I'm on Cap and Superman's side. But I also think Marvel and DC should move on from these stories because I'm never going to buy that the UN or the US Senate will actually constrain these people and the stories get muddled quickly.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Captain America: Civil War review

No spoilers

Avengers part 3 Captain America: Civil War is typical Marvel in every way. It's fun, funny, well-enough-executed, a bit overstuffed, and a plot not really tied up that well in service of future movies. It seems to have the same cinematography and score as the others. Though don't see this in 3D, completely useless and even makes a lot of the early fight scenes tough to follow.

What it does unquestionably better than BvS (which for some reason I haven't reviewed here, probably because I put my thoughts on twitter) is coherent editing and a nice narrative flow. I like BvS but there no getting around the fact it lacks there (maybe the director's cut saves it, idk). The tone is so different than BvS. Every other line has to be a joke, though now they don't have Joss Whedon so it's not the same. But some of the actors make up for it (mainly Rudd, Robert Downey Jr.'s schtick is a little stale).

Maybe I need another viewing but I'm not convinced it handles it's themes better than BvS. They are very similar. And the main characters even invoke some of the same things in their most emotional moments. And maybe this is just me, but those moments suffer because the tone is so fun and funny all the time. Whereas with something like BvS or the Nolan movies, the tone is serious and emotional all the time so I guess I'm more primed for it when shit goes down.

Anyway, Civil War is classic Marvel with even more fun characters thrown in. But while being classic Marvel it limits itself by not seeing their big ideas all the way through and still setting up more movies. I'll forgive that this time because one of those movies will have Marisa Tomei. #TeamAuntMay

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Batman v. Superman can't get here quick enough

"They cast Ben Affleck as Batman!?"

"Zack Snyder is directing a Batman movie?"

"Why is the trailer for Batman v. Superman so DARK and SERIOUS? Why doesn't DC make jokes in movies like MARVEL?"

If I have to listen to that for another 2 months I might just


I'm not saying you can't judge a movie by its trailer, its casting, or its director. I mean, I know right away I won't like a movie if it stars Adam Sander. But I think Batman v. Superman is getting unfairly maligned. And I'm worried that if people go in with too many preconceived notions about the movie it will blind them as to the actual quality of the movie (Like what happened with Man of Steel, people wanted the Donner movie and were mad when they didn't get it).

There are legit criticisms of Zack Snyder's directing and Ben Affleck's acting/role choices. Snyder arguably directs for style over substance. I think all of his movies that I've seen look interesting. But I don't think I've ever loved any of them because the story wasn't great. I don't think many would say that Affleck is as good an actor as the previous Batman, Christian Bale. But he's far from a bad actor. I'd argue he's pretty charismatic when given the chance. And he's arguably gotten better since he started directing.

So it's not like Snyder and Affleck are without talent or have earned an instant shit rating like an Adam Sandler. And given the freakouts about casting we saw after Michael Keaton, Heath Ledger, and Anne Hathaway, you'd think we might wait a bit to make judgements. But alas, I'll likely have to endure another two months of this before I finally get to enjoy seeing Batman in a movie again.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Miami Dolphins: a model of aggressive mediocrity

The Miami Dolphins fired their head coach Joe Philbin today after another humiliating loss to long time division rival the New York Jets. There were hopes that coming into this season, the team could move past the consistently mediocre results it has achieve for seemingly decades and make it to the playoffs, perhaps even winning the division that the New England Patriots have cheated their way toward winning won most of the past two decades.

But no. Barring an extremely unlikely turnaround under the interim head coach, the Dolphins will miss out on the playoffs yet again. The disappointment this team's fans have felt has become as predictable as the Dolphins throwing the ball less than 5 yards on 3rd and long situations. We can point to numerous causes for such mediocrity.

Certain Philbin and his coaching staff deserve a long of blame. But as bad as they were, it's not like they were coaching a team filled with all-pros at every position. There are problems with starters at both guard positions, the entire defensive line (which is insane given that they signed Suh), the entire linebacking corps, the entire cornerback position outside of Brent Grimes. And there are problems with backups who are now starting because of injuries at left tackle and free safety. Even Bill Belichick would have a hard time cheating coaching his way to victories with this team.

While trying to diagnose the problems with this team, I kept thinking further and further back trying to find some sort of starting point. Maybe it was the previous GM, Jeff Ireland, who is the underlying cause for all of these problems. He's a big part of it since he picked many of the players and hired Joe Philbin as a coach. But Ireland is a holdover from the Bill Parcells era, who was brought on after the Nick Saban era. And of course Saban was brought on after the Jimmy Johnson era, who was brought in after the legend Don Shula retired. So there's been a lot of turnover after the decades long stability that Don Shula provided. But even with all of those guys who were supposed to be some of the best football people in the game, the results haven't changed basically at all.

But the mediocrity stretches even further back than just the Jimmy Johnson days. I would argue that even Don Shula wasn't holding up his end of the bargain, both as coach and GM. I'd go so far as to say that the Dolphins haven't been a well run organization since the end of the 1970s. The only reason we didn't notice that Shula wasn't doing well is that he lucked into getting arguably the greatest QB of all time, Dan Marino. Marino was supposed to go much higher in the draft than where the Dolphins picked him. But he had a down senior year and there were rumors of drug use that caused him to fall to Miami. From then on they rode the coattails of his greatness, only to appear in one super bowl, and never live up to his standards.

Let's take a quick look at how well the Dolphins have drafted since they took Dan Marino in 1983. Here's a link to every draft pick the team has made. I'll go through and point out the good players, which I'll define as having a career AV of 50 or over:

1985: Jeff Dellenbach, center
1988: Harry Galbreath, guard
1988: Jeff Cross, defensive end
1990: Richmond Webb, tackle
1990: Keith Sims, guard
1991: Brian Cox, linebacker
1992: Troy Vincent, defensive back
1992: Marco Coleman, defensive end
1993: Chris Gray, guard
1994: Tim Bowens, defensive tackle
1994: Tim Ruddy, center
1996: Zach Thomas, linebacker
1997: Sam Madison, cornerback
1997: Jason Taylor, defensive end
1998: Patrick Surtain, cornerback
2001: Chris Chambers, wide receiver
2008: Jake Long, tackle

We can split hairs over whether other players should be considered good. But these are the ones I think wouldn't be questioned. And we can talk about free agent acquisitions. But drafting good players is more important because you get them for less money, giving you more flexibility to sign more players. So I think looking at draft success is a good way to determine how good a team is run. And as you can see with that list, with a few exceptions, this hasn't been a well run team.

Looking at the Shula era, I notice that of the 11 good players that were drafted, 6 of those were offensive linemen. I point that out because Dan Marino is, if not the best, one of the two or three best quarterbacks ever at avoiding sacks. You can probably chalk some of that up to having good offensive linemen. But it's probably mostly because he had great pocket awareness, great pocket mobility, and an extremely quick release. Not getting sacked is a skill, and Marino was great at it. So I think he's influencing how well a lot of those linemen are doing in the AV rating system. They did seem to draft a few good defensive players in the Shula era. But as a whole, the defense never amounted to the type of unit that typically wins a super bowl.

The Jimmy Johnson era began in 1996, which coincided with the end of Dan Marino's career. Johnson tried to give a declining Marino help on offense. But as you can see, he completely failed. But Johnson did succeed in building a very good defense. Thomas and Taylor should be hall of famers. And Madison and Surtain were very good cornerbacks. The defense Johnson built was super bowl worthy. But the offense was never close to what it was during Marino's prime. And Johnson wasn't able to replace Marino at QB.

Once Johnson left in 1999 things went really downhill. Johnson's protege and terrible head coach, Dave Wannstedt, coasted off of the defense and trade for Ricky Williams until the defense started to age. Since then, the team has drafted two good players. That's two good players in 15 years. 15 years! Granted, some players haven't played long enough to accumulate enough points for the AV rating system. But tellingly, several players on that path aren't even with the team anymore:

2007: Samson Satele, center, AV = 48
2009: Vontae Davis, cornerback, AV = 31
2009: Sean Smith, cornerback, AV = 29
2009: Brian Hartline, wide receiver, AV = 30

There you have it, a model of aggressive mediocrity spanning three decades. Given the nature of this team, I'm not confident they will find success next season with a new coach. There's a bit of hope that the VP of football operations, Mike Tannenbaum, can turn things around after having failed in NY. He has taken some non-traditional steps toward improving the team. But by the same token, he seems to be the one who signed Suh to a massive contract and placed all his eggs in the Ryan Tannehill basket at QB. So who knows if he will succeed. If he does, he'll have done something that hasn't been done since Dan Marino fell into this team's lap.

Liberal catholics vs. conservative catholics

There's been a lot of talk about the pope since he visited the US. The pope will draw attention because he's the head of a large, worldwide organization. But Francis is probably drawing more attention than normal because he says some fairly progressive things, at least for a religious leader. This has all sparked some debate over what the catholic church should look like moving forward. This piece from Ross Douthat showed up in my twitter feed and I wanted to highlight some things I found interesting.

Which brings us to the issue that prompted my column: The debate, encouraged and I think guided in a pro-change direction by Pope Francis, over whether to admit the divorced-and-remarried, people in unions that the church has traditionally considered adulterous, back to communion while they’re still in a sexual relationship with their new spouse. I’ve written at length, as have others more qualified than myself, on why this allegedly-pastoral change would, in fact, represent a substantial alteration of doctrine on a very consequential issue — either the doctrine surrounding marriage, the doctrine surrounding sin, confession and the Eucharist, or by effect and implication both.
...
Some of the people supporting the change obviously disagree with that analysis and seem to believe that this shift would be more akin to, say, changing the requirements surrounding fasts in Lent — a strictly disciplinary or pastoral change, not a doctrinal one at all. (Though some, I tend to suspect, privately agree that it would be a bigger changer and that’s precisely why they want it — to prove that the church can shift substantially on a question of sexual ethics, and therefore that other changes are possible as well.)

To me this is the core of most, if not every, religious stance that I don't agree with. They just can't accept the fact that people, from a fairly early age, want to have sex. He goes on:

And it’s that change, working itself out across enough people and enough time, that I think would make it hard for the church to escape the fissiparous fate of Anglicans and Methodists and Presbyterians and other churches that have explicitly divided on these kind of sex-and-marriage questions, why is part of why I raised the possibility of schism: Not (God help us) as a prescription but as a prediction, based on the unhappy experience of our fellow Christians, of where churches where authority is compromised or absent on these kind of debates tend to ultimately end up.

So my dominant emotion isn’t anger right now: It’s a mix of dismay and determination, anxiety and hope, cycling back and forth depending on events.

Typical conservative, scared to concede his position of power. No, we can't have people getting out of relationships that they don't want to be in anymore because my belief that women shouldn't have sex with anyone but the one person they chose at a likely early age in life is the one with the most institutional power and the one that benefits me the most.

This is very similar to the way political conservatives think. It's all about the continuity of power structures and the fact that to them, any change in that structure is by definition a weakening of the institution. They don't reason from a belief in the morality of a stance on an issue. They reason from whether or not a belief in an issue is a change from a norm or not. I mean, he literally says that the appeal of catholicism is the fact that it's been around for so long and hasn't changed it's stance on some things.

I guess in a way it's admirable to stick to your guns in the way he does. But when you do that you are leaning pretty hard on the belief that what's written in a book, second hand and years after the death of their supposed god, is the word of god. I have no dog in the fight for catholicism's future (except for when they meddle in public policy). But if I did, I'd be siding with the catholics who put compassion and understanding before defense of tradition for the sake of tradition.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Gotham needed Obamacare just as much as Batman

I've seen The Dark Knight probably around 20 times. It took me until seeing it at an old theater in Nashville over the weekend to realize something about the Gotham of the Nolan trilogy. It has crappy health insurance coverage. And the lack of coverage helped lead to the death of Rachel Dawes, the creation of Two-Face, and the turning of Batman into The Dark Knight.

Like all Nolan movies, he drops a hint about what will happen in the movie very early on. After the opening of the Joker heist, we cut to Gotham at night. Two guys are about to make what looks like an illegal drug deal when one of them looks up and sees the Batsignal in the sky. He walks away from the deal for fear that Batman will stop him. Then we cut to Gordon on top of the Major Crimes Unit roof, where he has turned on the Batsignal, waiting for Batman to come talk to him.

Detective Anna Ramirez joins Gordon on the roof with a cup of coffee and asks if he, "Ever plans to see his wife again." To which Gordon responds, "I thought you had to look after your mother, Detective." Ramirez says she checked her mother back into the hospital. So it sounds like Ramirez is the only person her mother has to look after her, an emotional and likely financial burden.

As the movie unfolds, we are shown numerous times where the mob is a step ahead of the police. At the scene where Lao tells the mob that he has to move their money to keep it from being taken by the cops, he says that he knows the cops are planning to take their money through, "Mr. Maroney's well placed sources" (cops that are working with the mob). Later, when the cops are transferring Harvey Dent from the MCU to County General, the Joker attacks the convoy. After the Joker is captured, Harvey is put in a car driven by Detective Wertz so that he can presumably be cleared of being Batman and go home. Once put in the car, the camera lingers on Ramirez, who helped him into the car. This is foreshadowing Ramirez's betrayal of Dent by being the one who gives the Joker Rachel.

After Rachel is killed and Harvey decides to be Two-Face, he confronts Wertz about turning him over to the Joker and asks who the other cop was that gave Rachel to the Joker. Wertz doesn't know. So Two-Face goes to Maroney, who tells him that it was Ramirez. Two-Face confronts Ramirez who says that the mob "Got to her early on" because of her mother's hospital bills. So Ramirez works with the mob so she can make some money on the side to help her mother, who because she's seemingly sick all the time, can't work and can't afford health insurance.

The movie came out in 2008, before the passing of Obamacare (aka, The Affordable Care Act). If the world of Nolan's Gotham had implemented a version of Obamacare, Ramirez's mother may have been able to find health insurance on the exchange. Or if the state Gotham resided in had a Democratic governor or a halfway sane Republican governor, Ramirez's mother could have enrolled in Medicaid. With her mother having health insurance, Ramirez wouldn't have been tempted by the mob. Without cops to help them, the mob and the Joker are less able to capture Rachel and Harvey. And without Harvey Dent's turn into Two-Face, Batman doesn't have to become the villain.

Of course, Batman probably wouldn't be needed in the first place if Gotham would address it's inequality problem. Then Joe Chill wouldn't need to steal from and murder rich people in allies.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Jeb Bush and Iraq War justifications

Jeb Bush is running for president, because you know, our economy and politics are purely merit-based. And because his former president brother was in office such a short time ago, he's getting questions about how he compares to his brother, mostly regarding the biggest decision his brother made, invading Iraq. (I'm not sure if that sentence is a mess grammatically or just sounds messy reading it in my head)

On some level, Jeb and most Republicans know that the Iraq War wasn't a glowing success. Maybe Dick Cheney is still 100% convinced that it was the right choice and everything worked out perfectly. But most Republican presidential candidates aren't giving a full-throated defense of the decision. In fact, many are implicitly acknowledging that it was a bad decision when they say stuff like what Jeb said:

“I would have [authorised the invasion], and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody,” Bush told Fox News television in an interview to be aired late on Monday. “And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.

You'll notice that many people are falling back on the "intelligence at the time" justification as to why they would have invade Iraq. Putting aside the problems with what the intelligence at the time actually said, even if the intelligence would have been perfect and told us definitively that Iraq did or didn't have nukes, this is bullshit, as Daniel Larison explains:

Even if administration claims had been right, there was no threat to the U.S. or anyone other country that warranted an invasion. The main problem with the war was not that the U.S. and its allies failed to prepare for the aftermath of regime change (though they did), but that they launched a “preventive” war on shoddy evidence for the explicit purpose of toppling another government by force.

The decision to invade was indefensible, and the war was entirely unjustified. It could not have been salvaged or made better by a more competent occupation, but then there is no reason to think that the previous administration or any American administration would be competent at establishing a new system of government in another country that it barely understands. The fact that Bush can’t begin to grasp that the original, irredeemable error was the invasion itself tells us all that we need to know about his appallingly bad foreign policy judgment. It gives everyone fair warning that he would make the same sort of disastrous blunder if presented with the opportunity. That alone proves him to be unfit for the presidency.

Jeb Bush, nor really any Republican or conservative pundit, hasn't grappled with the real reasons invading Iraq was a mistake. This is apparent in how they talk about Iran's nuclear policy. To them, any country with nuclear weapons is automatically a direct threat to the US. There's always a mushroom cloud around the corner. They haven't learned a single thing from the entire Cold War or the more recent Iraq War. They have no clue as to how countries with nukes or those pursuing nukes have acted. And they are of course blindly dedicated to supporting Israel.

Which is all to say that their entire worldview or philosophical underpinning when it comes to foreign policy is completely skewed by paranoia, much like their domestic philosophy. This isn't to say that anyone who isn't as fanatical as most of the GOP isn't going to be hawkish; see Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and many other Democrats. But with Democrats you at least have a chance at them making the right decision. If Republicans win the presidency in 2016, we will be left crossing our fingers and hoping that they just luck into not making horrible foreign policy decisions.

Update: Chris Christie says he wouldn't have invaded Iraq knowing what we all know now. But, of course he didn't really mean that because he says Bush made the right choice at the time. No wonder Christie's campaign can't get going. Aside from being a complete asshole and probably corrupt, he tries to play to whatever moderate conservatives he thinks still exist.