THE SHAPE OF WATER

 Movie Review

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“Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, For You are everywhere.”

That line from an unknown poem pretty well defines the movie, The Shape of Water.

Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water is pure movie magic. It is hard to peg exactly where this genre movie falls, but since del Toro was heavily influenced by Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)I’ll start there. This movie is much more than just a horror film. It is a period piece, a romantic thriller, and a spy movie, all wrapped into one. It explores the timeless themes of loneliness, alienation, isolation, being different from others in an intolerant society, and yes, falling in love with the other.

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Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito

Sally Hawkins plays disaffected and lonely janitor Elisa Esposito. She works at a Aerospace research facility in Baltimore with her friend Zelda, (Octavia Spencer). Elisa is mute and communicates with the world in signs. The time is 1962 at the height of the cold war. Sometime while working her shift a specimen is brought into the lab that had been captured in the Amazon and is worshiped by the natives as a god.  The creature is described by the military as the “asset.”

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This asset is a humanoid type creature that Elisa is able to befriend. She discovers that he is intelligent and communicates with him in sign language.  They develop quite a relationship together. When the creature becomes endangered Elisa plots to set him free in a rain canal in Baltimore. But first she smuggles him out of the facility and into her small apartment where she keeps him in her bathtub. While there they fall in love.

The creature has a curious way of glowing in blue colors when stimulated and is a marvel to watch.

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Spoilers ahead:  The military, in the form of Colonel Richard Strickland, is hot on their trail. He gets to the canal just as the creature is about to make his escape. Strickland shoots both the creature and Elisa. Miraculously the creature is able to heal himself of the gunshot wounds (he is a god after all) and also to heal Elisa. He grabs her up and leaps into the canal. He gives her gills so that she may breathe underwater and presumably they are able to live happily ever after.

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I just loved this movie. This is why you go to the movies. You keep going to see movie after movie, hoping you will see one that you can connect with, hoping to see a movie as good as the best movie you ever saw, wanting to hit that high mark one more time, but seldom ever making it. This is Guillermo del Toro’s love letter to Hollywood and he has copied it to the rest of us. It is genius.

The Shape of Water jumps to the top of my Best Movies of the Year list for 2017. I give it a 10/10. The only other movie that I rated that high this year was Blade Runner 2049. I am not sure which one will get the top slot, but I have to admit, I am a sucker for a good loves story.

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The Gun Shop

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Instruments of death that fit snugly into the palm of your hand were gleaming dully in their showcases lovingly caressed by blue velvet. Oiled wooden handles jutted from solid blue back bodies. There was a faint odor of oil and metal lingering on the air conditioned atmosphere of the room. The soft sounds of creaking leather reverberated through the reverential quiet as the clerk tenderly, ever so gently, eased a delicately balanced, but heavily weighted .357 magnum out of its holster

“Listen to this action,” he whispered to me imploringly.

Firmly, but gently, he gripped the butt of the gun in his right hand. He placed the web of his thumb over the hammer of the awesome black revolver and slowly began to exert pressure on it. The man’s hands trembled slightly and he closed his eyes. Small beads of perspiration began popping over his upper lip. A little metal clicking noise emerged from the gun as the hammer went through its first cocking phase. A slight smile appeared on the lips of the clerk as he continued to pull back on the heavy hammer and another click emerged — the gun was half-cocked — the clerk began breathing heavily now and rapidly  his face grew flush. He slid his thumb to the edge of the hammer and applied the tip of it to the ridges cut deeply into the top edge. He pushed down hard and fully cocked the revolver. A tiny tear drop appeared in the corner of the clerk’s eye.

The gap between the ridged head of the steel hammer and the body of the gun was a chasm. It looked like the jaws of a primordial reptile. It was powerful, and it was frightening — the stored-up energy of that hammer begged to be released. He pulled the trigger.

Snap!

I jumped. The hair on the back of my neck prickled and a shiver ran down my left arm. The clerk placed the gun back into the showcase and hung the holster back on the rack. He lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply and blew out blue clouds of smoke across the room. He had a distant look in his eye. I turned on my boot heels and walked out of the store into the bright afternoon sun. I squinted my eyes and shuttered with relief to be back in normal time and space again. Just to-make sure I kicked out at the base of a red white and blue mail box standing at the edge of the sidewalk. It hurt sufficiently to be convincing. I began the three block walk back to my office still in a bit of a stupor.

She Came to Stay

When I was in London recently I had occasion to stay at the Thistle Hotel. In the morning as I was having breakfast my waitress came over to offer me more coffee. Sure, I said, I’d love some. As she refilled my cup she glanced down at the book on the table which I had brought with me to read. She look back at me and then in her best English accent asked me, “Well did she?”

Of course to her I was the one with the accent.

“Did she what?”

“Did she stay?”

At first I didn’t know what she meant. I looked at her and then I looked at the book and then I look back at her again and then in an instant of recollection, understanding, and reckoning I said, “She did indeed.”

My waitress beamed a self-satisfied smile and flitted off to the next customer to offer them some coffee.

The next day I was off to France to drink a toast to the author of the book, Simone de Beauvoir. This I would do at the fabled Cafe De Flore in Paris.

But I still had another day in London so I thought I’d spend it at the British Museum.

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Movie Review

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A fun ride on the Orient Express. Old fashioned crime drama, based on the novel by Agatha Christie of the same name, with an all-star cast. Don’t expect any surprises here as this is a remake after all, but I am betting there are plenty of people who have not seen the original film directed by Sidney Lumet in 1974 , or have not read Christie’s novel.

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Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot

Kenneth Branagh has done a masterful job bringing this material to the screen. And what fun it is to watch your favorite stars strut and fret across the stage. Michelle Pfeiffer never looked more beautiful, so glad to see her back. Then there is Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench and Johhny Depp to round out the cast. Kenneth Branagh stars as the inimitable detective, Hercule Poirot. He had to occupy two berths on the train, one for him and one for his mustache.

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Johnny Depp as Edward Ratchett

The movie was shot on 65 mm film by Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos and is quite beautiful to look at. The train is luxurious and the exteriors were fabulous! The film was shot first in Istanbul (actually Malta) then later in the mountainous region in Italy for the snow sequences. Each frame was composed and lit like a Renaissance painting.

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Michele Pfeiffer as Caroline Hubbard

There are worse things you can spend 114 minutes on and this film is a winner!

 

Colorado Baker

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission

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Justice Neil Gorsuch

The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Right Commission. I thought these issues had already been decided but I guess I was wrong. The case centers on an anti-gay baker in Colorado who claims a First Amendment right to ignore state law and refuse service to same-sex couples. A key issue in Masterpiece is just how far the court’s conservative justices are willing to go in subverting civil rights law to protect the freedom to discriminate. Here is my opinion on the matter:

Restaurants are considered places of public accommodation. The primary purpose of a restaurant is to sell food to the general public, which necessarily requires them to follow equal protection laws. The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law. The laws of a state must treat an individual in the same manner as other people in similar conditions and circumstances. A violation would occur, for example, if a state prohibited an individual from entering into an employment contract because he or she was a member of a particular race. Furthermore there would be a violation if a restaurant owner refused service to a person because of their race.

 

These rights are spelled out in the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination by privately owned places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. Places of “public accommodation” include hotels, restaurants, theaters, banks, health clubs and stores. Nonprofit organizations such as churches are generally exempt from the law. The federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, so gays are not a protected group under the federal law. However, about 20 states, including New York and California, have enacted laws that prohibit discrimination in public accommodations based on sexual orientation. Colorado also happens to be one of those states.

Colorado law prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation based on marital status or actual or perceived sexual orientation. According to the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, “sexual orientation” means heterosexuality, homosexuality (lesbian or gay), bisexuality, and transgender status. Transgender status means a gender identity or gender expression that differs from societal expectations based on gender assigned at birth.

Therefore, the Colorado baker has clearly violated the civil rights of the gay couple and is violation of Colorado law. At issue before the Supreme Court is whether the baker’s right to free speech is being violated. Enter Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Gorsuch queried the Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yager regarding the remedy imposed on Jack Phillips, the baker. His concern was that Phillips was to provide comprehensive training to his employees. Gorsuch viewed this as compelled speech which might possibly violate Phillips’ free speech. Yager responded by saying training is a common remedy in civil rights cases.

Gorsuch continued his questioning, “But this isn’t attending your training. The order was ordering him to provide training and presumably compelling him to speak, therefore, and to speak in a way that maybe offend his religion and certainly compel him to speak.”

This theory could seriously undermine civil rights law and have far reaching effects.

It is not unusual to have conflicts with respect to civil rights between parties. That’s why we have judges and trials to help sort these things out. My own view is that if you are in business to serve the public you must do so without discrimination. If you can’t or won’t, even for religious reasons, you have no right to be in business and you should close up shop and go home.

We are a secular country here in America with a clear separation of church and state. When you operate a commercial enterprise in the public sphere you must leave your religion at home if it causes you to discriminate against the public. When you are in business to serve the public you must serve all the public.

 

 

 

 

Leda and The Swan

A Poem by William Butler Yeats

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Statue of Leda and the Swan in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, Pennsylvanian

 

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still

Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed

By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,

He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

 

How can those terrified vague fingers push

The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?

And how can body, laid in that white rush,

But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

 

A shudder in the loins engenders there

The broken wall, the burning roof and tower

And Agamemnon dead.

Being so caught up,

So mastered by the brute blood of the air,

Did she put on his knowledge with his power

Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

Analysis

In this poem, W. B. Yeats tell the story of Leda and the Swan from Greek Mythology. The rape of the girl Leda by the god Zeus, who has taken the form of a swan.

Leda felt a sudden blow with the wings of the swan still beating above her. Her thighs were caressed by the dark webs of the swan’s feet. The nape of her neck was caught in his bill. He held her helpless breast upon his breast. How, Yeats asks, can Leda’s terrified vague fingers push the feathered glory of the swan from between her thighs? And, how can her body help but feel the strange heart beating where it lies? A shudder in the loins engenders the broken wall, the burning roof, and tower, and Agamemnon dead. The speaker wonders whether Leda, caught up by the swan and mastered by the brute blood of the air assumed his knowledge as well as his power before the indifferent beak could let her drop.

The poem is about a moment in time which ended the mythological age and began the modern era with the fall of Troy. This poem is a sonnet which is a 14 line poem in iambic pentameter.  The structure is Petrarchan. The Rhyme scheme is ABAB, CDCD, EFG, EFG.

According to Greek mythology, Zeus raped Leda who was married to King Tyndareus of Sparta. After the rape she slept with her husband. Subsequently she laid two eggs from which she hatched two set of twins: Helen and Pollux who were the children of Zeus and Castor and Clytemnestra who were the children of Tyndareus. This event, with the abduction of Helen, eventually brought about the Trojan War (the broken wall, the burning tower/ and Agamemnon dead). After the war, when King Agamemnon returned, Clytemnestra had her husband killed. According to Yeats’ interpretation, the lasting impact of the war was that it brought an end to the mythological era and gave birth to modern history.

 

 

The Traveler

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Benn Bell, Nairobi, Kenya

“He did not think of himself as a tourist. He was a traveler. The difference was partly one of time. Whereas the tourist hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging to no more one place than to the next, moves slowly over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another. It would be very difficult indeed to tell anyone, of the many places he lived, precisely where he felt most at home.

Another important difference between the tourist and the traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization as his own without question; not so with the traveler, who compares it with the others and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking.”

-Paul Bowels, The Sheltering Sky

 

 

THANKSGIVING

wp-1488040842599.jpgI think it’s very nice to have a special day of thanksgiving, but I also know some people are hurting today. Let us cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings. With a boundless heart let us cherish all living beings and radiate kindness all over the world. Let us turn a life of resentment into a life of gratitude and be thankful for every day we are alive. The true miracle is just to walk the earth.

Elephant Walk

On Safari in Africa

On this spot in 1989 Kenya burned 12 tons of ivory worth over three million in U.S. dollars.

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Nairobi National Park

According to then president Moi, “To stop the poacher the trader must be stopped and to stop the trader the final buyer must be convinced not to buy ivory.”

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The tusks that were burned represents more than 2000 elephants  shot and killed over a four year period.

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Hotel Serena, Nairobi, Kenya

Modern Man

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T. S. Elliot said that copulation and death is what it’s all about. Camus said all that can be said of modern man is that he read the newspapers and he fornicated. Now that we no longer have newspapers what can we say? Man surfs the net and he….

Well you get the idea…