Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Strange Case Of Van Winkle Syndrome

Outgoing Cabinet Secretary Departs In Typical Lethargic Fashion    January 20th, 2021

Washington, DC (AP) With the new Biden presidency reaching its inauguration day today, federal departments are in a state of transition with soon to be former cabinet secretaries moving on. President Pence has been busy with his final hours of his inherited presidency and his certain low regard in history. President-Elect Biden has been readying his administration to begin to repair the damage done, both domestically and internationally, by the Trump and Pence administrations, after running under the slogan Restoring Sanity.

The previous president, presently incarcerated on a treason conviction in a federal prison and deprived of his Twitter account, isn’t speaking. The same applies to his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, both of whom are in separate prisons on fraud convictions. Sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. remain at large, convicted in absentia on fraud charges and believed to be somewhere with no extradition treaties. Former First Lady Melania Trump has left the country with her son. The only Trump free of disgrace and criminal charges happens to be often forgotten Trump daughter Tiffany, who issued a statement last week apologizing to the American people for the behavior of her relatives, and expressing profound gratitude that she’s been ignored by those relatives her entire life.

President Pence ascended to the presidency after the downfall of Trump, retaining only one cabinet secretary, Ben Carson, the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development. The rest of Trump’s cabinet and advisors, all of whom had been fired, quit their posts, or had been charged or convicted of various crimes, had fallen by the wayside. Pence retained Carson, mostly because, as insiders noted, “he didn’t care less about housing or urban development.” Since being soundly beaten in the election, President Pence has taken to swearing like a trooper in every sentence. Insiders have added, “he’s been catching up after a lifetime of not swearing.”

Secretary Carson, bearing a reputation for sleeping his way through everything, has been diagnosed with a rare condition. Van Winkle Syndrome is a benign illness, having no particular ill effect on the human body aside from making those afflicted with it perpetually sleepy. Carson has been known to fall asleep during speeches on a regular basis, and holds the Guinness World Record for deepest and longest sleeping patterns. President Pence, rather than replace the Secretary with someone who can stay awake more than twenty minutes at a time, was content to let the work of the department be done by those working beneath Carson. Thus it was that Secretary Carson turned out to be, aside from Pence himself, the last of the Trump administration standing. Or lying down, in his case, soundly snoozing.

Bethany McCade, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, confirmed that the transition between Secretaries is now underway. “Secretary Carson has been sleeping at home since July,” she explained. “Staff had been busy with the transition in recent weeks, packing boxes and handling the incoming administration’s beginnings. Yesterday that involved a visit to the Secretary to, well… retrieve his office keys and drop off his personal belongings.”

The visit required waking Carson, who still had the keys in his pockets. Aides woke him up, finding him understandably disoriented after such a long sleep, asking if President Trump needed anything. Informed that the former president was long since out of office, Carson seemed stunned, asking, “how long was I napping?”

Carson made one final visit to the offices he spent most of his time sleeping away from. Coming out of the building and heading to his waiting car, he was met by reporters, who asked how it felt being the last of the Trump era cabinet still serving. “Well, you know…..” He paused for a moment, closing his eyes, as if drifting off again. His eyes opened again and he continued. “It seems to me….” Again, he closed his eyes, and was silent for a time. Once more, his eyes opened. “In the greater scheme of….” Another pause. More closing of the eyes. Followed by his eyes opening again. “You’ll have to…. forgive me…” And then again he closed his eyes for a time and dipped his head. At last he opened his eyes and looked up. “What were we talking about?”

Shortly thereafter, Secretary Carson was off, saying he had to catch up on his sleep. Pundits have noted that perhaps the only reason he made it to the end of the Trump-Pence era was that he was asleep too often to commit acts of fraud, extortion, or corruption like his peers. Sleep specialists are hoping they might be able to map the Secretary’s brain to understand why he sleeps as much as he does, in hopes of shedding further light on Van Winkle Syndrome.

For the last word, we leave it to the outgoing president, preparing for today’s inauguration. Asked for comment last evening when returning to the White House from Camp David for the last time, President Pence glared at reporters, snarling, bitterness and loathing in his tone.

“Go **** yourselves!”

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Preposterous Unsurvivable Apocalypse

“All myths are foundations of reality.” ~ Richard Croft

“Lara, your father’s gone. You can pick up where he left off.” ~ Ana

“Seven years, I’ve been on this island. Your father, he put me here. Now I see the likeness, intelligence, the recklessness.” ~ Mathias Vogel

“Some men like dangerous women.” ~ Lu Ren 
“Some men are foolish.” ~ Lara Croft

It’s been years since we last saw Lara Croft on the big screen, in Angelina Jolie’s pair of Tomb Raider adaptations. Based on a video game (not a good source material, but then I’m biased against video games) following a cold as ice British archaeologist-adventurer (pretty much a female Indiana Jones), the two previous films followed Jolie’s character as she confronted family issues, ancient secrets and grandiose treasures, deathtraps, megalomaniacs, and betrayals. A new take on the character takes to the screen in the simply titled Tomb Raider.

We meet Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), at twenty one living a reckless, carefree sort of life. She’s going through school, working as a bike courier to pay the rent (this despite coming from wealth). And she’s avoiding the inheritance of her father Richard (Dominic West), a wealthy adventurer who vanished without a trace years earlier and is considered dead. His business partner Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas) coaxes her into taking responsibility for her inheritance, and thus Lara comes across a message from her father meant for her, the one of the 'if you're seeing this I'm dead' variety- one that will lead her to a dark legend of the past, a scenery chewing villain, a tomb filled with complicated dangers, and situations that nobody should logically be able to survive.

The last of these films was back in 2003, when Cradle Of Life wasn’t quite the success that the first film had been, and Angelina Jolie decided not to reprise the part. Her take on the character was of a woman already established in her profession on the one hand, and enjoying the wealth of inheritance on the other (all while having daddy issues herself). The story here takes the character and has us see her as a novice, not yet finished her education and living away from the family mantle of responsibility when we first meet her. The script, by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alistair Siddons, follows a story the former did with Evan Daugherty, and follows the formula of the franchise- both film and video game. The cool and steady heroine, the ancient secret of incredible power, the ethically challenged villains with visions of profits in their heads, the action set pieces of near death escapes- they’re all present and accounted for.

Given the fantastic elements of the story, the strongest touch of the script is the dynamic of daughter and father- the absence of the two, the mourning of a bond that’s been lost and yet found. As preposterous as the ancient secret turned incredible power aspect of the story might be, that dynamic between the two Crofts is the highlight in a script that otherwise tends to relies heavily on cliches, plot holes, and the avoidance of logic. I mean seriously, how on earth does someone survive all that, let alone seem to heal so quickly and be back in action?

The director is Norwegian- Roar Uthaug. His work has been based out of his home country, though looking at his resume, his last film makes for good qualifications for taking on the job here. The Wave was a 2015 disaster film that was strongly grounded in character, and that reflects itself here. He’s able to handle the CGI that the story presents on the one hand, the grand set pieces and fierce action, all while working reasonably well with the actors themselves. Uthaug as a director deserves better than the script gives him. Have I mentioned I'm not impressed with the screenwriters?

Some of the supporting characters tend to be more sketchy in their development, and that’s more a case of the problems with the writing, where emphasis is placed elsewhere. Daniel Wu plays Lu Ren, a ship captain who assists Lara (and somehow manages to survive things that he shouldn’t survive), but is generally not developed beyond that. The same applies to Hannah John-Kamen (who will soon be appearing as a Marvel villain) playing Sophie, Lara’s loyal friend- the script doesn’t really develop her beyond that point. Kristin Scott Thomas and the veteran actor Derek Jacobi find themselves in the same dilemma, with character roles that aren’t as developed as they could be, for a couple of reasons- the story needs their cards played close to the vest and the story puts its emphasis on the leading character.

Walton Goggins plays the villain, Matthias Vogel. He’s made his name in the television show Justified, but has worked as a character actor in film and television for years on end. Possessed of a strange name and the sort of beady eyed looks that will never make him a leading man, Goggins instead gets to play character roles and oddities. Vogel spends a lot of time chewing the scenery on behalf of a shadowy organization (there’s always a shadowy organization in a film like this). A rival archaeologist to Lara’s father, the man is a greedy bastard, totally without scruples of any kind, seeking power for his own ends and that of those he answers to. The actor seems to be having fun playing the role, but then playing the villain usually is more fun.

The bulk of character development in the film is left to two characters. Dominic West, the British actor, has done a lot of film and television work on both sides of the Atlantic for more than a quarter century, and here he plays Lord Richard Croft, the nobleman turned archaeologist and adventurer who at the beginning of the story has been presumed dead for some time. Unlike Vogel, he is a man of scruples, sympathetic, devoted to the daughter who he’s missed terribly, and the actor plays to that, creating a believable relationship with Vikander in how the two relate to each other- even when they’re not in the same space.

Alicia Vikander gets the rest of the character development as Lara, and she occupies the role well, ending up being the best part of the film. She’s done quite a bit as an actress since her career started, most recently as a primary role in Jason Bourne. Her take on the character starts off as carefree and cool (while avoiding the unresolved issues of her father’s disappearance), something of a novice starting out into a world of adventure. As the story goes along, she invests the character with strength, physicality, sympathy, and a smooth, sly sense of humour. Cool as ice as she may be, her take on Lara is human, and is what makes the film work, and gives the audience someone to connect with. She may be able to survive and heal faster than anyone should be able to (is she related to Wolverine?), but Vikander’s performance gives the character more depth than a video game could have.

All in all, the film manages to entertain despite a weak script that leans too much into spectacle and into cliche at times. Yes, some characters tend to be more one dimensional than others. Yes, there are plot holes and preposterous moments. Yes, there are one too many booby traps that play to the video game origins. But the leading character is compelling to watch, and the actress makes her that way. There will no doubt be more of Tomb Raider to come, and I’d like to see what Vikander does with Lara Croft. As long as they hire different writers.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Attack Of The Drunken Leprechaun Hordes

Cead mile failte, a hundred thousand welcomes, and Happy St. Patrick's Day! I have an image blog for the occasion. Avoid the leprechauns at all costs. The pot of gold isn't worth it.