May 162015

Mad Max: Fury Road is a movie whose engine never stops roaring until the credits roll. It’s a brilliantly executed return to the post-apocalyptic wastelands of The Road Warrior, but Fury Road makes that movie seem like a leisurely Sunday stroll in comparison. The plot is simple yet elegant: an extended chase sequence that ebbs and crescendoes in tightly choreographed displays of chaos. Max (Tom Hardy) is once again the tortured loner eking out a grim existence in the wastelands until he’s captured by Immortan Joe, a warlord with a death fixation. Meanwhile, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), launches a plan to liberate her master’s most favored sex slaves and take them to safety. As you might imagine, things don’t go according to plan.

Director George Miller makes sparing use of computer generated effects, which gives his scenes of automotive mayhem a more visceral feel. The chrome and sand flying across the screen is tangible in a way that the superpowers of the Avengers still aren’t. And while Max may be the titular hero, Furiosa is the movie’s true moral center and the character with the most depth. Theron joins the pantheon of female action stars (including Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton) whose presence elevates their movies from the generic to the compelling. Fury Road‘s feminist themes have managed to elicit growling and howls from the caves of the men’s rights advocates, which is another reason to love this movie.

May 132015

Soylent is a “food replacement product” that has been getting some recent buzz. It’s a powdered drink that is supposed to provide total nutrition without all the hassle of grocery shopping or, you know, chewing. It seems to be targeted at millennials who are too busy coding or designing the next Uber to grab a bite to eat. Here’s a video of some Vox staffers giving Soylent a try:

I have one thing to say to the creators of Soylent: pfffft. I’ve been living on a liquid diet since long before your cute little startup came along. It’s called Osmolite and you can buy a case of it on Amazon for 36 bucks. It doesn’t even require mixing. I haven’t done a taste comparison, but I’m betting that Soylent and Osmolite share the same bland flavor. I can’t personally comment on Osmolite’s taste since it goes directly into my stomach. But I do find it quite convenient to eat while I’m asleep. In fact, I think I’ll have some right now.

May 112015

Other fans of the books may disagree, but I’m enjoying the liberties that HBO has taken with Game of Thrones this season. Characters and plotlines are beginning to converge in ways that either haven’t yet happened or may never happen in the books. These choices give the show something that has been lacking from the last couple volumes of the series: momentum. In particular, the show has made Stannis Baratheon almost. . .likeable? That may be too strong a word, but he’s far more interesting than his counterpart in the books. The TV version of Dany is also a more intriguing character, possessing a sense of maturity and agency that isn’t found in the pages of George R.R. Martin’s books.

I’m sure the next book will make some equally interesting choices regarding character and plot, but I do hope Martin is watching the show and taking notes on how to keep the audience engaged.

Apr 262015

When Republicans took control of the Minnesota House last fall thanks to the support of rural voters, they promised to enact policies that would promote the interests of greater Minnesota. But House Republicans are now pushing for a major tax cut that would be paid for with the elimination of MinnesotaCare, the health care program for low-income Minnesotans who don’t qualify for Medical Assistance. Republicans would require these individuals to purchase private insurance via MNsure and pay the associated higher premiums and cost-sharing.

It seems unlikely that our Democratic governor and Senate will agree to this. Minnesota has a budget surplus of $2 billion and it makes little sense to eliminate a program that provides affordable health coverage to so many and that, until recently, has enjoyed bipartisan support at the Legislature. Republicans also seem reluctant to acknowledge that a substantial number of people eligible for MinnesotaCare live in rural districts; perhaps because it would undercut their claim to be champions of rural Minnesota. They should have been clearer in their campaign literature: “Minnesota Republicans–we’ll cut your taxes! And that’s about all you can expect from us.”

Apr 172015

A few pop culture thoughts to end the week:

  • The new teaser for the upcoming Star Wars movie stands up well to repeated viewings. That shot of a Star Destroyer wreck in the desert (apparently not Tatooine, though) looks magnificent. But the teaser also raises many questions. What exactly is this new iteration of the Empire glimpsed in various scenes? Did the Rebels totally screw up their chance at governance? Are Han and Leia still a thing? These are the questions that will keep me awake between now and December.
  • I’ve only seen a couple episodes of the Daredevil series on Netflix, but what I have seen is excellent. The tone is dark but not oppressive, the dialogue is snappy, and the fight scenes are stunning. You should watch it.
Apr 092015

Republican legislators in red states like Kansas and Missouri are doing their damnedest to ensure that poor people never experience one moment of fun or pleasure on the public dime. The Kansas legislature recently passed a bill that would prohibit people from using their cash assistance at pools, movie theaters, cruise ships, casinos, race tracks, and other businesses. It would also restrict them from withdrawing more than $25 per day from their benefit accounts. A Missouri bill would prevent people from using food assistance to purchase seafood, chips, soda, energy drinks, and cookies.

Some restrictions on public benefits make sense, but these bills seem largely motivated by moral panic and antipathy. Republicans generally regard poverty as the direct result of moral failings. Conservative ideology demands that people with moral failings be treated with a firm hand or they will continue to make bad choices. These bills also provide a troubling insight into the conservative imagination. They perceive poverty as fun. They think that poor people spend their days going to the movies, eating lobster, and taking the occasional cruise courtesy of the taxpayer. Their deeply distorted view of poverty leads to policies that only compound the stresses that poor people experience every day. It’s cruelty thinly disguised as paternalistic compassion. And in most red states, that cruelty is only becoming more entrenched.



Apr 012015

Indiana lawmakers are really bad at understanding cause and effect. How else can we explain their stunned and bumbling reactions to the swift public condemnation of the “religious freedom” law that they recently passed? They should have been prepared to give a full-throated defense of their discriminatory law before the ink was even dry on the governor’s signature of the bill. They should have proudly declared that their fellow conservative Christian evangelicals deserve protection from the strains of living in an open, diverse society. They should have presented reams of testimonials from thousands of Christian businesses owners who lie awake at night, terrified at the prospect of selling a pizza to a gay couple or baking a cake for a same-sex wedding. Instead, they’re still staring slack-jawed into the high beams of censure from a modern world that is becoming ever more foreign to them.

I don’t have a problem with people opposing homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Their views are rooted in superstitious silliness, but they are free to hold them. But when those in power implicitly legalize discrimination as a reactionary response to changing social mores and then get called on it, they have no right to wave their hands and claim it’s all a big misunderstanding. Lawmakers in Indianapolis, who most likely regard themselves as “real” Americans, decided to pass legislation that spits in the face of American ideals of equality and fairness. They don’t get to claim victimhood after the fact.

Mar 272015

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is not sparing in its delivery of jokes. If you glance at your phone while watching an episode, you may miss a half-dozen quips. This Netflix comedy about a young woman starting over in New York after being rescued from a cult isn’t just a joke machine, though. Ellie Kemper is perfectly cast as the naïve but kind-hearted Kimmy and the writers surround her with other endearing outsiders, including a struggling gay actor and a burnt-out landlady.

The show is also a treat for the eyes. New York is presented in kaleidoscopic color, in stark contrast to the muddy-hued flashbacks to Kimmy’s time in the cult’s bunker. Even Kimmy’s outfits are clever visual plays on her surroundings. There’s so much going on in the first season that it demands a second viewing. And if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s perfect binge material for a rainy weekend.


Mar 242015

The 90s are coming back in a big way. A Clinton will soon be running for President. My favorite gaming genre is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. And most importantly, The X-Files is returning! Fox announced today that the paranormal drama will be revived as a limited 6-episode series that will feature both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reprising their roles as Mulder and Scully. No word yet on whether The Lone Gunmen will make an appearance.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I was a big fan of the show back in the day, so this news is terribly exciting for me. Six episodes seems like an ideal vehicle for a revival. It should allow for enough time to tell a few good stories without getting bogged down in ponderous mythology. If the writing is good and attracts an audience, perhaps we’ll get another season. And if not, even mediocre X-Files is better than nothing.

All I need now from this wave of 90s nostalgia is another Massive Attack album.

Mar 232015

Ted Cruz should enjoy his moment in the spotlight because today is likely to be the apex of his presidential campaign. Yes, he could pull out a victory in Iowa, where caucusgoers have a history of voting for the person who most fervently promises to wage holy warfare on secular America. But a man who is something of a pariah in his own party probably has little hope of winning the nomination. Cruz is a smart guy and I’m sure he knows the odds; I suspect this whole exercise is his gleeful attempt to force the other candidates to pander to his base while he burnishes his credentials for a lucrative post-Senate career as right-wing pundit.

Even though Cruz’s campaign couldn’t be any more cynical, it should produce some entertaining soundbites. And by “entertaining”, I mean “batshit crazy”.