Review of “Sicario: Day of the Soldado”

 * * C


Benicio Del Toro is back as Alejandro, a lawyer turned sicario (hit man) after his family was killed by the Mexican drug cartels. This time around, his CIA handler, Matt Graver (Josh “Thanos” Brolin) has been given the go ahead to start a war between the cartels, and to do so, kidnaps cartel boss Carlos Reyes’s daugher Isabel (Isabela Moner). Things go horribly wrong when their Mexican police escort turn on them and Graver’s men are forced to kill them.

The relationship between Isabel and Alejandro, which is the centerpiece of this sequel, works well. Unfortunately, the plot is bare bones, and lacks the mystery of the original. Like the first film, there is a separate plot thread that links up with the main thread in the end. However, that ending was unsatisfying, unlike the excellent ending of the first film. If you liked the first film, you may enjoy this one too, but expect less.

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Review of “The Accountant” (mild spoilers)

* * * B

accountantThe Accountant stars Ben Affleck as autistic accountant Christian Wolff. When he is hired by Lamar Blackburn (John “Trinity” Lithgow) to look into an anomaly in the books discovered by Dana Cummings (Anna “Jessica” Kendrick), people begin dying at the hand of Brax, an assassin played by Jon “Punisher” Bernthal. We quickly learn that there is much more to Wolff than a savant ability for accounting.

The film skillfully interleaves flashbacks to show how Wolff became the man he is with driving action sequences and an awkward romance with Cummings. The suspects behind the assassinations are slowly winnowed away. After the culprit is revealed, there is one more twist that I won’t reveal.

I really enjoyed this film. The excellent writing was backed by solid performances all around. Let’s hope the upcoming sequel is as good.

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Is Marriage Doomed?

end-of-marriageA new article from Bently University claims to tell us Why Millennials Refuse to Get Married, without actually doing any such thing.

Millennials are saying no to traditional marriage in record numbers…and that’s not all. In Western culture in the late 18th century, marriage transformed from an economic arrangement into a union based on love. Now it may again be heading toward radical change.

It is already undergoing a radical change, and has been for the last 50 years.

The median age at first marriage is now 27 for women and 29 for men — up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960.

This is due to the availability of reliable birth control, which let women choose career over children, which in turn led to two income households being the norm, which eventually made two incomes a necessary thing for most couples, at least while they were young.

Today an unprecedented portion of millennials will remain unmarried through age 40, a recent Urban Institute report predicted. The marriage rate might drop to 70 percent — a figure well below rates for boomers (91 percent), late boomers (87 percent) and Gen Xers (82 percent). And declines might be even sharper if marriage rates recover slowly, or not at all, from pre-recession levels, according to the report.

I predict they won’t recover.

Traditional marriage has been on a downward trajectory for generations, but with this group it appears to be in free fall. According to a report released last month by the Pew Research Center, 25 percent of millennials are likely to never be married. That would be the highest share in modern history.

This number includes couples who live together and raise families, making it look worse than it is.

Marriage patterns will continue to diverge by education and race, increasing the divides between mostly married “haves” and increasingly single “have-nots,” predicted an internal analysis of the Urban Institute report. Tax rates, eligibility for entitlement programs, and the availability of social safety nets are all altered by marital status, it said. Current marriage trends will make it challenging to develop policies that efficiently target the needs of the growing number of unmarried poor, it said.

The limited tax benefits of marriage are far outweighed by the risk of financial ruin in divorce, which 1 in 2 married couples will go through. No wonder singles are poor; many of them have been through the divorce courts.

“To me, there are so many things that encourage people to marry for financial reasons,” said Steven Weisman, a lawyer who teaches a class on “Marriage, Separation and Divorce” class at Bentley University, in a Baltimore Sun article. From Social Security to income taxes, married couples benefit economically.

Not those who are divorced.

Young couples are opting to live together and put off marriage for later, if at all. About a quarter of unmarried young adults (ages 25 to 34) are living with a partner, according to Pew Research analysis of Current Population Survey data.

If they’re living together already, why aren’t they marrying if the financial incentives are so great? Is there a risk that outweighs the benefits?

About 70 percent of millennials say they would like to marry, but many — especially those with lower levels of income and education — lack what they deem to be a necessary prerequisite: a solid economic foundation.

If the financial benefits of marriage are real, this makes no sense. Getting married should help a couple to more quickly build a solid economic foundation. What’s going on here?

In contrast to the patterns of the past, when adults in all socio-economic groups married at roughly the same rate, marriage today is more prevalent among those with higher incomes and more education, according to the Pew research.

In the past, families in all socio-economic groups could live on the income of one partner. Today, only those with higher incomes can afford to live on a single income.

“Even as marriage rates have plummeted — particularly for the young and the less educated — Gallup survey data show that young singles very much hope to get hitched. Of Americans age 18 to 34, only about nine percent have both never been married and say they do not ever want to marry,” wrote Catherine Rampell.

Only 10% say they’re never going to marry. This is encouraging. If the reasons that fewer people are marrying are addressed, the trend can be reversed.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, white, black or Hispanic. Most Americans are married or would like to marry. The challenge, then, facing the United States is bridging the gap between the nearly universal aspiration to marry and the growing inability of poor and working-class Americans to access marriage,” said Wilcox.

And by the United States, do you mean the state? The state is what got us into this predicament in the first place, or at least had a big part in helping us get here.

That fewer millennials are choosing to marry is also a reflection of modern social attitudes that reject the institution as outdated. It’s time to embrace new ideas about romance and family — and acknowledge the end of traditional marriage as society’s highest ideal, according to Kate Bolick, author of the 2011 Atlantic cover story, “All the Single Ladies,” which sparked a national conversation.

As long as marriage is replaced by some other form of stable family, we have lost nothing except in name. When people cease to raise children, we are in different territory; we are on the road to demographic winter.

Just recently popular comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted, “Why would I want the govt involved in my love life? Ew. It’s barbaric.”

A rare occasion when I agree with her.

Public disenchantment with marriage is reflected in national surveys. Half of American adults believe society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children, according to the recent Pew report.

People not prioritizing children is not a bad thing, in my opinion, though there will be turmoil as the demographics of the population adjust to the lower birthrate. Single parent families are less desirable, due to the poor outcomes realized (on average) by children of single parents.

And opinions on this issue differ sharply by age — with young adults much more likely than older adults to say society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children. Fully two-thirds of those ages 18 to 29 (67 percent) express this viewpoint, as do 53 percent of those ages 30 to 49. Among those ages 50 and older, most (55 percent) say society is better off if people make marriage and children a priority, Pew found.

I’m often an outlier it seems.

But what if marriage stopped forcing young people to conform to an outdated tradition?

How does it do so now? You can have a civil service and enter into a marriage with no traditional vows if you want to.

Marriage offers unquestionable benefits, wrote Psychology Today’s Susan Pease Gadoua, but it’s a stale paradigm. “Rather than having only a choice to marry the same old way, or to not marry, let’s get a little imaginative and come up with marital options that would be better suited to a variety of people, including a short-term trial union for younger couples, a child-rearing marriage for those who’d like to be nothing more than co-parents, or a socially acceptable live apart arrangement.”

How about a contract that can’t be thrown out by the family courts?

A recent article in Time Magazine suggests a beta-marriage in which millennials test-drive their nuptials before jumping into what is supposed to be a lifelong commitment. Margaret Mead, a woman well ahead of her time, threw this notion out in the 1960s; in 2002, journalist and author, Pamela Paul, wrote a book on starter marriages, and; in 2011, Mexico City proposed laws supporting two-year renewable marriage contracts.

How is this any different from living with each other before marrying? Why do we need the state for this?

The overall forces of biology, social needs and economics will never let some form of long-term partnership fade away, says Bentley University’s Dean of Arts and Sciences Daniel Everett.

Though currently, the unfair legal framework of state marriage (legal or common law) pushes back against the need for long-term partnership.

The definition of marriage has been fluid over time and between cultures, he said. “In American marriages, as they have evolved, the ideal is to marry by mutual consent and build first and foremost a relationship,” said Everett.

This is a very recent idea, but I believe it is a good one.

“Among some Amazonian societies, the marriage relationship is first an economic partnership, with clear division of labor, from which a relationship may develop,” he said. “Among more religious societies, such as rural Catholic in southern Mexico, there is some overlap with the Amazonian. And the American rural model is economy first, relationship second, with clear division of labor, and the added sanction of religion.”

In societies that have the need for strong physical labor to provide for the family (whether by hunting or agriculture), women need men who can provide it, especially when they are incapacitated by pregnancy. With the advent of birth control and automation, the need for a man to physically provide is reduced.

Will the millennial generation usher in a new era that saves American marriage by allowing it to evolve? Radical as it may seem, they just might.

It’s possible. Then again, if changing demographics and the ever growing state lead to economic collapse, the traditional family is quite likely to emerge from the ashes to rebuild. Let’s hope we achieve the former.

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Review of “The November Man”

* * C

november-manPierce “Bond” Brosnan is former CIA agent Peter Devereaux. He is reactivated to bring in an old flame who has learned a secret about Arkady Federov (Lazar Ristovski), a man destined to become the next Russian president. When she is assassinated by his former mentee David Mason (Luke Bracey), Devereaux sets out to find the secret. His search leads him to Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko), a social worker with secrets of her own.

The two must evade Mason and Russian assassin Alexa (Amila Terzimehic) while unravelling the truth of Federov’s role in the second Chechnyan war. Gradually, the truth is revealed, leading to a final conflict between Devereaux and Fournier, Federov, and the CIA. This is a solid spy film. It doesn’t do anything new with the genre, but it was entertaining. If you like spy thrillers, its worth watching.

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Who’s Afraid of Twitter Trolls?

twitter-trollsSalon has an article called The Intellectual Dark Web conservatives fear in which it claims that anonymous Twitter accounts calling out right-wing media are the real Intellectual Dark Web. Sounds like whistling in the wind to me. If you read the article, a single conservative columnist is being conflated with the intellectual dark web, probably for clicks.

The rise of President Donald Trump should have precipitated an ideological insurrection.

Among Conservatives? Why would it? By reducing taxes and regulation, tightening the borders, and attacking the progressive media, he is giving them exactly what they want.

But the most popular movement to come out of the right post-2016 was the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW), a quasi-informal group of political commentators and professors who’ve gained traction for its hostility towards American liberalism.

What a load of shit. Most of these people are liberals. What they are critical of are the identity politics of the so-called progressives.

Bari Weiss, a conservative op-ed writer at The New York Times, introduced the IDW in a column earlier this year. In the piece, she elevated personalities such as Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk, to name a few. They were grouped together not because of an ideology they shared, but because of an ideology they all rejected.

See my post Normies are Noticing the Alt Media.

The IDW criticizes most, if not all, policies and social movements that have arisen from America’s liberal trajectory. Feminism, affirmative action, subsidized health care, Black Lives Matter, wealth distribution, immigration, all have come under fire by the IDW.

Feminism has its roots in communism. Black Lives Matter is an identitarian movement. Subsidized health care and wealth redistribution are socialist ideas. To call any of these part of liberal ideology is disingenuous.

Their main antagonist may be the “mainstream liberal media,” which they vilify for propping up progressive causes. Because of this, conservative media has welcomed these new voices into the tent, even though some whitewash racism and anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

The alleged “whitewashing of racism” is a twitter post attacking Bret Wienstien’s defense of Ben Shapiro’s comments about Arabs because they were taken out of context. In the linked video, Wienstien is very clear that he doesn’t support the comments. The other link is broken (good job, Salon).

Some would argue that parts of right-wing media landscape have long been tainted. Before Trump announced his campaign for the presidency, certain writers and watchdog groups have monitored the debasement of conservative media. But since Trump took control of the White House, there has been a more aggressive push to discredit certain conservative personalities and websites. CNN’s Brian Stelter has taken on some of the responsibility, as his show “Reliable Sources” seeks to call out journalistic malpractice from all sides.

Brian Stelter is not credible. CNN is biased.

Nevertheless, the most formidable group that has consistently held conservative media’s feet to the fire this past year or two has been a handful of anonymous Twitter accounts. These anonymous Twitter accounts — or anons — have fact-checked and criticized conservative journalism to the point that the right can no longer ignore them. Their media criticism has now become mainstream, frustrating conservatives who see this as a blatant attempt to delegitimize and silence right-wing voices.

Anonymous twitter trolls are going to take down the alternative media? Are you sure these aren’t Russian bots?

Using unnamed sources in “man on the street” reporting is often frowned upon, if not improper. Washington Post journalist Dave Weigel revealed this week that he would not use a quote unless he gets the speaker’s full name, age and occupation. This is standard policy for many media outlets.

Most if not all of the mainstream media have used unnamed sources in their incessant coverage of the Russiagate conspiracy theories. They may talk a good game, but they don’t walk the talk.

A review of [columnist Salena] Zito’s work, conducted by anons, demonstrated that Zito goes to the unnamed-source well over and over again. Some hints that Zito may be making up quotes, according to the anons, was that dialogue she shares contains language and syntax that appear in her prose. Another mainstay in Zito’s writing is that she often converses with people at rural gas stations. The anons swear that these quotes cannot possibly be real. It’s difficult to verify them considering she does not provide enough information to identify the speakers.

Zito is only doing what the mainstream media do. She is not part of the alternative media. Anonymous trolls claiming that her quotes are false does not make them false. This is fake news.

Zito addressed the allegations in a Twitter thread on Tuesday. She emphatically denied the charges in parts and in whole. She also tried to impeach her accusers by emphasizing they were anonymous, although she did say “it’s their right to criticize me anonymously.”

She is right to discount anomymous critics. If they don’t have the balls to say it using their real names, what they say doesn’t count for much. It’s funny how when you are attacked on twitter, it’s by “vicious alt-right trolls”, but when a conservative is trolled, you give her grief for calling them out. You are a hypocrite!

There were some good-faith defenses of Zito’s work. However, a lot of her allies tried to kill the messengers as opposed to the message. The public confrontation between mainstream conservative pundits and the anons was the manifestation of an ongoing debate over the merits of anonymous criticism.  The concern over bot accounts and foreign intelligence campaigns has somewhat stigmatized the anonymous use of Twitter.

And this was ginned up by you. Time for some of your own medicine.

When Weiss’ IDW column first published, the name “Intellectual Dark Web” drew some eye rolls. The dark web is a part of the Internet that can only be accessed through unconventional networks, such as Tor. Members of the IDW are anything but inaccessible. Content from the IDW will appear as recommended videos on YouTube. Peterson and Rubin have gone on tour together, speaking before sold-out auditoriums. Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk have become two of the most prominent conservative voices on Twitter.

Wienstien call it the dark web because you don’t hear IDW opinions at all in the mainstream media; you have to go to Twitter and Youtube to find them. This is called an analogy. Did you attend a journalism school?

Beyond their disgust with American liberalism, the other trait that draws IDW members together is their ability to capitalize on a void in American conservatism. Taking a page from Trump, the IDW learned that to succeed in the punditry business meant becoming an avatar for disenchanted Americans, a mostly-white demographic that feels as if 21st-century orthodoxy repels it.

So Candice Owens, a black woman, Ben Shapiro, a jew, and Dave Rubin, a gay man, are appealing to disenchanted whites? What you incorrectly refer to as liberalism and 21st century orthodoxy is actually socialism and so-called progressivism. There is nothing liberal about it.

It’s not intellectualism that the IDW offers, nor is it an ideology. It’s a sense of injustice that the IDW has enflamed and exploited for money. Zito’s own reporting confirms how receptive Trump voters are to grievance politics — how they prefer playing the victim. In this sense, the IDW and mainstream conservative media have dovetailed their efforts to curtail progressivism.

Zito is not part of the IDW (or even of the alternative media). The IDW offers intellectualism and an ideology: one of free thinking individualism. Saying Trump voters like to play the victim is rich, when progressives constantly play that game.

Not all conservative outlets have lost respect for its past. Publications such as The Weekly Standard and Commentary continue to appreciate its roots. So does National Review from time to time. However, a plurality of conservatives seem to have become untethered from the ideological strain it once embraced.

The conservative establishment is dying. This is a good thing. The fact that a so-called progressive pines for the Bush era is sad indeed.

The jury is still out as to whether Zito crossed any lines in her reporting. Regardless, it’s evident that the right needs to look inward to self-regulate some of the content it has been peddling. Sadly, most of the people willing to do so at the moment are anonymous Twitter users. If people are looking for a discreet group of influencers striving to hold gatekeepers accountable, then the Twitter anons staging a crusade on conservative media are far more deserving of an audience.

Individuals can say what they want. “The right” is not a collective, and no one is responsible for regulating free speech. Few are going to pay attention to a bunch of random anonymous twitter users winning points against a mainstream media conservative that no one has heard of.

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Review of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (mild spoilers)

* * * B

soloConsidering the fact that Solo: A Star Wars Story lost more than 85 million dollars, it was actually pretty good. I agree with critics that it got off to a shaky start, but the first act was easily made up for with a strong second act, in which Han (Alden Ehrenreich) rescues Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) from his imperial captors and they join the crew of Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) on a mission to steal coaxium (hyperfuel) for a group know as the Crimson Dawn crime syndicate.

The final act, easily the best, sees Han, Chewbacca and Beckett team up with Han’s old girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia “Kalissi” Clarke) to steal raw coaxium from Kessel, a planet at the center of a harsh gas nebula created by the gravity well of a black hole known as “the maw”. They must get the raw coaxium to the refinery on  Savareen before the unstable substance explodes, so they enlist Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) and his ship, the Millenium Falcon.

Easily the worst thing in the film is Lando’s rebellious droid, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Fortunately, she is killed in the second act. I think this character could have been done right, by giving the droid a much more human form, and a more seductive and less preachy character. As it was, she was fairly insufferable, but did serve her part in the plot.

Will there be another Star Wars Story? I hope so. I would love to see Ewen McGregor return in the role of young Obi Wan Kenobi. I liked the character of Qi’ra, and the dark role in Crimson Dawn hinted for her at the end of the film. We’ll see how Lucas Film reacts to their first flop, and what changes they make episode IX.

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Review of “Safe House”

 * * * B


Safe House is a spy thriller involving a bored CIA agent, Matt Westin (Ryan “Deadpool” Reynolds), in charge of a safe house in South Africa is suddenly plunged into danger when renegade agent Tobin Frost (Denzel “Equalizer” Washington) is pursued into the US embassy by assassins. He manages to get his girlfriend Ana (Nora Arnezeder) to safety before all hell breaks loose.

Frost has a secret dossier, and everyone is after it. Frost, Westin’s handler Barlow (Brendan Gleeson) and the CIA’s head of operations in South Africa, Catherine Linklater (Vera “Lorraine” Farmiga) contend with each other, while mysterious enemies come after Frost and Westin does his best to keep the rouge agent in custody while preventing his assassination. The ending is somewhat predictable, but still satisfying.

The acting is solid, the writing predictable, and there is some nice cinematography, as well as some very good car chase scenes. If you’re a fan of the spy thriller genre, I recommend this film.

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