Sunday, October 15, 2017

MovieMonday: Woodpeckers (Carpinteros)




In the Dominican Republic, men and women inmates in adjoining prisons communicate with sign language, known as woodpecking.  This is the only opportunity for connection between the sexes.  

Working from that reality, the filmmakers devised this story of star-crossed love.  

The film opens by taking us into Najayo Prison in Santo Domingo with Julián, a newbie or fish in prison argot. Julián is a calm and cool character who adjusts quickly. He uses the money he brought with him (apparently intake officers didn't search his pockets) to find a mattress and avoid sleeping on a hallway floor.  He swipes another prisoner's cellphone, and he affiliates himself with Manaury, a well-connected insider with anger management issues. 

When Manaury is transferred to a different prison for fighting, he deputizes Julián to keep in touch -- by pecking -- with Yanelly, Manaury's girlfriend in the women's prison yard.  

Yanelly is a hotheaded woman who is already angry with Manaury.  She decides she prefers Julián, and the two flirt and contrive opportunities to meet, briefly, in person.  It's difficult to imagine these two characters falling in love in ordinary circumstances, but life in prison is not ordinary.

Over time, predictable tensions arise.  Unfortunately, the film's amped-up third act comes together in an awkward and not particularly credible sequence of events. 

The exotic location of the movie -- a real prison with inmates and guards as extras -- adds authenticity but is underrealized.  There is only a cursory exploration of the social hierarchy among prisoners and less interaction between prisoners and guards. Julián's mixed-Haitian parentage, we learn, may earn him the disdain of other prisoners, but the idea is not pursued.  (In fact, four Haitians died in a prison riot in the country a couple months after Woodpeckers was screened at Sundance.)

Those quibbles aside, the film is interesting.  Not many movies from the Dominican Republic end up in our theaters, and you might want to take a look. 






Thursday, October 12, 2017

Moto Jacket


Several years ago, women's fashion houses began to release a certain type of leather jacket.  It had an off-center zipper, two to five zippered pockets, a wide collar with double lapels and snap epaulets on the shoulders.




These were called moto jackets, and they imitated a traditional men's motorcycle fashion.

This year we still are seeing these jackets.  Here are a few of the many 2017 offerings.






These jackets are versatile.  I've had one for several seasons and plan to keep it for the long run.  It's good with dresses and skirts and jeans, and its vibe is a little tough looking, which moderates the girly-girlishness of frilly or softly constructed clothes.  


Background

The moto jacket has a long American history.  Two sons of immigrants, Irving and Jack Schott, founded their company in New York in 1913; the first products were raincoats that were sold door to door.  Then the two branched out a bit.  

In 1928 they released a men's motorcycle jacket named the Perfecto, after Irving Schott's favorite cigar brand.  Various Perfecto versions -- all looking largely the same -- have been released ever since. 
Image result for images schott perfecto





The Perfecto really took off 25 years later when it was featured in "The Wild One," a movie about a battle between two motorcycle gangs in a small town.  The star of the film was Marlon Brando, who wore a Schott Perfecto with his character's name, Johnny, embroidered under the left shoulder.  




America was sort of a squaresville in the early 1950s, and Brando's motorcycle jacket was seen as an emblem of rebellion and danger.   As the century proceeded, rebellion and danger became more and more attractive.  

Later adopters of the Perfecto were James Dean, the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and Bruce Springsteen.  

In the late 1980s, edgy designer Jean Paul Gaultier (known then for Madonna's cone bra concert costumes) released Perfecto-esque designs for women and men, as seen below.




Since the turn of the millennium, Schott Perfectos have been spotted on more mainstream celebrities including Daniel Radcliffe, Jonah Hill, Kanye West, Jay Z and Lady Gaga.  

Blake Lively was featured wearing a Perfecto and underwear on an Esquire cover in 2010.


I'm not sure the cover was as much about fashion as newsstand sales, but I suppose a leather Perfecto would appeal more to the Esquire demo than, say, a nubby wool number from Chanel. (In fact, Esquire covers typically feature individuals, with the men in full attire and the women in deshabille.  What a surprise.)


More Schott

Schott Bros., Inc. has been influential for more than Perfectos.  In World War II it designed and manufactured bomber jackets for flight crews and built pea coats for sailors.  The company still sells a range of jackets and sweaters in men's and women's sizes, and at pretty good prices.  You can find them online or at stores in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

This summer, rag & bone, the Brit-inspired, US-based urban fashion house, has partnered with Schott to sell a joint limited edition Perfecto jacket.  One r&b founder is a Perfecto collector who has revealed that he has a dozen vintage models.






Sunday, October 8, 2017

MovieMonday: Blade Runner 2049



If you want to see this movie, you probably should see the original movie first.

That "Blade Runner" was set in a dystopian 2019 Los Angeles.  It predicted a dark, dingy, rainy reality where the crowded streets teemed with weird beings and police zipped around in flying automobiles.  The blade runner of the story, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), was a cop charged with hunting down replicants -- manufactured human-looking slaves -- and killing them before they came to have feelings and to assert their humanity.  The story developed as he became conflicted about his work.

"49" takes up the story 30 years later.  Deckard is long gone, and a more restrained blade runner, Agent K (Ryan Gosling), works the same assignment -- hunting down and retiring (killing) the last members of that long-ago batch of uppity replicants.  As happened with Deckard, Agent K becomes interested in matters he is not supposed to pursue.  Late in the movie, Deckard appears.  

"Blade Runner 49," directed by Denis Villenueve, is an homage to its predecessor and, in my view, rather ponderous.  Its plot is spooled out slowly over the course of nearly three hours.  It also ties up its story almost too neatly.  

(In fact, Ridley Scott gave his 1982 "Blade Runner" a big edit and, I read, a murkier ending in "Blade Runner: The Final Cut," which was released in 2007.  I streamed that later version at home last week.)

At their hearts, both movies examine what it means to be human.  They suggest the cost of totalitarianism and the diminution of presumed lesser beings in a science fiction format. The settings in a human-ruined environment reinforce the theme of degradation.


Notes

Both movies are set in Los Angeles, but only the first one rewards a viewer who is familiar with the place.  Scenes are set in the Bradbury Building, Union Station, the Second Avenue Tunnel under Bunker Hill and a Frank Lloyd Wright house.  The crowded street scenes suggest the Santee Alley flea market and, across from the Bradbury, the century-old Central Market, home to dozens of food vendors.

"49" was filmed mostly in Hungary and included a few "LAPD" signs for show, but nothing more, presumably for budget reasons.  Even at that, the production cost was more than $150 million.  

The atmosphere of the second movie is dusty and gray, rather than the sunless dank of the original, but the effect of a depleted environment is the same.  One character remarks in the film that she never has seen a tree.

The original "Blade Runner" got a lukewarm reception and only was recognized as a classic over time.  Similarly, this new version had a weak opening weekend, which could have been anticipated -- the first movie ran 35 years ago, and it's likely that few people under the age of 50 have seen it.   As I said, it helps to see the first movie before going to see the second.  


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Las Vegas

We have problems in this country, and I don't know how to solve them.  But after last Sunday, I have a few thoughts.  


A Bad Person

I prefer to believe that most people are doing the best they can, but a guy like Stephen Paddock turns this belief on its head    Forensic cops and scientists will try to discern his motives.  I don't care about his motives. There are only two relevant points for me.

First, after more than 60 years as a functional, law-abiding person, he set out to kill as many people as he possibly could.

Second, after this deliberate act, he shrank from taking responsibility.  An honorable person tries not to harm others.  A less honorable person does not harm others because he fears the consequences for himself.  A dishonorable person harms others and then kills himself to avoid unpleasantness afterward.  Stephen Paddock was a moral coward.

Maybe he had unresolved grievances.  Maybe something interfered with his mental functioning.  None of this excuses his actions.  He had enough life experience, and apparently enough money, to face his problems.  That he chose to make them our problem is a great failure on his part.  He chose to become a monster.


Guns

I was robbed at gunpoint once, a story for another day, and I would prefer to live in a country where citizens are not armed.  My problem is that I don't see how that can be accomplished.  

For starters, the Second Amendment is explicit, and there is not enough support to eliminate or replace it.  

I am not a lawyer, but I can see the issue. People reviled Antonin Scalia for the Heller decision, but it is difficult to argue with plain language that says "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."  

Those who argue the other side of the verbiage -- that gun ownership should be limited to participants in a "well-regulated militia" -- similarly do not comfort me.  The Constitution was written by people who wanted citizens to be able to overthrow tyrants. The biggest groups opposing "tyranny" now seem to be that bunch who marched in Charleston last month and the Black Bloc.  Not my kind of folks.


Getting Rid of Guns

Even if we could agree on this goal, there are practical barriers to accomplishing it.

First is the sheer number of firearms in the country today.  We have spoken for years about 
300 million guns, but during those years the number has risen substantially.  According to the latest ATF reports, American manufacturers produced almost 11 million guns in 2013 and more than 9 million in 2014; only a few hundred thousand of those were sold as exports.  Also, we import millions of guns every year (3.6 million in 2014, 3.9 million in 2015, again per the ATF.)  

If we banned gun ownership tomorrow, my brother would hand over our grandfather's 22 rifle, but many other people would not cooperate.  Perhaps we could identify all those with registered firearms and use pressure to make them relinquish their weapons, but more than a few would resist.   

Then we would have the problem of finding and collecting all the illegal guns, which seem to be as available as heroin on our streets.  Cory Booker, after several years as mayor of Newark, remarked that only one of the hundreds of shootings in the city during his term had involved a legally registered firearm.  

The owners of those illegal guns would be unlikely to give them up.

If they do not, are we willing to send government agents into homes and businesses with metal detectors to search for weapons hidden behind walls or under floorboards?  To dig up lawns and parks?  To search storage lockers and the trunks and undersides of cars and the branches of every tree in the country?  

Maybe we can enact laws to ban bump stocks, a term whose meaning we all learned this week, but can we prevent people from manufacturing their own bump stocks or guns with 3-D printers?


Other Means

In fact, there are many ways to kill people, and people who are motivated toward bad ends will use them.  

In 1995, Timothy McVeigh made a bomb out of a truck full of fertilizer, parked it in front of a federal courthouse and detonated it, killing 168 people.

After that, heavy concrete stanchions were put up in front of large buildings here and in Europe to prevent access to truck bombs. 

Then, last year, a terrorist rented a large truck and drove it down the crowded Boulevard de la Croisette in Nice on Bastille Day, killing 84.  This year, similar actions have been undertaken on two bridges in London.

Little as we like the Las Vegas shooter, we must concede that he was smart, focused and disciplined.  If guns had been unavailable to him, he could have found another way to make his point, whatever the hell it was.  He could have rigged a drone to drop a bomb on the crowd at the concert.  He could have poisoned the reservoir behind Hoover Dam.  He could have piloted one of his two airplanes into the stands at a high school football game.


Security, Our New Growth Industry

After Las Vegas,  we can expect that there will be no more outdoor concerts along the Las Vegas Strip.  After Las Vegas, Nashville is reconsidering music festivals in its touristy SoBro neighborhood of three-story buildings.

After Las Vegas, will people want to line the building-dense route of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?  

After Las Vegas, will the NYPD be interested in providing the necessary security to guarantee the safety of a million people in Times Square on New Year's Eve?

Last year's Oscars ceremony was protected by police snipers, helicopters, drones, metal detectors and gosh knows what else, and still a couple random guys managed to walk into the holding pen for the celebrities.

When you think about it, national politicians and celebrities get a lot of protection.  The rest of us, not so much.

But it is the rest of us who bear much of the burden.

Last year my carry-on bag was selected at random in the TSA line at the airport, and I watched a burly guy paw through my clothes.  Last month I was selected randomly for a patdown by a female TSA officer. 

I have come to resent these intrusions.  My last brush with the law was a parking ticket 15 years ago.  The next time a police agency brings someone to justice for a violent crime against me or my family will the first time.  I'm not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

Unfortunately, after Las Vegas, this is just the beginning.


Prevention

I still want to believe that most people are doing the best they can.  So far I personally have not been disappointed.  

But if somebody knew what Stephen Paddock was planning and did nothing to stop him, that person has failed as a citizen and, more, as a human being.

We have no idea how many relatives and friends have acted to frustrate people with bad plans -- confiscating guns and knives, warning targeted victims, calling police or hauling disturbed people to mental hospitals.  There must be many of these quiet heroes who deserve our gratitude even if we never learn their names.

Yes, if we see something we should say something.  I'd like it better if we framed that idea as a moral imperative.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

MovieMonday: Battle of the Sexes




I enjoyed this movie more when I saw it in the theater than when I thought about it afterward.  

It's nicely made and well acted, but its organizing concept and ultimate conflict is a silly 1973 spectacle that pretended to have something to do with women's liberation, as it was called in the day.  Why should we care? 

The body of the movie is the story of the two tennis players in that event.

Billie Jean King, the American tennis star, is rightly outraged that women's events draw audiences equal to those of men but offer much smaller prizes.  She and others form their own league.  She is absolutely right, and good for her.

Bobby Riggs, a middle-aged gambler and showboater who used to be a tennis star, challenges King to a tennis match and, when she refuses, convinces Australian Margaret Court to play him.  He wins.

King is challenged again by Riggs, and this time she says yes.  Her purpose is to assert the equality of women, or something.  "He's going to make women's tennis look like a sideshow," she worries.

A fair question, in 1973 and now, is this:  Why would a legitimate tennis star at the top of her game agree to participate in an actual sideshow with a middle-aged, washed-up, attention-seeking has-been?

Emma Stone plays King, who is ardent, serious and sexually confused.  Long married to a supportive husband, she finds herself attracted to a female hairdresser and they begin an affair.  This is presented in a credible way that is true generally to the facts of the situation, which was almost certainly an open secret in 1973.

Steve Carell plays Riggs, who is fun to watch but irresponsible.  His long-suffering wife finally tells him, "I need a husband who is steady, and that is not you."  His son Larry also seems to have had enough and refuses to attend the big match.

King trains for the match like the serious person she is.

Riggs does not train for the match.  He mugs for the press in silly costumes and makes outrageous sexist statements that even he does not believe. 

Then comes the match, whose result has been telegraphed pretty effectively.  And that's the movie.

Effectively, "Battle of the Sexes" portrays a 1973 event through a 2017 template.  We do a lot of that now, but every once in a while I find it grating.  This is one of those times.

To be fair, the whole thing works better than it should, which redounds to the credit of directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who also made the charming "Little Miss Sunshine," described once as "a thinking person's 'National Lampoon Vacation.'" 

Notes

If you care about that 1973 tennis match, you might enjoy a 2013 article that suggests a couple reasons why Riggs may have planned deliberately to lose to King. 

Margaret Court, the Australian tennis star, ultimately won 23 grand slam events to King's 12.  The movie treats her with a bit of disdain.  Long ago she intemperately said, "There were lots of lesbians in tennis," and she more recently has been been strident in her opposition to gay marriage.  There is now a movement afoot to take her name off an arena in Melbourne.



Friday, September 29, 2017

Boots of the Season






It is a truth generally acknowledged that there are two kinds of fashion -- one kind that screams for attention and the other for us normal people.

The "boots" above fall into the former category.  They are very tall. Their uppers are made of stretchy synthetic fabric instead of leather or suede.  Their colors are pretty darn vivid.  And their heels are at least 4 inches high.  They are not for everyone.

But they are interesting.

Spain's Balenciaga house appears to have been the first to release such boots.  Last spring it convinced (or paid) one celebrity to wear a bright red pair under white gown with a slashed skirt to the annual Met Gala.  Then Kylie Jenner paired a purple pair with a  not-long-enough tee shirt for a less prominent red carpet event and paparazzi.  

These have been named "knife boots," and are featured in the Balenciaga fall advertising campaigns.  To the extent they are bought, it is fair to guess that women mostly will want them in basic black.  Still, as footwear goes, they're pretty far out there.  

The knife boots' antecedents over the last 10 years are over-the-knee boots.  A early-adopter friend of wore a leather pair of these to a holiday event some years back; they looked rather stiff and seemed to bother the hem of her skirt.  This may be why new versions are coming out in more pliant suedes and as "sock boots," the latter of which used to be short, sturdy numbers appropriate for tramping through the frozen north. 

Here is a Balenciaga advertisement, including the knife boot in blue, that ran in the all-important September fashion magazines.  



Naturally other designers are offering their own versions.

Here's a photo from a Salvatore Ferragamo ad.



And one from Stuart Weitzman




And one from Ralph Lauren.





Slouch Boots

These boots have wrinkled leather shafts.  This is a trend that comes and goes and then comes back again.  This year it's back.

Some examples:

Marc Jacobs






Vanessa Seward





Michael Kors  (Note the triangular heel, which seems seems to be a thing this year.)




Saint Laurent.  This tall boot is being marketed in various leather colors, but the shiny silver version has drawn the most attention.  If you want a pair, you will need to put your name on a wait list, and then save your money to pay for them.  The price is $10,000. 
Image result for images slouch boots




Normal People

The Idiosyncratist already has purchased a pair of winter boots, block-heeled black ankle boots that will be good with pants or skirts.  These replace a previous pair of black ankle boots that died of overwear.   Regular readers know that the Id is something of a minimalist, constrained by limited closet space and a frugal nature.  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

MovieMonday: Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle



What to make of this film?  It is a sort of double spoof of superhero movies and James Bond movies rolled up in a long and utterly preposterous series of set pieces.

This is the second Kingsman show.  The first, in 2015, made more than $400 million, making a sequel inevitable.  This new edition opened well over the weekend, grossing $100 million in theaters worldwide.

The Kingsmen are schooled in elite manners and warfare. They also are outfitted in bespoke suits, which they sell at The Kingsman Tailor Shop, the Savile Row front for their undercover good-guy organization.  They always know which fork to use at fancy dinner parties, but they do use the F-word rather more frequently than one might expect.

The story opens with Eggsy, a young man who joined the team in the first movie.  He immediately establishes his props in an extended battle with another young man, Charlie, who has gone over to the dark side, in this case a drug cartel called Poppy Pharmaceuticals.

Eggsy and Charlie tangle with ju jitsu moves, weapons, and Charlie's bionic arm in a lethally loaded Kingsman taxi that is being pursued by bad guys in SUVs with roofs that open to expose rocket launchers.  It's all very exciting and displays the range of tactical and online support that the Kingsmen can bring to bear in a fight.

Then, suddenly, the Kingsman organization is wiped out, and the world is plunged into peril.  The two survivors, Eggsy and a tech backup called Merlin, join forces with Statesman, an American counterpart organization whose front is not a clothing store but a whiskey distillery in Kentucky.  

There are many, many battles on three continents.  Harry Hart, a Kingsman who was shot dead in the first movie, is revived, somehow and in fits and starts, and he joins Eggsy and Merlin.  Harry is played by Colin Firth who, as ever, looks smashing in a well-tailored suit.  

It's clear the whole story is meant as a giant over-the-top parody, which renders any nodding glances at character development or motivation pretty much beside the point.  The effect is a very long two hours and twenty minutes of joke characters saving a joke world.  

If you like this sort of thing, you might as well go.


Notes

Actress Julianne Moore plays Poppy, the film's very bad bad gal, but she is not given much to do except bark orders to her minions.  Actors Jeff Bridges, Halle Berry and Channing Tatum also languish in small roles.  Perhaps the whole bunch are there to interest American audiences.

The film's two British screenwriters also have thrown in American stereotypes.  In one case, a Kentucky redneck provokes a bar fight by saying this: "Kiss my southern dick, bitch!"  In another, a generic American president is a secondary bad guy, comfortable with the idea of millions of deaths of his countrymen and other people worldwide.

The film opens with a bagpipe rendition of the John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," a set-up planted for an exaggerated payoff toward the end of the film.  Turns out that Merlin the Kingsman is a John Denver fan.

Elton John plays himself with good-natured humor, even when he is required to wear a ridiculous feathered costume.  His "Saturday Night" song provides the accompaniment for a fight scene, and he kicks a very tall platform boot to good effect.