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October 19, 2016

Jack Reacher Movies

A new Jack Reacher movie starring Tom Cruise is about to be released. I'm happy that the book series, one of my favorites, has made it to the big screen and that it has a major star attached. However, the star and his treatment of the subject is a problem.

The reason that Reacher is such an intriguing hero/anti-hero character in the books has to do with his size and his taciturn nature. He is tall, heavy, muscular, and has some very strong quirks; he doesn't own anything beyond what he carries with him, he doesn't have any real ID (until later in the series, anyway), he can't drive, and he doesn't use toothpaste (or floss or mouthwash)-- he simply uses a toothbrush, which is one of his few possessions.

His size is almost a character itself within the books. He rarely meets someone his own size, and he uses his size and physical presence to his advantage in the novels: frequently he can stop a fight from happening just by being so physically intimidating; sometimes he allows people to assume that because he is large, strong, and quiet, he must be stupid or slow; and he uses that great size and his attack-first mentality to end a fight before the opponent knows it has even begun. Not to mention how many women are attracted to him because of his size and physical features (even though he is not an attractive man, his size, confidence, and physicality make up for it).

Another big issue that comes up a lot in each of the books is his inability, and lack of desire, to drive. He comments frequently that he breaks cars, grinds gears, and just isn't very good at any aspect of driving. He is always giving the keys to someone else to drive him; those close to him just assume he won't be driving. The few times he is forced to drive in the novels, bad things tend to happen.

Reacher, in the books, is also so physical that many of the fights don't last more than a couple of hits. Reacher believes in hitting first, hitting hard, and ending the fight before it begins. He does this because he understands that the longer the fight goes on, the more chances to get seriously injured he has. Reacher is no dummy; he wants to stay as safe as possible and without injury. So, he will head-butt a person before they are expecting it. Or he goes for a debilitating one-punch/blow type of hit, like to a nose or the neck. When fighting multiple enemies, he will try to kill or maim someone seriously in one blow so he can turn his back on them and go after the next. He is a whirlwind of force and power, not to be taken lightly.

When Tom Cruise cast himself in the role of Jack Reacher in the movies, fans of the series were a bit surprised. Reacher is 6'5", Cruise is listed at 5'7" (some say he is closer to 5'6" or even shorter). Forced to make the best of an odd situation, Lee Child made a statement about Reacher's size being "a metaphor for an unstoppable force" and that Cruise's acting and status as a star could fill that gap. I'm not sure any fan really bought it or thought that wound up true in the first film. While Cruise can play bad-ass and has real acting chops (although he hasn't really used them for awhile now), he just doesn't come across as the physical person that Reacher just is.

The first movie contained multiple fight sequences, and all of them involved fairly complex choreography in which Cruise fought both single and multiple entities. Because no one would believe his little body could take people down in one or two blows, the fights were lengthy martial arts dances that just didn't fit with the character of Reacher, whose fighting technique is military close-fighting and street fighting techniques.

That first movie also showed Cruise in a complex, interesting, and dynamic car chase sequence, where Cruise's Reacher showed exceptional skill at driving. A total departure from the books in every way. The trailer for movie two also shows a car chase sequence in it, with Reacher once again behind the wheel.

While they tried to keep the physicality in place, Cruise came across somewhat laughable when he threatened people in the first movie. In the trailers for the second movie, I find myself smiling once again when he threatens people. When a 6'5", 250 lbs monster of a man threatens you it is simply different from when a 5'7" guy threatens you, even if that smaller guy knows martial arts and can kick your ass three ways to Sunday. On screen and magnified, it just doesn't look or come across the same way as in the books.

Lastly, Cruise is a pretty boy. Reacher isn't. As Cruise gets close to and seduces women on screen, they are reacting to how pretty he is, not to his sheer .... animal physicality and confidence. Again, it is believable that Cruise can get the woman because he's, well, Tom Cruise. In the books, it is almost always Reacher's actions that overcome a woman's lack of interest; he is confident, kind and courteous (in a military sense as well as just a "nice guy" sense), has a raw physicality, and is protective toward them.

I will probably not see the second movie in the theaters due to these changes, but likely will watch it on video later. While I'm happy that the character has made it to the silver screen, the changes to the fundamental nature of the character are off-putting to me. I didn't actually mind the first movie and thought they did a pretty good job of bringing the book's story to the screen. However, I was constantly taken out of my immersion in the film by Cruise's size and totally different take on the character. I'd like to see a movie with a more faithful-to-the-character portrayal of the character. I can see someone like an Alexander Skarsgard playing the role, as he is about the right size (6'4") and can act.

ADDENDUM (1/7/2017)

Finally watched the second movie. Beyond having some of the same characters, locations, and general plot beats, the movie looked little like the Jack Reacher novel it is based on. It wasn't a bad movie, it is just not Reacher. They have to rewrite and write around Cruise being so totally unfit for the part that it snowballs into changing large sections of the plot.

What's funny is that John Wick makes for a better Reacher movie than either of the two Reacher movies. While still not the size of Jack Reacher, John Wick has the intensity, economy of movement, and deadliness that a Reacher fan should enjoy.

October 18, 2016

To Honor or To Serve?

I was raised in a military family. I was raised in a military town. Part of my upbringing occurred on a military base. My father is a 20-year Marine veteran. So I understand service, sacrifice, and loyalty. Which is why, even though I personally find it poor manners and bad taste to sit, kneel, or otherwise ignore the national anthem, I will defend to my death your right to do it.

Others have said it better and probably more eloquently, but being an American is hard work. The rights conveyed by the Bill of Rights are difficult to live up to, not because they are confusing or hard to understand, but because they apply to everyone, including that person down the street, on the TV, or even in your own house with whom you vehemently disagree. Your rights end where that person's rights begin, and vice versa.

There is so much hatred and vitriol in our country right now. I simply don't understand why, except to say that it sells. I mean, would you really, truly listen to some of these pundits if what they were saying wasn't so outrageous? The extreme is selling and it is selling well. So much so that there are very few actual, legitimate news programs left. It has all become opinion pieces and entertainment.

Any time someone forgets that the rights conveyed by the first ten amendments apply to everyone, regardless of race, sex, orientation, or political leanings, I start to get worried and leery. That is a person who, often, either is uneducated, uninformed, or has an agenda. If the reason is one of the first two, you can explain how the Bill of Rights work, that it applies equally to everyone at all times (with a few caveats), and you educate or inform them, making them a better citizen. But those who either refuse to listen of have an agenda will twist, ignore, or obfuscate what you try to teach them and will continue to spout their hatred.

I'd like to coin a new phrase and a new movement, somehow: compassionate understanding. No matter how offensive what someone else is doing or saying is to you, try to be compassionate to the reasons and understand the motives. For example, maybe what Colin Kaepernick started offends you -- why? what about his protest movement is so offensive and why are you reacting so strongly? Why is such a simple, peaceful means of protest causing such a reaction to you? What is it about transgender people using the restroom of the sex with which they identify (and, quite possibly, dress and look like, too) causes you issue? Are you simply uncomfortable with the difference of a man dressing, looking, and acting like a woman? Are you a little uncomfortable with your own sexuality such that you think you might find such a man attractive when you otherwise identify as heterosexual? Is that transgender man harming you in some way with his choice? Why does another religion make you so fearful? What about it is causing you difficulty? Is anything that religion is doing really affect you in any way? What about that liberal person offends you so much? What about that conservative causes you so much stress and fear?

Let's step back, learn about those people and things we fear and distrust, walk a mile in their shoes, and see what the root cause of your discomfort really is. I think, in most cases, you'll find the problem really resides in you.

October 17, 2016

Netflix and ...

I think it is fairly clear that the public has spoken and voiced their desires. While many production companies keep creating their own online venues for movies and/or TV shows, the public has said, "We like the Neflix model. We want TV and movies under one banner, a variety, and at an affordable price."

It's funny to me how the movie studios, in particular, have responded. Many have created their own digital spaces and tried to get people to pay them to see their own movies. But none have been overly successful because the variety isn't there and the cost is either too high individually, or more than someone with a current Netflix subscription wants to pay.

In Canada, for a time, people were some of the worst digital thieves of any country. Canadians wanted access to US movies in a timely fashion and at a reasonable price. No one was providing that, however, so they turned to illicit means to get what they wanted. A few years back, Netflix finally made the jump into Canada after passing absurd legislative hurdles put in front of it and enter the Canadian market... and illegal downloading went down by huge numbers. Even though they were being given a lesser product than the full Netflix available in the US, it was still better than anything provided by Bell, Telus, or Rogers. And this same result has happened in other nations, as well.

In some cases, people in Canada, Europe, Australia, and others have found gray-area ways to get the full US Netflix to watch. This further shows that people WANT to pay for content, but they want that content when it is first released, not months later, and they want to pay what they feel is a fair price (which the $10/month average cost seems to be for most people). You don't read stories of people using IP masking and VPNs to access a company's own digital content, only Netflix (and, sometimes, Amazon's video and TV services).

Of course, the TV and movie production companies still are fighting it. They allow product into Netflix but on a limited basis, so that their own digital outlets can "compete." Some will not allow their "best" products onto Netflix at all. Some only provide TV shows (and sometimes even with commercials!) and others only provide movies.

At some point, they all need to survey the digital landscape, admit that they are wrong or that Netflix has won the battle, relent, and provide both TV and movies to the option that people increasingly vote for with their pocketbooks and clicks... Netflix. It is party agnostic, provides a good method by which to get the product, and people like it. Stop wasting any more time, effort, or money in creating a service that does what Netflix is already doing... just accept the money they want to pay you for hosting your content and let the audience enjoy your products!

October 12, 2016

None of the Above

In Brewster's Millions, Richard Pryor has to spend $30 million in 30 days in order to inherit $300 million. One of the things he does to spend the money is start a campaign to get people to vote None of the Above rather than choose between two bad choices.

In this year's presidential election, I sort of feel like Monty Brewster and want to ask people to vote None of the Above. But we know how that turned out, don't we? (Everyone thought it was just a smart political ploy and they started voting for Brewster instead.)

American politics are broken. The 12th Amendment basically ensures a two-party system. That being said, there is a precedence for a third (or more) parties possibly making a solid run and gaining the votes needed for a plurality.

This year, with a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I'm praying for a third-party candidate run that I can get behind. It's not that I actively dislike Clinton; I'm sure she would make a decent President and would likely follow the successful path laid out by Obama. I am much less sure of Trump's ability to keep the country moving forward, as most of his speeches are in favor of regressive strategies. I'm also unsure, with the way that Congress decided to block Obama before he even took office, that the Republicans won't do the same to Clinton and the Democrats the same to Trump when one or the other is elected.

What I'm hoping for is some moderate Republican and Democrat to come together and run as a team. People with good ideas who can get the harder-line people from both sides to strive for compromise, rather than further fracturing the parties with extremist views.

Can you imagine how radical that thought would be? A Republican and Democrat on one ticket? The possibilities are incredible. It would show America, and other politicians, that compromise is possible and that we can agree on most things.

I guess that is what seems to be missing from these elections: the fact that most Americans agree on most things most of the time. Or, at least, that we can agree to disagree without it turning into something violent and extreme. It is possible for a life-long conservative to reach an agreement with a life-long liberal on a wide variety of topics. Neither will get all that they want, but each will get a little and each will give up a little and somewhere in the middle there will be a happy medium.

But, time is running out. A choice must be made. If you vote for Trump or Clinton, are you voting for the person you hate least? Is that a good way to vote? If you vote for a third party candidate now, are you just helping one side or the other to win or lose?

I've been doing my research, checking voting records and policy decisions, and trying to decide for whom I will vote. This year, more than any since I've been voting, is tough. But I have my ballot and I need to make a decision soon and get it in the mail. And hope and pray that it was the right one.