God Schmod, I Want My Alexa Watch

I am rocking an iPhone 5. 

Not an iPhone 5S. An iPhone 5. All good Apple dorks know what that means. 

It means I am one consonant away from eligibility for updates. It means my iPhone will be on OS 10.3.3 FOREVER. It means my iPhone is no longer supported by Apple. And while Apple was nice enough to include support for its Airpods with my ancient phone, an iPhone 5 will not support an Apple Watch. (That support also requires support for at least iOS 11, only available on 5S or higher). 

So I was excited last year with the introduction of the iPhone X, but I was nonplussed by the price point. And so I instead had the battery replaced, which fixed the real issue I was facing with the phone, that the battery was draining every 15 minutes. After that, the phone was fine. 

So I watched the rollout in September with interest and was glad to see the iPhone XR address the price point. But I still don’t think I’m budging, not  until this phone tells me it just plain won’t let me look at Facebook any longer. 

Why am I hesitant? Because. Much of my motivation of wanting the upgrade is the Apple Watch. Except this one thing: I don’t like Siri. 

Or, perhaps, it’s that I’m just used to another digital assistant, known as Alexa. These gizmos I have all over the place. I am used to that voice, the smooth delivery, the natural-seeming personality. Compared to it, Siri’s is just plain jarring. 

Maybe it’s just the form factor I’m used to. But I think the assistant I prefer is and probably always will be Alexa. I am already signed up for the in-auto version of the gizmo (you have to sign up to be invited just to buy the friggin’ thing). 

So. If they can put Alexa in my car soon, when are they going to put her on my wrist? 

This is vital. Because, I assume, if you’re using a watch, you will be using the personal assistant much more often. 

God schmod, I want my Alexa Watch. 

Widows

Steve McQueen does not think his audience is stupid. 

In fact, the dude gives his audience great credit. He does not invest much in exposition. He trusts that you will do some of the lifting in his attempt to deliver a story, and he does this like few directors can. 

For instance: There is a scene in McQueen’s heist caper movie Widows that is so smart and so laden with story detail and, simultaneously, social commentary that it has more potency per tablespoon than cinnamon. And it just involves this car driving while two people sit inside the car and argue. 

When the scene begins, it’s weird because the camera is kept outside of the car the whole time, mainly shooting the landscape of some city blocks over the driver’s part of the windshield. The shot lasts long enough that you become conscious of it and begin to wonder why the director is doing it. 

And then you realize why, and it is an astonishing realization. Because it tells you everything you need to know about the politician inside the car, of his likely expected entitlement, of his legacy, of the distance he can set between him and his constituency and still expect to be elected. That scene delivers the essence of Jack Mulligan’s character, and in fact explains the larger political context generally, and it does not draw a diagram for you to get there. 

And while a heist film like Ocean’s Eight earlier this year was marketed as “hey this is like the Ocean’s movies, but with broads, isn’t that great and progressive and shit?” all that movie did was make a heist movie that was about the heist and replaced the dudes with women. Widows is not about the heist. It’s about the characters, specifically, Veronica, Linda, Alice, and, later, Belle. Their motivations are more urgent than those of Deb Ocean’s petty little revenge quest:  As widows of thieves, they are being pinched by some bad hambres for the money. And these characters, and these actors who play them, they rise to that challenge. 

McQueen’s pacing is dangerous, but effective, as it was in 12 Years a Slave. His story (or perhaps the story of Jayhawk and co-writer here Gillian Flynn) forges the most unlikely of alliances or, perhaps, friendships. And this heist film is not about the heist–in fact, were it not for a few twists at the end there, the heist itself would seem anticlimactic. This is, in my opinion, a feature, not a bug, in the movie Widows

So this ain’t your normal heist flick. What it is, kids, is what an artist does. Happy little clouds. All struck up on the canvas that moves. What a perfect movie. 

In Other News

  • Aaron found the “drop cap” button.

This Might Get Weird

I am trying out the new Gutenberg editing system for WordPress, a step I have been procrastinating because, you know. Change. Icky. So forgive me if posts look a little weird around here for a while. Meanwhile, lets use a few pictures taken Thanksgiving to see how the thing handles pictures. I didn’t apparently think to take pictures of human beings. 

Gratitude.

In Other News

Defending Pelosi

One thing you learn when you’re a lifelong Democrat: The phrase “gun control” can also apply to people who like to take the safety off, aim directly at their little piggies, and full-on open fire, then sit there laughing and pointing at the spurting blood.

Democrats are like that.

I have read reports today that there are as many as 18 Congress-critters who won’t vote to renew Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D, 12th District, California) as Speaker. This is so woefully stupid it should be in a Star Wars prequel.

I have researched and will continue to do so, but I have yet to find one of these mouth-breathers who have offered a significant reason short of personality politics for their opposition. They do not indicate displeasure with the Speaker’s legislative record. They do not point out any particular legislative failure. There is a vague notion that “new blood” is needed, that a “new voice” should be offered the gavel.

Now. Are you ready for the stupid part?

They don’t have a candidate.

A few have talked about running for the job. None have come directly forward and said they intend to seek it. There is a letter of intent from a bunch of these idiots saying they won’t vote for her. This is supposed to “scare” Pelosi into not running.

I am not making this up.

I have a friend who said he didn’t like that Pelosi answered a question by saying that she um, wanted to work together with the preznit. Yeah, um, that’s not what the broad actually said. Ahem:

In terms of working with the President, I just would say that I worked very productively with President Bush when we had the majority and he had the presidency. We passed one of the biggest energy bills in the history of our country. We passed one of the biggest tax bills in terms of stimulus for low-income people as well as middle-income people in his presidency. And the list goes on. PEPFAR*, he wanted PEPFAR*, we won it big, and there are so many issues we worked with together with him but ultimately opposed him on the war in Iraq.

But the point is is that we worked together. The President (Trump) said we’ll wait for them to send me something. Well, we have ideas, and we can send him something, but the fact is we’d like to work together so our legislation will be bipartisan. We’re not going for the lowest common denominator, we are going for the boldest common denominator. Our position will be a consensus within our own party of what we can support while also welcoming other ideas.

*President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief

This was not a capitulation to the Great Orange ID of Pennsylvania Avenue. It was a challenge. And it did not address oversight; she contained her remarks to legislation. She specifically, and correctly, criticized Trump’s approach to law-making and indicated that his nonsense approach would end in the next session. This was not Kumbaya. It was Twisted Fucking Sister.

Nancy Pelosi ushered passage of the Affordable Care Act in the House, and guess what? The House version included a public option. She marshalled through the Lily Ledbetter Act, which directly addressed income inequality. Dodd-Frank. Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The Economic Stimulus Act of 2008.

(Credit due: I am cribbing directly from Sarah Wood.)

I will continue with this list now that you know who I’m cheating off of:

Increased transparency required for credit card vultures. More money for Pell grants. Greater FDA authority over tobacco and food safety. The first minimum wage increase since 2009. Hate crimes, now a thing the federal government can enforce. The Office of Congressional Ethics. The DREAM Act (which floundered in the Senate). An extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Blah blah blah blah blah.

And yet, the following Congress-critters say they’re voting “no,” and, as far as I can tell, there is no more specific reason than that they don’t want Pelosi’s stink on them. Tim Ryan. Seth Moulton. Kathleen Rice. Ed Perlmutter. Kurt Schrader. Filemon Vela Jr.. Marcia Fudge. Bill Foster. Brian Higgins.

See, I don’t think my own Senator, Chuck Schumer should be re-hired as minority leader. But I can tell you why. President Obama concluded one of his greatest foreign policy triumphs (in my humble opinion), the very good Iran disarmament deal, and Schumer chose to use it as a hanky. I think this belies bad judgement, and there are a whole lot of folks I think can represent the ranking side in the Senate much better.

I am not seeing such details regarding opposition to Pelosi, who can now add to her list of accomplishments the greatest margin of win in the House since I didn’t have hairy legs. This is not the time to test a new speaker. This is the time to allow Rep. Pelosi to utilize her accumulated political capital to start setting shit right again.

And, oh, hey. Charles Pierce has a neat idea. Instead of ousting the Speaker? Replace the Whip.

Duh.

Bohemian Masterpiece

If you like joy, you should go see the film Bohemian Rhapsody in the movie theater. Likewise, if you like masterful acting. Or music. Or Queen. Or if you remember what you were doing when you witnessed Live Aid. Or, if you’d just like to see a really great movie.

Bohemian Rhapsody, the film, will satisfy all of these checkboxes, and more. It is, certainly, the best film I have seen this year and the best I expect to see. It is my favorite cinema experience since the brilliant Dunkirk.

I ain’t the only one. While the thing currently has a score of 64 on Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 94 audience score there. Critics are enjoying dissecting this movie, but audiences are simply * enjoying * this movie.

Yeah, but they got stuff wrong, critics are saying. Freddie didn’t have the studly mustache look until 198x, they says. They didn’t have to coax Geldhoff into them doing Live Aid, he had to coax them, and it wasn’t because of that, it was because of this, they says. And how about that stuff where Princess Leia floats through space like Mary Poppins, they says.

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Rami Malek is reason enough to see this thing. It’s like he invites Freddy Mercury to live in him for a while. If he isn’t holding at least one tall bald trophy sometime next year for this, I’ll be more surprised than I was on Nov. 8, 2016.

The best of this movie is its ending, which is essentially a strut-by-strut re-enactment of the band’s Live Aid performance. This is some of the best faux rock performance footage since Purple Rain. Val Kilmer was a good Jim Morrison, but this kid from Mr. Robot is a great Freddy Mercury, accurate down to the hair on his forearms.

Holy crap I may just have to start watching Mr. Robot.

Among pop-music-group-bipopics, this is the best I have ever seen. Does it contain ever dull pop-music-group-biopic trope? Oh, yes. But it does ever single one better than any other. I say they might as well stop making pop-music-group-biopics now. (Sorry, Michael Hutchence.)

It doesn’t hurt that the source material is Freddy Mercury, one of the most powerful presences ever in rock-n-roll, and Queen generally, one of the most bodacious bands in rock-n-roll. I remember the first time I heard “We Will Rock You.”

Do you?

If you do, it was probably one of those moments, like the first time a girl blows in your ear, or your first gyro, but like, louder and with harmony. I mean, all it is is a powerful stomping percussion with a choir and a fantastic guitar solo. This was a less-is-more first I think that was later extrapolated buy guys like Prince (see “Kiss”).

For me, Queen was one of those musical revelations that kneaded my brain at a formative age. One of the first. One of many to follow.

And many reviews have somehow taken exception with how the film handles Freddy’s (homo)sexuality. How would they like the movie to portray this? Freddy was out and FABULOUS? He wasn’t. He couldn’t be. He lived under the same oppressive nonsense that made millions of others just as isolated as he was, an isolation that ended up drowning him to death via AIDS, a public health epidemic treated by our powers that be at the time as a modern-day leprosy rather than as a health crisis that required recognition and action.

Or did you forget all that?

Anyways. Of all things, this film is a fine, suitable tribute to one of the most powerful performers in rock. It is a joy, a sustainable, uncontainable joy.

Do you like joy?

Must Free TV

One “holy grail” of my existence has always been to achieve excellent reception of free, over-the-air television that includes at least the four major television networks if not a few more.

I’ve tried to get there for years and have never quite gotten there. There was always some pixelation, especially on the most vital of the television networks, ABC, which is the home of the greatest television program of all time, Shonda Rhimes’ masterpiece known as Grey’s Anatomy.

If I can’t watch Grey’s on Thursday night, it ain’t TV, and I ain’t havin’ it. Sadly, if there has been a station that gives me trouble, it’s ABC.

My solution of late has been the streaming service YouTube TV. These streaming service have come a long way in the past five years; I remember trying to stream Food Network on Sling TV when they first started and suffering paralyzing latency. Today, these services are more reliable as the companies have apparently invested in server farms to catch up with bandwidth requirements. Services I generally recommend, depending entirely on your need for content: Sling TV. YouTube TV. And Philo TV.

But still. That isn’t the grail.

See, in June 2009, the United States changed from over-the-air television in analog form to digital. In this age where every square inch of everything is considered a commodity for sale, I’m astonished the federal government any longer makes an effort to maintain airwave broadcasting.

The Federal Communications Commission was founded, after all, on the sparse premise that the airwaves could not be owned and therefore required federal regulation as a vital part of the commons. Thus, from the original mission statement of the FCC: “make available so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient, Nationwide, and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.”

So I reckon the way I figure it, a person ought to try to use the public airwaves if one can. So I have always tried to use OTA TV if possible. So I’ve spent years at the window fidgeting with an HD antenna.

Then, this week, I came across this website. And I figured out that most of the broadcast towers relevant to my needs are either due south or southwest from my apartment.

My windows face almost due north.

Huh.

Yeah, but putting the antenna on the other side of the apartment couldn’t possibly work because there’s a whole half a building in the way. Couldn’t possibly work. Couldn’t possibly!

This is my antenna, facing southwest.

I have never had a clearer OTA picture, ever.

P.S. If you’re on Facebook and interested in cord-cutting strategies, you must join the group called Cord Cutting Tech Support. Search it and sign up. It was being in this group and reading the posts and helping other folks there too that led me to these conclusions and helped me resolve this egregious error. Yer welcome.

A Star Is Boring

A relative unknown female vocalist whose physical image is not exactly “typical” but whose sheer talent has lately garnered her more attention. She then appears on NBC’s Saturday Night Live and boosts her profile considerably. Soon, she earns several Grammy nominations. She takes home “Best New Artist.”

If you have recently seen Bradley Cooper’s reboot of the cinema classic A Star Is Born, you probably think I have just summarized the film, leaving some bits out, of course.

Also, I have just summarized Adele’s actual career.

I think that’s one place where this film struck me as feeling awkward. Adele’s actual story would have been more interesting. Because “Ally” in Star sadly shorts her own talent and chooses a song for her SNL debut that marvels at how a person’s jeans make they ass look. As I recall, and, I’m sorry, the comparison for me anyway is inevitable, Adele’s performances of “Chasing Pavements” and “Cold Shoulder” were a revelation in their very quality. Real music on SNL for a change. That was interesting, and I felt that seeing Ally fight for her artistic relevance would have been interesting, too. Not this one. This one’s only objection to selling out was that she didn’t want to dye her hair blonde.

(SPOILER: She settles on light auburn.)

[WEIRD: Was this choice a hat-tip to Adele?]

I think though the trouble I had with this film is the same problem I have with Gaga. I like her. I’m probably a bit in love with her, because, who isn’t? And I’ve seen and heard performances by her that have blown me away, such as, for example, when she went toe to toe with James Hetfield at the 59th Grammys, and again, for example, in her first performance in Star, which sadly indicates they should have been remaking Cabaret instead. Seriously, I’d go see this film again just to watch her do that one more time, then I’d leave. It’s that astonishing a performance.

That’s how good she can be. But the essential problem is that I like her as a performer and as a personality generally.

I just really hate her music.

That’s a problem in a musical.

I have trouble believing the same artist(s) who performed “Shallow” later debuts on national television with “Why Did You Do That?” (Lyrics: “Why do you look so good in those jeans? | Why’d you come around me with an ass like that? | You’re making all my thoughts obscene | This is not, not like me) Call me naive, but I cannot reconcile those two artists nor those performances, nor those with the typical Gaga piano-belters later in the film, generally performances I find so self-absorbed they have certainly been composed of half water and half paper towel.

(That’s a Dennis Miller joke.)

[I recognize that that the callipygian tribute was probably a “statement” of some kind regarding the current state of the music “industry.” I just don’t agree that it worked.]

I have never seen previous iterations of this for-some-reason Hollywood perennial, so I cannot compare it to them. I can compare it to one of the best movie musicals I have ever seen: Once. The film itself is worth seeing, but its greatest strength as a musical is that the music never fails.

I didn’t think the music in Star A) was good or B) made sense.

I am probably a rare one, though, because the theater was packed, and the young lady sitting next to me was bawling her eyes out.