CVIndependent

Sun11292020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Gina Nestande is the mayor of Palm Desert. She wants Gov. Gavin Newsom to open things up and let us all get back to work. She expressed this opinion in a piece published online yesterday—a piece that has gotten a fair amount of attention since.

Sounds fairly straight forward, right? Nope. No no no no.

Let’s break things down a bit, shall we?

Before we get into the specifics of Ms. Nestande’s argument, I want to talk a little bit about the forum she used to make it. If you haven’t already, please, click on this link. Look around just a little. Take it all in.

I hadn’t heard much about FlashReport.org before this, and I must say, I have become an instant fan. I am not sure what my favorite part is. The the circa-2005 HTML design? The section unironically headlined “Oversight of Czar Newsom”? The tile ad toward the top left of the page for a state Assembly candidate … from 2016?

But I digress; let’s look at Nestande’s actual argument. In both the original piece and a subsequent TV interview, Nestande makes several fascinating points, including the fact that we could eliminate 40,000 car-accident deaths per year “if we mandated that cars be built with one-foot bumpers all around the outside and fitted with a roll bar cage on the inside, with a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour.”

And then there’s this: “We reacted to the ‘worst case” scenarios in which hospitals would run out of beds and ventilators, placing up to 2.2 million lives in jeopardy. In reality, as of April 18, there have been just over 38,000 deaths. The data is clear that this doomsday scenario is not taking place and it is time to pivot.” (Only one problem here: She fails to acknowledge the possibility that the doomsday scenario isn’t taking place because of shelter-in-place orders.)

The main crux of her argument, however, is that because of the Stanford study—the first one showing that, based on antibody tests, a lot more people may have already been infected with COVID-19 than initially believed—we now know the virus really is not that dangerous. You know, despite the overwhelmed hospitals in China and Italy and New York and etc.

“We now know that we can mitigate the disease by focusing on the elderly and those with obesity. Other populations can and should go back to work,” she writes, citing another study.

Ah, if only things were this simple.

First: Regular readers of this space know that all studies need to be taken, as the saying goes, with a gigantic grain of salt. That obesity study—while it is backed up by anecdotal evidence, and may very well be proven true—“is preliminary, and not peer reviewed,” according to The New York Times.

Second: That Stanford study Nestande speaks so glowingly about is also preliminary, and not peer reviewed—and so far, the reviews peers are giving it are NOT GOOD. A lot of stats nerds—I say that lovingly, being one (on an amateur basis) myself—are calling into question the figures and conclusions of the study.

Then there’s the interpretation of the results themselves, even if we assume they’re accurate. Check out this, from the San Jose Mercury News:

Santa Clara County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith remains steadfast in his interpretation of the study’s findings: It suggests that asymptomatic people spread the virus, and that more than 95% of the population remains susceptible to infection.

“That all means that there is more risk than we initially were aware of,” said Smith, lamenting how some are using the study to challenge Bay Area health officials’ unprecedented stay-home orders.

Look, I want things to be open again, safely, as much as anyone. But when Gina Nestande claims that we can open things back up again because, more or less, Stanford scientists said we could, she’s either being dumb, or she’s being disingenuous. You decide.

Today’s links:

The Los Angeles Times has done a fantastic yet sad piece on the conditions at the infamous Oasis Mobile Home Park in Thermal, where clean drinking water is hard to come by—and the farmworker residents are living in fear.

• The county has allowed golf courses to reopen for limited use. However, Palm Springs has not. The city will ponder the issue, and other issues involving outdoor activities, at a meeting on Thursday.

• I actually have mixed feelings about this one: Facebook has confirmed it is removing some posts regarding protests against stay-at-home orders.

• A new analysis shows that much of the loan money from the first stimulus bill went to publicly traded companies—NOT small businesses. Grrrrrr.

• This interesting opinion piece posted by NPR looks at the future of cities in a post-COVID-19 world.

The New York Times Magazine looks at efforts—past, present and future—to stop pandemics before they get started. One word on why we’re in the mess we’re in right now: Money.

• Local visual artists, take note: Desert X is offering grants of $1,000 to some Southern California artists in need.

• The city of La Quinta is offering $1.5 million in loans to small businesses.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has recommended against the drug combination—hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin—touted by the president.

• Please be careful when doing unusual things with bleach. Poison control calls are on the rise.

• And now for something completely different: The New York Post sets out to answer the question (via Australian doctors, because, why the hell not) that nobody was asking: Can the coronavirus be spread via farts?

• Enough of this nonsense. Let’s all go watch Stanley Tucci make a negroni.

That’s enough for today. If you want to take part in our Adopt a Small Business program, the deadline for our May print issue is Thursday morningOur Coloring Book is selling like (sanitarily packaged, takeout-ordered) hotcakes; get yours here. (We’ll be sending out the digital links tomorrow!) Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you absolutely must go out. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Writer-director Stanley Tucci asks the question, “When is a piece of art truly done?” with Final Portrait, an acting workshop for Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer.

The film is based upon the memoir A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord, an American author who sat for a portrait by famed artist Alberto Giacometti in the 1960s, shortly before the artist died in 1966.

Lord is played by Hammer, hot off his acclaimed performance in Call Me by Your Name, with Rush embodying the craggy, difficult and just-a-little-bit-crazy Giacometti. Much of the movie simply consists of these two fine actors bantering back and forth as Rush fiddles with painting paraphernalia, and Hammer keeps still in a chair.

Does that sound boring? If the idea of watching an artist neurotically working through his painting process sounds horrifying, then yes, you will find this boring, and you should probably stay away. I found myself taken by the pic, but not completely; I admit to getting a little restless with it at times.

What makes it work is that Rush and Hammer work so well off of each other times. Hammer does good work as a Manhattanite in Paris swept away by the notion of having his likeness put on canvas—yet unaware of the semi-ordeal into which he’s getting himself. Giacometti woos Lord by telling him the whole thing should take a couple of hours, and it winds up taking weeks. Needless to say, patience is tested.

Rush’s Giacometti is a bit of a mess, openly carrying on with a local prostitute (Clémence Poésy) while his wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud), and brother, Diego (longtime Tucci collaborator Tony Shalhoub), try to keep him under control. His artistic genius is matched by a total scattershot way of conducting business, life and artistic endeavors. His process is lacking a certain organization and sense of purpose.

He seems like a nut, and yet anybody who has tried to do a serious painting or drawing can relate to Giacometti’s lament that a true work of art is never really done. I love to draw, but I have a hard time finishing my projects. Watching this film, I recalled an 11th-grade art class in which I constantly argued with my teacher about putting time limits on true works of art. I could never get my assignments done in time, and I knew I had spent more time on them than other kids in the class. I raged against my teacher, calling her standards unfair and completely against the notion of what true art is. “Should a young man be downgraded for his art because he did not meet a proper deadline?” I asked passionately, a query similar to the one posed by Giacometti.

Mysteriously, I got shitty grades.

OK, back on point: The film convincingly shows the struggles of an artist whose art doesn’t come easily to him. Rush’s Giacometti hilariously interrupts multiple painting sessions by exclaiming, “Oh Fuck-uh!” and slathering paint all over his canvas for the purpose of starting the whole thing over.

The film comes up with a way to end the portrait session that, while kind of cute, feels a little too tidy. That said, I guess the movie couldn’t go on for weeks and weeks. That would be brutal.

While we’ve come to know Tucci for his character-actor performances in films such as The Hunger Games and The Devil Wears Prada, he made quite a splash back in 1996 with his directorial debut, Big Night. His directorial efforts since (The Impostors, Blind Date, Joe Gould’s Secret) weren’t bad, but he hadn’t really delivered on the promise of Big Night. Final Portrait is easily his best directorial effort since 1996, hinting that Tucci might yet have another big one in him. Final Portrait is not that big one—but it’s a good one.

Final Portrait is now showing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565).

Published in Reviews

Spotlight stands as one of the all-time-great films about newspaper reporting; the story at its center is remarkable.

In 2001, Spotlight, an investigative division of The Boston Globe, gets tasked with investigating child-molesting priests. What starts as a few cases grows to cases involving almost 90 priests in the Boston area alone—none of them criminally prosecuted.

Special kudos go to Mark Ruffalo as Mike Rezendes, the real reporter who helped bring the story to the public. Ruffalo captures the spirit of a hungry reporter without resorting to any clichés. His Rezendes feels like the real thing; a moment when he loses his temper is one of the better screen moments 2015 has to offer.

He’s not alone in the brilliant category. Michael Keaton is terrific as Walter “Robby” Robinson, the Spotlight editor who suddenly finds himself and his staff up against a powerful Catholic Church. Rachel McAdams is totally convincing as reporter Sacha Pfeiffer, while Liev Schreiber gets his best role in years as head editor Marty Baron.

The film also co-stars Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Billy Crudup. They, and everything about this film, are first rate.

Spotlight is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Things take a darker, more underground and perhaps more understated turn in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1. While the film is a step backward from the rousing Catching Fire, it’s still a sturdy installment.

After being rescued at the end of Catching Fire—shortly after destroying the Hunger Games for good—Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is taken underground to join the rebellion. Rebellion President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to use the reluctant Katniss as a propaganda tool to inspire the masses against the Capitol and its evil leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Katniss is getting a little grouchy at this point, exacerbated by the fact that Snow has imprisoned Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and is using him as a propaganda tool. Televised interviews with Peeta and Caesar (Stanley Tucci, playing my least-favorite character in the series) suggest that Peeta wants the resistance to lay down their arms and accept the Capitol. He’s being labeled a traitor.

In exchange for help rescuing Peeta, Katniss agrees to assist with the resistance and be their “Mockingjay.” In the film’s best sequence, Katniss is asked to perform in a staged, studio production of what’s supposed to be a rousing, call-to-arms propaganda piece. Alas, Katniss can’t act.

It’s decided that a more realistic approach would do, so Katniss goes above ground, where a couple of decent action sequences ensue. A TV crew is embedded with her, and they capture Katniss in real action alongside District 12 friend and semi-love interest Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, awarded more screen time in this installment).

Mockingjay—Part 1 is the result of taking the final novel in the popular Suzanne Collins series and splitting it in half; after all, more movies equal more dollars. However, I didn’t feel like the material was being stretched out in a detrimental way—like, say, what’s happening with the Hobbit movies. This film has plenty moving it forward, and I like where it ends.

There’s a cliffhanger, for sure, but it’s a cliffhanger with just a one-year wait. In my day, we used to wait more than THREE YEARS for the answer to a nasty movie cliffhanger. My junior high school grades suffered due to the malaise brought on by The Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger. I think it truly damaged me, and may be why I hate parties and am not married.

Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch, now a part of the underground movement, isn’t allowed to drink anymore, so he’s grumpier than Katniss. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has also gone underground, where she is no longer adorned with extravagant wigs, gowns and makeup. It’s actually a pleasure to really see Banks, who takes the character to new places without her powdered face.

Moore is a welcome presence, as she often is in movies. Sutherland has really progressed with the Snow character; I didn’t like him all that much in the first movie. (Actually, I didn’t enjoy much of anything in the first installment.) In one of his final performances, Philip Seymour Hoffman is strong as Plutarch, the double-agent architect of the Hunger Games now helping the resistance. Hoffman completed filming before his passing, so we will see him in Mockingjay—Part 2 as well.

Lawrence doesn’t get to strut her action-heroine stuff as much in this installment (although she does shoot down a plane with an arrow). She’s required to emote more in this one, and a couple of her moments are actually a little overwrought. I’ll blame director Francis Lawrence for the film’s more awkward moments, because I don’t want to blame Jennifer Lawrence for anything. She’s just so damned delightful!

Diehard fans: You already know how Mockingjay will end, so buck up and calm down. I heard people actually crying in the audience, because they were pissed with the cliffhanger ending. Just go read the book again, or practice a little thing called patience. It’s all going to be finished up in next year. Everything is going to be OK.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Transformers: Age of Extinction is an embarrassment of overindulgence. Director Michael Bay seems to be taunting his haters by taking all of the things that sicken his detractors to despicably disgusting levels.

It’s as if, with this movie, the director is saying, “I’m Michael Bay, and I’m going to get away with cinematic murder! You will buy the toys! You will swill Bud Light out of those wacky blue aluminum things! You will leer along with me at this girl’s ass in slow motion! I AM MICHAEL BAY!”

For starters, this damn movie is two hours and 45 minutes long. I’m OK with long movies when they’re at least decent. This thing has no right for a single tick past the 90-minute mark. Had Bay knocked it off with his slo-mo shots, he probably could’ve shaved a half-hour. Had he gotten rid of every inane line in this donkey shit, he could’ve brought the whole thing in at 30 minutes.

Replacing Shia LaBeouf, who was too busy losing his mind to participate, would be Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, a crazy robot-inventor living on a farm with his smoking-hot daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz).

In between stints trying to make clunky robots (there’s actually a sequence during which Wahlberg lovingly tries to show a newborn robot how to paint), Cade is busy trying to stop his daughter from having sex. He also threatens real-estate agents, showing his soon-to-be-foreclosed-upon property by chasing them with a baseball bat. He, simply put, is the worst movie father in years.

The action picks up four years after the annihilation of Chicago, which has apparently been restored, because Bay includes shots of some cranes picking up beams and stuff. The Autobots are on the run, because Frasier Harold (Kelsey Grammer) has decided that since they are aliens, they are the enemy. Michael Bay is getting political!

Yeager buys a beat-up truck, and soon discovers it is Optimus Prime. He nurses the robot back to health with the help of buddy Lucas (T.J. Miller), much to the chagrin of Tessa, who trolls about pouting while wearing impossibly tight denim shorts and high heels. She’s upset, and she’s going to look damn good being upset.

A black-ops government team commanded by Frasier eventually winds up on Yeager’s lawn, and one of the only reasons to watch this movie is killed off. The focus, if you can call it that, then goes to Stanley Tucci as Joshua, a Steve Jobs-like tech mogul, and his army of Autobot clones.

The real Autobots will eventually face off against the fake Autobots, and we’ll see ads for Chevy cars, beer, China, denim ass porn and Texas along the incredibly long way. (During the film’s running time, I celebrated five birthdays, took an online computer course in psychology that I failed because the professor was such a bitch, and managed to construct a scale replica of the Brooklyn Bridge using toothpicks and Dots candy. That was just during the first third!)

The Transformers themselves are looking cool, especially when they transform (although Bay, even with his mega-budget, cuts corners by showing an Autobot in one shot, and then the vehicle in the next—skipping the transformation). There’s also a sequence in which some characters have to walk on a high wire between an alien ship and a skyscraper that is pretty good.

That’s about all of the nice stuff I can say.

Bay is saying this is the first film in a new trilogy. If you should choose to see part one, make sure all of your bills are paid; the dogs are fed; and you’ve winter-proofed your house before you sit down, because you aren’t getting out of that theater for a very long time.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

In director Hayao Miyazaki’s enchanting and somber The Wind Rises, Jiro (a character based on one of the designers of World War II Japanese bombers) shares his dreams with Caproni, an Italian airplane-builder who intends to retire.

Caproni has something in common with Miyzaki: The Wind Rises is allegedly the last animated feature from Miyazaki, the legendary director of such films as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo. If this is, indeed, his final film, Miyazaki, 73, is going out on a high note: The film is nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, and it’s my pick for the award.

The Wind Rises stands as my favorite Miyazaki film. There’s a hand-drawn beauty to every frame; the sounds are astonishing; and, most importantly, it tells a compelling and heartbreaking story in a graceful and touching way.

We first meet Jiro as a young boy, as he dreams about airplanes. (This is also where we meet Caproni, who sometimes “shares” Jiro’s dreams.) Jiro’s early dreams contain the beauty and wonderment of flying—but they also include his plane disintegrating, and his body falling helplessly toward the ground. Jiro is a complicated sort.

The film then jumps to Jiro as a young man, heading to work in Tokyo on a train, when a frightening earthquake hits. This earthquake is the film’s most-stunning sequence, bolstered by exaggerated drawings of the earth rolling. It’s also here that we see Miyazaki’s extraordinary attention to detail. (The earthquake’s end is shown via a pile of small rocks, with the natural disaster coming to a pause after a couple of final, tiny stones tumble.)

Jiro helps a young woman and her younger sister, Nahoko, in the accident’s aftermath. They lose touch as Jiro goes to work under the tutelage of the cantankerous Kurokawa; he designs wing struts for a Japanese corporation that’s building warplanes. Jiro notices details in the bones from his mackerel lunch, and incorporates their sleekness into his designs. Through a series of dreams, paper airplanes and hard work, we eventually see the culmination of Jiro’s work: the bombers that will attack Pearl Harbor and turn Japan into one of the world’s most-sinister war machines.

Miyazaki doesn’t explore the politics of such an invention all that much. There are some rough dealings with German engineers, and brief mentions of Nazis and how Japan will eventually “blow itself up.” That particular statement is very eerie in a film that is so beautiful. We see the creation of the bombers from the designer’s standpoint; Jiro is the Walter Mitty of airplane daydreamers, in a sense. He simply wants to build majestic flying machines, with no political leanings toward their wartime significance.

A love story kicks into gear when Nahoko is reintroduced. She and Jiro come together and are married as Nahoko is in the throes of tuberculosis. As with his airplane dreams, his dreams of eternal love are hindered by the distinct hint of death.

The dream sequences with Caproni are full of wonderment. He and Jiro can walk on plane wings and observe huge passenger-plane prototypes that look like the Howard Hughes Spruce Goose. These beguiling sequences distinguish Miyazaki’s work from all other animated-film directors.

Miyazaki integrates human voices in a lot of his sound effects. You can hear them a bit when plane engines start up; it lends to the film’s organic feel. Those human voices work best when Tokyo catches fire during the earthquake sequences. The earth belches and moans as the fire starts, almost as if to say, “What’s about to happen here is really quite bad.” It’s a subtle, distinctive touch from Miyazaki.

We see those subtle touches in the visuals as well. Watch the way cigarette smoke billows from a smoker’s mouth, or the way vegetation reacts to hard raindrops. Everything is treated with an amazing amount of focus and detail. As amazing as Pixar’s computer-animated movies are, they miss the humanistic quality of a Miyazaki film.

I watched The Wind Rises with its original Japanese language track (with a little bit of German, Italian and French mixed in). The film is being released nationally with an English-dubbed track featuring the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jiro), Emily Blunt (Nahoko), Martin Short (Kurokawa) and Stanley Tucci (Caproni). English translations usually go OK with Miyazaki movies, but if you want to see it in the original Japanese, it’ll probably be included on future home-video releases.

I could see why, thematically, Miyazaki would want this to be his last animated feature; The Wind Rises feels like a proper culmination of his work. The selfish movie fan in me wants him to keep making movies as long as he breathes, but there’s something quite befitting and satisfying in the way this movie, and possibly Miyazaki’s film journey, comes to an end.

The Wind Rises opens Friday, Feb. 28, at theaters including the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 760-770-1615) and the Cinemas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).

Published in Reviews

Jack the Giant Slayer will go down as one of the worst domestic flops in recent Hollywood history.

Using a budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million, director Bryan Singer—who took a lot of flack for his underperforming Superman Returns (a film I liked)—has put together a visual mess.

The movie features live actors performing along CGI giants, and the live action doesn’t integrate with the effects at all. The effects have a cartoon quality that had me wondering why they didn’t just make this a CGI animated adventure. It’s not like they have huge stars anchoring the picture. Will Smith fought cartoon zombies in I Am Legend, but you forgave the silliness of those cartoon zombies because Smith sold the whole damn thing.

The responsibility of selling Jack rests on the shoulders of the likable but not extremely charismatic Nicholas Hoult (who was very good in Warm Bodies). He plays the title character with enough charm to make the movie almost tolerable, but that’s it. Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci have supporting roles, and they actually register more than Hoult.

Unlike in the classic fairytale, Jack must go up against an army of giants. Those giants are created via motion-capture animation that is never convincing or impressive. In fact, the lineup of giant characters looks quite bad.

It doesn’t help matters that the lead giant, a two-headed villain named General Fallon, is voiced by Bill Nighy. Nighy, of course, voiced the Davy Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and his work here is very similar. In other words, you’ll spend the movie being constantly reminded of his better performance as a more-interesting villain in another picture. It also doesn’t help that Fallon’s simpleminded second head is a total Gollum rip-off.

The movie is rated PG-13, but don’t take the little kids. Singer inserted many violent moments in which the giants dispatch human victims, often by biting the humans’ screaming heads off. Granted, Singer doesn’t show the bloody aftermath, but it’s pretty shocking for what’s supposed to be a family film.

People get stomped, too, like Charles Grodin in the 1976 version of King Kong, which I just re-watched on Netflix the other day. The ’76 version of Kong was better than Jack the Giant Slayer, because Rick Baker in a monkey suit was more convincing than the CGI giants in Jack. Plus, Jessica Lange was really hot.

As the reluctant princess who runs away from her puny king dad (Ian McShane), relative newcomer Eleanor Tomlinson doesn’t exactly light up the screen. This isn’t necessarily her fault, considering that the screenplay provides her with nothing but flat dialogue, and the wardrobe department makes her wear silly hats.

McGregor fares best and has a couple of good moments, including a sequence in which he almost winds up as a pig in a blanket. Tucci is saddled with a goofy wig and goofy teeth. He looks like he thinks he’s playing somebody funnier—but he isn’t funny.

For the kids, Singer allows for a few farts and boogers. I suppose he thinks that balances it all out: Yes, giants rip heads off screaming victims in this movie quite often, but I will throw in a couple of farts to keep the kids laughing.

I’m curious why Warner Bros. moved this from its original release date last summer. Is it because they wanted to do some more work on the special effects in an effort to make them look better? (If so, they failed.) Or did they know they had a stinker on their hands, so they decided a March release would lessen the competition?

Either way, they have a history-making stinker on their hands.

Up next for Singer is X-Men: Days of Future Past. That’s encouraging news; let’s just hope none of the X-Men fart, pick their nose or bite somebody’s head off.

Jack the Giant Slayer is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews