Jennifer Lopez, actually, really can act. Lila & Eve (2015)

I was watching Netflix with my wife, she turned to a film that seemed like an interesting contemporary Urban Film Noir type about revenge and grief. It co-starred Jennifer Lopez. Here is my take. Lila & Eve (2015).  A+E Studios, ChickFlicks ProductionsI’m not trying to be snarky here, Jennifer Lopez typically hasn’t been known for her acting skills, although by now she is certainly a Hollywood veteran. She has come a very, very, long way from her days as an In Living Color ‘fly-girl’ go-go dancing in a Fox channel comedy variety show. In addition to a music career, Jennifer Lopez has appeared in an extremely wide variety of movies and TV shows over the last two decades.

The question is, however, ‘Can she really act?’ Why ask the question? Well, we know Viola Davis can act, but society usually doesn’t take Jennifer Lopez seriously as an actor, she’s more of a celebrity in the public mind than a thespian. So I’m asking the question here, and I think the answer gets interesting.

Here is something that women are aware of far more than men; beauty and physical attractiveness can sometimes be a curse, or at least a hindrance. Because when everyone judges you by your looks and looks alone they won’t bother to look underneath the surface.Women are ruthlessly judged first and foremost for their physical appearances in our culture. This is a fact, and it has its consequences.

This is particularly true for celebrities, and most particularly celebrities in the movie industry. Their entire lives and work, and indeed worth, are usually  judged by the makeup-mask they put on in the morning, or the $7000 dress they squeeze themselves into, before going out on the town, more to be seen than to actually have an enjoyable time.

Ms. Lopez is no exception. Many of the roles she has been cast in, over more than two decades, have been more of a factor of her pretty face. Now, it is true that the older actresses get the more serious roles that can sometimes get, if those actresses were “movie stars” or if they had the function more of being human images. It is at those times in which is celebrities acting skills are most tested. Because early in their career sometimes there are simply not given, or do not take, material that would seriously test their acting skills.

In Charles Stone III’s film, Lila & Eve (2015), we face this dilemma. Jennifer Lopez plays an extremely dark character. A murderous, and a wrath filled , vengeful one at that. And, with a rather surprising twist, one who ends up actually being more of a phantasm or phantom. Does it work?

Here’s the thing, she pulls off her role extremely well. Convincingly well.

Playing alongside the talented Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez effectively plays as Davis’s counter-part, friend, revenge buddy, and in a certain sense a bit of an alter ego.

Now, Viola Davis’s character obviously has real depth. But I expected that. What is refreshing is that Jennifer Lopez also bring some depth to her role. She is not acting as a pretty face, go-go dancing, mannequin posing for her looks. Which is what some of her career has required. She’s actually digging into herself and displaying human emotion in a way that I found convincing. Basically I think the actresses like Jennifer Lopez, given more serious roles, can bring out increasingly impressive performances.

Something that happens as we age (and why is it insulting to bring up the very real biological fact of someone’s aging), is that we ourselves acquire more depths and nuances to our characters. Sometimes the older we get, something happens to us. We become really interesting people, sometimes anyway. If we already were interesting people we sometimes become even more interesting.

The problem is that in a culture obsessed with youth, almost criminally obsessed with youth to the point of absolute stupidity, the gifts of aging are sometimes ignored or scored. In particular when these gifts are bestowed upon women. Because in a youth culture obsessively and hyper- focused not just on physical beauty but physically youthful beauty, aging itself is like a sin. And that is just a shame. It means that younger actresses who may be extremely talented at certain roles might be channeled into other less challenging roles simply because of their looks.

To be sure, attractive male actors do face a similar problem, of being typecast due to their looks, but not to the same degree. Brad Pitt, for example, apart from Interview with the Vampire and Seven, and I have to admit Fight Club, was largely typecast in certain roles all through his 20s, 30s, and 40s. It is only now, practically as a geezer his 50s, the he can increasingly break out of the roles these been typecast in.

Actually that was unfair of me. There are actually several examples of Brad Pitt trying to break out of his normal typecasting, but most of them were unconvincing. I always had the feeling that he was just being hired as a pretty boy slapped on an otherwise serious movie. Twelve Monkeys was a serious exception to that rule, I have to admit. And maybe I’ll just have to re-examine that whole example to begin with.

Okay, if Brad Pitt is a crappy example of the principle I’m trying to illustrate I trust that you at least get the bloody point.

The point is that physical attractiveness and beauty can be hindrances to deep acting in some kinds of performances. An old friend of mine once argued that Dustin Hoffman was one of Hollywood’s best actors mainly because he was ugly.

Hoffman is also rather short. So am I, a point that is utterly irrelevant here. In any case, the point’s that Dustin Hoffman is not exactly a sex symbol. Leaving the movie The Graduate out of the equation.

Dustin Hoffman is an exceptionally good actor. So is Forrest Whitaker. So is Philip Seymour Hoffman. None are known as sex symbols. Since people get in a tizzy whenever you call a woman ugly, I will refrain from mentioning any female illustrations of this principle. We males can fall on that sword, it’s chivalry you know. Suffice to say, the three men I mentioned are exceptional actors. Their acting skills are, and in Seymour Hoffman’s case were, at the summit of American acting talent (the British have their own use-cases). It’s likely that such men, and Gene Hackman, early-on had to show amazing ranges as actors because they didn’t have pretty-boy looks to fall back on.

There are examples, of course, of male actors who are both very handsome and exceptionally talented. I don’t think they exhibit a trend. I think they are exceptions.

The gift that aging conveys on female performers is a certain freedom, and ability to step outside of their societally defined roles as simple beauty sex figures, and transcend being a mere sex symbol, and tap into something more universal, a universal humanity.

I argue that society, in some inchoate and diffuse way, typically only really values women if they give us men boners. Everyone knows this, arguing against it only makes one sound guiltier.

I make no value judgment, though. I only observe what seems evident. Society, defined in a sloppy general way, will only let few women fit a category in which they can play roles entirely divorced from their physical attractiveness, either to other women, or to men. In other words, roles divorced from the tendency to evoke viewer boners. Tilda Swinton is an example. She is an outlier. For reasons that should seem obvious. Jodie Foster too, and sits as a bit of an outsider because she never allowed herself, and strenuously resisted throughout her entire career, to be typecast in roles based on her physical beauty. She more or less fought the system the entire way. There are other examples, but they are few and far between, and in each case rather quirky in their own way.

Back to this film, though. In it, both Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez pulled off good performances. Viola Davis’ performance seemed far more compelling, but she was the primary protagonist. Jennifer Lopez, however, was a secondary protagonist, and didn’t do too bad at all, standing by Viola Davis’ side. In fact, she impressed me enough that I would go out of my way to see a similar film with her in it, in the future.

FIN.

Can Spaces and Serendipity Help Innovation? Something from David Radcliffe of Google

“You can’t schedule innovation, you can’t schedule idea generation.” — David Radcliffe, Google VP of Real Estate & Workplace Services in a CBS This Morning Interview (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ANgEo40VSE)

The point Radcliffe was making involved Google’s innovative approach to designing collaboration and meeting spaces, on their corporate campuses. It’s a data driven approach but might strike some corporate traditionalists as fuzzy-headed, hippy-dippy, ‘woo-woo’ perhaps.

It most assuredly is not.

Being a massively data-driven company all of Google’s Real Estate design decisions, how its facilities are laid out, how space is apportioned, and so on is based on number crunching and active experimentation trying to get an answer to the question “How do we get our employees to be more productive?” In other words, innovation and idea generation have an unpredictable element to them, almost serendipity you could say. They require massive preparation of course, but they can’t be scheduled.

From the video I link to above, Google seems to be in the business of creating human working environments that allow its employees to produce the most amount of innovative ideas possible. A vast human idea laboratory, perhaps/

Designing workspaces that help facilitate creative innovation needs to take this into account. The video piece I link to above is interesting, and there are some take-home ideas any of us can apply to our own work, whatever it happens to be.

What can you do where you are to better foster your own idea generation and innovation, whether it’s your car, a subway seat, a desk at home, a spacious office, or a broom closet? We have to work with what we have, where we have, but what we do with it can go a long way.

To speak truth, of pleasure and pain, and all the pretty little horses.


A lullaby goes;
Go to sleep, little baby.
And when you wake,
You shall have a cake,
And all the pretty little ponies.

All the pretty little ponies. All the pretty little horses. just go to sleep..

An old friend was chatting with me, while we sat in an old coffee shop. We’re talking about propaganda, we’re talking about people’s desire for simple things to listen to and believe in and hold onto. And he was pointing out to me a fatal flaw of mine, that of overcomplicating the truth.

Why is it that a simple lie may find more currency than a truth expressed in complicated terms?

Pain and pleasure. We avoid what causes pain. And oh, our lives are full of such dull sorrows and pains. And we yearn for those simple pleasures, we work and toil and then go home to our toys. Our drugs. Our booze. Our porn. Our sex. Our food.

Our TV. And it tells us such simple little things.

And then we go to sleep, and this we yearn for intensely.

**

Simple words soothe the mind and soul. Whether they are true or false. Complicated things ache the mind and soul.

Here is a power of persuasion, he or she who can master their words is not necessarily someone who uses pretty words, and high concepts expressed in high terms.

George Orwell and Winston Churchill both pointed out, about effective communication, that simple words penetrate the most.

So, if you want to speak or write truth, do yourself and others a favor and “keep it simple stupid,” as the saying goes.

Don’t get too artsy about it, is it about your ‘self expression‘ or is it about communicating a message?

Of course, a prerequisite is to actually know the truth. Much of the time we think we know the truth, a truth that we are aching and burning to tell the world, but we don’t really know the whole truth, or even an adequate part of it.

**

Sometimes what we think is true or think we know isn’t so. And sometimes, those truths that we think are in our deepest selves, are actually things whispered in our ears while we’re going to sleep..

While dreaming of pretty little horses.

EOF

Non-Fiction versus fiction in an apocalypse culture, Adam Parfrey, the essay, and the novel.

In the Introduction to the second edition of his anthology, Apocalypse Culture, Adam Parfrey muses as follows;

“..reality has taken on such a dire and phantasmagoric cast that fictionalizing has become superfluous. The essay form has superseded the novel as the vehicle that best suggests the prevailing apocalyptic gestalt, and as the talisman that is most able to repel the onset of paralyzing dread.””
-Adam Parfrey, 1990.

The form of written language best able to convey a sense of, and indeed help make sense of, this age along these lines, would be the non-fiction essay. Some may disagree, it’s a perspective worth considering however. Truly paradigm shattering novels along dystopic lines are rare; 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, the crop of current dystopian narratives seem to simply deepen the mood and spit it back at us while we, un-reflexively, watch and scratch our heads over The Hunger Games.

What the essay has that the novel or fictionalized narrative lacks is it’s ability to not be completely reduced to entertainment, and thus to a soporific, inducing dreams, but not waking us. Film fiction narratives, like The Matrix, being partial and useful exceptions that sort of prove the rule.

Where to find the language to express ideas? Indeed what is language in all of this? “All language is at once the ‘sensualization of the idea’ and the ‘idealization of the sensuous’. Language is, therefore, the most distinguishing characteristic of man..” notes C. Nisbet and D. Lemon in their 1892 Everybody’s Writing-Desk Book. Noting further that man can be defined, in quotations, as the speaking animal. A pity they didn’t note the origin of that quote, being the Classical Arabic definition of al-Insan, The Human, as ‘al-Hayawan al-Natiq‘ or the speaking, articulating, animal.

The theme of the Book of Eli, another fictionalized narrative, is interesting here; what obsessed Garry Oldman’s character was obtaining the word. At all costs. The overly biblical cast of the movie might distract a more skeptical viewer from the vital urgency of its core message, which is that the word, language, is all important in either controlling humanity, or saving humanity, Oldman’s character, though a villain, was in a way a flawed and tragic hero, stuck in a particular paradigm that gave him an edge, but only the sliver of an edge, in a world gone mad. It was an edge that he grasped without justice. And hence his undoing.

Words, language, are vital. And though Parfrey wrote those words something like 25 years ago, I think with the increasing popularity of Creative Nonfiction he was onto something.

One interesting quote on altruism in nanny states

I personally believe in altruism over selfishness. However if altruism is coerced or forced is it really altruism? Is it really a virtue? If a virtue is coerced is it a good or evil? This quote strikes me in this regard.

“Big Sister does not want her peasants holding values that are incompatible with the Good Society.  She will not tolerate adult behavior, or independent thought and action.  Thus she hates religion, morality, political dissent of any kind (democracy is, again, intolerant of dissent, even in dress), and in particular she hates the kind of moral abolutism that underlies most systems of honor.  As an example of how this works, Big Sister promulgates the now widespread idea that anyone who refuses welfare to which he is “entitled” is INSANE.  Thus even a debased petit-bourgeois notion of personal responsibility and independence becomes a symptom of insanity, and since insanity is, in our mythology, a disease like influenza, the insane must accept treatment. Must.  Tyrannies of the left-socialist type are characterized by their insistence on compulsory  altruism as the prime “social directive”.

Compulsory altruism is NOT a virtue, it is the behavior pattern of a slave or a mechanism.  NO compelled behavior is virtuous.  The Lizards have convinced most people that “obeying the law under pain of death” is *virtuous*.  This is useful to them, but there is no virtue in it.  It is virtuous to give alms to a worthy beggar, but it is not virtuous to pay taxes that aid the poor. This is why socialist tyrannies strive to monopolize charity: through taxation the element of private virtue is eliminated, through the perversion of meaning of virtue into “obedience”, virtue is no longer the result of honorable behavior, but is another “entitlement” dispensed by Big Sister.  Consider the travesty of “Honors Day” in the UK, when people are rewarded for making money and paying large taxes, i.e. for being good subjects.” – Marmota monax, the digital peasant, on a Def Con mailing list 30 Oct 1999

A note for anyone who gets in a tizzy over the writer’s mentioning, in a linked phrase, a nanny-state’s hatred of “religion, morality, political dissent of any kind” – the writer was an agnostic or atheist, if I recall, and certainly not religious. One does not need to be, however, to notice that when the State is effectively presented as god – or goddess as the case may be – then it obviously cannot tolerate other forms of religious expression. This is a matter of degrees of course, ranging from the gross to the subtle. In more subtle cases religion, morality, political dissent of any kind, are best assimilated to the operative logic of the state’s civil religion itself.

 

“Yet Schiller, Dante, Shakespeare I devoured.
My forehead trembled as I read their works.
As to those rakes that former tunes admired,
Virgil, and Horace, Homer, Cicero,
We know, thank God! just what to think of them.
Then quick to learn the art poetical,
My lisping muse began to plagiarize;
And then, in turn, I worshiped England, Spain,
And Italy, and, chiefly, Germany.
What would I not have done to know the dialect
The cobbler Sachs had gloried years a-gone!” – Alfred de Musset

If one wishes to be subtle, and not gross, and thus in the long term to be effective One may consider adding to one’s worship by consent and not naked bare coercion.
The Muslim, the Hindu, the Jain, the Christian, the Odinist, the Mithraist, the Jew: each becomes an acolyte of the mother goddess of the state. His or her belief system and sense of morality and virtue are best re-molded in ways consistent with the dominant narrative.
How many Hindus worship India instead of Vishnu or Krshina – in actual effect. How many Israeli Jews worship Israel instead of YWEH, in effect? How many Evangelical Christians worship Old Glory, the US Flag, and the Unites States of America – instead of Jesus? How many Anglicians worship Britain (and indeed it’s How many Muslims worship – in actual effect, as in each case – the Arab State and Qawm, or Pakistan or what-like, instead of Allah? How many Mithraic soldiers worshiped (rather openly) Rome itself and her emperor instead or, or in addition to, Mithras.
What is it to worship? It is to obey and to adore. Find out whom you obey and adore with emotional fervor and then you shall know who or what it is that you really worship.
So I think that a clever Big Sister would express her underlying intolerance of her little siblings’ questioning by more subtle, than gross, coercions and cooptations. In this way the Soft Tyranny is more effective in the long term than the Hard Tyranny, for is tyranny with the consent of the tyrannized really even tyranny anymore? Irrespective of how that consent was gained?