We went to see John Wick: Chapter 2 on Friday, the opening day, but because we went to a mid-afternoon showing, we were surprised to see how full the parking lot was.
On a school day afternoon, it wasn't likely to be The LEGO Batman Movie filling up the parking lot. But could the John Wick sequel be revving up for a killer opening weekend?
No. I was forgetting the ladyporn Fifty Shades Darker. Because when we got into the theater showing John Wick: Chapter Two, the crowd from the parking lot was definitely not there.
So yes, ladyporn beat killerporn, $47 million to $30 million. Which means Wick has probably got legs enough for the series to continue -- a good thing, since this episode certainly leaves things dangling in a way the original Wick movie did not.
Best news: LEGO Batman beat them both, with $56 million for the opening weekend. I have no interest in the reputedly "really good" LEGO movies, because I know the Batman story well enough that I don't need to see a version made out of toy blocks.
(I also don't go to Muppet versions of stories I already know. That's right, I haven't seen and don't intend to see the Muppet version of A Christmas Carol, either. Yes, I know, it's "the be-est!")
But despite my lack of interest in the form, the target audience for LEGO movies is families whose parents don't want to have to give awkward explanations of embarrassing words or actions. So it gives me some encouragement that the family movie won the Valentine's Day weekend opening.
On the officially-most-romantic-and/or-lonely day of the year, Valentine's Day was celebrated by women, alone or in groups, coming to a Fifty Shades sadism-fest?
It doesn't make me curious enough to actually see one. I already have plenty of images in my head that I can't get rid of. Why walk into a showing of a movie that celebrates degrading "sexual" acts that seem to me to be the antithesis of love or romance?
I know it's not fashionable to admit that other people's sexual choices can be flat-out disgusting, but ... raise your hands, folks: Is there anyone reading this who wants their son or daughter to be in a relationship like those celebrated in the Fifty Shades books?
Disgust has played an important role in the development of civilization. It's possible to misapply it, but despite the fact that anyone who calls any sexual choice "perverted" is likely to find a storm of bile pounding on his umbrella, I can't help but think:
Didn't human beings work very hard to replace the domination of the brutal alpha male and the stalk-sequester-and-rape behavior of the beta chimpanzee with, you know, civilized monogamy? A kinder, gentler human species?
We do lock up the stalk-sequester-and-rape males, but we elect the alphas to high office and accept the idea that some people like to dominate and be dominated.
Nuh-uh. Bad for the species, bad for the community, and bad for the family. From all I've read about the books and the movies, Fifty Shades, to the degree that it encourages emulation by its readers and viewers, is anti-civilized. Harmful to both willing and unwilling participants and observers.
And if a label like "perverse," with clear connotations of community disgust, can encourage young men and women to avoid such degrading, anti-civilized behavior, so they never develop or encourage a taste for it, why should its use stigmatize the user instead of the obviously-appropriate target of the word?
Such are the times we live in. We are forbidden to say obviously true things for fear of the abuse the mob will throw at us. Well, I've already been mobbed. It doesn't mean I'm now immune, it just means that since I'll never be forgiven for holding and speaking majority opinions nearly a decade ago, I might as well add to the Inquisition's charges against me.
I'd rather make my stand against the normalization of sado-masochism than wait until we're fighting the battle to keep pedophilia and incest in the "intolerable" category. Against those who think there should be no "intolerable" category -- though it's hard to see the difference in actual tolerance level between that and the "deplorable" category.
It's not only a human universal for communities to declare various behaviors to be disgusting -- including our Inquisition-dominated society, which tosses around disgust-terms like "homophobia" and "racism" and "sexism" with irresponsible abandon -- it's also a vital part of our evolution. (But I'll get into that more when I review This Is Your Brain on Parasites another day.)
So in this love-and-loneliness celebration week, I must declare my enjoyment of the story of the lonely John Wick ahead of the "love" in Fifty Shades Darker.
And let's not bother with letters demanding that I not condemn a movie that I haven't seen. Since the "tolerant" Left can hold demonstrations against a lawfully elected President even before he takes office, and since movies are promoted to their ideal audience with ads that let you see exactly what they're selling, I'd say that we can make clear and justified decisions about movies that we have not seen and will not see.
So let's talk about John Wick: Chapter 2. It opens with a thing I tell my writing students to avoid -- a meaningless car chase, in which we don't know or care who is in either vehicle. Maybe we think John Wick is the motorcycle rider being pursued by a car. The chase doesn't matter even after we find out.
In fact, the movie trivializes itself by beginning with the only open issue from the first movie's revenge-fest -- Wick got vengeance for them killing his dog, but he still hadn't gotten his stolen car back.
The thing is, we understood the emotional attachment to the dog, since it was a posthumous gift from his dead wife; but the car? Maybe there are guys who would kill to get back a stolen car, but I sincerely hope that I don't personally know any such wackos. (If I do, I hope said wackos will keep this fact a secret from me. I like to believe in the rationality of my friends.)
So for me, Wick's "campaign" at the beginning is (a) almost completely irrelevant to the rest of the movie and (b) degrades his character to somebody who kills for ego -- or sport.
The real story begins when a major Italian crime boss passes to Wick a marker -- a promise for future service -- that Wick gave the guy back when he was retiring from his hitman job. Now that Wick is back to willy-nilly killing, his reason for returning is not important: The boss (played by Riccardo Scamarcio) is now entitled to demand whatever service he wants.
After killing or maiming at least a dozen guys over a car, we're supposed to believe that Wick is speaking from conscience when he refuses. Then the crime boss shows him that this is an offer he can't refuse. So, in order to earn his freedom, Wick carries out the assignment -- gaining a whole raft of new enemies along the way.
Maybe we're supposed to regard this movie as an exemplar of the futility of revenge, since each act of vengeance requires escalating retaliation. Of course, Wick now has nobody he loves; he has a new dog but refuses even to name it. So all retaliation has to be carried out against him personally.
One of the pleasures of the Wick series is the Continental Hotel (those of us who play and love the old Acquire game have fondness already for the name), which enforces a sort of temporary sanctuary. On the hotel's premises, there may be no killing or assault, and the penalty, enforced very quickly, is death. No exceptions.
It's kind of like the king in the book of Esther or Daniel, who, having made an edict, cannot take it back. The king (i.e., hotel manager, played by Ian McShane) does have favorites, and now and then provides a bit of useful information or a momentary truce.
Of course this makes the world of assassins far more civilized than it could ever be, but for the purposes of the movies, it gives the sordid business a patina of civilization and suavity. It is a full-service hotel -- and believe me, if such a hotel existed, minus the criminal ties, that's where I'd always want to stay.
There are some wonderful performances in this movie, beginning with the brilliant and ridiculously underrated Keanu Reeves, who makes every movie better just by walking on the set.
Along with him, we have Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King, who runs a network of information-gathering and body-disposing-of beggars. Then there's Ruby Rose as a sign-language-using assassin.
John Leguizamo plays a car-repair guy who doesn't actually kill anybody, a refreshing change. And we always enjoy Lance Reddick as Charon, the inscrutable dog-sitting concierge.
Best of all is Common. I don't follow rap, so I'd never heard of him. But as Wick's most formidable and interesting opponent, I rather regretted it when he drops out of the movie well before the end. But he'll be back for the sequel, I have no doubt.
Morally, the movie is offensive. Wick is being forced back into the assassination business, and he resists it, but come on. Nothing he does is actually clever. He has skills; he uses them. In a way, John Wick is simply another version of Mr. Right, and I have to say that morally awful as it is, Mr. Right is better.
On the other hand, as sheer entertainment, what John Wick: Chapter 2 offers us is really good choreography. Most moves end with a breaking bone or a bullet, but that doesn't stop it from being dance, and Chad Stahelski does a superb job of filming it.
I don't hesitate to call John Wick: Chapter 2 the ballet movie of the year.
If you like violent action films; if you like it when a really bad guy who wants to be good kills a whole bunch of worse guys who didn't train enough, then this is the movie for you.
This past weekend, it was the movie for me.
Love Locks was the Hallmark Hall of Fame Valentine's Day movie -- part of their 65th anniversary programming. Built around the romantic Parisian tradition of lovers writing their names on a padlock and attaching it to a bridge over the Seine, the movie deals with the fact that Parisian authorities have banned such love-lock attachments, because they make the bridges far heavier than is safe.
Such is the weight of love.
For various reasons, the love between young Jerry O'Connell (Jack) and young Rebecca Romijn (Lindsay) -- married in real life -- does not come to fruition. Lindsay marries someone else, has a daughter, and starts a magazine about art.
As the main story opens, daughter Alexa -- played in a lively and convincing way by Jocelyn Hudon (no, not Hudson) -- is headed for Paris to study art and attend the Sorbonne. Her art teacher will be the same man, Hugo (Bruce Davison), who taught Lindsay back in the day.
Meanwhile, a really good-looking publishing magnate, Trent Greer (David Julian Hirsh) is trying to buy Lindsay's magazine for a lot of money (amount never specified) and try to spark a romantic relationship with her. Since Lindsay is escorting Alexa to Paris, Trent promises to show up there and take them to dinner.
Naturally, through Hugo's maneuvering, they are booked at the very hotel that old-lover Jack owns and manages. He is an attentive hotelier, to a degree that I would find annoying, but of course, hoteliers are rarely old flames of mine.
You can guess the main lines of the story from there: Will the old flames reunite? Will Lindsay sell the magazine and return to painting mediocre cityscapes? Will Trent bow out gracefully? Will Hugo fall for the recently widowed Kathryn Daltry (Linda Smith)?
More importantly, will Alexa completely fall for the incredibly gorgeous bellhop/math student Jean-Paul (Benjamin Sutherland, quite possibly the most beautiful man in show business, now that Robert Redford is old)?
What makes this movie enjoyable is that there really are some enjoyable surprises along the way, and the writing (Teena Booth) is clever, endearing, and funny without being obtrusive. The mother-daughter relationship is very well drawn, and the writing never asks Jerry O'Connell to be a better actor than he is.
My wife and I both enjoyed the movie, so if you want an old-fashioned Valentine's Day romance, with many pleasing, amusing, and touching moments, and a cast you can really like, I recommend Love Locks.
I always hated how dark it was in the shower, back in the days when the only option -- at least in our social class -- was a shower in a tub, with a shower curtain.
Since I grew up with strict bathroom etiquette -- nobody else comes into the bathroom when somebody is showering, period, no matter what -- there was no point in shower curtains for privacy. The only reason for having one was to keep the water inside the tub.
So for me, the perfect shower curtain was one that was completely transparent, so light from the bathroom could get into the shower. I mean, maybe you can shower in the dark, but I need to be able to see what I'm doing.
Nowadays my wife and I share a bathroom that has an overhead light inside the shower. Besides being a pain when it comes to lightbulb changing, that light is a great improvement over darkness -- but since it's directly above me when showering, my own head casts an enormous shadow on whatever it is I'm trying to see.
And yes, I have an enormous head. A bobble head. Buying hats and helmets is a nightmare, because few manufacturers bother to make headgear for freaks.
No, I don't wear hats in the shower. Or helmets. I haven't forgotten what I was talking about. Even with an overhead light in our shower, I still like to have substantial light coming in from the side.
When we first moved in, the shower door in the master bathroom had the type of glass that Home Depot calls "hammered." You know, the glass is all bumpy so that light gets through but you can't make out any details of what's on the other side.
I never liked it, because I also like to see out through the shower door. We keep a clock in the bathroom, and if I'm running late, I like to be able to check on the time. (I don't shower with my glasses on, but I can read a clock -- or, for that matter, a book -- without them, when I have to.)
If I'm running late, I don't, like, skip the rinse and towel off with the soap still on me. I do a complete shower -- I just spend the time composing my excuses. Or singing, "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date, no time to say hello, good-bye, I'm late I'm late I'm late I'm late," thus proving that Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland had at least one annoyingly catchy and memorable song.
So when we finally got a chance, after twenty years, to replace the shower door, we replaced it with absolutely clear glass. Inside the shower, it was like the difference between shade and sunlight.
But here's the thing. Every time you shower, water splashes from your body onto the glass of the door. When you're rinsing off soap, those spattered water droplets carry soap with them. So when the water droplets dry, you end up with lots of spots and streaks of dried-on soap scum.
Yes, it's just as unattractive as you think. But it doesn't happen after just one shower -- or at least it doesn't become visible with that first shower.
Still, it doesn't take many showers until it looks pretty awful.
Does it count as being "dirty" if the glass is covered with, you know, soap?
This is why bathroom remodelers coat glass doors with a water repellent that helps all those drops go away instead of sticking to the glass and leaving a stain. But the water-repellent coating doesn't help all that much unless, after every shower, you squeegee the glass.
Sometimes the new door comes with a squeegee that attaches to a suction-cup squeegee holder inside the glass. Sometimes you buy your own (I like the Oxo model, but none of them does a perfect job).
If you're a perfectionist, even after you squeegee the whole door, you remove the last spots and streaks with a towel. That's because squeegees often leave streaks or drops in the first half-inch of their swath. Also, as you squeegee around obstacles like the door handle or, on some doors, the hinges, there'll be imperfections.
The result of thorough squeegeeing every time you use the shower is that the door stays clear and unstreaked, inviting you to come into the shower for an experience of cleanliness.
But woe unto you if you get into a hurry and don't squeegee a few times. First, if you ever allow yourself to skip the door-cleansing routine, you'll start thinking of it as optional, and you'll skip it more and more. Come on, we're all humans here -- we all have that tendency.
I recently confronted a glass shower door that I had been lax with, and the result was streaky and uninviting. Hammered glass would have looked a lot better.
I tried Windex, and it worked exactly as it's supposed to. The problem was that it took a lot of scrubbing to get imperfect results. Windex isn't really designed to work on years-old soap scum.
I resigned myself to hours of scrubbing, much of it on my knees, which is very painful for me. (Since I was about thirty, putting my weight on both knees causes shooting pain -- until I have the brains to get up off the floor. Yes, that means I don't pray on my knees. If God can put up with my adopting other postures for prayer, so can you.)
Then I saw on the shelf in the store a product called Scrubbing Bubbles. I was aware of the ad campaign when Scrubbing Bubbles was introduced many years ago, but I had never used it and had never heard anyone talk about it. But since the thing I dreaded was scrubbing, there was a hope that if Scrubbing Bubbles worked as advertised, I wouldn't have to scrub. Or maybe not as much.
Like Windex, Scrubbing Bubbles comes in a spray bottle. You hold it a little farther away from the glass than you do with Windex, and then you spray back and forth, up and down, until the entire surface is covered with foam.
I tried Scrubbing Bubbles first on just a section of the door, so I'd be able to compare where I used it with untreated sections. In doing this, I had the shower door open so I could spray the inside, and put a towel under the door to catch the runoff, which was considerable.
I left the foam to do its work. When I was ready to take my shower a while later, I stepped in, closed the door, and used the handheld shower attachment to rinse away the foam.
The Scrubbing Bubbles left that patch of door looking like pristine new glass, compared to the streaky section.
So the next day, I stepped into the shower, closed the door, and sprayed the Scrubbing Bubbles all over the entire glass surface -- the door and the panel beside it. I waited a few minutes, without the water running; then I turned the water on and washed off the foam.
Here's what I hadn't counted on. That foam stays foamy. It doesn't break up like the suds from dish soap. It just floats on top of the water. So yes, it rinsed off the glass easily and cleanly.
But then my feet were in Scrubbing Bubbles foam for the duration of my shower. I was finally able to get all the foam rinsed off the floor -- and the floor got a pretty good cleansing in the process.
Also, I learned, to my relief, that whatever does the scrubbing in Scrubbing Bubbles did not hurt my bare feet. No pain, no rash, no redness, no irritation, no nothing. Just very, very clean feet. Maybe it would bother somebody else's skin, but, to my great good fortune, not mine.
After that shower, when I squeegeed the glass, it was almost like new. I hadn't used the Scrubbing Bubbles on the top third of the glass, because that didn't look streaky. But now that the bottom two-thirds was clean, wow did that top part look bad.
Even in the cleansed part, the Scrubbing Bubbles didn't do a perfect job. Pulling the squeegee across it revealed patches where a little scum remained, even though I couldn't see it. So I'm going to repeat the process, this time going all the way to the top of the glass, and see if Scrubbing Bubbles really can do it all without my having done any scrubbing after that first try with Windex.
In fact, I found that I couldn't see any difference between the area I personally scrubbed with Windex, and the parts that were treated only with Scrubbing Bubbles. In other words, Scrubbing Bubbles did a better job than Windex and hard labor.
This constitutes a rave review for Scrubbing Bubbles (made by S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc.: A Family Company). It does exactly what it is claimed to do.
But before I reapply a water repellent coating (and yes, of course, a deep cleaning of the glass removes that water repellent coating), I'll do an overall scrub with an even-more-powerful cleaner. That's because there can't be any residue of any kind on the door or the water repellent won't work well.
So this is also a rave review for not ever letting your shower glass get into a condition where it needs Scrubbing Bubbles. In other words, squeegee the glass after every shower.
Every shower. No exceptions.
Even when the bathroom is cold and you can hardly bear to stand there, bare and wet, with no hot water flowing, while you squeegee all the glass.
Even when you're running late and you don't have time to squeegee everything.
Here are the rules for those with glass shower doors.
1. If you don't have time to squeegee the glass afterward, you don't have time to shower.
2. If it's too cold to squeegee the glass afterward, it's too cold to shower.
It's good to know that Scrubbing Bubbles are a good remedy. It's better not to need the remedy in the first place.
Patricia MacLachlan, author of the Newbery Medal-winning Sarah Plain and Tall, has brought out a new slim book for young readers -- and some older ones.
The Poet's Dog rests on the premise that only children and poets can understand the speech of dogs.
Having once been a child, I can attest that children cannot, in fact, understand the speech of dogs. As for poets, MacLachlan partakes of the common fantasy that poets are somehow not regular people, and that no matter how much verse you write, you don't become a "Poet" until you pass some invisible threshold of quality.
I loathe any claim that poets or artists of any kind are "special" or "magical." In truth they practice learnable crafts with varying degrees of quality, and there is no artist whose work is always good, no matter how skilled their previous works might have been.
Nor is there a magical threshold after which you become a Poet or Artist or Composer or whatever, any more than there's a magical threshold after which you become a Plumber.
In fact, I now want to write a very serious fantasy story in which only plumbers can understand the speech of rats; or maybe cockroaches, I haven't decided yet. Plumbers are every bit as deserving of worshipful treatment in fiction as any other kind of skilled craftsman.
When you think about it, for a writer to declare that Poets are a breed apart is really a case of self-love. It says that the very best practitioners of the craft of writing are Special People.
They can be wonderful people, though in my experience, only some of them are, and no more commonly so than people who practice different crafts in their daily life.
I know some wonderful lawyers; nobody says they understand the speech of dogs, but come on -- they understand the writing of other lawyers, which is much harder.
All right, that's enough ridiculing the premise of the book. If you accept the premise of dog-speech-undertanding poets, then this book, The Poet's Dog, is quietly wonderful.
The Poet in this story, Sylvan, is already dead before it begins. His dog still lives in the isolated cabin in the woods where the Poet lived and worked; he is visited and fed by a former student.
As the book opens, a heavy snowstorm is shutting down traffic on the nearest highway, and the dog, Teddy, who narrates the book, finds a boy and girl stranded in the woods. They had been inside a car, but their mother, who had gone for help, had not yet returned, and it was bitterly cold inside the car.
The children take Teddy's ability to speak in stride; they introduce themselves as Nicholas -- Nickel -- and Flora. They spend the rest of the storm together in Sylvan's house, whose door was rigged with a lever so Teddy could open it at will.
(One should not ask how he closes it, because whether it opens in or out, there's one side of the door from which it would be hard for a dog with no hands to pull it closed.)
This is a story that I think children will enjoy because of the fantasy of the talking dog and also because of the self-sufficiency of the dog and children working as a team. There is also a wonderful flashback in which Sylvan's best student, Ellie -- the one who visits the cabin to keep the dog fed -- reaches the threshold of poethood.
Even though I scoff at such things, inside the story it works well, and is quite moving.
Nobody dies who wasn't dead at the beginning of the story. Families are reunited. It's a children's book, for heaven's sake.
But more to the point, it's a gentle book. I enjoyed every moment of it, and I think most children and parents will, too. It will work especially well with families who have shared a lot of reading time together, because MacLachlan openly invokes a veritable reading list of children's literature. To readers who already know the books she names, this one will feel like coming home.
No, this isn't going to join Charlotte's Web or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at the top of the national children's reading list. But it earns a respectable place a little way down.
And even though I dislike MacLachlan's romanticization of poets, she does have a very good idea of what a poet is. In the book, student Ellie writes a bad poem about a lost love, and Sylvan asks her, Have you ever lost a love?
No, she hasn't. But she's lost a cat.
Write about that, says Sylvan.
And here is the poem -- written of course by MacLachlan -- that Ellie produced, prompting Sylvan to say that she is on the verge of being a poet:
soft sweet paw on my cheek
fur curled under my chin
a sad space left behind --
Gray cat gone away.
That'll do, Patricia MacLachlan. You are not right about poets understanding dogs, but you do know what a poet is.
on the art and business of science fiction writing.
Over five hours of insight and advice.
Recorded live at Uncle Orson's Writing Class in Greensboro, NC.
Available exclusively at OSCStorycraft.com