Who is Dayani Crystal?

dyaniMovie recommendations: Who is Dayani Crystal? A documentary that tries to find out who one of the many men found dead in the Arizona desert was. It’s available on Netflix streaming now.

I tend to make light of Donald Trump, I’m amused at how he has repackaged the far-right’s talking points into plain talk.  He has scared the hell out of the Republican establishment which figured they could use the rhetoric of xenophobia to command the votes of that part of the electorate whose feelings of financial insecurity – as Hitler described in Mein Kampf – make them easy targets for any sort of chauvinistic messaging.

There is some sordid pleasure in seeing the Republican establishment being bit on the butt by the monster they created.  And I honestly don’t think that Trump means anything he says. I think he’d just as likely to say exactly the opposite if it’d got him the same adulation – but liberals are not as easily fooled (or at least I hope we are not, Hillary Clinton notwithstanding).

But then I go back and think about the men and women who have died in the desert because the US government spends so many resources trying to keep desperate people looking for jobs out. I don’t think Donald Trump is Hitler nor do I believe most Americans would condone a genocide. And yet, isn’t this how it starts? By saying – through our votes – that it’s OK to establish policies that will kill people?  Indeed, by tacitly determining that there are people whose life does not matter?

Watch the documentary, then come back.

Now that you’ve watched it, did you find it a little discomforting to have Gael García Bernal standing for the dead man? I love García Bernal, I think he is one of the best and most revolutionary actors of his generation.  But he also has such an upper class Mexican accent, speaks so eloquently (he’s an actor after all) and is so good looking and famous, that it makes me wonder if the impact of the documentary is that I cannot possibly imagine a man looking and sounding like García Bernal, dying in the desert. That tragedy has greater impact because it’s unexpected, but it is not “Dayani Cristal”‘s tragedy.  As much as I appreciate the fact that García Bernal got this movie made, his presence in the film ultimately looks as misery tourism.

Joan Rivers – A piece of work

joanrivers.jpgSome time ago Mike and I were talking as to whether there were some topics that you shouldn’t joke about: child molestation and the Holocaust came to mind (I have several friends who survived torture and are somewhat able to joke about it, so that’s not a taboo subject). My question was finally answered last night while watching Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, a documentary that chronicles a year in the work-life of the legendary commediene. At one point, while taking a limo drive to an award-show in honor of the late George Carlin, she compares compares the Kennedy Center’s honoring of the leftist comedian to having her receiving an award from the Third Reich for being the “funniest Jewess not in the ovens”. I chuckled.
I’m not a big stand-up comedian fan, it’s OK but I don’t seek it out, so I can’t say I’ve been more that marginally aware of Ms. Rivers. I’ve seen her on the Red Carpet before and in the occasional appearance on some TV show, but I only got to “know her” to any degree while watching Celebrity Apprentice a couple of years ago (guilty pleasures, blah, blah). She was definitely the best thing on that show and I got to appreciate her quick wit and intelligence. The glimpses at her relationship with her daughter Melissa, also on the show, were also very tender. It’s nice to see mothers and daughters who truly love each other. So, when I saw Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work as one of the “must see” films of the year in the paper, I figured I’d check to see if it was available on Netflix “play now” (I no longer bother with DVDs).
The film was very enjoyable. Ms. Rivers comes out as a very insecure but kind-hearted woman, with a very sharp wit. She also came out as very funny. The one theme of her life and the movie is that she wants/needs to work. She needs to have every hour booked – both because she needs the money (as she says, she could live within her savings, but not in the luxury to which she’s become accustomed) and because she needs the adulation, or at least the recognition. She is willing to do anything and pretty much say anything, and yet she doesn’t come across as anyone who’d succeed by stepping on other people. When she tells a joke to a live audience about Helen Keller, a man responds by complaining that she wouldn’t feel that way if she had a deaf son. Rivers gets really upset, calls him stupid and lectures him on the reason for comedy (to laugh about the tragedies in life) – but later, after the show, she seems to be actually upset at having hurt him.
The documentary is in no way a biography, you don’t really know where Ms. Rivers comes from and what made her the person she is today, but it is entertaining and definitely worth streaming.

Qubo TV

I wasn’t a big fan of having to transition to digital TV – specially as we had no plans of buying new, expensive, TVs – but the transition was all in all pretty painless (though we did have to spend some extra money on the conveters), and, as a bonus, I got two new TV stations I like.
Once is PBS World, which allows me to catch up on PBS and BBC news programs when it’s more convenient to me, and the other one is Qubo, a channel that shows children’s cartoons all day long. As we don’t have cable, and I do let my TV babysit my kids, that’s quite welcomed.
But what I like about Qubo is the type of programs it has. Many of the cartoons are based on books, such as Babar, Macy and Pippy Longstockings, and others are just very smart. Jane and the Dragon is about a little girl who refuses to be a maiden and tries hard to be a knight.
My favorite show, by far, is Adventures from the Book of Virtues – a show that teaches ethical/moral lessons from stories from around the world. Just a while ago, for example, they had the story of Damon and Pythias, two good friends from Syracuse. One of them stood up against the tyrant of the time, advocating democracy – he was arrested and sentenced to be killed (hey, doesn’t this sound like what’s going on in Iran as we speak?), and he asked as his last wish that he be allowed to say goodbye to his family. The other friend offered to stay on his place, to make sure his friend returned. I loved the story, not just because it teaches about the depth of loyalty and friendship, but because it reinforces the ideal I’m trying to teach my children, that you should stand up to tyranny even on the face of prison or death. I’m not sure that there are many shows around that are willing to tackle such complex ethical issues. And as if that was not enough, the show teaches my kids about important historical figures (like Plato).
The one big problem with Qubo is that all its commercials (between shows, rather than within them, which is a plus) are infomercials for stupid things. Some of them are for children, but many are for adults: furniture warehouses, adjustable beds, gold buyers, etc. They are also terribly long. But I guess that’s the price for fairly good children’s programming.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief – Review

Mika (my 8 yo) wanted to go see Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and she wanted me to go with her. After reading some reviews I was reluctant – it was mostly portrayed as a pour cousin to Harry Potter with similar, but less developed, characters and plot. And indeed, that’s what it was – but it was a well crafted adventure movie, with great special effects, approachable characters and it held our interest. And, to top it all, it also taught us a little bit about Greek mythology (though you have to be careful not to take anything they say too literally). Hopefully it can be enough to spark a kids’ interest in the subject (Mika is already into ancient mythology).
Camila, my 5 yo, found some parts scary and many boring, but she was a trooper and behaved through all of it.
In all, I’d recommend the movie for kids 7yo and older and even for adults who just want some mindless fluff.