Monthly Archives: February 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey – movie review

Fifty Shades of Grey seems like two separate movies incongruously spliced together. One movie is a romantic “chick flick” about an innocent and shy young college girl being seduced by an incredibly handsome billionaire only a few years older than her. Then there is the other movie, about a creepy rich guy who receives pleasure from giving pain to naked women he ties up in a room he calls his “play room.”

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The star of the movie is Dakota Johnson, who is the daughter of actors Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith. She does an excellent portrayal of Anastasia Steele, a shy English Lit major who interviews billionaire Christian Grey for her college newspaper. From the moment the two meet, there is an immediate attraction which viewers realize will soon lead to romance.  Mr. Grey is played by Jamie Dornan, who when he is not acting apparently spends every waking moment working out at the gym. (OK we admit being jealous of this guy’s looks).

Despite his looks and money, Mr. Grey has not been linked romantically with any women. There is even speculation he might be gay. He seems to be very socially awkward and shy when it comes to romance.

So far it seems like a lovely romance story.  The successful but socially inept billionaire who is gradually being brought out of his shell by his beautiful new lover. The fact that he is so rich means that Christian can do things like take Anastasia to dinner in  another city by flying her there in his own helicopter. What’s not to like?

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Well, it turns out there’s a lot not to like abut Christian Grey. His main goal is to make Anastasia his “Submissive”. He, of course, gets to be the “Dominant”. He even presents her with a a written contract he wants her to sign agreeing to the terms. Now we will admit we don’t get the whole bondage thing, and this contract only reenforces our opinion. It is hard to imagine that any woman in her right mind would sign such a contract. The “Submissive” has to agree to do anything the “Dominant” wants.  The Submissive cannot  talk to or initiate any physical contact with the Dominant. The Submissive agrees to be beaten, whipped, tied up, and have various instruments used on her. This contract goes on for many pages.

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Anastasia, to her credit, does not sign the contract, but she is willing to experiment with some of the milder suggestions of Christian just to give it a try. However, she does these things out of love for Christian, not because the acts seem erotic to her.

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This brings up the whole question of how we are supposed to think about Christian Grey. Is he a confused young man who has been searching desperately for true love? Or, is he a sexual sadist who is using his financial power to force a woman to do something against her will?

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Certainly, there have been a lot of women’s groups who have expressed their outright hatred for Mr. Grey. There is a lot of evidence that Mr. Grey is, in fact,  a sexual predator and not a romantic. He has chosen to pursue Anastasia who is very shy, has no money, is younger than him, and is a virgin.  He gives her elaborately expensive gifts including a computer and a new car. He has the habit of  showing up wherever she is, even when she goes halfway across the country to be alone with her mother.  Are these the acts of a romantic boyfriend or of a stalker?

All Mr. Grey wants in return for the gifts and attention is for Anastasia to completely submit herself to him in his “playroom” (or torture chamber depending upon your point of view).

Many woman have pointed out that Mr. Grey is the type of abuser who does not get much attention in the press. These men are the types of men who purposely choose emotionally weak women and then slowly put more and more pressure on them until the woman finally  gives the man what he wants.  They give in simply because they are too exhausted to keep saying “No”.

Ironically, there is another group of moviegoers who did not like the film for a completely opposite reason. These are the people who do like bondage, and wanted to see a very graphic film with some real hard core S&M scenes. There is nothing like that in the movie.

Dakota Johnson is naked for a good portion of the film and she does look beautiful. However, any so-called “bondage” scenes are very mild stuff and will not satisfy the real S&M crowd.

Fans of Jamie Dornan will also be disappointed. He had it specifically written into his contract that his penis was not be be shown on film. You do get a few peaks at his rear, and of course his six-pack abs are shown, but that is all.

The movie is actually interesting,  if for no other reason than to see what decisions Anastasia will make regarding Mr. Grey and his offers.  However, we have to admit that we actually would have enjoyed it more if it had just been the “chick flick” about two “normal” lovers.

We give this movie 3 Stars ***

The Mule Deer in Winter

It is the coldest February in almost a century.  If it is rough on us, imaging how hard it is on the outdoor creatures.

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A deer has been coming very close to the house to keep warm and to eat the bushes.

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We call her the Mule Deer because of her size.

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She does not look like the other deer. She is very large and has a broad face that looks very sweet, and almost like a baby face.

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She is very skittish and runs away if there is the slightest movement in a window.

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We can tell from the tracks and impressions in the snow that at night she sleeps under a bush next to the house.  We wish we could tell her she is welcome to all the warmth and bushes she wants.

The Erotic Train Ride

The following is a true story.

There was no sound inside the 6:04 am train to New York as it passed through the the suburbs on this frigid February morning.  Inside the train, commuters either slept or checked the messages in their iPhones. No one spoke to each other and no one looked out through the train windows.

There is no reason to look outside. It is still mostly dark, and whatever can be seen is covered with snow. It is also exactly the same route that each of the commuters has traveled a thousand times before.

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That is; no one looked out the widows except for me. I was feeling sort of melancholy and did not want to check the hundreds of emails that my bosses in Europe had sent me while I was asleep last night. I missed the days when the morning commute was a chance to read a book, and was not just an extension of the workday.

So I gazed out the train window as  house after house whizzed past, and a few brave souls walked their dogs in the snow.

Then the train began to slow and came to a halt between stations. The conductor announced on the loudspeaker  that due to the weather there was congestion up ahead on the line, and that we would be here for a few minutes.

As the train stopped, I noticed that I was looking directly into the second floor of a small split level house. It was the type of house that realtors refer to as a “starter home.” There was a large picture window on the second floor and it opened to the master bedroom. The house had no curtains on any of the windows. Using some detective work I figured out that the owners must have moved in recently and had not yet had time to get curtains.

The lights were on in the bedroom, and because it was still dark outside, the entire room was clearly visible.  There was a young man sitting on the edge of the bed. He was wearing pajama bottoms and no top. He was just an average looking fellow, and he was looking at another door in the room and appeared to be saying something.

Then the other door opened and a young woman, about twenty four years old,   appeared.  She was wearing a kimono-type bathrobe and her long dark hair was wet.  She had obviously just taken a shower. She smiled when she saw the man was watching her, and she said something.

The man stayed sitting on the bed and she slowly walked over. He leaned forward and reached for the belt on her  robe, but she just  laughed and jumped back just out of reach.  She took two more steps backward then undid the belt and let the robe slide to the floor.

She was amazing beautiful as she stood there naked. Her hair was still wet and water from the ends dripped down in droplets onto her breasts, and flowed down onto her flat stomach. She held her arms to the man as she walked forward to be with him on the bed.

Then she disappeared.

The train lurched forward, and suddenly the house, the man and the beautiful woman were gone. The train continued to move and soon the view out the window was of gas stations and auto body shops. The train picked up speed and was soon once again rushing towards New York.

I looked around the train car and noticed that no one else had glimpsed the erotic episode in the little house. I knew that I should not have been a voyeur. But it was such a beautiful love scene on a bleak and dreary day that it drew me into it.

The train never stopped in that exact spot again and I never again saw the young lovers. I sometimes wonder how such an average looking young man was able to attract that stunningly  beautiful woman.  From her smile it was obvious that she was totally in love.

As I take the boring commute these days, I sometimes smile to myself when I remember that somewhere outside the train window there are two people who have much better things to do in the morning than answer emails.

Jupiter Ascending – movie review

Jupiter Ascending is a very disappointing sci-fi movie starring Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones. It has a great starting concept for a plot but then does nothing interesting with it.  Jupiter Jones is the American daughter of Russian immigrants (who changed their last  name).  She leads a boring life cleaning houses with her family, but always dreams of more.

It turns out that she is actually the reincarnation of a queen of a far-off planet.  She finds this out, when she is captured by a bounty hunter named Caine (played by Channing Tatum) from outer space.

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OK, so far it sounds like it has real potential doesn’t it? We were looking forward to Jupiter Jones getting to the planet and seeing her begin to rule as the new Queen. The problem is that this never happens.

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She does get into outer space, but she never gets to rule anything.  She is simply a pawn in a property dispute between 3 siblings. They each  want to control her since she has the property rights to Earth.

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Instead of Mila Kunis getting to play a strong independent woman, her main function in the film seems to be to wear many different space- fashions, and get rescued by other people.  She does look beautiful no matter how bizarre the outfit, but that is not enough to carry a film. Mila’s talents are simply  wasted in this movie.

What is the point of having the whole Queen plot in the movie at all, if she never gets to command anyone or make any decisions?  The only things she ever controls are Earth  bees. For some strange reason the film says that bees always recognize Royalty and will follow their commands since bees themselves have a queen.  However, she never gets any people  on Earth or in space to follow anything.

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The other problem is her so-called love interest in the movie. The bounty hunter, of course, falls in love with her.  However, Channing Tatum plays the role with about as much seductive power as a stick of wood. There is absolutely zero on-screen chemistry between Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum.

The film was produced by the brother and sister team the Wachowskis. They also did the entire Matrix series. (Of course then, they were the Wachowski Brothers. Since The Matrix, one of them had a sex change operation.) The Matrix also had a complicated plot, but it was original and never dull.  Unfortunately, we cannot say the same thing for Jupiter Ascending.

We give this movie 2 Stars **

Pro Bono Publico

The following is a true story as told by a New Jersey  attorney Gene Mitchell to the Editor of East Cost Stories. Only the name of the career criminal has been changed.

All lawyers are expected to put in a certain amount “pro bono publico” (for the public good) hours each year. This consists of providing free legal work for people who can’t afford it.

Although they never admit it openly, most lawyers hate doing pro bono work. It cuts directly into their income, and it brings them into contact with the type of people they usually try to avoid.

Gene is a corporate attorney specializing in tax work. A few years ago one of his firm’s big clients switched to another law firm,  temporarily making legal work sparse for the law firm Gene worked for.  The managing partner of the firm “suggested” that this would be a good time for Gene to volunteer to do some pro bono work. The partner had arranged for Gene to do some work as a public defender.

Gene was not at all happy about this. It meant that he had to work for free defending criminal cases until his law firm could find some more new tax clients.

Gene’s mood did not improve when he got the details of his first client. “Little Tony” Parker had been accused in the breaking and entering of a McDonald’s restaurant.  Gene took one look at the file and realized that Little Tony was not exactly a dream client.  He was 30 years old, but had a record of different types of thefts going back to when he was a kid. He had been in and out of various jails and prisons for short sentences, but added together it came up  to a significant part of his life.

He was called “Little Tony” since he was just under 5 feet tall and had a slight build. He was very sensitive about this, especially since his size tended to make him a prime target in whatever jail he happened to be in. He had been in numerous fights, and usually came out the loser.

Little Tony could be facing a long time in prison for his latest crime. Like many other States, New Jersey had passed statutes allowing judges to give extended sentences to “career criminals.”

On top of all of that, Little Tony’s latest endeavor was something the police were laughing at.  One week earlier, at 2am, he had broken into a closed  McDonald’s to try to rob the safe. He did not realize that this McDonald’s was still under construction, and would not have its Grand Opening for another week. There was no safe, no cash registers, no food. There was nothing to steal.

However, the restaurant did have its security cameras operating. They showed a clear view of Little Tony’s face as he frantically scurried around the restaurant searching for something to take. He finally gave up and left.

The next day, the construction workers showed up, saw the door had been forced open and they called the police.  The detectives immediately recognized Little Tony from the security tapes and drove directly to his apartment to arrest him.

Gene decided that the best defense was to try to get Little Tony off with as light a sentence as possible. In his favor  was the fact that Little Tony had not actually stolen anything, and had not vandalized anything in the store. The only thing he had broken was a very cheap lock on the door.  If this was a first-time offense, Tony would probably get a suspended sentence. However, with his past record, he could be looking at 5 years in prison.

Gene decided to really work hard on this just to show what a great lawyer he was, even when it was not a tax case. He had long conversations with Tony, and even had a friend who was a psychologist speak with Tony.

In the end, Gene wrote a beautiful brief for the Judge. He explained about Tony’s horrible childhood, and about how Tony had continually been abused in the various juvenile facilities and jails he had been sent to.  Gene submitted the psychologist’s report which emphatically stated that the best way to make Tony a productive member of society was through treatment rather than prison.

In the end Gene had a resounding success. He was not sure if it was because of his legal work or if the courts were just too swamped with violent crime to care about a broken lock on a restaurant under construction. The judge gave Little Tony a suspended sentence, and the only penalty was that he had to pay $350 for repairs to the door of the McDonalds.

Gene was ecstatic. For the first time he actually felt good about doing pro bono work.  He had made a real difference to a person’s life. It was much more satisfying than any of his tax cases.

Gene had a long and serious conversation with Little Tony. He gave Tony a speech explaining that Tony should look at this as a new beginning. This was a real chance for Tony to do something different with his life.  Gene walked Tony down the hall to the Court Clerk’s office. The Gene decided to really help. Gene gave $350 cash to Little Tony and said,

“Tony, this is a new start for you. To help you on your way, I am even going to give you the money to pay the fine. Take this money, and wait in that line there. Give the clerk the cash and these documents, and then this case is over for you.”

Little Tony was so moved he was almost in tears. He solemnly  shook Gene’s hand and told him how Gene was the fist person in his life who had ever given him a real break.

Gene left the court that day happier than he had been in a long time. A week later, Gene’s law firm got a new tax client and Gene was back at work in corporate law. Gene was buried in spredsheets when his phone rang.

“Mr. Mitchell, this is Detective Hanson. I was wondering if you could tell me the whereabouts of Tony Parker. He moved out of his apartment, and we don’t have any other address for him.”

Gene was surprised, “No. I have no idea where he is. What is the problem?”

“The judge issued a bench warrant for him. He never paid the fine on that McDonald’s break-in. The judge is really pissed off. Says he should have know better than to trust someone with that background.”

It turns out that Little Tony was a career thief after all. After he had so warmly shaken Gene’s hand, he had watched as gene left the court house. Then he had pocked the $350 Gene had given him, gotten out of line, and left without paying the fine.  Apparently he had then used the $350 to skip town.

That was the last criminal case Gene ever handled. He now happily works on spreadsheets and corporate law. When he is forced to to pro bono work, he helps people with tax problems. He never offers to give them any money for their back taxes.

American Sniper – movie review

American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood,  is the true story of Chris Kyle, a Navy Seal who was the top sniper in U.S. military history. Chis was brought up in rural Texas in a way that makes him seem more like someone from the last century than a person born in 1974. His father taught him to be an expert hunter, a strict Christian, and to always fight for himself and protect the weak.

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All of these characteristics made him the perfect Navy Seal. His skills with a rifle got him assigned as a sniper in the Iraq war. Once there, Chris finds that the war is not exactly what he had expected. The enemy turns out to be not only insurgent soldiers, but also Iraqi woman and even children planting  bombs. His first sniper kill ends up being a young boy.

Chris knows that every shot he makes is protecting the American Marines and soldiers, and be believes the circumstances are having no impact on him. Of course, he is wrong. His personality slowly changes as the war drags on,  and it impacts his family life on his few visits home.

The combat scenes in this film are amazingly well done. Bradley Cooper puts in an incredible performance as Chris Kyle.  For one thing, he built himself up physically to actually look like a Navy Seal. If the last time you saw Bradley Cooper was as the con-man in American Hustle, you may not even recognize him. Bradley Cooper has gained about 50 pounds of solid muscle for this film. You don’t feel that you are watching an actor playing a Navy Seal, you feel you are watching a real Navy Seal being filmed in combat.

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Sienna Miller plays Chris Kyle’s wife Taya.  The stress on her is tremendous.  She is alone at home dealing with pregnancies and children while her husband serves 4 combat tours. The stress does not end when he is back. Each time her husband comes home he is more distant and changed than the time before.

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American Sniper has been criticized by some reviewers for not addressing the larger issues of the Iraq war. The fact that the U.S. got into this war under the false premise  that there were weapons of mass destruction is never mentioned.  There is no discussion as to whether or not the U.S. methods in Iraq actually created more new terrorists than were killed.

However, those criticisms miss the point of the film. This is not a story of the strategic aspects of the Iraq War, but a movie about one man in combat and the impact on his life and that of his family.  The larger issues don’t matter to them. They are just trying to survive day-to-day in situations neither of them ever imagined would happen.

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The picture above is of Chris & Taya Kyle

We rate this movie Four Stars ****

Other movies and books pertaining to war which you might find interesting are: