CVIndependent

Fri07102020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

In response to yesterday’s Daily Digest, I received this email from a reader, verbatim:

You read so old lady at times, but the wearing of masks is important but some people cannot and you never say that?

Along with chiding the reader for his ageism and sexism with the “old lady” remark, I responded that the number of people who truly can’t wear masks is small, and that many of those people can wear other forms of a face coverings, like a shield.

The back and forth went another pointless round which I shan’t recap here. Nonetheless … you know what? This reader is right. There are some people who can’t wear face masks.

So, to those of you out there (aside from this cranky reader) who are unable to wear face masks, I’d like to ask: How do you handle this? Do other face coverings work? If you go out somewhere, how do you explain your situation? What steps, if any, do you take to protect yourself—and the people you’re around—from possibly spreading COVID-19?

I’d love to hear from you. Please email me (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.); if you don’t want your name or identifying characteristics used, I won’t do so. I’ll recap the responses I get in an upcoming Daily Digest.

Thank you in advance for your time, and for helping us all learn.

Let’s get to the links:

• The big national news of the day: During a call with reporters today, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency believes that only a tenth of the coronavirus infections in the country are being reported. Says NBC News: “Currently, there are 2.3 million COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. The CDC’s new estimate pushes the actual number of coronavirus cases up to at least 23 million.

• Don’t take this as a reason to panic; take this as a call to action: The Desert AIDS Project reports that in one week, the clinic there has seen more positive results that it had in the previous 10 weeks combined.

• I was once again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs Podcast, with hosts John Taylor, Shann Carr and Brad Fuhr, and all sorts of other amazing guests. We lead off by talking with Dr. Laura Rush about the local COVID-19 case increases. Be careful out there, folks.

• What kind of mask is best at preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2? FiveThirtyEight breaks it down.

• If you don’t mind dense scientific articles, this piece, from JAMA Psychiatry, is worth at least a quick skim. It recommends steps we can take, collectively and as individuals, to promote better health during these crazy times. Key quote—and keep in mind this is coming from a media outlet: “Limiting media exposure time is advisable. Graphic imagery and worrisome messages increase stress and anxiety, elevating the risk of long-term, lingering fear-related disorders. Although staying informed is essential, one should minimize exposure to media outlets.”

• For a less-dense scientific read, The Conversation examines how deforestation is a key driver in introducing new diseases to mankind. Sigh.

Texas has put a stop to its reopening process—and ordered hospitals to postpone elective procedures in four of the largest counties—because things there are getting pretty bad.

• Meanwhile, in Arizona, where things are almost as bad as they are in Texas, Gov. Doug Ducey held a press conference today and asked people to wear masks and stay home, but, as KTAR put it, “stopped short … of offering any additional formal action that would help slow the spread of the virus in Arizona.”

• Also in Arizona: Sick people are having problems getting tested there … and that problem is not limited to Arizona. According to The New York Times: “The United States’ coronavirus testing capacity has begun to strain as the pandemic continues to spread, with over 35,000 cases recorded Tuesday. Across the country, more than a dozen public laboratories say they are now ‘challenged’ to meet the demand.

This lede from The Sacramento Bee, via SFGate, should make your blood boil: “More than three months into the coronavirus pandemic, California officials say they still have no plans to collect and publish basic data about COVID-19 testing and outbreaks in local jails, frustrating advocates, families and even some members of the state’s own jail oversight board.”

MedPage Today recently spoke to Dr. Theodore Mazer, the former president of the California Medical Association, about the need for doctors to speak out in defense of public health officials. Key quote: “Public health officers and governments in general have always done things that restrict some activities for the public good. And I don’t mean to get down too deep into that, but we have laws against defecating in the streets. Is that infringing on somebody’s rights or is it a recognition that that brings about things like hepatitis outbreaks?”

• One of the drivers of the recent boost in local COVID-19 cases is believed to be people getting together with friends and family—and then letting down their guard. The Los Angeles Times examines what some health officials say about gatherings between friends and family, and how they can be done as safely as possible.

• Some people with all the usual COVID-19 symptoms still test negative for the disease. One possible reason: False negatives are still a problem.

I am going to present a quote from this Washington Post piece without comment (other than shaking my head, grumbling to myself privately and feeling utter despair): “In recent weeks, three studies have focused on conservative media’s role in fostering confusion about the seriousness of the coronavirus. Taken together, they paint a picture of a media ecosystem that amplifies misinformation, entertains conspiracy theories and discourages audiences from taking concrete steps to protect themselves and others.”

• And now your Disney news roundup: While the Downtown Disney District is still slated to reopen on July 9, the theme parks will NOT reopen on July 17, as was previously announced. Disney is blaming the delay on the fact the state has yet to issue guidelines—but the fact some of the company’s unions were pleading for a delay may (or may not) have been a factor.

• Disney’s Mulan is, as of now, scheduled on July 24 to be the first major film release since, well, you know. However, The Wall Street Journal says that may be delayed, too.

• OK, now, some good news: Riverside County on Monday will begin accepting applications from small businesses for a second round of grants of up to $10,000. This time, sole proprietors and businesses that received EIDL money (but NOT PPP money) will be eligible.

That’s today’s news. Wash your hands. Wear a mask (unless you can’t, in which case, please fill me in). Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you’re financially able, so we can keep producing quality local journalism—and making it available to everyone without pay walls or subscription fees. The Daily Digest will be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

It seemed as if we were getting a little gift when Disney announced it was sending Artemis Fowl directly to its streaming service: A big-budget, Kenneth Branagh-directed adventure was coming directly into living rooms, because most theaters are closed. What a treat, right?

No. As it turns out, the film is awful.

You’ll realize within five minutes of viewing that this thing stood zero chance of captivating folks in movie theaters. It would’ve just pissed them off and sent them home grouchy. So this was actually a blessing for Disney: It’s better to just let people be grouchy in the comfort of their own homes, saving them gas and concessions money.

The movie, about the titular child protégé (Ferdia Shaw) trying to solve a mystery surrounding his dad (Colin Farrell), makes zero sense from beginning to end. You know Branagh has a mess on his hands when he employs the narrator angle—having a character (a raspy-voiced Josh Gad, with his part filmed in black and white) staring into the camera and explaining everything as the movie plays out. It comes off as a lame attempt to fix a crap movie with re-shoots.

Not only is the storytelling poorly handled; the movie doesn’t even look good. The special effects are bad, and the costuming is strange—there are fairies in this movie that look sort of like Willem DaFoe’s Green Goblin from Spider-Man. The editing is haphazard, too.

Judi Dench plays some sort of boss of the fairies, and she also employs a raspy delivery. Dench seems to be a harbinger of bad things now: This is her cinematic follow up to Cats, meaning she has the distinction of being in one of the year’s worst movies for two years in a row.

Branagh usually puts together a good film, and his chance to do big-budget fantasy seemed like it would lead to great things. Instead, this fiasco leaves a big, nasty mark on Disney+ and Branagh. It’s easily the worst thing he’s ever done behind the camera, and there’s no chance for a franchise here—this is a one-and-done affair.

Artemis Fowl is now streaming on Disney+.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Think you’re already oversubscribed to streaming TV services? Bend over, and grab your HDMI cables, because November has just dropped two more on you: Disney+ and Apple TV+.

Also, HBO Max, Peacock and Quibi are coming in 2020. But the Purge may happen first.

Back to Disney+ and Apple TV+: Disney+ costs $6.99 a month, while Apple TV+ goes for $4.99—are they worth it? Here are eight original series that may or may not sway you to subscribe to yet another new app.

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (Disney+): Right below Twilight and Saw on the list of 2000s reboots no one asked for rests High School Musical, the 2006-08 series of Disney Channel movies (though I’m all in for a Twilight/Saw mashup). In mockumentary HSM:TM:TS, students meta-stage a production of the classic High School Musical. That sound in the distance is the universe imploding—catchy beat, no?

The Mandalorian (Disney+): If you’re among the nerd faction that’s completely on board with Disney owning all things Marvel, Star Wars and Fox Studios, I’m sure your benevolent corporate overlords will never screw you over. It’s fine, just fine. In the meantime, here’s The Mandalorian, about a bounty hunter somewhere in the Star Wars universe. Look, dust and droids! It’s fine, just fine.

The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+): Actor Jeff Goldblum (Run Ronnie Run!) explains everyday items like ice cream, sneakers, tattoos, coffee, denim, RVs, barbecue, jewelry, swimming pools, cosmetics and video games as only he can. Prior to exploring these topics for The World, Goldblum reportedly did zero research to prepare for the episodes. I use the same approach here; totally works.

The Imagineering Story (Disney+): This is a six-hour documentary about Walt Disney’s 65-year-old Imagineering studio that doesn’t touch upon Walt’s purported Nazi sympathies and fascist tendencies at all. Not that it should, because it’s about the studio and the creators who worked there, not the frozen head in a secret vault who thought Adolph had a few good ideas. Allegedly. (Checks security cameras.)

The Morning Show (Apple TV+): Apple spent millions of dollars to lure beloved comedy stars Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell to streaming TV to headline … a preachy drama about media politics? Bring on the yucks! To be fair, The Morning Show works better than 80 percent of Aaron Sorkin’s similar The Newsroom, mostly by treating women as, stay with me here, humans.

See (Apple TV+): In a post-apocalyptic future … wait, don’t click away yet! A worldwide virus long ago wiped out half the population and rendered the other half blind—until a pair of sighted twins are born to tribal leader Baba Voss (Jason Momoa, Baywatch: Hawaii). Are they the Chosen Ones who’ll lead their people to a new homeland? Didn’t “See” that one coming! Ugh, I know …

For All Mankind (Apple TV+): What if Russia had reached the moon before the United States in the ’60s? Would Joe Rogan still be taking bong hits with moon-landing conspiracy theorists on three-hour podcasts? Probably. For All Mankind presents a science-y, alternate reality of an arguably better world—considering Ronald D. Moore’s previous work (Battlestar Galactica), things could have gone worse.

Dickinson (Apple TV+): Hailee Steinfeld (Between Two Ferns: The Movie) stars as poet Emily Dickinson in a coming-of-age dramedy that pits 19th-century societal constraints against modern millennial ‘tude. In other words, why the hell isn’t this on The CW? As she does in every role, Steinfeld delivers winningly as Dickinson, and you can’t argue with a series that casts Wiz Khalifa as Death.

Published in TV

Writer-director Randy Moore took a film crew and performers into multiple Disney parks and managed to film a fairly cohesive movie—without permission, and without getting caught.

In Escape From Tomorrow, Jim (Roy Abramsohn) finds out that he has lost his job during the movie’s opening scene. Rather than tell his wife (Elena Schuber), he takes his family on one last day of park-hopping that includes the It’s a Small World ride, monorail trips and Epcot Center. Jim notices people coughing as he enters the park—as well as two French teens who seem strangely interested in him. Hallucinations, blackouts and eventual health issues ensue, leading to sequences that make no sense and an ending that is just strange.

I couldn’t help but be impressed by the scenes shot in the actual parks. Some green-screen shots are obvious, but Moore and his crew managed to get other usable shots using the video functions in standard digital cameras. In this way, the movie is a marvel.

As for the plotting, it suffers a bit from this guerilla-filming format and has a lot of holes and inconsistencies.

The way the movie was made is far more interesting than the movie itself. 

Escape From Tomorrow opens Friday, Nov. 8, at the Cinemas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0730).

Published in Reviews

At one point during its journey to the screen, Disney halted production on The Lone Ranger because it was costing too much, and the studio was not sure a Western-themed summer tent-pole movie was a good idea. Eventually, they caved in to Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski, producing it for a reported $225 million.

This will now go down as a huge, massive, unthinkable, crazy, job-killing blunder. The people who had the good sense to initially halt production should’ve stuck to their guns.

What a misguided, uncomfortable movie this is. Johnny Depp appearing as Tonto, with his face painted to mask the fact that he isn’t Native American, is a travesty. His movies have been mediocre at best lately, but this bad career choice goes well beyond the likes of The Tourist: This is the kind of stuff that cuts future paydays in half.

The film is an odd parody of The Lone Ranger, or at least it comes off that way, with strange comedic undertones and clichés exaggerated to the point of intolerability. Remember how Back to the Future Part III paid homage to the West by exaggerating it in a semi-funny way? The Lone Ranger makes Back to the Future Part III seem authentic in comparison.

How bad is it? The framing device is a very old Tonto telling some kid dressed as the Lone Ranger about how he met the masked man, and their travels together. Tonto, looking like anything but a human being, is making a living posing as a Native American in a museum exhibit, right next to a grizzly bear.

Depp and Verbinski (Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean partner in crime) choose to play this depressing storytelling angle for laughs. Depp wears a dead crow on his head throughout the film, with his face covered in war paint in the flashbacks. He takes some sort of odd, Buster Keaton-like physical approach to the role that makes him look desperate, lost and straining for the laughs that don’t come. His line deliveries are stilted and unimaginative. This is a career low for a guy capable of great things. It’s reminiscent of such travesties as John Travolta in Battlefield Earth, Louis Gossett Jr. in Enemy Mine and Sylvester Stallone in Judge Dredd. It’s a choice that will haunt Depp for the rest of his career.

As for the Lone Ranger himself, Armie Hammer doesn’t seem to know what movie he is in. He sports an inconsistent accent, and plays the virtuous John Reid as a stooge to Tonto’s voice of reason. He is, in no way, prepared to handle a role of this magnitude. As the title character, he makes no impression, and is second fiddle to the top-billed, masquerading Depp.

However, Depp and Hammer aren’t even close to being the worst things about this movie. William Fichtner, an actor I usually enjoy, is unwatchable as bad-guy Butch Cavendish, a scarred, gold-toothed monster who eats the heart of the Lone Ranger’s brother as he lies wounded and watching. This was in direct contrast to the comedic, goofy nature of the rest of the film. It’s the sort of thing that leaves viewers too aghast to laugh the next time Depp makes one of this stupid funny faces. In my head, when Depp mugged shortly thereafter, I was thinking, “Yeah, well, I just saw a man die in a fashion that made that moment when the priest pulled a heart out of somebody in the Indiana Jones movie look like Mary Poppins. Laughter isn’t happening for a while, Johnny. Sorry.”

Everything in this movie is taken too far, from the dirt makeup, to the crazy beards and chops, to the caricature accents. Even the sound of a kid eating a peanut is turned up to an extent that becomes gut-churning and abrasive.

Regular readers know that I often complain about horror movies that exchange much-needed dread and gore for a PG-13 rating. Well, I get even more annoyed by PG-13 movies marketed to kids and families that contain the kind of violence on display in this crap. Heart-eating, horse-trampling, multiple gunshots, stabbings and the threat of sticking a duck foot up somebody’s ass should not be on the viewing agenda for the entire family.

Disney is going to take a major loss on this one. This is another major blockbuster disappointment after misfires like Man of Steel, World War Z, The Hangover Part III and After Earth. This is officially turning into a summer of bad movies.

I was truly embarrassed for Depp while watching The Lone Ranger. Remember before Jack Sparrow, when he was a boutique movie star who chose interesting and scintillating projects like Cry Baby and Ed Wood? He has more money than God now, so I’m hoping he has some indie films in his future.

The Lone Ranger is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Wreck-It Ralph left me a little cold. A lot of folks predicted it would win the big Oscar prize for animation, but I correctly predicted that Brave (a better movie) would be the victor.

There’s a lot of potential in this arcade throwback about a giant video-game character (voiced by John C. Reilly) who yearns for a better life as a “good guy,” and abandons his “bad guy” game post. There are some cool retro-game sight gags (but not nearly enough!) and some clever twists, but this one falls substantially short of greatness.

I did enjoy Sarah Silverman giving voice to a little-girl character who wants to be a racecar driver, and Reilly voices his character with charm. I just the film a little tiresome as it wore on, and I grew tired of it in the repetitive second half.

There were some major laughs in the group-therapy sessions (I love the zombie!) and some cute stuff between Reilly and Silverman, but overall, the film is surprisingly tedious. Like too many animated films these days, it tries to get by on frantic action rather than story. It’s not a bad movie … it’s just a movie I didn’t like very much.

Special Features: The best special feature would be “Paperman,” the animated short that preceded the film and got its own Oscar nomination. You also get a short behind-the-scenes look, and some deleted scenes. This is a surprisingly lackluster disc effort from Disney. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Peter Pan, newly out on Blu-ray, is not one of the truly great Disney animated films, but it's still a good watch—even if Peter Pan is kind of a jerk.

Walt Disney had been trying to make an adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s story of a boy who never grows old for years, but World War II got in the way. It finally hit screens in 1953, and while it wasn’t as visually charming as past Disney efforts, it still had some artistic heft, and was the last feature that Disney’s “Nine Old Men” animators worked on together as a whole.

I remember the story line confused me a bit when I was a kid, because Wendy and her brothers always talked of having seen Peter Pan before the events in this movie. That used to baffle me. And I always hated how they left Nana the dog floating like a balloon with a noose-like rope around its neck when Peter and the kids took off for Neverland.

Peter Pan was voiced here for the first time by a dude (Bobby Driscoll). Driscoll, a famous child actor, fell on hard times soon thereafter, dying as a pauper in Greenwich Village and getting buried in an unmarked grave at the age of 31.

Man … this is supposed to be a review of a happy children’s movie, isn’t it?

As a kid, I thought Tinkerbell was a villain. Now, well … actually, I still see her as a villain. And I feel bad for Captain Hook, whom Peter Pan toys with and maliciously taunts with an alligator. Peter Pan was indeed kind of an ass.

No matter; this is still fun to watch. And, I must add, the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland remains one of my favorites.

Special Features: A nice new documentary, where children of the “Nine Old Men” reminisce about their fathers. You also get some deleted scenes and songs, and a commentary from Roy Disney.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing