Sunday, April 25, 2021

Synchronic-- A Movie Review


Ever since Netflix began dropping its own movies on the streaming service, its customers have had to put up with a multitude of unadulterated crap. This holds true especially in the science fiction genre where some of their movies apparently had middle school-aged kids develop the premise and write the dialog. 
On second thought, that's not a really fair comment to make about middle school kids, I feel confident that some of them would have a done a far better job. Some middle school kids are scary smart and I sincerely hope most of them stay on the side of good.

Last night though, I caught a Netflix movie that I felt was almost at the level of a Christopher Nolan film. Entitled “Synchronic” set in New Orleans, it stars Anthony Mackie as paramedic Steve Denube and Jamie Dornan as his paramedic cowoker and best friend, Dennis Dannelly.

The characters of Denube and Dannelly don't work the ritzy part of New Orleans with Antebellum houses and old money families. They spend their nights chasing down the victims on the seedier side of town. You, know the usual like gang violence, drug crimes, rape, murder, and lately a bizarre series of deaths involving a new synthetic drug called Synchronic that has just hit the streets.

The opening scene has the viewer in a second-rate motel room where an unnamed woman and her male friend are laying in bed and taking Synchronic. Both go through the beginning motions of entering an euphoric bliss before they diverge into their individual drug-induced alternate realities. Right after taking the drug, the guy gets out of bed, grabs the ice bucket and leaves the room looking for the ice machine. But first we have the woman staying in bed and looking around in bewilderment as her surroundings turn into a swamp, complete a huge rattlesnake crawling up her leg. The snake is clearly agitated rattling away with all its might while naturally the drug-hazed woman screams. This impromptu meeting does not go well for the woman.

Now with switch to her male companion who has stepped into an elevator going to another floor in search of the ice machine. The drug hits him while in the elevator, it dissolves to be replaced with him fall from a pretty high altitude onto a desert floor. The guy impacts the sandy surface and everything fades to black with the movie's opening credits beginning.

For me this was not an auspicious beginning, I'm sitting in one of the uncomfortable stuffed chairs my wife bought from the local fancy furniture store thinking we have another brain dead Netflix movie. No it wasn't things ramp up as the beginning credits fade away.

Denube and Dannelly come into the motel room with a stretcher and their medical supplies to see the woman still laying on the bed, alive but nursing a huge snake bite on her leg. Yeah, at first we somehow have to accept the idea that a psychedelic drug allowed the woman to manifest an actual snake bite. Because also on the scene is a New Orlean's animal control guy saying she was bitten and that it's the worse one he's ever seen. Oh, her male, ice machine hunting companion is dead. They found him when blood started dripping from the ceiling of the motel elevator. He somehow fell out of the elevator and impacted on the roof of the cab.

Okay, this is pretty much the point the movie pulled me in and didn't let go.

There are a few more strange, Twilight Zone deaths, all related to people taking Synchronic. Something

Denube and Dannelly both notice but they each have their own personal problems that they are trying to deal with.

We learn that Anthony Mackie's character, Denube, has a brain tumor that is so serious the doctor arranging him to have immediate radiation treatments. After the first treatment, Denube learn a curious fact from the doctor that his pineal gland acts much younger than it should for him being an adult. Hold on, because this stray, unusual fact plays an important part in the movie.

Dannelly's personal problems generally relate to the fact that he is a whiner. He's married to a beautiful woman, they have a new baby but he's feels unfulfilled. Yeah, it's a drag but Anthony Mackie is the lead in this movie so the character of Dannelly and his problems have to be the pivot point. Dannelly does have a legitimate problem, a troubled daughter who's somehow eighteen years-old. No, the movie makes its clear that Dannelly's current wife is not her step-mother. The character of Dannelly and his wife don't look older than forty, a small flaw in the movie I'll blame on the casting director.

This eighteen year-old daughter, named Brianna, is chaffing at parental units and is known to take recreational drugs. See where this is going? But wait I say like some late night infomercial salesman so high on coke there's white dust on my nose, there's more.

Denube starts seeing packets of Synchronic being sold in convenience stores. When he does he buys the entire supply in anger and preaches to the clerk, who never has any say in what the owners put on the shelves, what this drug does to people. During one of Denube's rage-filled purchases another individual in the store tries to buy them off him once outside. That person is the drug's creator, a young but brilliant chemical engineer who is also trying to get Synchronic off the streets.

Denube learns from this guy that Synchronic tickles certain areas of the brain, including young pineal glands to the point it actually sends a person back in time. Yes, time travel and while you might scoff in contrivance, various stories and movies have used brain power and/or unusual drugs to allow people to travel in time. The best example was when the late Chris Reeves was in a movie called Somewhere in Time with Jane Seymour where he used his brain to go back to the early twentieth century just to get a date with Jane.

So while Denube is home feeling pretty crappy he eventually experiments with the drug, and yes he goes back in time. His experiments progress to the point where he drops in on a Spanish conquistador going through the New Orleans swamps around the 1500's, and ice age hunter tracking a woolly mammoth. Best of all a near-term visit to his own house somewhere during the high-point of of the KKK, where that bastard chases Denube with a gun before the effects wear off and he slides back to the twenty-first century.

Just because I love explaining this shit, Synchronic sends you back in time, not space. The user always appears in the same location but temporally anything possible. But another catch with this drug is that a small movement in location in your present is what sends you to different eras. Just Denube moving from one end of his couch to the other was the difference needed to switch from a conquistador chasing you with a sword to a Klan asshole chasing you with a pistol.

See, this is fun shit.

Well, things get serious when Dannelly's daughter, Brianna disappears. Yes, it involves Synchronic and because her pineal gland is fresh and young she somehow gets stuck in the time she traveled. This is one of the last things Denube learns from the drug's creator before he is mysteriously killed.

By this time Denube has either destroyed most of the Synchronic in his possession or used it in his experiments. A couple of pills remain and after convincing Dannelly he's not crazy by showing his video recordings of the experiments, Denube goes after Brianna to rescue her. I could spoil the ending, which is what I usually do but not this time.

I really enjoyed Synchronic and highly recommend it. I'm a big fan of Anthony Mackie, and his performance in this movie was great. After years of playing the superhero in Marvel movies, he comes across as a sad but normal guy who goes the extra mile for his friend. As for his costar, Jamie Dornan, playing Dannelly I can't say such good things. To have such a young adult daughter as Brianna, he simply look old enough for that to be plausible. But I feel even his acting was under cooked, probably, like he's just on set to collect another check after the Fifty Shades disaster hurt his career.

Once again, watch this movie, it takes time to be pulled in but it's worth the effort.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Random Brain Droppings


Late Saturday and early Sunday are the best times for me to write. That is until we have a bit of an emergency here at the house like we did last Sunday morning. Long story short, neither my wife nor I had heard from our daughter up in Clemson since last Thursday. Being out of contact with our daughter for a couple of days is no big deal, she's busy studying or doing other college stuff. But by Sunday morning with no answer from our texts and our calls being sent straight to voice mail we were getting worried, if not scared.

No worries, my wife and I found out while we were on the way up to Clemson that our daughter had lost her cell phone that Thursday. We learned this after the on-call person at the dorm went to her room and knocked on the door two different times. After knocking at the door for the second time our daughter finally woke up to explain the situation with her phone and that her friends only talk to their parents like “once every week or so.”

Since we were already speeding up to Clemson, my wife, the custodian and master of the family cell phones, did what needed to be done to get her a replacement. So the really great story I started writing Saturday afternoon died a slow death of forgotten ideas and plot points. So instead here's some random brain droppings to make up for it.

Random Dropping One

Several days ago I caught a McDonalds commercial on the radio as I was driving home. This commercial was geared towards African-Americans the way McDonalds often does with hip hop music in the background and voice actors with noticeable accents so you understand they don't come from some upper middle class white neighborhood.

The narrator of the commercial went on to say in a happy and jovial voice something about how when you're driving from your second job to your side hustle you need something quick and good to eat. That you need to be in and out quick so you can have a few minutes to relax.

First of all having a second job means you have a first job that takes up a good part of your day. I know LOTS of people that have second jobs because their first job doesn't pay enough to make ends meet. These honest and hardworking folks don't work that second job because it's fun or they need something to take up all their free time. For one of the two-job working people I know a vacation to her is having an entire Saturday and Sunday at home being left alone.

Rich and well off folks really need to develop some sort of empathy because at some point the overworked and underpaid masses are going to lose their patience and come after them.

Random Dropping Two

Directly related to first dropping, I've heard numerous employers bitching on the business channels that they can't get anyone to apply for the jobs they offer. That many of these jobless folks would rather just sit at home and draw unemployment.

Finally a few people are replying to these asshole captains of industry that they need to pay enough where a person would make more working for them than sitting home on unemployment.

Random Dropping Three

Jim Caviezel is a superbly talented actor who has been in numerous hit movies and successful television series. He is also a conservative Christian who has been vocal about how his beliefs don't mix with the majority of people in Hollywood.

I can respect his views and actually understand to a certain point. I'm an extreme liberal bordering on Sanders/AOC progressive living in a heavily red state. I have to daily keep my mouth shut and do my best to live among people who I consider borderline fascists. It sucks hind tit but, as far as I am concerned, there is no point to whine about it.

What I'm saying is that I never cared what political or religious views Caviezel held. He's a great actor and I would readily watch anything he might appear. That is until now, to put it bluntly the dude has lost all his marbles.

Caviezel recently appeared at a conspiracy convention and told folks that he not only believes crazy shit about vaccines and the Covid Pandemic, but goes even further out into crazy land. He believes babies are being kidnapped and tortured to death so the “Elites” can harvest some sort of compound from their innocent blood.

Final Brain Dropping

For a long time I've wanted to write something meaningful about George Floyd and all the other victims of police violence but I find myself unable. There is no outrage I could write that better, more articulate people haven't already put to a page. There is no other way to say it but that African-Americans are being hunted in this country, both by racist civilians and especially by cops who can somehow peacefully apprehend gun-totting white folks but shoot black people on sight.

Back in 2015 a piece of South Carolina shit by the name of Dylann Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston and killed nine people in cold blood. A virulent racist, he wanted to start a race war here in the United States. I'll be damned but there seems to be a lot of people like him doing their to make such a war happen.

Side note, after being arrested shit bird Dylann Roof whined about being hungry and the cops taking him back to South Carolina pulled into a Burger King and bought him a Whopper. Motherfucker kills nine people and gets feed. George Floyd just passed a fake twenty-dollar bill and got a knee on his neck for over nine minutes.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Trolley Dilemma-- My View


Here's the situation, you are on a nature trail walking next a trolley track minding you own business. Out of what seems nowhere, you see the local dastardly villain running off and disappearing into the nearby woods. You hear the villain laughing and see him twirling his heavily waxed mustache as he runs off and instantly know he was up to his usual evil schemes.

So you run ahead to find five people tied to the main trolley track and one person tied to a secondary track that branched off a little further down and then runs parallel to it. All six of these people are tied down to the tracks with strong chains and heavy padlocks. Alone and without any tools, you simply have no way to set them free.

Things immediately get worse when you see a speeding, unmanned trolley heading down the tracks about a minute away from running over the five individuals tied down on the main track. There is simply no way around it, five people will die horrible deaths when the trolley runs over them.

But wait, there is a lever where the secondary track branches off that would send the trolley down that alternate track. You can save the five people tied together but condemn the one person on the secondary track to death.

Feeling the weight of the decision you have to make bearing down on your shoulders you run up to the lever. Do you save five people by sending the trolley down the secondary track but assure the death of one innocent victim? Are do you let the trolley continue and have it kill the five allowing the lone person on the other track to live?

Which is the more ethical choice?

This moral philosophy problem was reintroduced to me recently by one of the podcasts I listen to while on the way to work and going home from. Even though it is an unrealistic problem I, of course, was drawn back into the workings of this dilemma.

Just from the information I've given of six random individuals tied down to trolley tracks my instincts tell me to throw the lever and save the five at the expense of the one. On the outset that makes my moral philosophy Utilitarian in nature in that I want to maximize happiness and well-being for the most people. So in this case I'm a hero to the five people tied together because I condemned one innocent person to death.

It's insanely easy even for me to see how this way of thinking could lead to monstrous crimes against humanity if taken to an extreme level. For example let's say cops in a city start playing a kinder, gentler versions of Gestapo tactics in a black neighborhood to prevent the people living there from going into a nearby white subdivision.

I have no doubt that many of the white subdivision residents could happily justify such actions because it would, in their minds, lessen the crime rate. To hell with the ideas of being a free country of individual rights and human dignity, the average paranoid white resident would think. He doesn't want any strange looking, undesirable types walking through his subdivision. He and his neighbors have families and property values to protect.

Getting back to the Trolley Dilemma, I can see, but not agree, with the viewpoint that making any life or death decision on the part of the people tied to the tracks makes the person at the lever morally culpable. The person at the lever has been forced into a nightmare scenario where there is no real moral choice. Given the situation, someone will die it's just the degree of death that's in question. No, the person at the lever would not save anyone by throwing themselves on the track ahead of the unmanned trolley.

From what little research I've done, the variations on the Trolley Dilemma run straight into the absurd. A good number revolve around the group of five being strangers while the person tied to the secondary track being the free individual's child or spouse.

You might be surprised to know one of my biggest issues with the Trolley Dilemma is that our society makes similar decisions constantly. Oh, we cover them up in deep, detached layers of responsibility but we're always making decisions that affect the lives of others.

The easiest one off the top of my head is how Americans love bargains. We flock in mass to places like Walmart because of the low prices allowing the customer to save money. The connection to the Trolley Dilemma is that Walmart and others buys most of their products overseas. This practice destroyed millions of manufacturing jobs in America degrading the living standards of the workers. Walmart loving Joe and and Janet Blow may have a great large screen television for an insanely cheap price. But the factory where their parents may have worked building Magnavox televisions decades ago is now a decaying, empty ruin.

So whats my answer to the Trolley Dilemma? For the five people tied to the track, I'd have to save them at the expense of the one. But for the other, more abstract versions that occur, I don't have a clue.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Cardiac Status Update- Cardioversion Fun


Two weeks ago the messaging service for my cardiologist left a voice mail on my phone saying they needed to talk with me. That at my earliest convenience they would like to setup a video chat between me and their boss. This messenger had a cheery voice that did not convey any urgency nor the reason my cardiologist might need to talk with me. In fact, it was heavily implied that the purposed of the video chat with just a routine followup concerning my chronic heart condition.

The best description for the messenger tone of voice would be something akin to the pleasant, laid back way a commercial airline pilot gently tells passenger and crew to return to their seats and buckle up during mid-flight. That the air ahead is going to get a little choppy and that an ounce or prevention is worth a pound or cure.

I've never been scared of flying, but I've sat next people on planes who heard the captain utter those same words and instantly turned a bleached white filled with existential dread.

Got to admit, I can relate to that sense of impending doom.

As I reported in my last post, I have a chronic heart condition that is genetically based. One little gene in my genome mutated essentially making my heart a biological time bomb. Long complicated story short, this mutation prevents my heart cells from properly making a protein which for me means my ticker can develop an electrical short circuit sending it racing uncontrollably. It that wasn't bad enough, it also means that in the long-term I have to deal with it wearing out due to cardiomyopathy.

Now in many ways I am lucky, my ailment, the LMNA mutation, was only identified in the late 1990s. At least now I can receive treatment in the form of medicine and my Cardiac Resynchronization Device which acts as both a defibrillator if I get in trouble and a pacemaker. Side note, having my CRT does officially make me a cyborg and when you throw in my mutation, I'm over halfway to being a comic book hero or villain. All I need now is some exposure to a metaphysical or mystical energy to push me over the edge.

Honestly, dealing with question of being either a hero or villain I'm leaning towards the latter these days.

Getting back to that video chat, when my doctor and I finally got around to it I was informed that my heart had slipped into an atrial fibrillation rhythm. And that he wanted to do a cardioversion to try and get it back into rhythm.

He played the pleasant, laid back doctor saying it was no big deal but I should still get it done relatively soon. This is where the existential dread enters my head and makes itself comfortable like some rich bastard taking up residence in a Manhattan luxury condo. Nothing concerning my condition has ever been easy nor normal. I would have loved for my heart issues to have been a “simple” heart attack where I get my pipes cleared out, been forced into a mandatory super-healthy diet, along with stern talks about losing weight.

But no, I got a mutation that can literally cause individuals anywhere between their late-teens and forty to suddenly drop dead. Yes, if you make it past your forties a person moves into the territory I now reside.

So with no other option in the matter my doc and I scheduled the cardioversion for last Thursday.

Thursday morning comes and my wife and I drive to the hospital for my procedure. I report to one of the administrative desk jockeys who quickly ushers me up to cardiac holding. I am told to strip down to my birthday suit, put on the gown, and to lay down on a stretcher and cover up. Luckily, the desk jockey remembered to pull the exam curtain closed around me before leaving.

This is when the waiting begins. Due to covid, my wife was escorted to the family waiting area where she had access to the morning snack bar. Even with the pandemic raging the family waiting snack bar was a borderline breakfast buffet. The two compromises with Covid-19 being that everything is prepackaged and the closure of the self-serve waffle maker.

I in turn wouldn't be allowed to eat until after the procedure. And with my wife required to drive after we leave the hospital, we were sure to hit one of her favorite eateries that served English teas and finger sandwiches. So in frustration I laid on the stretcher and played with my phone listening to everyone passing by. Just for shits and giggles I cued up Highway to Hell by AC/DC on my phone and let it play at full volume.

I work at that particular hospital so I wasn't really worried about any possible bad reaction to my music. Several people passing by did stick their heads into my area with one being a truly gorgeous blonde nurse who shook her booty at me for a couple of seconds before leaving. No, I had never seen the woman before and I regularly go through that area during my normal duties.

Within an hour my stretcher and me were wheeled into a nearby procedure room. It was there that I learned a different cardiologist would perform the cardioversion. My usual heart doctor was in another area turning another patient into a cardio-cyborg. The one disturbing feature of this new doc was his age, or lack of it. This guy looked so young shaving to him would be a semi-annual event.

The new doc informed me that before we could begin all the hair on my chest had to be shaved. No problem, but I would be lying if I didn't say I had a sudden fantasy of that beautiful blonde nurse returning to take care of that chore.

No luck, it was an old male nurse with a stern, Germanic disposition who seemed immune to the idea of smiling. The last step before we got down to the shocking business of giving my heart an attitude adjustment was them placing two huge conducting pads on me. One went on the front of my chest and the other on the back, trailing from both were cables that connected to the medical version of “Old Sparky.”

With cables connected and everyone in the procedure room getting ready to begin I suddenly got nervous about one crucial element.

“You guys going to knock me out right.” I said looking around at them suddenly wondering if this might be the reason my usual doctor was busy. Let the young, new doctor deal with the patient flopping around like a caught fish.

It was then that the Germanic dude actually smiled and began hooking up my IV which would supply the sleepy juice. Must admit I didn't appreciate their attempt at humor.