Monday, January 30, 2017

The Immigration Ban: Round 1

I’m going to break down the facts around the recent immigration ban executive order as succinctly as I can.  For the context of my bias, I am not a Trump supporter, don’t believe that we have a “Muslim problem,” and I am generally pro-immigration and refugee.  I’m also highly invested in the proper and due process of the law but my personal views are based on my moral judgement more than political allegiance.

First, it is correct that the president was given the authority to exclude “any class of aliens” found to be a threat (1952, 8 U.S. Code § 1182 - Inadmissible aliens).  However, that law was curtailed in 1965 (8 U.S. Code § 1152 - Numerical limitations on individual foreign states ) when Congress prevented discrimination based on race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or residence.  These laws refer to immigrants, which means permanent residents (Green Card Holders) and not visas.  So, in regards to visas, Trump is correct that he has significant control over the issuance of those documents.  However, this should not affect green card holders, and this is where my first sense of shock and anger came from. 

The administration, it should be stated, was quite unclear on this provision of the order, and this is the real problem I see with the order.  I find the order to be morally and rationally abhorrent, even though I recognize there are some very serious ramifications to the immigrant/refugee situation in Europe.  However, the order was simply ill conceived, written without understanding of legal and practical application, and does not appear to have been the result of a reasoned discussion by the kind of advisers a president needs to have.  This is evident based on the refusal to re-allow entry to resident aliens. 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initially said that it would not allow entry to resident aliens from the affected countries, and in fact sent two Yemeni resident aliens to Ethiopia after forcing them to relinquish their green cards or be denied entry to the US for five years.  They are now being held in Egypt in the airport and Egypt is holding their passports, so they cannot even return to Yemen.  Meanwhile, Reince Priebus (White House Chief of Staff), is saying that the order is not supposed to affect green card holders “moving forward” but then immediately changes his mind and says that of course, If you're traveling back and forth, you're going to be subjected to further screening." Look, I am not opposed to tightening security in a logical fashion.  If you have real reason to suspect that the person going back and forth is involved in something, check it out.  My argument here is that merely traveling to Libya does not constitute a clear and present danger. 
I’m not going to get into the legal battles involving the ACLU, federal judges, standing to bring suit, etc.  That is, in many ways, a different issue.  It may be the part of the eventual solution, but it is not related to my point here.   That point being that this order seems to have not been floated by anyone at the DHS, State Department, or the Department of Justice.  No one looked at the practical implementation of the plan.  In fact, it seems that the “Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, the agencies tasked with carrying out the policy, were only given a briefing call while Trump was actually signing the order itself.”   This should have been accompanied by a legitimate policy memorandum for the officers to implement. 

On the surface, it really doesn’t sound that bad.  It is a suspension of visas from a list of countries deemed dangerous for a limited time for “extreme vetting” to be implemented.  Yet, as we see, the order goes much further than that.  I am not personally sure that it is a “thinly disguised” attempt to ban a religion, because as many have pointed out, it does not ban Saudi Arabia or Turkey or the other 41 majority Muslim countries in the world.  I understand that assumption, but I am not convinced.  My personal theory is that this executive order is done with the intention of giving his base exactly what they asked for.  There is a portion of the country terrified of terrorism and that hate Muslims.  They voted for Trump.  NOTE: I am not saying that this is the norm or even the common attitude of Trump voters.  I am preemptively burning that straw man down.  The fact is, Trump promised he would do this, and he is doing it, and the ultimate goal might not even have to do with immigration.  This, to me, looks like a decision made by a CEO who got the job in a hostile takeover.  He is giving “the shareholders” exactly what they want, and gets to see who complies with the order and who bucks him.  In a business, it is just money, maybe some confusion, but no one gets hurt really.  In a country, as the president, the ramifications might be quite a bit higher.    

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Illuminating the Hidden: The Socio-Economic Impact of Invisible Work

The United States has always had a complicated relationship with immigrants. The nation’s expansion and economic power are due in large part to constant streams of immigrants, both legal and illegal, yet there is a tendency for Americans to blame the newcomers for economic and social woes. Much of the United States’ early economy was dependent on cheap labor, in particular, the forcibly immigrated African slaves. When slavery became prohibited, many slaves found themselves in similar conditions as sharecroppers; still providing the economically advantaged with cheap labor. When the United States began its westward expansion, many blacks were hired to work the railways and were joined by Irish and Chinese immigrants, who were considered to be nearly as undesirable as blacks. They were paid less than American workers, lived apart from other Americans, and were hired to do the menial and difficult work that Americans preferred to avoid. In the 20th century, due to employment and work condition reform, most Americans found themselves able to work forty hour work weeks, in safe conditions, receiving a guaranteed minimum wage. Not so for immigrant workers, who often worked in sectors which were not regulated, such as agriculture and meatpacking. The 20th century, especially after World War II, also saw a rise in domestic service among the middle and upper class. These workers were often women of color. The common thread through these immigrant workers, from slaves to illegal Latino immigrants, is that they have contributed significantly to the American economy by doing work that most will not do, and that many do not think about or acknowledge – they do invisible work. Janitors, maids, and landscapers perform their duties surrounded by people who speak and act as if they are not present. Like the Untouchables of the Hindi caste system, illegal immigrants perform the invisible work needed by society. They do so because it is the best opportunity they can attain and they are rewarded for their contributions with discrimination and exploitation.

Describing the work done by illegal immigrants as invisible work is a recent phenomenon. Devault explains that the concept of invisible work originated in the 1970s as a means of “bringing women’s work more fully into view,” as part of an “era of interrelated ‘social justice projects’ that have continued to percolate since then” (2014:777). Recently, the term has expanded and now applies to much of the work that people of color perform as well as the work of the illegal immigrant. The term has two-fold meaning for illegal immigrants who perform traditionally invisible servile work, but are also invisible in their more skilled employment since they must do their legitimate work illegally. Sociologists study invisible work as it pertains to the efforts taken to “achieve and maintain full membership in the society” in which they operate (Devault 2014: 777). Illegal immigrants perform these duties because it is the only option they have to provide for their families and potentially operate as an equal in America.

Some academics prefer to call the invisible work done by immigrants “brown collar” because undocumented workers “cluster into low-wage, low-level service industries such as landscaping, farm work, and painting” (Hipolito 2010:68). Illegal immigrants may also be found in the service industry as domestic staff, where they fulfill the same invisible work that women of color often perform. Undocumented workers also work in more skilled capacities such as mechanics and construction workers but do so as an open secret, hidden as contractors and day laborers.

This skilled work done by illegal immigrants is part of an informal economy which is described by Webb, et al, as “the set of illegal yet legitimate activities through which actors recognize and exploit activities” (2009:492). A primary of example of this is in construction where an entrepreneur utilizes undocumented workers (an illegal means) to “produce legal, legitimate products” such as homes and commercial buildings (Webb et. al, 2009:496). The benefit to the entrepreneur is that undocumented workers “provide services similar to those of documented workers, they may be willing to accept lower wages and work without benefits” (Webb et. al, 2009:496). The benefit to the consumer is a reduced cost in their product which allows for greater purchasing power or reduced overhead. This scenario is not rare or isolated, it is estimated that the informal economy accounts for “approximately 17 percent of gross domestic product in developed countries” (Webb et. al, 2009:493).

In the United States, much of the informal economy is reliant on the existence of illegal immigrants who are willing to “hold positions in the labor force that U.S. citizens are unwilling to do, despite high levels of unemployment” (Furman et al 2012:1). Some industries are particularly reliant upon this illegal labor force. Much of the agricultural, construction, and meatpacking work done in this country is performed by “day and migrant labor” (Furman et. al, 2012:1). The work that undocumented workers perform is often physically demanding and dangerous, “with one in five suffering a work-related injury and more than half not receiving medical care for the injury” (Furman et al 2012:5). The conditions of their employment are equally disadvantageous, with many experiencing “wage theft, and almost 50 percent of [surveyed undocumented workers] stated that they had been denied access to water or bathroom breaks while on the job” (Furman et al 2012:5). These workers have little recourse against such basic violations of workplace ethics since they cannot rely on the law to protect them for fear of arrest and deportation, and are unlikely to remediate their situation by finding other employment because the practice is widespread.

Businesses do not passively wait for illegal immigrants to apply for work. Employers intentionally recruit and assemble brown collar work forces because undocumented workers are vulnerable and “more likely to be subservient than native citizens” (Hipolito 2010:74). Since these undocumented workers fear deportation they are “beholden to the employer” (Hipolito 2010:68) and lack the bargaining power to receive just compensation or address working conditions. Employers who hire undocumented workers often “subject these immigrant to employment violations and reduced wages, which ultimately degrades the job for documented workers as well” (Hipolito 2010:68). This allows the employer to produce a product or sell a service at lower costs than competitors “who do not engage in similar exploitation” (Hipolito 2010:68). Thus, employers are well served by hiring illegal immigrants because the reduced cost of labor, benefits, and basic employee rights lowers costs overall and increases profit. While the employers knowingly and willingly defy immigration law, just as the immigrant does, they are not equally punished for their transgressions. Congress and the courts effectively ignore “ignore that many employers intentionally hire undocumented immigrants to exploit their vulnerabilities stemming from their immigration status” and “focus on the undocumented worker” (Hipolito 2010:73). The fines for hiring illegal immigrants do not negate the cost benefit of hiring them in the first place, so that even when punished, most employers merely continue to conduct business. The undocumented worker, however, faces imprisonment, deportation, loss of wages, and all of the consequences thereof.

The benefits of a subservient and low paid workforce applies to all sectors of the economy, even the highly profitable tech sector. While prominent Silicon Valley companies report record profits and share that wealth with their employees, they do so in part by contracting many of their operational services to companies that overwhelmingly hire illegal immigrants and African Americans. These contractors directly contribute to the corporate climate and functionality of these tech firms by working as “janitors, security guards, shuttle drivers, landscape workers, cafeteria workers” and other positions which endure “low wages and insecure working conditions” (Benner & Neering 2016:3). Benner and Neering admit that studying this invisible workforce is difficult, “given the lack of direct data on the nature of employment contracts,” but have utilized indirect methodology to estimate “a good picture of the demographic characteristics, wages, and socio-economic circumstances of this population” (2016:3). There is an estimated “19,000-39,000 people in low and medium wage occupations who contract directly with high-tech firms in the valley,” who work not only in service and blue-collar occupations, but include many white-collar occupations as well such as “secretaries, sales representatives, couriers and messengers,” and are “disproportionately people of color” who are paid less than 70% of what “comparable direct-hire employees of high tech firms earn” (Benner & Neering 2016:3). This disparity in pay results in approximately 18% of these workers earning “below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level – despite working an average of 39 hours a week” (Benner & Neering 2016:6). Due in part to the high cost of living in Silicon Valley, these contract workers face “substantially worse socio-economic conditions and housing circumstances along a wide-range of measures, including ability to own versus rent, levels of over-crowding, dependence on public assistance, access to health insurance, and overall poverty levels” (Benner & Neering 2016:16). The average rent for a two bedroom unit in the area is $2,813 dollars, which leaves workers in low paid jobs “only a few hundred dollars left after paying rent, forcing difficult choices between stable housing and food, transportation, medical expenses or child care” (Working Partnership USA 2016:7). Silicon Valley tech firms achieve great financial success in part due to the underpaid contributions of these contracted employees which places them in situations where the taxpayer must bear the burden of feeding and housing them, essentially subsidizing these very profitable firms by providing the barest essential support for an invisible workforce.

Despite the contributions that illegal immigrants provide to the companies that hire them, and as a consequence the contributions to the economy as a whole, approximately half of Americans are “greatly concerned about illegal immigration, and their concern has escalated since 2001” (Diaz et al. 2011:303). While a majority of Americans believe that undocumented workers are hard workers and contribute economically, they fear the costs incurred through the “use of public resources by immigrants, such as educational and medical services, as well as how immigrants drive wages down for many citizens” (Diaz et al. 2011:303). This worry is coupled with a preconception that the United States is being flooded with immigrants when in actuality the “number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has stabilized over the past few years, due in part to greater enforcement of immigration laws but mostly to the slowdown in the U.S. economy” (Furman et al 2012: 2). These concerns often manifest in hostile nativist exclusionary sentiments directed at immigrants.

These sentiments have led to increasingly hostile legal and social policy towards illegal immigrants. These policies are based on rhetoric which constructs two opposing groups, the hardworking “hardworking ‘taxpayers/citizens’ who were being unfairly burdened by government versus ‘freeloading’ immigrants who entered the country in search of free education, health care, housing, and food stamp benefits” (Fernandez 2010:108). This rhetoric describes “immigration as a redistributive policy that was unjustly taking away taxpayer’s privileges and rights as citizens and sharing them with foreigners who had not earned them” which ignores evidence to the contrary, that “legal and illegal immigrants are in fact also ‘taxpayers’—contributing income, social security, property, and sales taxes to the nation” (Fernandez 2010:108). These sentiments are not unusual in the history of the United States. Immigrants as a whole, and illegal immigrants in particular since the 1980s, have long been targets for displaced anger during economic crisis. The United States has a long history of xenophobic reactions to “the influx of immigrants from various cultural backgrounds” that has created social policy which seeks to protect American cultural values and citizen’s economic status (Diaz, et al 2011:301). Historically, critics of lax immigration policy posit that illegal immigrants steal jobs from Americans while simultaneously burdening the educational, welfare, and health systems, and often consider “a large number of illegal immigrants to pose a threat to the society’s basic structure and safety” (Diaz, et al 2011:302). This mirrors the concern and discriminatory practices that have accompanied every prior influx of immigrants to these shores. Whether those unwanted immigrants were Irish, Italian, Polish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or Mexican, they have contributed to the diversity and economic prowess of the United States, “which has contributed to the nation as a whole from colonial times to the current day” (Diaz, et al 2011:303).

Regardless of their merits, these sentiments and rhetoric have resulted in subsequently stricter immigration laws in many states, including Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia. These laws have resulted in unintended consequences to the agricultural sectors of Alabama and Georgia. Both states are now experiencing “significant labor shortages and [these states] have expressed concern over their inability to plant and harvest crops” (Furman, 2012:4). This supports the implication that immigrant workers contribute to the economic well-being of states reliant on agriculture by performing jobs that many Americans would prefer not to do. The Georgia Department of Labor reports a 5.4% unemployment rate (Butler 2016), while the Alabama Labor Department reports a 6.2% unemployment rate (Labor Market Division 2016), both of which are higher than the national average of 4.9% (Butler 2016).

Currently, U.S. immigration law and employment law do not function in tandem. A company that employs illegal immigrants may is willingly breaking the law but they only face fines from immigration violations. The United States prioritizes “immigration violations at the expense of employment remedies” (Hipolito 2010:68). The crimes committed against the undocumented worker, for instance wage theft or overtime violations, are not repaid. Employment law is effectively irrelevant in the case of undocumented workers, which means that in many cases, even with fines, it is still financially beneficial to hire illegal immigrants. This creates a demand for illegal workers which is continually filled by new immigrants who are subsequently punished for providing the labor our legal system encourages. If employment rights were protected equally, it would encourage an equalization of labor costs of documented and undocumented workers, resulting in employers having “less incentive to hire undocumented worker, and thus there would be less demand for undocumented workers overall” (Hipolito 2010:69).

Current American politics is inundated with rhetoric which portrays illegal immigrants as job stealing parasites who are overrunning the country with anchor babies. The first part of that accusation seems hollow in light of the effects of curtailing illegal immigration in states such as Alabama and Georgia. Even in immigrant friendly states such as California, illegal immigrants perform backbreaking physical labor such as picking grapes manually, or serve in invisible underpaid contract jobs for the tech sector, jobs that the majority of Americans evidently would prefer not to do, from the vast number of minorities represented in their number. The second part of the accusation, that they are parasites, is a direct consequence of lax labor laws in regards to immigrants and the ability of employers to leverage that into reduced costs which are then transferred to the taxpayer, which by extension, includes illegal immigrants. While immigrants are likely to be paid low enough to not pay income taxes, they do still consume products which contributes to the overall tax revenue of their state. The welfare costs associated with illegal immigrants is a result of employers leveraging their legal status to their benefit. The third accusation, that illegal immigrants are overrunning the country is unlikely and the result of racial and cultural stereotyping. The rate of illegal immigration has stabilized for the past decade, and despite former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s claim that “immigrants are more fertile” the birth rate has “declined more than twice as much for immigrants as natives between 2008 and 2013” (Camarota & Zeigler 2015:1). While technically, Jeb Bush was correct, “immigrant fertility has only a small impact on the nation’s over­all birth rate” and raises “the birth rate for all women in their reproductive years by 4% percent” (Camarota & Zeigler 2015:1). This potential increase is mitigated by the reduced Total Fertility Rate (the total number of expected children) which has declined for immigrants more rapidly than for natives and if trends continue will drop below the “level necessary to replace the existing population” of immigrants (Camarota & Zeigler 2015:1). The rhetoric aimed at illegal immigrants focuses on negative societal effects which are either incorrect, such as stealing jobs, the result of lax employment law, such as taxpayer cost, or based on racial stereotyping and without consequence.

If it is beneficial for the United States to curtail illegal immigration, it is necessary to create and enforce laws which prevent employers from profiting from illegal immigration. The results of such laws have potentially steep costs to the economy, as seen in Georgia and Alabama. It is likely that more economically powerful employers, such as Silicon Valley tech sector firms, would be able to withstand the increased costs of such potential laws, but it would result in significant changes to the industry and its profits, which would affect their direct hire employees and stockholders. If, on the contrary, it is beneficial for the United States to embrace illegal immigrants, then it may become necessary to dispense with the concept of illegal immigration and grant them a legal status which protects them from abuse, which as a consequence will increase the costs associated with hiring them. This may result in higher wages for low-skilled natives but it may also result in a reduction in workforce, just as minimum wage hikes result in increased automation and reduced staff. Regardless of what policy changes occur, it is clear that the invisible work done by illegal immigrants is an essential part of the United States economy yet they are held in contempt by many Americans. Politicians gain influence by speaking against illegal immigrants while simultaneously receiving campaign contributions from companies who benefit from their labor. The economic, political, and social benefits and costs of illegal immigration form a complex equation unlikely to be solved by blunt application of political force.


Benner, Chris and Kyle Neering. 2016. “Silicon Valley Technology Industries Contract Workforce Assessment.” Everett Program: Digital Tools for Social Innovation 1–34. Retrieved ( workforce-assessment.pdf).

Butler, Mark, ed. n.d. “Georgia Department Of Labor.” Georgia Department of Labor. Retrieved April 6, 2016 (

Diaz, Priscila, Delia S. Saenz, and Virginia S. y. Kwan. 2011. “Economic Dynamics And Changes in Attitudes Toward Undocumented Mexican Immigrants in Arizona.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 11(1):300–313.

Devault, Marjorie L. 2014. “Mapping Invisible Work: Conceptual Tools For Social Justice Projects.” Sociol Forum Sociological Forum 29(4):775–90.

Fernandez, Lilia. 2010. “Deconstructing Immigration Discourse.” Journal of American Ethnic History 30(1):107–11.

Furman, R., A. R. Ackerman, and N. J. Negi. 2012. “Undocumented Latino Immigrant Men in the United States: Policy and Practice Considerations.” International Social Work 55(6):816–22.

Hipolito, Joey. 2010. “Learning From RICO: Immigration Enforcement Through Employer Accountability.” Berkely La Raza Law Journal 20:67–88.

Labor Market Information Division, ed. 2016. “ALABAMA UNEMPLOYMENT RATE AND NUMBER UNEMPLOYED.” Alabama Department of Labor. Retrieved April 6, 2016 (

Webb, J. W., L. Tihanyi, R. D. Ireland, and D. G. Sirmon. 2009. “You Say Illegal, I Say Legitimate: Entrepreneurship In the Informal Economy.” Academy of Management Review 34(3):492–510.

Working Partnership U. SA. 2016. “Tech's Invisible Workforce.” Silicon Valley Rising. Retrieved April 6, 2016 (

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Land Raider Part 1

This model was bought almost a decade ago and has been rattling around for nearly as long close to finished.  It suffered from inexperience and a bad can of Citadel primer.  As a result, the original paint job was super heavy, rough, and had these scale like blemishes from the primer.  Basically, the primer clumped and left a powdery residue, and the GW store manager said that it was normal and just paint as I normally would over it.  This was obviously not correct.  Regardless, I painted up the model and I was never happy with it.  Years later I tried to strip it and start over, but the primer was so thick it would not come off.  I ended up using some fine grit sanding paper to smooth it out as best I could.  Rather than give up entirely I decided to make the tank look ancient and battle worn.  I also added some of the many, many (so, so many) Dark Angels icons and such that I got from a Ravenwing Battle force, that were not available when I first bought this tank. The remaining pebbling gave the tank a worn look, and I used the new Eldar Flesh dry brush medium to give it a dusty look to match the natural wear.

Thematically, my Dark Angels are fully engaged in the legion building the High Lords of Terra fear they are, and this command tank actually recalls their status as the first Legion Astartes openly.  I might be adding a few more bits to it here and there.  You can see that it is missing a sensor on one of the sponsons and a smoke grenade launcher on the front headlight flaring.  I'll be replacing those or adding another icon and a headlight, at the least.  I may add a sensor suite or a communications dish up top on the spare (unopenable hatch).

Certainly the next step is to add some weathering powder to the tracks and the lower portion of the tank, as well as adding a little more soot and weathering to the exhaust vents and hinges.  I just bought my first Tamiya weathering kit and am looking forward to playing around with those.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

31 Chill 2013: The Innkeepers

Genre: Ghost Story, low gore, moderately spooky.
Gore - Nonexistant
Spookiness - Moderate
Acting - Decent to Good
Plot - Simple but fun
Overall - Worthwhile

The Innkeepers is available on Netflix streaming and is well worth your time.  Ti West is has become one my favorite horror directors with his understated, almost retro style and simply crafted spookiness.  The plot is quite basic.  The Yankee Pedlar Inn is closing down and only two employees and a few guests remain before it closes its doors forever.  These employees are attempting to prove the existence of the hotel's infamous ghost, Madeline O'Malley before they lose their chance.  The basic elements of this film could easily be told around a camp fire or by late night employees of a hotel.  It's simple but effective.  The great thing about this movie is that it is not ambitious and Ti West recognizes that showing too much of the ghost ruins the film. Sara Paxton leads the film as a awkward college drop out whose life is on hold and is a little too obsessed with a long dead woman.  She does a good job playing down her looks and pulls of her own confidence well.  The rest of the cast is basically proficient with the exception of Kelly McGillis who plays a down and out actress who now works as a medium.  Her work is excellent and a worthy addition to her long resume.

Despite being rated R, I would feel comfortable with older kids watching this movie.  The rating comes from some coarse language but there is almost no violence and no sex.  It is creepy and has a powerful conclusion, but is a straight up jump-scene driven atmospheric horror movie.  I saw much worse as a kid and I turned out fine.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Pacific Rim - Initial Review

Score 9/10

Plot 7/10
Cinematography 10/10
Characterization 7/10
Design 10/10
Special Effects 10/10
Sound and Music 10/10
Action 10/10

I’ve been a fan of Guillermo del Toro since Mimic, and in all that time he has only disappointed me one time, The Guardians.  Pacific Rim is not his best movie but it is fine addition to his resume and adventure film making overall.  Over his career del Toro has made dark fairy tales, ghost stories, children’s movies, supernatural adventures and science fiction horror.  His imagination goes to dark places but his heroes are not brooding protagonists bemoaning the horrors they face.  They are larger than life, vivacious, determined stalwarts.  Alright maybe Liz Sherman broods just a tad.  Pacific Rim is not a war movie.  It isn’t even really a last stand movie.  Yes, it takes place in a war humanity is losing, and yes it is the last stand, but this movie does not dwell on the darkness but rather strides towards the light.  In this case, the lights of massive robot warriors and their nuclear powered weapons. 

This is a gorgeous and well realized movie.  It has a sort of stately grace to it, a monumental quality personified in the jaegers, but seen in the set design and in the stoic manliness of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba).   The Shatterdome, where much of the human action takes place is a utilitarian cathedral to big ass machines, with soaring vaults of steel, attended by droves of human workers all united in the cause of keeping these last few glorious machines in action.   The pilots are with few exceptions not truly characters but archetypes, big symbolic cults of personality intended to be immediately read and understood by the audience.  They aren’t just pilots they are elemental forces embodied in machines of steel and fire.  Everything is bigger than life.  This massiveness is matched by the raw ugliness of the kaiju, big ass freaky creatures whose designs are comfortably familiar to fans of anime and Japanese monster movies, but designed by the incomparable Wayne Barlowe.  They are toothy, multilimbed, tentacle tongued, nuclear powered monstrosities that have laid waste to much of the Earth and they are coming faster and faster.  The fights are the showcase of the movie and they are lit from sources like helicopters, street lights and the combatants themselves.  Cynically, I understand that this eases the burden of the special effects department but it also creates a sense of verisimilitude as if we were watching a real event.  These things move like giants.  They are not ultra-fast blurs of motion.  They are huge pondering engines of pain.  No shaky cam either.  Everything is filmed from a dynamic perspective but done without the conceit of a shaking camera to further distract the eye.  The camera is a participant in these fights, closing in and moving out for the most dramatic angle, and nothing moves so fast that we cannot follow the action.  If the giant robot thing really is a genre then Pacific Rim perfects that genre. 

Spoilers Below

There is an ever increasing threat level that serves as the heartbeat of the plot but the characters do not spend their time worrying about the end of the world.  They simply do what they have to do. This is not an introspective movie, it is an adventure.  If there is one complaint about the tone of the movie it is that I never truly felt worried for our hero.  I never doubted that there would be a heroic sacrifice and that he would win in the last moment.  The result was never in doubt.

I saw this in 3d and XD, and in both cases I was pleased.  The 3D is gorgeous and immersive with no overt getcha moments.  It created some fantastic depth of field effects and the particulate effects engaged the viewer.  The XD wide format really suited the action of the film and the better sound system really put you in the midst of explosions.  Speaking of sound, the music is really exciting and fist pumping for a score, much more rock and roll than most scores.  The end credits theme by RZA and Blake Perlman (daughter of Ron Perlman) is actually really good.  I thought it was some kind of crazy Tori Amos song when I first heard it.

If you don’t want to see a big adventure movie filled with big fights and manliness then do not watch this movie.  There is a lot of testosterone in this film.  Most of it coming from some very good looking dudes.  So good looking they almost overshadow the complicated partner/love interest/co-pilot/girl Friday played by the adorable Rinko Kikuchi.  For fans of the genre this girl is not Rei Ayaname.  She has some fire in her downplayed by her supposedly demure Japanese attitude and constantly broken by her frankness.  She is really fun on screen and brings up the performance of Charlie Hunnan.  Their relationship is a fairly complex thing for as little time is actually spent on it, created in large part by the movies secondary conceit, the Drift.  This exchange of memories that allows to people to pilot the jaegers creates an immediate bond which is why so many of these pilots are family.  Creating that bond between strangers will have consequences.
If you do want to see a movie where you can sit back and enjoy a spectacle without your intelligence being assaulted then this is the movie for you.  It’s fun.  It’s quirky.  It’s crazy over the top and hugely overwrought.  It’s also really damn pretty and never feels like dick and fart jokes are the only dialogue worth anything in the movie. 

There are mistakes in this movie.  For instance the scene where Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnan) is supposed to interview his co-pilot candidates just devolves into silliness.  Apparently the interview process is to fight with bo staffs until… Beckett loses?  This is never clear.  Instead we get a few minutes of him kicking the ass of various contenders until he cannot stand hearing Mako Mori’s (Kikuchi) little sniggers any longer and they fight.  This becomes flirting with staffs as they both get points on each other by the other not moving.  Then they finally decide to actually fight and it is a draw, both getting four points.  He tells her it is not a fight, it is about compatibility, yet the result is decided like a fight.  What should have happened was they should have been essentially danced, both whirling and fighting in a natural way where neither could score, proving their equal skill.  Most people won’t be bothered by this.  I just felt it was a missed opportunity.

Jaegers fight things from the ocean.  They fight in the ocean.  Yet no one’s plug suit is self-sustaining and pressurized.  Why? 

I thoroughly enjoyed this jmovie and it is rare that I have so few complaints in terms of plot and development.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Blake's 7 Dream Cast

There is going to be an American remake of Blake's 7.  I'm ambivalent on this, but if it is going to happen I can dream up my casting choices.

Roj Blake originally played by Gareth Thomas.  Blake is an idealist, but one who has not been blinded to practicalities.  He can be blunt and forceful, but he prefers charm and eloquence.  While he would prefer that his companions join him out of their own free will he is not afraid to convince them by less than honorable means.  Gareth Thomas played him as soft spoken and intelligent, which worked especially well for an engineer who only late in life became involved in a revolution.

Joshua Jackson is believable as both an engineer and an idealist, and has shown that he is capable of showing darker aspects as well.  While Roj Blake is no Peter Bishop, I think the part would do well for him.

I'm not sure Joshua Jackson would want to do another genre show so quickly after Fringe but I think if the show is going to succeed it will need a strong lead and someone with a little built in fan base can't hurt.

Kerr Avon is my favorite character from the show.  He is hyper intelligent, cold, arrogant, dismissive, and utterly without compunctions.  Despite these less than virtuous qualities he is also charming, disarming, and something of a ladies man.  Avon is the foremost expert on "computer psychology" and  artificial intelligence, as well as a hacker.  He is actually a criminal, the question is whether he was driven to it by a corrupt government and society?

Paul Darrow was amazing in the role, particularly because of his voice and the utter confidence he brought to part.  The actor should be attractive, but not necessarily in a traditional way.  He should be able to pull of both rage filled rants and cold calculating treatises on politics and technology, but most importantly he has to be able to play foil to Blake.  The man that initially comes to mind is Robert Knepper, but I think he is too old to play opposite Jackson, and has to pull of being manly with a feminine name.

Omar Epps would not be a normal casting choice for this part, but hear me out.  He has some genre credit with some horror movies and he held his own against Hugh Laurie in House.  He's intelligent, forceful, and can pull of some pimp looks.  Avon was a pimp.  Seriously.

Jenna Stannis is the ship's pilot and former smuggler, and in the previous show was described as a "superior grade citizen of the Federation."  She's basically Han Solo as a blonde woman.  She's no one's "girl", and is tough, smart, and capable.  She has morals, but is willing to kill to survive.  As a smuggler she was technically fighting against the unfair trade practices of the Federation, and of the criminals Blake meets might be one of the more idealistic.  Sally Knyvette portrayed her with grace and sensuality, but she was never reduced to just a pretty face.  Actually, many characters in the show made the mistake of underestimating her because of her looks.

My dream casting would be Anna Torv, and not just because she has good chemistry with Joshua Jackson.  In fact, one of the problems with this casting is an expectation that their characters should have a romantic relationship and this would not be productive in this case.  Blake's 7 was not about romance in space.  Anna Torv has everything the part needs and would make for an excellent female lead in a show.  I don't feel Jenna and Olivia have much in common, or Fauxlivia for that matter, and this would not be playing to that type.

Vila Restal is great.  He's a genius who uses his intellect purely for the sake of thievery.  He knows every security system invented and has beaten them all.  Despite his intelligence he is from a rather base background, and has never sought to be anything more than rich, while doing as little work as possible.  He is occasionally sniveling, but he's usually witty and cocky. Michael Keating gave him a soft voiced sarcasm that just rattled along while the "adults" talked.  He's opposed to being a hero, and his particular heroic journey might be the longest.  He is the comedic relief to some extent and should be played by someone who can play at being the fool and the surprisingly wise commentator, the chorus of this particular tragedy.

Arthur Darvill of Doctor Who fame would be ideal.  He can do funny and dead serious and has a look that can be goofy and effete, but can actually pull of being something of a badass.  He's a dynamic actor that can play up geek and sex symbol, has a mellow voice, is good at side commentary and is slight in proportion.  He's about perfect.

Servalan is the series primary villain.  She's complicated and I am not sure what will be done with her in this show.  Servalan is sexy, self centered, brilliant, ruthless, cruel, dogged, and a megalomaniac.  She pretty much has to be played by Morena Baccarin.

Olag Gan is a rough and tumble sort, at least he used to be.  He's a working class bloke with a penchant for violence. The Federation implanted a chip in him to keep him from killing anyone though.  He needs to be physically large and intimidating but he needs to have a softer side too.  Gan could be protective in the show and he is fairly loyal.  Mike Dopud has been in a ton of scifi shows playing this very sort of guy.  He's a big dude and has a background in sports, but he's played the tough sensitive type repeatedly.  He's a little better looking than David Jackson, but I don't think that is a problem.  My alternative pick for him is Pruitt Taylor Vince, which is a pretty big shift I know.

Cally is a rebel, violent and capable and a telepath.  She's also the only alien on the crew, though her species, Aurons, are quite similar to human.  The original designs had her with black contacts but this was dropped.  I think having her be a little less human looking would be great.  One of the only romantic relationships on the original show was between Cally and Avon, so it needs to be someone who can have good chemistry (or very unusual chemistry) with Omar Epps.  Alaina Huffman has an unusual look, especially her leonine mouth and super wide eyes.  She's also a long veteran of scifi shows and would look great in some prosthetic makeup.

Just for fun, I would like Zen to be voiced by John Nobel.  Because, that's why.