I Finally Saw Minions

MinionsAfter such a long time trying, I finally got around to seeing Minions. Of course, by that time, I had heard a lot of whispering that it wasn’t that great. And it wasn’t. That’s not to say that it wasn’t quite enjoyable. It just wasn’t up to the two Despicable Me films. It was written by Brian Lynch, who is basically a comic book writer. His main screen credit before was another film I wanted to love but which somehow missed, Puss in Boots. But let’s make no mistake here: the main problem is the script.

Minions is at times very funny. And as an adorer of these little yellow creatures, I was constantly entertained. But there was not enough of a plot to hang the movie on. The second act is incredibly episodic. Basically, the Minions find themselves living in the arctic because they have a very bad habit of destroying the evil people they work for. But their lives lack meaning, so Kevin, Stuart, and Bob set out in search of a new “boss.” That’s a fine setup. What’s more, given that it takes place in 1968, it sets up the introduction of the young Gru.

But the plot lacks much in the way of motivation, even with that very clear setup. I don’t especially like to second guess writers, but this one is prime for what I consider a modern 5-act structure: (1) the Minions set out on their journey; (2) they overcome many obstacles; (3) they arrive in civilization; (4) they find a new boss and things go terribly wrong; (5) it gets resolved. Now that is actually an outline of the film. But the structure isn’t there. Almost the entire film stays in act 4. That would have been fine, but it would have required a different structure — even a different story.

It would have required something else too: a better villain. Scarlet Overkill is one of the most boring villains ever. Even her big introduction was lame. I get that it — like the Despicable Me films — was making fun of corporate culture. And certainly business people make a big deal of the most banal celebrities. But that doesn’t work in a film. And it certainly doesn’t work here where we are expected to spend about an hour with this tedious character. Clearly, Lynch understood this because he created Herb Overkill — Scarlet’s husband and Q. Now he was interesting and well worth saving for later films.

In addition, Scarlet Overkill who is so furocious at the beginning turns out not to be much of a super-villain as she fights with the Minions. And in the end, little boy Gru seems to be a lot more together than he is four decades later. Mostly, it is all a mess. I’ll admit: a very creative mess, but a mess nonetheless. There is another big problem that was not Lynch’s fault. Scarlet Overkill was almost indistinguishable from Lucy Wilde in Despicable Me 2. And Herb Overkill was just a slight variation on Vector in Despicable Me.

As to the question of whether I will buy Minions when it comes out on DVD… Are you kidding?! Of course I will. They’re adorable! Not as adorable as Agnes, but very adorable nonetheless.

Whole Foods Ain’t That Great to Its Employees

Nicole AschoffWhole Foods workers are better off than many retail and fast food workers. Permanent, full-time employees earn considerably more than minimum wage, and both part-time and full-time workers receive health insurance: part-timers working at least twenty hours a week can buy full-cost coverage after working 400 hours, and full-timers can get lower-cost coverage after working 800 hours. Executive pay is kept in check, relative to other major corporations, and the management structure is more horizontal than vertical. However, wages for many Whole Foods employees fall far below a living wage. Cashier wages range between $8 and hour to $14 for permanent employees, while workers in other parts of the store make between $10 and $15 an hour. Despite its claims that Whole Foods honors all stakeholders, many team members including full-time workers, are forced to rely on food stamps, and a recent study found that 17% of Whole Food’s Massachusetts employees are enrolled in Medicaid.

—Nicole Aschoff
The New Prophets of Capital

Religious Liberty Doesn’t Mean What Kim Davis and Ted Cruz Think It Means

Kentucky Clerk Kim DavisVia Talking Points Memo, Ted Cruz: “I Stand With Kim Davis.” Davis, of course, is the woman now sitting in jail for refusing to do her job of issuing any marriage licenses because she is offended by the idea of same sex marriage. Cruz and Mike Huckabee are coming down in the same place on this one. Davis is supposedly a Christian martyr. Cruz said, “Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny.” It’s pretty boilerplate stuff coming from a “Constitutional” conservative. They love to throw around the word “tyranny” because it was in the Declaration of Independence. But the way they use it makes it meaningless. It’s just a word they use whenever the government does anything they don’t agree with.

Cruz made an analogy between Davis and San Francisco Major Ed Lee (for the sanctuary city) and President Obama (for immigration law enforcement). These are false analogies, but I don’t feel like going into them right now. The main thing is that this is being made out like a religious freedom issue. And of course that’s the way they are going to play this. But as German Lopez noted, the government actually offered to accommodate her by letting her pass the job on to a willing subordinate. But she refused.

I heard her husband on NPR earlier talking about how “the gays” want their rights recognized, but they don’t want to recognize the rights of Christians. Well, here we have it. Davis didn’t need to be involved with this. But she won’t be satisfied unless she is actually able to stop same sex couples from exercising their secular rights to marriage. It’s all about bigotry. And this could not be more clear. When last I wrote about this, I noted how strange it was that Christians like Davis didn’t just say, “Sure the government can ‘marry’ whomever they want, but God doesn’t accept those marriages!” But Davis isn’t standing up for God’s word; she’s standing up for her cultural privilege.

I’m not a legal scholar, but I do know a bit about drug law. For a very long time, drug users of various kinds of been making the argument that the use of this or that banned substance is part of their religious practice. And the courts have always said the same thing, “Nice try!” Similarly, people could say, “My religion forbids me from allowing African Americans to eat at my diner.” Or they could say, “My religion forbids me from paying income taxes.” It doesn’t matter; your religion could say anything at all. And that is why the courts have decided that you still have to follow the law.

Kim Davis is doing a great service to same sex marriage. In a different article, German Lopez wrote, Republican Candidates to Kentucky Clerk: Follow the Law and Marry Same-Sex Couples. Admittedly, the three candidates he highlights are on the less-crazy side of the crazy party. But still: Davis isn’t fooling anyone. She’s just making a big deal out of her religion and most people see it for what it is: narcissism. Most people I’ve talked to find it exhausting. Their response is, “Oh, just do your job!” It doesn’t matter whether they are for or against same sex marriage, they understand that the issue has been settled and Kim Davis is just an annoyance.

Meanwhile, if God exists, he, she, or it approves of this:

Is the Nazi Gold Train Legend for Real? Maybe

Nazi Gold Train Location?!There is a Polish legend called the Nazi gold train. Supposedly, at the end of World War II, some Nazis filled up three train cars with gold and other valuables and then hid it in a tunnel under the Owl Mountains in southwest Poland. It is said to contain 300 tons of treasure. The reason I bring it up is because there are two treasure hunters who claim that they have found it. This is despite the fact that there is no actual historical record of it, and when Poland was under communist rule, the government did a lot of work trying to find it.

But who cares? Well, for one: an employer of mine. I’ve been working on a project that relates to this. But it puts me in a difficult position because I just ain’t buying it. Just check out the story here. Recently, someone who was supposedly involved in burying the train died. That was 70 years ago, so we are talking someone really old. And on his death bed, he revealed where the train was hidden. So these two treasure hunters went out and used ground penetrating radar and discovered a train. But that’s as much as we know at this point.

More recently, the two men — Andreas Richter and Piotr Koper — came forward. Maybe they think this is the real thing — or at least that the train must contain something of value. They offered the location of the train to the Polish government for a 10% cut. Of course, I’m even skeptical of this. It is a way of getting the Polish government to pay the bill for a speculative dig. Is the probability good or bad? It doesn’t matter to these guys. Even if there is just a 1% chance, it’s worth it to them!

It’s also interesting that the location of this train is not consistent with the local legend. The train was supposed to be in a tunnel. Instead, it was found simply buried under ground near a rail line. That doesn’t encourage me. On the other hand, maybe the reason no one has ever found the train is because the legend got it wrong. But that’s not the only issue. Maybe this is a train that the Nazis buried for other reasons. Or it is just a train that crashed and got buried in the course of the war. I find it fascinating, but not really from the treasure angle. Treasure never much interests me — just the stories that go along with it.

I really wonder about this dying Nazi too. Why didn’t he go to the Polish government and collect the prize? This is my guess: he didn’t think it had gold in it. He was involved in burying a train. He’s an old man. A couple of treasure hunters heard something about this guy talking about a buried train. So they go to him and get the information. No one has reported that the guy said there was gobs of treasure to be found. All we know is that he provided the location of a buried train.

One thing I am pretty sure of: this train doesn’t contain the amount of treasure of legend. If it had 300 tons of gold, that would be worth roughly $15 billion. I doubt that legends tend to make treasure troves smaller over time. So I’m skeptical. But the best thing for me is that it is a huge treasure find — because it means more (paid) work. That kind of treasure I am interested in.

Morning Music: John Martyn

London Conversation - John MartynI promised you something nice this week, and that would be the songs of John Martyn. He kind of reminds me of Nick Drake, but without the whole “Do we kill ourselves today?” vibe. It’s kind of hard to categorize him — especially because he lived a lot longer than Drake and got into a lot more stuff. And actually, I think he just was a far more varied creative mind. But that’s the last I’ll mention Drake — except to say that I might do a week of him too.

Let’s start with his very first, very folk, album, London Conversation — on which he performs alone. This is “Ballad of an Elder Woman,” which I just love. And if I had to guess, it will impress a number of you:

Anniversary Post: Magellan’s Mission Completes Without Magellan

VictoriaOn or about this day in 1522, the Victoria returned to Spain — being the first ship to make it around the world. It was the only one of Ferdinand Magellan’s five ships to return. A total of 260 men started the voyage and only 19 returned. That doesn’t mean the other 241 died. A lot of them just had the good sense to desert. But one of the men who did die was Ferdinand Magellan himself. He died in a battle in the Philippines almost a year and a half before the mission was completed — while still over 10,000 miles from home.

So why do people say that Magellan was the first man to sail around the world? Well, they have to give someone the credit and it was his voyage. But that’s a big part of what is wrong with humans: our insistence on seeing everything in heroic terms. There were so many people who made that trip possible — including scores of people who never set foot on one of those ships. But we just don’t seem to be able to grok that.

Interestingly, I think this is why most people are so much more interested in manned spaceflight. I prefer the robotic kind myself. When humans are involved in that way, I just worry about their safety. But in addition to that, when it is an unmanned mission, it is clear that it is the accomplishment not just of the thousands of people who worked directly on the mission, but of the entire society. And the world is a better place the more we think that way.

So the Magellan mission sailing around the world was a great accomplishment. As for the man? Whatever.