Samurai Jack and Jill

Recently I saw A Boy and His Samurai, a Japanese movie about a samurai who inadvertently time travels to the present day. Don’t ask how, you didn’t really care how the thingy worked in Big or Freaky Friday, did you? In fact, structurally it’s a lot like Big, with the magic at the start, the funny stuff early on followed by the serious adult stuff, then the magic again to wrap things up.

So it’s a comedy-drama – the samurai gets taken in by a single mother and swears fealty to her as her feudal retainer, then as time goes on he becomes an up and coming pastry chef. There are the expected fish out of water jokes, but the movie’s also a thoughtful examination of class and gender in the 21st century, particularly how modern society is still structured around the nuclear family while steadily breaking down the systems that produce nuclear families. The film’s not a didactic women’s studies manifesto, but it does illustrate exactly how tough it is to be a single parent and how gender and class expectations tie into that difficulty, all wrapped up with a sweet story about a boy finding a surrogate father.

The Devil went down to Los Angeles

So Lucifer is actually good. Yes, I’m surprised as much as anyone. The Devil quitting hell to run a nightclub and solve crimes in LA is inherently dumb as a premise, but so deliciously stupid it’s brilliant. I can’t even find a trailer representative of the show, as every official one makes it seem blander and more formulaic than it is. I’m just going to stick the opening scene here instead:

Watching the show is a guilty pleasure, like back when True Blood or Sleepy Hollow were good. It’s based on the Vertigo comic book series, but very, very loosely. For one thing, the Lucifer on the comic book was a big ole sourpuss, whereas the TV one is delightfully hedonistic. The show appreciates its dumbness and just runs with it. The ridiculousness is the point. I’m glad that the show was renewed for a second season and look forward to folding many loads of laundry while watching it.

Also the theme song is pretty rad, but here’s one of the official trailers if you insist on seeing it:

Science: School is for losers

Most amusing, Guardian. This is a rather droll observation:

It’s uncertain whether universities are delivering on their core purpose. One recent study tracked thousands of students during their time at university. It uncovered a rather disturbing picture: after two years at university, 45% of the students showed no significant improvement in their cognitive skills. After four years, 36% of students had not improved in their ability to think and analyse problems. In some courses – such as business administration – students’ cognitive abilities actually declined in the first few years.

Note the last bit about MBAs. Scientific evidence proves it makes people dumber!

Welcome to the postmodern jungle

I just discovered Postmodern Jukebox and have been making my way through their videos. They take pop culture hits and reinterpret them as pieces from an older, classier age. Like Welcome to the Jungle imagined as some kind of jazzy orchestral thing accompanied by a concert harp and a cello.

I could easily imagine this playing in the background of a black and white noir film as a hard-boiled detective narrates something cynical and harsh in the foreground.

Or for something peppier, how about a soul version of Hey Ya! by Outkast? The guy behind this also did some arrangements for the alternate history game Bioshock Infinite like this blues version of Fortunate Son.  Really, there’s so much to discover in the back catalogue of this group.

The Non-Americans

Fascinating article from The Guardian about the US-raised children of a couple in Russia’s infamous Illegals spy program. It would of course be mind-blowing to discover as a teenager that your parents were secretly Russian deep cover spies trained by the KGB, and the article covers that in depth. Peripherally related to that issue is the fact that the TV show The Americans is very loosely based on the Illegals Program.

It’s kind of interesting to think about how the fictional kids on that show would react to the same revelation of their parents’ secret lives as enemies of the state. The real-life sons are currently trying to regain their Canadian citizenship (their parents’ cover having been that of Canadian immigrants to the US) and on reflection I think I wouldn’t mind if they became legit Canadians. As they point out, they barely know Russia and have few personal ties there. Plus they seem eager to live in and contribute to Canada, so what the hell. There’s plenty of room.

Also interesting is this video of the father in the story, Andrey Bezrukov. There is a noticeable non-native accent in his English speech, but it might be that he is no longer trying to disguise his origins or that his speech patterns have been influenced by the people around him after he has returned home – or both, probably.

Eat the Rich

So the revelations from the Panama Papers are all shocking and whatnot if you didn’t already assume that the world’s oligarchs were greedy pieces of shit. Though I suppose it’s interesting to see how specifically all this tax haven stuff works.

But what really surprised me was this picture from The Guardian:

Jasmine Li (centre) at the Crillon debutante ball for Vanity Fair magazine in Paris, France. Photograph: Jonathan Becker/Contour by Getty Images

They still have debutante balls? And the kind where actual wealthy people attend, not athletes or minor celebrities but those whose ungodly riches can destroy nations. There were princesses and future captains of industry at this shindig. I swear, it looks like something out of My Fair Lady.

Jasmine Li, it seems, is a scion of one of China’s Communist Party elites. Well, the party calls itself communist, but really, when your party members’ kids are coming out in a debutante ball then there’s no use pretending there’s anything of the old ideals left.

It just goes to show that the 1% live in a different world from the rest of us, which is especially noteworthy since the pictures date from 2009, during the worst economic crisis in decades. Ordinary people were left destitute and homeless as the masters of the world waltzed the night away. I wonder, is this kind of inequality what we can expect for the rest of this century? One wonders.