Film review: Phantom of the Opera (2004)

Just recently I watched this film version of the musical that has been one of the biggest musical stage sensations ever since it was first performed in 1986. I have not lived in places where big-budget musicals are staged and even if I did, I would likely not have gone to the theater to see them because the ticket costs would have been beyond my means. So I wait until they make a film version and usually watch it when they stream it.

Given how massively successful it was on stage, I was expecting a lot and was hugely disappointed in this film. It was, to be honest, quite boring and apart from a few songs that have become hits (the title song, Music of the Night and All I Ask of You), I found the whole thing underwhelming.

Not all successful stage musicals translate well to the screen. Other failures include Hair and Cats. Some notable successes were South Pacific, My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Why do some fail and others succeed? It is not due to skimping in the film version. Since this film production was lavish and elaborate (as the stage production was reputed to be) the difference may well be due to the fact that what people find spectacular when seen live on stage may seem just ordinary to film viewers who are used to special effects. It also depends on the strength of the music. The successes I listed each had many more memorable songs than this one.
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Huge job gains last month

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its monthly report and says that a whopping 538,000 jobs were added last month, about twice the expected number. They also revised upwards the jobs gains for the previous two months. This means that all the jobs that were lost during the pandemic have now been regained. The unemployment rate also edged down to 3.5%, another low number.

Since the GDP had declined for two straight quarters, there had been concerns that the economy was entering a period of recession. But this robust job growth contradicts that idea since in a traditional recession, people are thrown out of the labor market on a large scale. It also contradicts the idea that employers are finding it hard to get workers.
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Judith Durham (1943-2022)

The lead vocalist for The Seekers has died at the age of 79. This Australian group were massively popular in my youth and one of the reasons was the beautiful voice of Durham backed by the smooth harmonizing of Athol Guy on the double bass, Bruce Woodley on rhythm guitar, and Keith Potger on lead guitar.

It is hard to pick a favorite song from their oeuvre. But here is a video of them recording their first hit song I’ll Never Find Another You at the Abbey Road studios in London in 1964.

Potger played a 12-string guitar and that was another reason for their distinctive sound. The song Georgy Girl, the title track from the 1967 film, features the bouncy, upbeat sound of many of their hits.

Potger’s playing inspired me, just out of college, to buy a 12-string guitar in an effort to become even a half-way decent musician though, like all my other efforts, it failed.

Kyrsten Synema works for the venture capitalists

Thanks to the 50-50 balance in the US Senate, Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have much greater leverage over legislation than they deserve and are thus able to force their priorities into legislation that needs to be passed. In the negotiations over the major legislation called the Inflation Reduction Act, what they demanded in return for their support is revealing about whose interests they really care about and it is clearly not the ordinary people of their respective states.

For Manchin it is the fossil fuel industry that he obeys, so he demanded, and got, Biden administration approval for a huge natural gas pipeline in his home state that has been blocked by courts.

For Sinema, it is the venture capitalists that she kowtows to.

In the statement, Sinema indicated that she won several changes to the tax provisions in the package, including removing the provision that would have tightened the carried interest loophole, which aimed to raise the taxes paid by hedge fund and private equity managers. That proposal would have raised $14 billion. She also suggested that she won changes to Democrats’ plans to pare back how companies can deduct depreciated assets from their taxes — a key demand by manufacturers that had lobbied Sinema over their concerns this week.

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Alex Jones assessed 45.2 million in punitive damages

The other shoe dropped in the Alex Jones case as the jury ordered him to pay $45.2 million in punitive damages to the parents of a child who was murdered in the Sandy Hook massacre, bringing the total up to $49.3 million.

It is still less than the value of his reported assets but is more than a slap on the wrist.

Legal wrangling that is standard after these types of cases – including a promised appeal – means the amount Jones ultimately pays may be far below $49.3m. But the ruling nonetheless represents a victory for loved ones of Sandy Hook victims and a major rebuke for one of the country’s most notorious conspiracy theorists.

The jury’s award Thursday was to compensate Heslin and Lewis for Jones’s actions. The one Friday – doled out after about four hours of deliberations – was meant to punish Jones for conduct the jurors, through their unanimous decision, found to be egregious.

Jones’ appeal would aim to drastically reduce the jury’s award against him – if not eliminate it altogether. [His lawyer] Reynal on Friday had argued that $270,000 in punitive damages was fair, relying on a state law capping such damages a significant amount below what the jury awarded.

The baseless Sandy Hook conspiracy is far from the only theory of that kind which Jones has propagated on Infowars, which is often derided in some quarters for selling pills marketed as helping men achieve firmer erections.

He also lied about a Washington DC pizzeria being the home to a child sex-abuse ring, inspiring a man to go there and fire a high-powered rifle inside. Another centered on a myth that a yogurt factory supported child rapists who spread tuberculosis.

Jones was forced to apologize for both of those. He did not appear to be in the courtroom for the reading of Friday’s verdict.

There are as yet two more cases against him, one in Texas and another in Connecticut.

Alex Jones trial award

The jury has ordered Alex Jones to pay $4.1 million to the parents of Jesse Hill as compensatory damages for the pain that he (and his mindless supporters) inflicted on them by his reckless claims that the Sandy Hook massacre in which Jesse died was a hoax and that the grieving parents were crisis actors.

The lawyers had asked for $150 million so this is a lot less but it could have been a much worse. The jury in Texas had to award something since Jones had already had a default judgment against him but they could have levied a nominal fine of just $1 if they had sided with him.

The trial is not over though. This award was just for compensation for the suffering of the parents and is meant to represent the costs of the real injury they suffered. The jury now has to decide on whether to award punitive damages against Jones. Punitive damages are meant as punishment for reckless and egregious behavior, in order to send a message and deter future such actions and hence it is hard to put a figure to it. Since it is meant to inflict pain, it depends on how much they think the person has in assets, since there is little point in a financial penalty that the defendant can easily afford.
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A dangerous strategy

Amy Davidson Sorkin warns that the Democratic party is pursuing a dangerous strategy in trying to help the most extreme Republican candidates in the primary races in the belief that they will be easier to defeat in the general elections.

The plan, such as it is, is that voters will recoil from these candidates and turn to the Democratic Party as a bastion of sanity. That’s a harder argument to make when playing games like this. Many Democrats recognize that, too. “It’s dishonorable, and it’s dangerous, and it’s just damn wrong,” Representative Dean Phillips, of Minnesota, told Politico. In the same piece, Representative Jason Crow, of Colorado, called the ploy “very dangerous” and “substantively risky.” The implied risk is that the extreme candidate could actually win.
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Alex Jones’s lies exposed in court as one trial ends

We know that Alex Jones lies and lies brazenly. In a surprising development, his lies have now been exposed in court during the trial to determine how much damages Alex Jones should pay Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of Jesse Heslin who was murdered at Sandy Hook, the parents’s lawyer Mark Bankston dramatically revealed a lie that Jones has made. It was exposed because Jones’s lawyers had inadvertently sent copies of all the text messages on Jones’s phone to Bankston.

In a remarkable moment, Bankston disclosed to Jones and the court that he had recently acquired evidence proving Jones had lied when he claimed during the discovery process that he had never texted about the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.

Bankston said that Jones’ attorney had, in an apparent mishap, sent him two years of cell phone records that included every text message Jones had sent.

The cell phone records, Bankston said, showed that Jones had in fact texted about the Sandy Hook shooting.

“That is how I know you lied to me when you said you didn’t have text messages about Sandy Hook,” Bankston said.

Bankston showed Jones a text message exchange he had about Sandy Hook. But Jones testified that he had “never seen these text messages.”

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