Two Movie Reviews (2016Dec13)


Tuesday, December 13, 2016                                           11:30 PM

“Suicide Squad” & “Florence Foster Jenkins”

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“Suicide Squad”:

There was a burst of potentially-watchable movies in my video menu this morning—all kinds of movies—must be the run-off from the summer-movie influx in theaters. It’s strange for those of us who wait for the movie to leave the theater and get onto cable—we see the summer movies in winter, and the holiday movies in summer.

I started with “Suicide Squad”. I’ve pretty much had it with comic book retro-fits—and Suicide Squad is a poor excuse for even a comic book. But I like Will Smith—and I always enjoy it when some hot young actress does a star turn as a psycho-killer, as Margo Robbie does in this. But sometimes the over-arching concept of one team of good guys against a team of bad guys can strain the bounds of credulity—even within the ‘willing suspension’ paradigm.

In this movie, a ‘transdimensional’ witch with seemingly unlimited power, both natural and supernatural, stands against a group of admittedly tough customers—but none of them equipped to face down something from beyond the limits of time and space. Well, there’s one—a reluctant pyrokinetic with supernatural powers of his own.

But the rest of them have to be kept busy fighting minions of the witch, to distract from the fact they can’t possibly fight her. It’s just senseless—and believe me, I’ve swallowed a lot of sci-fi and comic book foolishness in service of maintaining my willing suspension of disbelief—and enjoying the story—but there has to be a minimal coherence to the thing. I need to be accorded that much respect.

Anyway, for a two-hour movie full of nonsense, it went by fairly quickly and painlessly. I gave it a few hours, then I went back.

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“Florence Foster Jenkins”:

I went back earlier this evening for another film, “Florence Foster Jenkins”, starring Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, and Simon Helberg.

There was a French film on Netflix recently, “Marguerite” (2015), with a similar story—a moneyed matron of the arts is surrounded by sycophants who never tell her that she has a terrible singing voice—a secret carefully kept by a mad-cap retinue, using carefully-curated venues and selectively-bribed music critics to maintain the illusion until the catastrophe of a large, uncontrolled, public performance threatens to expose the entire charade.

Both films claim some basis in historical fact—but the French film is set at the turn of the century and the American film is set in 1940s New York. This leads me to wonder if rich woman are historically misled about their true abilities—and, if so, why? But beyond that question, there’s the tone of such a movie. In the case of “Florence Foster Jenkins”, much like “Marguerite”, there’s a contradiction between the hilarity of bad singing and the tragedy of a person being lied to by everyone around that person—supposed friends and lovers who, whether through kindness or avarice are, nonetheless, doing the poor woman no favors.

Even the surprising tenderness that Hugh Grant brings to his role as FFJ’s husband cannot render this story a happy one—or a particularly funny one, since the impending slip-on-a-banana-peel is always the looming exposure and destruction of the woman’s sense-of-self. Meryl Streep brings humor to the character, but for me, the set-up is more suitable for a psychological horror-thriller, such as ‘Gaslight’, than for any light-hearted costume-comedy.

No one could fault the technical efforts, or the performances of the cast, in this film—but I guess I’m just too squeamish to enjoy laughing at someone who insists on making music badly—perhaps it cuts a little too close to home for me. Yes, that’s probably it—I see a little too much of my own musical strivings in the story of “Florence Foster Jenkins”.

History With A Grain Of Salt (2016Dec03)


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Saturday, December 03, 2016                                           1:41 PM

I’ve just watched the first five episodes of Oliver Stone’s “The Untold History of the United States” on Netflix. The thrust of his re-telling of our modern history begins with an analysis of Russia’s virtually lone struggle against Germany, transforming what we think of as the main events of World War II into relatively minor clashes—in terms of land-area fought over, scale of destruction, length of time, and number of lives lost and persons wounded—and the stats certainly make that much plain. The Western Front was smaller, shorter, and less bloody in many respects—even with the Pacific War thrown in, ‘our’ War involved about a tenth of the size and horror of the struggle between Hitler and Stalin.

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As he continues to explore the question of Truman’s decision to use the bomb, he frames it as more a demonstration for the Soviets than a body-blow to Japan. Stone suggests that the end of the Nazis enabled Russia to turn and join the US, as agreed, in fighting Japan, months afterward—and that their announcement of their intent to do so—came at about the same time as the two nuclear blasts—and was a great shock to an already-battered Japan. Thus, he presents the possibility that Russia, and not our new A-bomb, was responsible for Japan’s surrender, as well as Germany’s.

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His revisionism also puts America squarely in the docket, to blame for nuclear proliferation, the military-industrial complex, and the entire Cold War that followed—and we must admit that the USA, being suddenly omnipotent (and not having their country reduced to rubble by the fighting, as was the case almost everywhere else) became the prime superpower—and had all the problems and corruptions that absolute power is known to herald.

Oliver Stone does have a habit of mentioning Stalin’s atrocities in asides, often, as if afraid someone will accuse him of glossing over them (which the asides almost accomplish, ironically). But while Stone presents a new perspective and a clarification of several old false assumptions—and highlights some overlooked or hidden aspects that radically change the context of certain events—he is still dealing with the problem of ‘history as general summary’.

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His review, for example, leaves out the details of China’s suffering and transformation, its revolution and great famine. The British role in the man-made starvation in India during World War II, resulting in a genocide greater than the Nazis’, was overlooked as well (see Howard Fast’s “The Pledge”). An historical review, by its nature, leaves out more than it puts in.

His view of the last seventy years may be clearer-eyed, less American-centric—but it is still an impossible task to pick and choose the stand-out events of world history over so large a span of time, without putting one’s own ‘centrism’ into the picking. Still, Stone’s gruesome view of modern American history is, unfortunately, solidly-grounded in facts and records, shorn of the ‘spin’ which events are often given in their own time, and which tend to continue to stand as fact, absent an Oliver Stone.

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The show, ultimately, is a flat statement to Americans that being ‘the world’s greatest superpower’ and being ‘the good guys’ are, almost by definition, mutually exclusive concepts. He almost makes us embarrassed that we don’t see something so obvious. Our laser focus on the high-points of American History, and our brushing aside of all the many sins: the original genocide of the natives, the kidnapping and slavery of the Africans, the dehumanization of ethnic and racial minorities, the industrialism that spawned sweat shops, child labor, tenements, and all the rapacity of Capitalism—we wave these things aside and point to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation. Don’t look over there—look here—o, pretty!

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Most of history is a horror—and American history no exception. If you think about our greatest moments—the Bill of Rights, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Act, etc.—they are all merely points at which those in power finally conceded, for this specific case, for that specific group, that people should not be used and abused like farm animals. Points on the Timeline when those in authority declare, “Oh, did that hurt? I’ll stop now.” It’s almost funny that we have these tremendous struggles, usually over the question, “Why should I treat you like a human being?” It’s as if, when someone gets a little power, the rest of us have to turn as one and shout at them, “Hey, right and wrong still apply, douchebag!”

I suppose the great lesson of history is that victory is a sort of lobotomy—it convinces the victor that force is effective. And with force must come control. And with too much control comes the need for struggles anew, and a new victor, and on it goes.

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In sum, I was reluctant to watch another rehash of the last seventy years of world conflict—but I was not disappointed in my hope that Oliver Stone wouldn’t have bothered to make this series without some surprising and new information—and observations that really change the context for lay-historians like myself. I love this sort of thing, because you can’t really change the accepted view of history without adding in some new data—and this series exposes many overlooked, obscured, and newly-discovered bits of information, and makes connections that seem obvious once made—making one wonder why Oliver Stone had to do it, all this time later. But I’m glad he did.

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The subject guarantees that viewing will be somewhat daunting, and hardly inspiring—but looking ourselves straight in the mirror is ultimately a very healthy thing, if uncomfortable. I can’t help reflecting, however, that if Oliver Stone can take the old story and re-tell it as something almost unrecognizable—then I suppose someone else could do the same to his. When studying history, one must never neglect the grain of salt.

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Personal   (2016Nov29)


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Sunday, November 27, 2016                                            6:47 PM

Spencer has made bread. Claire has come home from the gym. I’ve had a full day, for me, but I’m not going to embarrass myself by telling you what I did—little victories are my stock in trade these days. Real little. Okay—I moved two very-light pieces of furniture. That’s a full day for me—okay? You happy now?

It’s getting dark way earlier all of a sudden. Winter is here. I’m still working on video-ing the Big Book of Christmas Carols, front to back. It’s slow going—most of them are very familiar, but some of them need many ‘takes’ before I play it through with some semblance of accuracy. Sometimes, like just now, a few minutes ago, I’m too tired to get a good take. I have to wait for tomorrow’s supply of energy and alertness.

I have my mind set on it. Indeed, I’ve considered keeping the idea, and only posting videos of entire books from now on. I have a large manuscript library, but only a few of them are easy-to-play enough for me to play the whole book. So, I guess I’ll try it with a few books, after the carols are all recorded, and then forget about it and go back to my random recordings.

That’s the thing—I start every new day with a fresh head—any long-term plans I might have do not survive the pleasant distractions of waking up each morning. There’s usually a thread or a hint lying around somewhere, but if I don’t look for it, I miss it. Fresh head—every damn morning. I’m considering tattoos….

Monday, November 28, 2016                                           5:45 PM

I freely admit that I binged the new Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, on Netflix—which is as good as admitting I watched the whole series, back when (which I did, of course). But it’s not just because I like that kind of show—you go ahead and check—Kelly Bishop, Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel—they’re all great actors who have done lots of great stuff, outside of fictional Connecticut.

That’s the trouble with bingeing TV, isn’t it? It’s over now—nothing to wait ‘til next week for. That’s why I like to stay busy—as I get older, I’m becoming really picky about my viewing. At this point, if it isn’t as pleasant as listening to myself play the piano, while I look at pictures of my granddaughter, then I don’t need to watch it. I’m building a library of granddaughter/piano YouTube videos—I’m stockpiling this stuff. If the TV won’t give me what I want, I can make it myself. And, with my new Wi-Fi-enabled TV—I’m just another channel.

I’m working on two projects at once. Longer-term, I’m working on the next installment of Xmas Carols—the Series. And today I’m also processing a treasure trove of pictures and videos from my favorite movie stars—Jessy and Sen. The two will go together nicely—but eleven-Xmas-carols is always a lengthy video—so I’m here waiting for the music-video pre-edit to finish saving-to-disk. I’ve prepped the pictures into video, and the raw videos from Jessy—so now I just have to put all of that into one video….

I played a Chopin Mazurka on the e-piano, with the Harpsichord setting—nice result. I don’t mean I played all-that-well—but Chopin sounds just swell on a harpsichord. That’s a trick I noticed about good music—you can play that stuff on anything. There’s a guy who’s famous for playing Bach on Harmonica—I used to own the LP, hand to God—and it wasn’t half bad.

I can only use the first half of all my Carols recordings—I stay pretty cheery and spritely for a few songs—but then it becomes a Bataan Death March of sight-reading, turning every song into a dirge. You’d think I’d know all this stuff by now—I can feel my fingers remembering as I play them—why can’t my head do that?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016                                           3:28 PM

Okay, I must be in a post-Thanksgiving metabolic ‘trough’ these last few days—my energy levels are nil. My aches and spasms are small but many. My mental focus is a joke—I’m not even sure if I’m entirely awake. Partly, I stressed myself out—I finally finished the five videos and doing five videos at once makes my head swim—it’s hard to keep everything straight.

But I’ve got them all done now, just waiting for the last two to finish uploading to YouTube. I’m going to try to process my videos one-at-a-time from here on, if I can—it’s a tricky little maneuver that I’ve gotten very comfortable with—but doing more than one at a time makes it ridiculously complex.

 

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Reviews   (2016Oct18)


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Tuesday, October 18, 2016                                               2:14 PM

Beautiful day. Leaves is fallin. Sun is shinin. Can’t beat that. Sarah McLachlan may be an acquired taste, but her music is fantastic—what a voice. I’m making a video—I just played Bach’s keyboard arrangement of a Vivaldi Concerto in D, an early transposition from an early influence of old J. S.’s.

Then I played an improv—I don’t know what I’m doing, but it felt good. Now if it only sounds good. I called it “High-End Stroller” because that’s what baby Seneca rolls in these days. There’s a break about a minute in—the camera does that every twenty minutes, making a new file, but it loses a second or two of recording. I took too long with the Bach, I guess—it’s not usually a problem because I rarely play piano for more than twenty minutes—and I often restart the camera recording when playing for longer. What I really need is a film crew, I guess.

 

Shall we discuss politics? No! It’s far too nice a day for that—and tomorrow’s the final Shootout at the OK Corral, so let’s wait, shall we?

Autumn preys on my weakness—if anyone ever wrapped themselves up in melancholy, it’s me—and that time of year (thou may’st in me behold, when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang…) sorry, Shakespeare got me—this time of year makes me dive deep into memory, loss, and the unending cycle of change that is living.

I fairly delight in depression while the summer fades, the leaves fall, and the winter looms. We must remember that ‘clinical depression’ is an imbalance, that modest, occasional depression itself is natural—a way of crawling into bed and putting the covers over our heads, while working or relaxing. Chronic Depression, the problem, is much in the news nowadays—but if you get depressed, sometimes, there’s no need to panic—it is only when it takes over your life that it becomes a problem with a capital ‘P’.

I used to prefer the grey, rainy days—but now I settle for leaves falling—the wet weather chills me to the bone, making me stiff and achy. I still enjoy breezes—you’d have to be dead not to enjoy a breezy day. But enough about the weather.

I just read a sci-fi book called “Machinations” by Hayley Stone. I was disappointed that the plot was a straight rip-off of Terminator, but it was well-written, with good characters, so I finished the book. Dear Ms. Stone: It isn’t science fiction if you don’t have a new idea—it’s just writing, however good. I took one star off of my Amazon rating—because it was a good book, but it wasn’t good science fiction. (If I finish a book, I usually give it full stars.)

I saw the “Ghostbusters” re-make—loved it—loved everyone in it. I don’t see how they could have pandered to fans of the old original any more than they did—and it was nice. Anyone who wasn’t satisfied is just too hard to please.

I enjoyed a few episodes of “Lucifer” on TV, but as with all outlandish premises, they try to ‘mealy-mouth’ it down to a drama, instead of juicing it up into a comic-book fantasy. I watched nine episodes of “Luke Cage” on Netflix, but I’m getting too old for the kid stuff. I’m having trouble with stories that contain corruption, violence, and amorality—they just upset me. My options are narrowing tightly—I’m down to mostly biopics.

I’m trying to read the new Bruce Sterling book, “Pirate Utopia”, but it’s hard—I’m sorry, I just can’t stand ‘alternate history’ sci-fi—it’s a bridge too far for me. Woulda, shoulda, coulda—that’s all it means to me. But Bruce Sterling is heavy-sledding—I’ll keep on for now, and see if I get drawn in. It might be one of those books you don’t get until you re-read it. Sometimes, they’re the best.

VOD Movie Reviews: “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” and “Kung Fu Panda 3” (2016Jun29)


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Wednesday, June 29, 2016                                               1:01 AM

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” stars Tina Fey—I can’t think of any previous dramatic film role, unless you want to count “This Is Where I Leave You” (2014) which was a dramedy—a humorous take on a serious subject. And there is certainly humor in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”—though it has rare moments of comic relief rather than an overarching comedic tone. So it would be stretching things to claim that Ms. Fey has suddenly dived into dramatic roles. Still, it would be wrong to overlook her jumping decisively into this wholly dramatic role with both feet—and sticking the landing, IMHO.

Tina Fey’s performing career is just a late bloomer, I guess. She did a whole lot of writing before she became a well-known SNL cast member—I’m not an expert on her career arc, but to take on a serious movie role for the first time, a few years after winning the 2012 Mark Twain Prize for her life’s work in virtually every aspect of the comedic side of the entertainment industry—that’s taking one’s time in developing an acting career.

I don’t know much about Kim Barker, either—I haven’t even read her war-correspondent memoir “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, on which the film is based. I’m both tempted to go and read it now, having seen the movie, and reluctant to go even deeper into the troubling truths being confronted in the film.

There’s the ‘big picture’ stuff, like how our military can fight and bleed in a faraway country while the citizens at home can’t even be bothered to hear about it on the news. And there’s the personal, like how a woman can find herself trapped between the opposing extremities of being an invisible desk drone—or doing stand-up reports amidst flying bullets and shrapnel. In the end I was left with the impression that the big, cold world is more pervasively evil than the discrete violence of a war zone. In spite of my penchant for happy, sappy, ever-after-type movies, I enjoyed being fed this more serious fare, with Tina Fey as the spoonful of sugar that made it go down.

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Being sixty years old, I was, of course, embarrassed to watch “Kung Fu Panda 3” all by myself—this stuff was much easier to explain when the kids were small. But I loved it—sue me, I’m a sucker for a good animated film. And I was reminded that these films are serious business when the end credits listed the voice actors (most of whom spoke in all three films): Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, J.K. Simmons, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Kate Hudson, James Hong, Wayne Knight, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Try making a live-action movie with a cast like that—it’d be a hundred-million-dollar budget before you even began shooting. Angelina Jolie must have enjoyed the recording sessions the most—all of her and Brad’s kids are also voice-credited in the film.

I know that the messages in these kid films are simplistic—but I still believe in teaching kids to care, even with a silly movie. When Po sacrifices himself to save the whole village, it cuts a little close to the edge—the authors of the New Testament may have a case for plagiarism there—but he returns from the ‘world of the spirit’ (falling on his butt upon landing) so we are left with the ‘out’ of interpreting the whole thing as ‘clever strategy’, rather than a re-telling of The Messiah, so no harm done.

I think I favor the Kung Fu Panda franchise because its fantasies always have two components—the traditional threat of a big, mean bad-guy, and the search for wisdom as a means of defending against the impending evil. Po spends equal amounts of screen time worrying over the enemy’s arrival and his struggles to please his teachers and learn the lessons he’s being taught. He doesn’t go looking for a great weapon or go on a quest to destroy the one ring—he always goes looking for wisdom. I like that.

Movies With Madness (Three Reviews) (2016Apr28)


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Thursday, April 28, 2016                                        4:11 PM

Movie Review: “Nina”

I watched “Nina” on VOD yesterday—a film about Nina Simone, the legendary blues singer (incredibly played (and sung!) by Zoe Saldana) at the end of her career, facing instability, alcoholism, and illness, with the help of a male nurse, Clifton Henderson (as played by David Oyelowo) and marking a triumphant return to the United States with a live free concert in Central Park. Oddly, historical records indicate that she performed at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre in Newark upon her return to the US—and that it wasn’t ‘free’—but Nina Simone did perform in Central Park several times in her earlier career.

Other reviewers and critics take issue with lighter-skinned Ms. Saldana playing the very much darker High Priestess of Soul—but while I can understand a rejection of ‘blackface’ white performers playing black people—I think it’s going a bit far to complain of one African-American woman playing another. It makes more sense to complain that Zoe Saldana is too young and too thin—but this is a biopic, not a documentary, and her performance is often riveting, even if the historical accuracy of both her depiction and the story-line goes a bit by the boards. As with Jamie Foxx’s “Ray” (2004), “Nina” is as remarkable for the star’s vocal efforts as it is for the purported subject—though I wouldn’t have minded hearing the actual, recorded voice of the late Nina Simone sing a few bars at some point in the movie.

But you can just do what I did—go to YouTube afterwards and check out the real Nina Simone singing all the songs from the movie and more—that’s as much of a treat as the movie—and since the movie got me there, hooray for the movie. But see the movie first or you’ll never get over the very real difference in both appearance and vocals.

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Movie Review: “The Lady In The Van”   (2016Apr28)

I was eager to see “The Lady In The Van” because Maggie Smith gives good ‘crabby old lady’—and she certainly doesn’t disappoint in this movie that could have been written for her, if it wasn’t based on an actual woman. Still the film is based on the 1999 play—and takes place even earlier, in the seventies—so perhaps the film was only made to showcase Ms. Smith.

She plays a poor and confused woman who lives out of a van, which she parks in various places in the neighborhood until stricter parking regulations (and perhaps complaining residents) make it necessary for her to park in a driveway—that of the playwright, Allen Bennett, who forms a limited friendship with this loner who has reached the age when being a loner becomes problematic. The film is as much about the man as the lady—and both are seen by the Gloucester Crescent inhabitants as odd ducks. As with many stories about fragile, vulnerable people, the common run of humanity is portrayed as coarse and unsympathetic—from the whispering neighbors to the van-rocking toughs.

One striking element is the conflict between the personal care of Alan Bennett and the more ‘public’ care offered by the periodic appearance of a social worker—to be nice by nature is far different from being nice by the rulebook. It is especially telling when dealing with the mentally unstable, where a little patience and understanding can do so much more than the brusque attentions of a civil servant.

A few movies, like “The Lady In The Van”, are remarkable also in showing us Yankees how very different the British can be—it is so easy to assume that they are just ‘differently-American’, when they are really quite another thing altogether. This film, in showing both the similarities of such situations and their differences, informs us just how foreign England can be.

While Alex Jennings’ and Maggie Smith’s performances contain a lot of humorous touches, the overall plot is insurmountably bleak, so I wouldn’t watch it unless you’re in the mood for something good and serious.

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Movie Review: Infinitely Polar Bear (2015)

I just watched “Infinitely Polar Bear” (it just showed up on cable this weekend) written and directed by Maya Forbes, starring Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, and Ashley Aufderheide. I’m a long-time fan of both principles—I could go on all day about Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana—neither one has been in a movie I didn’t like. Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide did a great job being directed by Imogene’s mom, Maya.

It was my favorite kind of movie—it was so engrossing that I immediately stopped being aware of watching a movie, got sucked completely into the story, and got that heartbroken/furious-combo feeling when it ended because I wanted it to keep going so badly. Mark Ruffalo plays a bi-polar father who makes you worry for his kids—in spite of his generally appearing to be a better father than most. But the best part of the movie is when it shows the madness of sanity against the relief of his specific bi-polar symptoms—his grandmother is crazy, his neighbors are crazy, the waiter in the restaurant is crazy—but all in ‘sane’ ways that society finds acceptable. At the same time, his madness makes him a better person in many ways—even while it cripples his ability to relate to the sanely-crazy.

It also shows that sometimes the only one hurt by insanity is the person himself—or herself—that being different is its own punishment in a world full of people busily trying to fit in. We tend to have more sympathy for a hero that resists peer-pressure than for a hero who isn’t aware of it—but in both cases, the reactions of others are the others’ problems, not the hero’s. The film shows the girls being educated by their father’s disability—rather uncomfortably, but in the end, to good purpose. I found it all very uplifting—maybe I relate a little too strongly to a crazy father.

VOD Movie Reviews: “Trumbo” and “Steve Jobs” (2016Feb18)


Thursday, February 18, 2016                                           3:43 PM

I watched two movies – “Trumbo” and “Steve Jobs” –both bio-pics, obviously, but truth is stranger than fiction and Hollywood has done as much with non-fiction drama as it has with plain old movies—and I use the phrase ‘plain old movies’ advisedly, since the most impressive movies of recent days have either been historical (“Selma”, “Straight Outta Compton”) or biographical (“The Imitation Game”, “Unbroken”) or both (“Jersey Boys”, “Race”) and, since the first blush of CGI’s thrill has long since worn off, block-bluster fictional movies like “Spectre” or “The Force Awakens” (or any Marvel or DC movie) just seem that much more formulaic. Movie-making embraced childhood with its abject surrender to science fiction, sword and sorcery fantasy, and especially comic books—all the things that leant themselves to the new SFX tech’s possibilities. Now that such whiz-bang-ery is a given, these themes are poised to return to the children’s entertainment from which they came.

Don’t get me wrong—good science fiction (and yes, I’ll admit it, for Tolkien’s sake—fantasy) can still be great entertainment, suitable for grown-ups—but science fiction encompasses both sweeping visions and ‘space opera’ (i.e., soap operas with spaceships in them, like the Star Wars franchise) and for every Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” there are a thousand “Transformers”. So I’m glad that science fiction has been taken out of the kiddy-corner—now all we need is a little judicious bifurcation between age-levels, and everything will be fine.

Maybe it’s my age—or maybe it’s my lifelong interest in history—that makes me lean towards the ‘based on actual events’ movies. Or maybe I just like the challenge—everyone knows that a movie is a movie first, and a historical archive last—and my favorite thing to do is watch a historically-based movie, especially one based on a serious non-fiction book, like “Unbroken” or “The Imitation Game”, and compare in my mind what I read with what I see. I have discussions with myself about why they cut this interesting fact or added that spurious made-up scene. It’s like a review quiz for those of us who read the book first. And it’s a reminder that all history, written included, has to be taken with a grain of salt—we can never know the whole story, because even the people who lived it never know the whole story—the whole idea of ‘knowing’ history is a misunderstanding of what history’s limits are.

We see it on the news—especially now, during campaign season—the call and response ritual of two people trading ‘That’s not what I said’s back and forth—illustrating that even in a single conversation, the ‘truth’ is a combination of context, syntax, attitude, and intent—all whipped together with the vagaries of language and the pitfalls of hasty assumptions. To imagine that a student of history from a century or two back would reach any more than a vague abstraction of what really happened is, well, silly.

Those abstractions, however, are dead serious—they are the paradigms of our present. Our ideals, our ideas of what our country is, of what we are—are all bound up in the history that led to this present. Thus the desire for history to be something we can nail down and dissect—but all we can ever really do is postulate—to suggest that this is the way it might have gone. To me, this is one of the great reasons for the need for pluralism—disagreement is a given, within groups as often as between groups—and so we should see groups of any kind as a superficial distinction that is always overridden by our commonalities.

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But I was talking about movies. Okay, first off, I read “Johnny Get Your Gun”, Dalton Trumbo’s historic novel, when I was a teenager. Being a bookworm, I just came across it—no one warned me what it was about, or suggested it—I just opened to the first page and started reading. Oh my fucking God!—this book was meant to be an ‘anti-war’ novel—it starts with a disembodied person talking to himself, wondering why he’s blind, and deaf, and can’t move. It turns out, as you read along, that you are reading the thoughts of a wounded veteran who is lying in a hospital bed, covered in bandages and missing an appendage or two. I can’t remember specifics—just the horror of Trumbo’s description of what it’s like to be blind, deaf, helpless, and alone. The book turned my stomach—I recommend it to anyone who’s considering enlisting, just for a second opinion.

But I didn’t hate it—I was enthralled by what I was reading—disagreeable as it was, it pulled me in. And I think that is what made Dalton Trumbo both a martyr of the Blacklist, and its vanquisher—he not only wouldn’t look away from the unpleasant or the inconvenient, he was bound and determined to get you to look at it too—but in a way that made it impossible to look away.

As for the movie—it was great. I’m a big fan of Bryan Cranston and Diane Lane and Louis CK and John Goodman and Helen Mirren—jeez, if they’d made a bad movie, hell would’ve froze over. I watched the movie, then I hit the replay button on my remote and watched it again.

20160218XD-SteveJobs_TheMovie

As for “Steve Jobs”, I vaguely remember writing a blog not too long ago where I defended Aaron Sorkin from reviewers who shrugged at his latest effort—even though I hadn’t yet seen the movie. Well, I’ve seen the movie now—and I was right. It’s fantastic—it tells so many stories in the interstices between the obvious stories—to call it multi-layered is to damn it with faint praise.

Again, big fan of Fassbender, Winslet, and Rogen—and Sorkin, of course—so I expected great things. But the ‘frame’ everyone made so much of—the movie being set in the minutes before three major product launches, separated in reality over many years of actual time, is very fitting for a historical precis—each launch was a nexus of time, pulling together all that went before and all that would follow, and the combination of personal, business, and technical conflicts in the moments before—well, it gives a lot of depth and texture without trying to nail down exactly who said what when, and that sort of thing.

I said something in yesterday’s post about my favorite artists’ biographies invariably disappointing me by revealing that they had feet of clay—Jobs is certainly in that category—but every movie needs a bad guy—even if he’s the hero.

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Okay, here are three new improvs:

 

 

 

Ta Ta For Now…