Sunday, August 29, 2010

American Public Policy

I have been thinking a lot about the sorry state of our country. For the last 10 years we have had incompetence in the White House and things are looking bleak for the middle class. Our government has been reduced to two- or three-word slogans that define our public policy. Here are some of the most memorable:


1. Redistribution of Wealth (mostly from the middle to the top)

2. Government Takeover

3. Family Values

4. Cut and Run

5. Pro-Life and Pro-Choice

6. Support our Troops (particularly vacuous)

7. God Bless America (and presumably no place else)

8. America- the great country in the world (its more than three words)

9. God Fearing

10. Main Street vs. Wall Street

11. Socialism, Communism, Capitalism, Fascism

12. America is the Greatest Democracy in the World

13. Corporations are People

14. In God We Trust

15. Death Panels

16. Welfare Queens

17. Sanctity of Marriage

18. State of Israel

19. West Bank

20. Anti-Semitism

21. Racism

22. Islamophobia

23. War on Terror

24. War of Drugs

25. Ground Zero

26. Mission Accomplished

27. Weapons of Mass Destruction (a particular favorite of mine)

28. Zionism

29. Nation Building

30. Axis of Evil

31. Nuclear threat (usually applied to a country we don’t like, e.g., Iran but never Israel)

32. Activist Judges

33. Radical Islamists

34. Obamacare

35. Hope and Change (a true bill of goods)

36. Deficits

37. Insurgency (as opposed to freedom fighters)

38. Transformational

39. Old White Men (a phrase that is racist, sexist, and ageist- quite some accomplishment)

40.  Patriotism



I am sure if I were really clever, I could put this to the tune of “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”

Friday, August 20, 2010

Nick Drake

From the Morning- Nick Drake
A day once dawned, and it was beautiful
A day once dawned from the ground
Then the night she fell
And the air was beautiful
The night she fell all around.

So look see the days
The endless coloured ways
And go play the game that you learnt
From the morning.

And now we rise
And we are everywhere
And now we rise from the ground
And see she flies
And she is everywhere
See she flies all around

So look see the sights
The endless summer nights
And go play the game that you learnt
From the morning.

One thing AT&T gets right is finding music for its TV commercials.  The latest, the one that looks like it was done by Christo and Jean-Claude but was not, uses a song by Nick Drake.  The song, titled “From the Morning,” is gentle, and sung by Drake in a melancholy yet intimate way.  I knew nothing about Drake, so found this information on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Drake).  Drake had an all too short life, yet has become an admired artist in England and elsewhere.  If you listen to his other songs, they too are sad, lonely, and isolated.  His use of marijuana, combined with his depression hung heavy over his lyrics and his death.  He died not from a life of excess, as many singers have, but from a life of isolation and sadness.  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I am Faithful to Marianne

“Irina Palm” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irina_Palm) is a film that is blessed by the presence of Marianne Faithful, whose career began in the 1960s.  She has morphed from pop singer to pop concubine, to drug addict, to author, and finally to actor.  She has had a tough life but she does not seem to be weary or tired.  She looks like she has doubled in size over the years, but she still has that beautiful face and smoky voice.  Her breasts have grown and her shoulders have rounded, but she remains a stunning person.  Faithful plays Maggie, a grandmother whose grandson is very ill and who has a son who seems to be caught in a loveless marriage and who also seems to be unemployed.  As luck would have it the only way to save the boy’s life is to receive treatment in Australia, which his parents cannot afford.  Maggie must set out to find a job to help raise the funds for the life-saving journey.  She is untrained, unskilled, and has never worked.  She finally lands a job as a “hostess” in a sex emporium in London.  Her initial revulsion to her job duties fades as she begins to excel in her craft and begins to earn money.  Ultimately, she earns enough to send the son, his wife, and the grandson to Australia.  This is not the first movie to have a plot where someone’s illness jumpstarts a new career for a loved one, but usually it has involved robbing banks rather than rubbing a body part.
 
Faithful makes the movie.  She is totally believable and does not condescend to the material or the character.  I was moved by her determination to succeed even in an industry where success may come naturally- if you’ll pardon the pun. 

The movie begins with aerial shots of one of those picturesque English towns where everything is made of field stone, and nothing has changed in 100 years.  I cannot imagine living in one of these hamlets where all there is to do is watch the BBC and go to the local pub.  I suspect they are much better to look at than to live in.  The film shines light on some of Maggie’s friends and neighbors, who are stuffy, unattractive and judgmental.  Faithful does a good job of portraying her character’s glee at sharing her job duties with her circle of friends, one of whom had an affair with Maggie’s dead husband.  Maggie delights in outing the woman in a local store where the local women gather to pass judgment on each other.  The other woman was played by Jennie Agutter, who is years past was in “Logan’s Run” and “An American Werewolf in London.”    At least from how she appears in the film, the years have not been as kind to her as they have been to Faithful. 

For me, there are two very powerful scenes in the film.  The first is at its beginning where Faithful in cramming into a small car with her son who is driving them to the hospital.  She has a huge teddy bear on her lap to give to her grandson.  The trees are leafless and the weather is cold.  The ordinariness of these two people came through so well.  It could have been any of us, and no matter how special we may think we are, we live in drab towns and we must go to the hospital to visit loved ones- without so much as a sound bite on Fox news as to our nobility.  The film captured this nobility within the mundane very successfully.  The second strong scene is where Maggie’s son confronts her about her new career.  He calls her a whore and forbids her to return to her work.  Faithful captures Maggie’s hurt and incredulity at her son’s ungratefulness.  She also conveys Maggie’s fear that she will lose the excitement and worth that she feels from having a job in London- even if that job is on the margins of society.
 
“Irina Palm” is a very good movie with a great actor. It is the kind of movie that Hollywood just could not pull off.  It would have to be very judgmental and sensationalized.  Instead here we have a slice of life where a person of modest background is trying to do something decent with limited resources, like most of us, I think.  Finally, it is very worth the investment of two hours to see Marianne Faithful in action.

Bwana No!

I have finally seen the worst movie of my life. “Bwana Devil” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bwana_Devil).    I tuned into it about halfway through so I did not get to experiences its total awfulness, but I at least had a taste.  It is supposed to be about British East Africa, but was so obviously filmed in the Southern California hills.  There is one scene where these white British railway execs were being entertained by people from India who were putting on their version of “So You Think You Can Dance.”  After seeing and appreciating Bollywood-style dancing, the wiggling and gyrating of the two male dancers was truly funny.  At times one dancer would just stop and look at his   partner and then begin to mimic his actions until the next pause.  It was all very extemporaneous, and seemed to be done without benefit of music, since rhythm never seemed to enter the equation.  There is another scene where the white folk were entertained by native African dancers.  Our dream cast, including Robert Stack and Barbara Britton, watched the pre-filmed dance extravaganza as it was projected onto a screen.  There was no pretense that the actors were even in the same universe as the dancers.  After one of the wild dance scenes, the cast dined al fresco and then headed off to bed.  Someone forgot to cue the sun to go down and the moon to rise since the scene was obviously filmed mid-day. 

In the climactic final scenes, Stack and Britten were clinging to the side of a rocky hill.  They were both perspiring (complements of a spray bottle) but from one camera angle to another, the pattern of the sweat on their clothes changed shape.

 The film’s man eating lions were either blue screened in or were live, but so valiumed-out that the only threat they posed was of falling to the ground asleep.
 
I often will recommend a bad film just for guilty-pleasure purposes or for potential learning value.  “Bwana Devil” is so bad that my only advice is to remember that you will never get the 90 minutes back.  

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shallow as the Rubicon River

·          “Rubicon” is a new spy series on AMC. To see a summary, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubicon.  This may be the slowest-moving TV series I have ever seen.  There is no “Jack Bauer” kill five-people-in-ten-minutes type of action.  Apparently we must wait to find out why any of this plodding is worthwhile.  I hope that sitting through the excruciatingly slow pacing pays off.  The lead character is played by James Badge Dale.  He is a pedestrian actor and I am having a hard time understanding why I should care about his character. 

·         “Heckler” is a movie about; guess what, the heckling of performers (including politicians) during their performances.  But then, it extends the notion of heckling to critics.  Jamie Kennedy is the primary entertainer who explores the notion of critic as heckler.  Mr. Kennedy, who counts among his work “Malibu’s Most Wanted.”  Apparently Mr. Kennedy took quite personally the comments of critics, including several bloggers, concerning the movie and Mr. Kennedy’s participation in it.  Kennedy seemed a bit thin skinned, but I agree that some of the critics make comments about his worth as a human being.  Kennedy confronts two of them directly and they did not back down from their ad hominem attacks.  I think they were rude but Kennedy should check to see if they affected his savings account and investment portfolio.  If I have more in it than mine, then I have little sympathy.  Something about the heat and the kitchen should go here.

·         “Covert Affairs” is a TV series on the USA Network (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covert_Affairs).  It stars Piper Perabo who plays a female CIA agent and her wacky world of espionage. I am making light of the show because it is, in fact, light.  Perabo gets to look good, and when in a pinch, relies on her male companions to be the muscle.  It reminds me of “Charlie’s Angels” (the original) where all they ever did way point their guns at the bad guys and say “Freeze.”  This show would be good if it were reconceptualized to have as its lead character a bad-ass female agent played by Katee Sackhoff.  Now that would keep me from falling asleep.

·        “Heckler” is a movie about; guess what, the heckling of performers (including politicians) during their performances.  But then, it extends the notion of heckling to critics.  Jamie Kennedy is the primary entertainer who explores the notion of critic as heckler.  Mr. Kennedy, who counts among his work “Malibu’s Most Wanted.”  Apparently Mr. Kennedy took quite personally the comments of critics, including several bloggers, concerning the movie and Mr. Kennedy’s participation in it.  Kennedy seemed a bit thin skinned, but I agree that some of the critics make comments about his worth as a human being.  Kennedy confronts two of them directly and they did not back down from their ad hominem attacks.  I think they were rude but Kennedy should check to see if they affected his savings account and investment portfolio.  If I have more in it than mine, then I have little sympathy.  Something about the heat and the kitchen should go here.

·        “Covert Affairs” is a TV series on the USA Network (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covert_Affairs).  It stars Piper Perabo who plays a female CIA agent and her wacky world of espionage. I am making light of the show because it is, in fact, light.  Perabo gets to look good, and when in a pinch, relies on her male companions to be the muscle.  It reminds me of “Charlie’s Angels” (the original) where all they ever did way point their guns at the bad guys and say “Freeze.”  This show would be good if it were reconceptualized to have as its lead character a bad-ass female agent played by Katee Sackhoff.  Now that would keep me from falling asleep. 

·         “The Pillars of the Earth” is a serialized TV telling of the book of the same name by Ken Follett; for a summary go to : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pillars_of_the_Earth.  After having invested four years in learning about the Tudors, this series is boring, boring, boring.  While Henry wore beautiful clothes in “The Tudors”, the costumers for Pillars must have tried to be historically accurate in making the more simple clothing worn a few centuries before Henry.  I get that, but all of the burlap seems to have just come from the laundry.  There are few worn spots or frayed edges.  Well, what about the plot?  Boring.  What about the characters?  Shallow and not nearly as thrilling as Henry’s court.  What about the direction? Plodding.  What about the photography?  Washed out.  Other than these few quibbles, it’s great.  So this was a best seller book?  Wow.  



Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Why such a bitch Darling?

Turner Classic Movies had a day dedicated to the films of Julie Christie.  The whole day was filled with some of her best work done in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I remember seeing her in “Darling” when it was first released and recollect how daring and “sophisticated” it seemed to be.  So watching it again could only be good, right?  Well more on that later.  For a plot synopsis, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darling_(film)

The film, directed by John Schlesinger, documented, and parodied the swinging culture of mid-1960’s London.  Christie was quite beautiful.  She plays a woman, Diana, who cannot seem to be without a man.  She takes another woman’s husband (Dirk Bogarde as Robert) so she herself can be happy, at least for awhile.  When she becomes bored with that relationship, she moves on to another one, and then another.  Each segue from one man to another has a brief introduction or ending using Diana in a voiceover.  Each is a self-serving justification for her deplorable actions, while being humorous at the same time.

There is one scene that I found particularly interesting.  She is at a lavish party in Paris with Laurence Harvey’ character Miles.  One group activity for the evening involved having the participants begin to remove their clothing while dancing in a circle.  As one person removed something, another would pick up that article and put it on.  There was also a movie projector that had its light focused on a screen.  As each person would move in front of the screen, they would stop, and someone shouted out the name of the person whose character they were to assume.  The participants would then ask embarrassing questions that had to be answered by the person on the hot seat.  The answers were snarky and bitchy.  A black gentleman had to answer questions as if he were Diana character.  Also in this scene, Miles introduces Diana to an older female partygoer.  This character took an immediate interest in Diana.  Miles says sotto voce to the woman that she should not forget that he knows she is a man.  We also find out a bit later in the film that Miles is impotent.
So moving along- Diana is at a modeling assignment being photographed by Malcolm, played by Roland Curram.  They strike up a friendship and eventually end up in a department store stealing food for a sumptuous supper.  Diana and Malcolm agree that they will be “brother and sister forever” given that he was interested in men.  They decide to travel together to Capri because she was in need of rest.  While on the vacation, Malcolm took to picking up some of the local culture, leaving Diana alone, much to her chagrin.  There is one scene where Diana is laying on a beach with three men on her left and three on her right.  Each of the men was wearing a somewhat skimpy bathing suit.  There is a quick cut to a kitchen alarm that goes off.  In response to the bell, each of the men turns over in order not to get too much sun.  They made the turn with the precision of the Rockettes.   The movie goes on to another relationship in which Diana becomse involved but my mind was distracted by an emerging revelation.

About two-thirds of the way through the move it dawned on me that I (and probably a good percentage of those who have seen the film) had been somewhat duped.  It occurred to me that Christie’s character was a stand-in for a gay man.  Just as “Sex in the City” has been described as a show about four gay men, “Darling” is a film about the gay-life style in London during the mid-1960s. While watching the film, I wanted to explore this issue more so I used my cell phone to Google the cast.  In fact, Bogarde, Harvey, and Curram were all gay actors.  Schlesinger was a gay director.  In an early scene, Bogarde’s character was conducting an on-the-street TV interview where he asked passers-by what embarrassed them about England.  I thought it was an odd scene, but likely was included by Schlesinger to establish John’s bona fides as a TV personality.  One of the interviewees said that he was embarrassed by how open the homosexual community had become and how uncomfortable he had become with being hit on by the locals.  I should have realized then that something so seemingly out of context had to have some grander meaning for the film. But, I did get it eventually. 

 I don’t know if Christie was aware of the subtext in the role she was being asked to play.  If she did then she gets kudos for taking the role seriously.  If she didn’t, shame on Schlesinger.  For me, the movie became a disappointing ruse once I realized that subtext, since a story about a woman addicted to men and relationships with them could have stood on its own, especially during the 1960s. 

One final note- there are a few scenes where young children are being disciplined by their ever-so- mannered English parents.  I can’t imagine how a 3-year old in the US would react if told by their mother “Don’t be such a bore”!

I liked “Darling” for reminding me of the 1960s, which was a decade of great cultural change and societal exploration.  Some of the London architecture at the time was impressive and Diana’s wardrobe was impressive.  Bogarde’s clothing was all tweedy and professor-like, while Harvey’s was ultra-sophisticated and stylish.  But, at its heart, “Darling” left me very disappointed with its subterfuge.  The Parisian party was like watching Kathy Griffen do one of her bitchy routines.  It’s funny for awhile, but then it becomes “enough already.”



I Am Like


“I Am Love” is an Italian-made movie starring Tilda Swinton, an English actor who plays a Russian √©migr√© who speaks Italian. I am not sure if her Italian has a Russian accent, but it probably doesn’t matter.  Swinton is a formidable presence in any movie.  She appears to be a tall woman but she is thin, but not too thin. Actually, all the actors in this movie are thin- oh, I forgot, it was made in Italy where people are still of what-used-to-be-considered a normal size in the US.  Today, however, if a person is of normal size, we in the US are obliged to say something like "she  looks like a drug addict."  But I digress.  I think Swinton is attractive in a very idiosyncratic way, except when she smiles.  Her teeth require some major intervention.  For a summary of the plot of the film, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_Love_(film) .

“I Am Love” has received rave reviews from those supposedly in the know.  Many have said that it has great cinematography.  I cannot confirm that since I saw in a movie theater designed some time ago.  It had no stadium seating and only a center aisle.  As a result, I viewed the movie off angle and l had to look up to see the screen.  This effectively washed out all of the color from the movie.  So while there are views of the Italian landscape, they appeared dull and lifeless.  The sound system was also archaic.  The score was by the preeminent American composer John Adams, and the music was a perfect compliment to the plot, but it sounded like listening to a symphony through a telephone. Finally, the theater had the smell of a room that has been bathed in air-conditioning for way too long and the mold was flourishing.
 
Much of the movie takes place inside the mansion owned by Swinton’s movie husband.  It was large and very interesting.  It appeared to have been designed under the influence of art deco.  It had dark wooden walls that were warm and understated.  The mansion plays an important part in setting the atmosphere for the movie.  There were long walks for the hired help while serving dinner to the wealthy members of the family. 
If you read the summary of the plot, you will see that not a lot happens.  It’s about relationships that change over time for reasons that the screenwriter does not share with us.  I was never quite clear what motivated Swinton’s character to have the affair.  Was it boredom? Was it that she had emigrated and had lived long enough in Italy that she no longer needed her marriage?  But for me, I don’t need to understand all of the reasons that people do as they do, at least in films, if I am moved by what is presented.  In this case, I was not particularly moved, so a bit more background would have helped.  Also, after her son tripped and fell into the pool, Swinton’s character stood motionless for a few seconds, which actually seemed quite long in such a desperate situation.  I couldn’t tell if it was indifference or bad directing or bad editing.

There is one scene where Swinton is topless with her fictional paramour. It was crudely filmed and her breasts looked oddly bruised.  I am all for realism, but it was more than I really needed to see.

In spite of the negative tone of this review, I liked the film.  It’s a movie that suits European sensibilities so well (at least as I perceive them). The movie contains a slice of life about real relationships where motives are not always clear and dynamics are not always understandable.  It had no guns, no killing, no aliens, no giant robots, limited foul language, and no unnaturally loud music.  It also had subtitles which, of course, had to be read.  No wonder it hasn’t done well at the US box office.  

Worth its weight in Salt

“Salt” is an exciting movie.  For a summary of the plot, click here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_(film) The plot makes little sense but it really doesn’t need too.  Why?  It has a magnificent Angelina Jolie.  She is stunning, energetic, and she never seems to condescend to the movie or her character.  I understand that she did most of the stunt work herself, which is incredible even if she only did one-third of them.  The movie has nonstop action and Jolie moves from one adrenaline-filled scene to another.  In fact, she is in almost every scene.  I have read on the web that some say Ms. Jolie is too thin. I guess that just says to me that we have indeed adjusted our view of what’s normal in order to justify our ever increasing girth. 

Liev Shreiber plays one of the main characters.  He is his usual unremarkable self.  Chiwetl Ejiofor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiwetel_Ejiofor) plays Salt’s CIA antagonist.  He is a compelling actor who has an intriguing voice and style of talking.  He has an interesting background and he deserves all of the attention he receives.  

There is not a lot else to say about the movie.  Jolie is captivating even in a fairly light-weight movie.  Watching her is a real pleasure. 

Most of the movie was filmed in and around Washington, D.C.  For those of you who know the city, it’s always fun to see how movie makers remake a city.  Jolie’s character lives in Adams Morgan and goes into the Metro seemingly across the street, except that it’s not the Adams Morgan Metro entrance.  The subway tunnels are in fact, not those of the DC metro.  They look to me more like the LA subway tunnels.  Some of the supposed DC highways were in fact located in another city and it’s noticeable to those familiar with the city. 

I appreciated that Jolie smiles in this film.  This is a contrast to Daniel Craig’s grim and determined James Bond.  With previous actors, Bond was not only licensed to kill, he was also a bon vivant.  Craig’s Bond is only licensed to kill. 

I recommend “Salt” if you want simply to have fun with an impenetrable plot with holes as wide as the Grand Canyon, exciting action, one powerful and beautiful star.