Saturday, December 31, 2011

JIM MOTORHEAD SHERWOOD R.I.P.

One of the seminal figures of 20th Century music, as far as I'm concerned, in one of the seminal bands. Even if I don't listen to them as much as I used to, or their music doesn't lend itself to repeated listens as some other music may, The Mother of Invention, in which Sherwood played a crucial role even before his sax innovations, had an impact on me and many others like no other band of the 1960s and beyond.

They influenced numerous streams of musical genres that followed, and absorbed more musical streams of music that came before them than any other band of what may be in retrospect rock'n'roll's golden age, the 1960s.

Anyway, that's the way I feel right now in the first hour of the last day of 2011. Somehow my hearing of Sherwood's recent passing and registering it here seems like a totally appropriate way to end a very bizarre year full of unexpected events and happenings.

Here's some great footage from a 1968 appearance on the BBC, Sherwood is in the brown suede jacket with the leather fringe first playing baritone sax then tambourine.



{And here's the obit from Rolling Stone.]

Friday, December 30, 2011

WINTER WONDERLAND IN THE BERKSHIRES (NOT)

Got up here this afternoon, to a snow free holiday vista. On the nearby Butternut snow slopes they're making snow to satisfy the skiers and snowboarders. But it's somehow not the same.

2011 had more catastrophic weather events than anytime in our history so far, eleven.

The last record was nine, in 2009.

There is no doubt that the earth is warming and as a result weather patterns are changing and more severe weather is becoming more frequent.

And the greedheads continue to deny, distort, dissemble and destroy. They have to be brought to justice for their crimes.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

50/50


I caught the trailer for this flick back when it first came out and didn't feel compelled to see it. It looked like another Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen take on the overgrown baby boy whose self-centered crudely childish behavior is forgiven by everyone because...of whatever the plot device is served up, in this case Rogen's friend getting cancer.

Don't get me wrong, I dug a lot of the movies Apatow and Rogen did together, but their routine seemed to become less and less heartwarming and more and more rim shot reflex forced gags. 50/50 isn't directed or written by Apatow or Rogen, and the latter serves in the capacity of sidekick to Robert Gordon-Levitt whose performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Sometimes he's miscast, but when he isn't he's a delight to watch (500 DAYS OF SUMMER for instance). And in 50/50 his performance gets great support from other performances, like Bryce Dallas Howard's (she almost stole THE HELP)  and Anna Kendrick's (who kicked butt in UP IN THE AIR). The rest of the supporting cast are terrific too, including Angelica Houston.

And the story isn't as depressing as the premise seems to forewarn. In fact 50/50 is a terrific little movie that I can highly recommend.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

PS TO LAST POST

And just to make the point that this warm Winter weather is not an anomaly, as I wrote in a post a few years ago, when I was a kid living not far from where I live now, the two little shacks next to the pond in the park in my town and next to a sunken field in the park in the town where I live now, were used every winter for iceskaters.

The shacks had fires in their fireplaces or little wood burning or oil stove type heat, for skaters to take a break and get warm. Sometimes they sold hot chocolate. As a teenager I worked either on the frozen pond in our town or on the big sleighriding hill nearby, looking out for people who got hurt etc. I worked every Christmas until I left home, because kids would bring their new skates or sleighs to try out on Christmas day.

When I moved back to this area in 1999, they were still flooding the sunken field in the town I live in now and it froze a few times and people came out to skate. But it didn't last more than a few days a winter, the rest of the time the field was just a big manmade pond with geese and ducks floating in it because they no longer went South for the Winter.

Now they don't bother to flood it anymore, and the pond in the town where I grew up doesn't freeze very often and not for long and not solid enough to warrant allowing sanctioned ice skating, though on the few days it freezes some kids try it anyway.

But the shacks haven't been used in a decade now because it's a waste of money since there isn't any ice skating anymore. This breaks my heart. The idea, as this latest scientific report suggests, that in the future kids growing up in this part of the world, my part of the world, will no longer have white Christmases unless there's a freak storm once a decade or century (which the pre-Halloween one was) and the rest of their winter will be just cool and rainy, sucks.

And the blame is clear, as it has so often been throughout history. Those greedheads who ignore the warnings of scientists and humanists who track and predict the impact of verifiable global warming and instead promote the notion that there is no such thing so that their corporate masters can make even more obscene amounts of money. They suck too.

TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS AND STILL NO SNOW

As usual, the rightwingers who are so loud when the winter weather gets cold because their unscientific knee jerk reaction is to declare that a sign that global warming is a hoax have been nowhere to behold or hear during this so far incredibly unseasonable winter.

Spring or Fall like weather every day, with the exception of the freak snowstorm before Halloween (when the right went bananas over how that was clearly proof that there was no such thing as global warming!). It's not only hurting the economy of a lot of the Northeast that depends on ski and snowboard tourism this time of year, but a recent scientific paper declares this is the future, mild winters with the occasional freak storm of greater intensity than normal.

2010 was already the year with the most extreme weather events in our history. More to come. Along with higher than average unseasonal temperatures when the weather isn't just freaking. And the sad thing is, the more this becomes apparent on into the foreseeable future, the right will still find a way to blame it on someone else and claim they were fighting global warming all along (like Ron Paul disowning his own racist and sexist newsletters that he publicly defended when they first came out).

  

Sunday, December 25, 2011

CHRISTMAS DAY TRUCE 1914

I'm sure most of you know the story, but it's worth being reminded of it again this day. Click here (and read the comments for some further light on the subject).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

IN THE SPIRIT OF THE SEASON

Not to just lay links on ya, though I know everyone's busy this time of year, but here's a great story on Huffington about the cloistered nun who was once the movie star Dolores Hart.

My brother the Franciscan friar who passed a few years ago visited her a couple of times and I think corresponded with her. He and I saw her when she was still a Hollywood actress in the film WHERE THE BOYS ARE at Radio City Music Hall back when it first came out.

He was fascinated when she joined an order of nuns who, well, you can read the story and if you feel so moved send a little donation. Limited as my funds are, I intend to send something.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

HOMELAND


I watched three TV shows this season, all on cable, because they were recommended by friends. I posted already on how cynical their messages and themes and characterizing of life seemed to be.

Well the season has ended for all three and as I mentioned before BOSS and BOARDWALK EMPIRE were almost completely disappointing. Both shows depict not just the world of local politics as corrupt and full of venal dishonorable lying cheating ruthless murderers etc. but are also wildly dishonest. They're like the evening news shows that devote so much to violent crime most viewers constantly overestimate by sometimes over a hundred percent actual crime.

It also becomes, at least for me, totally boring. But I have to admit, the third show, HOMELAND, though also over the top in its basic premise and plot, and thanks to the marvelous Claire Danes, but mostly due to the show by show twists and turns in the subplots, left me wanting more after totally surprising me in the season finale with a story twist I didn't see coming, which is rare these days.

So, I feel I can recommend watching HOMELAND if you haven't checked it out for the compelling portrayal of a mentally ill spy by Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin as her immediate boss and friend, and for the plot twists that although mostly contrived nonetheless keep you guessing in ways that a serial spy drama should.

OCCUPY WALMART!—THIS SAYS IT ALL [AT LEAST ABOUT THE SUPER RICH VS. THE REST OF US]

If you didn't see it, the other night on the Rachel Maddow show, she had a statistic that was almost incomprehensible it is so unbelievably over the top.

It seems that six members of the Walton family control more wealth than over ninety million of the rest of us.

That's right, six people whose last name happens to be Walton, control more wealth than over 90,000,000 of the rest of us!

That's not only obscene, it also explains why this country has been declining in so many ways, as the result of the economic inequality fostered by corporations, and their apologists, so that this kind of obscene injustice can exist.

Many Walmart workers are unable to support themselves, let alone their families, without taking other jobs or doing without necessities like medical care etc. (there have been numerous news reports of homeless people unable to make enough at their steady job at a Walmart to put a down payment on an apartment!). Not to mention the foreign workers Walmart depends on to keep their prices low enough to put all the mom and pop small businesses out of business in areas where Walmarts take over.

This is what the Occupy movement is about, the anger and frustration over the gross disparity between those who make obscene profits on the backs of workers who make those profits possible.

As my friend Lisa suggested yesterday when I visited a young mother responsible for organizing protesting parents in the Occupy movement, it's time to Occupy Walmart! (And the rest of the places where the most exploitative corporations do their business. And yes, pun intended.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PHIL OCHS DOCUMENTARY

I couldn't figure out a way to embed the five minute excerpt that the DANGEROUS MINDS blog ran to commemorate the late great Phil Ochs birthday. So click here and you'll find it. Even if you don't know who he was or weren't a fan of his music, as I certainly was, I bet if you watch this five minute excerpt from the film you won't be able to not feel the weight of his loss, way too young and too tragically.

JUST A FEW QUICK THOUGHTS

It's not the saddest thing in the world, but it's up there pretty near the top, watching all the footage from North Korea and the ways in which so many of that populace have been infantilized by their "leader(s)" and system's totalitarian control of media, education, culture etc.

Then thinking of the other national leader whose death just occurred, Vaclav Havel (who I actually got to portray in a TV commercial for Amnesty International if I remember correctly, where they needed someone, whose face wouldn't be lit or shown, to begin in a prison cell and walk haltingly as chains are removed and the gait got stronger and more free before walking out into the light where it switched to a shot of Havel coming out from the dark onto a balcony to cheering crowds).

What an example of what can be so great about humans, as opposed to the selfish little baby rulers like North Korea's.

And the third death in the news of Christopher Hitchens who seemed to have been almost proud of drinking and smoking himself to death (at least the way I saw it portrayed in most of the news stories I saw, if not overtly than implied) and I heard over-the-top praise about from those in the publishing and writing industries who profit from that kind of self caricature if the public buys it and are also suckers for the kind of brit accent he had buying into a kind of superior intellect and knowledge just because of that.

From what I heard and observed, he seemed like a pretty nice guy who lucked into a persona that made him more money than most writers. But from my perspective he was nowhere near as great a writer as his eulogists made him out to be (I had trouble finishing several articles and essays of his because his reasoning would become too easily refutable, including a lot of his rant on Mother Theresa, the kind of thing his persona was born to do to gain attention and sales etc.).

Like I said, he seemed personally like a decent guy with a decent intellect and writing skills who I am sorry passed too young. But he also seemed to me to be a prisoner of an image he felt he had to live up to even if it killed him.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

PROMISE KEPT

The last base has closed, the last troop departed, promise kept.

Obama may not be doing everything  I'd like him to, but certainly the first reason he said he was running for president, to end the war in Iraq, he has made good on.

I know, I know, there are still plenty of nonmilitary U. S. government agents of one kind or another still in Iraq, including I'm sure secret agents. But the military presence and the bases are gone, and that's more than we can say for Japan and Germany after over half a century.

Credit where credit is due. And like Robert has commented, hopefully the money saved from the end of this military presence in Iraq will be used for health and education and infrastructure etc. right here in the USA.

Now if we can get them to close down some bases elsewhere around the world...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

FRACKING ANYONE?

On November 5th, you may recall, the largest earthquake in Oklahoma's history occurred just 30 miles East of Oklahoma City.


Oklahoma is a hotspot for fracking (hydraulic fracturing to recover oil in shale formations miles deep). 


Oklahoma experienced between two and six earthquakes a year between 1972 and 2008, before fracking. 


In 2010, after fracking, it experienced one thousand and forty-seven!


[Read more at Reader Supported News where I got this information from.]

Friday, December 16, 2011

A LAST MINUTE XMAS GIFT SUGGESTION(S)

If you're anything like me, you either haven't even started your Christmas shopping yet, or have barely begun.

If so, this is going to seem a little self serving, but I swear I'm thinking more of the independent record label and book publishers by offering, I hope humbly, the suggestion that you go to the photos of my last CD and the selection of a few of my books to the right and click on them to find how to order one of them as a gift, for someone who doesn't mind X-rated poetry and prose.

There are some real bargains, like the CD LOST ANGELS (which can also be downloaded from iTunes) or the long political poem written for a reading on the eve of our invasion of Iraq MARCH 18, 2003. Each of these is available for only ten dollars from the label and the publisher respectively.

The larger Black Sparrow collections of prose and poetry found in the American Book Award winner IT'S NOT NOSTALGIA, and IT TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE, can be bought from the publisher at a higher price in hardback, or in paper (although one may only be available in hardback now) but can also be found new on other sites, including Amazon I think.

Another award winner that's inexpensive (and garnered some of my best reviews) and available from the publisher is CANT BE WRONG, and probably can be found for even less elsewhere on the web.

Okay, last time I do that (until next year).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

QUOTE FOR THE TIMES

"Capitalism must be holy because religion is a business."  —Carl Andre

HMMMM.....

I didn't get a post up before midnight because I was having trouble with my computer, which is three years old and these are the last few weeks when I can still call up for free technical help. Thank that's a coincidence.

I've also been getting calls from a man with a heavy Indian or Pakistani accent making it difficult to understand what he's saying, but it sounds basically like he's saying he's calling from Mircosoft because they've discovered a virus I have in my computer and he wants me to start my computer and do things I can't because I have a Mac and I don't use windows. Fortunately the last time he called I was on the house phone with my older son Miles and he heard what the guy was telling me and told me not to do it and he googled Microsoft and they specifically say they do not call up to tell you you have a virus so it's a scam etc.

All that came up for I.D. on my phone screen was a single digit number which already made it suspicious and weird, like so much else these days.

This internet connected life is so totally different from not that long ago that when I watch movies from the nineties even, but especially the eighties, they seem like totally ancient history in terms of technology.  No laptops or iPads or iPhone or iPods or etc.

I did just catch a good bit of PULP FICTION which I hadn't seen in a long time and noticed two women  I went out with back in my Hollywood years had small roles I'd forgotten about. Maybe life was always weird.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

BOARDWALK EMPIRE

Well, I stuck with it for two seasons and feel cheated. Some good acting, though even Steve Buscemi has had his moments of wtf acting. Some great costumes and sets and camera work etc. But the story line became more and more preposterous. Something out of exploitation movieland, like I can't come up with a reason for drama so let's kill someone.

I've already posted about the cynical outlook on life and humanity the show portrays, but the saddest thing about it is all the over the top too violent for Greek drama scene ravaging comes from the made up parts. If Scorcese and the rest had had the courage to stick to the real stories of the characters based on real people it would have been a much more interesting look at boss-style politics in the 1920s (in this case Republican) as well as race and religion and ethnicity and Prohibition with perhaps some relevant lessons for our own times.

But they took the easy way out and went for the blood and distortions of what actually was truly interesting and dramatic history. Where are the insights into our history through realistic drama when we need them?

Monday, December 12, 2011

THE SAD IMPACT OF RIGHTWING PROPAGANDA

I was at this place where I did some physical rehab once and the owner lets me use it to work out. He keeps the TV on CNN for me with subtitles, but with the sound off for everyone else. The radio's playing Christmas songs and there's a survivor kind of camaraderie. Not too many people who look like me, a diverse group of many shades and accents, though the dominant one is working class Jersey.

There's immigrants and injured cops and firemen and retirees and the occasional young athlete. Some are regulars and friends, but as I'm doing my routine a woman I hadn't seen before, a big beefy middle aged lady sitting up on a therapy table with one of those electric stimulator machines soothing her injury, looks at the TV and says:

"Oh Jesus no, every time that man opens his mouth the stock market goes down."

I look to see who she's talking about and there's our president standing at a podium speaking. I can't make out the words so don't know what it is but can't help saying, "That's not true."

"Oh yes it is," she says, "they said it on the TV" and I already knew she meant Fox News.

There were a few more exchanges as I tried to enlighten her, pointing out the fact that the stock market was plunging off the deep end when he got elected and under him it's turned around, mentioning the success of the auto bailout with Chrysler paying back their loan six years ahead of time with interest, and the rest.

But she wasn't having any of it. When it looked like I might be more prepared to defend my position with facts, she said we shouldn't talk politics. So I stopped.

Later in the day when I got home, I turned on the news and there was the same shot of our president speaking at the podium and what he was saying when she made her misinformed and, unknowingly or not, lying accusation about the president, was that the war in Iraq is over. A war generated and supported by the last president and his party's lies, a war whose price tag contributed mightily to our debt and the economic catastrophe they created.

I guess that's what you call ironic. But I'm sure she wouldn't have any of that either.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

JENNIFER DISKIN R.I.P.

Jennifer was a wonderful poet whose work I loved and died way too young. But she physically suffered for years and is now at peace.

I wrote a post on her work and her book that I was going to link to, but decided to just reproduce the most important parts here:

A fellow poet gave me Diskin's collection of poems, WEAR WHITE AND GRIEVE, because she wanted to turn me on to her work, and it succeeded. Diskin lives in Scranton and writes a kind of personal narrative poetry that a lot of poets do but is surprisingly difficult to make work. To create something unique in this form isn't easy or all that common. But she manages to do it.

Partially that's because her perspective feels unique when you read her, and partially I suspect it's because her frame of reference is a bit unique (quick, how many Scranton poets can you name, though in fact there's a thriving poetry scene there, as there is almost anywhere these days despite the general media tendency to ignore that reality) and partially because of her passion for poetry.

A great example of that is her author's note on the back which includes this: "She can't get enough of poetry, friends, Billie Holiday, and reading, reading, reading. She loves poems and would marry one if he were available."

You can see from that how already she's telling her story differently and yet completely accessibly. And it's no coincidence that Billie Holiday is on her list of what she can't get enough of. Like Holiday, Diskin's voice is original and plaintive in its own way, and equally as resilient and almost ironic in the face of disappointment and tragedy.

A lot of Diskin's poems in this collection are too long to quote in their entirety—like the knockout opening "Electric City"—and not all are about the trials she has faced that her poems are specific about in details but not in over all analysis (I'm assuming she suffers from some form of cancer and is still a fairly young woman), but here's one that gives a taste of her skill and clarity:

BONE MARROW BLUE

The doctor prepares my hip.
I've taken my Atvian.
I lay on my back.
There is no Barry Manilow Mandy
piped into the oncologist's office.

I lay on my back
and listen.
He tells me
my marrow will travel to New York City
to be studied.

Numbing takes a long time, then
the dull kiss into the bone.
As he pulls the needle through,
he says to the nurse he puts
white lights on his Christmas tree.

You read Newsweek in the waiting room.
Even when you hold my hand,
I miss touching.

Once the sample is collected,
the ache doesn't stop.

Put your fingers in my side.
My bruise is a blue delphinium
a spring I invent
surreal with snow.



My condolences to her family and friends—and fans, of which I was one.

[PS: Here's a great obituary for Jennifer.]

GAIL COLLINS GETS IT RIGHT SOMETIMES TOO

This time here.

Friday, December 9, 2011

CREAM DOES NOT NECESSARILY RISE TO THE TOP

Witness the Republican presidential primary race so far.

This is a premise—that talent will always be recognized and acknowledged etc.—I have taken issue with before, including in the early days of this blog. And anyone who reads this blog now, or just stops in for a visit now and then, knows I often single out books or other works of art and their creators that don't get, or have never gotten, their due.

But I've been noticing that outside of the Republican primary race, this idea has been getting a lot of support lately in the usual places (i.e. publications from The NY Times to literary mags and blogs etc.) and it disappoints me that any experienced and intelligent person with their own strong standards and taste in culture and the arts would ever defend such a blatantly false belief.

Like any film lover, I'm always noticing the minor characters in movies and TV shows I pay any attention to (and even more so after being one of the actors playing those parts) and discovering performances that are as good as any on record.

Some of those actors go on to become stars eventually, but many do not. That isn't because they aren't good enough. Obviously, since in the roles I noticed they were exceptional. It's because of the usual suspects: timing, luck, trends in taste and style and subject matter and types and etc.

For instance, three of the greatest performances by male actors I witnessed on the New York stage in the 1980s showcased the talents of men who became friends of mine for a while back then, when I was beginning a career myself as a professional actor in films and TV.

One of them was James Russo, who went on to a small role in the opening scenes of the giant Eddie Murphy movie hit BEVERLY HILLS COP. And had an equally small role recently in the opening scenes of the not as successful PUBLIC ENEMIES.

I saw him play the lead and only male role in the play EXTREMITIES, and his performance left me in awe of his talent and theatrical charisma. No way, I thought, this guy isn't going to become a major motion picture star, even if it's just playing bad guys.

Another one of the three I remember was Richard Cox who was one of the tiny ensemble that did a supposedly bold rendition of RICHARD III (at least that's what my post-op-brain remembers it was) in which the actors were close to naked, just wearing skimpy loincloths and drew a lot of attention because the emerging star William Hurt was one of them.

Hurt seemed totally miscast (as he seemed to be as Byron in the play that began his road to stardom and I saw with a powerful female Hollywood agent who couldn't stop talking about him, despite what I found to be an unimpressive, even bad, performance, though he's done other work I admire) and was horrible in the play, mumbling his lines so that they were mostly inaudible and crouching in positions that seemed to be telegraphing his self-consciousness about his near nudity. Lindsay Crouse was the female lead in that production if I remember correctly and did a pretty good job and was allowed to not be as naked as the men.

But the best thing in the production was Richard Cox's performance. It was revelatory, brought out aspects of his character and the play I'd never noticed before, made it real, anchored the entire production and I heard every word he said and felt its truth.

He had a small role in the notorious film CRUISING, and like Russo has had a career as an actor, but nothing like his talent would seem to predict and call for.

The third was Kevin Kline who I discovered when I took my older brother the priest to a musical—he loved them, and so do I—based on the film ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, which we chose mainly because Imogene Cocoa was in the cast and were blown away by Kline's performance. The physical comedy was demanding and brilliantly done, but so was every other aspect of his performance.

Now, you can argue that Kline's talent was broader and he had the capacity to play a wider range of characters than either Russo or Cox, but so what? Think of all the actors whose talent is narrow and yet achieve stardom. Or you can bring up personal lives or physical quirks or anything else, and I can find someone whose career reached the heights despite similar issues.

I've acted in, and even starred or co-starred in, many films that never even got released! Some of them because they weren't very good (but think of all the films that do get released but aren't any good) yet others were fine. I can think of many movies I've seen at screenings or caught before they disappeared that worked perfectly for me and yet disappeared with hardly a trace.

Sometimes there are reasons. Like a film I recommended that was gone within a week of its release it seemed, WHITE IRISH DRINKERS. The performances are outstanding for my taste, and the story compelling, and the young actress lead (the older one is Karen Allen) an unknown who totally enchanted me I'd love to see more of but haven't. But you could argue that the misleading title probably put some people off (I had a play I wrote and directed run in clubs and later a theater in L.A. for several months and saw some of the dialogue ripped off and used in films that came out later but no one seemed interested in taking any further, and it may have been because the title was unprintable in most newspapers and advertisements and unspeakable on radio or TV)

And don't even get me started on books and music and poets and artists etc. Think of people whose work you love and admire who haven't gotten their due. There's of course too many to even number or name or maybe even comprehend. And yet, on TV news and entertainment shows, in magazines and newspapers and on the web, this idea that "cream always rises to the top" still often holds sway.

As a Catholic kid we had an All Saints Day, a day set aside to consider and be grateful for all the saints, not just the ones who had their own individual days and were the stars of sainthood. And we also had an All Souls Day, for the rest of us, or all of us. I like to make some part of every one of my days be about all the creators who put so much into their particular creative works and yet get little or no recognition for  themselves or their work, and the same for those who don't create art but contribute to life nonetheless in other, sometimes much more important, ways.

I'll also keep writing about this and trying to bring attention not only to the better known folks making art and contributing to our own and the global culture, but to those you may not be aware of at all.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

AND AS FOR NEWT

Here's the first few paragraphs of Maureen Dowd's column from last Sunday's NY Times:

"Newt Gingrichs's mind is in love with itself.
It has persuaded itself that it is brilliant when it is merely promiscuous. This is not a serious mind. Gingrich is not, to put it mildly, a systematic thinker.
His mind is a jumble, an amateurish mess lacking impulse control. He plays air guitar with ideas, producing air ideas. He ejaculates concepts, notions and theories that are as inconsistent as his behavior.
He didn't get whiplash being a serial adulterer while impeaching another serial adulterer, a lobbyist for Freddie Mac while attacking Freddie Mac, a self-professed fiscal conservative with a whopping Tiffany's credit line, and an anti-Communist Army brat who supported the Vietnam War but dodged it."

So much more could be added, and is, but that about sums it up.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

SO WHERE'S THE RIGHT'S CLAIM ON SUPPORTING THE CONSTITUTION...

,,,when it comes to the postal service. Rightwing Republicans are always going on about the Constitution and The Founding Fathers, but it was the Republicans who semi-privatized the U.S. Postal Service which led, in part, to the situation now, where post offices are closing and hours of delivery being cut back, and other changes for the worse for those who still rely on the mail for many things (i.e. the poor who don't have access to computers and smart phones, and those not-so-poor who haven't succumbed to the Internet's lure).

The U. S. Postal Service was established in the Constitution, one of those very specific articles there, and further honed by The Founding Fathers in the years after that article was ratified. So, in order to provide for the general welfare of all its citizens, the U. S. government should be able to run the Post Office with revenues from taxes as well as postage and other fees. But like the country's railroad system(s), rightwing Republicans have managed to decimate the Postal Service, as well as the rail lines (which can be justified by the Constitution in several ways, but one of them might be the section about "postal roads" being built and maintained, since a lot of mail has always traveled by mail).

And they've done this while subsidizing, with our tax dollars, big banks, oil companies, weapons manufacturers, billionaires, etc. etc. etc. (which is nowhere supported in The Constitution).

But as post offices disappear, and those of us who still use the mail get forced to turn to "for profit" carriers like UPS and FedEx (the U.S. Postal Service was not meant to be "for profit" until the Republicans changed it to a semi-private corporation back in the '70s), rightwing politicians will continue to tout their proprietary claim on The Constitution and The Founding Fathers as if the rest of us can't read or don't bother to, so will never realize what hypocritical liars they can be and often are.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

J. EDGAR


Clint Eastwood has made some great movies, like THE UNFORGIVEN, and some flawed but still good ones, like GRAN TORINO. But for me, J. EDGAR is neither. Don't get me wrong, there's things about this movie that are great, or flawed but still good. There are also things that are pretty weak, even bad, for my taste.

It's way more ambitious than most of his films (except for the two about the battle for Iwo Jima, mini-masterpieces to me), with many more scenes and settings than he usually has in his films. Clint's the master of the minimal, minimal dialogue in the scripts he chooses or cuts that way, minimal gestures as an actor, minimal scenes and camera set ups, even minimal casts. And the music he often composes for his films is minimally intrusive, usually no grand orchestra movie soundtrack overcompensating.

But for J. EDGAR, Eastwood is only minimal in offering any dramatic explanations for why this guy was as creepy as he was and did so much damage to our country during his half century of power.  In everything else about the film, Eastwood's maximal. It's a big cast with I would guess more minor roles than almost any of his other movies.

He tries to cover over sixty years in Hoover's life and profession, as well as the contemporaneous history that Hoover's trying to control and does too often. And that presents a problem. I was hired to write a screenplay for Otis Redding's life story back in my Hollywood days, and thought I'd given them a pretty good one, but the studio heads changed by the time I finished it and the new guy wanted it entirely different to put his stamp on it. And then it never got made.

So I know how difficult it is to do a biopic. It starts with the writing, and in this case, Dustin Lance Black, who wrote MILK was the writer, and I wasn't crazy about that sprawling portrait of a man's life either. Both films have some of the same problems: moments of emotional connection, separated by scenes that seem either arbitrary or expository with little or no connection to the rest of the film and its characters (the movie about the great Irish hero, Michael Collins, had the same problem, as do many biopics).

So I wasn't crazy about the story. It depended on many stock bio tricks that I would have liked to have seen Clint resist. Judi Dench does her usual great acting, but in the service of the cliched monster mother, whose scenes with her son seem to be positing that it's all her fault he turned out to be such a cretin.

But at least her character has a clear connection with Leonardo DiCaprio's "J. Edgar" that makes at least cliched sense, unlike Naomi Watts' "Helen Gandy"—Hoover's career long loyal secretary who kept his secrets to the grave. Why she was so attached to him is never evident dramatically, she just is okay?

The standout performance may be Armie Hammer's (he almost stole SOCIAL NETWORK playing two privileged twins) as "Clyde Tolson"—Hoover's loyal second-in-command who shared Hoover's life so completely it has always been assumed they were lovers. The movie is not definitive on that score, though it offers up some contrived, to me, scenes that no one could possibly know about to demonstrate the connection they had. But again with no evident reason for it.

DiCaprio makes his usual strenuous effort to portray the character he's been hired to portray, but as so often happens in his films, at least from my perspective, he's miscast. His face, even when covered with make-up tricks to make him look a little more like Hoover, still betrays that boyish cuteness that makes it pretty impossible for me to buy him as the kind of men who seem to have been born old, like Howard Hughes or J. Edgar Hoover.

And the latter, of course, looked like a miniature bulldog, a very old miniature bulldog. There are other actors who do nice work, my old friend Michael O'Neill as Senator McKellar in a scene where he drills Hoover at a hearing, and Christopher Skyer gets Nixon so right, he should be cast immediately in a movie about maybe our most diabolical president.

As always, the music is one of the best things about the film, and like I said, there's other things to dig about it. But in the end it fudges or skips over some of the worst aspects of Hoover's seemingly endless grip on unelected power, while making the insidiousness of the man seem at times justified or almost sympathetic. But Hoover was a pathetic, hypocritical, lying, chicken-hearted blight on what our democracy aspires to and our Constitution stands for, and though the movie alludes to all that, it seems to be trying to soft sell it, the way I see it.

So, it wasn't the movie I'd like to have seen on this subject. Maybe you'll feel differently.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

PS TO LAST POST (MORE COMIC RELIEF)

Another hysterical short short film.

Only this one you have to link to and make sure the kids aren't around when you watch it.

And pay attention right from the beginning, that's not a real ad.

[PS: And thanx to my great friend Sue for hipping me to it.]

Friday, December 2, 2011

SOME COMIC RELIEF

This has got to be one of the silliest Youtube videos yet, and totally fun.

I found it on the Dangerous Minds blog, which my older son, Miles, turned me on to (and I added to the list of recommended blogs and sites on the lower right).

There's more from the group that created it, Punchy Players, including the "Cream of Wheat" Judy and Liza clip that this is a PS to.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

THE HELP


Finally saw this film and can see why it was highly praised and equally strongly criticized.

What's good about it is the story-as-story sucks you in and pays off with some strong emotional satisfaction. It brought tears to my eyes several times, as well as gave me a few laughs. Much of that can be attributed to the acting.

Emma Stone in the starring role has turned into everything Lindsay Lohan's younger years seemed to promise for her career as an adult actor before she got derailed by her problems. Stone has a few repetitive quirks that may become mannered if she keeps them much longer, but they work for her character in THE HELP pretty consistently.

Viola Davis is once again a wonder to behold on screen, as she anchors every character she plays in a reality so tangible you feel like you know her from the moment she first appears on screen, and have known her forever by her last scene.

Octavia Spencer is the revelation of the film, as many critics and audience members have testified to, but so is the always unique embodiment of character that Leslie Jordan brings to a small role that almost steals the movie as the newspaper editor.

Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek and Cicely Tyson do their usual screen magic. Mary Steenburgen does a good job too, though in a role that wastes her talent and screen presence.

But the criticism is correct too, because almost every character is a stereotype, most of them overdone, some of them way overdone, though to perfection, like Jessica Chastain as the newly rich "white trash" wife of the wealthiest male character, or Bryce Dallas Howard as "Hilly" the racist female villain of the book and film.

The author of the book was criticized by many for hiding a not so subtle racism behind the guise of attacking historic racism. Set in the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, the story is meant to expose the complexities of relations between well-to-do "white" Southern young wives and their definitely-not-well-to-do and no longer young "black" maid/nannies.

Supporters of the book and movie point to how much of an expose the story is, even if retrospectively, of how hypocritical Southern racism was in family life, particularly in terms of women. It's "a women's movie" in the sense that all the males are secondary or nonexistent characters. The story is as much about "white" racism as about "black" oppression, and the reaction to both by those brave enough to fight it (thus the Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer characters).

Interestingly, most of the criticism has come from African-Americans, including "The Association of Black women Historians." (Here's a blog that delineates some of that criticism, mostly of the book.) The criticism is easily understood, e.g. that the "black" maids speak a distinct dialect from the "white" characters, that "black" husbands are either brutal or long gone, or that this is the perspective of a white author and a white director and misses the more complex realities of that time and place for African-American domestics, as well as letting the white male characters almost completely off the hook for their common sexist as well as racist treatment of their "black" domestics.

But what that criticism misses is that in the movie there are several "good" African-American male characters, either on screen or referred to, and that the "white trash" character is as stereotypical as any of the "black" characters, as are in fact all the female characters who dominate the story.

Having experienced the segregated South at very close range when I was stationed there at the time the movie is set, where I had a relationship with an African-American woman my age (we were both twenty at the time) who had worked as a domestic in a "white" household, I know that the characters in THE HELP are stereotypes, and that the movie obviously whitewashes (literally) the common "white" male boss's inappropriate and sometimes much more than inappropriate racism coupled with sexism toward any "black" female help.

But the movie does get the main emotional and psychological high points correct enough to still make it a good story. And the actors, despite the cliches in their characters as written, make each role so real they transcend the limitations of the writer's easy categorizing.

In other words, it's one of those movies about the South and race that oversimplifies too much and yet manages to also probe some aspects of those subjects that gets at some deeper truths that seem relevant to not just our recent history but our present time. All we have to do is look at the response to our president to see how many still cling to old ideas about race in this country, and have a hard time seeing past it. And I'm not just talking about "white" folks.

[In fact, a movie could be done today about "Mexican" and other "Latin" "help" in restaurants and households etc. not being treated so well either, and stereotypically, etc.]

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WOULDN'T IT BE GREAT IF HYPOCRISY WAS A CRIME?

Then politicians who rave about "the sanctity of marriage" and are found cheating on their spouses could actually be put in jail for a while, or male politicians who push for criminalizing homosexuality and then are caught with their pants down with members of their own gender, could be thrown in a cell.

Or religious authorities or coaches who tell those in their charge they should live up to standards and practices they don't themselves.

No military authority would be allowed to tout their "Christian" credentials and beliefs unless they turned the other cheek and refused to kill anyone. Nor would they be allowed to rant against "socialism" since they and their fellow and sister military folks benefit from the most socialist of institutions, getting free meals and shelter and healthcare etc.

No member of Congress could benefit from anything he or she is attempting to cut spending for the rest of us on. Nor could they accuse their opponents in other parties of anything they too are doing (best example Newt Gingrich impeaching Clinton because of his affair with an intern at the same time he was in a marriage while Newt was having an affair with an intern at the same time he was in a marriage, etc.).

Man, this is a list that has the potential of actually truly being endless.

Of course, I've been guilty of hypocrisy too, but wouldn't mind being held accountable on the petty levels I've engaged in if those at the top who literally sometimes get away with murder while condemning others for that were held accountable.

I can dream can't I?

[Another example is my not being allowed to tout my once encyclopedic memory anymore, since I could have sworn I wrote a post yesterday but discovered this morning I had only thought about it, so any impatience with anyone over their forgetting something is a bit hypocritical of me, ain't it?)

Monday, November 28, 2011

ALBERT NOBBS


The other night, up in The Berkshires, I got to watch on a really big wall-mounted flat-screen TV a movie that's being touted for various awards, especially for Best Actress for Glenn Close—ALBERT NOBBS.

Based on a novel set in Dublin at the very start of the 20th Century, it's about gender bending out of economic and personal necessity. It's an intellectually stimulating premise and raises a lot of deep questions about not just historic perceptions and presumptions about gender and gender roles, but also about personal fulfillment in general.

There are certainly some Oscar performances in ALBERT NOBBS, but I'm not so sure one of them is Glen Close's. She does her usual great job, but it's so restrained by her interpretation of the character that it's almost missing at times. And it's definitely her interpretation, because without her the movie would never have been made, plus she co-wrote the screenplay and is one of the producers.

The back story of the movie is that Close has been trying to get it made since the mid-1980s when it was first done as a play. My take is it would have been totally appropriate for her to play the lead in the 1980s, but I'd like to have seen someone younger do it this time, and someone more appropriate for the suspension of belief, though Close certainly does her best, and her best is better than most.

But not as good as one of her co-stars, Janet McTeer, who is on my short list for award season nominations for Best Actress, even though others might see her role as only warranting Best Supporting Actress.

There's a bunch of great acting in this film, but not consistently across the cast. McTeer and the wonderful Mia Wasikowska are at the top of the list. But in smaller roles Brendan Gleeson and Pauline Collins are equally terrific. As, in even smaller roles, are Brenda Fricker and two women I originally discovered in THE COMMITMENTS and are a delight in ALBERT NOBBS—Broangh Gallagher and Maria Doyle Kennedy (just Maria Doyle in THE COMMITMENTS).

But there's also some weak acting, like from the male lead Aaron Johnson, which I blame on the director, Rodrigo Garcia. I watched the film with people connected to movie making and early on one of them pointed out how bad the lighting was in a scene (with no source of the light, making the scene look overlit and way too bright for any emotional impact but also for the time and place) and blamed the director, correctly.

Nonetheless, despite its inconsistent quality, the subject matter is so compelling and some of the performances so brilliant (McTeer's the most), I recommend seeing it.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

SPIRIT OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON

In the latest post from Robert Zuckerman's KINDSIGHT blog (an ongoing continuation of his great book of personal photographic portraits and stories with the same title).

I wanted to just reproduce the post here, but couldn't figure out how to do it, it kept sending just a rectangle with one of those tiny blue question mark rectangles in the middle of it, so you have to click on this link and then click on the post twice to enlarge it to easy reading and viewing.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL BERKSHIRES HOLIDAY

Could it have been more beautiful? Bright blues skies, warm enough to go jacketless, or just wear a sweater. It's interesting that when we had that freak early winter storm just before Halloween the rightwingers once again brought up how this was proof there isn't "global warming" but when the weather is exceptionally warm for the season, like today, and yesterday, and tomorrow, etc. not a peep from the right on how warm it is for almost December.

Ah the vagaries of ideological purity. Thankfully the left doesn't suffer from that! It's like the problem with the Democratic Party not being as disciplined and speaking with one voice whatever the party line is for the day because people in the Democratic Party are just too damn democratic.

Anyway, hope you're Thanksgiving holiday was as warm and pleasant and loving and satisfying as mine.

Friday, November 25, 2011

PAUL MOTIAN R.I.P.

One of the greatest of jazz drummers passed recently—Paul Motian. I didn't get a chance to post 'til now.

He played with many of the greatest jazz musicians and innovators of our times, like Carla Bley, and had his own groups for many years. But I first discovered him when he was part of The Bill Evans trio that included the legendary bass player Scott LaFaro.

LaFaro tragically died while they were still a trio, in his mid-twenties. Evans died closer to fifty, but still too young. Motian lived to eighty, for which those who loved his work are grateful.

There's no telling how even greater LaFaro might have been had he lived as long as Evans, let alone Motian. We got to see Evans develop into one of the greatest jazz piano innovators ever, way beyond his first record with Motian and LaFaro which I believe was around 1954.

But on those early recordings, we see who LaFaro and Evans and Motian were becoming, already illustrating some of their signature moves, uniquely their own, a sound that would soon become the sound of the late 1950s and early '60s for me captured best in their 1961 LP WALTZ FOR DEBBIE.

Here's Evans, LaFaro and Motian playing the Miles Davis' tune "Milestones" live, just to give you a taste of how original a drummer Motian already was. I love it and am grateful Motian lived so long and left behind so many great recordings that demonstrate his unique artistry:

Thursday, November 24, 2011

IN THE NAME OF...

I try to start my day with some spiritual exercises to help me prepare for whatever may come.

And this morning I was thinking about the way I prayed when I was a Catholic schoolboy, especially beginning and ending each prayer with "In the name of The Father, the Son and The Holy Ghost" (which later became "Holy Spirit"). I always wanted to add Mary (or "Our Lady" as we called "The Mother of God") and Saint Francis.

Then a list suddenly occurred to me (hallelujah!—for those who don't know I was a compulsive listmaker seemingly since birth and lost that compulsion entirely after brain surgery) that went like this:

"In the name of Mary the mother of Jesus, Saint Francis and Saint Claire, Shakespeare and Nelson Mandela, Ghandi and Martin Luther King..."

Later more names came to me, so I thought I'd make a list of all those that did and come to me now as I type this, occasionally looking at my book shelves for inspiration:

"In the name of...
Jesus,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
and Mary Magdelene
Saint Francis
Saint Claire
Saint Brigid
Pope John XXIII
and Dorothy Day
Ghandi
Martin Luther King
and Mother Theresa
Krishna
Lao Tzu
Buddha
Rumi
and Kabir
Skakespeare
Cervantes
Goethe
Lady Murasaki
William Blake
and Walt Whitman
Henry David Thoreau
Emil Dickinson
William Carlos Williams
William Saroyan
Jack Kerouac
and Bob Kauffman
Oscar Wilde
James Joyce
Samuel Beckett
John M. Synge
Queen Maeve
and Cuchalain
George Washington
and Abraham Lincoln
Bobby Kennedy
and JFK
Bobby Sands
and Chief Joseph
Jimi and Janis
Marilyn and Elvis
John Lennon
Johnny Ace
Frankie Lyman
Kurt Cobain
and Phil Ochs
Frank O'Hara
and Frank Sinatra
Lady Day
Lester Young
Bird
Miles
Monk
and Bill Evans
Eric Dolphy
Scott LaFaro
Clifford Brown
and Fats Waller
Jean Rhys
Martha Gelhorn
Lee Miller
and James Fee
James Haining
and Robert Trammel
Eva Hesse
David Smith
and Willem deKooning
Joe Brainard
and George Schneeman
Tim Dlugos
and Ed Cox
James Schuyler
and Ted Berrigan
Benjamin Franklin
and Thomas Edison
Renoir (both father and son)
Matisse
Bonnard
and Picabia
and among the still living
Nelson Mandela
and The Dali Llama
Bernie Sanders
and Elizabeth Warren
Diane DiPrima
and Pete Seeger
and my children
and grandchildren
and all those I've loved
and still do
Amen.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

PS TO LAST POST

Just to confirm that Fox News is really Faux News check this study out.

FAILURE OF THE SO-CALLED "SUPER COMMITTEE"

As in almost every attempt at a bipartisan solution to almost every problem our country faces, the intransigence of the right squelches almost all possibilities.

That was the case for the "super committee" where—as in the past—Democrats made concessions that went way beyond what their base wants while the rightwing Republicans refused to budge on letting the "Bush tax cuts" for the wealthy expire (even though when they were introduced Republicans said they'd only be temporary, which was how they got some Democrats to go along, one more instance of the right being better at misleading and manipulating anyone whose nature it is to have faith in their fellow human beings, a big mistake when it comes to the right).

As an example of how the right marches to orders from on high, until a day or so ago many rightwing Republicans were for letting the Obama payroll tax cuts that benefit those who aren't wealthy expire, even while resisting any attempt to let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire.

But the Koch brothers have stepped in (their propagandists probably figuring this wasn't a smart move) to say the payroll taxcuts should be extended, and all of a sudden the rightwing Republican political leaders are changing their minds too. Surprise surprise.

This, to me, is a victory for the Occupy Wall Street protestors, whether they know it or not. The pressure their demonstrations have put on the media to at least pay some attention to the economic realities (i.e. inequities) has raised the awareness of the general populace about the economic disparities in our system.

The right still influences the media to skew toward criticism of the protesters and unfounded reports of individuals among them causing problems or committing crimes (almost uniformly proven to be untrue) as well as incorrect assumptions that there's no "focus" to the protests.

But when shots of protesters carrying signs that accuse Wall Street of destroying the economy and thereby jobs and having too much control over the government are shown, even on rightwing biased media, most of the population, according to polls, agrees.

The reality is that those who agree with the perspective and positions and policies of the right constitute a small minority of our citizens. Most of us have more centrist and liberal views and beliefs. Therefore the right cannot win elections if everyone votes.

But they can if they convince enough voters that there's no difference between the parties and that "Congress" and the presidency are dysfunctional (instead of the reality that the rightwing dominated Republican Party only agrees to measures that protect the wealthy and call for more sacrifice from the rest of us, a highly unpopular position if seen for what it is, which is why the rightwing propaganda machine and media mislead and misinform and lie about that reality to keep it hidden).

But after the last election where enough people came out to vote to overturn or resist rightwing policies in various state and municipal elections, the right realized it had "overreached" (their leaders and media immediately parroted that exact term, though it wasn't overreaching, it was doing exactly what they intended to) and so too with this latest concession to popular opinion the right is merely avoiding being the victims of the unpopularity of most of their ideology.

But the right will always return to its default position of doing and saying anything they need to gain and/or maintain power to be wielded in defense of the interests of the most powerful among us—corporations and those who derive the most wealth from them.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

THE IDES OF MARCH


Went to see THE IDEAS OF MARCH with my friend Bill Lannigan the other night. We had the choice of several movies we both wanted to see but I kept pushing for this one, because George Clooney has yet to disappoint me, as an actor, a director, a movie maker (and a political activist for that matter).

There are only a handful of people whose creativity always works for me, Clooney's one of them. And it was a good call (I think Bill would agree). The cynicism at the heart of the movie I might not agree with entirely, but it's a timely story about political campaigns and the compromises made for success at almost any level of participation.

It's set in a Democratic Governor's campaign to win his party's nomination, so the ideals everyone signs up for are ones I share, but the tactics they end up thinking they have to use to win are ones I've often rejected—in politics and my work and "careers"—which might help explain choices and decisions that kept me from the kind of success I, and others, sometimes envisioned for me. And I suspect that's true for a lot of you reading this.

So even though I believe in the real world there's less use of the kind of cutthroat tactics used by almost everyone in this film, nonetheless, it makes for powerful storytelling. And like I said, anything I've seen Clooney associated with is usually good movie making, including storywise. THE IDES OF MARCH, which he co-wrote, is no exception.

So here's a well told tale, directed economically and wisely by Clooney (who also co-stars as the candidate) and cast brilliantly. The story is worth seeing the movie for, but the acting is too, so it's a double winner.

Ryan Gosling plays the conflicted lead and does his usual expert job of carrying the story on his character's shoulders, though I would have liked an even bigger emotional transition. But he pulls off his more subtle version because he's so good at playing the moment realistically. Then there's Philip Seymour Hoffman at his disheveled best, bringing the reality all the way home, and Paul Giammati matching him move for move.

Even Rachel Wood plays the ingenue role as brilliantly as she always does, a variation done so truthfully I was hooked before the end of her first scene. And Maria Tomei—an unfortunately underutilized actress in my opinion—is as great as she always is, anchoring a subplot with her natural gift for character. Jeffrey Wright, another favorite actor, has a part as well and plays it as it should be played.

THE IDES OF MARCH is about ideas and the behavior they support or are used as an excuse for. You don't get too many of those these days, so again, it's worth seeing for that too. Bottom line, as they say, it's worth seeing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

ANOTHER NON-SPONTANEOUS LIST

I'm still without what was my lifelong compulsion for listmaking that disappeared after brain surgery. But, like the last list, here's one that comes from my iTunes library which I am compulsively going through alphabetically to make sure I've listened to each song (almost all of which I've heard many times before, including before anything like an iTunes library).

This one was just my noting the songs in my iTunes library whose titles begin with the word "one:"

ONE DRAW Rita Marley
ONE FLIGHT DOWN Norah Jones
ONE FOOT IN THE GUTTER Thelonious Monk
ONE FOR DADDY-O Cannonball Adderly
ONE FOR MY BABY Bill Charlap
ONE FOR MY BABY Frank Sinatra
ONE FOR MY BABY Johnny Mercer (who wrote the lyrics)
ONE FOR MY BABY Fred Astaire
ONE HAND, ONE HEART Carol Lawrence & Larry Kert (original West Side Story cast LP)
ONE IRISH ROVER Van Morrison
ONE MINT JULEP The Clovers
ONE MONKEY DON'T STOP NO SHOW Stick McGhee
ONE MORE CUP OF COFFEE Bob Dylan (Desire)
ONE MORE NIGHT Bob Dylan (Nashville Skyline)
ONE MORNING IN MAY Bill Charlap
ONE NIGHT IN A LIFETIME Donna Summer
ONE O'CLOCK JUMP Count Basie
ONE O'CLOCK JUMP Lester Young
ONE OF THESE DAYS Mose Allison
ONE OF THESE THINGS FIRST Nick Drake
ONE OF US MUST KNOW Bob Dylan (Blonde On Blonde)
ONE PART BE MY LOVER Bonnie Riatt
ONE STEP CLOSER U2
ONE THING Luscious Jackson
ONE TOO MANY MORNINGS Bob Dylan (The Times They Are A-Changin')
ONE WAY OR ANOTHER Blondie

Sunday, November 20, 2011

CONTAGION


It's award season again. So far I'm receiving fewer CDs in the mail from movie producers looking for votes for the SAG and WGA awards etc. The few I've received, I've already seen, except for CONTAGION.

I avoided seeing this because I thought it would be too heavy and, frankly, scary. I never dug horror movies, even as a kid (ironic that the first two movies I had star billing in were both horror flicks). Or any kind of deliberately scary movie. Movies where scares are part of the larger story but not the point I can take, but scary for the sake of scaring the audience just always seemed like a wasted effort to me, a cheap shot.

Anyway, I was wrong about CONTAGION. Although the point may be to scare an audience for either some higher purpose—to have better global preventative protocols to stop the spread of new viruses and diseases etc.—or even just to appeal to audiences that dig being scared (that leaves me out), CONTAGION doesn't work on that level.

Yes there are a few moments of gore where I had to turn away, and intellectually the story is scary. But the movie makers fail to create an emotional connection and therefore stake in the story—mostly in the writing and editing, the acting by contrast is pretty uniformly exemplary.

This often happens with movies—and other art forms—that attempt to make big statements. The emotional resonance gets lost in trying to do too much. It's a challenge with a theme like that of CONTAGION because the story is compelled to cover the globe to make its point that because of globalization we are much more susceptible to bigger and faster spreading epidemics caused by new exposures of humans to all kinds of diseases and viruses etc.

But we already knew that. The story should have concentrated on a few human stories that hooked us emotionally and made us care about the individuals. Instead CONTAGION almost does the opposite, with a few exceptions. there's some really interesting subplots that get lost or dropped or overwhelmed by the main story lines (of which there are too many also).

The producers are suggesting Laurence Fishburne for "Best Actor" awards and Matt Damon and Jude Law for "Best Supporting Actor" awards. But if anyone is the lead in this flick it's Matt Damon, who is always a revelation and is once again here. When he first comes onscreen I didn't recognize him for a minute, thinking the director had found an obscure actor who looked like an American everyman, but then I saw it was Damon. His performance makes the movie worth watching to me.

As does Jude Law's, who plays the foil to Fishburne's character. Fishburne's performance is beautifully understated, but at times I wished for less of that and more emotional relating to the other characters and the audience. But law's performance displays so much variety it's difficult to decided how to react, faking the audience out until almost the end.

Interestingly, the movie makers did not suggest anyone for "Best Actress" just a long list for "Best Supporting Actress"—including Marion Cotillard, always great to watch, Jennifer Ehle, Sanaa Lathan, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet, who should be the one up for "Best Actress" (or female actor as I prefer to label that category).

Winslet, like Damon, is always a revelation and always terrific, and is so here. I'd have liked to see the filmmakers use her and Damon more, especially together. They dropped that possibility way too fast.

I have to blame Steven Soderbergh for this failure of this movie to hook me emotionally, but it's mainly because he let the screenwriter, Scott Z. Burns, get away with trying to do too much without enough time or emotional justification to do it.

Yet, the movie's worth watching as an intellectually engaging premise. My friend Sue, who watched it with me, pointed out that the interconnectedness of all of us caused by globalization is not just a danger regarding disease but that the same set of circumstances that snowballed the contagion in CONTAGION could and may well happen (or may already be) in terms of the globalization of the world economy.

But like everything, this can be "good" or "bad" or most likely both, depending on how it plays out or what seat in the universe you're looking at it from—as say the "bad" results of the way Wall Street's shenanigans led to an nearly worldwide economic collapse, and the Arab Spring awakening led to a widespread, almost worldwide, resurgence of popular movements to demand change in governmental collusion with the interests of the wealthy, etc.

So CONTAGION for my taste is worth watching for some of the acting and for the ideas inherent in the story, but don't expect to end up with any emotional or spiritual or even psychological satisfaction. Just maybe some intellectual gratification.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

BILL DEEMER'S VARIATIONS


It's time for a change of pace. I never mean to post more than twice in a row on a political topic, but this past week was too compelling to ignore (also when I post mostly links, it's because I'm tired or not as sharp and typing my thoughts clearly becomes more of a challenge).

I've been getting a lot of great books in the mail lately. Too many to keep up with here. So tonight I thought I'd mention a book I received unexpectedly recently and didn't know about but found it the perfect antidote to the news these days.

VARIATIONS is a collection of mostly short, or very short, poems that riff off of famous and obscure poets and their poetry (from Basho to William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens to Gary Snyder) yet the poet makes it all his own by whatever the opposite of grandstanding is.

Bill Deemer's poems in VARIATIONS seem to humbly nod to the greatness of other poems and poets and admit openly they're not out to compete with them but to offer a more accessible, more direct (mostly) and simpler take on the same or a similar subject and poetic approach.

And they work so well, it's a book I'll keep on my shelves and return to when I need to read something simple and direct and that'll put a smile on my face and even possibly, in fact most likely, peace in my heart and mind.

Here, for instance, are a couple of his "Epigrams:"

Pray to Saint Quixote
for the courage to be ridiculed.

Pray to Saint Sancho
for the strength to live in doubt.

Or this short poem called "FAME & FORTUNE:"

Fame:
the cows stop eating
to watch me pass.

Fortune:
more blackberries
than I will ever pick.

Reading these short poems, each on a single page surrounded by white, some of them resonate deeply, like a private mantra discovered by accident that calms down the day and opens the heart to the eternal now. And some seem too casually obvious to need much attention at all.

But when I first read through this book, a few pages at a time each night, I always put it down with a little smile on my face, or at least in my heart. It's sincerity matched by its simplicity but based on eternal truths or at least eternal insights, were just what I seemed to need and didn't know it until I began reading, at first skeptical, critical, even judgmental, until I found myself surrendered and open to their easy charm.

I'll end with this little one from "HOMAGE TO ISSA:"

Issa's Lesson:
speaking in the same voice
to humans, insects, plants.

Friday, November 18, 2011

BERNIE'S GOT IT RIGHT, AS USUAL


[And for those who would argue that nothing should be off the table for cutting, Congress has been borrowing from Social Security funds for decades—that was one of the things Al Gore was for changing, calling for a "lockbox" so those funds could not be raided to pay for other Congressional programs—so in that way Social Security has already been cut and continues to be. If any changes should be made it should be that Social Security funds can not be used for anything but Social Security benefits. If you still insist it has to be cut, than those with millions or billions in the bank that came from earnings not taxed for Social Security shouldn't get any Social Security benefits.]

HERE'S A GOOD QUESTION

[If you have trouble reading the signs, click to enlarge.]

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ROBERT REICH SAYS IT BETTER (AND MORE SUCCINCTLY) THAN ME

There was a little exchange of comments on the thread for my last "Deja Vu All Over Again" where it seemed like me and my friend the artist (multi-media, but predominantly a unique painter) seemed to be partly disagreeing. I think it was just differences in emphasis mostly. But this piece by Robert Reich says what I was aiming for and I think Paul was too. Check it out.

THIS IS PRETTY CLEVER (AND CORRECT)

Thanks to the great photographer and poet friend Kevin McCollister for sending me this link. (To get the full impact click on the rectangular little box in the center with the question in it.)

SHUT UP & DANCE EVENT CANCELED

For anyone who might be planning on attending my buddy Jamie Rose's tango event in the city to promote her book SHUT UP & DANCE!—it's been canceled.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN

In the 1960s, as protests for Civil Rights and/or against the Viet Nam war continued to grow and multiply despite attempts by the police and other law enforcement agencies to stop them, police tactics became more and more repressive and violent.

In fact, that's when the police became militarized, with so-called S.W.A.T. teams all armored up and weaponized on a level rarely seen in this country (though it also happened during strikes and other labor protests in the 1930s and throughout USA history whenever the interests of the "trusts"—i.e. corporations—were threatened by public protest).

We're seeing it again in the police brutality being used against protesters and reporters and observers and even just passersby (as with the innocent bystander who was seriously injured in Oakland last week, etc.) and last night at the original Occupy Wall Street in what was known as "Liberty Plaza" (until it was taken over by a corporation and named for one of the corporation's wealthy big shots).

It's ironic that the rightwing media machine and its mouthpieces (including their political "leaders"—elected or not) that are always going on about "freedom" and "liberty" (though usually unwilling to lay THEIR lives on the line for those concepts, letting the poor and deprived and needy among our youth do that for them) cannot stand to see people actually "demonstrating" those concepts by gathering to protest injustice and demand their rights.

When anyone left of Dick Cheney presumes their Constitutional right to publicly gather and protest, the rightwingers not only attack them for doing that but infiltrate their protests with provocateurs whose job it is to discredit the actions of the protesters while the rightwing media discredit the motives of the protesters.

This coordinated attack on one of our basic freedoms has been happening since the beginning of The Occupy Wall Street movement (but never occurred during Tea Party rallies, despite people carrying guns and being noisy and belligerent and even physical against those who disagreed with their ideas).

The first attempt to discredit the protests was to mark the protesters as disaffected young people who had no idea what they were protesting against or for. That was ridiculous on its face (I took part one day, as I've written, and saw many white haired folks and businessmen in suits and professors and teachers and even off duty cops and firemen etc.).

Then when the movement began obviously gathering supporters across the spectrum, the right—and the media it manipulates so easily—started criticizing the protests for "disturbing the peace" in some way, being too unhygienic or noisy or harboring criminals etc. and thus (from the rightwing perspective) justifying police intervention, no matter how violent.

The Oakland police were the first to move to all out militarization, and if they hadn't inadvertently seriously injured an Iraq Vet and then tried to keep people from helping him, which was caught on camera, they'd have probably gotten away with it (not from the perspective of the protesters and their supporters, including me, but in terms of media attention).

Other local governments—state and county and municipal—have gone the route of allowing the protests to continue until they can cook up the "legal" justification for repressing them, often violently. As in so-called "Zucotti Park" last night.

It is no accident that news helicopters were denied air space over the police action last night at the Wall Street Occupation in Manhattan, and that reporters were kept from getting close enough to take photos or be eyewitnesses to any police brutality, or were roughed up by some cops themselves.

I come from a clan in which there's always been police officers, right from the progenitor of the clan, my Irish peasant immigrant grandfather. So I know firsthand that there truly are "good cops" and "bad cops" and most police do not enjoy getting physical, let alone violent.

There were police last night who didn't rough up reporters, or protesters and there were those who did. But behind their actions are not just politicians but an array of powerful forces consciously or unconsciously doing the bidding of corporate powers and those whose wealth is dependent on those corporate powers.

Why should citizens not be allowed to gather in public and protest and stay as long as they like? Many in the media and among our citizens were impressed with the courage and lasting power of the protesters in "Liberty" Square in Cairo last year, despite police efforts to not just remove them but intimidate them and squash the protest. And they didn't have to contend with the cold!

The excuse is always that it's "disruptive" in whatever ways will most disgust the general public so that police action seems justified. But when someone makes too much noise or is un-hygenic or even commits a crime in your neighborhood, the police don't move in and remove you and your neighbors or destroy your homes.

It's not even ironic that people who supposedly live near Zucotti Park have complained about the noise from drumming. First of all most apartments in those kind of high rises don't even have windows that open, especially on the kind of chilly nights we've been having recently. And the noise from the construction at the nearby World Trade Center memorial and area is radically louder than any drumming (and we know the drumming doesn't go on at night because protesters are sleeping then).

What the authorities dread is the development of "Hoovervilles"—the kind of squatting communities that spontaneously appeared during The Great Depression around the country, like in Central Park and along the rivers in Manhattan (see MY MAN GODFREY among other films from the 'thirties) and expanded before the police, sometimes with the help of military troops, could remove them.

Tahrir Square in Cairo were lauded as heroes among many in the U.S. and the media), in which case (actual crimes) the police can do actual "police" work—not create-a-riot or military action—and find our who committed the crime and arrest them.

The most ridiculous part of all this was that Bloomberg, NYC's mayor, defended last night's action by saying the tents and sleeping bags were making it so "the public" (as if the protesters are somehow "the private"?) couldn't use the park. But I was there on the day when the crowds were the largest, according to all news reports and the police, and yet me and my then thirteen-year-old son and his mother and her younger sister and her boyfriend strolled around the park without any problems. The only problems were the rogue cops who were obviously itching to smack us down for daring to go against their bosses or their own private prejudices or politics.

And now—hey Bloomberg!—the park's been closed all day to the protesters AND THE PUBLIC(!) protected by a phalanx of cops in riot gear. Where are all the defenders of the Constitution now? (Protesting the closing of the park, actually.)

Where this militarization of the police and repression of protesters and demonstrators led in the 1960s and '70s was to calling in the National Guard and the four deaths of student protesters at Kent State (where even if rocks were thrown, although that's still debatable, being shot to death is not the reasoned or democratic response).

And where that led the protesters was the extreme radicalization of some of them who came to believe Mao's dictum that "power comes out of the barrel of a gun." I argued against that, because I don't believe it's ultimately true. But having the police use military tactics to deal with citizen protesters obviously can, and sometimes does, lead to some protesters becoming militarized themselves.

But more often agent provocateurs working for the police or corporations etc. encourage and instigate violence from protesters in response to violence from the police, to thus justify total repression of the protesters and their cause. And the agents' actions create paranoia among the protesters because it is unclear who is really protesting and who is there only to stir up trouble to discredit the protest.

Because of the Internet and the generally speedier transmission of images and words these days, what took the Civil Rights and Anti-War protests many years to evolve through stages of protest—and reactions from the authorities in the form of police actions—is occurring in a matter of only months for this movement. I'm hoping that doesn't mean that violence will escalate equally rapidly.

In fact I'm hoping the protests can remain non-violent like the early Civil Rights protests did, because the moral authority inherent in that approach won over many more supporters than when the protests turned violent in response to police violence.

AI WEI WEI IS STILL MY HERO

See why here.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

TWO YEARS

Just a quick addition to today's posts. This day, November 13th, two years ago, I had brain surgery. To have lived in any time before the last ten years or so, would mean that I wouldn't be writing this. Not only would I not be able to, I'd probably not even be around to do it. So I am eternally (or as much as I have left of it) grateful.

TOWER HEIST


So the movie I saw with my daughter and older son yesterday was TOWER HEIST. I was pretty sure—given the cast and others involved—it could be an easy movie to agree on, an action comedy heist picture, sure Hollywood escapism.

The best heist flick I've seen since THE TOWN, with parts of it equally improbable, but instead of serious, TOWER HEIST is very funny, though not quite as escapist as it might seem, because the plot involves getting revenge against a Wall Street investor who seems to be getting away with...well, the usual Wall Street crime.

The cast is worth the price of admission, for me, and to have laugh-'til-you're-squeaking moments cascade into missing-half-the-lines-in-a-scene is pretty satisfying too when you're looking to be entertained. The timeliness of the plot, almost an Occupy Wall Street storyline on some levels, is an accident, since the story idea's been around for a while and the project took years to make happen.

The secret to getting it made, I heard, was getting Eddie Murphy to co-star in it with Ben Stiller, the lead. Stiller is still one of the movies best comic actors, and he proves it in TOWER HEIST. And Murphy, as much as he can sometimes aggravate me, is the most successful (tickets sold, money made) movie comedian of all time, yep, for a reason too. When the man's funny, he's hysterical. This is the best thing he's done in a while for my taste too.

Then there's the supporting cast. Like a sports dream team. Matthew Broderick's deadpan rim shots had me bending over from laughing so hard, and when he breaks that pattern (unusual for him) and becomes manic for a minute, it's even funnier. And Casey Affleck is one of my favorite movie actors out there right now. There doesn't seem to be anything he can't do or convince me he can.

His role in TOWER HEIST calls for a little deadpan, a little dim, a little foil for Stiller and he nails it. As does Tea Leoni, an actress I fall in love with almost every time I see her on screen. She has one of the best drunk scenes in films in TOWER HEIST and it only lasts a few minutes.

The entire cast is pretty terrific, including Alan Alda as the Wall Street big shot and Judd Hirsch as "management" but—one of the smartest and best casting choices the filmmakers made in TOWER HEIST was hiring Gabourney Sidibe. I remember when she was nominated for her starring debut role in PUSH some critics and commentators were saying it was sad that she was given all that attention because a young woman who looked like her (very heavy and very dark) would probably never be hired for a role again. Their thinking being how many roles can there be for anything other than traditional good-looking whatevers.

Duh! It made me totally angry because she obviously is an amazing actress. Fortunately, she went on to prove it in everything I've seen her in since, like her role in THE BIG C on cable and now her role as a Jamaican maid in TOWER HEIST.

She gives everyone a run for the money in this flick and pulls it off so adroitly, if they gave Oscars for comic roles, she'd deserve a nomination.

Don't get me wrong, this is pretty much Hollywood fluff, but some of the best comic fluff in a while. Brett Ratner, the director, might be a jerk in some ways (as I've heard from Hollywood friends and he seemed to prove by making what could be interpreted as anti-gay remarks on Howard Stern's show (surprise surprise) (whether they were or not the producers of the Oscars immediately fired him from directing that show this season and with him went Eddie Murphy as the host) but (if you remember the beginning of the sentence still) he (Ratner, the director) proves with TOWER HEIST that there's more to funny movies than Judd Apatow and his many admirers and imitators.

Check it out, just for laughs (and for what I assume will be Heavy D's last appearance in a flick in a cameo as a courthouse guard, may he rest in peace).

Saturday, November 12, 2011

ANOTHER GREAT BERKSHIRE WEEKEND (PART ONE)

Last night got to see and hear my oldest son, Miles, perform with the band he plays bass in (Bell Engine) at The Red Lion Den, an old and venerable pub in the basement of The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Not only was it a terrific night, with two hot and loose sets by the band, but I had the thrill of hearing the one song Miles has written both the music and words for, "Soul Breaker," played twice. The second time at the end of the last set when there was five minutes left for an encore and several in the Friday night crowd shouted for his song.

If I had been a cartoon and/or wearing a button up shirt the buttons on my chest would have popped. A song only heard a few times by anyone, only recently recorded on Bell Engine's first CD, but not released yet (soon, you can find out when from the website bellengine.com) and already being requested by shouts from the audience? Pretty cool.

And all this on another beautiful Berkshires weekend. Though last night it was cold and snowing a bit. Still, today the sun came out and despite the chill lit up the hills and mountains and few remaining trees with turning leaves of Autumn colors, including the bright yellows and flaming reds and almost neon oranges.

The backdrop to another great day to be alive as I spent it with my daughter Caitlin and Miles (a long while since we had the chance to hang out without spouses and younger kids) and a little trip to Pittsfield, the main city in The Berkshires. Part of the main drag has been renovated and we went to an almost brand new multiplex movie theater, The Beacon, that is state of the art, after getting some chai lattes at a brand new coffee and soup and sandwich cafe Market Place, where the service is always terrific, the food good and the vibe Berkshire comfortable.

After the flick we checked out a new and very stylish restaurant, Spice Dragon, also on the main street. It's run by a Vietnamese chef who prepares dishes from various Asian cultures. I had a Malaysian curry dish with super thin noodles and a variety of vegetables just spicy enough to keep me awake and alert to the nuances of the other flavors.

Hope all this renewal pays off for a community in need of some successes (Pittsfield that is, not the other more chic small towns and villages that make up the rest of "The Berkshires" and all that stands for). These businesses seemed to be doing pretty well, so maybe. The movie was packed by a crowd that seemed pretty happy with the film we went to see, but more about that tomorrow.