Thursday, June 30, 2011

"THE GREAT SPEEDUP"

Check out this article in Mother Jones. It summarizes pretty well some things I and others have been saying and writing about for the past several years.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

EASY A


I'd heard good things about this flick when it came out last year, but didn't get a chance to see it until tonight on cable. The good things are true.

It's a high school situation comedy that hits a lot of the familiar tropes (as they say nowadays) and yet is original enough and well acted and scripted enough to satisfy. At least this viewer.

It stars Emma Stone, who proved how great her acting chops are in smaller roles in comedies like THE HOUSE BUNNY, THE ROCKER and SUPERBAD.

This time she gets to play the lead in a role not too far from Lindsay Lohan's in MEAN GIRLS (the standard even EASY A  cannot match for high school comedies with female leads). She has always reminded me a little of Lohan too. What they used to call when I was a kid, "the poor man's version"—as in B movie stars meant to evoke A move stars, like Lisbeth Scott was "the poor man's Lauren Bacall."

It's partly a treat to watch because there's such a great cast, with Amanda Bynes—who proved herself the carol Burnett of kids' comedy and one of the originators of that trend on cable TV back when my thirteen-year-old was little and watched her show and later did her own versions of high school and college comedies—as one of the comic foils among the students and Thomas Haden Church, Lisa Kudrow and Malcolm McDowell as the foils among the high school staff.

The real treat is the always amazing (for my taste anyway) Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as Stone's character's parents. In fact the few scenes they have with her are worth watching the movie for. Had me definitely laughing out loud.

Like a lot of high school comedies in recent years (10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU, CLUELESS et. al.) it riffs on a classic (in this case THE SCARLET LETTER), more like turns it on its head to make a similar point. But there are enough complications to keep the narrative moving briskly and make room for the comic bits, especially with the parents.

The writing isn't up to the standard set by Tina Fey in MEAN GIRLS, but it's good enough for light entertainment. I was thoroughly entertained.

CENK UYGUR [AND A BRIEF RANT AGAINST GOOGLE'S NEW SYSTEM]

My new favorite TV personality. My friend Terence Winch told me about Cenk Uygur years ago and his internet show "The Young Turks." And my friend RJ Eskow has appeared many times on "The Young Turks" and I've seen a few of those appearances when Eskow posted them on his blog.

But since Uygur became a regular every weeknight on MSNBC, he's been kicking major butt. He's incredibly smart and can summarize political situations really well and succinctly, and he's so honest it's refreshing as anything I've seen on TV.

Rachel Maddow does a great job, and Olberman has and does again at times, and a lot of other "news" personalities on MSNBC expose a lot of truths we don't get anywhere else, except sometimes on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show"—but there it's in the service of comedy and exposing the hypocrisy and foolishness of so many politicians and TV personalities, etc.

Uygur just seems to be after the truth that isn't being addressed and getting to it the quickest and clearest way possible. He credits guests who have different perspectives when they make a good point and he bats away their bs when it's apparent.

He's a Turkish-American too, so he has some insights into the Middle East that most of the talking heads on TV don't, and he comes across as a no jive no pretension Jersey boy. Check him out on MSNBC or on the net if you haven't already.

[PS: I'd offer a clip here from the show I caught tonight but it's not available, and trying to get a recent one was too difficult for this technodyslexic. I don't know about anybody else, but Google has been a major pain for me since they changed the way they do their listings. In case you haven't heard or don't know, they now second guess what they think you'd want to see on any list of the topic you google, and everyone gets a different list now, based on what they think you dig, I guess from your history. But I looked up "photos of 1940s female Hollywood movie stars" recently and in the first ten there was Jennifer Aniston and she kept popping up again and again and she's someone I have never googled nor would I for any reason I can think of and she has nothing to do with 1940s Hollywood, but then neither did over half the images that popped up, and probably a third of them were men as well, including one of those guys from the TWILIGHT movies I haven't seen and have no interest in but know about because of the media's obsession with the "celebrities" of the moment. Google didn't do any better on MSNBC and Uygur either, but you can find "The Young Turks" on Youtube and some old MSNBC appearances. Maybe it's just me, but the internet has become a more insidious and a lot less user friendly, more like corporate friendly.]

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

JANE GREER & CYD CHARRISE




Busy couple of days, but I managed to catch some films on TCM as my reward. One is an old favorite, which Alec Baldwin and Robert Osborne, the hosts of TCM's "Essentials" cited as the best film noir: OUT OF THE PAST.

I also watched THE BAND WAGON, which I thought I'd seen before but except for a couple of the dance numbers between Cyd Charrise and Fred Astaire, I felt like I had never.

What struck me about both these films was the impact their female leads had on me as a kid, whether I was seeing them in first run movies or in repeats on TV: Jane Greer and Cyd Charrise.

These dark haired beauties (at least Greer seemed dark haired in black and white) epitomized a kind of feminine seductiveness coupled with a powerful sense of independence—they never seemed like they weren't ultimately in charge of their own fates—that I think I spent the rest of my life looking for.

It got me thinking about the influence of movies on my generation, and those before mine, when it was our main form of entertainment outside of the radio and eventually TV, but initially only the movies (and in some ways still) could not just charm and delight and engage and even enlighten me, but mold my ideals, particularly when it came to women.

I fell in love with both these women in these movies or scenes from them and many others they were in, and seeing them in these films just had me falling for them all over again, (even as "bad" as Greer's character is in OUT OF THE PAST where she plays a gangster's moll—Charrise plays one only in one dance number in BAND WAGON).

If I ever get around to making a list again, maybe it'll be of the women I've fallen in love with in the movies.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

CLARENCE CLEMONS & PETER FALK R.I.P. (A LITTLE LATE)


I never met either of these men, though I was invited backstage at a Bruce Springsteen concert in the 1980s when I was a regular on a short-lived TV show (BERENGER'S) and met Springsteen, who was just as you'd imagine, no "star" attitude, in fact no attitude. He seemed sincere, decent, and a really nice guy.

As for Clemons I love the fact of his being such an important part of Springsteen's band, and what their interracial blend did for the image of "rock'n'roll"—as we used to call it. But the truth is, as much as I admire Springsteen as a songwriter and performer and love some of his songs, I'm not crazy about his sound all the time.

His solo acoustic stuff is mostly great for my taste. But as much as I get where that carnival kind of overdone quality comes from (the boardwalk in Asbury Park when Springsteen and I were kids, me an older one) and appreciate the supposed R&B element Clemons brought to the band (Clemons himself said he preferred "rock'n'roll" to R&B or jazz) and can dig some of their tunes when I hear them, their music never got to me the way say Van Morrison's did.

But despite all the caveats, "the big man" passed too soon and will be missed even by those of us Jersey boys who weren't the avid fans so many here are. He was an institution, almost as much as his "boss" is, and their magic will no linger exist in live shows which I know is heartbreaking for their fans and marks the end of an era for all of us, fans or not.


As for Falk, I appreciated his work in John Cassavette's movies and I liked his role on Columbo the few times I watched him on it. But for my taste his most memorable roles were two cameos basically in two favorite films of mine, THE PRINCESS BRIDE and WINGS OF DESIRE. He was like the icing on the cake in both those flicks, in the former as the framing device, reading to his grandson before bed pretty much as the Columbo character that was his default persona, and as himself, but his artist side, literally, in the latter.

He had a good, successful, full life it would seem, and though he will be missed, how wonderful that he did and we got to share some of it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

EVERYBODY'S MAD AT OBAMA

Well, almost everybody, it seems.

His Afghanistan speech disappointed the generals who want to keep the same level of troops for at least two more years, or increase the number, and those to the left (and some to the right) who want to see an instant pullout of all troops there. Instead Obama called for a gradual pullout but also an end to the kinds of wars we've been fighting there and in Iraq and a future of limited engagements with limited troops focused on actions like the one that killed Bin Laden.

He disappointed me and many on the left with his appointments of Wall Street Republicans to hold the power positions on his economic team, and by not endorsing gay marriage and by not pushing for a "medicare for all" healthcare bill, etc.

He obviously disappoints the rightwing Republicans by wanting to limit some of the power corporations have accrued under the rightwing dominated and rightwing politically activist Supreme Court or for wanting to make corporations pay their fair share in taxes and for wanting to end the tax breaks for the wealthiest, while obviously disappointing leftwing Democrats and others by allowing the tax cuts for the wealthy to go on for a couple of more years and for not limiting the power of corporations enough, etc.

So we're all pretty much in agreement, or most of us, that Obama has not done what a lot of us would like him to do, though what that is depends upon our political perspective and ideology and allegiance and beliefs etc.

Meanwhile, he got the biggest healthcare bill that covers almost everyone and gets rid of the "pre-existing conditions" fiasco since LBJ and did draw down troops in Iraq (cut the level there in half with all "combat troops"—i.e. actively engaged in combat—withdrawn) and is about to in Afghanistan (and I know he's only starting with the ones he added to that war but those were less than the generals wanted) and his financial team did prevent another Great Depression.

Speaking of which everyone's complaining about "no job creation" though that's actually a misnomer because jobs have been created and continue to be every month (unlike under Bush/Cheney when millions were being lost every month) just not enough, thanks to the almost total destruction of this country's economy by a Republican administration and Congress, etc.

And I think everyone will agree on the seemingly clueless attempt at bipartisanship called "the Golf Summit" where he and John Boner looked like fat cats on the golf course, even those who were yearning for the good old days when Democratic and Republican leaders got along personally and were able to do what seemed best for the country without the horrible gridlocking partisanship of the past decade or so, etc. but still they don't like it when Obama does just that, or tries to.

But those golf course photos that looked so ridiculous were just shots of Obama doing what he has always done best, as a kid growing up as odd man out in Indonesia and Hawaii or as a student at Harvard or even in the U.S. Senate etc.—adapting to his surroundings and trying to find common ground and the best possible—if often compromising—position.

I admit he seems often to be disengaged from the emotional aspects of the problems dominating the public discourse right now, even sometimes unconcerned. But his actions speak louder than the words he may not be saying or feeling. And for my taste, his actions have mostly been leading the country out from the debacle that was the Bush/Cheney era and into something more in line with the goals I voted for him to try and achieve.

Unlike works of art I love, no politicians, even those I most admire, have ever seemed perfect, or even close. But Obama, even with all his failings, has still proven himself to be better than any alternative I see out there right now.

Friday, June 24, 2011

THE TREE OF LIFE


I'd heard this new film by Terrence Malick was long—too long for some—and confusingly abstract too much of the time. And I can see how some would feel that way. But...

...as frustratingly pretentious and precious (those film student montages and lingering tracking shots etc.) a lot of what Malick does in his films can be—and he does in THE TREE OF LIFE more than ever—in the end, as is often the case with his flicks, though they evoke certain genres or classic film story lines (e.g. THE THIN RED LINE and war movies), they always push the boundaries of those familiar narratives into something never seen before.

THE TREE OF LIFE is a "family drama" about a boy's boyhood traumas and how they continue to haunt him in adulthood. In some ways it's as familiar as THIS BOY'S LIFE et. al. But it's also the story of creation—told in visual sequences that are as powerful and beautiful as anything I've ever seen in a movie—of humankind's struggle with the randomness and cruelty of "fate" amid flashes of hope and glory, beauty and connectedness... I'm gonna end up getting all abstract myself if I don't watch out.

Though there's plenty to criticize—as for me there is in all of Malick's movies, there is also plenty to priase, as in all Malick's movies. Brad Pitt's performance is one of his best yet, and I've always felt he's an underappreciated movie actor (perhaps because he's an overappreciated movie star).

I had trouble buying Sean Penn in a suit in a corporate setting, but his face has become so iconic with all its lived-in ruggedness (the deep lines almost as striking as Beckett's now) its a jarring kind of pleasure just to see it on the big screen (and I didn't always feel this way, finding, for instance, the lingering close ups in films like STATE OF GRACE an unwarranted overindulgence, but age has blessed his quirky features with a Mount Rushmore kind of solidity) (I know, I'm getting carried away to make a point).

But that may be as much attributable to Malick's amazing eye, always the foremost quality in his films, because every actor in it seems iconic, at least on the big screen (and to really dig this film you have to see it on the big screen, at least the first time—I heard an older man telling the kid behind the concession stand on my way out that it was his second time seeing THE TREE OF LIFE and he'd probably come back for a third time to grasp all the nuances he'd missed the first two!).

Jessica Chastain as the mother, Brad Pitt's character's wife, and Hunter McCracken as the oldest son (Penn's character as a boy) are also worth highlighting as not only filmed by Malick in ways that make their screen presences seem iconic too, but also directed in ways that make their performances as unforgettable as great film performances can be.

The second boyhood brother, played by Laramie Eppler gives an amazingly poignant performance, and a cameo bit as the grandmother by Fiona Shaw is memorable as she gives her usual intimidating performance.

All in all there are several reasons why this is a must see movie on the big screen, but don't go for an escape, it's anything but, and don't go for any laughs, those are mostly strained if present at all. Go for the visual impact—in some ways it's more like a very slow stroll through a great museum—for the performances and for the risks Malick takes as a filmmaker.

There's no one else quite like him, and no other film quite like THE TREE OF LIFE.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

AI WEIWEI OUT OF JAIL BUT NOT FREE YET

Thanks to all the protests from prominent politicians and citizens worldwide, the Chinese authorities have finally let the great artist Ai Weiwei out of prison.

He is still not free though. He is being closely monitored and can't leave the country or talk about what happened in prison. I'm sure he'll find a way, hopefully, though his rebellious spirit sounds like it's been dampened by this experience, at least to me.

This NY Times article explains some of what happened. But I still say "Free Ai Weiwei" from all limitations on what he can say and where he can go. And free his associates who are still being held (and may be being used as bargaining chips to keep Ai Weiwei quiet).

And free others—artists and writers and activists—who are still being held and kept from communicating with the outside world, like the great Nobel Prize winning writer Liu Xiabo!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

HOW COOL IS YO YO MA?

Thanks to my old friend Bob Berner for turning me on to Yo Yo Ma's "Silk Road Project." Check out their version of "Empire State of Mind."

Along with Ai Weiwei, Nelson Mandela, and a handful of others, Yo Yo Ma has got to be one of the coolest people alive.



[PS: Imagine being in that room, as powerful as it is just over the internet. That energy is the antidote to all the crap that seems to be getting too many folks down these days. Nice to have it available. Thanks Yo Yo Ma (and Alicia Keyes, et. al.)]

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

QUOTE FOR TODAY

"When the strong feel deterred by kindness they become cruel; when the kind encounter cruelty they become compassionate. You know the rest."  —Nick Piombino ( one of his unique CONTRADICTAS from his blog FAIT ACCOMPLI—I highly recommend you get his collection of these. See his blog for the info.)

Monday, June 20, 2011

SUPER 8


Caught SUPER 8 last night with my oldest son, Miles. Turned out unexpectedly to be a perfect Father's Day movie (and the pleasure would be been tripled had all my kids been there).

As you probably already know, the movie's creator is mostly J.J. Abrams, the main creator of the TV series LOST that captivated a lot of people not too long ago. I couldn't really get into that, though I understood how others could. But this new flick I definitely and surprisingly got into.

Surprisingly, because I'm not a big fan of scary movies. But this one is closer to a combo of LOST and an homage to Steven Speilberg than the scary movie I expected when I saw critics compare it to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

Actually it feels like a Speilberg movie but shot like a homemade super 8 film with a LOST kind of theme. Miles pointed out that there were a lot of references to a period (it's set in the '70s) when he was a kid which gave him several laughs and a lot of satisfaction. I noticed tributes to Speilberg flicks in almost every scene (as others have also pointed out).

For the most part the cast was good, especially the kids, especially Elle Fanning who gave an Oscar worthy performance. The story moved quickly and had lots of humor and tension and pathos etc.  I dug it thoroughly. And recommend it.  

Sunday, June 19, 2011

FATHER'S DAY

Got up early this morning to drive to Pennsylvania to a skateboarding camp with my oldest son, his son—my twelve-year-old grandson— and a friend of his, and my thirteen year old son.

I missed seeing my daughter and granddaughter, but it was an exhilarating experience to see my youngest and his nephew arrive at a place they've fantasized about for years (and watched videos of, and will get to interact and learn from some of their heroes at) overwhelmed with excitement and anticipation.

And then to see them acclimate in minutes to their new fantasy surroundings displaying a ready independence beyond what they've shown before, my older son and I becoming superfluous pretty quickly.

The ride there, especially the Amish countryside part of it, a delightful experience in itself (including the constant, "How long before we get there"). And the ride back with just me and my older son talking about topics that interest and excite us. Pretty sweet.

So, a wonderful and satisfying Father's Day (with the exception of not seeing my daughter and granddaughter) for me. Hope any fathers who read this blog had the same.

[PS: For my current favorite poem about fathers, see this recent post and the poem "Gigs With My Father."]

Saturday, June 18, 2011

LENNY & WIENER

My old friend "Alameda Tom" had a post on his blog in response to the whole Wiener saga with a link to a Lenny Bruce riff I may have first listened to with Tom back in '64. I don't remember anymore if I heard it somewhere else first, but I certainly enjoyed it the most sharing the experience with Tom.

Lenny's riff may now seem sexist in some ways, but back then it was not just revelatory, hearing it was like an epiphany, as hearing many of Bruce's riffs were. It was like realities you'd been aware of, consciously or unconsciously, all your life were being spoken of for the first time.

There's no denying the power of Bruce's honesty about subject matter no one hardly even wrote about back in the 1950s, let alone spoke out loud about them, especially in front of an audience. At any rate, check it out, at least you might get a chuckle if not an epiphany out of it.

Friday, June 17, 2011

FREE AI WEI WEI

Seventy-five days since the great artist Ai Wei Wei was taken away by the Chinese authorities.

FREE AI WEI WEI!


[One in a series of Ai Wei Wei giving the finger to various international iconic places, in this case Tienanmen Square.]

THE TRUTH "CORPORATE AMERICA" NEEDS TO HEAR AND HEED

I've been writing for a while now, or trying to, about what this brief essay says much better. I'm glad someone put it this simply and clearly. Check it out.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

QUOTE FOR ROBERT Z. AND THE REST OF US FOR TODAY

"Even as the rational mind can see that all matter is energy, the spirit can see that all energy is love, and everything in creation can be a mathematical equation for the mind and a song of love for the soul."
—Juan Mascaro (from the introduction to my copy of his translation of THE BHAGAVAD GITA—which I first read as a young man and wrote this quote down because it seemed to speak directly to my perspective, a perspective I have only had strengthened by the challenges and disappointments of life and "the world" despite periods like this one where so much of what's going on feels like it's generated by fear and anger and greed and desire for power etc. than anything resembling "love"—but [that's true for] most times throughout history, including when I first read this while in the service as Viet Nam was beginning to heat up and the Civil Rights struggle was beginning to become more violent and hate-filled etc., when there was only one mixed race couple not just in the town where I grew up (I'm the Godfather to their first child [though not a very good one I'm afraid]) but in the entire area including all the surrounding towns, and now it's a commonplace, so love does seem to ultimately be the song of the universe, at least my universe.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

GHOST DOG (AND "THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI"


Watched GHOST DOG tonight on cable and except for a few scenes it was like I was watching it for the first time. So maybe I was. Which seems like a very "Way of the Samurai" thing to think and say.

I have a good friend. the great writer Dale Herd, who used to talk about the way of the Samurai when we were both trying to earn a living in Hollywood and I wasn't doing so well. He'd tell me the story of the Samurai who hadn't eaten in a week and was hurting with hunger. But when he approached the next town, he used his sword to cut a small piece of a branch into a toothpick and then walked down the middle of the main street in the town picking his teeth as if he'd just finished a big meal.

Not a bad strategy. I never learned to use it though. Some people used to call me "pathologically honest," or as the priest who explained to my family why I was being kicked out of the first college I went to said was the one good thing he could report about me, that I was "brutally honest."

I've learned over time that I only thought I was being honest. And that truth can only be approached, never reached completely.

Man, what a fine film. Jim Jarmusch's best, that's for sure (at least for my taste). And certainly one of Forest Whitaker's best performances. But then the entire cast was perfect for my taste. If you have to make movies with guns and violence, that's the way to do it.

THE 'MEDIA' "TASTE" AND CORPORATE AMERICA [PS: AND NORBERT LEO BUTZ]

I noticed on the few public radio shows I heard today and some TV news shows that the bit that knocked me out the most on the Tonys last night, the one a friend from my Jersey community performed but I didn't recognize him and instead just kept thinking, man, this guy is a total original, that his name wasn't mentioned in the summaries and pieces on the Tonys, but those who won Tonys for their performances in the blockbuster successes, THE BOOK OF MORMON and WARHORSE, were.

It's the same old deal that the media talks about what everyone is talking about, which is whatever the media focuses on usually, which is whatever their corporate masters want focused on.

And there are so few corporations controlling most of everything we get exposed to, including the framing of our public discourse on politics, which includes the economy and culture, that the subjects are limited to those that can be profited from, which is the definition these days of "success."

I shouldn't post at the end of the day when I'm tired and heading for bed because I don't articulate what I'm thinking as well then, but I'm sure you get the idea and have already observed this yourself and maybe even understand it better. But what I mean is, I expect a lot of what I dig to have limited appeal to the majority of my fellow humans and to be little known in the wider world. A lot of what I write about on this blog falls in that category.

But even when it's major media stuff, like the Oscars or Tonys, the things I dig most often go unnoticed (like BARNEY'S VERSION at the Oscars and Norbert Leo Butz's amazing performance on the Tonys) or at least unmentioned in the media afterwards because (at least from my perspective) they aren't associated with "success" and therefore are of no use to corporate America.

[PS: Couldn't find any footage of that performance until just after I wrote this, so here it is. To get the full impact watch it all the way through. Let me know if you see what I found so original (it was like watching Jimmy Durante or on of those oldtime performers whose act was mostly just about letting you dig them, only in this case Butz is doing a character not himself, in fact so far from it I didn't, like I said, even recognize him.]
[PPS: He's not the guy at the beginning.]
[PPPS: Watch through the slight glitch toward the end, and notice how a lot of the camerawork is terrible for a full chorus dance number, which still doesn't take away from the performance, that alone says a lot.]
[AND A BELATED PPPPS: In case I didn't make it clear, Butz won a Tony for CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, but in the news coverage and summaries of the Tonys award show the next day, neither his Tony win nor his amazing performance in the show as illustrated in the video below were mentioned, though the winners from the big hit shows and/or those famous from TV and Movies were mentioned.]

Sunday, June 12, 2011

HUBRIS AND BAD ANGLES (I.E. THE NBA FINALS & THE TONYS)

Got back to Jersey from The Berkshires in time to use the remote to bounce back and forth between the Tonys and what turned out to be the final NBA championship game for this season.

I haven't been to a Broadway show since the brain surgery over nineteen months ago, so I haven't seen any of the nominated shows. And the Tonys are often not a great TV show. But I like awards shows when they're live for the unexpected, unscripted moments. There were a few of the latter, like Brooke Shields blowing her bit during the opening because of trouble reading the teleprompter (her later bout of foul language being bleeped seemed unscripted too), as well as several presenters having trouble reading the teleprompter as well, and shielding their eyes from the lighting that obviously was giving them trouble.

Meanwhile over on ABC LeBron was still having trouble proving his former boasts and assumption of the title of greatest on the basketball court. Some commenters thought if might be psychological, because he had been used to being loved and admired until his attempt at reality TV with the big decision show where he declared his departure for Miami.

The commenter said the only admirers he had after that were the Miami fans. That commenter was a "white" sports announcer, but I'd heard "black" commenters on public radio say that's not true. That it was mostly the "white" fans who were and still are upset with LeBron's "defection" whereas his "black" fans, even in Cleveland, understood he was making a personal decision based on what he thought would be best for him, his family and his future.

Nonetheless, from my perspective the whole "king" business and assumption of inevitability of the championship came across as a classic case of the ancient Greeks' idea of hubris. So tonight's loss seemed inevitable to me, which I tried to explain to my thirteen-year-old who wanted Miami to win because he doesn't like Dallas, although neither of us are big basketball followers. But the drama of the last few games of tightly contested championships, no matter the sport, always draw me in.

There was little of that at the Tonys. THE BOOK OF MORMON was the expected Tony winner and won, the new Broadway sensation whose first name I just forgot but her last is Sutton, also won, etc. That guy Rylance from JERUSALEM, which all my show biz friends say is the most remarkable performance on Broadway this year won as well, and the Radcliff kid from the HARRY POTTER movies proved his mettle as a trooper in the dancing singing routine from the revival of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING that probably wouldn't have happened without him in the lead and John Larroquette playing opposite him in his first role, also dancing and singing, on Broadway, for which he too won a Tony tonight.

The trouble with the show as TV persisted though, with the most terrible angles and camera shots anyone could have come up with. Utterly clueless. They were cutting from shots that showed Radcliff kicking musical theater butt to ones of the three dancers on the end of the chorus line, or close ups of Sutton's face as she belted out a song in a number that demanded the audience take in the entire troupe up there dancing and singing, seemingly unaware that close-ups of Broadway stars rarely work because they're performing for a live audience that needs the illusion of some distance to soften the impact of that over-the-top-reach-the-last-balcony-seat style of singing and projecting. Which just leaves the average TV watcher not familiar with live theater thinking how phony it all seems.

But the best bit of theater of the evening was the singing dancing routine in the number from the new musical CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. I was knocked out by the actor, who seemed to be older, thinking first of all how impressive his energy was for his age and then how loosey goosey hip his dancing was, that even included a few stiff Jimmy Cagney as George M. Cohan moves I hadn't seen in a dance routine since, well, since the last time I watched YANKEE DOOLDE DANDY (which I think is the name of that flick).

Later that performer won a Tony himself and I realized when they announced the nominees and did a close up of him in his seat and said his name that he's actually a friend of mine here in our little North Jersey town and not the middle-aged character he was playing. One of his kids goes to school with my youngest. Which amazed me even more that I didn't recognize him during his big number. Now that's creating a character.

I have to admit, watching both these live events made me want to go see a lot of the musicals and plays nominated and showcased on the Tony awards show, and even has me interested in seeing how Miami reacts to their defeat and LeBron to his loss of bragging rights as best player in the game right now. So I guess in that way they both did the job of promoting the businesses they're in.

[PS: Neil Patrick Harris did a superb job as host for the Tonys and the show was cutting edge offensive to lots of perspectives TV usually either caters to or avoids offending (mostly socially conservative perspectives that the number from THE BOOK OF MORMON highlighted but was only one of many instances.]

Saturday, June 11, 2011

BRIDESMAIDS



Pretty much everything I've red about BRIDESMAIDS turned out to be true.

The film is funny. Sometimes very funny.

Kristen Wiig, who co-wrote and stars, is terrific (as is the entire cast).

Melissa McCarthy almost steals the movie (so does the late great and often underrated Jill Clayburgh).

The gross out scene is out of place in many ways and seems more from one of Judd Apatow's movies (it was suggested by Apatow, one of the producers). And aesthetically it may not work, or is over the top. But in terms of comedy, it makes the movie funnier for a contemporary audience—especially the "youth demographic" as they used to and still say—and in the end is what probably turned what would have been more of a "woman's movie" into a box office hit.

But it's still "a woman's movie" in the sense that the men in it are mostly irrelevant or at least not as important as the women, it is a movie about female friendships, rather rare these days, and it adds one for the feminine side against the countless male buddy gross out comedies of the past decade, by doing something similar, getting a group of female comics who mostly know each other together to make an ensemble flick that showcases their comic chops.

What I didn't see written about it, but what turned out to be true for me and my oldest son (he had seen it before, I saw it this afternoon up in the Berkshires) is, it's the kind of flick where you talk about different scenes later and laugh all over again. We spent at least a good half hour or more regurgitating, as it were, various lines and bits from the film, both of us cracking up. Not a bad thing to have happen these days.

So thanks BRIDESMAIDS for adding a little laughter to the "now" we're living through.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thursday, June 9, 2011

DAVE BRUBECK: IN HIS OWN SWEET WAY & THELONIOUS MONK:STRAIGHT NO CHASER

Caught these two documentaries last night on TCM and was glad I did.

The Brubeck film, DAVE BRUBECK: IN HIS OWN SWEET WAY, is relatively new, from 2010, and I hadn't seen it before. It was a delight to watch the vintage footage of The Dave Brubeck Quartet performing songs that had such an impact on not just jazz but the world back when I was a young piano player in love with jazz, like "Take Five" and "Blue La Ronda ala Turk" (if I'm remembering the latter title correctly).

The music (including Brubeck's choral and more "classical" compositions as well as his more jazz-related tunes like the two mentioned above) is examined and at times explained in ways that I think someone even unfamiliar with jazz or Brubeck should be able to get something out of. But for jazz fans it's a delight.

And adding to that delight are the obviously relatively recent scenes with Clint Eastwood (one of the producers of both the movies covered in this post), a pretty good piano player and composer himself, listening and digging the older Brubeck display his chops. Two old gray haired guys who share a passion for the music and the instrument.

I couldn't find any footage from that but here's a really strange video version of the Brubeck Quartet playing "Blue Rondo" etc:



Although I always dug and still dig Brubeck's playing, and a lot of his compositions, my appreciation for Thelonious Monk is on an entirely different level. Brubeck is definitely an original, as the documentary on him makes obvious, but Monk is beyond original.

I'd seen THELONIOUS MONK: STRAIGHT NO CHASER when it first came out in 1988, (like the Brubeck film, it's directed by Bruce Ricker and co-produced by Eastwood). It too is delightful at times. Especially when Monk is playing the piano (a lot of the footage was shot during a 1968 tour of Europe) or in a humorous mood.

But the Monk film is also difficult at times to watch, because his mental problems were becoming worse during the period most of the footage of him is from. What is incredible and even awe-inspiring to me, is the capacity for transcending those problems that his musical genius gave him.

It's also difficult to witness the confusion, concern and sometimes misunderstanding of those around him,  from family to fellow musicians and producers etc. But in my estimation Monk's musical genius is unmatched not only in the history of jazz but American music in general. And anytime you can watch his genius at work, it's worth it, even if at times it can be disturbing or even heartbreaking to witness the troubled mind that went with it.

Here's about an eight minute segment mostly relating to his relationship with his wife Nellie, that if you watch to the end will reveal a lot of what this Monk documentary has to offer (and that's his son Thelonious Junior as the first talking head):

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

THE REPUBLICAN RECESSION AND DOUBLE DIPPING

Democrats should be emphasizing every minute of every day that The Great Recession was caused by Republican (Bush/Cheney) policies (or lack of them in the case of financial regulations and oversight), and that The Recovery from that Recession was caused by Democratic policies (Obama's).

When they complain now about the recovery slowing down, it should be pointed out that while Obama's policies were in play—tax cuts for working families and small businesses, stimulus package to help state governments and the auto industry and to create jobs etc. (remember, when Obama took office our economy was losing jobs at an incredible rate but since his policies have been implemented our economy has been gaining jobs every month)., etc.—the recovery was working.

When Republicans and other rightwingers attack Obama for the current slowdown that some are predicting will mean a double-dip recession (though by economic indicators we are still in a recovery, not a recession), and complain about the lack of greater job creation, Democrats should point out that as long as the federal government was SPENDING MONEY on stimulus packages helping states and small businesses and larger industries etc., the recovery was going fairly well, but once those programs ended ("cash for clunkers," state aid, etc.) AND TAX BREAKS FOR THE WEALTHY ON THE INSISTENCE OF THE REPUBLICANS were extended, the recovery slowed.

So, where are all the jobs that Republicans insist tax breaks for the wealthy create? That's what the Dems should be asking insistently over and over again. if the main argument for tax breaks for the wealthiest few among us is that it creates jobs, where are the jobs?

And if cutting spending helps the economy, how come cutting spending now has created a slowdown?

It's pretty clear, the solution to the slowdown in the recovery and the possibility of a double-dip recession is to raise taxes on the wealthiest to compensate for more spending on programs that help the rest of us not just survive the recession and its aftermath but stimulate economic growth, because the reality is, working and poor people spend any extra money they get on the economy, wealthy people hoard it and leave the economy (and the rest of us) to fend for itself (and ourselves).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

TASTE

"There's no accounting for it" as the old saying goes. But when I was young, I thought there was. I thought everyone had my taste and either just didn't know it yet or weren't admitting it.

How could others not love the things I loved? If that's a youthful phase, it lasts for some of us a lot longer. The compulsive list making that went on in my brain and my writing before my relatively recent brain surgery (coming up on a year and seven months next Monday) was often all about that.

I took enormous pleasure from making complicated lists expressing my taste in movies and books and art and poetry etc. Fortunately my taste is broad so there was always plenty to choose from. And I'm now old enough to know that we aren't all alike inside, as I believed when I was young. We certainly all have much in common, but my recovery from and continuing post-brain-surgery ways of thinking, including my taste, has gone through such unexpected alternations that it's even clearer to me now that taste is a matter of brain wiring as much as environment and education and exposure.

So now I'm not surprised or disappointed when others don't share my taste. I still like to try and convince them that my perspective is valid and that maybe they should try it for themselves. But I get enough feedback from comments on this blog and emails and conversations in person and on the phone to know that not everyone thinks BARNEY'S VERSION was the best movie of last year—or was even that good at all to them (but f you don't like MIDNIGHT IN PARIS there's something wrong with you, just kidding)—or that some of the books I've recommended recently on this blog are as great to others as they are to me (though obviously a lot of folks agree with my rave of Terence Winch's collection of poems, FALLING OUT OF BED IN A ROOM WITH NO FLOOR, as it has just hit number one on the small press bestseller list).

I appreciate those of you who give my taste a try and let me know where you differ. And of course, over time, your taste might end up agreeing with mine, as mine has changed so that I now agree with people I used to argue passionately with.

Monday, June 6, 2011

FRUSTRATIONS WITH GOOGLE, APPLE, NORTON, FACEBOOK, THE WEB AND "CORPORATE AMERICA" IN GENERAL

I don't know about anyone else, but lately the internet and corporate customer service has become even more frustrating for me than usual.

I've had nothing but Apple computers since I got my first one in the '80s, and Applecare (you have to pay for it) has been relatively good in terms of customer service, but lately, since Apple has been inundated with a virus, or attempted virus implant, their service has been evasive and incompetent in my experience.

They recommended for the first time that I download and install outside anti-virus software, suggesting Norton was reliable.  I ordered and thought I downloaded a product from them, but it isn't on my computer, despite the fact that my credit card company has already billed me for it.

My attempts to get someone at Norton to help either via their website or on the phone has gotten me nowhere. Their virtual customer service program can't seem to understand the simple fact that I piad for a program I haven't got.

The phone numbers I got from google for Norton have only led me to various recordings, and when after sometimes close to an hour's wait I have finally reached a live person, they have Indian or Pakistani accents and either say outright they don't actually do technical help for the product I'm calling about and give me another number, which when called leads me to another similar accented person after another twenty minute to hour wait, who also can't supply the technical help I need (how technical is it to find out why a program I downloaded never arrived?) and send me elsewhere.

Finally, after days and weeks of this now, I got a number that was actually their headquarters in California, but every choice their recording offered there only took me to more recordings and I haven't been able to reach a live person yet.

I tried again today and it sent me back to India and someone who simply didn't understand what I was saying, that I ordered and already paid for an anti-virus program that never reached my computer!

And all this originated with problems when I googled topics and got a pop up window saying I had a virus and had to download a program to save my computer etc., which is how the virus is hitting Apple users. That window pretty much pops up anytime I google anything now.

And by the way, has anyone noticed that Google now personalizes what it thinks you're looking for when you use it, so that if you google say Obama and someone else googles Obama, you each will get different listings, supposedly customized to your googling history (so rightwingers and leftwingers will get critical articles from websites that represent their separate perspectives) but so far in my experience have nothing to do with mine.

This also means if you google yourself what you get is not what others will get, so now none of us have any idea what others are finding when they google people and topics we care about.

And don't even get me started on Facebook. Just the fact that you cannot remove a photo someone else puts up of you on Facebook without going through procedures that seem meant to frustrate any attempt to do so, is proof enough that Facebook has no desire to be user friendly but instead to be user abusive and exploitative.

I'll save my cable and computer networks for some other diatribe.

[PS: But I will add that editing these posts on my google site for blogspot has also become problematic. The spell check device refusing to work often, and with my post-brain-surgery need to retype extensively in order to correct, and my missing more words than I used to in copyediting, that too has become enormously frustrating. If it's only me, then I accept it's post-brain-op problems, but I know the Mac viral thing is impacting others, because the Apple person I spoke to last admitted it had become a problem for them.]

Sunday, June 5, 2011

MORE THAN A DIME'S WORTH

Just got off the phone with my old friend Paul Harryn discussing the state of our families and health and politics and the world. More or less. And one of the things I started riffing about is the whole idea that the problems we're facing in this country have been created to a large extent by both political parties' subservience to the interests of corporations and the wealthy and that neither can address the root causes and basic changes needed to address and solve some of these endemic (Paul's word, and a good one) problems.

There's certainly truth to that. But the distinction I'm always trying to make  in my forays on this blog into the state of our politics, is that even though too many Democrats are beholden to their wealthy and corporate contributors, just like the Republicans, their philosophies and voter base are different enough to create a very different approach to governing. Much more than "a dime's worth of difference" to use the old cliche that Nader used in his presidential campaigns and was wrong to do so from my perspective.

I believe it is not only healthy but necessary for those of us more to the left, as well as for the centrists (like Obama, despite the crude characterizations from the right that have had such an almost fanatical influence on the Republican base) to hold elected Democratic officials'—and the leaders of the party's—"feet to the fire" (to use another cliche). Absolutely criticize Obama and the Democratic Senators and Representatives for the ideals of the party they aren't living up to (like extending so many of the Bush/Cheney so-called "security measures" that impact our civil liberties, etc.) BUT...

...at the same time, to understand that when it comes to election time, there is much more than a dime's worth of difference between say a Nixon and a Hubert Humphrey or an Al Gore and a George W. Bush. The difference in reality includes the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who died because of policies set in place by the Republicans who won. There is no doubt in my mind (nor in that of most historians) that Humphrey was planning on ending the war in Vietnam and that Gore would not have invaded Iraq.

The world would have been and would be now a much different place (imagine if we hadn't accrued the debt created by fighting the Iraq War all these years (since Bush/Cheney decided to cut taxes for the wealthy while expanding the federal government and waging a war that costs billions and billions and etc.) what our economy would look like right now and the debate over the national debt) and a much better one.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

"GERONIMO" PRATT R.I.P.



"Gronimo" Pratt was a Black Panther from L.A. (see this obit) who was wrongfully convicted of a murder he didn't commit and spent twenty-seven (27!) years in prison for it before the charges were finally overturned.

This, unfortunately, wasn't, and isn't, an isolated case. But one of the things that distinguishes Pratt is his lack of bitterness and anger. He was in solitary confinement for most of eight of those twenty-seven years, as I understand it, and found a way to use music and meditation to survive.

His story so moved my older son, Miles, that he wrote a beautiful song from Pratt's perspective. I hope he puts it up on Youtube, ether his own solo version or his band's (Bell Engine). The song is as plaintive and porgnant as Pratt's story.

[PS: Though I worked with or had contact with some of The Black Panthers in their early years—and argued with them over tactics and rhetoric—I didn't know Pratt.]

Friday, June 3, 2011

"CORPORATE AMERICA" GOING MEDIEVAL

I've heard friends, who for work for corporations, explaining lately the problems created in their lives by being overworked at jobs that are undermanned. Yet no one in the media that I've noticed talks about this.

The new employment figures that came out this morning showing a lower number of jobs added to the economy than expected is giving rise to all kinds of speculation about politics and economics, most of it pessimistic, even though there were still jobs ADDED not lost, which is more than you can say for the Bush/Cheney recession when their policies created income, job, and even corporate profits losses.

But the reality in this country right now is that "Corporate America"—as even many on the right refer to the dominant economic players that rule our economy—is in most cases seeing higher profits than ever before in history, and the corporate elite—CEOs et. al.—are making more money than ever before in history...

BUT...this same "Corporate America" is NOT raising salaries or hiring people, for the most part, in order to suck as much productivity out of its workers as also never seen before in history. Which is contributing to the biggest disparity in incomes since The Gilded Age and the most overworked workforce since the union movement of the 1930s. Yes, this time it's mostly "white collar" workers rather than "blue collar"—but that only makes it more invisible to the media that still thinks of "workers" and "unions" and "worker productivity" as a blue collar issue.

But most of my friends who work for corporations bring the work home and complain of not enough time for family and other non-work activities. Yet many of them cannot see the connection to the war on unions led by the right (with the right winning ever since Reagan escalated that war when he broke the air traffic controllers union and continued to break many more) and their own lack of power.

Nor do many see the refusal of "Corporate America" to invest in hiring new workers and bettering working conditions, despite record profits, as contributing to the slow recovery (how can those out of work or being pushed to do more with less, and FOR less, spend any money on things other than food and housing if they don't have jobs!).

Some of this is because many of these same friends who work for corporations in white collar jobs don't see themselves as "workers" in the traditional union sense, so they don't think of organizing and fighting to get better working conditions and pay and more help (new hires) to ease the burden of being overworked.

Others of my friends are Republicans (yes, I have many) and think they are someday going to be one of those CEOs making millions upon millions a year while milking their workers of every last ounce of productivity for as little as possible, and so don't want to rock the boat.

Many economists, like Paul Krugman, have pointed out through graphs and charts and all kinds of statistics, that we all were better off when the wealthiest and the corporations paid more taxes and unions protected "a living wage" and benefits. But the right and its influence on the media, and of course through its own media—FAUX NEWS et. al.—has convinced enough people that the only solution is more tax breaks and subsidies for corporations, less regulations for corporations (have you seen the statistic that coal companies have now destroyed over five hundred mountains in Appalachia by blowing them up for strip mining, and over 2500 miles of waterways, destroying forever the natural beauty and environment of an area larger than the state of Delaware! (got that from Robert Kennedy Jr. on The Colbert Report two nights ago)), and more spending cuts meaning even fewer jobs available for those of us who still do our own laundry and clean our own homes and rarely eat out or go on vacations that cost any extra money.

It's almost like all the gains of the last century and a half for those of us not wealthy have been or are being wiped out by "Corporate America" and their rightwing shills. I keep thinking of that phrase from PULP FICTION, something like "I'm gonna go medieval on your ass!"  That's what "Corporate America" is doing to this country and most of us in it, going medieval on our ass.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS


I just left this movie and drove home in the dark through a few neighboring towns with the car windows down and the mini-heatwave of the past few days beginning to cool down, though the air is still hot but it's breezy (leaving the theater into a street with several outdoor cafes and being hit with a wave of warm air dancing around people in the street the warmth felt like something alive and intimate and actually very satisfying) with the Newark jazz station on and a trumpet blowing a slow and mellow version of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" I couldn't stop grinning and feeling like I'd just fallen in love.

Maybe with the movie, maybe with Paris—which the movie is a love letter to in the way most of Woody Allen's past movies were love letters to New York—maybe with the heartbreakingly lovely Marion Cottilard who features prominently in the film and is worth the price of admission alone, or with the refreshingly lovely Lea Seydoux who seems to be another of Woody's delightful discoveries in the way even actors you've seen in films before often are in his movies, or maybe just with love itself.

I can't imagine seeing it in my (or your) living room with the distractions of lights and street sounds would have the same impact as watching it in a theater packed with people from their late teens to the guy next to me who could easily be in his eighties, sitting in the dark and sharing the communal experience including the loud laughers, like me. But however you can see it, see it. It's not the most profound movie experience you'll ever have I'm sure, but as with all of Allen's movies, it is profound in its own way, and it may not be the utmost romantic film you've ever seen, but like most of his flicks, it is definitely very romantic, and it might not be the most seriously funny movie of all time, but it is most assuredly a seriously funny movie.

The best thing I can say about the experience is this, that of all the people in the small theater I saw it in, who occupied almost every seat there, no one, young or old or in between, not one person stood up when the credits came on. Everyone stayed seated for at least several minutes and a lot of credits before one or two began to get up, and even then, most of the audience stayed seated. If they were sharing my experience, it was because they just didn't care to have the spell broken yet.

And isn't that why we love movies, especially going to see them in darkened theaters with a roomful of strangers? Because the best cast a spell we don't want to break until we absolutely have to. Maybe days later, or even hours, or minutes, we might think the film was slight or merely entertaining or fun but forgettable, but when they work, while we're under their spell, we want it to last forever. At least I do. And just did.

[PS: It' also worth seeing for the performances, not just Cottilard's and Seydoux's—as brief as the latter's is—but for Kathy Bates pulling off a convincing Gertrude Stein and Adrien Brody's surprisingly hilarious and totally engaging Salvador Dali, and Corey Stoll's Hemingway (these are part parodies but also part succinct and accurate characterizations of the historical personages) and the foils to Owen Wilson's lead, Michael Sheen (the guy who played Tony Blair in THE QUEEN) as an American academic insufferably full of himself and Rachel McAdams as the beautiful but "ugly American."]

QUOTE FOR THE DAY

"Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need but not for every man's greed." —Gandhi