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.]