Thursday, December 31, 2015

R.I.P. 2015

This remembrance of some of those we lost in the art of filmmaking in 2015 leaves a lot out, as often happens, including those who died after they made it (like the great Haskell Wexler) but, it still includes a lot I'll miss, and this year even more of them I met, worked with or actually knew from my Hollywood years...

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

KENNEDY CENTER HONOREES (ARETHA'S TRIBUTE TO CAROLE KING)

I watched the Kennedy Center Honors last night and like any awards show there were moments when folks were patting themselves and each other on the back, but as also in any shows to honor creative folks there were moments of brilliance and exhalation as amazingly talented people did what they do best, and this may be the peak moment that expresses that...and if you don't know why Carole King is freaking out at the start and our president is wiping away a tear it's because Aretha has not only survived her major health challenges but comes out and tops her younger self with spirit, skill, and musical genius that will not be denied...watch it to the end to see the true impact of King's and Aretha's unique talents...and I bet you're eyes will be wet too...

Saturday, December 26, 2015

THE BIG SHORT

THE BIG SHORT is so brilliantly directed, edited and acted that it feels like a seminal cinematic experience, like movies will change as a result of this one. The pacing is so heartbeat consistent and rhythmically compelling that I left the theater amped and it took a while for my own rhythms to calm down.

And it's all the more incredible since the story is one I know, and we all know the ending, and yet the narrative drive is so insistent I felt like I was watching a thriller that kept making me feel tense about the outcome, which I already knew!

And the movie manages to do this with repeated monologues to the audience breaking the fourth wall and even using celebrities to explain the complicated, deliberately, terminology of Wall Street and the banks. It's like the most entertaining history and economics (and politics, though more subtly at that level) lesson anyone will ever get.

Based on the real facts of the economic collapse of 2008 and what caused it and why, it's incredible how engaging it turned out to be. So much so that right now it is at the top of my favorite films of the year, a year which was great for revelatory stories made into artistic triumphs as films, like BROOKLYN, SPOTLIGHT and THE DANISH GIRL to name just a few.

THE BIG SHORT. I would advise seeing it in a big theater with others (the show I saw was packed) so you can get that great communal connection when everyone laughs or sighs or mutters under their breath at the same moment. Yeah, we all got screwed by Wall Street and the banks and it's still happening, but at least when your Fox-watching relatives want to know why you're so sure of that, you can tell them to watch this movie, or else.

[PS: The editor deserves an Oscar nomination at least, and the director Adam McKay—best known until this for Anchorman and Tallledega Nights—who also co-wrote the screenplay (with Charles Randolph from the book by Michael Lewis) deserves a nomination for both directing and screenplay adaptation, and though all the acting was superb—especially Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale—Steve Carell deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and Jeremy Strong for Best Supporting Actor.]

FOR WHICH I'M HUMBLY GRATEFUL

[the great poet and songwriter/musician (and my great friend) Terence Winch posted this photo I took and gave him back in the 1970s on Facebook yesterday with the following gracious remarks:]

A Christmas gift from a while back from the great poet (and my great friend) Michael Lally, featuring his book Rocky Dies Yellow, which, toasted or fried, is one fantastic book of poems. Anyone familiar with the 1938 Jimmy Cagney classic "Angels with Dirty Faces" will get the reference in the book's title. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nld4DcRHME0

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

LATE NIGHT MINI-MINI-RANT

Just went out to move my car, almost midnight here in Jersey, North Jersey, on the eve of Christmas Eve and it's already in the 60s.

When I get up tomorrow on the day before Xmas it's supposed to be in the 70s.

Where's that congressman who thought a snowball in DC in Winter proved there's no global warming when you need him?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

THE DANISH GIRL

If you plan on seeing THE DANISH GIRL, a film getting a lot of nominations and critical attention, and deservedly so, I would suggest you see it on the big screen. That way you'll get to experience not just an extraordinary work of film art, but a whole series of cinematic shots that made me feel like I'd not only just seen a great movie but had visited a great museum.

The wide shots are so breathtaking I could easily return to the theater to see the movie again just for them. But every shot, even the two shots and close-ups, is like an extraordinary painting. And the acting is at times breathtaking as well. Eddie Redmayne proves once again he may deserve to be near the top of the list of greatest film actors in the history of the medium, with Brando and Daniel Day Lewis et.al.

The impressive thing for me, as someone who has acted in films and watched the work of others up close, is that Redmayne doesn't so much transform himself physically—his Dutch girl has the same brilliant smile as his Steven Hawkings did—but you could almost say spiritually. He captures the spirit of the character in ways that at times may be physical but more often transcend the physical.

Credit has to go to the director Tom Hooper, and his excellent casting, especially Alicia Vikander who is a revelation and a total match for Redmayne's courageous performance. She plays the artist wife of his character (both based on real people, though the movie takes liberties with some aspects of their story).

Both actors have enough screen charisma to match anyone in film. But go see for yourself, and let me know if you agree. Gotta be on the big screen though to get all the intricacies of the filmmaking and acting artistry.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

THE DEMOCRATIC DEBATE-A SUNDAY SORT OF RANT

Watched the debate last night. It bugs me that the DNC has limited the number of debates among the Democratic contenders and scheduled them for network time like the Saturday evening before Christmas. It seems like an obvious attempt by the Clinton folks to keep Bernie Sanders from scoring points against Hillary.

I like Bernie and what he mainly stands for, i.e. making the super rich pay more of their share to create benefits for the rest of us that have been lost over the last several decades of rightwing Republican influence on policy and framing the debate. I intend to vote for him in my primary in Jersey, but I recognize that he has limited appeal and that he too is human and therefor imperfect and has taken positions and actions that I disagree with (e.g. his anti-gun-regulation history etc.).

I don't see him defeating Hilary for the nomination for various reasons, including her campaign tactics, which may include influencing the DNC to have a debate on a Saturday evening before the holidays, etc. But, and this will bug a lot of my friends who support Bernie, it was evident last night, to me at least, that Hilary is still the smartest and most experienced person of any of the candidates of any party and would be the best choice after Bernie and maybe, in terms of actually accomplishing any of the things I (and Bernie) care about, a more practical choice.

My worry is that too many of those I know who support Bernie are sharing and spreading negative memes and attacks on Hilary that make her out to be evil incarnate in ways that can only help the Republican nominee. The best way to understand how wrong that tactic is, is to imagine what would best serve the Republican right and then look at the negative attacks on Hilary (which, by the way, Bernie isn't doing, just his supporters) and you can see that the attacks could easily have been created by rightwing Republican operatives.

Just as I and others learned from a lifetime of protesting for Civil Rights or against the war (pick one other than WWII) those who wanted (and still want) to stop the success of any activism on the left, or even just liberal, side often use agent provocateurs, i.e. undercover cops or operatives who foment illegal actions that will ultimately discredit, plus possibly jail for quite a while, those protesting. If I was a rightwing Republican operative and wanted to stop Hilary's chances, I would attack her as a controlled-by-the-banks, trigger-happy, angry and power-hungry woman.

Some Bernie supporters among my friends will say, well she is all that. But even if there's some truth to some of those accusations (as she pointed out last night hedge fund billionaires have been running ads against her in the Northeast so obviously some "bankers" don't want her nominated) there are other counterbalancing truths, which include Hilary's being an activist for many liberal and leftist causes for many decades, in and out of various official offices, especially for women's rights and the rights and welfare of children. But decades of experience has also taught her how to use her brain power to accomplish the possible, rather than constantly fighting losing battles for lost causes (i.e. her first attempt at reforming healthcare etc.).

She is way imperfect, as we all are, but the ideals her words and actions have often expressed are way closer to mine than any Republican candidate's, and to see her win the Democratic nomination and then lose to any Republican because those who should know better supported the negative impressions created by rightwing Republican framing of her life and experience and actions which contributes to the media then framing her image that way (remember Gore being portrayed as wooden and unfeeling and ridiculous for claiming a part in establishing the Internet—yes he was and is a bit wooden and can come across as emotionless at times and also yes he is one of those responsible for the Internet as we know it—?) are paving the way for another Bush/Cheney disaster we absolutely cannot afford.

Friday, December 18, 2015

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA

The poster above for IN THE HEART OF THE SEA, the new movie from Ron Howard, says it was due out in March. As far as I know it just began appearing in theaters. That may be just one indication there were problems with the film and/or its release. I haven't researched it, but it would make sense after seeing it.

The opening to this film is as inscrutably garbled and badly directed and produced (the CGI on the landscapes are almost like paintings, an intentional nod to the period perhaps, but nonetheless unrealistic for a film that intends its impact to be a result of the realism of its "true" story) as you might expect from the title and the poster, the initial impact of which is wait, what, oh, huh?

The film does pick up after the first few scenes, and has many scenes worth watching, as well as actors (it's a delight to see Cillian Murphy again). Though for me, Chris Hemsworth in the lead may look right for the part and certainly seems committed to the role, it could have been better cast (if you see it, you can come up with your own casting that would have made for a much more engaging movie).

The reason I put "true" in quotes for the story is because though IN THE HEART OF THE SEA is indeed based on some actual facts about the voyage and loss of the Essex, a whaling ship destroyed by a giant whale, that probably inspired or influenced Herman Melville's MOBY DICK, the filmmakers take a lot of liberties with the framing of the plot and its actual details.

All in all, some of the scenes are worth seeing on the big screen for their mastery of lifelike underwater whale activity, and some for the acting (especially Tom Holland, from WOLF HALL), but in the end, it's the first real disappointment I've experienced with a Ron Howard movie, which until now no matter how contrived or even cheesy have always managed to be entertaining and at least in that way, if not many more, satisfying to that movie escape impulse. Not this time.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

ARTIST WALTER HOYT (BEST ROLE I EVER HAD)

Not my favorite shot from the show, but "Walter Hoyt"—the downtown Manhattan artist I played on two episodes of NYPD BLUE ("UnAmerican Graffiti" 1995 and "My Wild Irish Nose" 1997) was the best role I ever had (great writing in the creation of the character by Leonard Gardner and David Milch and Stephen Bochco, and great director in the creating of the role on "UnAmerican Graffiti"  Joe Ann Fogle—first day on the set she hugged me, which no other director had ever done or ever would, and when I mentioned that to my best friend in L.A., Hubert Selby Jr., he said "Isn't that wonderful Michael, she's not afraid," and I knew he was right). I loved playing that guy.

Monday, December 14, 2015

MUSCLE SHOALS

Friends told me about this documentary when it first came out two years ago but only got to finally see it tonight and it was worth the wait. The story of the people who made Muscle Shoals synonymous with soul music and hit records in the 1960s and '70s and beyond as told in this film is not only inspiring and moving as one of those miracles of a time and place that somehow produces genius and masterpieces, but equally touching and uplifting because it defies all racial expectations and generalities to uncover an unlikely center of racial harmony in a time of disruptive and contentious racial strife.

Almost made me nostalgic for sweet home Alabama, and that's saying a lot for someone who experienced the total segregation of 1962 South Carolina in the service and swore to never spend time in the South again. Thanks to this film for dispelling some of my own stereotypes about Alabama. Or at least the music that came out of Muscle Shoals

Saturday, December 12, 2015

HAPPY 100TH FRANK

This is the sound I was born into, the music on the radio when I was bought home from the hospital, or not long before. A time when big band singers were all about tone and resonance, and here was the young man who would become known as "The Voice" on this very early recording with the Tommy Dorsey big band—where Sinatra was known as "the boy singer."

Listening to this record, all the way through, will hopefully allow skeptics and fans both to appreciate how Sinatra changed music, not only with his incredible phrasing and melodic control but with the vulnerability he wasn't afraid to put into his vocal interpretations of lyrics that otherwise, in this case, would be almost a goof or novelty tune narrative.

You can see why he became the first true teen idol, to girls mostly, called at the time bobby soxers for the short white socks they mostly wore, like my two older sisters. They all wanted to mother this skinny, little, Jersey original.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

MICKIE LALLY QUEENAN R.I.P.

I grew up on a street locally known as "Lally's Alley" because there were so many of us on our block-and-a-half long street. I had cousins next door and cousins down the street who lived with their parents and all of our Irish immigrant grandparents.

Our ages stretched over a few decades and we were closest to the ones closest to our own age within three or four years, and that included my cousin Mickie.  She was the great beauty of the clan, winning a beauty contest when she was thirteen (at least that's the age I remember but she may have been a bit older).

She had the most perfect fair Irish porcelain skin and dark hair and eyes that lit up any room she was in. As you can see, I adored her. She was four years older or so, and quiet and gentle and modest. Unlike me. So it wasn't like we hung out or anything other than at family stuff. But in our large clan there was a lot of family stuff, and we were in and out of each other's houses all the time.

She married an equally modest and kind person, John Queenan, and they had four children and eventually, so far, eight grandchildren. She was a writer too and a good one, but hardly as brash and "transgressive" as her younger cousin up the street. But I admired her all my life and was happy to get to spend some time with her at the last family reunion.

Now she has passed on after a tough time of illness so she is free from that and at peace. But her spirit lives on in the hearts of all who knew her.

[PS: One of my first books was a slim little chapbook called THE SOUTH ORANGE SONNETS in which I wrote about the old neighborhood and created a collage from old photos for the back of the book that I never got back from the printer who shortly after publication went out of business. And since I don't know how to crop it or zoom in on Mickie, she's at the top in the middle, posing, back when she was thirteen.]

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

JOHN TRUDELL R.I.P.

Rest in poetry and power, John. (If you don't know this seminal figure in our human culture, this obit records some of the highlights in his life.)

Monday, December 7, 2015

MAY I SUGGEST...

That's my good friend John Restivo reading my latest book on a plane ride to somewhere. Which made me think about the holidays and gift giving. May I humbly suggest SWING THEORY might make a great gift for someone? You can order if from the publisher, Hanging Loose Press, by clicking on the picture of the book to the right on my blog...or at Amazon (where I just discovered three terrific customer reviews) by clicking here.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

HOLLY WOODLAWN R.I.P.

This the way I like to remember her. I only met her a few times but loved her sense of humor and sometimes pained but exuberant joie de vivre, a phrase I've never before typed but it seems most appropriate.

Not only was she a Warhol superstar (see TRASH for her first starring role, if I remember correctly), and immortalized in the first lines of Lou Reed's "Walk On The Wild Side" (I lived in a lesbian feminist commune in DC when that record came out and it was an endlessly played favorite (I had also experimented with drag on a dare, had some confrontations with bigots and wished I had Holly's sharp tongue and quick wit (instead of my fallback murder mouth macho defensiveness))), she was a transgender pioneer.

Condolences to all her friends and fans, her spirit lives on.

[PS: Here's a fair obit]

Saturday, December 5, 2015

TRUMBO

Movies about writers are pretty difficult to pull off, cause there ain't much about typing that's dramatic. And I read at least one review that said TRUMBO didn't have any character arc for the lead to make the film dramatic since he starts and ends as the same man.

But, for my taste, TRUMBO does make writing vital and dramatic and full of movement and even suspense that makes for a terrific ride. Bryan Cranston is excellent in the lead role as is Diane Lane as his wife and Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper the original Hollywood gossip columnist. A big surprise for me was Louis C.K. in a role he owns and makes worth watching, as does John Goodman as always.

The story is known, and it certainly was to me, but it still moved me to tears of gratitude and relief at the end that the terrible period of the McCarthy with hunts and Hollywood blacklists and phony super patriotism that discredits as traitorous any point of view that questioned, at least in those times, everyone's level of anti-communist fervor.

Then I remembered that we're in another period of some of us being labeled unpatriotic or traitorous if we believe in tougher gun laws or welcoming refugees from the horrible Syrian conflict etc. I think everyone should see this film (and yes, it did take me a few scenes to accept contemporary actors playing Hollywood's golden age icons, especially since some of the footage is actual historic news film of some of those icons, but eventually I surrendered to the conceit and even began to dig it).

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

LATE NIGHT MINI MINI-RANT

The more the NRA, and the gun manufacturing corporations it pimps for, control politicians the more damage that's done by guns.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

SPOTLIGHT

Hollywood friends have been touting SPOTLIGHT as an Oscar contender, I can see why. Certainly Mark Ruffalo, whose acting skills I often admire but sometimes find mannered, creates an indelibly and uniquely realistic character and deserves a nomination for it. As may Michael Keaton. And everyone else in the cast, except maybe John Slatterly, kicks major acting ass too.

The directing and editing give the film an accelerating dramatic drive that turns a fairly straightforward investigative journalism story into a tense and emotionally rewarding ride. The writing could have been better here and there but overall works to make the film and the story engaging.

I recommend it.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

HUNGER GAMES MOCKING BIRD PART 2

The title says it all, a jumbled mess. There are movie actors who for my taste are always a pleasure to watch work on the big screen and Jennifer Lawrence is one of them, as is Donald Sutherland. The two of them work their usual fully committed acting magic, but this movie is just too badly written and directed to redeem it.

It opens with such a confused series of scenes and dialogue it's impossible even for those who have seen the previous film to figure out who's who and what's what. Characters are introduced as incidental than the dialogue seems to indicate they're really important and then they're dead before we can make any attachment to them.

And whoever decided to make the actor who plays the mate Lawrence's character ends up with the pivotal figure of the flick should fire themselves. Lawrence is such a towering screen presence with the most natural sense of realistic expression that she needs someone who is her equal to be her love interest(s), not boyish actors who are hardly believable as men let alone as her match.

So, as you might be getting, I'm highly recommending you skip this one.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

SPECTRE

Not the best James Bond movie ever, but still a fun ride, even if just for the delight of watching Lea Seydoux and Monica Bellucci, especially Seydoux who is like the French Scarlett Johansson, in terms of natural screen charisma and acting chops.

The opening scene—which seems to be a seamless tracking shot but done from all different heights and perspectives so probably just an editing trick—is worth the price of admission for my movie-lover taste. As is the scene in the train (homage to classic 1940s Hollywood) with Seydoux in the gown above and Craig in a white dinner jacket if I remember correctly.

A spectacle, as Bond films always are, and worth watching on the big screen for that alone, as well as the above. The weakest element is the screenplay, which is—my Hollywood friends tell me—the result of the franchise's producers' cheapness, they know they can get away with it.

But it is interesting that the sometimes inexplicable plot of SPECTRE revolves around an evil conspiracy to spy on all of us in ways that I assume is already being done. Somewhat relevant and timely given the recent terrorist attacks and the political arguments about how far to go in invading citizens' privacy in order to supposedly protect them.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

WHERE I WAS (REVISITED)

NOVEMBER SONNET

On a perfectly clear Fall day, heading back to
Fort Monmouth, I watched as other cars on
The Garden State Parkway veered onto the
shoulder and stopped, the drivers not getting
out, just sitting there. At the toll booth the man
said The president's been shot. As I drove on,
more cars pulled off the road. I could see their
drivers weeping. Back in the barracks we stayed
in the rec room watching the black and white
TV, tension in the room like static. When they
named Lee Harvey Oswald, I watched the
black guys hold their breath, hoping that meant
redneck, not spade, and every muscle in their
faces relax when he turned out to be white.




(C) 2013 Michael Lally

Friday, November 20, 2015

DONNA DENNIS

Donna Dennis is an artist friend who for over half a century has been pursuing her own vision in works that cannot be compared to any other artist's (though since she began showing her art there has certainly been art by others that seems inspired or influenced by hers, in my opinion).

I have always loved her creations since the first show of hers I saw back in the downtown Manhattan of the 1970s. She and I at one time lived only blocks from each other on Duane Street in what hadn't yet been designated "Tribeca" except by real estate people trying to create a new "Soho" style neighborhood in what was still a wasteland of warehouses and small manufacturing lofts where living was still outlawed and only a handful of artists and other creative pioneers dared make their homes there.

She's still there. I got priced out after Di Niro and others bought into the neighborhood and spent too much and made it too hip, and then Battery Park City was built, and the neighborhood went to those who could afford it, no longer the artists and writers and dancers and musicians et. al. who had first settled the area.

But Donna is still there, at 73, creating structures that fill gallery spaces (the gouache piece above is a "study" for the structure that is the centerpiece of her latest exhibit called "Studies For a Little Tube House and Night Sky") with work that is captivatingly personal and cosmic at the same time. It is the mark of her human scale models of bigger structures that they seem both ordinary and unexpected. And she's still fighting investors trying to get her out of the building near Broadway where she's rented and worked and lived in a loft once nobody wanted and now everybody does.

As my friend and fellow poet Rachel Diken said about Donna and her ongoing dedication to the kind of artist's life few dare to attempt these days, especially when she heard that Donna is 73 and still constructing sculptures that sometimes fill vast gallery spaces (though this show she scaled down to fit into the Mixed Green Gallery (531 West 26th Street, first floor)), she said Donna is a "bad ass artist" and she is.

Donna is also a legend among my generation of downtown Manhattan creators. She was associated with The Saint Mark's Poetry Project since the 1960s and has been doing covers for poetry books from that scene since then, in my memory, and is still doing them.

I highly recommend you check out this show and support a living legend whose work deserves to be more widely known and respected, as she herself should be counted among the under recognized artists of our generation and given more awards, and more support for her struggle to maintain her place of work and living, while real estate sharks and the 1 per centers continue to engulf the few remaining outposts of downtown pioneers who created a reason to even consider investing in or moving to "Tribeca"—or as it was originally known: Washington Market.

Donna Dennis: legendary bad ass artist.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

BROOKLYN

As I've written before, my response to a movie often depends on my expectations going into it. Usually if I have high expectations, I'm at least a little disappointed, and vice versa. I'd read the Colm Toibin novel before seeing the new movie adapted from it and liked the writing but felt vaguely disappointed when I finished it. So I expected the same from the movie.

But Saoirse Ronan is a revelation, giving an award-winning performance delicately calibrated from scene to scene to display her character's blossoming from a timid girl to a confident woman in just two hours. And that elevates BROOKLYN the movie to a work of art, in my opinion.

Because it's set in the 1950s, a time that stands out in my memory and on which I've written a lot, and it's about "my people" the Irish (of course all people are my people, but I feel I'm more of an expert on the Irish), I was also expecting to be disappointed in the way the Irish in the movie were portrayed, as is too often the case.

But having been written by a native Irish writer and having the lead character played by an Irish actress, her character and much of the story resonates with a rare authenticity not always seen in "American" movies and TV shows about the Irish and Irish-Americans (like THE DEPARTED and RAY DONOVAN for instance). Though I will say there's a classic kind of Irish caustic humor that except for moments from Ronan's character late in the film is mostly missing in BROOKLYN, making the Irish seem terribly dour, unlike most I've known for my more than seven decades.

The costumes and period touches (it's set in the early 1950s) are pretty authentic too, according to my memories except, as always happens with 20th century period pieces, the cars are way too clean and perfect, especially the ones that would have been several years old at the time, and there aren't any beat-up, older cars, as of course there always has been and still are.

The theater I saw BROOKLYN in has a big bulletin board where audience members can voice their opinion and grade each film. BROOKLYN had raves and A's and A+'s, except for one commenter who gave it a C, objecting to the way the leading Italian-American was portrayed in the movie. I felt their pain. But I think the others were correct. Well worth seeing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

REFUGEES AND TERRORISTS

It seems to be the case that all the terrorists identified in the Paris massacre were Europeans. Born and raised there. And it also seems to be the case that many of the young people joining "Isis" weren't raised in extremist households and most of those from "the West" are signing up for the identity, purpose, thrill and adventure of taking part in what they see as a dramatically historic movement and cause.

In fact, it seems, at least to me, that there is a lot more in common between the homegrown terrorists we have in the USA (like the Oklahoma bomber and the school shooters, etc.), who have caused more deaths than any coming from outside the country (including 9/11) and the killers in Paris.

Closing our borders to Syrian refugees fleeing the death and destruction in their homeland in hopes of preventing tragedies like the Paris mass killings will have no impact on the mass murders being committed in the USA on a regular basis.

Monday, November 16, 2015

MID-DAY MINI-, WELL, NOT RANT, BUT RESPONSE-TO-THOSE-ACCUSING-THE-RESPONSE-BY-MANY-TO-THE-PARIS-MASSACRE-REVELATORY-OF-BIAS-DUE-TO-NOT-AN-EQUAL-OUTPOURING-FOR-THE-BEIRUT-AND-KENYAN-UNIVERSITY-MASSACRES

True enough that the outpouring of concern and emotion and outrage over the Paris massacre was much greater than that to the Beirut massacre of innocents by radical jihadis or to the massacre of students and others at that university in Kenya.

But, neither Beirut nor that Kenyan university have been celebrated over the centuries in songs and books and movies and poetry etc. especially in "the West" where so many are responding so intensely to the Paris massacres. Many in the world, and not just the "Western" part of it, felt the impact of the Paris atrocities more immediately not, I believe, because of any inherent prejudices in those societies, though they exist, but due to centuries of Paris standing for romance and love in the public imagination.

(All three occurrences are tragic and of course any feeling person abhors and condemns the attacks and mourns for the innocent victims.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A PERSONAL TAKE ON VETERANS DAY

(me at 19 in basic training with my friend Murph 2/62)

(and here's 18 of 20 in my 1960s series The South Orange Sonnets:)

At first the world’s great heroes were FDR
Churchill and Uncle Joe Stalin. The block
hero was FLYING ACE who shot down Krauts
on a seven inch screen. One brother served
with the Navy Band, one with the US Army
Air Corps. Before TV we sat through Sunday
matinees with newsreel footage of Nazi war
crimes. The boarder in our house had been
a dough boy in World War I. We called him
uncle. My third brother worked on tanks in
Germany during the Korean thing. I joined
the Air Force on February eighth 1962. I
went AWOL July fourth 1962. For a long time
no one we knew ever went away a civilian.

LATE NIGHT MINI RANT

Been talking and writing and posting for years about how the miseducation system is based on ideas from the 1800s and early 1900s and completely out of date in most school systems. And especially for boys, whose drop out rates have been increasing for over a decade etc.

But now the study comes out showing the death rate for whites, men in particular, have been rising faster than any other group (and especially by suicide or drug overdoses and other results of self destructive behaviors) and people are speculating why. Some point out the loss of industrial age jobs, and there's a lot of truth to that. When I was a kid any working-class man could go get a job in a factory for good wages and feel he was providing for his family and he was.

In the information age and the Internet age and the robotics age we live in, the manufacturing jobs are mostly gone and jobs that don't demand higher education skills don't pay enough for one person to survive on them let alone a family. So that's a big part of it. But the bigger part is this crazy Gilded Age robber baron capitalist exploitation of everyone but the rich age we live in.

If those same people who are dying in the study, working-class whites, lived in Canada, or Europe, or Japan or any country comparable to the U.S. in productivity and education etc. there would be no stress over medical bills and healthcare because it would be provided free, there would be no stress over paying for the education of their kids all the way through college and including pre-school because it would be free, there would be no stress over another pregnancy because there would be paid family leave and free daycare etc. etc. etc.

The level of stress from living in these times in the USA is overwhelming for anyone who isn't part of the 1% and especially overwhelming for those working-class families who are further down the income level. It's an unforgiving, exploitative, rapacious economic system we've inherited from Reagan and the decades of rightwing economic and political influence. It's enough to make one give up or stress out so much it kills.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

SUFFRAGETTE

I've been looking forward to this film, SUFFRAGETTE, since seeing the trailer weeks ago, and I can say after seeing it that it didn't disappoint, although the trailer made it look more action-paced than it is. In fact the pacing—rhythmically as steady as a heartbeat, but within each beat including the stillness between the beats and the buildup to each—is a big part of its appeal (to me). What I mean is, it feels like almost every scene begins slowly, sometimes achingly so, only to eventually progress to an often tension releasing climax just to begin that entire process again.

I don't want to generalize and say that it comes closer to a feminine or female sense of timing and pace than the usual male dominated film, but that's the way it seemed to me. This is a female dominated movie, directed exquisitely (for my taste) by Sarah Gavron and written (with the rhythms I've described) by Abi Morgan. It is both a beautiful film and a powerful experience, and yet also seems at times as predictable as the inevitable political outcome: i.e. women finally attaining the right to vote.

I suspect some viewers will find SUFFRAGETTE slow or inconsistent or even erratic or at times contrived, despite its basis in historical reality, but others, if they surrender to the artistry and skill of the filmmakers, including the cast (in which the female characters have the main roles, which unfortunately is almost never the case in movies today) they hopefully will have a unique movie-going experience, as I did.

At any rate, SUFFRAGETTE is worth seeing, and in fact should be required viewing, especially for those who take the gains made by any suffering segment of humanity for granted.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

MARTHA KING'S OUTSIDE INSIDE

Went to a reading at The Sidewalk Cafe on Avenue A and 6th Street Thursday evening to celebrate the publication of some sections of the downtown art and poetry scene icon Martha King's memoir OUTSIDE INSIDE. Several poets read excerpts from it, along with memoir poems or prose of their own. Though unfortunately my friend and I were late (NJ Transit), everyone we got to hear was terrific and the sections from OUTSIDE INSIDE they read were brilliant.

The magazine itself is so well produced and appealing, I suggest you get it just to have as a work of art itself. But especially for the bits of OUTSIDE INSIDE. As described in the table of contents ("Baz and I had Fame and Rejection. We lived in a flow of contradiction.") and as its title suggests, Martha and her husband, the artist Basil King, lived the classic bohemian roller coaster lives of making and being a part of cultural history while at the same time being overlooked and/or dismissed at certain times by those writing that history.

But now Martha has written her own take on that history and it's a fundamental document of survival inside and outside that world. Here's a sample paragraph describing the eighteen-year-old Martha who had her moment at the famous Black Mountain experimental school and collective of creative originals:

"If I had not been. If I had not been always in transition, always the new girl, the one no now knows, the one with the Southern accent, the one with the Yankee accent, the rich or the not-really-rich one, the one from the house with all those books, on East Eighty-Sixth Street and then in Chapel Hill. If I had not been the faculty brat. If I had not had such comfort with poverty, which gave me a feeling of calm and normalcy. If I had not been any of those things I would still have been just as desperate to leave home the summer I was eighteen. And I would have found a bohemia somewhere, a gang of people at odds. All runaways know this. Black Mountain was accidental. I was passing through my days without deep attachments. I felt everything could be exchanged. Everything almost was."

Check it out.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

THOSE WERE THE DAYS MY FRIEND(S)

Me in the window of the Duane Street loft I was illegally living in with my two oldest kids, Caitlin and Miles, in what I still called "Washington Market" but realtors were pushing as "Tribeca" c. 1980 just before Di Niro moved into the neighborhood and they changed the laws to allow lawyers and millionaires to buy lofts and whole buildings and transformed a sparsely populated rundown boho neighborhood into an upper class shiny new enclave etc. (PS I didn't find out until recently when a specialist looking for something else informed me that my nose had been broken three times!) [PPS: photo by the composer Rain Worthington who lived with me and my kids at the time]

TRUTH

This movie got some bad reviews, including some by critics I often agree with. And I can see some of the flaws that caused some of that. Part of that might be attributed to the fact that the director/screenwriter is young and most of his experiences are as writer and/or producer. This is the first film he directed and he makes some of the mistakes of a first-time director, including being a little overzealous in getting the point of a scene across.

I went to see TRUTH, because I've always admired Robert Redford's acting, even when he was still just considered a pretty boy by most. I recognized, from my own experiences acting in films, that Redford's minimalist acting style was unique in many ways and worked well with almost all the projects he chose to do. He was originally an artist and as a film-acting one, he uses very few brushstrokes to create an impact.

So I wasn't disappointed to watch Redford play Dan Rather in this story about a seminal moment in the history of mass media news. Rather's and his producer Mary Mapes's (whose book the film is based on and who is aptly played by Cate Blanchett) reporting about George W. Bush's special treatment in the U.S. military when many of us had friends dying in Viet Nam because their parents weren't wealthy and politically powerful, was attacked for details that didn't change the truth of the story but changed the focus of the media.

The success of the Bush family and their political machine in changing the subject from the then president's lies about his service and his having behaved in a manner that would have gotten the rest of us who served in the military and didn't have his connections court martialed and probably imprisoned was a turning point in TV journalism.

The film dramatizes the moment when the right won the battle of media focus. No longer would stories be about the facts but about conceding to the right's demands to have the news framed in ways that took attention off their misdeeds and failures and crimes and put it on opinions and attitudes and the idea of misinformation deserving equal time with the truth. The tactic of attacking any reporting that made them look bad won the day and continues to, a la the recent CNBC Republican debate and the reaction from the candidates to the moderator's questioning based on facts etc.

The story is a necessary one and I'm grateful it's been made into a movie, though the power of movies or media in general has been greatly diminished after the shift this movie chronicles. Still, it's worth seeing, worth having younger people see it as well, even if at times it's tries too hard (including the music soundtrack). Redford doesn't. He captures Dan Rather's awkward charm without imitating him—no accent, no strange metaphors, just the self-conscious smile and the deep rooted integrity.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

PETER CASE (APPRECIATION AND MINI-RANT)

The legendary Peter Case (first of the seminal punk band THE NERVES, then front man for THE PLIMSOULS, and now the hardest working singer/songwriter blues troubadour of the 21st Century) stopped by to visit and made my day sharing new and old stories before moving on.

One of the musical highlights of my life was when Peter lived with me for a while in the 1980s in a house I rented in Santa Monica and on the night he moved in we stayed up for hours jamming, him on guitar and me on an old upright piano I also rented. It was just one of those times when everything seemed to click and our different styles and tastes came together to make something unique and fleeting though entirely fulfilling.


Peter signed a copy of the first slim volume of his musical memoir AS FAR AS YOU CAN GET WITHOUT A PASSPORT and I've been reading it since and can't recommend it highly enough. Go buy a copy now. He also gave me his latest CD, called ROUTE 62, with some stellar musicians on it and all brand new Peter Case songs. Go buy a copy now.

(The mini-rant is that after over a million people downloaded it on Spotify (or do whatever you do on sites like that) Spotify was kind enough to send him a check for about thirty bucks.  The new economy that was already old in The Gilded Age where everyone without a lot of wealth is viciously exploited to get as much productivity out of them as possible for the most minimal of compensation while those in control of most of the wealth get more.)

If you are anywhere near New York city tomorrow night at 10:30 don't miss him at Rockwood Music Hall, 196 Allen Street.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

EXPERIMENTER

Went into this flick with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised to come out of it with great respect for the filmmaker, Michael Almereyda, who both wrote and directed this story of Stanley Milgram, the social psychologist (or psychiatrist?) who did an experiment in the early 1960s that became famous because it demonstrated that if led to believe some authority requested it, a majority of ordinary citizens would flip a switch to give an electric shock to an unseen stranger crying out for the shocks to stop.

The movie is a work of art, for my taste, innovative and eclectic in its techniques (just the way half the shots are framed is either an homage to the movies of the period or a parody of them) and originally directed by Almereyda and incredibly acted by all, but in particular Winona Ryder. I didn't recognize her in her introductory scene and hadn't read the poster or reviews so didn't know she was in this and all I kept thinking is who is this actress who seems so unlike the usual "Hollywood" female lead characters. It took me till the next scene to recognize her.

Her performance is supportive to Peter Sarsgaard's as Milgram, who carries the movie and is in pretty much every scene as well as narrating the story through the breaking of the fourth wall to address the audience directly (a lot of the director/writer's techniques are reminiscent of the breakthroughs in films in the 1960s), but Ryder is who ultimately makes the movie work. A beautifully understated and nuanced and most of all realistic portrayal.

I'd catch this flick if you get the chance, even if just to get another and more comprehensive take on Milgram's famous experiment and its impact on, well, the world, even to this day.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

HERE WE GO AGAIN

I wrote about the experience a friend of my teenage son had when she skateboarded through Columbus Circle with a friend and a NYC cop tackled her and threw her to the ground because she was intimidated when he ran at her and tried to protect herself by moving away. Here's the link to that post.

Her and her friend were kept in a Manhattan jail all night and arraigned in the morning for resisting arrest (no charges for whatever she was supposedly being arrested for, which was skateboarding in Columbus Circle, even though she was just passing through on her way downtown). Her public defender didn't say one word through the proceeding, so she pleaded guilty to get out of jail and back home to Jersey.

The boy in this video was also arrested for resisting arrest but no charges for whatever law he was supposedly being arrested for breaking. Fortunately someone captured it on their phone. It's the same exact cop who tackled my son's friend, a tiny female who instinctively held on to her board (imagine if it were an adult heading for work with their computer and a cop rushed at them to grab the computer and take it away, the instinct would be to hold on to it etc.) as this boy did.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

STEVE JOBS

STEVE JOBS the film is almost completely contrived, with the majority of scenes a product mostly of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin's imagination. But they are based on real characters and real events and because Danny Boyle's directing is mostly terrific, and most of the cast is superb, and Sorkin knows how to write dialogue and pacing for scripts, the movie works as engaging and satisfying drama.

Michael Fassbender totally holds your attention (or at least did mine) as a believable version of Steve Jobs, and Kate Winslet as his marketing exec does the same, though her supposed Polish accent slips and slides. Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, Jobs's original partner, who was the technical genius of the duo, serves Sorkin's plot points well, though in scenes that mostly never happened, but he misses the childlike sweetness and almost naiveté of Woxniak as he comes across in TV appearances.

The real surprises for me, acting-wise, were two veterans of BOARDWALK EMPIRE, Katherine Waterston as the mother of Job's daughter Lisa, and Michael Stuhlberg (who I sometimes confuse with Joaquin Pheonix) as one of Jobs's main techie subordinates. If you want the real story, there are documentaries and biographies and various sources on the Internet, but if you want a really good movie and don't mind being manipulated by the talents of Sorkin and Boyle, STEVE JOBS was well worth watching.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

MAUREEN O'HARA R.I.P.

One of my all-time favorite movie stars, she lived a long, full, productive life that she often made clear she was grateful for, and made it to 95. The gif above is from THE QUIET MAN, which, despite it's outdated mores (pretty sexist, even if it's intended to be comic, and even though she didn't mind and claimed to enjoy the humor of it and held her own against John Wayne's title character) still works.

And the reason it works is not just the chemistry between her and Wayne (that also worked in several other movies they made together) but because she was such an amazingly strong yet gorgeous movie actor and screen presence (her star charisma jumped out from the screen in one of her earliest triumphs, playing the gypsy girl to Charles Laughton's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME).

She was everything she appeared to be, glamorous yet down-to-earth, strong and independent (she made the tabloids back in the 1950s for being caught getting too intimate in the back of a movie theater with her date) yet capable of great sweetness and vulnerability, not just in her roles but in life, a great artist and yet humble in the sense of not denying her star stature but not denying her good fortune and common humanity either.

One of the people I'd most like to have met in my Hollywood years, but unfortunately never did. Yet like many of us I feel like I've always known her and always will.