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.