Saturday, April 19, 2014

THE MAJESTIC, THE INTERNSHIP & OBLIVION

It was a challenging week, so I spent a few nights with my favorite form of escape, Hollywood formula movies with enough of an original twist to keep me watching.
I may have seen THE MAJESTIC when it first came out but have absolutely no memory of it (which happens since the brain op, now over four years ago) (and it came out in 2001 when I was diagnosed and operated on for cancer—which is thankfully all gone—and of course 9/11 occurred that year, so probably wasn't seeing many movies).

Jim Carrey can be aggravating to watch sometimes with that radiant but twisted phony smile he perfected that I never found appealing or humorous. And that happens a few times in this flick. But the rest of the time he's pretty good in a movie set in the early 1950s during the McCarthy Witch Hunt, that the movie skewers in an obvious and heavy-handed way but nonetheless is satisfying in the ways Hollywood formula movies can be, thus the formula.

It's basically a boy-meets-girl boy-loses-girl boy-gets-girl formula, with the cliched small-town purity and innocence and goodwill of the Andy Hardy movies. But it works, because there are enough original filigrees on the formula to keep you, or at least me, interested. And there's nothing like an old fashioned Hollywood ending to leave you satisfied when all you want is to escape the too often lack of Hollywood endings in everyday life.

THE INTERNSHIP came out last year and obviously didn't make much of an impact. But the aging comic pairing of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson led to at least three scenes that had me laughing out loud hardily, as they used to say. It's the fish-out-of-water formula, only with the contemporary twist of two technically pretty lame old guys deciding to change their lives and start new by applying for internships at Google.

As is usual for the fish-out-of-water formula, it's also the-underdog-triumphs formula, only this time the underdogs aren't up against the star jocks or the corporate baddies or city hall etc. but instead computer geeks, who they have to do better than to win a competition among nerdy brainiacs that includes technical skills, entrepreneurial skills and salesmanship.

There's a minor love story, but it's incidental to watching the old guys get dissed for being so out of it until the old guys use their life experience to inspire the young geeks to try doing things in ways they never thought of or had the courage to. Like I said, formula. But the characters are mostly fun to watch, especially Vaughn and Wilson, especially since they're beginning to look a little the worse for wear and it fits the plot.

OBLIVION is another movie that came out last year and had no impact I can remember noticing. This one a relatively original variation on the boy-meets-girl boy-loses-girl boy-gets-girl formula, but in a sci fi setting that has some plot twists that make it pretty trippy. Enough to keep me watching. Despite star Tom Cruise seeming miscast to me. At times he seemed like his old action hero self, but at other times he just seemed like an aging boy out of place in the wrong movie.

But the rest of the cast was terrific, and Olga Kurylenko made it worth watching for me, for exactly that: watching, let alone Morgan Freeman's and Melissa Leo's usual, totally committed—and in this flick more-or-less cameo—performances.

As always with films like this there were plot points that could have been cleared up a lot more easily than the story-line demanded. But fewer than in truly "bad" movies. These weren't bad, just minor. But even a minor distraction can mean a lot if you feel the need to be distracted. So thanks to all of them for helping me escape for a few hours this week.

Friday, April 18, 2014

THE LATE GREAT

My dad, oldest brother Tommy in uniform, sisters Joan & Irene, Robert, ma, me and Buddy during WWII. Buddy would soon join the Navy before war's end and have that Iwo Jima experience I posted about.
Me & my three brothers (who lived, another died as an infant) after WWII when Tommy became Campion, the Franciscan friar, flanked by Robert to his right and Buddy to his left.
Me in the colorful shirt with my three brothers to my right, Campion, then Buddy then Robert leaning down behind his wife "Sis" next to Buddy's wife Catherine and their firstborn Cathy, my mother behind them and her mother next to her with my sisters Joan, in the pixie cut and Irene and our dad...the only ones still living are Sis, Irene and me, Cathy passed from breast cancer five years ago and her mother was just buried at Arlington cemetery with her husband Jimmy we in the family called Buddy.
My three brothers and me, Robert, Campion (aka Tommy) and Buddy (aka Jimmy) around 1959.
Joan Baribeault, who I lived with in Santa Monica for several years and learned so much from, me in another colorful shirt, my brother Buddy and his wife Catherine the only time they visited me there.
All three gone now, and missed. Life. And the alternative.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

ROBERT A. CARO'S THE PASSAGE OF POWER & WALTER H. EITNER'S WALT WHITMAN'S WESTERN JAUNT

Okay, I'm a history geek. I love reading history, watching documentaries on historic subjects, or even fictional movies based on history, etc. And I realize there aren't many people anymore interested in reading a book that's over six hundred pages. That also happens to be only part of a much bigger project titled THE YEARS OF LYNDON JOHNSON. This one, THE PASSAGE OF POWER being number four in the ongoing series, and covering only the years 1958-64.

But, if you've got the interest and the stamina—and the time (I received this for my birthday last year, eleven months ago)—this is a very rewarding read. Caro's research is so thorough and his perspective so fair (incorporating every major player's memories of events and conversations etc.) that all the books in his massive LBJ biography are worth reading. But if you had to pick just one, it would be this one.

Because as the title suggest, it concerns Johnson moving from the powerful job of Senate leader to the thankless non-job of vice-president to the traumatic transformation of JFK's assassination and his ascendancy to the presidency. Powerful stuff. And for those of us who lived through it, the details, at least in my case, can be not just fascinating but moving. I highly recommend it, even if, like me, you read a little each night and it seems to take forever.

WALT WHITMAN'S WESTERN JAUNT is a different kind of history, and much shorter (just under a hundred pages not counting the end notes etc.) and of interest probably to even fewer readers. I picked it up in a used book store (one of the few left in this part of Jersey) because I read anything to do with Whitman and always have since I was in my teens, and this book I'd never seen before.

It's one of those specialized studies trying to set the record straight. It takes a trip Whitman made with several others from Camden, where he lived at the end of his life, (actually starting from Philadelphia where he joined the others) and examines the details of it. Whitman had written about this journey in my second favorite book of his, SPECIMEN DAYS (one of my all-time favorite books of prose, as LEAVES OF GRASS is for poetry), and Eitner's book is determined to set the record straight by pointing out discrepancies between Whitman's own account(s) (not just in SPECIMEN DAYS but in publicity generated through fake interviews—interviewing himself essentially, but making it look like some reporter was doing it—and newspaper articles seemingly written by nameless reporters etc.) and either what was written in newspaper accounts by others or in letters and other sources.

I found it all totally interesting, though I'm not sure anyone who isn't a Whitmanophile (?!) would, and liked deciding where I felt Eitner might be correct in correcting the record and where perhaps the newspaper accounts or other sources might just as likely have it wrong. In pointing out the discrepancies, Eitner rehashes the history of this railroad trip to Saint Louis and Kansas and Denver in 1879 in that short post-Civil War period that most cowboy movies are set in. I loved reading contemporary takes on what that world looked like, especially to these Easterners, and more especially to Whitman, who had written poetry about the West as if he'd lived there all his life (he'd gone as far as New Orleans once before).

Eitner's book was published in 1981, so it's probably out of print. But if you're a history buff who digs the post-Civil War period in the USA, or a Whitman fan, you might find some of this book, or at least the contemporaneous photos in it, enjoyable. I did.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

WHAT CAN WE SAY

That anti-Semitic racist rightwing gun nut murderer who shot and killed those three innocent people in Kansas, thought he was striking a blow against "Jews" by shooting people outside two Jewish establishments.

But as we now know, and he does too, two of those people, the fourteen-year-old boy and his grandfather, were Methodists. And the middle aged female victim was a Catholic. Evil is evil, and this man's heinous act embodies that.

But his ending up harming not one Jewish person but three "white" Christians instead is more than ironic, it's emblematic of the reality that the divisions others would create among us are not "real" in the ways those who support those divisions think they are or might be.

The right-wing gun nut who killed the six people in that Sikh temple and thought he was murdering Muslims is another example of this. And those rightwing racist descendants of Europeans who rant against Obama and attack "blacks" might discover with a simple DNA test that their victims had ancestors who came from their own ancestors' homelands and even clans and extended families, as they themselves most likely carry the DNA of African ancestors.

It is estimated that six million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis in their attempt to eliminate all Jews, but using those same mass murder techniques, the Nazis also murdered six million others, including "gays" and "Gypsies" and "communists" and so many more.

There are no innocent victims of evil we all cannot identify with. This sociopath proved that once again.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

SPRING HAS SPRUNG, SORT OF, LATE NIGHT MINI-RANT

As the U.N. releases another report on climate change warning of dire consequences if we don't stop using carbon based sources of energy, and others make clear if we had only adopted the cap and trade tax that's been on the political agenda since Jimmy Carter, or adopt it now, it would barely dent the mega billions the oil companies, and Koch brothers behind some of them, make every year but would eliminate our deficit and cut pollution by at least ten percent rather than increasing it by even more as without it continues to happen (let's not even get into how the Congress, led by the rightwing Republican dominated House, has extended the enormous tax breaks and corporate welfare for big oil paid for by us taxpayers but ended tax incentives for alternative energy!!!!!), and maybe then we wouldn't have temperature swings of forty degrees in a day or two as we did all Winter and are about to have for what we used to call Spring, but this Spring was initially still Winter and today was Summer (in the 80s here) and in a few days will be Fall again...et-endlessly-cetera...when will massive protests descend on Congress demanding action to END THE DESTRUCTION OF THE EARTH BY BIG OIL!!!!!!!.....

Saturday, April 12, 2014

ANOTHER OLD FAVORITE QUOTE

"I and the public know
What all school children learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return."

—W. H. Auden (from "September 1, 1939")