Ode to Grandma and Photographer Sebastiano Salgado

Today is my Grandmother’s 95th birthday. It’s also the day I finished Wim Wenders 2014 Oscar nominated documentary and free Selby Library loaner “The Salt of the Earth”.

What could these two things possibly have in common?

First, my grandmother, Florence Baker, has endured countless deaths and tragedies. From her parents passing, to four siblings, to her husband and her 50 year old son, she has endured. She’s lived in Sarasota since Old 301 was a dirt road to the present where there is barely room for a sidewalk between condos. A mind bending life for anyone.

Similarly, the photographer, on which “The Salt of the Earth” was based, weathered existing among, and taking photos of, dying populations, from the Ethiopian famine to the Rwandan genocide. He also wrestled with his son’s Down Syndrome to the disintegration of his Dad’s ranch. Brazilian photographer, Sebastiano Salgado has also survived.

Not only has this unlikely pair lived to tell, so to speak; they are joyous.

My Grandmother has never giggled more in her life. She laughs at the strife of Pence’s book and its liberal rebuke; she shakes her head at my father who thinks he remembers better than she does.

Salgado found his renaissance in the replanting of trees on the barren Brazilian farm he inherited from his father; in essence turning away from the pessimism of human death to the wondrous birth and survival of nature.

Perhaps the key to life is to focus on joy and to turn our attention to where happiness and re-birth occur.

Both Grandma and Sabastiano would agree, it’s high time to stop the whining nonsense. Look around and take time to appreciate your blessings.

Once, Twice, Three Times a Billy (Bob Thornton)

Forgive the old Commodores song title “Once Twice Three Times a Lady” (by the way was that a secret fat shaming title? an overly p.c. world joke…) But summertime always reminds me of middle-high school when I’d hear the sweet sounds of the Commodores at some carnival or outdoor event. This is actually a review of three Billy Bob Thornton movies I watched (or confessional tried to watch) over the last three days.

I’m a Billy Bob Thornton fan, yeh yeh Slingblade, sure, but I’m a weird one because I loved Bad Santa. There’s nothing funnier to me than an angry misanthropic BBT. But as usual, I was dissuaded by critics against Bad Santa 2. Can I tell you the utter shame I felt witnessing another (and now I know, MUCH sadder) holiday film known as The Office Party? I blogged about that walk of shame already.

So needing a laugh here, I threw caution to the wind and borrowed Bad Santa 2 worried I was headed for another shameful Christmas blasphemy. But Holy Almost Christmas in July! Not quite as funny as the first, I still think this film is laugh out loud worthy, far better and healthier than smoking a joint. I love Kathy Bates, she’s a balls to the wall type of actress and I respect that she, Billy, Tony Cox and Brett Kelly had the courage to make a non p.c. movie in this dicey climate. Hence, why it didn’t do well. The director Mark Waters deserves recognition also for directing.

My favorite scene is Billy Bob coaching Brett Kelly on what to do with woman, or should I say grandmother of the night, Octavia Spencer, hysterical. If everyone could lighten up a bit like these folks, the world would be a much better place. Rotten Tomatoes 24%, boo hoo to you. At least IMDB had it at a respectable 55. April Wolfe of the LA Daily is my new hero for speaking up for this film. (Though she enjoyed Jackie…proof that any given day, we can disagree on a film).

In fact if it wasn’t for the pablum of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, I never would have sought out Bad Santa 2. But after suffering through an hour of formulaic: here’s a scene of the Middle Easterners, here’s a hot broad (Margot Robbie) being ogled by the soldiers, here’s poor Billy Bob as an angry uptight military leader, but safe authorized derision, not cynicism. It must have taken all of Tina’s strength not to rip the boring script out of Carlock and Barker’s hands and add some 30 Rock zip to it.

But sure enough, we Americans love our wars, so WTFT gets a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Last I didn’t research well enough, panicking to get a third film with Billy Bob (that’s accessible at the library), I wound up with a documentary called Down From the Mountain about the music from O Brother Where Art Thou. Now I know what you’re saying, “oh that music was great!” Yeh, it was great because you had the spoonful of sugar (Goodman, Clooney) to help the medicine (sad country music) go down. I double dog dare you to rent this and be riveted and happy throughout. And while I had the fantasy that Billy Bob was playing on it or at least giving an erudite commentary….noooooooooooo, he’s just an audience member. I haven’t watch the special features yet, so there’s still hope of a BBT quote at least. *Post special features note: no such luck.

At any rate, give peace a chance and look at Bad Santa 2. I guarantee you’ll laugh five times. And who couldn’t use that release? At the very least, seeing a snowy Chicago (where the movie is set) will make you feel a little sweet breeze during the dog days of summer.

California Dreams at the Sarasota Film Fest

Thanks to my sweet and generous co-worker Carrie, I was able to attend one of the independent films at the Sarasota Film Fest.

First kudos to the SFF which struck me as very well organized. The Rochester Film Fest in comparison seemed haphazard and confused in comparison. But then again, I felt haphazard and confused in my “Yukon” years, so I chalk it up to lack of vitamin D.

The film I took in was “California Dreams” by Mike Ott. I usually find docs such as this, a story about people trying to make it (whether it be show business as in this case, or business or art, etc) as sad that there are just too many talented people in the world for everyone to be successful.

However, in “California Dreams”, the folks aren’t talented, yet are delusional in their desire and aspirations. This is not intended to be a put down; striving toward a goal is never a waste of time in my opinion. Let’s face it, I, too, am delusional in my playwright aspirations as I was in my stand up aspirations. The main difference is that I am fully self-aware and know I simply don’t have the time or talent to make it big. And I’m ok with that.

The “California Dreams” actors may be self-aware, too, but Ott’s focus was on their desire, attempts and pomposity each had of getting there. While somewhat sad in the people’s futility, the doc was touching in how Ott listened to, and honored, each person as an important human being whether they ever reach success or not.

Mike Ott was actually at the fest and may have done a Q&A afterward, but alas, I had to scoot to work. I do have a question into is website for the film (which is gorgeous in and of itself, by the way). If I get an answer, I will add an extra post as an addendum.

Somewhat of a waa waa waa (downer noise) was that after Ott’s introduction prior to the film, his initial comments were not impressive, “Yeh, I had an interesting night after the film’s showing getting drunk and hit by a car.” (I saw no visible injuries or bruises). Like dude, you don’t need to share your Valley Girl, ok Guy, mentality. Show your depth, not your underwear, if you know what I mean.

At any rate, I did enjoy the film, especially in its frankness about real life issues (sexuality). A few conservative folks left I noticed, but that’s what happens sometimes when people are faced with reality.

Menage a` Trois: two cons and an inferno

Got behind on the blog due to writing a play, titled “Thanks for Giving a Damn”, my apologies.

Three flicks on tap, two about cons, one doc and the other based on a true story.

First, “The JT Leroy Story” about a woman who, due to trauma either caused by or combined with sexual and physical abuse as a child, summoned an alter ego who eventually needed a separate ‘body’ in order for JT to profit from her writing. (Perhaps it’s not too late for my pseudonym, Faith Perry, to rise like a phoenix, but where would I find a kook like me:)

But seriously folks, I have mixed feelings about exploiting mental illness which I think can glamorize problems that beg for healthy intervention. BUT, I also see the other side of the argument that genius is sometimes wrapped in dysfunction, so how is JT’s troubles any less relevant than, say, Shirley Jackson*. * A name/author from the past who is the subject of a new book featured in yesterday’s NY Times Book Review section which sounds riveting. But I digress.

Second film of the recent past is ‘Masterminds’ with Zach Galifianakis and Kristen Wiig. I enjoyed it, needing a laugh in a very big way. Ironically, just like my dad’s misgivings with Tallegdaga Nights, another close relative of mine, didn’t see the humor in this film. I think it’s due to generational differences and the fact that I have a soft spot for Zach and all the modern cast of SNL: Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones and Jason Sudekis. True, the movie’s like cotton candy, and to be honest, if it weren’t for the based on a true story aspect, I’d probably think it was juvenile. I was in the mood, what can I say? A feather in my cap for those few ho think I’m a simply high brow intellectual.

Third, last, and best of the three was ‘Deepwater Horizon’. I’ll get the minor problems out of the way first. Kurt Russell’s Mr. Jimmy while expertly acted, was faulty in the screenwriting. Meaning, Mr. Jimmy can’t be blind one minute and seeing an oil clad John Malkovich (aside: JM is great in that unique-John-Goodman-Jeff-Goldblum can show up in anything and make it great-routine) and reading a clipboard the next minute. Besides that, the film was excellent. Suspense was built rapidly and stayed tense, Mark Wahlberg, though he might be a cad in real life (beating up people in Boston years ago) is a great actor in the tough Boston guy mode. Like me, he hasn’t gone too highbrow as fellow ‘Bahston’ natives, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have done. He’s the Bill Burr of movie making.

To give credit to the ladies, Kate Hudson who has annoyed me after her brilliant ‘Almost Famous’, was palatable as the sexy dutiful wife. Even better was Gina Rodriguez, who is definitely headed for an Oscar one of these days, a rock solid performance making me wish her role was bigger.

good

You Say You Want a Revolution: Snowden and Howard’s Beatle Doc.

Oliver Stone

I took in two equally solid movies this past week, both by famous directors.

First, Oliver Stone’s Snowden which I was lucky enough to see opening night including a talk back with the Stone, the actors, and most importantly, Edward Snowden via satellite. I have not read the reviews yet, not liking to be tainted by the critics, but I did see the percentage number was right around 60%, much too low of a mark.

I can guess the problems were: Shailene Woodley’s bad wig, lack of chemistry between Gordon-Levitt and Woodley, and most problematic, the evil ‘big brother’ NSA boss ridiculously histrionic performance. Sorry Patrick Joseph Byrnes, you sounded like a bad Clint Eastwood, doing the raspy, ‘make my day’.

Beyond that, the film showed an accurate depiction of the documentary CitizenFour, and filled in the back story that the documentary could not address. Gordon-Levitt is a wonder, making you forget he’s an actor. The story also is alarming as to how much technology has taken over our lives.

The real Snowden was so well spoken, I really believe he simply has an exceptionally high moral compass. The fact that he does not dare to come back to the U.S. also speaks to how far we have fallen from our founding fathers democratic principles in regard to due process.

Ron Howard’s The Beatles 8 Days a Week is just adorable, as cute as Opie’s little cheeks in the Andy Griffith Show. I was concerned from the description that the doc would get mired in the days before fame, that while interesting, doesn’t compare to the years of genius. But luckily, the doc’s focus was how under the microscope, the foursome felt confined to pop music, and that not until they disconnected from the ‘machine’ did they break through with truly original sounds. This is not to discount in anyway their younger songwriting gems, but simply to marvel at how they evolved into grown men with different influences. Simply to witness the half hour rooftop concert at the end of the doc, is well worth the price of admission. Great job Ron Howard!

Last Time, First Time, Sing Street, Weiner

Last Time, First Time
Dear Reader: I went into the bowels of Word Press’s dashboard to try to correct the inability to comment. But I’m like a bad auto mechanic, simply throwing my wrench around a few nuts and hoping it fixed things. Keep me posted and continued thanks for reading my blog.

My last movie in New York State was a great ending. I took my visiting son to see “Sing Street”. I had avoided it at the regular theater after skimming a New Yorker review which said in effect that the music was not special and the story schmaltzy. As has been the case before, while I love my New Yorker, the movie critics can be stuffed shirts.

“Sing Street”, written and directed by John Carney of the small budget Oscar Winner “Once” was adorable and HIGHLY recommended if you have an adolescent with talent as a budding musician or singer. Inspirational in tone with charming performances, most notably by Jack Reynor (even better now that I know he’s American, I believed his Irish accent whole hog) as the under achieving older brother. The other two stand outs were the lead couple/potential lovers; Lucy Boynton and Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (time for a stage name, my son). Boynton has the perfect blend of tough and sentimental and Walsh-Peelo is Say Anything/John Cusack adorable. I hope the film gave my son continued hope to pursue his singing career with verve in NYC.

The first film I saw as a resident of Sarasota was “Weiner”. I don’t think this was Sundance prize winning worthy, mainly because the editing could have been much tighter. Sure we need to see Anthony and Huma in their natural habitat, but there were several clips that were unnecessary. I also swear I heard the beep, beep, beep of reversing delivery truck that dumped the ridiculous number of ignorant media’s shark feeding frenzy stories. Anthony Weiner is smart and articulate and ironically very mature at times. He called it correctly though when he said that his true story would get lost in the media vortex hell bent on the shallow spin of judging a person’s totality on a few bad weeks in his entire life.

Also missing were any answers to much more intriguing questions: did Anthony suffer from survivor’s guilt after the hit and run death of an older brother? Anthony’s mom’s in the doc, but how do we account for the absence of Anthony’s dad? Those answers would have taken depth that apparently Joshua Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg weren’t willing to attempt.

In Her Own Words

First a funny aside: “In my own words” was what I wrote at the request of the Yearbook Director as I retire from teaching this June. After writing a six sentence blurb (1 sentence per every 5 years if yo do the math), I received an email back, asking, ‘can you condense it?’. An ironic end to thirty years of love and dedication to the teaching and parenting of teens and tweeners. When I meet my maker, hopefully many years from now, don’t be surprised if my tombstone intimates I was from the state of Rhode Island, since surely I can condense that, too.(think abbreviations)

Fortunately, for a bigger star, Ingrid Bergman was gifted nearly two hours. And sure, I’m no Academy Award winner, but I think I’m worth a meaty paragraph But back to Ingrid.

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (Jag ar Ingrid) was not only a gorgeous documentary, but a neat surprise to hear that Ingrid’s first marriage was to a University of Rochester trained brain surgeon. Just to hear her say the “I stayed in Rochester” was a thrill, and that’s saying something considering the weathermen are simply begging us to stay now with temperatures below freezing on April 9, 2016.

I like that Ingrid lived her life without caring what was the current norm. While I don’t condone affairs, I really don’t see how Hollywood types can ever remain monogamous. I mean, you’re basically instructed to conjure a romance in many film plots.

She lived a full life in many different countries and God Bless her since the dreaded breast cancer took her relatively early (67). Stig Bjorkman’s documentary does sophisticated work to de-sensationalize her struggles making this film a high class biographical exercise.

“Amy, What You Gonna Do?”

After a second viewing of “Amy” I now feel my original comments below were way too harsh. I saw in the film’s second time around, beautiful aerial shots of London and NYC, well placed footage evoking the emotion of the moment, and an instrumental score both poignant and deep. Still, I think the first third could have been pared down, but I was greatly moved by a repeat experience.

Original review:

For the first third of the documentary “Amy” directed by Asif Kapadia I wondered where the meandering, bad video and photos were going.

Was the music throughout fantastic? YES! So if the visuals and storytelling lacked in the beginning, so be it. Akin to a car ride in Lowell, Massachusetts where I visited recently, even depressing vistas can be warmed by great tunes (in my trip’s case The Wood Brothers), but I digress.

From a woman with a Masters in Counseling’s perspective, I must say that repeating how IN LOVE she was with bad boy boyfriend-turned-husband-turned-money grubber is a real disservice to any other woman or man who is co-dependent in an unhealthy relationship. It’s not love, honey; it’s an attempt to right a wrong from the past, in Amy’s case the rejection by her father and the wimpy role modeling from her mom.

The last part of the movie was fantastic, my favorite scene being her singing with Tony Bennett which was set up nicely right before she won the Grammy (which Tony B announced) when she called out, “Dad, Tony Bennett!” proving how she idolized his great talent well in advance of the opportunity to work with him.

As a woman who dabbles in stand up comedy, let me say how I cringed at Jay Leno’s and other comic’s using her as an opening monologue one liner. I will never joke about someone’s affliction, it’s just wrong.

Last, if you are going to be a parent, you MUST be able to lay down the law, be the army sergeant who says, “N-O spells no.” Most of Amy’s troubles stem from two bonehead parents who let her raise herself. Giving your child limits (bed time, computer time, chore time, food, etc) show love, DO IT!

A Baker’s Half Dozen (Seven) The Wolfpack

I wanted more resolution from “The Wolfpack” (directed by Crystal Moselle) instilled from the former school counselor in me. If anything, the film shows how inept our social services programs are, and on the sick flip side, probably gives hope to abusive parents. The Angulo father seems unphased and unscathed after an intervention landed all seven of the children in therapy even though one of the boys definitely hints at abuse he can not ever forgive.

And what about the only daughter? I would assume her issues might be larger than her 6 older brothers just by the nature and lack of interaction allowed with the camera.

The film just left me wanting way too much. How has this family existed financially for all these years, how a woman allows her seven children to be controlled by megalomaniac? How does one get so out of touch with her own needs or those of her children?

Most stunning is a successful familial prison existing for 15 years in a major metropolitan area. And at the risk of sounding like Rod Serling here, as shocked as I was about this family, there are probably even more horrific stories happening in the same apartment complex….in the Twilight Zone.

President Obama addressed my pet cause eloquently in his recent talk with Marc Maron, that your primary goal as a parent is to make your children’s world less crazy than the one you grew up in. Evolution is everyone’s responsibility, but ESPECIALLY for those who have children. If you raise your children in dysfunction either consciously or not, you need to be held accountable for the future ills of our society. How I wish we could actually enforce such a law.

I’m not sure The Wolfpack is as good as it could have been, yet the film at least sheds light on child abuse that that can easily be hidden, and ongoing, even in a city that never sleeps. I guess wild insomniacs do not equate to observant humanitarians.

for photos and more info

Red Army: Slap Shot-esque Stokholm Syndrome

I knew I liked Gabe Polsky’s quirky documentary on Russian hockey player Viacheslav Fetisov for a reason. He’s got that Werner Herzog idiosyncratic eye and ear that captures the odd ball in us all.

Red Army traces Viacheslav’s rise from Russian youth hockey to the Olympics and beyond. When he requests to play for the NHL, well, let’s just say they didn’t grant him a send off celebration.

One of the endearing off beat scenes was of a former Soviet Union government official whose 5 year old grand daughter steals the scene with her impish antics and ice cream cone infatuation. Another was of Viacheslav’s attempts to stay in shape having been banned from all hockey rinks in Russia. His carrying his former coach’s daughter on his back, running and wielding his hockey stick on grass show how passionate he was as a true athlete.

If you like Red Army, check out Bad Lieutenant Port of Call New Orleans which Polsky helped produce. Bad Lieutenant is probably the coolest movie Nicholas Cage did since Leaving Las Vegas.

While there aren’t Newmanesque leather pants nor Hanson twins; as a true story, Red Army’s resolution is astonishing to say the least. Let’s just say that when Broad City’s Abbi Abrams (2/4 episode) asks her date to change positions, the end result is similarly shocking. Vlach