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.


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

Campaign Bumper Sticker 2016

Miles Teller

Saw two accomplished films this weekend, one a doc Citizenfour (Laura Poitras) and one of fiction, Whiplash (Damien Chazelle).

Citizenfour is basically cinematic voyeurism; watching a man’s last few days of freedom. While I disagree with Leonard Maltin’s hyperbolic review “has Hitchockian suspense”, I will admit it held my interest despite ‘knowing the ending’ so to speak, that Snowden remains an exile in Russia. And here’s where I want to step on the thin ice and say, hooray for Snowden, a man of principles…yet the skeptic in me thinks, can our government be THAT corrupt? Can a man simply exposing Obama’s transparency as an opaque farce, really be stripped of his passport and free citizenship? Yikes.

But I say Snowden for President as a man of true integrity. But believe me, the whispering dissenter chirps, “Can a world power exist without infringing on privacy to protect its citizens?”.

Which leads me to my presidential analogy that Miles Teller, at least in this role, (and at the risk of tying Maltin for hyperbole), is the most sincere and dedicated person on Earth. And while I’m at my electoral picks, let me propose J.K. Simmons as Secretary of State because he’d tell any bullying totalitarianism to bend over and kiss their inhumane arses goodbye. And for good measure, let’s throw in Paul Reiser as Press Secretary with his realistic chagrined father portrayal. Whiplash is a fantastic film worthy of viewing and award nominations. While I won’t discuss plot points in my pledge to tell no spoiler, I will say if the movie’s end had been a hair shorter, it’d be absolute perfection.

P.S. I’ll be posting this on every blog, but soon my website name will change to something shorter and easier to type after the new year…still pondering domain names…stay tuned.

Roger Ebert “Life Itself”

I tend toward constant vacillation (and I say that chagrined, not bragging) so I really wanted to see Life Itself when the doc news was first revealed. But typically, in the lag time between announcing and screening, I started to dread the gruesome medical procedure discussed by the director on an NPR feature.

Yet, I am so glad I went anyways. Part of what drew me was Ebert’s insistence to have Steve James direct due to his love of James’s Hoop Dreams from 1995. While James made the map most recently with The Interrupters in 2011, he is not the most famous director to choose for your walk off the planet life story.

But as proof to Ebert’s keen expertise Life Itself is gorgeously organized and filmed! While I never want to to ruin the surprise elements of anecdotes, I think telling my strongest epiphany won’t be a ‘spoiler’.

Anyone in the 29th year of the same career (23 years in the same building, a vindication to my self-deprecating vacillation intro) certainly has a touch of jaded cynicism. I still love my students and obsess about ways to help them learn, but this documentary reminded me that my encouragement, like Roger Ebert’s was to Scorsese, can be life altering to anyone at life’s crucial tipping point. In fact, we can each be kind mentors to each other, encouraging creativity and nurturing confidence.

According to the film’s recent Scorsese interview, Scorsese went through a rather cocaine infused confidence crisis in the 80’s. Ebert’s faith in him and his insistence that Scorsese go with him to the Toronto Film Fest during this dark period, saved Scorsese’s career.

I actually hope to buy the dvd for Christmas gifts, if the sale date coincides with the holidays. Roger Ebert’s evolution from selfish writer to ‘pay it forward’ Buddha is truly heroic.

In Your Dreams: Documentary The Party’s Over

I rarely remember dreams and when I do, often get a kick out noticing how my day’s reality contributed to the fantasy’s creation. So last night’s doozy came after an interesting concoction of a Netflix political documentary created by Philip Seymour Hoffman called The Party’s Over, found on some sites as Last Party 2000 and a short video of Gordy Hoffman’s Blue Cat Screenwriting tips.

But first, the movie:

Our first thought when we hear the word violence is the man vs. man type, so the self-inflicted drug variety often seems incomprehensible. We opine about Heath Ledger and Philip Seymour Hoffman, ‘But they had young children, they had talent, they had money.’

And so it was very poignant to see Philip Seymour Hoffman interview an African American woman steeped in the important issues of the then present day 2000, chagrin that those same issues weren’t being spoken by either Bush or Gore. Her comments about heroin trafficking being a big business were especially ironic given PSH’s ultimate demise.

What struck me most about this doc is that the concerns of those marginalized were exactly the issues we’re still fretting about, yet apparently not able to change; gun violence (I had forgotten about Rosie O’Donnell and the Million Mom March), campaign finance reform that Gore promised he was going to change, and the need for drug rehabilitation centers numerous enough to take care of the multitudes addicted.
Being a Rochester resident and age equivalent contemporary, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death threw me for a loop. The fact that my son’s major at Suny Geneseo is Musical Theater also played a part in its impact. I realize there are temptations in most professions, but performance art has to be near the top as far as drug availability.

The Party’s Over illuminated Philip Seymour Hoffman’s as a passionately concerned citizen. His epiphany, or perhaps simply a confirmation and why he made the film in the first place, was that the Democrat and Republican conventions contained speeches and ideologies that were eerily similar and hollow.

I can’t help but see PSH as a defeated man, done in by his own addictive behavior. And it’s equally difficult not to see Barrack Obama as equally impotent on a political level, given that he ran on a campaign of hope and yet now even in his elocution seems to be totally disillusioned. If men with so much passion and promise can not overcome addiction and the wealthy selfish stubborn respectively, what is the future of the United States?

I’ll end with my lighthearted dream, proving we can have fantasies and wishes of happy endings and that we must in the end, maintain our optimism for human evolution for our children’s sakes at the very least.

The dream:
Thematically there’s a ‘bad boy’ fixation subtext going on here for me, having always preferred gentlemen who buck the conventional, have a lackadaisical view of fashion and are more passionately introverted than the male norm. In addition, the secret crush I always had on PSH.

So how much fun it was in this nocturnal illusion to be an actress vying for Mr. Hoffman’s romantic attention, against a terminally ill woman, hence ‘winning’ the competition. Boy, do I know how to fix a bias on a dream level, or what? The resolution culminated in my ballsy dinner date request for the following week and my apologizing for the only problem that I’d have to come in costume, “But not an alien costume with antennae at least,” I reassured. In an adorably wrinkled, untucked Oxford shirt (as he wore in The Party’s Over) Mr. Hoffman put his arm around me and replied, “That’d be fine.”

Rent The Party’s Over and you’ll be wanting to slumber to a sweet dream state, too, anywhere instead of our country’s deepening hole fourteen years later!