Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Are you watching me now? Watch closely now!

It’s impossible for me to review A Star is Born with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in 2019 without going on a side track about A Star is Born with Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand in 1976. Shockingly, while the Cooper/Gaga movie got 89% on the Tomatometer, the Kristofferson/Streisand version got 38%.

What?

Then I read some of the reviews by the critics, and most of them were written in 2019, about a movie older than some of the critics themselves. Whether the 1976 version is a good or great movie in itself is not relevant to me. When I watched it first in 1976, it was phenomenal. It was one of my coming of age films. I remember clearly who I was with at the time. I had just turned 20 and I was figuring out what makes blood boil. The songs in A Star is Born will forever transport me back into those passionate years of my life. Candles on the rims of bathtubs took on meaning for me that never left me since. For me, A Star is Born was one of my favorite movies of all time. 38% my ass!

So I was reluctant to even go see the 2018 version, lest my memories get confused and polluted. But after all the press and hoopla with the Oscars, and after The Woman went to see it and came home and said it was a great movie and I’d better go see it, we went – I for my first  time – she for the second viewing.

The story is the same one. Jackson “Jack” Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a rock superstar with an established career and an alcohol problem. Ally (Lady Gaga) is a struggling artist. They meet by pure chance in a drag bar when Jack stops in for a drink after a performance. He is smitten. She is skeptical. But Jack sees the talent and brings her up on stage at his next concert in a stadium, and when she lets loose with one of her songs, the audience goes wild and the critics swarm all over her. Within just a few months, while he burns in the ashes of drugs and alcohol, she rises like a phoenix. It’s a love story for which we all know the ending, it’s a musical without the corniness of real musicals. The soundtrack is exceptional. The music is all new. And yes, I think the Cooper/Gaga version is as good as the Kristofferson/Streisand version was 42 years ago.

Young lovers will go on and remember this movie for an entire generation. They will own the soundtracks just like I owned the vinyl record of the old A Star is Born for all these years. And my “Are You Watching me Now?” will be their “Shallow” and a new Star is Born.


In 2003, L.T. (Tommy Lee Jones) is cozy in his retirement in his cabin in the woods in Oregon. He used to be in the special forces, where his assignment was to train soldiers to kill in hand-to-hand combat. When someone brutally slaughters four deer hunters, the FBI calls on L.T. to help them find and apprehend a murderer. They suspect a rogue special forces soldier.

Sure enough, Aaron (Benicio Del Toro) is one of L.T.’s trainees, one of the best there is, and mentally damaged beyond hope by terrible trauma he was exposed to during the conflict in Kosovo.

When L.T. comes after Aaron, he is unarmed, and it is not clear what he was thinking. Two trained killers are at each other’s throats for the duration of the movie.

This is Rambo, First Blood, part two, only much less refined. Two men, trainee and mentor, fight to the death with — it had to be that way — knives they made from scratch in the woods. L.T. fashions a knife from rock splinters. Aaron forges a knife from scrap steel he finds at a ruined embankment. As the two go at each other, we are subjected to completely unrealistic blood scenes. The human body only has about six quarts of blood. It seems like both fighters spill more than that in each of their fights, and they somehow keep walking away without bandages each time.

The Hunted has been around. It was released in 2003, and you have probably seen it flipping through the channels more than once over the years.

If you want to watch a movie about a damaged special forces soldier going berserk, watch Rambo, First Blood instead. It’s a much better movie.

It is 1962 in New York City. Tony is an Italian-American in the Bronx. He is a bouncer at a local club and hangs around with questionable mob types. At a party at his house he observes his wife giving two glasses of water to two black workmen when they are thirsty. Later, when nobody is watching, he drops these two glasses in the trash. Blacks in 1962 were treated as sub humans.

When Tony loses his job because the club is remodeling, he looks for a job and hears that Dr. Don Shirley is looking for a driver. Tony shows up at the interview and discovers that Dr. Shirley is black. He is a world-class pianist and he is going on tour in the Deep South. Tony reluctantly signs on. The manager gives him “The Green Book,” a guide for establishments in the South were blacks are welcome. Many times, Tony has to stay at one hotel, while Shirley stays at another.

As one would expect, there is severe resistance to a black man of status in the South, let alone one that has a white driver. The two run into a number of difficult situations, and with every one of them, their mutual respect for each other seems to rise, and they slowly build a friendship. Tony gets lessons in grammar, speech, etiquette and general humanity from Dr. Shirley, and when he comes home after a months-long tour, he is not quite the rough neck that he was when he left.

Green Book is very rewarding movie. It gives us a glimpse of America before Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement of the mid-sixties. Discrimination and racism were rampant and brutal. But the human spirit transcends the differences, and two very different men become friends.

The ghosts of Donald Trump have haunted us through the decades.

Stephen King is an ardent Trump critic. Here is a representative tweet:

There are many Stephen King tweets about Trump, and most of them are not kind.

I just happen to read King’s Bag of Bones now, which was published in 1998 and plays in that time. In it, one of the primary antagonists is a tech billionaire who abuses people with his money. Here is an excerpt I came across:

“I’m a lucky girl, don’t you think? First I marry the son of an extremely rich man, and after he dies, I fall under the protective wing of another rich guy. Next I’ll probably move in with Donald Trump.”

— King, Stephen. Bag of Bones: A Novel (p. 190). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

That reference made me check the copyright date of the book, and sure enough, it was 1998. Trump was around then, and notorious enough to make it into a Stephen King novel.

There is a new chain of Pieology restaurants. They are pizza places where you can customize your individual pizza. While patrons stand in line, they can peruse a large wall of famous quotes. The picture below is of this wall at the Escondido location. I took it before Trump ran for president.

You can see, among many others, there is a quote attributed to Donald Trump:

As long as you’re going to be thinking anyway, think big.

While this is attributed to Trump, I am pretty sure it was used by many motivational speakers long before Trump, but we now know that Trump likes to “own” things and thoughts that aren’t really his.

Here is the funny thing: When we recently went back to Pieology, this quote by Trump was nowhere to be found. They had placed a sticker with another quote over it, so Trump is not on the board now. I am assuming that this was done in all Pieology stores, not just the one in my home town.

Recently, when searching through old boxes of books, we found this one:

It’s copyright 2007. It’s a hardcover book, brand new, never read, and I cannot remember buying it. I would not pay $26.95, the posted price, for this book, not now, not in 2007. How it got into my book boxes, without me even knowing it was there, is baffling.

Finally, I just noticed this shoe box in our closet:

I am sure The Woman bought these Ivanka Trump shoes many years ago. She would not do so now. But still, the box is in our closet.

I have to say: Trump’s ghosts are permeating our lives in America. He is a relentless self-promoter, in my opinion the most successful real estate salesman in history, regardless of the fact that his company sure looks like an organized crime syndicate that has now muscled itself into the White House.

We are numb to the ghosts of Donald Trump, which haunt us now, and will haunt us for decades to come. My grandchildren will suffer from some of the effects of Trump in the White House today.

I think we need an exorcism.

 

It’s been a long few days on the road, and I am on a flight in seat 15E from Chicago home to San Diego. 15E is a middle seat, with not enough space on either side to take out the laptop and do some meaningful work of any type. I have the Bose headphones on, but no music, just noise cancellation. Then the movie Bumblebee starts on the little screen a few seats ahead of me overhead. I see the start and I plug in the headphone cables so I can hear the sound. That’s how I came to watch Bumblebee, a movie rated 93% on the Tomatometer.

It’s 1987. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is about to turn 18 and she finds a battered yellow WV bug in a junkyard. She brings home the car and quickly discovers this is not an ordinary WV beetle. It’s a Transformer. And that’s really all I have to tell you about the story.

Transformers are cars that turn into robots. I have never before watched a single Transformer movie, and now I am grateful that I didn’t. Robot battles are boring. I know too much about technology to buy into this myth of indestructible robots that, when it comes right down to it, do their battles with fist fights like two humans would. It quickly turns into endless action scenes of robots throwing each other around, kicking each other, and I can’t get it out of my head that it’s all two guys in robot suits doing the fighting.

The story is predictable and boring. The concept is ridiculous. I don’t know where the ratings come from, but it did nothing at all for me.

It killed 114 minutes of flying time. Now I know I never have to watch another Transformer movie.

This is a sight for my Southern Californian heart:

A couple of days ago I was in Albany. It was 3° F in the morning. Here is a picture of the parking lot at Panera. Zoom in and notice the shopping cart embedded on top of the snow hill.

Your snowplows at work.

I was around in 1988, when Senator Gart Hart (Hugh Jackman) was considered the front runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. We know how it all ended. Hart exited the race not too long after a story broke about an extramarital relationship with a woman named Donna Rice.

In 1988, tabloid journalism surfaced for the first time in a presidential election. It is now 30 years later, and it seems like tabloid journalism is all we get anymore in high profile elections. Gary Hart was an Eagle Scout compared to Donald Trump. Our senses are now dull, and our sensitivity numbed. The office of the presidency will not be the same again.

But in the days of Gary Hart, different rules applied.

This documentary drama tells the story of the rise and fall of Gary Hart, the man who almost might have been president, until some “Monkey Business” got in the way. The Front Runner is an entertaining and informative film into the way we run our presidential elections and I enjoyed the window into the past.

Here is what our agricultural system does to animals. This calf is wearing a device that prevents it to suckle from its mother. Can you even imagine the frustration? This is what homo sapiens does to its subjugated species just so there is a good supply of milk.

Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) is a quiet, shy working-class man who lives with his wife (Laura Dern) in the mountains outside Denver. He is the local snowplow driver and a respected citizen.

Their young son, who works at the local airport as a baggage handler, is killed one night. When Nels tries to figure out what happened, he runs into the underworld of the local drug traffickers. As he is faced with brutality and criminality, he quickly turns vigilante and picks off the bad guys, one at a time, using fists, guns, snowplows, tree trimming tractors, axes, and anything you might find in a maintenance garage for heavy machinery.

I expected Cold Pursuit to be an action thriller as many other Liam Neeson movies, and it is, but it’s also a dark comedy. I laughed more than I expected, and in the end I walked out chuckling.

Rich, old, fit black man in big city puts on headphones and expensive watch and goes for a jog. Bam! He gets hit by car and dies. Shock – I didn’t see that coming.

His estranged daughter and her two children are driving to his house in the country to get ready to sell the house. The house turns out to be a mansion with all kinds of security gadgetry. But something does not seem right.

Four bad guys had broken in. They somehow got wind that the old man had liquidated all his assets and there was a lot of cash in the safe in the house. All they had to do is find the safe, open it, and take the money.

But darn it, the family shows up and makes things difficult.

The mom and her children turn out to be quite resourceful against the four bad guys, of which one is a very bad psycho guy.

A predictable story, told many times over. Normal people get in the way of really bad people, and have to fight their way out. In this case, with the gadget house, it’s Home Alone for Adults.

Alright, I was entertained for a bit, found myself cheering for the underdog, but in the end there was nothing much to remember about this movie.

A Private War is a dramatized documentary about the life of Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike), an American journalist who worked as a foreign affairs correspondent for the British newspaper The Sunday Times from 1985 until her death in 2012.

Being a foreign affairs correspondent is somewhat of a euphemism for “going into war zones” armed only with a camera and a lot guts. She was a brave woman, fearless and dedicated to getting the real story out, the truth, no matter the cost. She was born in 1956, like I, and she spent one of her high school years abroad, like I. She is no longer alive today because she chose a very dangerous profession, unlike I.

Watching A Private War is hugely important in today’s world, where our leaders send young men and women into battle in foreign countries without seemingly blinking an eye, over and over again. Don’t we ever learn that war is deadly, not only to those who die getting shot on the battle field, but to those whose souls are killed and who struggle for the rest of their lives after they are lucky enough to return.

A Private War is crushingly realistic and very difficult to watch. I was numb when the credits rolled, shocked, and disgusted with what we are doing to ourselves, to other countries, in the name of democracy, freedom and religion. Go watch A Private War and get yourself a new perspective and then tell me it makes any sense to send off one more American soldier to any conflict overseas.

Stop it already.

39 Years Later

In the summer of 1980 I went to the “bird sanctuary,” now the Jamestown Audubon outside Jamestown, NY, and painted a landscape of a few rotten trees in a swamp. The original painting is long lost. All I have left of the painting is a yellowed, discolored photograph:

At the Bird Sanctuary – 06/80 Oil 24×30

Today a friend sent me a photograph she just took there:

What a difference 39 years makes – or does it?

Keep up that fight. Bring it to your schools. You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers that are trying to sell you on socialism from birth.

— Donald Trump Jr. at rally in El Paso, Texas

The oligarchy we are now living in and allowing to continue every day is making more and more decent Americans sick. I know a lot of teachers, and they are some of the most hardworking people I know. They are dedicated, and they are not getting paid nearly enough to account for the value they provide to our children and to us.

But to oligarchs, anyone that does not get rich by money-laundering, tax evasion schemes, stiffing contractors, hiring illegal workers to keep wages low, anyone struggling to get by day to day, paycheck to paycheck, apparently looks like a loser.

And this is what we are supporting and allowing to continue, day after day.

An oligarchy.

I always enjoy when I can relate to the location where a novel takes place, or when I can visit such a location. I have experienced this several times in recent years.

One was when I read the novel Full Measure by T. Jefferson Parker. The story plays in Fallbrook, California, a town where I lived for almost 20 years of my life and raised my children. I knew many of the locations in the novel, including the streets, parks and some of the stores and businesses referenced.

The other was the book The Crazyladies of Pearl Street by Trevanian. This played in Albany, New York early in the last century. In 2013, when I read that book, I made regular trips to Albany on business and I actually went to see the locations and the actual address on Pearl Street where the protagonist lived. I took pictures of the empty lot that is there now.

Reading a novel and retracing the locations of the protagonists gives the story a special meaning and the feeling of the story sinks in much deeper than it would by just reading the book.

And so it happened with Stoner. I had never heard of the book, or the author for that matter. Then, last Sunday morning while waiting for a flight at the Admirals Club at the Dallas / Ft. Worth airport I received a text from a friend, a member of an informal “book club” is was “accidentally” pulled into, that the next book we were going to read was Stoner. Stoner – what – I texted back. What author? John Williams was the response, and two minutes later I had the book downloaded on my phone ready to read when I got on my flight. I stopped reading The Greatest Story Ever Told to squeeze in Stoner first.

In the next few hours reading into the book I found out that the entire story plays in Columbia, Missouri, most at or around the University of Missouri. William Stoner was born in 1891 on a Missouri farm. He grew up working with his father on their land. His parents had done nothing in all their lives but work the farm. They wanted a better life for their son, so they sent him off to college to study agriculture. The father’s hope was that after four years, the son would come back with a better bag of tricks and make the farming more profitable and rewarding. However, Stoner fell in love with English and literature, and unbeknownst to his parents, switched his major and eventually went through graduate school, got his doctorate and started teaching literature at the university. And that was Stoner’s life – except – things didn’t go so well for him.

His worst mistake and the one causing many other misfortunes that befell him later was that he married a truly awful woman. Edith caught the eye of the young instructor at a party and he was smitten by her beauty. Even though she showed no interest in him, he courted her and eventually proposed marriage. She accepted. And within a month of being married Stoner knew his marriage was a failure. Edith was the epitome of the worst possible woman ever to be married to. She was a loveless, self-absorbed, vindictive, morose and frigid person who obviously loathed Stoner. Why she married him we never figured out. But Stoner was a good man, with character, conviction, honor and a tendency for brutally hard work and commitment. So he dealt with his marriage. He spent pretty much his entire life sleeping on the couch in his living room. It was truly painful to witness.

Stoner lived to support his wife and their only daughter, Grace, who also grew up screwed up due to the terrible situation of her parents. He only found real love once in an affair with a young instructor at the university. Besides stolen hours in her apartment when they could manage it, they only got to spend 10 days together on a vacation, which was the single true happy time in both their lives.

Stoner is a remarkable book. It’s a story about nothing, and it’s a story about everything, about life, hard work, and academic life in an American university in the first half of the 20th century. It’s depressing to read and it made me think about my own life and my own decisions.

And here is the funny part: Remember I was at the airport when I bought the book. Guess where I was flying later that week?

Columbia, Missouri.

When I landed I was 86% through the book. So rather than going to the hotel from the airport, I got into my rental car and drove into town and spent a bit of time around the University of Missouri, just checking out where Old Stoner was supposedly teaching his courses all those years ago, and getting a sense of the locations. Of course, the college described in the book in 1910 is no longer. Now it’s a sprawling campus with many modern buildings from the 1970s vintage and thousands of students milling about. I did see some old buildings like those described in the novel, and most of those are now fraternity houses. like this one:

It was truly thrilling. I was on my way to Columbia, Missouri when I received the message to read a novel that plays entirely in Columbia, Missouri. I just finished it now, writing this review while I am still here, ready to leave in the morning.

I recommend you read Stoner by John Williams. I for one am richer having done so.

Both Nixon and Trump called the investigations witch hunts.

Some witch hunts!

I think I’ll side with the blues on this chart.

%d bloggers like this: