Only the Animals- Movie Review

This movie is such an interesting melange. I was a little concerned in the beginning that it was one of those french films that is just a little too off for my tastes. The excellent Laure Calamy kept me engaged with her oh-so-typical french expressions and mannerisms. So charming. The tale starts from her perspective. And then we see it retold three more times from other vantage points, a technique that forces the viewer to confront how naturally narcissistic we all are.

The other actors do a superb job. There’s depth to the dimwitted farmer who misses his mother. There is grit and passion in the cuckolded husband who seeks love in the wrong places. There is a cruel frivolousness to the wealthy woman out for a fling. And then to keep us all alert, the frames cut over to West Africa where another crew of actors plays their parts.

It’s a little dark, and a little creepy in parts– but rich in affairs of the heart. And you’ll never guess the ending.

Rush Hour – Movie Review

This 1998 Jackie Chan comedy is packed with good stuff. I’m not sure if I lost a lot of time getting to know the masterful Chan or if the serious lack of jest and comedy in today’s world makes him all the more valuable, but I really liked this movie. It is funny and smart and strong.

Within moments of the opening scenes, there is a flurry of completely inappropriate word choices. Wokeness be damned! Both actors (Chris Tucker is an excellent sidekick) are gifted in comedic gestures and facial expressions which simply amplify the use of cancellable verbal offenses. It’s so delightful.

Chan is endearing as he draws a laugh through self-deprecation and physical faux pas– but don’t let his warm-up show fool you. His use of trips and slaps and fake punches is there to set the bubbly laughter adrift in his audience. Once everyone is relaxed and ready to let go of a noisy guffaw, giggle or snicker, then Jackie Chan will show off his real moves. And they won’t let you forget the strength of this martial arts performer.

He also holds the film together with a credible yet not wholly predictable plot and lively scenes across neighborhoods, Burroughs, and architecturally interesting buildings. I loved the clips from pre-China Hong Kong.

The Staircase- Series Review

The Staircase is an HBO series based on the real-life story of the death of Kathleen Peterson (Toni Collette) and the subsequent trial of her husband Michael Peterson (Colin Firth). Before you commit to the viewing time be forewarned that this series will play in the shadowy crevices of your brain. The film brings out the fears and uncertainties of relationships and the strength of their bonds. Your mind will be mulling over the hour-long episode well into the following day.

Full disclosure, I’m a fan of Toni Collette; and Colin Firth for that matter. They do not disappoint. But there are far more producing and editing tricks done with this story which leave the audience in a persistent state of questioning. The splicing of events as members of the family review and question past occurrences reminds of us of the complexities of kith and kin. Timelines with a six-year distance between them are run simultaneously. The overlay of the documentary being filmed and produced in real-time creates a window upon the world effect. (Here’s the link to the documentary.)

There are several interesting collisions between the intended use of the justice system and economic incentives. One is pretty typical. An agency authorized to review forensic material for jury trials is not operating at an arm’s length from the prosecuting office. An outside organization proves the bureau both fails to report pertinent information as well as distorts its level of experience. Another ho-hum, let’s protect our buddies, incident occurs when a homosexual lover threatens to provide a complete list of his liaisons should he be called upon to testify. Something about the word systemic comes to mind in the ability of the district attorney to waive away this witness.

But the more intriguing, or perhaps nefarious, turn of events occurs amongst the kids. Of the five college-age children in the Peterson household only one, Caitlin, was Kathleen’s biological offspring. She is also the only child who broke with the others in their unwavering support of Michael’s innocence. After testifying against her step-father she successfully sues him for claims to a large insurance settlement and other assets. It seems like a jury should receive some sort of incentive disclosure eventhough this may seem cynical.

This series will remind you that life is complicated. But you may not be satisfied that you have been given any answers.

The Presidio- Movie Review

Just yesterday I dropped off my daughter at her choice of college, which happens to be my alma mater. The day felt like a time warp. Memories, long pushed aside by a busy life, kept setting up film screenings in my head. As I blathered on about some irrelevant fact or another, she gave me the most endearing look of tolerance. Remembering the past as the present unfolds does the trick of revealing the granular difference of what seems like just a few years.

The movie Presideo, an action thriller from 1988, had me drawing similar comparisons. The shots of San Fransisco are so good. What you see is a city growing past a rough go through the 70’s. There are many street scenes, the cityscape with night lights, a bustling China Town and various residential options. I couldn’t help but thinking how wonderful it was to visit San Fransisco through the 90’s. And now, 20 years on, it’s back to a struggling mess.

The famous military base, The Presidio, was dismantled in 1994. Perhaps there was some motivation to preserve a sense of it in the film. The theme of the old guard military of mid-century, represented by Sean Connery’s role, and the younger generation runs throughout. The aging military man strides around in full uniform while Mark Harmon and Meg Ryan both slip in and out of bomber-styled jackets.

True to this genre, there is only one (ok- two if you count the GI who gets shot in the movie’s opening scene) female role. As usual, the lead lady is irresistibly attractive, funny, daring, and rebukes only in a way that everyone knows is temporary. Meg Ryan shines with grown-up Shirley Temple curls gently swirling around a beatific smile and large doe-like eyes. At least if there is only to be one woman, the producers picked one above the grade.

It’s certainly not the movie of the century but it does offer strong entertainment value. The car chases are genuine and done back in a time before AI, so they really set them on fire. And you will smile when Harmon looks at his pager with delight, pulls over to the curb, and pops into the near phone booth to call his buddy. Aside from a few brief lapses in acting, the actors do a great job. And the plot has a twist to boot. The past can still keep you on your toes.

No Time to Die- Movie Review

If you are a 007 fan, you will be pleased with the last appearance of Daniel Craig as the debonair James Bond. Staying true to the brand, it shows off all the great features of a sprint to save the world from treacherous evil. Car chases in fabulous cars across European mega-scapes. Amazing stunts. The intrigue of who is double-crossing who.

A notable change from Bond movies of decades ago is the number of interesting female characters. There used to be the devoted secretary playing support worker and the super attractive girl plunged in the midst of the action. That was it. For decades. This film has a spectrum of female characters from somewhat comedic, to tough but still female, to gorgeous and even motherly.

Settle in for a long film, it’s worth it. I found it fresh yet true to everything I love about Bond movies.

Netflix Series Review: Capitani

My favorite part of watching foreign Netflix series is the change of scenery. I’ve never been to Luxembourg, and probably won’t go anytime soon as it is not very high on my must-see destinations. So taking in a show can temporarily put you en scene. Capitani is a police drama which is heavy on intrigue and light on violence. There is a nice balance of male and female characters. Everyone has a past. The youth can’t be trusted. All these factors keep the audience guessing.

The first season takes place in a rural setting. Capitani happens to be close by when a call comes over the radio to investigate the death of a fifteen-year-old girl. In season two the setting shifts back to a more typical urban underbelly. Whether Capitani is still a renegade police officer is something you will have to discover.


Book Review: American Spy

A new perspective on the spy novel can be found in Lauren Wilkeson’s 2019 novel American Spy. All the twists and turns and double-crossing agents can be found between the pages of this author’s first attempt at the espionage genre. But what makes it delightfully new is the perspective of a female African American. To be clear it is not a book on race or feminism. The story is true to the suspense thriller but her relationships, her family’s background, and her sense of identity when abroad feel fresh and authentic. It’s well worth the read.

Found at my favorite thrift store.

The Hunter with Steve McQueen- Movie Review

Rotten Tomatoes only gives this 1980 action-adventure film a 5.2 out of 10, but I really enjoyed it. It is Steve McQueen’s (1930-1980) last feature film and he plays up the role of a bounty hunter who isn’t as spry as he once was. He is also an hysterically poor driver. I find it fitting that the mega star with a garage full of a hundred classic cars leaves the stage playing a parady of himself.

I was not aware of how rough a childhood Steve McQueen had endured. Raised by a handful of relatives, and beaten repeatedly by his mother’s new husbands, he found himself on the streets several times getting by with petty theft. He entered the Marines before he was eighteen and used the GI bill to pursue acting once he served his tour. In 1959 Frank Sinatra saw something in him and made sure the camera frequently found his close up in the movie Never So Few. By 1974 McQueen was Hollywood’s best paid actor.

If you lived through the 70s, and like cars, you will appreciate the array of vehicles throughout the film. The car chases are not edgy but they are fun. And there are plenty of stunts. The story takes you into some rough urban areas. When you see old footage of people living in buildings that are more or less slums, it is a good reminded of how far housing standards have come in most cities in America.

Lastly, you can’t help but notice the musical score. A full orchestra builds the auditory suspense and it is refreshingly original. Michel Legrad wrote the music; he wrote over 200 movie scores the most notable to me is “The Windmills of Your Mind” from the Thomas Crowne Affair (1968).

Interceptor- Movie Review

This movie could be a comedy to the right audience. Every identity is represented: immigrant, nerd, red neck, white male psychopath, victimized woman, and on it goes. A whole collection of cliche phrases clunk out of a beaten up tool box.

The takes on capitalism driving people only to care about money, money, money! Whereas the heroine is been coached by her white haired father to remember its always about the fight (or the struggle to some.)

There’s entertainment value, I guess, in keeping a scorecard for subtle and not-so-subtle messaging. And the physical fight prowess of the lead actress is impressive. If these don’t trip your trigger though- don’t invest the time.

Netflix Series Review: Pieces of Her

Overall I rate this series a seven out of ten. Toni Collette carries the show but many of the secondary actors are also quite good. There is an interesting mix of social strata and ethnicity amongst the characters which helps keep the secrets that hold the audience’s attention in the first half of the series.

The story takes us to Belle Isle Georgia, an area of the US that is overlooked, to say the least. There is heightened intrigue when odd things happen in the most average of places. And the guessing of who has done what to whom continues well into the middle of the series. The end is a bit drawn out. Perhaps shortening the series to six or seven episodes would have kept the story crisper.

The relationship between a mother and her daughter explores some proven themes about mutual understanding across time. Not to the depth of a great literary novel, but as a reminder that few are perfect in their family roles. After all, this is an entertaining thriller, not a psychological inquiry.

Seventies Cinema- Movie Reviews

It was a great weekend to take in two thrillers from the seventies. My husband was away and since he is not a big fan of vintage films, I took advantage of having full control of the TV. Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Marathon Man (1976) are both thrillers whose suspense relies on dishonest civil servants (thanks to Nixon I suppose). Both are better written than what usually presents itself on the screen. Both run quite a bit of interesting and creative footage of Manhattan. If you’ve been to New York lately you might enjoy comparing the then and the now.

The seventies are in full glory in both films. Who can wear a pair of jeans, aviation glasses, and a tweed jacket better than Redford? Cars are burly beasty things, there’s more garbage on the streets than we now expect, and business suits are more common than business casual. The runners who share the trail around the reservoir with Hoffman wear short shorts which have yet to have a fashion revival.

Both protagonists are intellectuals, not tough guys (although their tight abs both make a taught appearance). They are dupped or naive to the mechanics of greed and deception until shocked by the loss of life around them. Provoked, they put their smarts into solving for the villains. Alas, as per custom, there is only one female per film- gorgeous and seductive- in place to shine a brighter light on the lead character while making themselves available to aid and support the male lead as is required of them.

The ending of Three Days of the Condor was a little off for me (and ironic now some forty years later). Marathon Man is more gruesome but overall richer in the story and social context. I enjoyed them both but if only could pick one would recommend Marathon Man.

U.S. Marshals- Movie Review

Tommy Lee Jones is awesome in this 1998 thriller. It was produced at a time when it was still OK to portray law enforcement as macho. But I bet you didn’t know this about the weathered faced, gun totting enforcer of the law:

He (Tommy Lee Jones) attended Harvard College on need-based aid; his roommate was future Vice PresidentAl Gore.[7] As an upperclassman, he stayed in Dunster House[7] with roommates Gore and Bob Somerby, who later became editor of the media criticism site The Daily Howler. Jones graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1969; his senior thesis was on “the mechanics of Catholicism” in the works of Flannery O’Connor.[

Wiki

Wesley Snipes also performs well above average as the ever-resourceful, escape artist fugitive. As Jones and his crew of U.S. Marshals pursue Snipes from Chicago to the swamps of Kentucky and then onto New York, the evidence against Snipes starts to smell overcooked. The State Department security gets involved and I love how they are portrayed: dark suits, sunglasses, non-distinct features.

The special effects are also splendid. An airplane crash gets five stars for creativity. I loved the swamp scenes. The views of downtown Chicago from the U.S. Marshal’s office make you want to visit the windy city. Even the car chase scenes in New York are fresh.

Don’t let the vintage of the movie dissuade you. It’s fun to see mobile phones the size of a small shoe, Robert Downey Jr looks fresh out of college and the police are not on the defensive. One drawback is the two weak female roles– but it’s a reminder that most movies today have more substantial parts for women. This film is worth your time.

Hold Tight- Netflix Series Review

I’m three or four episodes in on this thriller-drama and am enjoying the intrigue. It’s one of those stories that introduces the audience to a variety of characters, only loosely linked at first. And then like a wide fishing net thrown over the water, it is drawn in tight until all the characters’ stories are touching. In the meantime, you are left wondering who means what to whom.

I was also attracted to the locality as the story takes place in Warsaw. Recently there’s been a photo cycling through Twitter feeds of Warsaw’s downtown skyline. It made me realize how little I knew about this city.

The characters are convincing. There’s some blood and gore but not too much. But most of all it’s fun as because it leaves you guessing.

GoldenEye- Movie Review

Rewatching GoldenEye was a lot of fun. It takes the audience back to the West versus the Russians with all sorts of flair. My favorite visuals are the numerous arial scenes which are very well done. They don’t feel gimmicky or dated. Just about every other form of transportation is fit into a chase or explosion scene of some sort- including James driving down the villains in a tank. Q sets 007 up with a fabulous BMW convertible.

The supporting women have some depth to them. This is Judy Dench’s first Bond movie, and she is looking sharp in 1995. She blends beautifully the strength of the position with a parental caring for her prize agent. Femme fatal, Famke Janssen, pulls off the psycho-sexy armed and dangerous woman. She’s a soldier who enjoys her job a little too much. The glamorous nerd who wins James’ heart is played by Isabella Scorupco. Sure- she’s beautiful too, but her real skill to save the world is, wait for it, coding.

There’s quite a bit of humor throughout the movie. Most of it centers around poking fun at the philandering, cocktail drinking Bond. Laugh off the old to usher in a newer 007, I suppose. If you know the franchise, you will laugh along. The computers will also make you smile. They are deep desktop boxes the size of a small black and white TV.

Pierce Brosnan isn’t my overall favorite Bond, but he does a good job in the film. It is a classic blend of dramatic scenes, chases, international destinations, and stunts. I thought it was well worth a couple hours of my time.

Hit and Run- Series Review

I can recommend this Netflix series to those who enjoy the action-adventure, spy thriller type of film. There are a whole host of bad guys and chases, good guys and fistfights, the ‘I’m not so sure if you are good or bad guys and break out of the handcuff moves. Fortunately, the cast is excellent in both the male and female categories. The actors make the series.

Lior Raz is great as the romantic tough guy who is betrayed by a beautiful CIA operative played by Kaelen Ohm. To make up for the cheating wife, there are two other excellent female roles. Sanaa Lathan plays a NY journalist who is vested in getting the real story out to the public. She skillfully juggles her doubting husband with her professional obligations. Moran Rosenblatt pulls off a credible performance (if sometimes a little amusing) of a very pregnant Israeli policewoman.

The plot suffers a little in parts. Although, I’m not sure I’m a very good judge of espionage realism, as I have no first-hand experience. The intrigue is spooled out slowly and there are plenty of surprises. There’s also plenty of hand-to-hand combat by both genders. Perhaps a little too much death and destruction- but it goes with the genre.

The episodes are usually about 50 minutes in length which matches up nicely with the time I want to devote to a little TV downtime. The setting jumps from Israel to New York so I get my cross-cultural fix. The nine episodes are showing on Netflix.

Market Failure- Or tapping to a different tempo?

If you are too young to remember when Julia Roberts came into her own as an actress, rewatch Erin Brockovich. No one can flash a smile as well as Roberts. And the zesty character of an everyday single mom taking on corporate America in a David and Goliath story is a perfect match for Julia.

But this real-life tale is a redemption tale for markets. Wait- you don’t have to go googling the plot to confirm the intent of the story was to exemplify market failure of the classic kind. The firm (in this case the Pacific Gas & Electric Company- but there were many) in an effort to maximize profits, refused to look into claims of contaminants seeping into the neighboring soil and water. In order to keep track of things, let’s name the marketplace with the anchoring of the firm. Let’s call this traditional collection of goods, customers and firm, M1. PG&E is striving to provide goods and services to their consumers at the best prices. It’s a win for everyone in M1!

But not so fast. Erin Brockovich steps in as an activist and donates hundreds of hours of her (unpaid) labor to help determine that the residents near the plant are suffering from externalities of M1. This is where most people stop and claim that capitalism doesn’t work because M1 has not taken into consideration the surrounding community. Truth be told, they just haven’t finished watching the movie. Because it is soon readily apparent that M1 is contained in M2. And it is in M2 that Brockovich and her law firm and the community residents are going to form a common interest and push back on M1.

Here’s a good spot to encourage the reader to look back through the menu to categories explained at Home-Economic. The activity in a social sphere is governed by groups sharing a common interest, and the efforts or sacrifices they are willing to contribute towards that goal and the ongoing and updated norms which guide their behavior. The young paralegal revved up the M2 by going to the group (audience) and educating them to the claims at hand. This spurs on further efforts to make M2 more efficient by rectifying the public health concerns being externalized by M1.

As many law firms know, if claims of this nature are successfully demonstrated, the courts will order a balancing of accounts through a financial settlement. This not only pays those harmed for the externalities, it also makes it clear to other firms that being negligent will end badly. In this case it took $335 million in 2006 to bring M2 back into balance.

Note too that this process also occurs for positive externalities. For instance, a company produces widgets in M1 at a certain cost to consumers. Then there is a technology improvement in a broader market, call it M2. Once the firm has access to the public good of knowledge of a new process/technology, then product prices drop and consumers in M1 internalize the benefit through lower prices.

The question isn’t whether the market is failing. The question is what market are we in and where is the inefficiency.

Vigilance for identifying and cleaning up pollutants has a long history.

Series Review: The girl from Oslo

I was hoping to watch the series Tehran but since I was on Netflix the algorithms offered me this instead (Tehran is on Apple TV). It’s only one season with ten half hour episodes.

The film takes you to a variety of settings as the story plays out in Oslo and Israel and Egypt. The characters are also interesting as they represent different aspects of each of these areas.

The plot is suspenseful and for the most part believable. We’re about two thirds of the way through but it won’t take long to view the rest of the episodes as it’s top of the list for TV entertainment.

Why watch a ’58 film with Loren and Grant?

My husband always groans when I delve into classic films. But watching Sophia Loren and Cary Grant team up in an endearing romantic comedy in the film Houseboat was worth it.

Here’s why:

  • Powerhouse lead actors are typically cast in strong films.
  • It was produced in 1958 yet the two marriages are far from nuclear family.
  • The painted backdrops are hysterical.
  • The audience must play along when a derelict houseboat is renovated in a snap by a family with three kids.
  • The adults leave for an evening at the country club without a thought given to a sitter.
  • Group gawking at Loren is entirely acceptable.
  • Bonus shots of DC as Grant works for the State Department.

The Lost Daughter- Movie Review

If you are an action/adventure film enthusiast I’m not sure if The Lost Daughter is right pick for your Saturday night viewing pleasure. Whereas James Bond movies open with a large landscape panning of a dramatic ski slope decent, this film meanders along an oceanside road for as long as it takes the sun to set. Whereas Bruce Willis navigates amongst hundreds of frantic bystanders taken hostage, this film has the camera angle so tight to the lead and her children that you can’t help but smell Johnson’s baby shampoo. Whereas the violence in action adventure is noisy, loud and explosive, the violence of the female sort is gut wrenchingly mean.

This is a movie about women. Women as mothers, as wives, as cheaters, as power brokers, as party goers, as needy. There are many layers to how all the players are set in motion. And of course, the femme fatale is a bushy bearded male who steals away the lead knowing she is easily baited by the public recognition he lavishes over her professional work.

On a first viewing I just want to enjoy the surface layer, with all the beautifully framed shots. But my subconscious is signaling there is more there to be seen, and to plan on a review at a later date. Though not heavy on action, there is intrigue. The movie starts slow but builds and with the help of an unreliable narrator, one discovers a need to learn more about Leda’s story.


Walking Around Money – Short Story Review

I started liking short stories when I first found Flannery O’Connor, probably because that was her preferred genre. Then I picked up The Best of American Short Stories because the volume had been edited by David Brooks- and then I was sold on short stories as a way of sampling a new author over an afternoon on the couch. The first selection in a volume called Transgressions (edited by Ed McBain) is Walking Around Money by Donald Westlake who is just one more prolific writer who was not familiar to me.

He’s a crime writer. This sixty-page caper is full of great language for his less than brilliant partners in crime. Take this description, for example.

Dortmunder and Andy Kelp and the man called Querk sat in silence (shoosh) a while, contemplating the position Querk found him self in, sitting here together on these nice wire-mesh chairs in the middle of New York in August, which of course meant it wasn’t New York at all, not the real New York, but the other New York, the August New York.

In August, the shrinks are all out of town, so the rest of the city population looks calmer, less stressed. Also, a lot of those are out of town, as well, replaced by American tourists in pastel polyester and foreign tourists in vinyl and corduroy. August among the tourists is like all at once living in a big herd of cows; slow, fat, dumb, and no idea where they’re going.

This is language I appreciate and enjoy. The plot is tight and fresh. Now that I’ve bumped into him, I’ll have to find more pages written by Mr. Westlake.

The Survivors- Movie Review

I clicked on this 1983 comedy with Walter Matthau and Robin Williams on a bit of a whim. It is not highly rated, but I’ve been curious about comedy and what I failed to see in it back when I was younger. Much of the humor is derived from subtle plays on social norms. If you are not from the area, or lack proficient language skills, or are not in tune with current political situations, the laugh often slips right on by you.

Walter Matthau is admirable (I am just realizing what a tremendous career he had!) and keeps the movie together. Robin Williams is not my favorite even though he pulls offs some great lines and gestures. But mostly what I found interesting is the harsh review of US bureaucratic services. This was a time of high interest rates and high unemployment, and a discouraging mood is present throughout. As a result, one does come away impressed with the speed and fluidity of the disbursement of Covid relief funds.

Date Night- a worthy comedy

Steve Carell has grown on me over the years and his skills are in high gear in this comic yet action-adventure-themed tale of a married couple’s big night out in the city. In addition to Tina Fey and Taraji Henson (Empire) being strong supporting actresses, a very young Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) makes an appearance.

There are a variety of ploys which will make you laugh, but the film is really an ode to couples who have been together for a while.

The Woman in the Window with Amy Adams

I have to say that when the credits for The Woman in the Window scrolled across our TV screen last night I was left underwhelmed. I am an Amy Adams fan, so it was easy to click on the film tile when it appeared on the Netflix selection rollout. A fire was lit. Dinner was on our plates. We were ready for a nice Friday evening at the movies.

The plot is more or less predictable. There’s a build up to a horror scene, which I’d prefer to miss. But today, scenes of Amy Adams dealing with various situations throughout the film had my brain retelling her tale. Her character is struggling with agoraphobia which is present as an outcome of a severe mental health breakdown. Her acting is the only flicker of light that holds the movie together.

I have no way of knowing the actress’s motivation in taking this role. But her skill in it made me extrapolate all sorts thoughts about the fears which are crippling so many activities in our society. The fear to leave one’s house becomes representative of the fear to take on a venture, the fear to move across the country, the fear to create and build upon something new.

Mental health is at the crux of many issues in this country. It is a complex and difficult topic, and not one people often want to tackle. Instead of your typical representation in a homeless figure, this movie takes the life a professional women to show how crippling a mental health crises can be. Amy flushes out the many angles of this experience in her portrayal of Anna Fox.

You’ll have to watch the film to see if she can turn her life around.

In appreciation of HG Wells

I’m just now reading HG Wells. I wasn’t into science fiction as a child, so I never picked up The Time Machine when it was making the rounds amongst my brother’s middle school things. How fortunate to have left this work untouched, to be able to dabble in such writing today. Part of the appeal of novels like War of The Worlds was the terror of it. As captured in this passage where the British are fleeing from the invading Martians.

The legendary hosts of Gothe and Huns, the hugest armies Asia has ever seen, would have been but a drop in that current. And this was no disciplined march; it was a stampede — a stampede gigantic and terrible – without order and without a goal, six million people, unarmed and unprovisioned, driving headlong. It was the beginning of the rout of civilization, of the massacre of mankind.

But I particularly like the descriptions which conjure up amazing visuals, such as this one.

Directly below him the balloonist would have seen the network of streets far and wide, houses, churches, squares, crescents, gardens already derelict – spread out like a huge map, and in the southward blotted. Over Ealing, Richmond, Wimbledon, it would have seemed as if some monstrous pen had flung ink upon the chart. Steadily, incessantly, each black splash grew and spread, shooting out ramifications this way and that, now banking itself against rising ground, now pouring swiftly over a crest into a new-found valley, exactly as a gout of ink would spread itself upon blotting paper.

At the end of the nineteenth century, ballooning allowed everyday folks to reach upwards to the skies. Leading his audience up to the heights of the clouds, in order to show them what lay below, must have enthralled their imagination. And those of generations to come. Just how many cartoons of your youth stole this visual of thick black ink spilling over a hand written map on parchment paper? I can think of many.

Movies of the story have also been made and remade. In all there have been seven films depicting HG Wells’ War of the Worlds. The most recent feature, from 2005, was directed by Steven Spielberg, and stared Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning. I’ll have to get around to watching it!

New Tricks- BBC crime drama

I’m a sucker for cop shows. I find a new series and watch it through to the last episode while sticking to a diet of no more than one a day. Bosch was a recent favorite; a grainy late age LA detective with the stomach for justice over politics. He had a great side kick in Jamie Hector (also know for appearances in The Wire).

I was looking for a new series while trying to switch things up a little bit, and found something fun and new in the BBC production of New Tricks (also on Amazon). It’s a little bit older having been produced in 2003, but that doesn’t take away from the interesting mix of detectives with their foibles or their unique skills. A snappy veteran cop is given a threesome of retired detectives and assigned cold case files.

The story lines are clever instead of gruesome. There are no car chases. There is a dose of unsavory behavior. And a dash of OCD mania. In other words it is very British and very un-Hollywood. A perfect replacement for Bosch. Happy viewing!

A Few More Dollars- movie review

This 1965 Clint Eastwood western is a power drink of machismo. Produced by Sergio Leone, an Italian producer and script writer, and shot for the most part in southern Spain, it is a replica of life in the wild west which didn’t even make it to American viewers until 1967.

The plot is simple. Very simple. You might start to question the time you are devoting to the film if the cinematography didn’t excite your visual senses to the point of telling the rest of you to sit back and relax. And then there’s Clint. I mean, who can wear a poncho and look that exquisite.

The man competitions are relentless. It starts simple, shoot’em up type of scoring. (*warning* lots and lots of bodies punctured by bullet holes in this film!) But then it gets a little more complicated. There are hat shooting tricks and duels on deserted dusty main streets under big skies. There are poker games in the saloon. And then even more complicated, the bounty hunters start to collude. And then they don’t. And the bandits collude, and then they don’t.

But the economic incentives at the heart of the movie are spelt out for the audience right after the opening credits in white lettering on a red backdrop:

Where life had no value, death, sometimes, had its price.
That is why the bounty killers appeared.

There are only two women in the movie. A hotelier, an uncharacteristically coarse figure who drools at the sight of Eastwood, appears briefly towards the beginning of the film. And a beautiful young woman who, years before, had robbed the ruthless convict Indio of his manhood by shooting herself while he was raping her. He carries her musical locket to antagonize his agony again and again.

And in this tale of chasing dollars from a bank vault or the bounty for fourteen gangsters, we find out that for some, it is not about the money at all.

Well worth a watch. Did I mention that Clint was in his early 30’s and….?

PBS’s Unforgotten – Series Review

After I wrapped up Bosch, the story of a crusty police detective who hits the streets of LA to secure justice for the victims of crime, I was at loose ends for a replacement. I needed a new setting and a new protagonist. We had switched streaming choices recently which opened BBC up for viewing. That’s how I came across Unforgotten: Unforgotten is the critically acclaimed British crime drama series starring Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar

Instead of the old-shoe-leather-worn-beat-policeman made detective, the protagonist is a mid-aged woman whose brain clicks through every clue and its potential like the wheels on a slot machine. She knows the odds are low for bringing to light the violent offender responsible for the skeletal bones under an old boarding house, but press on she does.

Her lighter step and softer expression is a nice contrast to the scowl of a graying cop who has seen more corruption than he cares to claim. Her compassion toward the mother of the lost son is displayed through action and not just words. She is interesting. She is sincere.

The story line is strong. Like any good mystery, part of the reason the audience cannot predict the outcome is because they are being denied information. But the plot in Unforgotten has you noodling right along with DCI Cassie Stewart and her partner DI Sunny Khan. They’re a good pair, contrasting yet supportive.

There’s a freshness about discoveries made due to new technologies or abilities, like pulling apart and refurbishing a diary. Although buried under a body for forty years, a little of this, a little of that, and the scientists are able to read the entries. And there is a dash of corruption to be sure there are plenty of gangsters in the mix.

Overall the series has everything I could ask for: interesting characters, thought provoking plot, sympathy to the victims (to take the edge off the violence), and super actors from across the pond. I recommend watching.

North by Northwest- a Movie Review

I finally was able to talk my husband into watching a classic film with me, and it was a success. Hitchcock’s unparalleled skill at maintaining suspense throughout the two hour tale proved to my spouse that old can be good, very good indeed.

You do have to overlook (or maybe find endearing) the painted scene backgrounds and the dubbed in film running in the windows of a taxi in motion. The music however is delightful and enhances the mysterious mood. But the caliber of photographic images captured by the camera lens throughout the movie are exemplar.

Cary Grant is of course a dream. Eve Marie Saint treads along that fine line of goddess-like blond and the self-sufficient female. It’s not surprising she won best supporting actress for the role. It was also delightful that she was not the solo female amongst a bevy of strapping men. The mother of Grant’s character is quite a character herself, and there is grumpy German housekeeper to boot.

I loved all the iconic 50’s (the film was produced in 1959) architecture. There are plenty of floor to ceiling windows, wood beaming and stone facades. The UN building’s oblique skyscape is instantly recognizable. But the barebone gravel road infrastructure in rural Indiana was a good reminder of how much has been built in the last half a century.

Hitchcock the master story teller outdid himself. The film is a work of art.

The Wire– a review

If you prefer drama to comedy I can recommend the HBO series The Wire. The first of five seasons came out in 2002 when the TV in our house was featuring Barney and Dora the Explorer. A crime drama portraying the grisly conflict between law enforcement and the (mostly drug) criminals wasn’t in the cards.

The story lines hold their own with intrigue and surprise, along with character development. Every season probes a new scheme, a new crew of gangsters, while bringing along the established cast and story threads from past seasons. From Wikipedia:

Set and produced in Baltimore, MarylandThe Wire introduces a different institution of the city and its relationship to law enforcement in each season, while retaining characters and advancing storylines from previous seasons. The five subjects are, in chronological order: the illegal drug trade, the seaport system, the city government and bureaucracy, education and schools, and the print news medium. Simon chose to set the show in Baltimore because of his familiarity with the city.[4]

What holds up so well is the consistency of the norms, whether they are those which the criminals obey or the ones the mainstream players abide. Each side has heroes and crooks, has chivalry and villainy. Each side has bad luck and good fortune. Each side has weakness and substance abuse. A few try to pass from one side to the next.

The Wire is lauded for its literary themes, its uncommonly accurate exploration of society and politics, and its realistic portrayal of urban life. Although during its original run, the series received only average ratings and never won any major television awards, it is now widely regarded as one of the greatest television shows of all time.

The Wire – Wikipedia

You will also realize how far technology has come in the last twenty years. The primary tool used to capture the drug dealers is “by getting up on their phone,” or getting court authority to tap phones. When the first season opens these are pay phones on the corners of the gritty streets of Baltimore.

As long as you can tolerate a little violence, it’s well worth a watch.

I Care a Lot – Movie Review

My husband and I finally stumbled onto a movie last night that didn’t have me flicking the exit button after fifteen minutes. Netflix’s I Care a Lot twisted and turned enough to hold our attention.

It’s a battle between a nouveau riche con-woman and an established class con-man. But the story is kept au current by setting it in the middle of the how-to-care-for-aging-boomers dilemma. The portrayal of a nursing home as a lockdown facility is terrifyingly real, especially in times of covid when there has been strict control over who enters and exits through the magnetically locking entrance doors.

The protagonist is a bad ass feminist. She’s driven to out smart and out bully anyone in her path to success. She’s out to demonstrate how the work which usually falls to the domestic in a household, can instead be externalized into a lucrative business. Get the right doctor to assess memory loss and the right judge to legitimise her stewardship, and poof! She builds a portfolio of guardianships. Bend the rules a bit more, and it’s a cash cow bonanza.

The plot riffs off the ever too real issues simmering through many families. As mom and dad age, when do they become too forgetful (because being a little forgetful reaches well down into middle age)? Who gets to decide when an adult, a person of authority for decades, must forego their independence and turn everyday decisions over to another. An error of commission causes unhappy holiday gatherings. An error of omission invites scammers of all sorts to prey on the elderly.

The Iron Lady- movie review

I’ve been a big fan of Meryl Streep ever since Sophie’s Choice (1982), but for some reason hadn’t gotten around to watching her portrayal of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady (2012, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, a British film director and producer). It seemed like the perfect match-up for a Saturday night: the story of the first women to rise to the highest political office in the UK brought to life by a favorite actress.

Yet-I found this movie perplexing. The film opens with a batty old lady stumbling around a shop, buying a pint of milk. I could barely make out Meryl and was confused how this could be Thatcher, who putters anonymously along the streets of London. Getting wise to the technique of starting a story at the end of a life, and then filling in the important stuff in a retrospective, I sit back and wait.

And wait. Nearly half the film is about an elderly lady hallucinating about her kind and beloved husband. It’s a touching story, but not exactly what the most powerful woman of the western world in the twentieth century is known for. The message seemed to be that this woman had a supportive father as well as a devoted husband- lucky girl! That’s how she managed to enter the halls of power.

Even when the film gets around to her accomplishments, they leave out interesting details, like that she was a chemistry major. No information or encounters in her subsequent academic pursuits, or early years. We do discover her husband was a businessman and also a family man, but isn’t the story about her?

More often than not the portrayal of her career lands on the tragic- such as the scene where she is writing letters to the families of the servicemen who died in the Falklands War. No mention that the conflict was provoked by an Argentinian invasion on April 2nd, 1982, and was wrapped up with a decisive victory by June 17th. What does a girl have to do to get a little recognition?

An overt concentration on the loosing side of her political career continues through the whole film, from the riots following her proposal of a “community charge,” to the waning of political judgement after so many years in office, to the tears that spring to her eyes when she resigns. Yet the voice of her husband pipes in, “Chin up old girl.” There’s Denis with his unfaltering support.

This representation of Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, the longest serving prime minister of her generation, blessed as a dementia patient so she doesn’t have to relive a faltering political career, is more than a little odd. Any female who started in a grocery store and rose to lead men, not listen to them, must have been– spellbinding.

It’s not even difficult to find her admirers. Check out the level of reverence in William F Buckley Jr’s voice as he introduces her in this clip from Firing Line. Meanwhile, she sits in her chair composed and alert, neither aloof nor nervous. Just present. This was 1977. Two years into being the leader of her party, and two years away from being elected to the top job.

It would have been far more interesting to tell the tale of how she discovered and cultivated her ability to captivate her male (and female) counterparts. Instead of showing how two men coach her into a new hair do and enhance her elocution skills (ho hum), how about the moments she went from awkward to confident, from nervous to calm, from hesitant to determined? How did she come to realize her je-ne-sais-quoi?

Meryl Streep took home the best actress Oscar for her performance. I just don’t think she was playing Maggie Thatcher.

Hillbilly Elegy

Like many Americans on Thanksgiving, we laid a rollicking fire in the hearth and watched a movie on an absurdly large TV. The feature film was Hillbilly Elegy, a Ron Howard film based on a true story. There is so much material here that is relevant to this blog: groups, public and private transactions, the externalities and the weighing of choices. The threads run fast and thick in this tale strung through several generations. I could fill a month of posts dissecting it all, but instead I’ll stick to just one scene.

JD Vance, the story’s author and lead character, has a tumultuous relationship with his mother played by Amy Adams (who did an excellent job as usual). The middle schooler asks to live with his widowed grandmother, Mamaw. The matriarch quickly starts to clip away at his juvenile delinquent friends and his poor school performance. But it isn’t the yelling nor the screaming nor the fist throwing that changes JD Vance’s perspective on his life and his future. It isn’t a hoo-ha in a shop over an expensive calculator or a potential run-in with the law.

The turning point for this youth, who eventually works his way to Yale Law School, occurs when he overhears a quite negotiation between his Mamah and the Meals-on-Wheels volunteer. JD listens as Mamaw makes a case to the volunteer for extra help in the care of her grandson. This plying of goodwill results in a handful of grapes, a pear and a snack size bag of chips. She brings the bounty back to their dinner table, slices a small chicken breast in two and tosses the chips his direction.

If you know anything at all about teenage boys, you know their stomachs are always begging for a refill. When the calculation of their predicament was tallied up in terms he understood, terms that made common and physical sense to him, the youth engaged. JD’s subsequent actions worked toward the goals that had been laid out for him, but only now he intrinsically understood.

The point is that everyone has to come to terms with their own trade offs and choices. No matter how much others (out of genuine concern or some protectorate fantasies) want to step-in and speak for another person, or another group; to make claims about what people need and all the should’s in the world that they should have; they simply can’t. To make productive choices, people have to understand the alternatives on their own terms.

Apparently the film is getting negative reviews (here and here) by many substantial outlets. I like what Amy Adams has to say in response:

Everybody has a voice and can use it how they choose to use it.

Maybe the open minded need to listen a little more closely.