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Intelligent Comedy: The Internship

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The-Intership-300x171An intelligent comedy is hard to find. Despite the fact that most critics dissed The Internship, I found it hilarious, socially relevant, and full of heart.

Vince Vaughn is one of my favorite celebrity guys, and The Wedding Crashers, his first comedy with Owen Wilson, had me rolling on the floor every time I watched it (3). I actually didn’t expect that much from The Internship, thinking they couldn’t pull it off a second time. But this movie is more than a comedy: it’s a hilarious send-up of the way we live now—attached to our technological gadgets—and a way of life—basically, experiencing the world and other people first-hand—that’s rapidly fading.

The critics didn’t think it was funny, and they slammed the movie as being gaga for Google. But in fact, Google probably is the best workplace on Earth—and I’ve known people who work there—with its free food, nap rooms, and other unheard of perks. Of course the place borders on being cultish—but this was clearly on display in The Internship.

My guess is that those trashing The Internship just didn’t get it: either they’re too young to relate to Vaughn’s and Wilson’s aging characters, or they’re older and resent their portrayal as clueless geezers. That these guys are tech and pop-culture clueless is indisputable: but as an even older person, I didn’t understand tons of references thrown out by the Google kids. Vaughn’s and Wilson’s characters were entirely believable to me—and not insulting.

Of course, this is not the first time I’ve been wildly at odds with the critics: Ishtar, a 1980s comedy that’s still held up as the lowest form of film creation, had me laughing my ass off. And in another genre, I recently saw Gravity, praised to the skies for its “amaaaaazing” scenic effects, but which had a totally lame “plot” ; when it was over I thought, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.” (And hey, you don’t kill off George Clooney midway through a movie!)

vince-vaughn-picture-3But I digress; back to The Internship. Just about every movie I’ve seen with Vaughn is loaded with heart—not sentimental drivel, either, but a depth of love and caring that can pull any story through. He not only co-stars in The Internship; he co-wrote the script. On a totally irrelevant note, most people know VV only as a comic actor, but before he became funny he acted in serious films; anyone who has not seen Return to Paradise should. It’s a moving drama about friendship, love, and personal integrity.

I am intentionally saying almost nothing about the plot of The Internship because it’s unnecessary; the movie is two years old and anyone can Google up the story. Just don’t believe the idiotic comments and negative reviews: this film is well worth seeing if you want to laugh and learn.

 

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Nowhere Boy: Film Review

movie posterNow I know why I’ve always disliked the song “Julia”—the only Beatles song, other than the misogynist “Run For Your Life”—that I’ve ever said that about. It’s so dirge-like and mournful, so different from their usual upbeat fare, including their ballads. Having just seen Nowhere Boy, the story of John Lennon and his two mothers (Mother Julia and Aunt Mimi), I know why the song is such a downer: it is in fact a dirge, a kind of epitaph for the woman who gave birth to John and cared for him until he was five, when Mimi took and raised him.  Nowhere Boy brilliantly takes a slice of John’s life, short in duration but deeply significant, to create a film that encapsulates almost everything we  need to know about Lennon to understand the man and his music.

–MILD SPOILERS AHEAD–

The movie opens with John as a 16-year-old madly in love with American rock ‘n’ roll, but with no musical knowledge or training.  Through a series of events he comes in contact with his mother, Julia, who he hasn’t seen since he was five. At that time his father tried to take him from her, planning to drag him off to New Zealand. Julia passively let him go, but her sister Mimi grabbed him from his father and, with her husband, raised him.

Mum is now remarried with two daughters, and thrilled to see her long-lost son—who lived right around the block from her! Julia’s a lively gal, and behaves more like John’s girlfriend than his mum in every gesture and act, but this is never commented upon in any way by anyone. Julia’s husband doesn’t want John hanging around so much; apparently Julia’s prone to breakdowns, and he thinks she can’t handle it. And Mimi–well! It’s the age-old story of the sensible devoted woman who fed, washed and looked after John all these years being shoved aside for the flighty beauty who abandoned him.

Unfortunately, the story went a little differently, according to Julia Lennon’s bio in Wikipedia, than this cinematic portrayal; actually, not a little but quite a lot: “After complaints to Liverpool’s Social Services by her eldest sister, Mimi Smith (née Stanley), she handed over the care of her son to her sister. ” Additionally,  Julia saw John almost every day, and by the time he was eleven (and not, as the film tells us, 17) he was frequently staying overnight at her house. Having read the story after seeing the movie, I can’t help but question its point-of-view entirely.

One place where history and art agree, however, is that Julia influenced John’s development as a musician. In the movie she hands John a mandolin and teaches him to strum (“think Bo Diddley, she says”) and she’s always singing and dancing with him. “Why can’t I be Elvis?” he moans, and Julia replies, “Because the world is waiting for you to be John Lennon.” That quote is just too beautiful to complain about, even if the screenwriters made it up.

AaronTaylorJohnsonWhile John and Julia are getting to know each other John forms a band, begins performing, and meets Paul McCartney.  Thomas SangsterPossibly the best thing about Nowhere Boy, at least to my pure delight, is the casting for John and Paul: respectively, Aaron Johnson and Thomas Brodie Sangster. Each of them slips into his persona so effectively that after awhile they begin to look like the originals—and it couldn’t have been easy, psychologically, to play a pair of beloved icons for an audience mostly familiar with them. Their relationship is portrayed from the start as a rivalry, but I don’t know if the filmmakers were being faithful to reality or merely to legend.

The end of the movie is a matter of historical record, but if you don’t know it and don’t want to, stop reading. I didn’t know it, and was stunned when Julia got hit by a car and died.  When the movie was over, the song “Julia” kept slogging relentlessly around in my head on its endless loop of grief, and I had to play it—only to find that, knowing what I do now, I no longer hate it at all.Paul

JohnLennon-NYC

Soylent Green Is…

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soylent green

(Photo credit: vj_pdx)

********SPOILER ALERT********

Forty years after the movie premiered, I’d hazard a guess that most film goers know that Soylent Green is (GASP!) people! People….People eating people

I vaguely remembered hearing this, but I’d never seen the movie–until last night. Great experience. Forget for 90 minutes who Charlton Heston became in his

English: Actor Charlton Heston at the Civil Ri...

Charlton Heston at Civil Rights March, Washington, D.C., August 1963  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

later years, and see him as the great actor he was; also sexy as hell. If you’re a sci-fi fan you’ll love SG, and if you aren’t, you’ll love it too. As intelligent as any Twilight Zone playlet, as gripping–even with the ending suspected or known–as any detective story (which it is) and as visually grand as today’s super special effects, Soylent Green kept me in and on the edge of my seat from start to finish. And what a finish!

English: Publicity still of actor Edward G. Ro...

Edward G. Robinson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Throw in Edward G. Robinson, deviating from his usual gangster persona, in his 101st–and last–movie role, and SG is a feast for the mind and senses.

It’s always fun to return to predictions of the future in old sci-fi movies or books, and SG is no exception. The year is 2022 (not so far off) and the most salient futurism, besides the food, is climate change: it’s hot all the time. So hot that vegetables don’t grow, and sweat pours down the actors’ faces. There’s no air-conditioning relief, either: like everything else, it just doesn’t work. Overpopulation is the next biggie: at night the streets and stairways are full of sleeping people one on top of the other.

The world of SG  includes voluntary suicide booths. These have appeared in at least one TZ episode, a Kurt Vonnegut story, and several other works of fiction both pre- and post-Kevorkian. When I was younger these seemed horrifying; now they look like a great way to go. You get to plan the time of your death, choose the lighting and the music, and watch gorgeous films of nature–which the deprived denizens of SG have never seen in real life. In 20 blissful minutes it’s all over. Better than cancer, no?

Soylent is a manufactured food that comes in more benign colors than green, and it’s all anyone except the super-rich gets to eat. Brings to mind Monsanto and genetically engineered food. Lest we forget, vigilance now and in the future is the order of the day.  Never has it been so literally true that You Are What You Eat!

I give Soylent Greenthe movie, that is5 big fat stars. If you’ve never seen it, rent it. And if you have, I’m probably inspiring a re-run.

Preventative Mastectomy

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Angelina Jolie wallpaper

Angelina Jolie wallpaper

So what do we think of Angelina Jolie’s preventive mastectomy, and of the procedure in general? Right from the get-go I want to say that I honestly do not  judge Jolie or any other woman who decides on this course of action, nor do any of us have the right to do so. It’s entirely up to each woman to do what she thinks best for herself–which doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. Or maybe it’s not actually an opinion, it’s more about what I might do in the same situation.

When I first heard about preventive mastectomy a few years ago I was horrified–especially since some women were having it who didn’t know what their chances of getting breast cancer were. Maybe their mother had it, or even an aunt or female ancestor further back. That seemed to me the height of paranoia, even female self-hatred. Jolie’s mother died of ovarian cancer in 2007, however, so Angelina got herself  tested. She has an 87% chance of getting breast cancer. Eighty-Seven Fucking Percent. PLUS, a 50% chance of getting ovarian cancer. Lousy odds.

From what I’ve read in comments and op-eds, women are doing most of the talking, and the majority are cheering Angelina on, congratulating her courage and noting the depth of her demonstrated motherly devotion. She deserves the cheering, and the public kudos for undergoing such a radical procedure that’s left her without breasts for the next half of her life. Jolie’s fairly young–37–which is a huge factor when making this kind of decision, but it can probably work in either direction, I would think. At my age, for instance–67–I wouldn’t do it. What for? We’re all gonna die of something. Were I 37, though, I don’t know if I would have made the decision to live without my breasts. Then again, 87%…Still…

Whoa, it’s so fucking hard!

I’m wondering how this is going to affect Angelina’s life. Will she lose out on any acting roles because of it?

English: Gwyneth Paltrow at Sensuous launching...

Gwyneth Paltrow 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

People magazine recently featured Gwyneth Paltrow on their cover, captioned as The Most Beautiful Woman In the World. I did a double-take, on line at the supermarket, and then I laughed out loud. Gwyneth Paltrow? My sister once described her as “bland,” comparing her to Marilyn Monroe. I think Paltrow is kinda cute…but The Most Beautiful? Shit, I remember when Liz Taylor held that distinction–but she deserved it. If you ask me–and nobody has–Angelina Jolie deserves the moniker today. Maybe Michelle Pfeiffer, but I suppose she’s too old (and come to think of it, Liz was considered beautiful in her 60s). Gwyneth Paltrow? The Most?

 

I’ve gotten off track here, but I do have a point. If the Hollywood power mongers think GP is more gorgeous than AJ, what will they think of a breastless AJ? Does that sound awful? Am I a bad person for thinking and/or saying that? I can’t be the only one to whom these thoughts occur. I honestly do think Angelina is just as gorgeous post-op–after all, I was never privy to her breasts! But knowing the ways of the world and the people in it, I strongly suspect these issues are, at the very least, on people’s minds.

I knew a woman who had breast cancer that wasn’t diagnosed until it had reached Stage 4. Everyone expected her to die soon. Ultimately she had a bone marrow transplant of her own bone marrow–and she lived another ten years, so she was around until her kids grew up, more or less. It makes me wonder: Couldn’t someone with a strong chance of getting breast cancer get checked every six months or more and have the mastectomies if and when those fucker cells do invade her body? Just askin’.

Anything you don't need, Lenny?

Anything you don’t need, Lenny?

I keep remembering a scene in Law & Order where Anita (S. Epatha Merkerson) patiently explains to Lenny (Jerry Orbach) that the articles he skips “on your way to the sports section” are kept in her night table drawer. He and partner Ray (Benjamin Bratt) scoff at the idea of a woman hesitating about surgery when it can save their life. She aims a deadly glare at Lenny and asks, ” Oh yeah? Can you think of a part of your body you might wanna keep?”

I can. Angelina, you are in my heart and mind a lot these days. With all the people thinking about you, feeling for you, talking about you, your vibe on Planet Earth must be so powerful, this might be a good time to do something daring, something risky…oh, yeah…you already did. Good luck baby girl. In my book YOU  are The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, bar none.

Damages—In Fiction and In Life

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Patty Hewes

Patty Hewes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been renting and watching the TV drama Damages, starring a brilliant Glenn Close. It’s one of the best shows I’ve seen on the small screen, and I getan immediate rush whenever that red envelope appears in my mailbox. I especially like watching four or five episodes in one delicious sitting, rather than waiting a dreary week in between each. Patty Hewes, the main character played by Close, is a Class A bitch and hard to like—some might say impossible to like. I’ve worked at liking her, though: as cruel as Patty can be, underneath beats a clichéd heart of gold. The stereotype of the whore with a heart of gold is outdated: of course whores have hearts of gold; these days they’re the girls next door. Hewes is an attorney: a lawyer with a heart of gold is so rare she cannot be classified a stereotype.

No matter what intricate evil plots Patty arranges to manipulate the people around her, though, she hasn’t tortured anyone physically, nor has she ordered torture be done in her name. (Murder, sure; torture, never!) In the fourth season, however, the plot incorporates the war in Afghanistan, and in the first episode the audience is treated to scenes of torture—nothing involving Patty, thank god. During the first four eps, I actually had to leave the room, and I’m seriously questioning whether or not to skip this season (the show went five years, so that’d leave me with just one more season).

Standing by on a hilltop, Soldiers with the 10...

The 101st Division Special Troops Battalion watch as helicopters fly in to take them back to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Nov. 4, 2008 after searching a small village in the valley below for IED materials and facilities. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s my philosophy on depictions of cruelty:

When I saw Schindler’s List—which I cannot believe came out over 20 {gasp} years ago—I went to the bathroom midway through. Unlike the frantic race I usually run to pee and get back to a movie quickly, this time I lingered. I saw the harrowed look on my face in the mirror, and vowed inwardly to never again see a Holocaust movie. A few years later, watching Amistad, I made the same vow regarding slavery—and extended these vows to books. The way I figure it, by now I know enough, certainly a great deal, about both horrendous subjects; in fact, when I was young and just learning world history, I was inexplicably drawn to stories of human cruelty, and I devoured books and movies about the epic tragedies of history. By now, however, with cruelty still going strong, and between my own pain and suffering and that of people I love, I’ve

Still of Djimon Hounsou in Amistad.Photo: IMDB

Still of Djimon Hounsou in Amistad.Photo: IMDB

witnessed enough for one lifetime. I don’t want or need to fill my eyes with hideous visions, or my head and heart with the agony that runs rampant through the human story. I’m well aware that horrid things are being done to people even as I write these words; I don’t need to be reminded. Thus, I made those vows and never looked back–except, perhaps, for a painful book or three. A serious reader can’t avoid, nor would I want to, books that include pain and suffering.

In the case of Damages, however, I feel a bit uneasy–not full-blown guilty, just somewhat uneasy—turning my back on Season 4 and its terrorist/torture plot. (Each season focuses on one central plotline from first to last episode.) That would be refusing to acknowledge what the United States, of which I am a natural born citizen, is doing to people in my name. Some even accuse those of us who don’t protest of giving the government our tacit approval of their heinous deeds.

I already know what the U.S. is doing, whether I watch the show or not. I listen to or watch Democracy Now almost every day, I read progressive magazine articles, and I’m on nearly every left-wing group’s spam list. I listen to NPR and KPFA. I’ve also seen other TV shows, like Law & Order, that weave stories of “The War on Terror” into their plots—I could tell you exactly what’s going to happen in Damages Season 4, so similar is it to other programs on the subject. In other words, I do know what’s going on, and I’m doing nothing about it. I walked around Market Street objecting to war several times during the past decade. Didn’t stop the wars. Of course, I didn’t expect it to: when I march I do it for solidarity with other protesters, and to express my disapproval.

The U.S. is supposed to be leaving Afghanistan now—but that’s not the issue. The “takeaway” issue of this war turns out to be torture. Now that the U.S. has crossed that line they’re very likely to do so again. Does that mean I have to watch depictions of it? WTF am I supposed to do about it? What do Americans with a conscience do? What do you do?