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Category Archives: Review

Dreamgirls Redux

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I hate to go on and on about something, but it has, after all, been seven years since the film Dreamgirls came out. Having just watched it for the third time, I’m astounded at how great this movie is. That it only garnered two Academy Awards–one of them for Jennifer Hudson for Supporting Actress, and I’m telling you, if she hadn’t gotten that, it would’ve been the artistic crime of the century.(see my original review, Is Dreamgirls Hollywood’s Worst Nightmare?”

Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I’d forgotten a lot of the story, and continually found new things I’d missed in the film. One scene I had not forgotten, however, is when Jennifer Hudson flays herself on stage singing “And I am Telling You I’m Not Going.” It’s the peak of the movie, and although it takes a slight nosedive after that, it recovers nicely with Hudson later singing “I Am Changing,” which I’d forgotten, and “One Night.” Beyoncé was great, and sang her heart out—but Jennifer Hudson walked off with this show.

 

I saw West Side Story something like 45 times in my long life; I’ve seen Chicago maybe 6 times; and now I have another go-to movie musical to rent  when I want a cathartic experience.

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Orange Is The New Best Show!

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I just finished watching the first season of Orange Is the New Black, and man oh man, how I wish I had more of it to watch right this minute! The second season is about to begin, but I can’t watch livestream because my free WiFi connection isn’t good enough: videos stop running at some point, or else they bumble through to the end, stopping and starting every few minutes. Thus, I waited until it came out on DVD to see the entire first season; now I’ll have to wait for the second.

I’m not going to give any summaries or recaps here, but there will no doubt be “spoilers.” To tell you the truth I’m a little sick of this spoiler warning bullshit—which I’ll expound upon at some other time.

Like Regina Specter’s song in the opening of the show says, “Remember their faces,” and I vividly remember every one of them . These characters are so well-drawn, their stories so compelling, they’ve become embedded deep in the neurons of my brain. I suppose I’ll just have to subsist on memories for how ever many months it takes…and in the meantime, I have a few opinions about the goings-on.

Q: What makes this show so terrific?

A: It’s about women. Women’s lives, one hundred percent and more real than any so-called reality show.

Big REd

Big REd

Example: A group of prisoners sit in a circle hatching plans so Daya can have her baby without revealing that the father is one of the guards, who she’s in love with. Big Red, Bitch-Goddess of the Prison Kitchen, solemnly advises Daya in a thick Russian accent (I’m paraphrasing here), “Think carefully: every decision you make now is going to affect your family for a long time. Welcome to motherhood.” That just about slayed me.

Chapman Piper Chapman, the main character, sleep-walks through life, as everyone accuses her of doing, letting whatever happens to her happen, taking no responsibility for any of it. She doesn’t seem to realize that words have consequences, that when she tells Healy, her prison counselor, to go fuck himself, he’ll turn on her in the most vicious way he can conjure up. It’s only beginning to dawn on her that you can get into all kinds of trouble saying the wrong things in prison; for instance, if you tell a seriously disturbed religious fanatic her beliefs are a crock of shit, she will seek revenge. In the last episode Chapman gave lip service to accepting responsibility for the crime that got her into jail, but her words sounded hollow and unconvincing. She still blames Alex, her ex-lover and partner in crime, who did indeed turn her in to get less time herself.

AlexI adore Alex, and I can’t stand Piper for causing her so much heartache. Cruelly she abandoned Alex on the heels of her mother’s sudden death, with Alex begging Piper to just accompany her to the funeral. Piper walked out and slammed the door, muttering some nonsense about her needs. When the series begins, her affair with Alex is long since over and she’s engaged to a nebish of a man who understands even less of how the world works  than she does. Larry, who looks exactly like the preppie writer wanna-be he is, uses Piper’s situation as a stepping-stone to a career: he writes an article for the New York Times about his experience of her imprisonment. Not content with the attention he gets, he pushes the envelope by chatting about it on Urban Tales, a fictive NPR show emceed by one Murray Kind, a shoo-in for Ira Glass of This Orange New BlackAmerican Life. Jenji Kohan, who adapted Piper Kerman’s memoir, Orange Is The New Black: My Year in a Woman’s Prison, for the Netflix series, told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that Urban Tales is a take on This American Life, and she’s an Ira Glass fan. So why didn’t Ira himself play the role? ‘I asked Ira if he would do it and he politely declined,’ Kohan said.

Not only does Larry appropriate Piper’s story for his own benefit, he tells tales out of prison about the other inmates, who despise Piper for the things she said about them. He’s clueless about where she is and with whom, and that he could seriously hurt her with his idle chatter. As for the sleep-walking Piper, she barely confronts him on it, and never tells him straight out to knock it off: she still wants to marry the creep! In their last phone conversation, when I wanted her to rip him a new pair, verbally at least, she sobbed pitifully when he broke off their engagement. Little does she realize, the jerk did her a favor.

But she can’t go back to her hot lesbian lover: Alex won’t allow Piper near her anymore, and at the conclusion of Season One Piper is completely and utterly alone. As much as I’ve come to dislike her, I did feel sorry for her. None of the inmates want to be her friend; some even despise her. Her counselor, Mr. Healy, simply walks away laughing while the crazed religious fanatic goes at Piper with a razor. The only thing Piper has going for her is remembering the street-fighting techniques the black girls taught to her gratis—and she uses them. As the show ends Piper is smashing Ms. Jesus to a bloody pulp, and we’re left wondering if the nutcase survives the beating.

Well, I can hardly wait for Season Two, though after that ending I’m afraid it’ll start out with Piper in solitary, aka the SHU: oftentimes I just can’t watch scenes of solitary confinement. It terrifies me, and I empathize too much with the prisoner to watch what she goes through. I braved Piper’s first trip to the SHU, and the fact that it didn’t bother me inordinately is an indication it wasn’t that intense, unlike true stories I’ve read, or the portrayal, in his biopic, of Reuben (Hurricane) Carter’s time in isolation. I’m not criticizing Orange on this; I’m glad it wasn’t unbearable, since I don’t want to have to skip one single minute of Orange Is The New Black. Ever.

 

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All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki: Book Review

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AllOverCreation

All Over Creation isn’t Ruth Ozeki‘s most recent book — that’s A Tale for The Time Being — but one of my blog followers gave me this one as a donation gift, and it’s the second Ozeki novel I’ve read. The first—also her first—was My Year of Meats, a book that knocked me out completely; to this day I mention it, along with Upton Sinclair‘s The Jungle and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, any time talk turns to whether a book can actually affect some aspect of life as we know it. Like MYOM, All Over Creation’s  message is artfully woven into a story I inhaled like oxygen, peopled with characters I felt I knew. All of them are wildly different, and come from various walks of life, with opposing philosophies and politics, yet they come together and respect one another. So complex was the development of the story and the characters’ interactions, I couldn’t help but face the certainty that I could never write a book like this. I couldn’t. I don’t know how Ozeki did.

With the exception of Eliot, a history teacher-turned-corporate pimp—that is, PR man for a pesticide company—who was an enigma to me, everyone in AOC resembled people I’ve known for real. If I identified with anyone it was Yumi, a woman so full of contradictions she’s constantly being pulled in six directions at once. Yumi was and still is My Year of Meatsregarded as scandalous to the good folk of Liberty Falls, Idaho, many of whom interpret her behavior as classic signs of a “Bad Mother.” In fact Yumi is passionately crazy for her kids—it’s just that she also insists on having a life of her own; she isn’t someone who, like her best friend Cass, can devote herself to hearth and home only. Sure, she’s selfish and self-indulgent, and yes, she makes some bad decisions—but she isn’t unkind and she isn’t a “Bad Mother.”  Still, Yumi’s contradictions are torture to live with, and invariably lead her to trouble, inflicting a mess of collateral damage in her wake.

Ruth Ozeki - A Tale For The Time Being

Ruth Ozeki (Photo credit: Kris Krug)

As for the rich, twisting and somewhat twisted plot: Yumi’s father Lloyd, a lifelong potato farmer, is dying when Cass tracks her down in Hawaii. Yumi comes home, not having seen her parents since she ran away at 14. She arrives with three racially mixed fatherless kids in tow, and bumbles through her unique version of caretaking. Meanwhile, on the highways of America the Seeds of Resistance, a group of food activists, are roaming the country staging protests in supermarkets and food corporations, fueling their Winnebago with McDonald’s used french fry oil. They happen to see a seed brochure put out by Lloyd and his wife Momoko, who’s been cultivating her stuff for decades, organic seeds worlds apart from the genetically engineered crap coming out of the labs of Eliot’s employer, Cynaco (cyanide anyone?). Along with seed descriptions Lloyd pens his raving religious philosophy, which somehow coincides with the beliefs of the Seeds of Resistance, and voila! It’s a match made in heaven.

I’ve already given away too many potential spoilers, so that’s all I’ll say about the plot. What’s more important, I couldn’t tear

Ozekimyself away from this book, and I fell in love with every one of Ozeki’s people. I’m now gearing up to read her latest book. Ozeki is a wonderful writer. Read her!

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Endings: Breaking Bad: Spoilers

Walt & Jesse

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! STOP NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF BREAKING BAD!

We could probably count on the fingers of one hand how many long-running TV shows ended in a way that we found satisfying. Seinfeld comes to mind. M.A.S.H. Nothing else at the moment, though I’m sure there must be more, if few and far between. I mean, remember The Sopranos? Thus, when a show does deliver the goods in that last crucial episode, after flawlessly leading up to it with four or five intense programs, it seems like quite an achievement.

The ending of Breaking Bad left me completely, and fully satisfied. I’m not wondering what happened to this character or where did that one go, or why did that idiot do what he did. My one and only complaint is that Hank died, but since Jesse was allowed to live I guess I can forgive Vince Gilligan and Company. Besides, the sacrifice of Hank‘s character was integral to what followed.

Hank and Jesse were the only characters I really liked on BB….and maybe the eccentric lawyer Sol, who made a clean getaway, even if he is stuck in Omaha flipping burgers. Everyone else was either psycho—I loved it when Jesse called Todd and Jack’s gang a bunch of psycho fucks—or whining nags like Skyler and

Betsy Brandt as Marie Shrader (Photo: Imdb)

Betsy Brandt as Marie Shrader (Photo: Imdb)

son Flynn; good god, how those two worked my last nerve! Marie was no prize either, though in the final episode Betsy Brandt finally did some real acting.

Aside from the main climactic events, there were a few elegant touches executed only the way BB can do these things: for instance, the gun-on-a-turntable Walter rigs up to give those psycho fucks what they so richly deserved. The creation of that gadget brought us full circle in terms of Walter’s character, as he harkens back to the genius chemistry teacher we were introduced to in 2008. While he was setting up this contraption, I hadn’t a clue WTF he was going to do with it, and completely forgot it even existed…until the moment when Walt pushed the button that swung open the trunk of his car. Out came Robo-Gun, spinning like the turntable of a record player, firing off bullets instead of doo-wop. Within a few minutes, maybe even less, every psycho fuck but Todd and Jack lay dead and bleeding on the floor. Jesse got the gratification of choking Todd, the sociopath who physically tortured him, while Walt cut short Jack’s last drag on a cigarette the old-fashioned way, with a manual blast to the head.

By the time the cops arrived Walter was dead. Jesse refused to kill him for about the hundredth time in their complex father-son relationship, but it turned out he was shot by his own invention. No doubt he knew it might happen—but Walt’s been living on borrowed time already, and probably preferred to die now rather than endure a trial and prison, only to die of cancer during or shortly thereafter.

Anna Gunn as Skyler White (Photo: Imdb)

Anna Gunn as Skyler White (Photo: Imdb)

At least Walt made his confession before dying. Earlier he goes to see Skyler and begins by saying “Everything I did…” but she cuts him off, a great relief to her and to me, who could not bear one more bullshit declaration that he cooked meth and killed people “for my family,” the word so weighted in this context I could vomit. But Walt surprises her, and us: he tells the truth this time. “I liked it,” he said. “I was good at it. I felt alive.” It’s not like we didn’t know it, but still, I wanted to applaud: the guy came to terms before meeting his maker, if that is indeed what’s in store for him (and the rest of us).

Satisfying ending or not, saying farewell, even to characters I loathed, is just too sad.  The older I get the more I lose, and the more I see that’s one of  life’s big lessons. It’s why the Buddhists practice non-attachment: “When you ain’t got nothing you got nothin’ to lose.” But if I cry every time a show I love ends, imagine what it’s like when I lose real people or things. I don’t have to imagine…it’s happened enough already. Focussing some of life’s sadness on a show I loved is convenient. Satisfying.

Goodbye Heisenberg, you psycho fuck!

Bryan Cranston as Walter White (Photo: Imdb)

Bryan Cranston as Walter White (Photo: Imdb)

Will The Real Jane Austen Please Stand Up?

Jane Austen & Flores

Jane Austen & Flores (Photo credit: Jane Austen in Portuguese)

Bitch In a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen From the Stiffs, the Snobs, the Simps and the Saps (Volume 1), Robert Rodi

Jane Austen seems to be the kind of  writer who’s never taken literally, but is interpreted, misinterpreted, and reinterpreted from different angles depending on who’s doing the interpreting.  Austen’s  books challenge readers to seek out her “true” intentions. On the surface, most readers see her as the premier author of  the “Regency Romance,” an early form of chick-lit. In one Austen chat room I stumbled into, the gals were ranting and raving, ready to castrate some guy who said Sense & Sensibility is no great romance, Madam! Apparently the romantic contingent is quite attached to their viewpoint.

In a blog devoted to Jane that’s written by a whole bunch of alternating writers, one of them asks whether Austen is a sensitive Romantic or a sensible Pragmatist. At this point I’m throwing my hat into the ring to proclaim Jane Austen a social critic, and an excellent one at that. I vaguely thought all along that this was her strong suit, and now my opinion has been reinforced by Robert Rodi’s impressive and eminently entertaining  Bitch In a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen From the Stiffs, the Snobs, the Simps and the Saps (Volume 1). I’m only two-thirds through, but Rodi is so convincing he had me by Page 3. Chapter by chapter he critiques Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, and Mansfield, in that order. I intend to re-read P&P (my 3rd go-round) before I  move on to Mansfield, to see if I think his theory still holds up.

51InZnmGKKL._SX105_Even if it doesn’t, I love Bitch In a Bonnet for Rodi’s writing style if nothing else. He lets it rip, going for the jugular through the use of slang, sarcasm, and the darkest humor he can find; for instance, he repeatedly takes swipes at Jane Bennet for her optimistic, sickeningly sweet opinions of people no matter how dastardly their deeds. If he isn’t wanting to strangle her she’s getting bopped on the head by Lizzy Bennet–in his fantasies only, of course.  At times this over-the-top swashbuckling gets to be a bit much, and exerts something like the pressure I feel when I’m with someone who’s perpetually “on.”  Luckily, I don’t have to interact with Rodi, so it isn’t s that much of a burden.

Although I said Rodi has me convinced, that’s only while actually reading his book–I don’t want to fully commit for or against his case until I’ve done more re-reading and re-thinking. For now, though, based purely on my own impressions, I have to admit that My generation did not invent the feminist novel! I don’t know if anyone got there before Jane Austen, but she definitely gets a prominent seat at the table. She has shown us British life and a class-based society from the point of view of its effect on women, primarily, the economic disadvantages under which they lived. She has laid out the whole system of the inheritance laws and the practice of entailment, which kept women poor and utterly dependent on their

51esDUk1Q6L._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_husbands–and woe to the woman who didn’t find one of those creatures to protect and defend her for life. In addition, Austen was exquisitely attuned to hypocrisy-or as Rodi might put it, she had a highly developed bullshit detector. She knew what people thought and meant beneath their false words and fake smiles. She might have been a misanthrope who sought out the worst in human nature and therefore found it, but even if that was the case, there’s no denying that what she exposed was real.

Romance? Most of her couplings are based on the man’s income and the woman’s countenance and connexions (that’s how she spells it). What can her relatives and friends do for him and their future? Will their status go up or down according to that of her family?

By their lack of parental discipline the Bennet parents allow their youngest daughter to behave in a way that might doom the two eldest to perpetual spinsterhood. A  girl’s chances of matrimony can be ruined by her baby sister traveling  with a dastardly villain (Lydia Bennet and Mr.Wickham) without first respectably marrying, for shame! Yes, it’s absurd–but it is the way things were. I dare to venture that perhaps some of today’s taboos will some day be regarded as similarly absurd by a more enlightened generation. We can only hope.