Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Review: "Big Eyes" (2014) - Tim Burton, Amy Adams Movie HD

"Bright Eyes" is an offbeat Tim Burton directed movie, which ,might seem redundant for those familiar with his earlier films. Amy Adams ("Enchanted", "Trouble With the Curve") plays Margaret, a young single mother who flees bad marriage in 1958 and takes her daughter to a bohemian part of San Francisco to make a new life with her young daughter. While looking for a regular job as a commercial artist, she also tries her hand at selling her work free-lance, her specialty being heartfelt but rather obvious portraits of children with large eyes. Her work is given a boost by her new Type-A boyfriend, Walter Keane, played by Christopher Walz ("Django Unchained") who is a dabbler in the arts with a great talent for self-promotion. After they marry, Walter tries to pass off her paintings as his own, under the theory that art produced by a woman cannot be successful as a man's in mid-20th Century America. As the success of the "bright eyes" portraits reaches national and international proportions, Margaret struggles to reclaim her identity.
Burton does a good job stifling his usual penchant for the outlandish and the grotesque you might have seen in his "Alice in Wonderland" or "Batman" films. There is also a refreshing lack of snark about the art in question. Margaret's artwork is shown meeting with criticism and snobbery, but the film gives it her and her followers a proper respect. The style of the movie evokes a bohemian (but pre-hippie) San Francisco of the 60's that feels right, and the story is briskly paced.
Here's the trailer from You Tube. Like too many "coming attractions" it gives away too much of what is good about the film so if you like surprises, please  just view a minute or so of this. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger--Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and If I Had a Hammer

It just happens sometimes---I found a CD of Mr. Seeger (the album) "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and Other Love Songs",  from 1967, and brought it home, setting it aside by my computer to play. Pete Seeger's performance of this song  on the CBS variety show, "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" in 1967 or so that gave prime-time network television a bit of dissent over the rapidly expanding American war in Vietnam. The "cultural wasteland" or genial but shallow situation-comedies, cop shows and and happy singing tune-stylists on other variety shows was invaded by Seeger's own brand of anti-war activism.  And he and so many others were just getting warmed up.

Seeger earned his stripes travelling with the likes of Woody Guthrie and later facing Congressional disapproval during the Red Scare Era of the late 40's and 50's.  One doesn't have to agree  with everything an artist sings or writes or says to admire him or her deeply.  As he got older, his strength as both a performer and an activist who  believed music could change minds and make us all a bit more human to one another has left a marvelous legacy I hope others in his field can continue to follow.  

Listening to the album this morning, after hearing of his death last night, I had a sense of how much his presence will be missed as much as his legacy will live on and on.

 As Arlo Guthrie put it this morning, "Of course he passed away, but he's still around".  

RIP Pete Seeger

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: "A Long Way Down" (Nick Hornby, 2005)

“Jess thought for a moment. 'You know those films where people fight up the top of the Empire State Building or up a mountain or whatever? And there's always that bit when the baddie slips off and the hero tries to save him, but, like, the sleeve of this jacket tears off and goes over and you hear him all the way down. Aaaaaaaaagh. That's what I want to do.'

'You want to watch me plunge to my doom.'

'I'd like to know that I've made the effort. I want to show people the torn sleeve.” 
― Nick HornbyA Long Way Down

Nick Hornby's "A Long Way Down" is my favorite novel of last year, never mind that it was published eight years previously.  We rebellious spirits let a book rest on the shelf a while before headed to the second-hand book shop or the library to take it down.   The novel concerns four disparate characters living in and around contemporary London who happen to meet on the top of a tower block in the metropolis on the same night (New Year's Eve) with separate intentions to jump off the top of the roof and end their lives.

The main characters are Martin Sharp, the former host of a popular British morning talk-show,  who  loses his high-flying career, his marriage and contact with his daughters after the tabloid press  outs him for having a sexual relationship with a 15 year-old girl.  The fact that she was 150 days from sixteen and  just under the legal age of consent, also lands him in prison.   When we meet Martin he feels he is at the end of his rope, reduced to hosting a talk-show on a network (Feet Up TV!) whose  ratings are abysmal.  Martin is the most well-educated and once-successful of the group, but to my mind a character as vulnerable as any of the rest with the added problem of being recognized by many strangers, some of whom are both jealous of  his former success, and verbally reminding him of his fall  from celebrity.  

There is also Jess, the rebellious teen-aged daughter of a junior Cabinet Minister. She has issues with authority figures, says what is exactly on her mind at all times (in contrast to the circumspect  father she dislikes) and has recently been dumped by her boyfriend.  It is the quest to find Jess's loutish ex-boyfriend
at a party that (and for her to confront him face-to-face with some direct questions and vulgar insults) that  gets the four would-be suicides the initial quest which binds them together.

“A man who wants to die feels angry and full of life and desperate and bored and exhausted, all at the same time; he wants to fight everyone, and he wants to curl up in a ball and hide in a cupboard somewhere. He wants to say sorry to everyone, and he wants everyone to know just how badly they've all let him down.”
― "Martin Sharp" , A Long Way Down

J.J. is the one ex-pat in the group, an American and the former member of a rock band, The Yellow,  which never  quite made it and has now broken up, although  one of the former members has now gone onto success as a solo performer.  He is also shy one former lover, a girlfriend who be believes left him because he who longer fronted a touring band.     Deprived of working in a recording studio and convinced that he has no chance to "be someone", JJ decides to end it all by diverting from his evening rounds, delivering pizzas from a London restaurant.

The fourth protagonist is a fifty-something single lady, Maureen ,who has given up her job to look after her severely disabled teen-aged son, a task that has given her no little private time whatsoever, and no hope that her son will ever progress beyond an almost catatonic and child-like state.  (She checks the young man, Matty, into a clinic on her way to end it all and then, after a change of mind, she goes back to caring for him in her small flat.)  She is the only religious character in the book, and never swears, the latter trait being much to the amazement of the others.
“How do people, like, not curse? How is it possible? There are these gaps in speech where you just have to put a "fuck." I'll tell you who the most admirable people in the world are: newscasters. If that was me, I'd be like, "And the motherfuckers flew the fucking plane right into the Twin Towers." How could you not, if you're a human being? Maybe they're not so admirable. Maybe they're robot zombies.” --J.J.

 In the hands of a more overly-sentimental  writer, this might be a film that would take the easy route and show the reader that each of these character's sufferings  could be alleviated  by mutual support  and good fellowship. But Mr. Hornby will not let us all the hook with such a well-trodden path.   The sting of self-destruction and the hard-business of people putting their oft-desperate and damaged lives back together makes for a four -person journey that is both unique for each of the main characters and where their  support for one another often backfires and brings them to get one one another's nerves as much as soothe their fears and compensate for their lonely or unfulfilled lives.

The  book is quite funny at times and has its share of penetrating, common- sense insights into the human condition.  Hornby has a matter-of-fact writing style that leaves no room for easy answers. But he also gives his characters in "A Long Way Down" an affirming sense that while suicide is a route taken by some, it is neither an inevitable destination for all who seriously consider it, nor are people as alone and unique in their distress as they might feel. Even in a dark rooftop at the top of a building in a lonely but crowded city, one distressed person or four might just  find odd reasons (and odd people) to argue, laugh, frustrate and make happier for a time of a life  with.

There will soon be a film version coming out in March of "A Long Way Down" with Pierce Brosnan as Sharp,  Toni Colette as Maureen, and Rosamund Pike as Jess.  One hopes it will be faithful to the original story.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Issac Stern Plays Erik Satie: Happy Holidays To All from Ashland Oregon!

One of the most beautiful version of this famous piece by Erik Satie (Gymnopedis # 3.) I'm sending it out to those who are getting through the long winter nights in the Northern Hemisphere, and anyone else who might stop by from the Antipodes. (My thanks to Sheryl Lynn Bence for putting this video together.)
Here a bit of the Snows of  Ashland Oregon we had last week.  Most of the US and Canada has had a unseasonably cold late Fall and, oddly enough, it's been a too-too dry December--these pictures were taken during a snow fall that hung around and turned to icy conditions with little of the follow-up rain we get to really fill the mountain passes for the Spring runoff. .  Most of the heavy rain we get in this part of the West is concentrated in the last weeks of the old and first weeks of the New Year.

 Here is hoping you have the Christmas/Solstice weather of your dreams wherever you are!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Song for a Saturday: Aretha Franklin's "Say A Little Prayer" (1968)

If you asked me in my twenties to name my three favorite superstar lady singers I would have said, Dionne Warwick, Dusty Springfield and this lady:

Dionne Warwick is usually associated with ""I Say a Little Prayer" because of her long association with Burt Bacharach and Hal David.   But the First Lady of Soul did quite a job with this song herself. Interestingly it was not originally seen as a potential hit tune.

Here's some of the back-story on this great tune, courtesy of Wikipedia:  "Intended by lyricist Hal David to convey a woman's concern for her beau who's serving in Vietnam, "I Say a Little Prayer" was recorded by Dionne Warwick in a 9 April 1966 session. Although Bacharach's recordings with Warwick typically took no more than three takes (often only taking one), Bacharach did ten takes on "I Say a Little Prayer" and still disliked the completed track feeling it rushed. The track went unreleased until September 1967 when it was introduced on the album The Windows of the World which largely consisted of older material; it was Scepter Records owner Florence Greenberg rather than Bacharach who wanted "I Say a Little Prayer" added to that album." 

Aretha's version came out a year later. It also hit the top ten on the US Rhythm and  Blues charts. This is a terrific video that does justice to her beauty and talents.  Which version is better? I'd just as soon listen and not judge.