I Take Paul Ryan Personally

High Toned Mediocrity or I Take Paul Ryan Personally

“If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?”  James 2:15-16

On Sunday March 12, I attended Eucharist at All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA. I went especially to hear guest preacher, Reza Aslan, the Muslim scholar and author of Zealot, The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. (Amazon link to book)

Mr. Aslan preached on the Letter of James (James, a First Century Saint for the Twenty-first Century) and he did not disappoint. You can watch his entire homily here.

A few excerpts:

“James’s community referred to itself collectively as “the poor”. That’s right. The very first term to designate the followers of Christ was not “Christian” it was “the poor.”

“So we shouldn’t be surprised by James’s epistle’s overwhelming focus on the poor. What is perhaps a little more surprising is its bitter condemnation of the rich and powerful.

“Now this condemnation of wealth and power may seem extreme but the truth is that James is merely echoing the words of his brother who said “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.” (Luke 6: 24-25)

Let’s be honest; this part of Jesus’s message has never been all that popular. Certainly not with the wealthy and powerful no matter how much they say the love Jesus. Not this part.

How else to explain politicians like Republican congressman Roger Marshall whose rationale for repealing the affordable care act and thus denying health care to millions who could not otherwise afford it, was to shrug and claim, “Like Jesus said, ‘the poor will always be with us.”

“How else to explain religious right leaders like Franklin Graham who justified the president’s Draconian regulations on immigration into the U. S by arguing that, ‘Well, God also does extreme vetting about who he allows to spend eternity with him, so why can’t the U. S. do the same?’ By the way I have a feeling that Franklin Graham is going to be surprised by the nature of God’s extreme vetting.”

On this point I think Pope Francis is correct when he said that “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee, or someone seeking help, or someone who is hungry or thirsty, to toss out someone who is in need of help. . . . It is better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Christian.”  (Here’s a link to Pope Francis’s homily.)

Continue reading

Making the Poor Visible

“Obamacare replacement hits Trump voters hard. Some of the biggest losers in Republican plan are in counties that supported him”

Headline in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 12, 2017.

In the late 1990’s someone published a business motivational book called, “Who Stole My Cheese?” It remained on the NY Times best-seller list for almost five years.

My take away was that the difference between rats and people is this. There are five tunnels; only one of them has cheese. Both rats and people will, soon, after discovering the tunnel with cheese, return to it repeatedly. However, if the cheese is moved from, say tunnel two to tunnel five, the rats will return to tunnel two a few times until they realize there is no longer any cheese down that tunnel. Then, the rats will begin to explore the other four tunnels until they find cheese. Human beings, on the other hand will go down tunnel two until they starve because it is the right tunnel.

I was reminded of this business fable several times as I read the NY Times best-seller, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture and Crisis by J. D. Vance. The book, which many critics have hailed as a key to understanding the “Trump voter,” follows Vance’s life through a harrowing boyhood and adolescence amongst his hillbilly relatives to his enlistment in the United States Marine Corps to his undergraduate studies at the University of Ohio until, finally, his graduation from the Yale University School of Law. His story is more than a little bit Dickensian.

The book is well-written, reportorial and compelling. It more than likely fulfills the criteria of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey.” I recommend it highly; like James Baldwin’s books it, too, is a guide for pilgrims who are willing to make the journey to an unfamiliar world. I underlined so many passages that it might be easier to pick out the passages that weren’t underlined.

Continue reading

Confessions of an Unrepentant Out-of-the-Closet Chick Flick Lover

In the February 3, 2017 issue of the New York Times, the estimable Gloria Steinem published an Op-Ed piece called “Women Have Chic Flics; What About Men?”

I say estimable because I have long admired Ms. Steinem. I first became aware of her, not from her article about being an under-cover Playboy bunny, and my respect for her predates the publication of MS Magazine’s inaugural issue. It was her 1968 interview with Pat Nixon.

In 1968, newly transplanted from Denver Colorado to New York City, I became (and still am) a regular reader of New York magazine. Shortly before that year’s presidential election, the magazine published Ms. Steinem’s interview with the notoriously press-wary, Mrs. Nixon. After Mrs. Nixon responded to one of Steinem’s questions by saying that the woman she admired most was former first lady, Mamie Eisenhower, Steinem reports:

Continue reading

Tourists, Pilgrims & Other Travelers

takemoretimecoverlessground

“Take more time, cover less ground.”
-Thomas Merton

My father’s taste in art leaned toward landscapes of the southwestern desert, hand-woven Navajo rugs, Native-American pottery and beautifully detailed Hopi Kachina dolls.

In the late sixties when I was living in New York, my parents came to visit. I booked a room for them at the Warwick Hotel located down the street from the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

My wife and I had a studio apartment on West 76th between Broadway and West End Avenue. If the light was right and you squinted and you had a properly romantic view of life, you might have described our apartment as Bohemian. It wasn’t; threadbare would have been a more accurate description. Our neighborhood, which is now completely gentrified and pricy, was at the time called Needle Park; wasted addicts prowled the streets and needles and syringes were common in the gutters of the neighborhood. On the bright side, many artists, young actors, musicians and writers lived nearby. Rents were rent-controlled and cheap.

Continue reading

Learning to See As Another Sees

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.

 

“But there is another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.”

 

–John Berger, Ways of Seeing

When I am asked what it is exactly that I teach, I say that I teach people to see. I use archetypes, myth, metaphor, and mostly film, to teach people how to see symbolically and impersonally.

Continue reading

Resilience

My favorite picture from the Women’s March; Janice Posikoff photographed by Jody Rogac for Time Magazine

My favorite picture from the Women’s March; Janice Posikoff photographed by Jody Rogac for Time Magazine

Janice Posikoff  “I’m here representing the territory of my mother, Lillian Posnikoff, from Alert Bay, Canada, and her ancestors, the Kwakwaka ‘wakw people’. “Can’t you feel what we’re getting out of this march? It’s unity, it’s solidarity, it’s everything that we all wanted. It’s sending the clear message that absolutely, absolutely, he’s not the popular president, and we’re going to fight every inch of the way, every time it looks like corruption is happening or injustice is happening, all of it.”

It seems to me that The Women’s March, January 21, 2017, which as far as I know, originated as a protest of and resistance to the policies of the president who had been inaugurated the day before, blossomed into a world-wide celebration of and call heard round-the-world to resilience.

Continue reading

Resentment & Resilience: Two Faces of America

It is impossible not to contrast the mood of the presidential inaugural on January 20 with the world-wide Women’s March that took place a day later.

In Time magazine’s coverage of the inauguration, David Von Drehle wrote, “Trump’s rallying cry was resentment: resentment of foreign governments and industries, resentment of elected leaders and faceless elites, resentment of the empty factories and haunted cities that define the American landscape as rendered by its new leader. ‘American carnage,’ is how he tallied it all up . . . .”

Another Time reporter, Karl Vick, described the Women’s March differently: “(protest) signs were as bawdily exuberant as the crowds, which inevitably skewed activist but included many who had never demonstrated before, and who experienced in the gatherings both a stirring well of fellow feeling and sudden momentum. . .  Many said it was the best they’ve felt since election day.”

signisaboutyou
Conversations, e-mails and Facebook posts from friends, family and clients who attended the marches continue to confirm the exhilaration and fresh hope that were born of this event.

Continue reading

Best 2016 Movies Part 2: Round-up

Hidden Figures & Fences

hiddenfiguresThe year brought a jackpot of outstanding films about people of color. In addition to Midnight, Loving and Queen of Katwe, there are Hidden Figures and Fences.

Don’t miss Hidden Figures! It is an old-fashioned (in the best sense) movie that will have you on your feet and cheering at the end. Writer/director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) uses a tried and true formula, one that the film’s distributor 20th Century Fox has used countless times since the 1930s: take three ambitious and talented women and intercut their stories as they pursue success in a particularly macho man’s world—NASA in the 1960’s. All three women are working mothers, two of them are married; one is a widow. In their fight for opportunities commensurate with their abilities, the three heroines don’t just have to battle sexism, but racism as well. The performances of the three leading women, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and singer/musician Janelle Monae (also in Moonlight) are righteous, infectious and altogether jubilant. They are reluctantly supported by gum-chewing NASA program director, Kevin Costner. Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons are terrific as the heroines’ condescending antagonists and Mahershala Ali (also in Moonlight) is fine (as in “He’s So Fine”) as the persistent suitor of reluctant widow, Henson.

More about Hidden Figures

Fences

fencesAugust Wilson (1945-2005) belongs in the pantheon of great American playwrights. His ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle—each one set in a different decade of the 20th Century—is a monumental artistic accomplishment. Fences, set in the 1950’s, was awarded a Tony and the Pulitzer Prize in 1987.  The dialogue Wilson gives his characters is incomparably musical. In his plays, soliloquies become arias. I saw James Earl Jones play the central character, Troy Maxson in the original 1987 production and it was one of the best theatrical experiences of my life. In Jones’ performance, Troy was a great tragic hero—someone who in other circumstances would have been a king.

Transferring Wilson’s work, which is overtly theatrical, to the screen has to be a Herculean task and the film version doesn’t entirely succeed. Denzel Washington, who directed the film and plays Troy Maxson is one of my favorite actors, someone I’ll pay to see in almost anything he does; however, whether fair or not, Washington can’t replace Jones in my memory.  Troy’s lengthy speeches, many shot in close-up, have a haranguing quality that ultimately alienated me from Washington’s performance. (I know this is a minority opinion.) I still recommend seeing Fences. The supporting cast, particularly Viola Davis as Troy’s wife, Stephen McKinley Henderson as Troy’s best friend, and Mykelti Williamson (heartbreaking as Troy’s brain-damaged brother Gabriel) beautifully capture the rhythms and melodies of Wilson’s writing.

Denzel Washington has announced that he will bring the entire cycle of August Wilson’s plays to HBO. This is great news.

More about Fences


Hail Caesar, Love and Friendship & A Man Called Ove

Hail Caesar

hailceaserThere were three comedies this year that made me laugh out loud repeatedly. Hail Caesar, the latest lunacy from the Coen brothers, is a loving send-up of old Hollywood. It features an all-star cast, each at the top of their game, including George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum (never better), Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, as a cowboy star (who steals the film from under their noses.) Josh Brolin grounds the film with a virtuoso dead pan portrayal of a tortured Catholic studio head, charged riding herd over the dim-witted shining stars in his care. Brolin may be the most under-rated actor working in films today.

More about Hail Caesar
 Love & Friendship

loveandfriendshipLove and Friendship is director Whit Stillman’s sophisticated and wry adaptation of a Jane Austen novella, Lady Susan. It features a tour de force performance by Kate Beckinsale as the shameless seductress Lady Susan and she is ably supported by Tom Bennett as her idiot suitor. These performances will probably be overlooked at award time; they are, nonetheless, pure gold.

More about Love & Friendship

 

A Man Called Ove

mancalledoveA Man Called Ove, based on an international best-selling novel, is a sweet Swedish comedy about a bereft widower whose attempts at suicide are repeatedly interrupted by needy neighbors. In the title role, Rolf Lassgard is sublime.

More about  A Man Called Ove

 

 

 

 


La La Land & Sing Street

2016 produced two charming and equally original musicals, La La Land and Sing Street. The former got the lion’s share of attention from the critics and at the box office but don’t overlook the latter.

La La Land

lalalandWhen I was a child, I particularly loved the MGM musicals; the gaudy Technicolor palette was almost the same as my grandmother’s plaster-of Paris saints statues and flamboyant holy cards. I imagined that heaven would look a lot like those musicals. (I came as close as a five-year-old can to experiencing spiritual rapture when I saw Gene Kelly dance with Jerry the Mouse in Anchors Aweigh.) This, I thought, must be what heaven is like.  La La Land, captures the spirit of the MGM musicals, but with a sadder-but-wiser point of view. Leading man, Ryan Gosling, is perfect, everything one could expect; Emma Stone is a fine actress who repeatedly defies expectations, until the scene when the film director asks her to tell a story. In this scene Emma Stone doesn’t just defy expectations, she obliterates them.  More about La La Land

Sing Street

singstreetSing Street, is the work of John Carney the Irish writer/director of the cult hit, Once, which was equally successful when translated into a Tony award winning Broadway musical. Sing Street’s slight plot is about a teenage boy who starts a rock band to impress a girl. Like a lot of musicals, the plot isn’t all that important but the music and performances, by a great ensemble cast led by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, in his first movie, are completely beguiling. Just looking at the above photograph makes me want to see it again. More about Sing Street


Lion, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, & Captain Fantastic

Three exceptional family films were released this year— five if you count The Queen of Katwe and Sing Street—and I heartily recommend that you do.

When I say family film, I don’t mean baby-sitting films, I mean films that are equally entertaining and engrossing for adults and children; films that have meat on their bones and are have stories that can inspire rich conversations after they are viewed.

All five films feature children protagonists; the child actors who play them give marvelous performances.

lionLion
Lion tells the true story of Saroo, a five year Indian boy who falls asleep on a train and ends up lost in the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from his tiny village. He is adopted and raised by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman is wonderful as the mother). 25 years later, he sets off, with the help of Google maps to find his Indian family. Sunny Pawar plays the boy Saroo. Dev Patel plays him as an adult. (The first half hour is subtitled.) More about Lion

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

huntforthe-wilderpeopleHunt for the Wilderpeople is a New Zealand film about a wily young delinquent from the city (Julian Denison) who is sent to live with foster parents on the edge of the bushlands. Fearing he’ll be sent back to an orphanage when his foster mother unexpectedly dies, he takes off into the bush. His reluctant foster father (Sam Neill) goes in search of the boy and is mistakenly thought to have kidnapped him. (The New Zealand dialect takes getting used to but it’s worth it.) The comic pairing of Denison and Neill is both sidesplittingly funny and deeply moving. More about Hunt for the Wilderpeople

 

Captain Fantastic

captainfantasticViggo Mortensen is brilliant as the eccentric hippie father who takes his children to live off the grid in Captain Fantastic. George MacKay, is touchingly awkward and naïve as the scholarly eldest son who has been in the wilderness so long he has no idea how to talk to girls. There is one full-frontal nude shot of Mortensen—fully justified by the story—that will be off-putting to some parents. The kids will love it. More about Captain Fantastic

 

 


Doctor Strange

drstrangeI’m not generally drawn to Marvel Comics super-hero movies; the exception is Dr. Strange, which is a thoroughly entertaining adventure that demands that the ultra-rational, egocentric, arrogantly self-sufficient title character surrender to the mystical and the miraculous. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect in the title role and he receives excellent support from a first rate cast that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel Mc Adams, Benedict Wong and Tilda Swinton.

More about Doctor Strange

 


The Divas

2016 was a great year for actresses “of a certain age.” God bless the baby-boomers who have become a reliable demographic for medium to low-budget (think Sundance Film Festival) treats like:

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins, featuring the insanely talented Meryl Streep, as an insanely untalented would be opera singer. She’s supported by Simon Helberg (Big Bang Theory), sensational as her accompanist, and Hugh Grant, better than he’s been in a long time, as her husband. More about Florence Foster Jenkins

Hello My Name is Doris

Sally Field and Tyne Daly “My Name is Doris”

Sally Field and Tyne Daly “My Name is Doris”

In Hello My Name is Doris two-time Oscar winner, Sally Field dispensed with earnest and cute, and graduated to wonderfully eccentric, ably supported by national treasure, Tyne Daly. (I’d love to see Fields play Veta Louise Simmons in a revival of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Harvey.)

More about Hello My Name is Doris

 

The Meddler

Susan Sarandon showed up in a wonderful dramedy, The Meddler, about a recent widow who relocates from New York to the West Coast to drive her TV-producer daughter (Rose Byrne) out of her mind. More about The Meddler

20th Century Women

Annette Bening is stunning as a single mother raising a precocious teen-ager (Lucas Jade Zumann) in 20th Century Women. The supporting cast includes a hilariously earnest Greta Gerwig, a scary Elle Fanning and Billy Crudup, in his best performance since I don’t remember when. More about 20th Century Women

The Hollars

thehollarsBest of all is Margo Martindale in The Hollars. I fell in love with Margo Martindale when I saw her play Big Mama opposite Ned Beatty as Big Daddy in an otherwise lamentable revival of Tennessee Williams Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. (Ashley Judd played Maggie the Cat; it was painful.) Martindale won an Emmy for her performance as Mags Bennett, a matriarchal hillbilly drug-dealer in the FX series Justified. She returned to FX as an undercover KGB operative in The Americans, Whether or not you’ve seen Margo Martindale in anything else, see her in The Hollars! Her performance will warm and break your heart.

More about The Hollars

Altogether a good year for movies!

Best Movies of 2016 Part 1

So often the best works of art, the most grace-filled and transcendent, are nearly impossible to describe in such a way that more than handful of people will be drawn to see them. Walter Kerr, the theatre critic for the N. Y. Times, wrote that a “true work of art is suitable for contemplation;” that is, you can see it, read it or listen to it again and again and it remains timeless, always able to hold a mirror your soul.

None of the films on my list are studio blockbusters; none of them are sequels; none of the stars (except, perhaps, Tom Hanks) guarantee ticket sales. All are worthy of repeated viewings; all are suitable for contemplation; none more so Silence.

Silence

silence2016There is a story told about the great Austrian composer, Gustav Mahler. Standing in the back of the concert hall during the premiere of one of his last works, Mahler is purported to have said, “I wish I could be alive in 50 years when the audiences will have learned to hear my music.”

The works of great artists are not simply entertaining; they are challenge the audience to and require its full engagement.

Visual and aural works that we regard today as masterpieces—the Impressionist painters, for example were, as often as not, ridiculed and dismissed by a majority of critics and viewers alike when they were first introduced.

Stephen Sondheim (now regarded, according to NY Times critic emeritus, Frank Rich, “as the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American theatre”) received praise for his intricate and witty lyrics during the early years of his career while, at the same time, his music was often dismissed as non-melodic and “un-hummable”.  As with Mahler, it took quite a while for audiences to be able to hear the beauty and variety in his musical scores.

Martin Scorsese’s Silence is a flat-out masterpiece, to my mind, his finest film. It’s not simply entertainment; it is great art and, as such, makes great demands, as do the works of Mahler and Sondheim. (To begin with, it is 2 hours and 41 minutes long!) It’s  a glorious achievement; simply incomparable; I plan to devote more time to Silence in a later blog and I plan on seeing it a few more times beforehand.

I’m not putting Silence on my Best List or my Favorites List. It’s in a class of its own.

Silence (2016)  


My best list begins with:

Paterson

patersonHow’s this for a description? A week in the life of a Paterson, NJ bus driver who wakes up at the same time every morning, looks lovingly at his sleeping wife every morning, eats cheerios for breakfast every morning, drives the same route every day, takes his dog for the same walk every night and stops for a beer at the same bar every night. And, oh yes, the bus driver, whose name happens to be Paterson, is a poet. I hope I didn’t oversell it. What the movie is about, in fact, is Presence- the presence that the artist’s soul brings to every seemingly mundane encounter. There are two oft-quoted lines of dialogue in Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece, Our Town:

EMILY: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”
STAGE MANAGER: “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”

Bus-driver Paterson, played by Adam Driver (who is equally unforgettable in Silence), in the best performance by an actor I’ve seen this year, is just such a poet. The miracle of this movie, is that we see the banal ordinary details of a daily routine through the eyes of a poet and conversations, we might never have listened to, and incidents, we might never noticed, are transfigured into moments of luminous beauty.

Emily Dickinson begins a poem, “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died”. Paterson, too, would have heard and remarked upon the singularity of this one buzzing fly.

Paterson (2016)


Moonlight

moonlightThe eloquently beautiful, perfectly realized Moonlight is like Silence and Paterson, also the work of a visual poet. Act One: a spindly little African American boy with no father and a drug-addicted mother, is taken under the wing of a drug dealer (Oscar-worthy, Mahershala Ali) and taught how to swim. Act Two: the same African American boy, now an adolescent, is bullied by some class mates and betrayed by another. His premeditated and cathartic expression of rage, as he wreaks vengeance on the bullies, leads to his incarceration. Act Three: the protagonist, now a hulk of a young man, out of jail and literally armed to the teeth, risks reconnection with the classmate who betrayed him and, in the last moments of the film, rises from the dead as surely as Jesus did.

Moonlight (2016)


Manchester by the Sea

manchesterManchester bythe Sea, is, if anything, an even harder sell than the first two. Casey Affleck, in a heart-breaking virtuoso performance, plays a loner custodian, living anonymously in a basement apartment, who is called back to his hometown, Manchester-by-the Sea, to be the guardian of his late brother’s teenage son. For Affleck’s character, the ghosts and demons that inhabit his home town make it hell. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, working with a cast that, besides Affleck, includes the astonishing Michelle Williams as his ex-wife, and a pitch-perfect ensemble achieve an artistic alchemy that defies reason and words.

Manchester by the Sea


Little Men

littlemenLittle Men a big film—filled with big, contemporary, and complex challenges, masquerading as a “little art house indie.” It covers parenthood, marriage, single parenting, friendship, the fragile economy, ethics and loyalty, artistic dreams and ambitions—realized and thwarted—immigration, a father’s legacy, and the budding of adolescent sexual identity. Director, Ira Sachs seamlessly weaves together all of the subjects we are faced with every day as we strive to be “good people” and creates from them a wondrously intricate whole cloth. In addition to Mauricio, the cast includes Greg Kinnear (so reliably good, it’s easy to forget how good he really is); two remarkable performances by newcomers, Michael Barbieri and Theo Taplitz: a cameo by Alfred Molina; and, best of all the great Chilean actress, Paulina Garcia (think the Meryl Streep of Chile) as an immigrant single-mother, a seamstress trying to provide for herself and her son. Ms. Garcia brings a dignity and ferocity to her portrayal that makes it one of the best of this or any year.
Disclaimer: I might never have seen Little Men, if I hadn’t found out that a former student of mine, from the 1960’s, had a featured role; his name is Mauricio Bustamante and he plays the “acting teacher.”  He is splendid and I am proud! Very proud!

Little Men


Arrival
arrivalThe collaboration between actress Amy Adams and director Denis Villeneuve is something to behold. Villenueve trusts Adams, and Adams rewards that trust (this is what artists do) with the most fierce and vulnerable performance (and that’s saying something) of her career. The journey of Adams’ character invites us to a consideration of the mystical realm —that which can be experienced but never completely articulated or understood. Jeremy Renner’s character bound by the limitations of science and reason cannot meet Adams in this hallowed place; and, over time (how much time?) she makes peace with it.

Arrival


Hell or High Water

hellorhighwaterIf you want to get inside the minds and hearts of the “forgotten” Americans who voted for Trump, “Hell or High Water,” is a good place to start. The film was marketed variously as a combination Western and cops and robber’s movie, a heist movie, a chase movie and a revenge movie. On the surface it’s all of these things, but just below the surface it’s an elegy for a lost America, an America before banks and corporations foreclosed on farms and ranches, evicting sometimes 3rd and even 4th generation descendants of the people who settled the land. Bank and corporate policy has left these properties to lie fallow; the sun has stripped the buildings of paint; weeds flourish where crops once grew.

The cast features Jeff Bridges, who’s beginning to sound a lot like Roy Rogers’ old sidekick, Gabby Hayes, just gets better and better; Ben Foster, a chameleon young character actor, is also transfixing as a short-fused ex-con; the surprise is Chris Pine (Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek movies and Prince Charming in Into the Woods) who divests himself of all traces of leading man veneer and anchors the film with his performance as a disillusioned, divorced family man trying to hold onto his dignity and make things right.

Hell or High Water


The Lobster

thelobsterThe Lobster is the weirdest movie I’ve seen in many years—and one of the most compelling! Rachel Weisz has never given a poor performance and she’s as good as ever here. Colin Ferrell, like so many super-handsome leading men, is much more at home being a nerdy character actor. His sly portrayal of the bespectacled, hang-dog ultra-depressed and unlikely hero ranks as one of his finest.

The film presents itself as an allegory but it’s more. It’s a timely illustration of the uncomfortable process of discernment. It’s a mirror image of who we are now in this age of untruth and unreason, in the age of DJT!  What still counts as absurd? Do we surrender? Do we regress? Or do we fight?

The Lobster


Loving

lovingLoving (set in 1967) is a quiet film about an explosive issue—inter-racial marriage—made all the more powerful by the understated performances of Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as an ordinary married couple forced by circumstances they never asked for, to seek justice and peace.  Australian actor Edgerton has made a reputation playing dark, threatening characters in such films as Black Mass, The Animal Kingdom and The Gift (which he also wrote and directed.) He’s virtually unrecognizable here as a crew-cut Virginian with hair the color of butter. He plays Richard Loving, a painfully inarticulate bricklayer who barely speaks full sentences. Nonetheless his body language and the subtle changes of facial expression communicate his character’s thoughts and feelings as powerfully as a Shakespearian soliloquy. Playing Loving’s African-American wife, Mildred, Ethiopian born actress, Negga manages, without ever raising her voice, losing her composure, or compromising her character’s natural reserve, to craft a portrait of a tenacious and fearless warrior whose sense of what is just and good carries her to a personal and moral victory that validates her marriage and legitimizes her family. Don’t miss this movie!

Loving


The Queen of Katwe

queenofkatweWhy isn’t this movie on everyone’s best list? Maybe it’s because it’s a PG rated Disney family film.  If you need evidence that the eyes are the window to the soul, watch Lupita D’ Yong’o’s performance as a widowed mother in The Queen of Katwe. Her love for her children, combined with the desperate realities of their situation, crucifies her on a daily basis. The three main actors, D’Yongo, David Oyelowo (brilliant as Martin Luther King in Selma), and newcomer, Madina Nalwanga, call us past doubt and fear to a faith that transcends reason and celebrates it. This is a life-affirming, inspiring, joyful film—family entertainment at its best.

The Queen of Katwe


Sully

sullyOff to the side of the rotunda in the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, you will find a permanent exhibition bequeathed to the museum by benefactor, Justin K. Thannhauser. Among the gallery’s treasures are 12 Picassos spanning from 1900 (when he was 19) to 1965 (when he was 84); he died in 1983.

What could this possibly have to do with Sully, Clint Eastwood’s 35th film as a director and Tom Hanks’ 47th film (if I counted right) as an actor.

Picasso’s earliest work in the Thannhauser Gallery is a painting in the style of Renoir or Toulouse Lautrec As you tour the gallery Picasso’s paintings become simpler and simpler, less and less like anyone else’s until they can be no one else’s but Picasso’s.

So it is with Eastwood’s directing and Hanks’ acting. There are no frills; no flashes; no extra strokes; their work is plain and unadorned with nothing to call attention to the work but the works themselves.

Like Picasso, Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks, are masters, and Sully is a deceptively simple work of art by a pair of masters working at the top of their game. If either of these men makes a picture, just go see it.

Sully

Best Movies of 2016 Part 2 will be out next week on Tuesday.

 

Sparrows in the Windmills of my Mind

On more than one occasion, in fact on many occasions, people have remarked, not always kindly, on the way my mind works.

Several years ago, two close and treasured friends, Penny and James, both experts in language and linguistics, and I were engaged in conversation. Penny said, “Jim, James is able to connect the dots in the conversational leaps your mind makes; I’m having trouble following you. Would you mind pausing, when you make one of these leaps, and tell me what the connection is between the two thoughts so I can follow? I happily agreed and, for the next half hour or so, I would pause and explain the connections, until Penny said, Okay, you don’t need to make the connections for me anymore, I’m following you.

Here, then is, to the best of my ability, a day in the life of my mind: a beginner’s guide to how my mind works.

Continue reading

Collateral Damage

Some of my Facebook friends may recognize the name Audrey Lockwood. Audrey, a self-proclaimed “male bashing lesbian avenger” and radical feminist, frequently responds to my posts with calls for the destruction of the patriarchy, the absolute rule of women, and the necessity for every woman to know how to efficiently and effectively place a man in a foolproof choke hold. But that’s not all there is to Audrey.

My good friend Audrey Lockwood (she gave me permission to share her photo)

My good friend Audrey Lockwood (she gave me permission to share her photo)

Audrey is a truly gifted poet, a tireless champion to young lesbians and a dedicated patron of the visual arts. She has an unerring eye for beauty—natural and created. She is sentimental about holidays and often wears outfits appropriate to the occasion. Aside from her rants, she posts pictures of octopuses, suffragettes, butterflies, mermaids, exotic birds, female pirates, turtles, and the 18th Century.

Audrey and her spouse, Kittredge Cherry, have been together for 41 years; they met Labor Day weekend freshman year. And that, as they say, was that. They were legally married in 2016. Kitt is an ordained priest and the accomplished author of several books, including Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ and More as well as the editor of the blog, Jesus in Love, which has just moved to qspirit.net.

Continue reading

Nostalgia Really Isn’t What it Used To Be

My cousin, Michael, and I don’t have occasion to interact very often—weddings and funerals, mostly.  I saw him last summer for the first time in several years at a mini family reunion that my sister hosted in honor of my 75th birthday and in honor of Michael’s older brother, Pat, an Oblate missionary priest in Africa, who was home on vacation.

Michael is a really good man. He and sister, Jane, have been, and continue to be, pillars of strength for their immediate and extended families throughout many heartbreaks, losses and tragedies that would have broken people of frailer character.

Michael and I are casual FB friends. His FB posts mostly tend toward nostalgic pictures from websites like the Good Old Days and Do You Remember the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s? My sister Mary posts pictures from these websites, too. They are occasionally funny, but in no way give me any desire to re-live those decades. Or the 50’s either!

Continue reading

Cognitive Dissonance and Conversion

st-teresa

In my last year of college (1963), Father Edward L. Maginnis S. J., the chairman of the theology department offered a seminar for seniors only. I don’t remember how the seminar was listed in the catalogue, but it was popularly known as “Can a Thinking Christian Be a Goldwater Republican.” This class had little to do with Barry Goldwater and everything to do with tweaking Edwin J. Feulner, the student body president who was a zealot and evangelist for the Goldwater brand of Republican conservatism. This was a somewhat quixotic endeavor to undertake on the campus of a Catholic men’s college during the Camelot years of John F. Kennedy’s presidency; the majority of students were resonating with Kennedy’s call to selfless service which aligned so perfectly with the principal raison d’etre of Jesuit education and formation: “to be a man for others.”

The key word in Father Magnnis’s course title is not, Christian, or Republican or even Goldwater; it is “Thinking”! Jesuits take some justified pride in teaching their students how to think thus abdicating forever the power to tell them what to think. Evidence of the Jesuits’ success and, perhaps, the mixed results can be found in the footnote.*

Continue reading

Artists, Saints and Prophets

hamiltonmusical

In the days immediately following Mike Pence’s attendance at the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” a friend of mine posted an article about the elegance of actor Brandon Victor Dixon’s address to the vice-president elect.

One of her friends replied that the address was inappropriate, rude and disrespectful. Another decried the lack of hospitality toward Pence: “people pay money to attend the theatre to relax and be entertained. They don’t go there to be made to feel uncomfortable.” I have a Master’s Degree in Theatre Arts and no instructor I ever had said anything remotely like that.

I replied to her post: “In the play “Inherit the Wind” a character based on legendary journalist, H. L. Mencken says, ‘It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’. This is also the duty of art and artists and saints and martyrs. Early in the week the same friend who posted the article about Hamilton had posted a photo of a birthday card which featured a quote from Pope Francis, “Have courage! Go Forward! Make noise!” I referred to the card in my post, adding “that it seemed to me that this is exactly what the cast of Hamilton did.”

Comfortable art! Even “The Sound of Music” reaches its climax with Captain Von Trapp singing “Edelweiss,” and thereby risking his life to sing truth to power.

Continue reading

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

JEFFERSON SMITH – “Why don’t you people the truth for a change? People in this country pick up their papers and what do they read?

DIZ MOORE (a reporter) – “Well, this morning they read that an incompetent clown had arrived in Washington parading around like a member of the senate.”

JEFFERSON SMITH – “If you thought as much about being honest as you thought about being smart—“

DIZ MOORE – “Honest! We’re the only ones who can afford to be honest in what we tell the voters. We don’t have to be re-elected like politicians.”

I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old the first time my parents took me to see Frank Capra’s great film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The film was originally released in 1939, two years before I was born. We didn’t yet have television, let alone VHS, DVRs or Turner Classic Movies, but each year The Rocky Mountain News in collaboration with the Vogue, a small theatre in South Denver, sponsored a sort of film festival. The newspaper published ballots and readers could vote for the films they most wanted to see: the Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, W. C. Fields (with Mae West) and Frank Capra’s movies (Mr. Smith, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and You Can’t Take it with You) always received enough votes to be screened. And my parents took me to see them.

Continue reading