REVIEWING THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, 1964

Cover of "The Americanization of Emily"

The Americanization of Emily (1964) is an American comedy-drama war film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller, loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by William Bradford Huie who had been a SeaBee officer on D-Day.

With a brilliant script by Paddy Chayefsky, it features impeccable direction by Arthur Hill and a radiant Julie Andrews in her first non-musical feature role. James Coburn displays his comedic chops,  which are considerable, and James Garner is perfect as the Admiral’s dog robber … a role he also played in The Great Escape, released the previous year (1963). Chayefsky put a strongly anti-war slant on the story and the film includes some of the most memorable monologues in any movie ever made.

I first saw this in the theatre when it was newly released. It was a powerful experience and stayed with me since. It was a premium time for anti-war sentiment here and abroad, but the movie still suffered from being seen as unpatriotic.

This isn’t a movie that you hear about much although it was nominated for two Oscars — Best Art Direction – (George W. Davis, Hans Peters, Elliot Scott, Henry Grace, Robert R. Benton and Best Cinematography – (Philip H. Lathrop). Julie Andrews was nominated by BAFTA for Best Actress.

It is not available on DVD at the moment, but is available as a download from Amazon.com. It will probably become available again at some point. How and when movies are released or dropped seems whimsical and without any particular logic.

Right before it stopped being available, I made sure to get a copy for us. Many of my favorite movies from the 60s and even through the 1990s are no longer available. I know that downloading and streaming video is all the thing, but I don’t want to be limited to watching movies on my computer nor do I want to be entirely dependent on the whimsical technical capabilities of my cable company. I prefer owning my own media and frankly, I neither like nor trust my cable company. They already have much too much power and charge much more money than they ought.

Garner’s role as Charlie Madison was originally slated for William Holden, with Garner set for the Bus Cummings role played ultimately played by Coburn. Holden dropped out of the project. This was great from Garner’s point of view. He viewed The Americanization of Emily as the best role he had in his long movie career. In interviews, Coburn echoes the sentiment. If one wanted to judge a role by the number of brilliant speeches the leads get to make, this has to be the top vehicle for Garner, Coburn and Andrews. Paddy Chayefsky wrote some of the best dialogue ever heard on stage or screen. He was an actor’s gift and well they knew it.

 

The actors in The Americanization of Emily were aware how important an opportunity the film offered. Great movie roles don’t come along everyday in any actor’s career.

If you can catch this on cable or anywhere, watch it. The script is brilliant, the kind of scriptwriting that’s becoming extinct. For me, the language, the words, will always be the best part of a great film. If you are a “word person,” this is your movie. The acting is first-rate, the photography is perfect. It’s everything you want a movie to be.

CHRISTMAS AT THE POPS 2013

December 13, 2013

A great evening. Snow expected, but not this night. Tomorrow, or perhaps the night after, the roads will be slick. But tonight, the roads are dry, though traffic is holiday heavy. As we drive into Boston, we can see the westbound Pike is bumper to bumper. Glad we aren’t going that way, we assure each other.

“We’ll have dinner after the concert,” I say. “Then when we are ready to come home, traffic will have cleared.

It’s an easy drive to Symphony Hall, but slow. Traffic gets heavier as we approach Boston. Owen is a patient traffic. Good thing, too. You need patience to drive in Boston any time of year, but near Christmas, you need saint-like patience. Still, it was easy enough. Take the Mass Pike all the way and get off at Prudential Center. Go  straight ahead out of the Pru tunnel. About five minutes later, Symphony Hall comes up on your right. We always find a parking space in less than a block. Against all odds, but so far, every year a space has been awaiting us.

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Note: The orchestral version of Sleigh Bells was written by Leroy Anderson (a Cambridge native who was Bandmaster at Harvard University) in July 1946 for the Boston Pops Orchestra.  It was performed by them and became a huge hit. The song remains — to this day — the most performed holiday song (per ASCAP).

We had Asian cuisine after the concert. It was good and the prices were no worse than they are locally … much to our surprise and pleasure. And we were hungry! They put an orchid on the table with dinner. Nice, very nice. It was so perfect, I didn’t know it was a real flower.

Traffic was much lighter on the way home. Indeed, the westbound traffic was no problem, but the eastbound side was now bumper-to-bumper. We managed to avoid the worst of it in both directions. Yay us. Full of sushi, noodles and Christmas music, I stopped to take a few pictures on Uxbridge Commons. We may not be Boston, but it was a picture from a Christmas story.

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MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

REVIEWING THE KINDLE FIRE HDX

Amazon launched the new generation of Kindles at the end of September 2013. I spent time perusing these latest greatest Kindles. They are much like the previous generation with the following differences:

  • Higher resolution graphics
  • More memory and memory options
  • Faster processor
  • Longer battery life
  • Easier (more) Amazon cloud storage
  • Simplified (better) support
  • A front-facing camera for Skype and similar applications
  • Different, more intuitive, menu structure
  • New placement of speakers and buttons
  • Even better sound quality
  • Comes with a charger.

There are other difference, but these are the ones that concern me.

When the HDX first came out, my Kindle Fire HD was working fine, but as months passed it began to stutter. Stuff wouldn’t download. Too many audio books and movies. Too much music. I kept finding more ways to use the Kindle and 8 GB of memory was insufficient.

When they dropped the price by $50, it became less expensive than my original Kindle HD Fire. After a dark night of the soul about spending the money, I bought it. It came with 6-month financing at 0% interest … a nice touch.

I depend on my Kindle. It’s not an optional piece of equipment. I have hundreds of books I can read only on Kindle so in the end, there wasn’t much choice. I was going to get the new Kindle.

I’m convinced Kindles are the biggest bargain in tablets. My granddaughter has an iPad which theoretically has more functions. For my purposes, it isn’t as good. Not only does it cost two to three times more than the Kindle, but the sound quality, screen resolution and color are not as good. The difference in sound quality is particularly obvious. I don’t know how Kindles get such great sound from tiny speakers, but listening to anything on the Kindle Fire HDX is a pleasure.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has a new interface for email that’s smoother and easier to use. The calendar is greatly improved. There are plenty of free games from Amazon. If you have a Prime subscription, you can watch a wide selection of movies and TV shows free too. You can also borrow books. Moreover, you can “buy” many books for $0.00. Sometimes these sales run for only a day or too, but there are new deals every day. And finally, you can lend your books to Kindle-using friends and family.

This is an incremental upgrade to the Kindle Fire HD. The HDX is a wonderful tablet, but so is the original Fire HD. You can still buy the Fire HD (new from Amazon) for $139. For many people, it will be more than adequate. The main advantage to the HDX is the faster processor and additional memory. If you use your Kindle a lot, you’ll notice the difference.

This is a remarkably complete, fun entertainment center in a lightweight, purse-sized package. It’s almost too much fun offering a plethora of pleasantly distracting choices. It’s also a better reader. The page color is a softer; adjusting screen brightness is easier.

You can store everything on Amazon’s cloud servers. If you delete a book, you don’t lose it. You can remove items from the device, but they remain accessible as long as you have WiFi. Serious road warriors may want to get a Kindle with 3G.

You can do most things you would want to do on any tablet on the Kindle. You won’t be editing pictures or writing your novel, but I don’t think you’d be doing that on any tablet. Or at least I wouldn’t. For those things, I want more RAM, a hard drive, an application with legs and a full-size keyboard.

Big thumbs up for overall quality, sound, video, and speed.

Buy a cover that offers some protection and keeps dust out. Most let you prop your Kindle like an easel to watch a movie or listen hands free. Many (most) covers turn the Kindle on and off when you open or close it. Covers are affordable.

Fingerprints are a peril of all tablets. Keep a stash of lens wipes handy. Good for the Kindle, cameras, computers and eyeglasses. Don’t bother with a protective screen; it’s a waste of money.

The on/off button is less difficult to reach, though its placement on the back of the unit wouldn’t be my first choice. I’d prefer all the controls in front. And I find the charger connection tricky. The edges of the HDX are beveled, so the plug is not straight, but slightly angled. You have to be very careful when connecting it; it would be easy to damage the connector. They need to find a way to make the connector straight, not angled. It isn’t a deal breaker, but it is annoying.

The Kindle Fire HDX wakes up instantly. Zero boot time.

I got the one with the ads. They only appear on the splash screen before you unlock it. What’s the big deal?

If you own a Kindle, you are in the Amazon universe. Amazon is so integral to my life anyway, that’s fine with me. I’ve been buying books, appliances, music, movies, housewares, coffee, cameras, computers — everything except clothing — from Amazon for years. If you feel you need to spend two or three times as much for a tablet for the privilege of buying exactly the same stuff elsewhere, hey, that’s what Apple is all about.

VACATION REPORT: DAY 2 – RISING TO THE CHALLENGE

When you can’t fix it, you soldier on. Today, overcoming the series of blows that knocked out yesterday, we go forth to shop and take pictures of Cape Cod. If the Red Sox can survive last night’s defeat by Detroit, we can survive a cruddy tourist trap on Old Cape Cod.

The weather is with us, or it’s supposed to be. Hard to tell. Yesterday it was bright and beautiful early, but got dreary and chilly by early afternoon. Regardless, we’re out and about today.Until we get tired.

Ogunquit, September 2009

Ogunquit, September 2009

We’ve never had a bad vacation. Garry and I travel well together. We’ve been to awful hotels and had horrible airplane experiences.

Once, coming back from New Orleans, American cancelled our connecting flight (without so much as an explanation) and left us stranded in Atlanta.

On a flight from Israel to New York via London, British Airways left me sitting on my luggage (with all the other Israeli in-transit passengers) in Heathrow for 40 hours. It was supposed to be a 3-hour layover, but the plane broke down. BA had to bring a replacement from Italy. They didn’t even offer us cookies and tea. Or a comfortable lounge because we were merely coach passengers. It didn’t ruin my trip home, but I have never willingly flown British Airways again. I’m not quite that forgiving.

I remember when Garry and I were coming back from Florida and Delta left us sitting on the runway so long (in Philadelphia) one of the passengers went into a diabetic coma. We had to make an emergency landing in Baltimore, which was going backwards since we were in transit to Boston from Orlando.

Williamsburg 2012

Williamsburg 2012

Then there was my memorable flight between JFK and Logan, during which two out of four engines got taken out by lightning. I wasn’t sure I was going to ever see Garry again. Not to mention the poisonous mussels in Galway that left me unable to look at a mussel for the next ten years — that was our honeymoon. One vacation, I came down with German Measles but we just kept going because there wasn’t anything to be done about it anyhow.

We are, as I said, good travelers. We let bad stuff roll off and enjoy the rest. It’s hard to find anything good about this “resort,” but it will give me plenty of material for blogging mill and in the midst of a kind of grisly horror have been moments of insane hilarity. It would be silly to let it ruin our single annual week of vacation. We’d be the only losers.

Rockport, July 2010

Rockport, July 2010

Today, laden with cameras and optimism, we will sally forth to hunt for (1) a really comfortable pair of shoes for me and some great beauty shots of beach and cute Cape villages.

We’ll be back. Later, with photographs.

Gettysburg, 2012

Gettysburg, 2012

VACATION REPORT: DAY 1 – “WHAT A DUMP!”

It’s 76 miles as the road goes, but it took three hours. Which wasn’t bad considering it was a snail trail all the way. Friday night traffic is bad and the roads to the Cape are the most crowded. No matter. We were in a good mood. Patient. No screaming and cursing as we were cut off and tail-gated crawling to Cape Cod.

Baseball. The soothing cure all.

Baseball. The soothing cure-all.

Finally we got here. I got a bad feeling. You probably know what I mean. The asphalt in the parking lot is all broken. It feels dilapidated. You try to find the office and you can’t because there’s a backhoe parked in front of it. And in your heart, you know your room is directly behind the backhoe. Yup, I knew it. I asked for a different room. I just couldn’t do a week staring at the ass end of a backhoe.

“The last lady loved it. She had three little kids and said it would keep them interested.”

“We don’t have little kids. I prefer not to spend my week on the Cape up close and personal with a back hoe.” Humor? My head hurts.

The only other available unit is on the second floor. No elevator. No help with our stuff, of which there was, as usual, way too much. I had asked for a room with handicapped access. “Well,” she said, “You’d have to talk to your exchange group about that.” Right.

We needed a place to sleep. It was getting late. We were tired.

Garry had A Look. I know that look. He’s pissed, figures it’s not worth fighting over because it’s futile. He spent years on the road and he knows a dump when he sees one. And, as he points out later as he is hauling several tons of stuff up a steep flight of stairs … “We’ve stayed in worse.’

The old futon in the "living room." What a beauty!

The old futon in the “living room.” What a beauty!

Indeed we have. The place in Montreal with the hot and cold running cockroaches. That was very bad. This place IS a dump, but there are worse dumps. At least the WiFi works.

The mattress on the bed may have had some spring, a hint of softness … a long time ago. Long, long time ago. Now, it’s weary. Made bitter by hard use, it is lumpy and unforgiving. I sense 8 nights of torture awaiting us. Don’t stay at the Cape Wind in Hyannis. You’ll be sorry.

The bed is hard as a rock. The ancient futon in the living room is ugly and stained, but oddly comfortable. The TV works and the National League playoff series starts tonight. If there’s baseball, Garry is good to go. Until we hit that bed. That’s going to hurt. A lot. We brought our own pillows. Maybe I’ll sleep out here in the living room on the futon.

The bathroom. Garry looked. “It has,” he said, “A certain ‘je ne sais quoi.’ ” Yes, that certainly is true. I was laughing hysterically when I pulled out a camera and took a few shots of it. “Je ne sais quoi” like this is too good to not share.

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No baking dish. I use the broiler drip pan. I ask about getting one. Tomorrow. Hopefully. How about a bulb for the lamp in the living room? Tomorrow. Hangers for the closet? It’s a big closet, but not useful with no hangers. Tomorrow — if they have any (good luck). The dresser is tiny, just three small drawers — more like an oversized night table. I give two to Garry and decide to keep everything except my underwear in the duffel.

We moved to the futon in the living room. It took less than 15 minutes for Garry to cry “uncle.” I didn’t last that long. Now we are in the living room. If I think of this as an adventure, I might enjoy it for the sheer hilarity. You can’t make this stuff up.

It’s a dump. But, for the next week, it’s our dump.

Daily Prompt: Mix Tape Masterpiece – ANIMUSIC RESONANT CHAMBER

You make a new friend. Make them a mix tape (or playlist, for the younger folks) that tells them who you are through song.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us MUSIC. And here it is. Animusic is music made visual. If music can be seen as well as heard, ANIMUSIC makes it so! Enjoy! I own several of their DVRs and they are wonderful. You can visit their website and see what’s available. The kind of music varies from classical to hard rock to “hard-to-describe,” but all of it has the same ability to let you actually see music, every note. If you don’t normally like music, you might like this because it isn’t like anything else.

See on Scoop.it – In and About the News

I published this a while back, but I thought it deserved another appearance, especially since it’s such a perfect match with today’s prompt.

I find this piece of music haunting and sometimes, I play it over and over again and can’t get it out of my mind. There’s something about it. Turn up your speakers, then watch, listen and be awestruck!

Click on the graphic (above) to see the entire production.

Animusic specializes in the 3D visualization of MIDI-based music. Founded by Wayne Lytle, it was originally called Visual Music. It became Animusic in 1995.

The company is famous for its futuristic computer animations in which the music actually drives the animation so that what you see and the music precisely correspond. This is as close to “visual music” as you can come.

Although other musical animation productions exists, there are differences. The models for Animusic are created first, then are programmed to do what the music “tells them.” Instruments appear to be playing themselves …  instruments that could never exist yet somehow seem entirely plausible. Many people, on first seeing an Animusic production ask if the instrument or instruments really exist. I thought it was real … strange and remarkable, but real. They are startlingly realistic. Sometimes very funny, too.

See also on www.youtube.com

WHAT’S THE SCOOP?

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It seems to me the importance of whatever is going on in the world has an inverse relationship to the amount of attention it gets in the press. By “press,” I’m referring to newspapers, radio, television and other traditional news outlets, newer stuff like social networks, websites and blogs. Plus even newer sources of information such as newsletters and email. “Press” is the collective dissemination of information from a wide variety of perspectives and mediums. These days, it’s a free-for-all. If you care about truth and facts, you will need to do some independent reality checking.

News is loosely defined as whatever news people say it is. Whether or not this actually is news is subjective. The control of news content is not, as many people think, in the hands of reporters or even editors and publishers. Whatever controls exist are defined in corporate boardrooms run by guys like Rupert Murdoch who have no vested interest in keeping us well-informed. The news biz is about power, politics and money. Mostly money. It’s business, not public service.

That would, in theory, make “independent” sources — bloggers, for example — more “honest” … but don’t bet on it. Everybody’s got an agenda. Independence doesn’t equate to accuracy or honesty. They may not be beholden to a corporation or sponsors, but that doesn’t make them neutral or fair. They may be … but then again, maybe not. I’ve read blogs so blatantly lacking in any kind of journalistic ethics it shocked me. I am not easily shocked.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Pri...

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledge applause during a Joint Session of Congress in which President Jimmy Carter announced the results of the Camp David Accords. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure exactly when news stopped being stories about important stuff going on in the world and became whatever will generate a big audience likely buy the sponsors’ products. Money has always driven the news to some degree, but not like today. Now, everything seems to be driven by the bottom-line. It hasn’t improved the quality of the news. Once upon a time, important issues and stories got a free pass, an exemption from needing to have “sex appeal.” Significant news got on the air even if it wasn’t sexy or likely to sell products. Not true any more.

For a brief shining period from World War II through the early 196os and perhaps a bit beyond, the “Ed Murrow” effect was a powerful influence in American news. Reporters were invigorated by getting respect for their work and tried to be “journalists” rather than muckrakers.

When I was growing up, Walter Cronkite was The Man. He carried such an aura of integrity and authority I thought he should be president not merely of the U.S., but of the world. Who would argue with Walter Cronkite? He sat next to God in the newsroom and some of us had a sneaking suspicion God personally told him what was important. If Walter said it was true, we believed. Thus when Cronkite became the guy to get Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat to sit down and talk — the beginning of the Camp David Accords — it seemed natural and right. Who was more trustworthy than Uncle Walter? Who carried more authority? He walked in the glow of righteousness.

UncleWalterOld

He always made my mother giggle. It was not Walter, the reporter or man who made her laugh. It was his name. “Cronkite” in Yiddish means ailment, so every time his name was announced, my mother, who had a wild and zany sense of humor, was reduced to incoherent choking laughter. It was a nightly event. Eventually she got herself under control sufficiently to watch the news, but the sound of her barely contained merriment did nothing to improve the gravity I felt should surround the news.

To this day, the first thing I think of when I hear Walter Cronkite’s name — something that less and less frequently as the younger generations forget everything that happened before Facebook — is the sound of my mother’s laughter. That’s not entirely bad, come to think of it.

Walter was one of Ed Murrow’s boys, his hand-picked crew at CBS News.

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I can only wonder what the chances are of any of us living to see a return to news presented as news and not as entertainment. Where reporters and anchors check and doublecheck sources before broadcasting a story. Today, Jon Stewart’s comedy news The Daily Show gives us more accurate news than does the supposed “real” news, I like Stewart, but I don’t think this is the way it’s supposed to be.

For a look at the how we got from there to here, two movies spring instantly to mind : Network — a 1976 American satirical film written by the great Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet starring Faye DunawayWilliam HoldenPeter Finch, and Robert Duvall. Its dark vision of the future of news has turned out to be very close to reality. Too close for comfort.

The other, for veterans of the TV wars, is Broadcast News, a 1987 comedy-drama film written, produced and directed by James L. Brooks. The film concerns a virtuoso television news producer (Holly Hunter), who has daily emotional breakdowns, a brilliant yet prickly reporter (Albert Brooks) and his charismatic but far less seasoned rival (William Hurt). When it first came out, it was almost too painful to watch.

And finally, Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom …the HBO series that gives the most realistic look at how it works and sometimes, how it fails … and why it matters.

The world goes on. We think we can’t survive without this or that. We think the world will go completely to Hell without real news and serious reporters but we survive. Maybe the worse for wear, but trucking along. Nonetheless, I’d like real news back on the air. I’d like to see a return to fact-based reporting. I know how old-fashioned that is, but I wish I could believe what I read, what I see, what I hear. I miss being able to trust the information I get. I would like to be less cynical or at the least, discover my cynicism was misplaced.

Just saying.

Daily Prompt: Riding the rails at Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens, August 10, 2012.

Loch Ness Monster roller coaster at Busch Gard...

Loch Ness Monster roller coaster at Busch Gardens Europe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was early. We don’t get up so early these days. It’s one of the few privileges of getting older, but in August, southern Virginia is hot. If we were going to do anything, we needed to get moving before the full heat of the day closed in. We rented a pair of mobility scooters, one for each of us. Not cheap, but fun is much more fun when you aren’t too tired to do anything.

By ten in the morning, it was well above 90 degrees. Busch Gardens is a big park, which means a lot of walking … too much for us. The scooters turned out to be a great investment. While they didn’t change the weather, they made it less of an issue.

I pretended to be the Road Runner, speeding around calling “beep beep” as we navigated the park, dodging kids, their grownups, and all kinds of inanimate obstacles.

I was very focused. I was there for the big roller coasters. I wanted that burst of adrenaline. There are not, at our age, a lot of ways to get an excitement buzz. Stress is easy, but excitement is hard.

First stop Loch Ness. Why Loch Ness? It was the first stop on the park’s railroad. After a relatively short wait, we were locked into our seats and on our way.

Loch Ness is a long coaster. Loops, inside out and upside down barrel rolling loop-the-loops … and nobody warned me about the tunnel. Heart pounding, we were tossed this way and that, spinning, yelping and screaming. And laughing. As the coaster drew to a close, it was time to tally our injuries. I’m pretty sure I had a separated shoulder, bruised patella, and messed up left hip. Garry needed a neck brace.

The video of the Loch Ness coaster does not do it justice. It’s a lot more intense than it looks.Just saying.

We broke for lunch and did a few of the tamer rides. Apollo’s Chariot was up next. It has a heart-stopping first drop crazy twists, turns and barrel rolls that do a pretty good job tossing you around. It is kind of short ride … maybe 3 or 4 minutes.

So what was it like?

Holy……AHHHHHHHHHH…..oooh …. ouch, there goes my right knee. Ow, ooh, damn, I think I just dislocated my left shoulder.

Where are we? Yeow, oh my GOD … upside down and twist and ahhhhhhhh…. ouch, ooh, other knee … did I just break my knee?

Like that.

That pretty much finished us for the day. I would have done one more, but Garry felt strongly that he preferred to be able to leave under his own power. So we did a little tee-shirt shopping, a few rides of a gentler kind, then called it a day.

The excitement does end, I fear. But the videos help us remember!

The Porcelain Unicorn – A Miniature Movie

unicornThe back story (thanks to Sharla  at catnipoflife). Usually I reblog such posts, but posts with embedded video don’t reblog or scoop properly.

British film director Sir Ridley Scott created an international film making contest titled “Tell It Your Way.” More than 600 aspiring directors entered.

Release Date – August 2010
Genre – Historical / Drama
Awards – Grand prize winner of the Philips Parallel Lines ‘Tell It Your Way’ international competition.

Starring – Trevor Teichmann, Fiona Perry
Directed By – Keegan Wilcox
Screenplay By  – Keegan Wilcox
Produced By – Anselm Clinard

The requirements were that the  film could be a maximum 3 minutes long, contain no more than six lines of dialogue or narrative, and present a compelling story. The winner was  “Porcelain Unicorn” from American director Keegan Wilcox.

It presents a lyrical, touching story of an act of conscience and kindness of a boy  to a girl in a time a great peril … and their reunion many years later.

To me, it’s the story of how a single act of conscience can change the course of lives. If this little movie doesn’t touch your heart, I don’t know what will.

True Grit (2010)

True_Grit_PosterHaving just watched the 1969 version of the film starring John Wayne, I thought it was time to see the remake. I usually avoid remakes of favorite movies, and the original True Grit is a favorite. I have always thought it was the Duke’s best performance, portraying a character full of life and humor.

I made an exception for this particular remake. I figured if anyone could do a credible Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges was the guy to do it. So the day after watching the original, we fired up the Roku, popped over to Netflix and selected True Grit.

Ahead of shooting, Ethan Coen said that the film would be a more faithful adaptation of the novel than the 1969 version. It’s partly a matter of the perspective from which we see the story unfold. The book is written from the point of view of a 14-year-old girl. Thus, it has a certain feel to it, very different from th first movie which was clearly skewed to a John Wayne sensibility.

The book is known for being funnier than the original movie … but the remake is not lighter or more humorous than the original movie. It may be more faithful to the book in some ways, but honestly, I didn’t see a huge difference in attitude, perspective or even the story from the first movie. In fact, the two movies are different … but not hugely different. Different scripts, actors and so on with the differences that inevitably arise from these changes, but in fact, the remake is darker and more violent than the 1969 movie. It is not only darker in feeling, it’s visually darker and a great deal of the action takes place at night.

A Grievance – Slight Digression

This makes It hard on the eyes when viewed on television and I really wish the people who press the DVDs would take into consideration that watching on the big screen and watching at home are two very different visual experiences. Lighten it up when you put it on DVD please. And rebalance the audio so the sound effects and music do not completely overwhelm the voices … requiring closed captions to have any idea what anyone is saying. This is especially annoying, especially when I’ve just paid a premium for Blu-ray.

Television does not render darkness as well as big screens do. But movies these days don’t spend much time in theatres. They have them out on DVD faster than a speeding bullet, often before they’ve finished their first theatrical run. Considering that the majority of a movie’s life will be on DVD, shown at home on smaller screens, directors might take that into consideration and brighten these movies up a bit. I don’t want to put a damper on anyone’s art, but shouldn’t the actual viewing conditions under which most people will see the picture carry some weight? I’m just saying.

And now, back to our main feature, already in progress

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Much of the original movie’s dialogue is identical in the 2010 version. The best and most important scenes in both versions are word for word the same. Between those signature scenes, the dialogue is different. The character of Cogburn is very similar in some way, but very different in others. Wayne’s taciturn old marshal contrasts sharply with Jeff Bridges’ loquacious  version whose Rooster Cogburn talks a blue streak.

Hailee Steinfield’s Mattie Ross is more like her original character than Bridges’ Cogburn is like Wayne’s.

None of this is real criticism. This is a good movie on its own merits. It stands on its own legs. Obviously the two movies derive from the same source, but despite large amounts of identical dialogue, the two movies feel very different. If you had never seen the original and didn’t compare them, I would simply say the 2010 True Grit is a good western with fine performances.

But it’s a remake and there’s no avoiding comparisons. It may not be entirely fair, but it’s inevitable. Some of the scenes, when the dialogue is the same in both, are not only played the same way — Bridges even manages to do the “Duke’s walk” — they are shot the same way. Several key scenes are pretty much identical, frame by frame. Then, the movies diverge only to come together again a bit further down the  cinematic path. The convergence-divergence pattern can be disconcerting.

Regardless, you could never mistake this for an old-fashioned western.Its gritty, dark texture is typical of modern westerns. It isn’t necessarily an improvement, but it’s a constant visible reminder that this is a recent film, not an older one.

Characters are less heroic and more ambivalent. True Grit makes a moderately successful attempt to integrate both old and new, moving back and forth, mixing John Ford with Clint Eastwood. Sometimes it feel a bit disconnected and jumpy, leaping from familiar dialogue common to both movies, to completely different dialogue and mood … with no bridge. Whoa, I cry … where are we now? The sudden shifts might actually be a continuity and/or editing issue, but as a member of the audience, I can’t tell the why of it, only discuss the result.

TRUE GRIT

There’s no cheery ending for the new True Grit. It’s not sad, but it’s not happy either.

If I had to choose, I prefer the original, but the remake is a good movie too. Jeff Bridges is a great actor. The entire cast is excellent. Perhaps the comparison is unfair and it’s better to take each movie on its own merits. That being said, I am not likely to watch the 2010 True Grit a second time. Too grim for my taste, though I appreciated the art that went into its making.

How you feel about each movie is of course subjective. Two good films, genetically related. Take your pick. You won’t go far wrong either way.

Garry Armstrong: The Movie Maven’s Take

Reading Marilyn’s review of the True Grit remake, the obvious occurred to me. I am a child of the old school of movies. My heroes and heroines are the stars from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. My film morality sensibilities have been shaped and nurtured by movies from Hollywood’s “golden era” through the 60’s. Not surprisingly, John Wayne is probably my favorite movie star. “Star” not actor. I thoroughly enjoyed Wayne’s “True Grit”.

His “Rooster Cogburn” was a sum of all the heroes Wayne had played for 40 years. Older, fatter and more prone to corn liquor, Rooster’s sense of morality was still pretty simple. There was good and bad and few in-betweens. Wayne nailed all that with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Wayne was Rooster and Rooster was Wayne. The original’s end with Rooster frozen in frame and time as he and his horse leap a fence is “print the legend” stuff.  Veteran director Henry Hathaway (“The Sons of Katie Elder”, etc), is in familiar territory and gives the original “Grit” lots of traditional, old school western flavor.

All that said, Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn in the “True Grit” remake is also memorable and can stand alone. Jeff Bridges as an actor can stand alone. He invests his own irascible charm into “Rooster” while paying homage to the Duke. Matt Damon’s “LaBeouf” is much better and more complex than Glenn Campbell’s Texas Ranger in the original. Josh Brolin gives Tom Chaney much more depth and compassion than acting school guru Jeff Corey gave the original villain. I still prefer Robert Duvall’s “Lucky Ned Pepper” but Barry (“61″) Pepper is also pretty good in the remake.

The remake gives us an extended look at Mattie with an ending closer to the book than the original film. Hailee Steinfeld is her own Mattie — equal to Kim Darby’s offering in the original. So, while I can enjoy the “True Grit” remake, I am still very partial to the Duke’s original film. Arguments?? That’ll be the day!!

Related articles

Garry Armstrong on Martin Luther King

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For my friends and followers who are fans of my husband, the Legend, here’s a link to his recent on-air piece this past Wednesday on New England Cable News.

Broadside, with Jim Braude, is a live half-hour news analysis and commentary show. The subject of the day was remembering Martin Luther King, discussing his memorial and the 50th anniversary of his “I have a dream” speech.

Garry was at the March On Washington and talked with Dr. King on that day and on other occasions. He shared some memories.

Here is a link to the taped segment if you’d like to see him “in action,” so to speak.

Good going Garry!

Watch Out for the Pod People!

Everything and everybody changes. Most of my family and friends have changed relatively gradually over the years. Recently a couple of people I’ve known for a long time have changed suddenly and dramatically. Overnight, they became dry and humorless.

It appears they had a humorectomy. While they slept, their sense of humor was removed. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it’s deeply disturbing. I think it’s possible they have been replaced by pods, like the  “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

I could not survive if I did not see how ridiculous my life is. If the absurdity of it didn’t make me laugh, I would do nothing buy cry and bewail my state. Laughter heals me. It’s better than sex. Better than yoga, meditation, medication, or street drugs. It’s free, unrestricted by laws, available to anyone who is not yet dead and is acceptable behavior under almost all religious systems.

Many friends are going through rough times. Their problems vary, but the results are the same. Stress, anguish, fear, worry, insomnia. You worry, try to keep it together until you’re ready to explode.

What can you do? If the light at the end of the tunnel is indeed the headlight of an oncoming train, I say: “Buckle up and let your hair blow in the wind. It’s going to be a Hell of a ride.”

Laughing at the craziness, insanity, ludicrousness, the utter absurdity of my life — and the demented world in which I live it — is my first line of defense against despair. Take away laughter, strip away my sense of humor and I’m a goner.

At our wedding — 22 years ago — my cousin and I danced the hora. What makes the dance so memorable  — other than discovering that she was in great shape and I wasn’t — was feeling like I was going to spin out of control.  That feeling of being grabbed by something stronger than me and being twirled and spun with no ability to control what happens has become an allegory for life.

I laugh any time I can, at anything that strikes me as even a little bit funny. It helps me remember why I bother to keep living.

My friends make me laugh. I make then laugh. When our lives are in tatters and everything around us is collapsing, we laugh. Then, we take a deep breath, and laugh some more. The more awful the situation, the more dreadful and intractable the problems, the funnier it is. We are not laughing at tragedy … we are laughing at life.

The difference between tragedy and comedy is how you look at it. Laugher is the universal cure for griefs of life.

Ouch … Oof … Holy Sh*t!

English: the Loch Ness Monster and Alpengeist ...

We got to Busch Gardens on August 10, 2012. It was pretty early in the morning, especially since we are long past being morning people. I’m sometimes still an early riser, but Garry is a late sleeper. It’s his reward for a lot of years of never getting enough sleep.

We indulged on renting a couple of electric scooters for Garry and I. Pricey at $90 each. I spend less on motel rooms, but I am so glad we did. They were worth every penny and were fun, too.

It was hot, well over 90 degrees. Busch Gardens is spacious … which translates to a lot of walking. The scooters took the pain out of it. Other than feeling a like Road Runner yelling “beep beep” as we navigated the park, dodging kids and their grownups, we came out of the day feeling pretty good.

What did we do?

Not as much as I wanted, but for two senior citizens, probably more than enough. Even though we weren’t hoofing it, it’s still a big park. There’s considerable distances from one ride to another, from one exhibit to the next. Getting from place to place eats a lot of time, so if you intend to do it all (unlikely, but you can try), plan on being there a very long day. Or two. Or more.

We arrived around 11 and left around 5:30. We only managed 5 rides, grabbed some lunch, and spent a little time looking at eagles and wolves. The eagles and wolves looked about as hot and sweaty as we felt. I felt sorry for them. That’s no kind of life for wild creatures. We wasted no time. Except for a 45 minute lunch break, we were on the move the entire time.

We rode two roller coasters: Apollo’s Chariot and Loch Ness. We never made it to the “baddest” of the coasters, the Verbolten and Griffon. But I think we did enough.

The layout of Apollo’s Chariot.

Apollo’s Chariot has a first drop that’s pretty heart stopping, some twists, turns, and barrel rolls that do a pretty good job tossing you around. It is also a very short ride … maybe 3 or 4 minutes. Which is enough, thank you.

“After latching in, riders hear a typical dispatch message, “Thank you, and enjoy your voyage to the sun on the wings of Apollo’s Chariot!” The train climbs a 170 foot lift hill. When the train finally reaches the peak, it drops down a few feet in a pre-drop. The pre-drop serves to reduce the stress and pull of the chain. After the pre-drop, riders drop 210 feet toward a water-filled ravine at a 65 degree angle and reaching speeds of 73 mph. At the end of the ravine, the train enters a second airtime hill with a 131 foot drop. A short narrow above ground tunnel is at the bottom of the second drop. Then after the third hill, the train descends a 144 foot drop, which banks to the left as it descends. Then there is a large, upward helix which pulls 4.1 Gs. Coming out of the helix, there is a small drop, then a climbing right turn into the block brake. A sudden dive off the block leads into a bunny hop parallel to the ride’s initial plunge. Then, the ride features an overbanked turn under the lift hill, just dodging one of the support columns. After this, the train makes a left hand turn, and at the end the is a camel hump hill and drop into a ditch where the on-ride photo is located. Then the train enters the final brakes. After a left turn, the riders return to the station.” From Wikipedia.

Loch Ness is a different story. It is a long coaster, the longest I’ve ever ridden. Lots of upside down barrel rolling loop-the-loops and nobody warned me about the tunnel. As we went around, tightly locked in, I somehow was able to emerge with what I think is a separated shoulder, a bruised patella, and possibly a permanently damaged left hip. Garry probably should be in a neck brace.

“The Loch Ness Monster is a roller coaster located of Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Designed by Ron Toomer of Arrow Dynamics, the Loch Ness Monster was the world’s tallest roller coaster when it opened in 1978. It was the first coaster to contain interlocking loops. In 2008, the ride celebrated its 30th anniversary.

The ride, located in the Scottish themed area of the park, also features a helix tunnel, two lift hills and a 114-foot (35 m) drop, is classified as an American Coaster Enthusiasts Coaster Landmark.” 

English: The Loch Ness Monster roller coaster ...

The Loch Ness Monster roller coaster’s inter-locking loops.

As the train starts to move, a voice recording says, “Thank you, and enjoy your ride on the legendary Loch Ness Monster!” After departing from the station, the train reaches the 130-foot (40 m) lift hill with a small and tight turn (with views of Apollo’s Chariot’s lift hill and first drop) bringing it to a 114-foot (35 m) drop towards the park’s Rhine River below. A large upward hill crosses over the park’s ‘Land of the Dragons’ and trim brakes bring riders to the first of the two interlocking loops. After the loop, the train makes a turn and to a block brake, which then leads into a covered tunnel/helix.

Inside the tunnel, the train makes 2.75 circular turns before coming to the end of the tunnel. The tunnel has had various lights and special effects over the years, including a light up picture of the cartoon Loch Ness Monster, and now has one strobe that goes off at about the beginning of the second revolution. The on-ride photo was once taken inside the tunnel, but has since been changed to a position after the second loop. As the train exits the tunnel at the end of the helix a small brake run slows the train to ascend a smaller second lift hill.

The train makes a wide turn after the lift and drops downward into the second loop. It then goes uphill again before being brought to a stop by the final brake.”  From Wikipedia.

I want to mention that the video on the Loch Ness coaster does not do it justice. It’s a lot more intense than the video would indicate. And longer.

We passed on the other four big bad roller coasters and though I feel I have failed to meet my obligation to ride all the most evil roller coasters in this lifetime, the time may finally have come for me to accept I am not a kid anymore. These coasters make the Cyclone seem tame. Except for the actual danger factor. That’s where the Cyclone takes the prize because it’s old. There is always a real possibility it’s going to kill you dead for real and all.

When you ride the Cyclone, it’s hard to not notice how old it IS. It shakes. It’s rickety. In addition to whatever fear is generated by speed and dips and getting flung around, there’s the actual possibility that it’s going to collapse with you on it. I’ve thought that since I was 8. It hasn’t done it yet, but it could.

Busch Gardens inspects each ride, each coaster, every 4 hours. If there is anything that doesn’t seem perfect, they walk the track, foot by foot, checking to make sure that everything is as it should be. This means that there are a lot of time outs for maintenance and you just wait while they double and triple check everything.

Loch Ness Monster , montagnes russes à Busch G...

That’s fine with me. It makes the rides less scary in a real life way, but not less fun … or less painful. I’m pretty sure the Cyclone wouldn’t make the cut. I think they inspect it at the beginning of the season and if a piece falls off (it happens, really, I’ve seen it) they check to see if it’s a critical piece. No? Roll on, roll on.

So here’s how it goes. Having survived the “easiest” coaster, Apollo’s Chariot with a nearly vertical drop, we proceeded to the Loch Ness Monster. Second coaster. Up, up, up, up. Boy, we sure are going up a long way. Golly. Then, pause. Look down.

Holy……AHHHHHHHHHH…..oooh …. ouch, there goes my right knee. Ow, ooh, damn, I think I just dislocated my left shoulder. Upside dooooown … holy sh*t … yikes. Hey, why is it so dark … what’s this tunnel? Nobody told me about a tunnel. Where the hell are we? Yeow, oh my GOD … upside down and twist and ahhhhhhhh…. ouch, ooh, other knee … did I just break that patella?

Let’s get some lunch, okay? Let’s visit some animals. Buy a tee-shirt.

After that, we went on a nice virtual airplane trip through Europe, and spooky Dark Kastle in Germany, something that spun around and was, for us, a kiddy ride, but people were actually screaming (wimps). And then, on our little electric scooters, we headed for the gate and back to the hotel. The old people have their feet up, reruns of NCIS on television.

Alive to tell our tale.

So if you are over 65, but nonetheless will be damned rather than not do that cool stuff, just be aware that there’ll be a few bruised parts and maybe a few missing pieces at the end of your day. Glad I did it. Not sure I’ll do it again.

Singing In the Rain – 1952 – A Sunday “Best of the Best” Review

Cover of "Singin' in the Rain (Two-Disc S...

Turner Classics was playing it and we had to watch it. It really never gets old. And they’ve cleaned up and remastered it for sound and pictures, so it sparkles like the gem it is.

Sometimes, it’s not hard to figure out why a particular movie becomes a classic. Singin’ in the Rain, a 1952 American musical comedy starring Gene KellyDonald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds and directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, with Kelly also providing the choreography is magic.

There is a lot of back story to this movie.  Debbie Reynolds hasn’t been shy about sharing her story, the dissatisfaction of Kelly at having to work with Reynolds — who had to be taught to dance for her role. By the end of each day of shooting, her feet would be bleeding. Kelly was a perfectionist and a bit of a slave driver. But it’s hard to argue with the result.

Whatever was going on behind the scenes, the result is a masterpiece. Sixty-one years after the original opening, it’s fresh and funny, and the choreography is a wonder and carefully works around Debbie Reynolds more limited dancing skills. If you watch “Good Morning” carefully, notice how often she is posed while Kelly and O’Connor carry the most complex parts.

The plot is a light-hearted look at the movie business during the transition from silent to talking movies.

There had been several versions of Singing In the Rain before, but none of them enjoyed the success of this version. Rightfully so. It’s delightful. After more than 60 years, it still plays beautifully. A pleasure to watch and a family favorite. Many great musicals have been produced since this classic. Many were and are brilliant, but although they may be as good, they are not better. In many way, Singing in the Rain set the bar.

Until they make a new Gene Kelly, they won’t improve on it.

English: Gene Kelly and girls in Singin' in th...

It was greeted with no great enthusiasm when released, yet with each passing year, its popularity grows. That is, perhaps, the true definition of a classic when the years only increase respect for a film. Time has not diminished Singin’ In the Rain.