FILM REVIEW: LA CARA OCULTA (2011) – THE HIDDEN FACE

hidden-face-posterThe Hidden Face (La Cara Oculta) is a supremely dark movie, literally and figuratively. The subject is dark and most of the movie takes place in dim light or actual darkness.

At first glance, I thought it was going to be a whodunnit and I was good with that. But early on, the plot became obvious, so what remained was a race against time. The overall story is standard thriller cum police drama “missing person” stuff.  As the movie opens, we watch a “dear john” video from a young woman leaving her boyfriend with minimal explanation (but a lot of subtext). Her boyfriend (who we will soon learn is a renowned orchestral conductor) watches the video. Apparently baffled, miserable, in despair. It’s a flashback, because the film immediately moves forward to “now” as he meets someone new and begins a relationship. The story flashes back again. Despite how it sounds, the flashing back and forth is not confusing,  just tricky to write about.

Into precisely what genre The Hidden Face fits is murky.

It’s creepy, but not a horror movie. It’s a mystery, but so briefly no detective work is required. I was surprised at how soon in the film lays the whole story out. It eliminated any element of surprise or mystery, leaving creepiness without suspense. Does that make it sort-of horror? A ghost story without a ghost? Secrets don’t stay secrets long. The film put everything out there, up front.

The film would benefit from a tighter edit. Too many beauty shots  of the stars walking on the beach, ambling along by the river, looking sad, staring into mirrors (many mirrors, lots of staring), suffering, pondering, despairing. You could trim a lot of it without compromising the story. Fewer shots of Fab walking, thinking, pondering, Adri conducting, flirting, suffering, yada yada. That much B-roll is directorial self-indulgence and it gets old quickly.

After the who-done-what is revealed, the movie becomes a race against the clock. The only remaining question is who will win the race. That’s when I started to lose interest. The situation was indeed creepy, even horrible. But very little was happening and although nothing much is happening, it takes a rather long time to not happen. Back to the editing room!

Have I seen anything like this before? Yes.

Even before they show you everything, there are plenty of tells for anyone familiar with mystery or horror stories. Moreover, the plot is classic and everyone will recognize it. Think fairy tale crossed with Edgar Allen Poe. I believe the movie’s writers assume the situation, the premise itself, will generate sufficient tension without action. No need for story. It doesn’t work for me.  I need a story. So this movie wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m a coffee drinker. If you like tea, you might love it.

hidden-face-stillThe cinematography is moody and broody. I appreciate the artistry. The “sexy scenes” were just that. Nothing pornographic about them. Had the overall tone of the film not been so edgy, it might have been romantic, even titillating. The sense of “something wrong” overshadows all else and the foreboding short-circuits potential erotica.

My aging eyes I would have preferred more light (as in wattage). The poor quality print may have contributed to the problem because it was difficult to focus on the picture, but most of the film takes place at night or in shadow so it wasn’t brightly lit to start with. After repeated copying of the original print, there was considerable squinting involved for me. Not a movie for the weak of vision.

Did I enjoy it? I liked the beginning a lot. I like the middle, mostly. By the end, I was eager for it to be over. Would I recommend it? It depends on who’s asking. I really wanted to like it, but I couldn’t get into it or wrap my head around it. If the tale had unfolded in a normal timeline rather than flashing back and forth, that might have helped. Maybe. I wish they had saved some surprises for the second half.

The situation was eerie, but for a movie to work for me, I need more. I need a story. Characters to whom I can in some way relate. Interesting dialogue. In this case any dialogue would have helped. Maybe I’m just not artistic enough to appreciate the nuances, but from where I sit, the problem was not too much nuance. It was too little.

BINGE WATCHING “OUTLANDER” by ELLIN CURLEY

I am currently binge-watching a show called “Outlander” on Starz. I’m late to the game on this one.  It is in its second season and has legions of loyal fans.

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It takes place in the lush and magnificent Highlands of Scotland and the time period switches back and forth between 1945 and 1745. I am a huge time travel fan so this is a big draw for me. However the butterfly effect is totally ignored. No attention is paid to the fact that the main character would be changing the timeline right and left as she went through each day two hundred years in the past. This is not an intellectual or theoretical endeavor.

The story centers on a married, British WWII nurse who is sucked back in time to 1745 Scotland. She ends up married to and madly in love with (in that order), a young Scottish gentleman who has a price on his head by the British occupiers.

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For me, the key to “Outlander’s” success is that it focuses narrowly on these two main characters – the nurse, Claire and her 1745 husband, Jamie. The subsidiary characters have few plot lines of their own. They are almost exclusively seen with and in relation to Claire and Jamie, which intensifies the viewers’ connection with them. They are both richly complex and appealing characters, played by extraordinarily talented and attractive actors. They are riveting to watch and their fascinating relationship changes and deepens as time goes by.

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The show highlights period costumes and period customs. There is also plenty of romance, nudity and beautiful sex scenes. The writing is fantastic although the heavy dialects often make it hard to understand all of the dialogue. The balance is spot on between high drama and intimate moments; between politics (at all levels) and personal relationships; and between heavy, dark plot lines (including lots of sword fights) and humor and humanity.

On top of everything else, the theme song is permanently stuck in my head as well as my husband’s. The melody is a lyrical old Celtic tune and the lyrics used here are based on a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. The song permeates the lush background music and adds atmosphere throughout the series.

I’m usually circumspect about what I recommend to other people on TV, especially when it requires an investment of 16 hours, just for the first season! However, the variety of people who have extolled this show to me makes me confident that it will appeal to a wide range of blog readers as well.

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If you’ve already seen it, tell me what YOU think of it. If you watch it in the future, you’re in for a real treat.

IT’S TRUE! I SAW IT ON THE NEWS!

Introduction – Garry Armstrong


I remember discussions about news coverage more than 50 years ago.  My college radio colleagues and I thought the mainstream media outlets were sellouts, ignoring the real stories and covering their collective butts with government propaganda. Some of us vowed to seek employment with the CBC, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where we would have a greater chance to tell the truth.

skydivingLuck intervened and I landed a job with ABC Network News as a 20 something. ABC, coincidentally, was revamping its national and international news format. They wanted new blood. We were encouraged to be fresh and innovative. Newbie newsies like me leapfrogged over veterans from the advent of radio and TV news.

The late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were the new “golden era” for broadcast news. We had access to newsmakers in the highest places. We were emboldened to take chances even when threatened by power brokers. I always worked in the moment, never fearing the consequences of political windmills I might tilt.

It was a Camelot period for those of us who sought to report the truth. Then everything began to change.

Fast forward ahead to today and the proliferation of 24 hour cable news and social media. Camelot is dead. News — local and network — is controlled by corporate entertainment divisions.

Newbie newsies today don’t have the support or access I did half a century ago, but they still have a bully pulpit and should use it — if they have the courage and conviction to try to create change.


AND NOW, THE NEWS … ALREADY IN PROGRESS


Garry was a news guy for more than 40 years. For most of those years, he was a reporter. You could watch him on television pretty much every day. He covered breaking news. Murder, fires, disasters. Blizzards, hurricanes, politics. Riots. Court cases. Wherever something was happening, there he was. I knew the news from both sides. How it was made, how come some stories got on the air and others did not. What made a story “hot” and why. I have no illusions about the accuracy of media, but I also know how hard reporters work.

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Reporters mostly don’t choose what they report. They can enterprise projects and sometimes get the green light to do something they believe in. And of course, a reporter can request to be put on a particular story. Sometimes they get a yes, sometimes no. Reporters are employees. They have bosses. The news directors and their directors. Not to mention the people who own the corporation and the sponsors who pay the bills.

Way back in the 1970s, news became entertainment. Before that, it was public service. Maybe it will be again, someday, but for now, news has to make money and get ratings. Therefore, the news will be full of whatever stories news outlets think we want. Hopefully this isn’t a surprise to anyone. You all knew this, right?

That’s how we have wound up with Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. He was entertaining. He brought in viewers and ratings. We watched. Love him or hate him, we tuned in to see him. Now, we stand in imminent danger of seeing a lot more of the Trump than most of us imagined in our darkest nightmares. You get what you pay for.

We expect a lot from news and those who report it. We expect honesty. Stories based on truth. Facts. We hold the news to a higher standard than we hold ourselves. How’s that working out for you? Not so good?

We are all responsible for seeking truth. We don’t have to believe lies. Nobody would get away with making stuff up and presenting it as truth — or news — if we were not predisposed to embrace it. We will get accountability and accuracy from media only when we demand it.

As a final note of irony, apparently the Brits are now — just a wee bit late — Googling “European Union” to discover what they actually voted to dissolve. That’s what happens when you believe what they tell you because it’s what you want to hear.

THE DAILY POST | FALSE

A GREAT AMERICAN BIRTHDAY PARTY – 2016

Yankee Doodle Dandy

It’s the 4th of July again! We are planning to watch the most spectacular fireworks display anywhere,  the 1812 Overture accompanied by howitzers and fireworks over the Charles River in Boston … where arguably, it all began.

There more than a hint of bitter-sweetness to this years celebration.

David Mugar, who has supported and made possible this fantastic show seen round the world, is retiring after this show. He has been the grand master and primary support for this show for 43 years … and no one has stepped up to the plate to take over the festivities. Boston’s long-running Independence Day event may be at its end.

Which would be very sad because there’s nothing like it. The music, the orchestra, the river …. the hundreds of thousands of people who literally wait all year and for hours in line before the event because it really IS that good.

When we lived in Boston, we actually got to see the fireworks live and hear the concert from our balcony in the apartment where we lived.

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If we wanted to get even closer, we could stroll a few hundred yards, see and hear the entire event from the Arthur Fiedler footbridge over the Charles.

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It was the best view in town and though watching it on television is okay, now that we live way out here in the country, there is nothing that beats being there.

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Boston has been doing better since the horrors of the terrible marathon year and David Mugar has been a big part of the recovery. He deserves his very own parade and celebration for the good he has done for this city.

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Now it’s time to watch Yankee Doodle Dandy, assuming someone is showing it. If not, we have a DVD. Yes, I know we saw it just a couple of weeks ago, but I need my music and dance fix.

When Garry and I were growing up in New York, “Million Dollar Movie” showed the movie frequently. Albeit with bizarre edits and often, using a grainy, tired copy of the film … but for us kids, it was enough. We learned the words, songs, the dances, the spirit.

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Tonight, we’ watch again as James Cagney dances down the steps in the White House. We always replay it half a dozen times. Can’t get enough of it. In case you feel the same way, I’ve included it so you can replay it as many times as you want. What a great movie! Happy Birthday to US!

This is the beginning of American autonomy, when we stepped off the sidelines and entered the mainstream of the world’s history and politics. Let’s hope we remember that what we do matters, not only to us, but to the entire world. We aren’t a little colony anymore. We’ve moved up to “the Bigs.”

Autonomy | The Daily Post

IN PRAISE OF THE OLD-FASHIONED MUSICAL by ELLIN CURLEY

I normally wouldn’t write a blog about a Broadway show since most blog readers would not have the opportunity to ever see the show themselves. However, I just saw “She Loves Me”, a delightful and thoroughly enjoyable musical that most of you will be able to see because the show is being filmed, live. It will be streamed starting on June 30. So you too can revel in this charming piece, with the added benefits of close-ups, which I didn’t get in my viewing from the nose bleed seats high in the Mezzanine.

“She Loves Me” was nominated for a Tony Award for best revival of a musical. It also got glowing reviews, all well deserved. It was often referred to as “old-fashioned” and “a jewel of a musical”. Those phrases aptly describe it’s character and ambiance.

It is definitely an old style romance set in a Parfumerie in 1934 Budapest. The story is based on the book that also provided the plots for two movies, “The Shop Around The Corner” and “You’ve Got Mail”. The latter is the more modern, computer age version. In all three, the main characters work together and don’t get along. However, unbeknownst to them, they are falling in love as anonymous “pen pals” through a lonely hearts club (an online dating service in “You’ve Got Mail”).

Ice Cream Scene

In the show, there are seven main characters who work in the Parfumerie. Each has his own plot line and solo number. The delivery boy who dreams of being a sales clerk; the brown-nosing employee who will do anything to keep his job; the young woman who is “used” by the womanizing co-worker she is having an affair with. You get to know and like all these people as well as the verbally sparring leads.

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The dialogue is well written and quite funny. The sets are sophisticated and beautiful, as are the costumes. The lead actors are perfect. The music is melodic and the lyrics artfully develop character and move the plot along. The staging and choreography are brilliant, intricate and fast-paced. The full cast, including eleven subsidiary characters, work together like a well oiled machine.

The show creates a sense of intimacy that you don’t get often any more in the musical theater. I prefer like this kind of “small,” character driven show. It’s the thing theater can do better than movies or TV. Seeing this kind of show gives you an experience you wan’t readily get from other entertainment medium.

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You can see a video montage from the show at http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/Shows-Events/She-Loves-Me.aspx. Scroll down to Videos / Montage

But I urge you to sit back and enjoy 2 ¼ hours of pure entertainment and simple joy. You’ll be smiling and tapping your foot through most of it.

Here’s how you can watch it:

“She Loves Me” will be streamed by a new company called Broadway HD. Their goal is to stream as many theater performances as possible so theater will reach a wider audience. The show will be filmed using nine or ten cameras, so I expect the watching experience will be somewhere between live theater, and movies or TV. It will cost $9.99 to watch it on the Broadway HD website. It will also be available via Roku and Apple TV ( I don’t know about costs on those).

ENJOY!

ANOTHER MIND-BLOWING DOCUMENTARY FROM MICHAEL MOORE – PART 1 by ELLIN CURLEY

There is so much I’d like to talk about in the amazing, eye-opening documentary called “Where To Invade Next”. It’s really an old-fashioned travelogue. Michael Moore goes to different countries around the world. But instead of reporting about natural wonders or tourist sites, he reports about one specific thing in each culture. It’s the prison system in one, the equality of women in another, the educational system in others.

There are two major areas where the European approach blew my mind. One is the workplace, which I’ll talk about here. The other is the educational system, which I’ll discuss next Monday.

MichaelM poster

The workplace in Italy and Germany is a place where workers and bosses come together to create a good quality product for the marketplace, make a good profit for the company and provide a good quality of life for the employees. The companies visited were successful, well-known companies; in Italy they visited a high-end clothes factory that produces for such brand names as Dolce and Gabana and the Ducati motorcycle factory. In Germany they went to a world-famous pencil factory and the BMW assembly line.

In Italy unions are very powerful and in Germany, the law mandates that half of all corporate boards must be made up of workers from that company. The result is that corporations there consider and care about the needs and well-being of their workers. And visa versa. It is a commonly held belief in both countries that to maximize productivity you must have a well rested, unstressed, “happy” workforce. A good balance between a worker’s job and home life is considered essential for the business to succeed. Everyone there believes that longer hours and less time off increases sickness, decreases production and destroys morale.

Michael M Italy

All Italians get at least 8 weeks of PAID vacation a year plus around 12 national holidays. They get five months of paid maternity leave that can be shared by both parents. They also get a 13th month of full salary to make sure they have enough money to pay for traveling and other fun activities on their vacations. This is all in addition to a two-hour lunch every day. In Germany, they have a 36 hour workweek but get paid for 40 hours. There is also a law that prohibits employers from emailing of contacting workers after hours, on weekends or when they are on vacation. Embedded in both German and Italian culture is the belief that cultivating friends, time with family, leisure activities and time to enjoy life are as important, if not more important than work.

The bizarre part of this for Americans is the fact that the corporate employers believe they are not only doing the right thing for their workers, but the most expedient and efficient thing for themselves. The bosses believe that a pleasant workplace filled with happy and cooperative people is actually better for their businesses.

They may be right. Statistics show that very few Italians or Germans take sick days off work but that this is a big problem in America. It seriously diminishes overall productivity here. Statistics also show that Italy and America have the same level of workplace productivity. This means that Italians are far more productive per man hour than we are.

Despite the shorter workday and work year in Italy and Germany, all the factory workers Michael Moore talked to made enough money to live a comfortable middle class life. While their taxes may be higher than ours, they don’t have to pay for high cost items like health care, day care, school tuition, etc. The result is enough money to pay for the necessities and many of the luxuries of a middle class life style. The European workers were shocked to hear that middle class Americans have to work two and often three jobs just to make ends meet.

The take away for me was that there are places in the world that value quality of life and mental health for their populations. And this is not seen as undermining the bottom line of the economy in any way. Employers and employees don’t have opposing interests. Everyone is expected to be relaxed and happy and to have a rich, full life, with a wide circle of family and friends. People in parts of Europe seem to take care of each other and care about each other in a way that seems very quaint and outdated in America.

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Ironically, the labor movement and labor unions were born in America. We just abandoned them somewhere along the way and other parts of the world have continued to embrace them. But this documentary gave me hope that there is a way to make it work for everyone in a society. You just have to have common goals and work together. Unfortunately, I don’t think can happen in America for a long time to come.

GERIATRIC COMEDY BY ELLIN CURLEY

My new favorite show to binge watch these days is “Grace and Frankie” on Netflix. The cast is amazing – Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston in the leads. The supporting cast, particularly the four adult children, are also pitch perfect. The characters are fully and thoughtfully developed, the writing is brilliant and the humor springs naturally from the characters and situations.

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The show begins when two 70-year-old men tell their wives that they are both gay, have been having a twenty year affair and are asking for divorces so they can marry each other. The Lily Tomlin (Frankie), Sam Waterston couple are Jewish, hippy, touchy feely, chanting, pot smoking flower children. The Jane Fonda (Grace), Martin Sheen couple are status seeking, uptight Wasps and Grace was a super corporate, super successful career woman. Now, the two wives, who are not fond of each other, for obvious reasons, have to move in together when the men take over one of the family homes.

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The issues are dealt with honestly and on a personal, emotional level. There is no hint of ideology or agenda (except for acceptance of gay marriage). You laugh at the straights as much as the gays, the hippies as much as the wasps, the older generation as much as the younger one. The relationships with the adult children are fully realized and quite varied so the humor always rings true there as well.

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The center of the show is the evolution of the friendship between the two women. It is beautiful and edifying to watch as they struggle to focus on their common ground and accommodate their glaring differences. It is a wonderful affirmation that people who are so different can bridge the gaps between them and forge a strong bond.I see parts of myself in both women so I’m laughing at myself a lot. At times I want to BE them and have a female friend who can share and support and help me cope and grow at the same time. At other times I just enjoy watching them deal with the major twists in the lives from the comfort of my thankfully “boring” life.

G&F women

Another reason I love watching this show is that it deals sensitively but bluntly with elder issues that are not often discussed. The retired women have to come to terms with their feelings of uselessness and invisibility. They have to find day-to-day meaning in a life without the structure of a full-time job or of a family to take care of 24/7. They talk about memory loss, arthritis and other indignities of an older body. There is also a lot of talk about vaginas and sex in your 70’s. Vaginal dryness has a whole plot line built around it!

Baby Boomers are becoming Seniors at warp speed. So there is now a big demographic of elders to sell products to and pitch movies and TV shows to. So expect to see more sagging bodies and forgetful minds on all forms of media. The Geriatric Baby Boomers are taking over so move over and remind me why I decided to write this blog.