LYING, LIES AND LIARS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Since Donald Trump entered the political scene, we’ve had to deal with lies and lying on a daily basis. You could say that our society has become obsessed with lying.

At first the news media were reluctant to call Trump’s untruths, ‘lies’. They felt that the word was too harsh and possibly biased. But as time has increased the number, the frequency and the egregiousness of ‘untruths’ coming out of Trump’s mouth, the media has changed it’s tune. Now they call his lies, ‘lies’. So we hear people talking about lies and lying every day.

In this atmosphere, we watched one of our favorite movies again and saw it from a different perspective. The movie, from 2009, is called “The Invention Of Lying”. It’s a Ricky Gervais masterpiece.

It couldn’t be more relevant to today’s culture of political lying. The movie has a very interesting concept. People in the movie’s world can only tell the absolute truth. They are incapable of lying, of saying anything that is not 100% true. They can’t even imagine the possibility of lying.

This leads to some interesting interchanges since everyone is brutally honest at all times. Examples of this phenomenon are: Secretary tells her boss he is a loser and she’s hated every day she has had to work for him. A waiter tells the customer “I don’t like you, so I spit in your food.” On a date, the leading lady tells the hero she won’t sleep with him or go out with him again because he’s not a good genetic match. She’s beautiful but he’s short, fat, and has a snub nose. She doesn’t want fat kids with snub noses.

A sign outside a nursing home says something like, “Depressing Place Where Old People Go To Die.”

Another side effect of total truth-telling is that there is no art, TV, theater or even novels. This is because art and fiction are forms of making things up. Saying things that are not 100% true. So the only entertainment is ‘readers’ reading history lessons on film. The history writers are each assigned centuries. They produce scripts depicting real events from that century. One popular movie was “Napoleon – 1812-1813.”

The hero of the movie, Marc, played by Ricky Gervais, suddenly realizes that he has the ability to say things that ‘aren’t’. He first uses his ability to lie to get money from his bank. He merely tells the teller that he has $800 in his account when he only has $300. The teller apologizes for the bank error and gives Marc the $800 that she now believes he has in his account. Whatever Marc said must be true, so it must be a computer error.

The movie ramps up the social commentary when Marc ‘invents’ religion. His mother is dying and tells Marc that she is scared. So, to make her less fearful of dying, Marc tells her that she’ll be going to a wonderful place where she’ll see all her deceased loved ones, she’ll be eternally happy and she’ll get her own mansion. Some hospital personnel overhears Marc’s conversation with his Mom and they believe everything he says.

The next day, there’s a huge crowd outside Marc’s house demanding more information about what happens when you die. Marc ends up inventing ‘a man in the sky’ who controls everything. He writes down ten rules about the man and the afterlife on two pizza cartons. It’s very interesting to see the changes in society and in the people once religion is introduced.

The genius of this movie is that while it’s a super high concept film, you really care about the main characters. You get drawn into the ‘love story’ at the core of the plot. The drama revolves around whether or not the beautiful and wonderful girl, Anna, played by Jennifer Garner, will overcome the superficial biases of the culture and marry her best friend. He’s the guy she rejected by saying that he would give her fat kids with snub noses.

This movie is a hidden gem. Lots of big stars today had small parts in the movie. People like Tina Fey, Rob Lowe, Louis C.K., Jeffrey Tambor, Jonah Hill, etc. Great casting!

I highly recommend this movie. We’ve shown it to a few friends and they are all blown away. They thank us for introducing them to something so well done and engaging. I hope we can create a cult of fans for this overlooked and underappreciated piece.

I hope you’ll watch it! You’ll thank me too! Since we live with non-stop lies from our leaders, it’s refreshing to spend two hours with people who can’t lie at all!

42 – THE STORY OF A LEGEND. THE STORY OF AMERICA – Marilyn & Garry Armstrong

42

We meant to see this one in the theatre, but time slipped away and by the time we were ready to go, it was gone. But that turned out to be fine, because we have a wide-screen television and surround. I bought the movie and we got a private screening. Time for baseball and history. Not only baseball. Not only history.

The integration of sports is taken so much for granted today, younger generations can’t imagine when it was any other way. This is the movie that shows how it happened. It’s a movie about many things.

It’s the story of how and why Jackie Robinson became the first non-white player in Major League Baseball. How this began the integration of all professional sports. It was the beginning of modern baseball as well as the first significant move toward real integration.

That it was our original home town team, the Brooklyn Dodgers makes the story more personal for us. Branch Rickey, owner of the Dodgers, decided it was time to make a difference. Because he could, he changed the world. Harrison Ford as Mr. Rickey mumbles. He’s also real, touching, human. He actually made me cry. Harrison Ford is not known for nuanced performances, but he gives one in this movie.

JrobinsonI commented that Harrison used to be President, not to mention Indiana Jones. Garry pointed out that owning the Dodgers was far more important. I agreed. Because Garry and I agree: there’s nothing more important than baseball. Especially right now.

Chadwick Boseman bears a strong physical resemblance to Jackie Robinson. He doesn’t sound like him, but that’s quibbling. Nicole Beharie is a pretty good likeness of Rachel Isum Robinson. Who, as Garry pointed out, is even today, old as she is, one fine-looking woman. It was no accident Rickey chose a good-looking couple. He knew what they would be up against and it would be hard enough. Any small advantage they could gain by just being attractive … well, they were going to need it.

It’s hard for people brought up after the Civil Rights Amendment to understand the intensity of the hatred, anger and rage bringing a Black man into baseball caused.

It was 1947, the year I was born. The big war in Europe was over and returning Black soldiers were appalled and enraged that the service to their nation had done nothing to alleviate the oppression of Jim Crow laws. Segregation was not merely as bad as it had been. It was worse. Returning Black soldiers made racists all over America nervous that their position of supremacy was being threatened.

It would take 20 years to make get a civil rights amendment to the Constitution. Twenty more to make it real and twenty-five years more to get a non-white President into office. It will probably take another twenty before people stop noticing race … if indeed they ever do. Race and the judgments we make based on skin color are so ingrained, so automatic, so very American.

More than apple pie or the flag, we the people love to hate. It’s the most universal of all human behaviors. Not our ability to love but our willingness to hate.

Chadwick Boseman not only looks like Jackie Robinson. He has his swing. I assume they taught him the swing, but they did it very well and really got that gritty baseball “feel” into the movie. Everyone plays their part with authenticity, as those of us old enough to remember the real guys can attest. Maybe that’s the problem with many of the critics: they never saw the real guys, met them, cheered for them. Lived and died with them through the long season of baseball. They don’t remember, but we do.

The cinematography is great, moving smoothly and naturally between wide and close shots to give you the feeling of the game and more. Nice, tight segues. What is even better captured is the intensity of the abuse Robinson was forced to put up with, to swallow without complaint while simultaneously playing at the top of his game. I’d like to see any modern player survive this.

In many ways, Robinson didn’t survive it. He lived through it, but it killed him from the inside. He blasted open the door of the future and it cost him dearly.

Why did Rickey do it? There was a strong moral component. Rickey believed it was the right thing to do and the right thing to do for baseball. But above all, it was a sound business decision. There was a huge pool of talent out there and the Dodgers needed all the help they could get. By bringing in first Jackie Robinson while simultaneously planning to bring up more Black players, Rickey figured he was going to do some serious winning. He was right.

Leo Derocher
Leo Derocher

Christopher Meloni, ex of Law and Order: SVU, nails Leo Durocher, the crazy, quirky Brooklyn Dodger’s manager. He actually looks like Durocher.

If you love baseball, see it. Even if you don’t love baseball, see it anyway. See it for the history, to remember how hard the battle for equal rights was, is and will continue to be. How much baseball, the American pastime, has always been at the center of the American experience.

And finally see it because it’s the story of a genuine red-blooded American hero. In every sense of the word.

From Garry Armstrong:

I have to admit I was tearing up in places even though there’s no cryin’ in baseball. Critics aside, this was no pleasant Hollywood fable but a fairly authentic account of Jackie Robinson, the man and the player and the times that swirled around him.

Much of this is first-hand recall for me. I was 5 years old and already a budding baseball fan in Brooklyn in 1947 when the young player wearing number 42 became a household name. I remember all the excitement in my neighborhood. Some of it I understood. Some of it I didn’t. The newspapers and radio were full of the Dodgers and Jackie Robinson and how what they were doing would perhaps cause problems all across the country.

I remember angry things shouted by White people we encountered. I recall some very nice comments offered by White people who frequently said Jackie Robinson was “a credit to your people.”

I followed the Dodgers very closely over the years. I knew their lineup by heart, could emulate their swings and could recite from memory details of their personal lives along with the baseball stuff. In later years, I’d have the good fortune to meet many of the Boys of Summer including Peewee, Campy, Big Newk, Ralphie Branca, Gil Hodges, The Duke (My hero) and Jackie Robinson.

Later, as a reporter, they gave me their own first hand accounts of what it was like – that memorable year of 1947. I would also hear from Red Barber, the legendary sportscaster who called almost all of the games during the ’47 season for the Dodgers. One poignant memory involves a conversation with Campy (Roy Campanella) and Jackie Robinson. I was now a young reporter and a familiar face to many of the aging Dodgers. Campy was always “the diplomat”, pleasant and smiling.

Jackie always seemed angry. I thought he was mad at me sometimes until Campy said he was just “Jackie being Jackie”. The conversation was about how young Black people conduct themselves. Jackie thought many were irresponsible. Campy said they were just kids doing what kids do. Jackie glared at Campy and then smiled at me saying. “You get it, don’t you?”. I just nodded.

Sorry I strayed from the movie but it evoked so many, many memories. And, thanks Harrison Ford, for a splendid portrayal of Branch Rickey!

GUILTY PLEASURES

I think most of the things we enjoy would be counted as guilty pleasures by someone else. You might say we’ve become guilty pleasure experts.

The other night, Garry and I watched “Paris When It Sizzles” on Netflix. Universally panned, it is generally regarded as awful. Except among movie buffs — like us — for whom it is an officially designated guilty pleasure.

a-summer-place-movie-poster-1959-1020460974

We laughed all the way through it, although it isn’t supposed to be funny. It got us talking about other movies we’ve seen that were panned, but which we liked.

The one that came immediately to my mind was “Flypaper,” starring Ashley Judd and Patrick (“McDreamy”) Dempsey. It opened and closed without a single good review and made less money in its American release than I made on my last freelance job. But it cost $4,000,000 to produce.

Flypaper2011Poster

On February 27, 2013, I reviewed it on Serendipity — FLYPAPER (2011): A PLEASANT SURPRISEIt’s been getting a slow but steady stream of hits ever since. When I looked in my stats, I saw I’d gotten a hit on that review, the source for which was Wikipedia.

Wikipedia? How could that be? I clicked. There was my review, referenced by Wikipedia. Flypaper (2011 film) has two numbered references in the reference section. Number 1 is my review. What are they referencing? The grosses.

That Flypaper made a pathetic $1100 and opened on just two screens in one theater during a single weekend. Serendipity is their source for this data.

facts expert

Where did I get my information? I looked it up on IMDB (International Movie Database). Not the professional version. Just the free area anyone can access.

IMDB is, to the best of my knowledge, an accurate source. But it’s not a primary source. Clearly the financial data had to have come from somewhere else. Maybe the distributor? IMDB got the info from elsewhere, I got it from them, then Wikipedia got it from me. The beat goes on.

forever_knight_2009

How in the world did I become a source? If you have ever wondered how bad information gets disseminated, this is the answer. I don’t think this information is wrong. If it is, it’s harmless.

But a lot of other stuff proffered as “fact” is gathered the same way. Supposed news outlets get information from the Internet. They access secondary, tertiary and even more unreliable sources. They assume it’s true. By proliferation, misinformation takes on a life of its own and becomes “established” fact.

ncis-need-to-know

Scholars, journalists, historians and others for whom truth is important should feel obliged to dig out information from primary — original — sources. A blogger, like me, who gets information from who-knows-where shouldn’t be anyone’s source for “facts” unless you’ve confirmed the information and know it’s correct.

For me to be a source for Wikipedia is hilarious, but a bit troubling. How much of what we know to be true … isn’t?

GARRY ARMSTRONG REVIEWS “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”

We did our annual viewing of “The Ten Commandments” last night. It’s an annual rite of Spring and Easter Eve here.

We watched on our hinky DVD. The discs and the player are so hinky and old that we had glitches in the climactic scenes as Moses, Moses and the freed slaves begin their bigly Pilgrimage out of Egypt. We could have watched on ABC, but they have a gazillion commercials. Not in the mood for all that advertising time.

The movie

“Ten Commandments” really is a fun event thanks to Cecil B, beginning with his on-stage intro. The curtains seemed to open slower this year. Could be the hinky DVD or maybe the curtains open slower with each passing view. We always appreciate Cecil’s humility. I’m surprised he didn’t include himself as one of the on site contributors to the events in his bigly classic.

There is so much to appreciate if you just let yourself go and enjoy as a guilty pleasure. The humongous cast. Especially the featured players in very small size print as the open credits role. I never spot Clint Walker, who I suspect was one of Rameses’ body guards. Woodrow “Woody” Strode is obvious as the Nubian King who comes to pay tribute to Pharaoh (Sir Cedric Hardwicke). I don’t know who played the sexy Nubian Queen who obviously drew the scorn of Anne Baxter. She was clearly aware that once you go Black you never go back.

Lawrence Dobkin, with a wonderful toupee, has a lot of face time as one of Moses, Moses confidantes. Dobkin, you mavens surely know, was a busy chrome dome in 50’s television. Ditto Michael “Cochise” Ansara as an Egyptian Guard. I don’t think Ansara had any lines, just a few grunts and yells.

I scanned Anne Baxter’s cortege of scantily clad girl friends. No familiar faces but they were bigly bodacious. No “sisters” in Anne’s gang. No wonder she was jealous of the Nubian Queen.

Eddie G. Robinson probably had a blast as the nefarious Dathan, a toga and sandals version of Enrico Bandetti and Johnny Rocco. Eddie G “played” everyone with that smirky smile. He and Vinnie Price were a marvelous villainous duo. Vinnie was the syndicate “John” and Eddie, the pimp.

John Carradine always looks befuddled as Aaron who takes the fall for anything that Moses, Moses screws up.

Debra Paget, the central casting White Indian Princess, is the so fetching and vulnerable damsel who will do ANYTHING for John Derek’s Joshua. ANYTHING. Wonder if she did a Playboy spread for Derek? Debra preceded Ursula Andress, Linda Evans and Bo Derek in Joshua’s photography studio.

For all our jibes, Cecil B’s special effects are still impressive in our CGI era. The Red Sea parting alone is worth a rally of cheers.

Charlton Heston and the 10 commandments

A quickie question: Why weren’t Moses, Moses hands burned when he picked up the two ten commandments plaques after God just burned them into the rocks? Follow up question: Who did the voice of God? This was way before Morgan Freeman’s time.

So let it be written, so let it be done.

“BEING THERE” REVISITED: A MODERN DAY REVIEW – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

Last night, Marilyn and I watched “Being There.” We hadn’t seen this comedy from 1979 in a long time, probably years. What a difference time has made!

I recall seeing “Being There” when it opened. I enjoyed the farcical Hal Ashby film about a mentally challenged man who somehow influences high and mighty power brokers including our Commander-In-Chief and his aides. It seemed like a Capra-esque flight of fantasy in 1979.  Couldn’t happen in real life. Our political leaders couldn’t be so naïve or vulnerable. We were caught up with Jimmy Carter versus Ronald Reagan. Many laughed at the notion of an actor becoming President. It wouldn’t happen, we smart folks reasoned with our historical savvy. No way a B-movie actor, revered for his roles as a beloved college football player and pal to a chimp named Bonzo — no way that guy could become the most powerful political figure in the world.  So we smugly thought.

Being There, 1979 poster

Peter Sellers is “Chance.” AKA Chauncey Gardner, a middle-aged gardener. The simple-minded assistant to a wealthy man who dies at the beginning of “Being There.” We don’t know much about Chance except he apparently has the mental capacity of a child. He is a brilliant gardener and likes to watch television. Chance is a sweet-tempered fellow whose world revolves around tending the garden — and watching television. He can’t read or write. He just gardens. And likes to watch …. television.

Chauncey Garden walking through Washington DC

Through a series of farcical plot twists, Chance becomes the house guest of an elderly, dying business tycoon and political king-maker (Melvyn Douglas) and his capricious wife (Shirley MacLaine).  The new benefactors mistake Chance’s observations about gardening as metaphors for Wall Street and fixing what ails our government. The President (Jack Warden), a close friend of the tycoon, thinks Chance — now accepted as the mysterious Chauncey Gardner — is his benign Henry Kissinger. Chauncey’s garden recipes become talking points for the President’s economic directive.

Peter Sellers & Shirley MacLaine in Being There (1979)

There’s one hilarious scene in the middle of the film where the Black maid who raised Chauncey from infancy — and knows he has “rice pudding between his ears” — rails at her friends and points out that “all you need to become president is to be white.” That was a joke in 1979. Not so funny these days.

In 1979, the movie plot seemed outrageous and outlandish. In those days,  many of us didn’t believe Ronald Reagan could be taken seriously. None of us conceived of him as what we called “a president.” We would have deemed it impossible. I still do.

As “Being There” reaches its conclusion, Melvyn Douglas’ tycoon dies. At the cemetery, as he is laid to rest, the tycoon’s pals and the President’s aides quietly share anxiety about the country’s future. They don’t think the President is strong enough to lead the country out of its economic swamp. There’s a final quiet agreement that only one man can save the country, the man with the savvy garden metaphors, Chauncey Gardner.

Closing scene

The man who would be President is seen wandering through the woods and into a lake, staking his umbrella in the water, perhaps divining a miracle. The end credits roll with outtakes of Peter Sellers laughing his way through many retakes of plays on words.

Marilyn and I laughed as the credits rolled by. Then, we looked at each other. Quietly. Very quietly. Through some bizarre upside-down ill-starred event, during the heart of a perfect political storm, Chauncey Gardner became America’s president after all. Not benign — and definitely not a gardener, yet surely as stupid and illiterate.

A gardener would have been a better choice. At least he could have grown a few roses.

THE DARKEST HOUR IN WWII – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently watched the movie “Darkest Hour”. I was blown away. The movie focuses on Winston Churchill’s initial period as Prime Minister of England in 1940. Shortly after he took power, Belgium and France fell to the Nazis. Literally all of Britain’s 300,000 plus troops were stranded on the beaches at Dunkirk as the Nazis advanced on them, poised to push them into the sea. They were in serious danger of being totally annihilated.

The Nazi armies seemed invincible. Britain stood alone, with few resources and no allies, to fight the German Goliath alone. The U.S. could not provide any military support because we were pledged to be neutral in the fight. A German invasion of England was anticipated, as was a massive air campaign against them.

Watching the movie was gut wrenching. We knew that England survived and that Hitler was eventually defeated. But putting yourself in the mindset of England in May and June of 1940, was devastating.

Map of Nazi conquest of Europe as of 1940

I remembered something my mother told me about living through World War II. Through hindsight, the defeat of Nazism seems inevitable to us today. It was not inevitable to the anyone at the time. The people living through World War II, day in and day out, had no way of knowing how things would turn out. And for a long period of time, it really looked like it was inevitable that the Axis would successfully conquer and reshape the entire western world.

I didn’t actually understand how dire England’s plight was in the spring of 1940. No one could have predicted the miraculous rescue at Dunkirk. This was only accomplished when 850 civilian pleasure boats formed an armada and crisscrossed the English Channel for nine days, from May 26 to June 4 of 1940. Amazingly, over 300,000 men were safely returned to England. It was one of the greatest and most improbable wartime rescues in history.

Even after Dunkirk, the odds were heavily stacked against England. All of the news was bad, for Europe as well as for Great Britain. The future looked unimaginably terrifying.

My parents lived through this time safely in New York City. Nonetheless, they were horrified at the possibility of a world ruled by the Third Reich. My parents and their families were Jewish, so their fear was magnified. My grandmother, like many Americans, also had family trapped in Europe. So there was a whole other level of fear and anxiety.

I don’t think I understood, on a visceral level, the emotional toll that World War II took on the people in the allied countries. Many allies fell to the Nazis. So the others didn’t have to imagine what life would be like for them under Nazi rule. Unless you were a fascist collaborator, things would not be good for you.

Paris under Nazi rule

I wouldn’t dream of comparing the Trump presidency with the Nazi conquest of Europe. But this is the first time that I have ever had to worry about democracy as we know it, ending in America. For the first time, I am not certain that all our cherished rights and liberties will survive. Free and unbiased elections may be in danger, as are the financial safety nets our government provides for those in need. The values that I cherish in my country are under attack and may not prevail long-term.

The level of panic I feel when I read an ominous news report is miniscule compared to my parents’ reactions to the headlines they had to read every day in the early years of the Second World War. But I think I finally ‘get’ what it meant to live through the early 1940’s as an anti-fascist and as a targeted minority. I wish I could let my mother know I finally understand what she was trying to tell me about the nightmare of those years.

I also have a new level of appreciation for Winston Churchill and the British people. They vowed to fight Hitler down to the last man. And they meant it. They vowed never to surrender their country to a fascist regime. Now I realize how much courage that took. I understand how real the threat of death or capture was for every Englishman.

I have boundless admiration and gratitude for the brave people of Britain who rose to fight for their values and for their country’s way of life. I hope, if the time ever comes for America, that I will have the courage to “man the barricades” for my country and my values.

SUPERHEROES AND SPACESHIPS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’m usually not a big fan of space or superhero shows, but I really like the “Star Trek”ish television show “The Orville” and the movie “Wonder Woman”.

I think the reason I like these two particular representatives of their genres is because they focus on the human (or not quite human) relationships. The shows are not primarily about the pyrotechnics, battle scenes, superpowers or twenty-third century technology, although those are elements of both shows. In these tow stories, the characters and their interactions don’t get lost in — or play second fiddle to — special effects.

In the first part of “Wonder Woman”, I became absorbed in Diana’s early life on a mystical island of Amazon women. Then I enjoyed watching her adjust to life in the early 1900’s of WWI. I also loved the way her romance with Steve evolved. The movie is, at heart, a beautiful love story.

I’m a big fan of WWI and WWII movies. The major plot line here revolves around a ratty band of anti-heroes — plus Wonder Woman. They are trying to destroy the Germans’ new, extra lethal nerve gas before it can be used on the Allies. You could also almost call the movie a WWI drama with superheroes.

Talking about “Wonder Woman”, I have to mention the star, Gal Gadot. In addition to being breathtakingly gorgeous, she exudes intelligence, strength and compassion. She embodies the quintessential modern female superhero.

If you have any reservations about watching something like “Wonder Woman”, I recommend it as more than just a typical comic book based movie.

“The Orville” has a “Star Trek” vibe. But again, it is much more than your average space travel adventure. Members of the crew have quirky and interesting personalities and there are many fun and intriguing relationships on the ship. For example, the Captain and the First Mate are ex spouses who haven’t fully worked through their issues. Seth McFarlane is a write, producer and plays the Captain. He is fantastic, as usual.

There’s lots of humor and lightness in the show as well as charming banter between the exes. In addition, there are serious and topical issues that are brought up and discussed in most episodes. There was one that dealt with the conundrum of whether or not to change the sex of a female baby who would face serious discrimination and banishment on an all male planet.

The plots are good and I find it an engaging and entertaining hour of television. I have ADD and often can’t sit through a one hour show. So that says a lot for me!

Over the years, I’ve become an expert at glazing over during most of the comic or space ship based shows I watch with my husband. These are two that actually got my attention and kept me engaged.

Kudos to the makers of “Wonder Woman” and “the Orville”.