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Archive for the ‘From My Point of View – Personal commentary on Movies and Books’ Category

Well they’re not really here, in fact they were Ukrainians.  Yesterday afternoon, we went to The Lehman Arts Center and watched the most amazing performance of Russian classical music expertly performed by The National Symphony Orchestra of the Ukraine.

The land of the Czars and Tzars has given us some of the greatest composers in the 19th and 20th Centuries.  To name a few and some of their more well known concertos and symphonies: Pyotr Iliyich Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, 1812 Overture.  Igor Stravinsky – Rite of Spring, The Firebird, Petrushka.  Dmitri Shostokovich – Suite on Finnish Themes,  Sergei Rachmaninoff -Rhapsody on a Theme of Pagagnini, Monna Vanna, Piano Concerto I and II, Sergei Prokofiev – Peter and the Wolf, Romeo and Juliet, The Love of Three Oranges, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsokov-Capriccio Espagnol, and my favorite Scherherazade.  So much talent!

The first piece was Rachmoninoff’s Symphony No.3 and it was an elaborate production with full orchestra and three movements.  From where we were seated, I had a full-on view of the whole orchestra. Besides the usual violins, violas, cellos, oboes, French horns, clarinets and bass fiddle, Rachmoninoff included a harp, a triangle, symbals, a tambourine, and percussion.  Most of Sergei Rachmoninoff’s work is complex, especially his piano concertos, and in this Symphony it was quite evident.

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Dima Tkachenko – Violin Virtuouso

The real highlight of the concert was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with soloist Dima Tkachenko.  He was a child prodigy playing the piano and the violin before he was six!!  He has won numerous competitions and was awarded the Guildhall School Concert Recital Diploma (Premier Prix).  I was overwhelmed and swept away by his mastery of his instrument.  Like most virtuosos, in his hands the violin becomes an extension of himself.  Pure genius.  Under his expert manipulation, the violin sang, I mean really sang.  In his intensity, he broke at least 8 strings on the bow.  The violin is a wondrous instrument capable of producing an unbelievable number of sounds and notes in rapid succession.  The standing ovation lasted long enough to convince Dima to give us an encore.  And OMG, he played for at least another 10 minutes.  I don’t know what he was performing but it seemed to incorporate every nuance of sound and technique known to man and violin.

The Firebird Suite is one of Stravinsky’s better known compositions.  I have heard it many times however, the technical proficiency and emotional commitment of this orchestra is quite extraordinary.

Lastly, we were treated to a brief and informative talk by the conductor, Theodore Kuchar, who gave us some history of the conflicts his country has undergone for 100 years.  He explained that pure Ukranian music existed outside of better known Russian composers and proceeded to introduce a famous Ukranian piece.  We also were treated to a beautiful excerpt from a movie soundtrack created by Ukranian born Myroslav Skoryk.

All in all, I can’t think of a better way to have spent this gray, rainy and chilly Sunday afternoon.  It was a peaceful and joyful break from the daily stress of the political shenanigans going on.

 

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Well, now Donald Trump has been in the White House for less than two weeks and already the process of destroying democracy and establishing a new form of Fascism has begun.  The hallmarks of an autocracy are evident.  

Proclamations in the form of Executive Orders have been issued like autographs and held up to the camera so he can be the one in the room doing show and tell today.  Some are more show than tell. Here is a list of EOs so far:

Look - Show and Tell

Look – Show and Tell

1.An order instructing agencies that whenever they introduce a regulation, they must first abolish two others.  Sounds logical but the premise is based on reducing restrictions on companies and institutions that impede its ability and freedom to do whatever they want in the pursuit of profit. Yeah that’s true

2. A memorandum to restructure the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council.  This allows Trump to put Steve Bannona known racist and alt-right supporter on the Council and God only knows to what flagrant measures General Flynn will stoop after he tweeted insane nonsense during the election.

3. A memorandum directing the Secretary of Defense to draw up a plan within 30 days to defeat ISIS. I thought he already had one! He said so during the election but was keeping it a secret from our enemies.

4. An order to lengthen the ban on administration officials working as lobbyists. There is now a 5 year-ban on officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government, and a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government. So now instead of a 2 year on lobbyists joining the administration, it’s been revoked to just one year! On the face, the order sounds good but read deeper and you will see that in fact we have less insulation from scandal than before.

5.  An executive order imposing a 120-day suspension of the refugee program and a 90-day ban on travel to the U.S. from citizens of seven terror hot spots: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan.  This is ONE BIG HOT MESS.  And this one is not sitting well with lots and lots of people. The protests have begun and will continue.  This is not well thought out and for some bizzaro reason doesn’t include those Muslim countries where Trump has business interests. NO conflict of interests huh?

6. Two multi-pronged orders on border security and immigration enforcement including: the authorization of a U.S.-Mexico border wall; the stripping of federal grant money to sanctuary cities; hiring 5,000 more Border Patrol agents; ending “catch-and-release” policies for illegal immigrants; and reinstating local and state immigration enforcement partnerships.  OMG, seriously him and that stupid wall.  One day it’s described to have golden arches and a gate, the next day it may be a figure of speech, the next day it got higher and higher.  Talk about a taxpayer revolt – don’t tax me so you can build a monument to your own ignorance!  AND he’s taking federal funds away from the sanctuary cities.  Since they number well over 200 and many are densely populated, doubt this will go over without major resistance and think of the Senate and Congressional votes lost in 2018.

7. A memorandum calling for a 30-day review of military readiness.   Really? Why not just call upon your heads of the military and tell them to do so.

8. Two orders reviving the Keystone XL pipeline and Dakota Access pipelines. He also signed three other related orders that would: expedite the environmental permitting process for infrastructure projects related to the pipelines; direct the Commerce Department to streamline the manufacturing permitting process; and give the Commerce Department 180 days to maximize the use of U.S. steel in the pipeline. Taking backward steps to protect the environment is one thing. I think the best  line in this order is the use of US made steel – this from a man who had his ties made in China and his Make America Great Again hats in Vietnam, Bangladesh and China.

9. An order to reinstate the so-called “Mexico City Policy” – a ban on federal funds to international groups that perform abortions or lobby to legalize or promote abortion. The policy was instituted in 1984 by President Reagan, but has gone into and out of effect depending on the party in power in the White House.  This one is just great – after all the party who most definitely wants to keep the government out of our private lives holds the most unusual thought process that allows us (USA) to say we will help you out BUT not if you allow abortion.  Whatever happened to “Don’t tread on me”?

10. A notice that the U.S. will begin withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Trump called the order “a great thing for the American worker.” We shall see now won’t we?

11. An order imposing a hiring freeze for some federal government workers as a way to shrink the size of government. This excludes the military, as Trump noted at the signing. I guess the plan for hiring 5000 border patrol guards does not fall under this mandate.

12. An order that directs federal agencies to ease the “regulatory burdens” of ObamaCare. It orders agencies to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement” of ObamaCare that imposes a “fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, healthcare providers, health insurers, patients, recipients of healthcare services, purchasers of health insurance, or makers of medical devices, products, or medications.” Again, the uproar continues as more and more people sign up for the affordable health care act before it is repealed and replaced with ??????


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It’s so true…many movies we’ve come to love and make classic were really box office flops in their day!  You’re going to be shocked by some of these, I’m sure.

Orson Welles in Citizen Kane

Orson Welles in Citizen Kane

1. CITIZEN KANE:  Most often listed as the Number 1 top movie on many lists and the must-see handbook for aspiring film-makers and actors, this movie didn’t do much for Orson Welles career at the time.  Initial reviews were favorable but much of the American public was shielded from them because Randolph Hearst, the newspaper mogul, blocked any mention of the movie,  believing the character was based on him.

2. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE:   There wouldn’t be a holiday season if there weren’t a broadcast of this now-loved classic Christmas story.  It’s hard to imagine a film watched so often by so many could have failed miserably in the theaters, but it did.  The movie cost $3.18M to make and only grossed $3.3M.

3. BLADE RUNNER:  With an opening weekend revenue of only $6M, things looked dim for this movie that cost $28M to make.  It received mixed reviews, while viewers were awed by the imagery, they were alienated by the narrative.  It probably would have been better if the studio had left Ridley Scott alone and kept his original vision instead of meddling with the final cut. The film resurfaced with a Director’s Cut in 1992 prompting critical reevaluation and huge home video sales.

4. RAGING BULL: A favorite of mine as I am in still in awe of Robert DeNiro who totally transformed his body to play the thuggish Jake LaMotta.  It was nominated for 8 Oscars but tanked at the box office.  It lacked the feel-good factor of ROCKY and alienated the viewers first by being shot in black and white which was exactly how it should have been done artistically and then there was the prevalent violence for 2 hours – most people go to the movies to relax and enjoy some form of escapism.

5. THE WIZARD OF OZ:  Can you believe this movie actually lost money?  It cost $2.7M to make and garnered $3M in its opening run.  Viewers did not flock to see Judy Garland, a cute dog and a tornado in technicolor.  However, over the years and many re-releases,  the viewing of The Wizard of Oz has become an annual event in many of America’s  households.

Shawshank Redemption

Shawshank Redemption

6. SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION:  Tell the truth now, do you switch the channel when you see Shawshank Redemption playing? The film finally found its audience on TV.  In 1994 when it was released, it was overwhelmed by PULP FICTION AND FORREST GUMP.  It cost $25M to make and grossed $28M.

7. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW:$  Budget-$1.4M.  This one requires some explanation. Despite making next to nothing ($22,000) its opening weekend, the late night flick is actually the longest running movie in continuous theatrical release, attracting a cult of folks who dress up and shout along to the campy comedy with kick-ass songs. With ticket sales, and home movie availability, it has reportedly made over $365 million! Just like the movie itself, it’s financial success is in a category of its own.

8.THE FIGHT CLUB: Budgeted at $63M it grossed $37M.  Maybe the first rule of Fight Club shouldn’t have been “Don’t talk about Fight Club.” David Fincher’s adaptation of the Chuck Palahniuk novel was the victim of a botched marketing campaign (or at least that’s what the studios are saying). It lived on through home video sales.

9.  THE BIG LEBOWSKI: Happy to admit I’m part of the cult club that will watch The Big Lebowski whenever it is on TV.  Not many box office bombs can claim such a cult following, an annual fan festival and religion! Released in 1998 during the immensely successful box office run of “Titanic,” the film starring Jeff Bridges, which cost $15 million to make, debuted to $5.5 million opening weekend.  The film recieved mixed reviews with Variety calling it “hollow and without resonance” while others like Roger Ebert found it “weirdly engaging” like the Dude himself.  The film eventually pulled in $17 million at theaters, but it wasn’t until years later fans used the internet and social media to re-evaluate the film and turn it into a cult sensation.

10.  I’m leaving number 10 blank and giving you all some suggestions.  What do you think was a great film but one didn’t make any money?  Here are a few;  The Fountain, Water World, Assination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, Ed Wood, Cleopatra, Heathers, Vertigo, Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, The Postman, The Hudsucker Proxy, Tron-The Legacy, Donny Darko, Once Upon A Time In America

OK guys it’s your hands, let’ s vote for number 10 – one of the above or one of your own.

 

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This year, more so than previous years, it seems like every movie channel is trying to out-scare the other.  I walked into the bedroom the other night and my husband was watching God knows what and as I glanced at the screen I said, “Dear God, what are you watching?” I really don’t like horror movies and even some thrillers;  It would have to be very obviously tongue-in-cheek or so outrageous you know it could never happen and therefore no reason to be scared.  My problem is whatever the really bad scene is in any movie, that’s the one that creeps into my consciousness just before I try to go to sleep.   And getting back to the TV screen it was a shot of several people being hanged!  Geez!

Well there are certainly a lot more than anybody’s top 10 films created to scare the heck out of you, so please feel free to comment and add a few of your own!!!!

Reagan My Sweet

Reagan My Sweet

1.  THE EXORCIST – This one had me so frightened (it didn’t help being Catholic) that for 2 nights I slept with every light on,  I threw the Ouija Board in a dumpster in town AND called a priest friend of mine and asked him to come and bless the house (knowing he couldn’t really perform an exorcism).

2.  Silence of the Lambs – Another really tough one for me.  Anthony Hopkins was SO sinister he was real.

3.  ROSEMARY’S BABY – I had read the book and thought that was hand-shakingly scary for me and the movie practically followed the book word for word! 

4.  THE SHINING – Jack Nicholson on a good day can be scary and in The Shining he was downright horrifying.  The soundtrack added a tremendous amount of adrenalin-rushing fear to the film.  Who can forget Jack at the locked door of the bathroom saying, ” Wendy, I’m home”.

5.  Alien – OMG when the thing was coming out of the stomach…oh well I think I left the room after that part!

6.  BLAIR WITCH PROJECT –  A movie that reminds us that sometimes the things that scare us the most are the ones we can’t see.  I was exhausted after watching this!

7.  WAIT UNTIL DARK – This thriller is scary and doesn’t fall into the horror movie category at all.  The tenseness is palpable.  The silence terrifying and you absolutely feel her fear!

8.  THE OMEN – Wow! Even the dog knew there was something wrong with this kid.  The toppling shaft of steel nearly killed me too. 

9.  PSYCHO – Oh sure, it’s been replayed so many times in so many ways that we can laugh at it BUT when it first debuted – You have to admit you were scared.  Shower anyone?

10.  NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET – A low-budget film that messes with your mind big time! What is real and what is imaginary?

And there are so many more crossing the boundaries of thriller to horror to sci-fi – They all scare the bejesus out of me!

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The Lunatics Are Running The Asylum!

The Lunatics Are Running The Asylum!

And that my friends pretty much sums up the rather thin interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe’s THE SYSTEM OF DOCTOR TARR AND MR. FETHER as transformed into a screenplay and made into the movie, STONEHEARST ASYLUM.

We’re talking killer cast here;  Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, and Sophie Kennedy Clark.  The real crime here is the script.  The film is loosely based on Poe’s short story but fails to instill the thriller aspects Poe so aptly imbedded in his tales.  Here we have a very over-the-top set design, seriously could you get any more shrouded-in-fog Gothic than the monstrous castle known as Stonehearst Asylum.  This particular asylum was the closet and shelf where famous and wealthy families hid away their unstable family members; meaning there were your garden variety of hysterics, depressives, incurable homosexuals and homicidal murderers. 

Dr. Edward Newgate, a recent Oxford graduate arrives at the gates of Stonehearst only to be greeted by three gun-toting, unshaven, unwashed, gap toothed crazies.  Any normal person would have turned and fled but our sincere Dr. Newgate ventures forth, eager to gain some clinical experience so he might complete his training as an Alienist.  I would say within the first 10 minutes of the film the audience is quite aware that indeed the lunatics are running the asylum”. 

As with every thriller, one can expect twists and turns, unfortunately, the film is very predictable and the characters although bravely embraced by the likes of Kingsley and Caine, are merely clones we’ve seen before.  Without making this into a real spoiler, let me point out that the lack of dimension and character development is best exemplified by the scenes between Sturgess and Beckinsale are repeats of the first scene.  He wants to take her away, he wants to take her away, he wants to take her away.

It’s saddening to think such stellar performers as Kingsley and Caine are reduced to acting in a film clearly destined to achieve DVD status before the year runs out.  I’m not  holding out much hope for Michael Caine  in the upcoming movie Interstellar because he is billed below Matthew McConaughy and Ann Hathaway and in fact, there isn’t even a character noted next to his name.  Maybe he’s a narrator;  That would be fine, I love his voice.

If you like mild thrillers, not much gore, and seeing a great cast go to waste, then you should go see Stonehearst Asylum but if you’re more inclined to spend that $35.oo  (2 adult tickets in NYC) on something more substantial, then I suggest you wait a while and rent it!

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I bet you think this is going to a list of badly-acted B movies.  Well, not exactly!  Some are certainly in questionable taste and others….you’ll see and decide for yourself.

1.  AMERICAN HISTORY X

I  love Edward Norton and his performance in this movie is one of his best and also probably the most upsetting.  He portrays a young man drawn into Neo-Fascist community –  from quiet teen to violent adult.  The movie is bleak and replete with scenes of shocking violence and jaw-dropping racisim.

2,  BIUTIFUL

Janvier  Bardem was acclaimed for his performance here, scooping awards at Cannes and even getting nominated for an Oscar. To receive the nomination, the judging committee had to watch this film once, but I doubt they could bear to sit through it again. Bardem plays a drug dealer diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the combination of the dark and disturbing world matched with Bardem’s ever-worsening situation marks this as one of the finest films you’ll never, ever want to see again. Don’t be fooled by the title.

3. REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

Requiem for a Dream completely will blow you away the first time you see it. Maybe this is the movie they should show to kids in middle school to convince them not to do drugs? Because it’s way more effective than any after-school special. Once you see what Jennifer Connelly gets herself into just to score some dope, you’ll never be the same.

The Birth Of A Nation

The Birth Of A Nation

4. THE BIRTH OF A NATION

This movie is considered one of the first ever movies in the sense that we see them today-with a coherent story, use of jump cuts, and a long running time, which is all good.  But then you  realize the movie is a heartily enthusiastic celebration of the Ku Klux Klan.  Real film buffs and historians will find it worth watching but for the rest of us, a grim example of days gone by to be left on the shelf.

5.  A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgesse’s “unfilmable” dystopian novel is now seen as a seminal movie-but at the time was banned and panned for it’s constant violence and the depiction of rape. A Clockwork Orange is a difficult movie to talk about, because it’s one of those ‘you have to see it for yourself’ kind of films.

6. THE ELEPHANT MAN

Director Lynch excelled himself here with The Elephant Man. The movie tells the true-ish story of John Merrick, played by British thespian actor, John Hurt, a grotesquely deformed man with a heart of gold.  The film shows the despairing plight of humanity and is just too depressing to watch twice. The performances are amazing and the prosthetics  brilliant.

The Road

The Road

7.  THE ROAD

I read the book, shivering through most of it and yet had this yearning to see the movie.  As graphic and dismal as the book was, it’s nothing compared to the cold bleak relentless scenes shot in shades of gray.  It’s the story of a man trying to keep his son and self alive in a post-apolcayptic  wasteland.  Full of misery but performed beautifully.

Sophie's Choice

Sophie’s Choice

8.  SOPHIE’S CHOICE

The film itself has become a byword for onscreen misery, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t see the  film once. Meryl Streep’s performance is typically brilliant-she allegedly only shot the “choice” scene with one outcome, and refused to perform the other.  The tale of her struggling with what she did during the second world war is harrowing and devastating in equal measure. It might be almost synonymous with sadness, but it’s something you have to see to appreciate fully.

9.  APOCALYTO

Frankly I couldn’t bring myself to watch this movie even once.  Every time I saw the trailer I had to turn away.  The story line is about greed, power and human sacrifices.  In the Maya civilization, a peaceful tribe is brutally attacked by warriors seeking slaves and human beings for sacrifice for their gods. Jaguar Paw hides his pregnant wife and his son in a deep hole nearby their tribe and is captured while fighting with his people. An eclipse spares his life from the sacrifice and later he has to fight to survive and save his beloved family.

10. GANGS OF NEW YORK

I was exhausted after watching this film.  Filled with horrible violence, filth and poverty, it’s quite a snapshot of life in the Five Points in New York City.  At one point I actually did leave the screening room and fled to the ladie’s room to avoid one of the bloodiest scenes.  The narrative and characters are weak but the general sweep and spectacle of the whole thing makes it worth a look. I’ll seen any movie Scorcese does, so I went, but I’ll never watch it again.

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Probably the most memorable line in the movie, Love Is Strange.  It certainly brought the audience to a loud laugh, but then again, we were in Manhattan watching this tale of love and marriage which takes place in The City.  The film’s main story is that of Ben and George who after 39 years of togetherness, get married and then things go down hill.   George loses his job at a Catholic school but not his faith and without his steady income, the couple is forced to sell their apartment.  Homosexuality is not the subject of the movie, real estate is.  The couple is forced to go separate ways while they look for another affordable apartment.  They call a family meeting and put their dilemma out on the table.  This being New York City, no one has any room to accommodate the couple. That is except for Mindy who lives in Poughkeepsie and has an extra bedroom.  True to NYC island mentality, they all  think living in Poughkeepsie is unthinkable, not even remotely feasible.  That’s when the fun begins…Ben moves in with his nephew, Elliot and his wife, Kate and their son, Joey in a  small two bedroom apartment in  Brooklyn, George moves in with friends who just happen to be a pair of gay cops leading a rather boisterous life, partying night after night, filling the apartment with hordes of people.

Love Is Strange

Love Is Strange

The secondary story involves Kate (Marissa Tomei), wife of Ben’s nephew and writer who works from home and their son. One of the funniest scenes and one I wholeheartedly related to, was where Ben keeps starting up a conversation with Kate who is trying very hard to finish writing her book.  Ben is quiet for a moment and then asks her yet another question.  She is so frustrated, she almost loses it.  Joey, Ben’s nephew is tolerant up to a point;  His world is getting smaller as Uncle Ben takes over part of his bedroom, and intrudes on the already cramped space in this small two bedroom apartment in New York.  He (Joey) has developed a friendship with Vlad, who although may be the same age as Joey is light years beyond him in street smarts and this is cause for concern to his mother and father. 

Actually as I’m writing this, I think the real story in the movie is STRESS.  Ben and George are totally stressed out because they are separated and each is living in someone else’s home.  I think it’s George who says that when you live with someone you get to know them much better than you would want to.  Kate is stressed because her husband Elliot is never home so she is the only one who deals with Joey and Ben.  Elliot is stressed because he’s a filmmaker and well that comes with its own set of issues, George is stressed but for the most part he internalizes it until one night when he just bursts through the door to see George and bursts into tears.

The first word out of my mouth when the movie was over was “Arty” – the film was arty, it was low-key and slow-moving, no micro sound bites here.  John Lithgow and Alfed Molina are point and counterpoint personalities and each one brings his best to Love Is Strange.

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