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Interests: Marriage & Family + foster & adopted children issues; also comparative psychology & ethology.
Other interests: sailing (11 boats in 55+ yrs); dancing; music (classical; jazz; folk; almost all); physical fitness; dogs (esp'lly Labrador Retrievers); ALL of the fine arts; sciences, esp. evolution, human & animal behavior.
In Topeka, KS, 1962-2012; in Lawrence, KS 2012-present
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Interesting biopic of an interesting character
This movie is about "P.L. Travers," the pen name of the woman who wrote the Mary Poppins books and the negotiations and huge struggles involved between Travers and Walt Disney over Disney gaining the rights to make the one "Mary Poppins" film. It gives much of the author's early background which influenced both her writing, those struggles and her personality.
Emma Thompson was nominated (very deservedly, IMO) for Golden Globe's "Best Actress" 2013 award. She was great portraying very difficult character.
While the film is biographical, like many "biopics" it takes liberties in which facts it presents, omits &/or distorts. Nevertheless, it captures much of this author's qualities, personality, and history. The Wikipedia article on "P.L. Travers" is worthwhile for those who wish to sift fact from film fiction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._L._Travers
And also, if interested, you can google the Chicago Tribune article about an interview with the author of a biography of "P.L. Travers": "'Mary Poppins, She Wrote' author discusses P.L Travers, 'Saving Mr. Banks' "
Our Hospitality (1923)
A take-off on the Hatfield-McCoy feud
This was seen in the annual Kansas Silent Film Festival. It stars Buster Keaton and is a take-off on the famed Hatfield-McCoy feud, with those names altered to "Canfield" & "McKay."
The plot has Willie McKay (Keaton) being taken north and raised in NY state after his father is killed in the feud. When he becomes a young adult, he's tricked into returning to inherit his father's estate (unaware that it's practically non-existent) and where he'll inevitably run into the wealthy Canfield family who have the intent to murder him.
BUT also on his train journey back is a lovely young lady -- a Canfield as it happens -- who invites Willie to supper in her home with her father and 2 brothers. Because of the customs of Southern hospitality, her father forbids his sons to kill Willie in their home, so they try tricks to get him outside. A very funny movie with many surprises. (Keaton loved trains and had "The Rocket" built especially for this film.)
The Butler (2013)
Worthwhile BUT misleading
This film was inspired by and loosely based on the career of Eugene Allen, a black butler who served 8 presidents in the White House, the "lifetime" of a fictional "Cecil Gaines" (Whittaker) and his family is used to briefly retrace the conflicts and advances in American race relations over the last 100 years.
I was mistaken in seeing this film, thinking that it was the biographical drama of an actual White House butler's experiences. It is NOT, and I didn't fully realize that until after the movie when I turned to the internet to get more information. There are OCCASIONAL similarities between the lives and experiences of the actual butler (Eugene Allen) and the character, "Cecil Gaines," inspired by Allen and brilliantly portrayed by Forest Whittaker. But many spicy & highly charged elements have been added, no doubt to more dramatically portray the severity and some of the extremes that were fostered and tolerated in America during Allen's/"Gaine's" lifetime (plus add dramatic tension).
I'm 85 and lived through many of those years. I was active in demonstrating for racial equality (and fortunately never injured as some others were). While this movie shows a few extreme examples (& newsreel clips) of racism & protests, I totally agree with A.O. Scott's statement in his NYTimes review: "A brilliantly truthful film on a subject" (civil wrongs) "that is usually shrouded in wishful thinking, mythmongering and outright denial...."
BUT I DO wish that this movie made it clear FROM THE BEGINNING that it's NOT the film version of a biography but an "As if" drama of what many people, such as Mr. Allen, did or could experience. Several internet sites list the several places this movie's details of the fictional "Mr. Gaines'" life correspond with Mr. Allen's actual life and the many where they do not. E.g., Mr. Allen's one son served in Viet Nam and returned safely whereas this film's fictional "Mr. Gaines" has 2 sons: 1 killed in Viet Nam, and another active in the Black Panthers, etc. (One of those sites is "How True Is The Butler" at www.slate.com)
I'll be surprised if Forest Whittaker and Oprah Winfrey do not, at the least, receive Oscar nominations for their roles; they were both outstanding. But the characterizations of many presidents (and their wives) vary between good and "unhh!"
My rating of 8 is downgraded from 10 because of objections cited.
It Happened One Night (1934)
Interesting "Time Travel" to an era
Background to that '30s era: this 1934 film is often called the first (of the many following) in the 'screwball comedy' genre; it came out in the worst of the Great Depression (US unemployment in 1928 was 2.9%, by 1933 it hit 25%; millions were hungry and desperate, leading to some antagonisms between economic classes). This was also a time when women's roles were changing in the US: the 'women's suffrage' movement gained women the right to vote in 1920 (19th Amendment), more equality in decision-making, more freedom in dress, gender & sexual roles (e.g., '20s 'Flappers'). "Screwball comedies" capitalized and fed on those changes: they typically "feature farcical situations, a combination of slap-stick with fast-paced repartee and show struggles between" (central characters of different) "economic classes. They also generally feature a self-confident and often stubborn central female protagonist and a plot involving courtship and marriage or remarriage" ("quotes" from Wikipedia).
A young 30's Gable plays "Peter," a drinking, hard boiled newspaper reporter just fired from his job when he accidentally meets the young 20's "Ellie" (a young 30's Colbert) who's increasingly rebelled against the escalating but failing attempts of her upper class, super-rich father to control her. He tries to keep her on his Florida yacht while arranging to annul Ellie's impulsive marriage to a man (whom her father recognizes but Ellie doesn't as mainly interested in her wealth). But Ellie escapes her father's captivity and sets off to NYC to be reunited with her new spouse. On her way, she meets Gable who's initially interested in helping her because it'll lead to his scoop of a newspaper story (and reinstatement of his job). But then--romance eventually, gradually, starts to happen between you know who.
My rating: 6 of 10 I found this interesting as a time-traveling experience--early '30s bus rides, clothes, roles, attitudes, etc.-- but all the people seemed to me to be too much caricatures and not enough real characters. (However, many people on IMDb's "Discussion Board" say the more often they've seen this film, the more highly they value it--many saying it's among their most favorite films of all--so maybe familiarity breeds appreciation?) FWIW: Neither Gable nor Colbert wanted to be in this film; MGM "loaned" them to Columbia Pictures, then a 2nd rate movie company, for this movie as punishment for each being too "uppity" and/or violating MGM policies. But, after this film gained such outstanding success (lifting Columbia's rank to among the majors) and substantially helped both Gable's & Colbert's careers, they came to appreciate it.
Wonderful time travel back to mid-20th century USA
Possibly, for some, our modern day views of alcoholism may interfere with appreciating this film's narrative. But it's not a reality play, it's farcical: it's a fairy-tale, it's an allegory for what's really most important in human relations.
And Elwood Dowd isn't an alcoholic--he's the very rare person who has --somehow --found the means (through his magic pooka, "Harvey") to be friendly, considerate and compassionate with everyone. Jimmy Stewart plays him perfectly.
While it certainly wasn't the original intention for this movie, nevertheless now it also provides us present day, 21st century viewers with a "Time Traveling" experience: -- a look back at our society in the 1940s-50s, immersing us in the norms of that period's gender relations, of styles of women's social relations, of upper-crust, top-of-the-line mental health treatment (although typical MH treatment in that era was punitive, very barbaric), etc. And yet, almost all of its humor still resonates: still delightful, still charming, even after all these sixty-some years.
Before Sunrise (1995)
Marvellous, unusually realistic, atypical of Hollywood
This is about the accidental meeting of two mid-20s age college students: "Jesse" (Ethan Hawke) and "Celine" (Julie Delpy).
He's returning from a disappointing visit to his girlfriend in Spain (she's in an international student program but has fallen in love with another student and dumped Jesse). He's near broke and on a train to Vienna from where he'll take his cheapest flight back to the USA.
Celine's on the same train, returning to her home in Paris when they meet. Although French, she's studied in the USA and speaks excellent English. Jesse asks - and Celine agrees - to interrupt her trip to spend a few more hours together exploring Vienna before his plane leaves. Gradually, as they get to know each other, they become more deeply attached.
As Roger Ebert said, "This sort of scenario has happened....millions of times. It has rarely happened in a nicer, sweeter, more gentle way.... (It's) so much like real life - like a documentary with an invisible camera."
This is the first film (so far, of 3) by Linklater starring Delpy and Hawke, each filmed 9 years apart: "Before Sunset" (2004) & "Before Midnight" (2013). While it'd be nice to see them in order, each one is so good, so unique and satisfying that it's more important to just see them. The series is about relationships: how do we get to know others and let others know us, how do we handle differences, conflicts? To what would a long term relationship with this person lead? - satisfaction? - disappointment? How much of which? How can we tell?
This film's opening raises those questions by example: on the train ride, Celine's bothered by the loud conversation of a long married, middle-aged couple across the aisle from her: they argue so loudly (and obviously chronically) about? - whatever, everything - that Celine moves and finds herself across the aisle from Jesse. Their conversation starts - and where will this go? That's the gist of this marvelous, very unique movie.
People who prefer car chases and explosions should avoid it--no action of that kind, whatsover; it's all just talk--but, for many of us, what exciting talk that keeps us wondering to where it will lead!!
Les Misérables (2012)
Very worthwhile but not that enjoyable to me
Some factions consider this an "opera," some consider it "musical theater." (IMO, it resembles opera FAR more than "Sound of Music," "Oklahoma," etc., does.)
Valjean (Hugh Jackman) was sentenced to years of hard labor after stealing bread to feed his starving niece. After being released, because he broke parole he was then hunted endlessly, vindictively, by Javert (Russell Crowe) attempting to return him to prison. Valjean cares for, brings up as her only parent, an orphan girl and in that process achieves his own redemption.
Set in 1810-1860 era France, it deals with class & gender inequities, retaliative laws & punishments, etc., then prevalent in France as well as much of Western civilization (& with vestiges today).
Stunning settings, excellent acting, but it was too much like some less preferred opera for me. (While I do like "Faust," "Carmen," "Amahl & the Night Visitors," "Madama Butterfly," etc.) I didn't leave humming any tunes from this movie. But it is worthwhile for its history, current importance & relevance, etc.
Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (1990)
Very interesting--although not that enjoyable
Starring Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward and based on the 2 novels by Evan Connell: "Mr. Bridge" & "Mrs. Bridge." Mr. Bridge (Newman) grew up in a modest family in a small, rural Kansas town and rose to become a prominent lawyer in Kansas City, MO, in the 1930s - early '40s, a member of the country club set and affluent society. He's reached his apex BUT, having grown up in a family in a much lower social position & totally unfamiliar with higher society, he's inwardly fearful of a gaffe that would destroy his new found prominence--so he relies mainly on his sense of what his and his family's 'proper' role & appearance should be (and becomes very rigid about it & somewhat snobbish). His extreme reliance on maintaining these roles stifles him--and his wife (Woodward) even more--and results in their children distancing themselves from their parents and seeking less restrictive patterns.
The narrative is in the "slice of life" style: no plot, no conflict resolved, no definite ending: as if the viewer looks in on these lives at various points--sometimes briefly, sometimes longer--and stitches those views together to form a collage, the whole, rather than creating a more seamless narrative in the more usual style.
Set & filmed in Kansas City, MO (& with bits of KC jazz!!) it captures quite well some gender & social role aspects of affluent KC society in the 1930s-early '40s era: male dominated in which women were to raise kids, help their husbands, and be agreeable to them. The 3 Bridge children rebel, of course, against the patterns of their parents, each in their own way. IMO, while the film's quite interesting it's not that enjoyable: it shows the effect of strictly living out one's life in a role (Mr. B's) rather than being more flexibly human. (Also interesting was the view of that social class at that time: Although set in the mid to late Great Depression era, among this affluent class there was no mention of it except to be anti-Roosevelt and demand that all peoples earn their livings despite the severe nation-wide unemployment then existing).
One easily anticipates how much WW-II & the USA's 1941 entry into it will change forever the expected and accepted gender and social roles current at that time in the USA. It's a fascinating look back at a former era.
This role for Newman is definitely not typical of his usual but he conveys Mr. Bridge's very constricted life quite well as does Woodward as the suffering but compliant Mrs. Bridge.
A New Leaf (1971)
Most people find this VERY funny (but it's not to me)
Henry (Walter Matthau), having squandered his large inheritance, his butler advises him that his only remedies are either suicide or marrying for money. The first option is less appealing to Henry so he quickly searches for a likely candidate--and finds Henrietta (Elaine May).
This film is an example of what's sometimes called "comedy noir" in which undesirable acts or conditions set the stage for satire or laughs. Henry's an arrogant, completely self-centered man, profligate of his considerable inheritance, and seemingly never with any close emotional relationships. He risks taking out a very punitive short term loan to maintain his appearances as a man of considerable means with the aim of both quickly finding a wealthy woman to marry and then "doing her in."
He finds his ideal candidate/victim: Henrietta --- the only child of deceased parents, extremely wealthy, a botanical scientist, AND with almost NO social sense or grace. Henry quickly courts her, proposes, and they marry. Henry researches potential poisons while Henrietta is researching ferns. But suddenly, Henry realizes Henrietta's love for him has become as gratifying as her abundant money and he begins a transformation.
This film is liberally sprinkled with great (funny) one-liners and dialog; many people find it side-splitting hilarious. I chuckled some but neither Henry's extreme haughtiness nor Henrietta's "Asperger's"-like behavior was that funny to me nor such quick transformations believable.
My rating of 6 was possibly influenced by my career (clinical psychologist) working with disturbed people which may have lessened my appreciation? Most friends in non-therapeutic fields think it's extremely funny.
FWIW: Elaine May's (the director as well as co-star) original version of this film was 3 hours long which the studio found unacceptable so it was cut to its present length, eliminating 2 murders in the process. Elaine May was so dissatisfied with this cutting, she sought to have her name removed from the film credits. More about this can be found in IMDb's "Did You Know" Trivia for this film and/or look for this film's title on Wikipedia.
Pitch Perfect (2012)
A delightful look at college days with singing
Beca (Kendrick), an entering freshman at fictional "Barden College," aspires to be a DJ in L.A. But her father, a professor at Barden, insists she attend college at least a year plus join some activity group. Last year, Barden's male 'a cappella' singing group, the "Treblemakers," won 1st place in national collegiate competition. Barden's female group, the "Bellas," had 'ill fortune' and, trying hard to do better this next year, is actively recruiting new members. Beca joins it. At "Barden College" these 'a cappella' singing groups seem to serve some of the same roles that Greek fraternities & sororities or membership on college football/ basketball teams do in most colleges: group socializing, achieving, winning school honors by competing for victory with other colleges. Beca's reluctant to join and, once committed, is reluctant to trust or be close to anyone, e.g., a boy (Astin) in the "Treblemakers" who's interested in her. "Pitch Perfect" with its sexual jokes (and projectile vomiting that rivals a fire hydrant: make "snow angels" in the vomit on the floor, anyone?) is funny throughout, especially so to the 18-30 year age group with college experiences and, among those, probably more so to its females. My girlfriend & I saw this in a college town where audience laughter drowned out our hearing many lines. The music with lively choreography was great; wish there was more. (Many say that Rebel Wilson as "Fat Amy" wins the acting credits.) Its view of contemporary college humor was fascinating to this grad from decades ago plus I loved the music. (FWIW: IMDb's gender X age ratings are also fascinating.)