The President Rings Twice, and the Patriots Answer

DATELINE:  Ring-a-Ding Trump

off off-season   Mr. Kraft to you bradys-friend

Having eschewed humorous sports reports on Boston travesties lately, we are forced into a return to the topic one more time.

For this, you can thank Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and close friend of President Donald Trump.

In April, one of the first big sports events of the Trump era was the visit of the Super Bowl champs of 2017 to the White House. This fiasco was decorated with many missing members of the team who protested the new President. One can only wonder how many of the black players might find their lives hardly mattering after the incidents of KKK and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville or Charlotte’s Web.

They might feel some blame for the violence, making their livings through one of the most concussed and violent games around.

However, we beat a dead horse when today’s news is not fake enough for the alt-right. Yes, Robert Kraft has bestowed one of his $36,000 diamond-studded Super Bowl rings on Mr. Trump.

Usually the President receives a jersey with Tom Brady’s partial number, 1, on it, if it is recovered from international thieves.

However, this year, the man who often breaks bread with Trump and flies on Air Force One often, decided to break precedent and give the President one of those prized rings.

Reportedly, Kraft wanted Trump to have something to put into his presidential library when his term is up, sooner than later, with not much to show for it so far.

Kraft also gave a ring to Tom Brady’s mother for her valiant battle against cancer, which felled Kraft’s wife several years ago. It was Trump’s condolences back then that sealed his friendship with the billionaire NFL owner.

 

 The White House is not talking about when the ring was made or bestowed. And, the Patriots have only made a sly announcement this week in the midst of the pre-season after a tumultuous off off-season.

You can read all about it in Ossurworld’s notorious book, The Patriots Most Off Off-Season Ever, perhaps the last in the Patriots series of hilarious, if not nasty, accounts of their dynastic years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mandela & De Klerk Teaches US Hard Lesson

DATELINE:  A Timely Movie from 20 Years Ago

mandela

With racial tension once again dominating the United States and with a president defending white supremacists as “many fine people,” we felt it was time to take a look at a 20-year old movie called Mandela & De Klerk.

Somehow, in our blithe ignorance, we missed this small film in 1997 when Sidney Poitier and Michael Caine took on the roles of the title. We doubt today’s self-righteous and self-leftists are even able to sit down and watch a thoughtful movie.

After 27 years in jail in a society based on racial divisions, Nelson Mandela’s movement to end apartheid flourished with millions of African people pitted against a minority of white people.

With the emergence of a reasonable and man of moral scruples in F.W. De Klerk came the détente and building of a relationship built on racial equality, if not a stronger tolerance.

To have two superstars come to play the roles gives the newsreel based footage something more intimate and human. The film was made on location in South Africa, and the actors are clearly well-chosen for their parts in delineating how race riots can be quelled by good men in temperate mode.

We usually eschew preachy movies, or overtly political allegories—but this film now seems more apt than ever for another country that has too long taken on a holier-than-thou attitude in the world.

Neo-Nazis, crypto-Nazis, and their ilk, have come to hate the loss of “white” culture in a world where inevitably the American nation will be dominated by minorities when people of color become the American majority within 50 years, or less.

It may be time to wake up and smell the coffee, whether you are alt-right, or alt-left, or just alt-of-this-world.

Lost City & Lost Spirit, Zed Renamed Z

DATELINE:  No Bomba Here

 Zed

An old-fashioned epic journey was once the purview of great films and studios. Think David Lean or John Huston. To tackle a grand mystery, the disappearance of an explorer and his son in the 1920s seems to be the stuff of legendary movies.

Lost cities and their discovery also play in the ballpark of great historical drama.

Yet, something may have become lost in translation when it comes to The Lost City of Z.

Without a doubt, many facets of the Percival Fawcett saga are well-produced, well-acted, and directed with an old-style elan by James Gray.

So, where did the audience become lost? Nowadays, your viewership is weaned on cartoonish plot-holes with noisy special effects, but this film resists the urge for going that way. It paid the price with quality unappreciated. This is not your father’s Indiana Jones.

The film is an adventure in the classic Royal Geographic Society tradition, perhaps better suited to a miniseries from BBC.

Fawcett’s most significant discovery was that the RGS was filled with racial prejudice against ancient tribal societies in 1910. Imagine that! Prejudice that South American natives might not produce a classic civilization thousands of years ago!

Brad Pitt originally planned to play the obsessed British explorer, but wiser heads moved on to Charlie Hunnam, who certainly has come a long way since the days of the British Queer as Folk cast. He is quite perfect in the role, even aging with subtlety from 1906 to the 1926 when Fawcett ostensibly disappeared in the jungle.

Perhaps the understated, stiff upper-lip manner is truly anachronistic and misunderstood, leaving audiences cold.

The best part of the film for us was the role of Robert Pattinson, lately taking secondary co-star parts, sidekick to the hero. He is a delight.

Here he may come across as the next Gabby Hayes, or Ralph Bellamy, but Pattinson’s transition from cute vampire to character actor may have just given his career a new, untold longevity.

By the wayside, snippets of familiar classical music are tossed around like rose petals, which may be the truly greatest criticism we can muster.

 

Bunuel Takes On Death in the Garden

DATELINE: Signoret & Marchal in the Garden

death in the garden

Director Luis Bunuel’s reputation after he made Robinson Crusoe in the 1950s was an art-house director in the United States, but a film genius elsewhere. He was all the rage at Harvard’s Brattle Theatre crowd.

So, he was sent back to the jungle in 1956 to make a Mexican-French survivors facing the elements, a subject quite popular back in the ‘50s when a spate of these plane crash movies and South American headhunters took center stage.

Death in the Garden differed a bit. It started out as a political rebellion in a small mining town in the Sierra Madre—and threw together a prostitute who is a bit hard-edged, an adventurer, a priest, an old man and his deaf daughter, into the steamy jungles.

They are chased by military police for reasons both right and wrong, depending on the guilty party.

Bunuel had a couple of curve balls in his arsenal. He had a young (mid-30s) Simone Signoret, fresh off Diabolique and not yet the international star, and a French lookalike of Sterling Hayden, the tough guy Georges Marchal.

Bunuel avoided headhunters, but went for the jugular in the jungle. His characters were literally animals:  Shark, Birdie, Father Lizardi, and no one is truly innocent or nice. So, you can expect characters to be picked off, but may have a harder time predicting who will be done in.

Just when it looks like the jungle will do them in, they discover a crashed airplane (from one of those other jungle movies) filled with provisions to give them another chance.

The film is subtler than most American versions of the story circulating in drive-ins of the day—and its cynicism and politics likely keeps it in the sphere of film aficionados, not movie fans. It remains minor Bunuel, but intriguing nonetheless.

 

Life Begins Again for Alien Blob

DATELINE Nice Guys Finish Last

Meeting the Enemy--It's US! Pods Unite!

LIFE should never be confused with L I F E. The two movies are like night and day. Each film had some bright leading men. The first had Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson, a couple of actors you always play dubious characters.

The other film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, a couple of actors who are completely nice guys, all the time. The second L I F E is a science-fiction movie and the bad guy is a pipsqueak space alien who feeds on humans.  This allows the leading men to play like vanilla ice cream, melting slowly. Fear not: the second L I F E film is far better than the first, blank space not withstanding.

Daniel Espinosa who gave us the chlllingly depressing tale of a Russian child molester, Child 44, directs this intense combo of the Blob Meets Alien. And, it’s a doozy all right.

Because the science nerds in this film are so serious and the science is so accurate, this tale becomes more horrifying and realistic as a group of bland astronauts finds a one-cell lifeform from Mars that rapidly grows into a threat to the human race—while still on the space station.

It’s all familiar, yet fresh in a more disturbing way in the hands of Espinosa. You have your vanilla ice-cream ethnically-diverse heroes looking to follow protocol. It didn’t work in the Thing from Outer Space in 1950, and it won’t work for these guys.

If you enjoy a good squirm in your seat movie, you have one here. However, there is a considerable amount of weeping among the crew—and gnashing of teeth, rather than decisive action.

If you want to bemoan the state of today’s film plots, you need only wonder how much different this picture would have been if John Wayne had been among the crew.

No Joke: The Seven Dwarves of Auschwitz

DATELINE:  Fascinating True Story

7 dwarves

Though it sounds like a sick joke, the fate of the vaudeville Orvitz family came down to the misfortune and good fortune of being dwarves and Jews. A documentary called The Seven Dwarves of Auschwitz is harrowing and inspiring.

Brothers and sisters, the seven Orvitzes entertained Europe in the 1930s with song, dance, patter, and capitalizing on their own physical situation. They were tiny people who joined many others of the era by entering show biz as the best way to make a living.

They exploited themselves, and ran from the terror of the Nazis in Europe.  They ignored the horror stories, but finally the Nazis came to capture them in Transylvania and transport them in 1944 to the death camp at Auschwitz.

Through pluck and luck, they came to the attention of an ironic savior, the unstable Dr. Joseph Mengele. One of the guards told the doctor that he had found more specimens for the infamous ‘Mengele Zoo’, as it was called.

Yet, it meant that they would live as experiment specimens for the deranged medical practices of Mengele. However, he was also intrigued by their ability to entertain. It was that which kept them alive while others with deformity were slaughtered.

The tale is told by actor Warwick Davis, a small person himself, with an interest in the history of show business dwarves. He made a name for himself in movies, playing Ewoks and whatnot.

The horror of the tale is etched on his face as he travels the route suffered by the seven Orvitz dwarves. They were tortured by odd experiments, but managed to survive. Mengele allowed them to live to perform for him.

The film is unique in its perspective and deserves to be seen and will never be forgotten.

Neruda’s Politics Over Poetry

DATELINE:  Chile Politics

neruda

Pablo Larrain’s other important movie this past year, besides Jackie, is another off-beat biographical drama, this time centering on Chilean poet and political activist Pablo Neruda.

The film Neruda puts its focus on a year-long period in 1948 when the poet was targeted by the Chilean government for arrest and explains his attempts to flee the country while being chased by some kind of Victor Hugo-styled police detective. Bernal is utterly breath-taking in his 1940s wardrobe.

Told from the viewpoint of Gael Gabriel Bernal as the police pursuer, you have a man of no consequence taking his identity from chasing the biggest figure in his country’s history. As the cop finally begs the audience, “I am not a supporting character,” and we feel that Larrain is in total agreement.

The film hints that the pursuer was a creation of Neruda’s paranoia or of his self-important art. We tend to support the group that prefers to remember that Nobel Prize winner Neruda was a Stalinist communist, unrepentant and disdainful of much else.

In 1948 Chile perhaps it was chichi to be an unrelenting communist chased by a relentless secret police officer. Peanut-sized actor Bernal is strikingly brilliant in his dogged role. Luis Gnecco is equal in his performance as the frumpy, profligate poet Neruda.

Americans may wonder how this uninspired-looking man could motivate his nation as a martyr, or give voice to the downtrodden, that sent many who helped him to prison. It is all part of Larrain’s poetic vision of cat-and-mouse politics.

We must admit that the notion that an unimportant pawn of political corruption drawing his identity from hounding a greater man for his beliefs is a fascinating topic.

The film is fully realized, one of two powerful political dramas this year by the South American filmmaker Pablo Larrain, now taking part in Hollywood mainstream.

Neruda will be intriguing for those of a certain socialist political bent. The rest of us will conclude Neruda and the Nobel Prize are overrated, but the movie is not.

MacBird Outdid Trump as Caesar 45 years ago

 Julius Trump?

DATELINE:  Shakespeare in Absentia

We have seen many updated versions of Shakespeare over the years. Indeed, we enjoy seeing the Bard transported to new locations and timeframes. It often electrifies the message that has become stale to modern audiences.

We have seen Shakespeare set in Nazi Germany (Richard III), in the world of bikers (Coriolanus), in the world of independent film students (Hamlet), a corporate boardroom (Othello), and now we find a stage production of Julius Caesar in American politics.

The Shakespeare in the Park production makes Caesar a lookalike Donald Trump who hath grown ambitious. He has that chock of blond hair weave and an overlong red tie. He also has a bloated ego.

The man who would be emperor is assassinated by senators with knives, just like 2000 years ago. How much progress we have made in politics?

This version has created a firestorm, causing corporate sponsors to try to stifle artistic expression by withdrawing support. It’s a tempest in a teapot.

We think back to the Vietnam War days—and back then we must have been less sensitive because Macbeth was presented on stage in the form of MacBird.

That little ditty suggested that Lyndon Johnson had been behind the assassination of John Kennedy. In this cruel satire, without the Shakespearean tongue, the Scottish thane Macbird and his wife, Lady Bird, are party to a ruthless series of killings to rise to the top of the nation. Was Lyndon not born of woman?

We recall amusement about seeing a dumb tasteless play that presented President Johnson portrayed for conspiracy theorists  as Macbeth, but it did not quite engender the furor that President Trump has exemplified in a Caesar mode.

Satirizing politics of the moment has become a dangerous business. Just ask Alec Baldwin or Kathy Griffin who claim they are subject to social anger on social media.

So, too, Julius Caesar has created a debate—not about politics, but about art. To be or not, we’ll wait for the movie version.

People’s Princess v. The Queen

 DATELINE: Ten Years Later

Queen & Country

As docudramas go, Helen Mirren’s movie about Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana is among the best.

Now ten years later, we took another peek at the film called merely The Queen, directed by Stephen Frears and written by Peter Morgan. It has that wry detail of Diana looking back at the Queen with an accusing stare.

We don’t know how the creators know what tears, angst, and emotions, were expressed when the Queen was alone.  Mirren provides all this and more. Yes, it surely makes an exciting and intimate film performance.

This is the best of Mirren’s many queen roles, and this is the best of Michael Sheen’s many Tony Blair roles. Blair has to save the Queen from herself and her noblesse oblige family. Mirren’s Queen is witty and ultimately practical, whether this is true of the real people in the movie or not.

Actors re-enacting surely provides powerful insights into the tragic event of Princess Di’s death and the reaction of Her Royal Pains in the afterlife.

We recognized an impressive Roger Allam this time, from his Endeavour TV series, playing the Queen’s personal assistant. James Cromwell is his usual acerbic character as Prince Philip.

Mirren has many stunning moments, such as her shock when the public applauds Di’s brother after giving her eulogy. The Queen’s speech left more to be desired, even with a great actress delivering the same words.

Post Traumatic Patriots Day

Wahlberg

DATELINE:  Boston Under Attack

On occasion, you encounter a movie that is a burden to watch, but you feel utterly compelled to stay the course as your patriotic duty. Such a film is Patriots Day.

We were in our hometown Boston when the horrific Marathon bombing occurred and lived through the four days of wall-to-wall TV coverage in 2013. It seems like living self-torture through post-traumatic stress to watch and relive the movie version produced and starring Mark Wahlberg. As a Bostonian, he wanted to be sure the movie had a Boston perspective.

It does, almost to a point of caricature, with accents flowering and scenes filmed mostly on location. Watertown residents preferred not to relive the mayhem in their backyards, and a different set was used for those climactic scenes of a Wild West shootout with two local residents turned terrorists.

If there is much to admire in this docudrama, police and detective work as well as FBI heroism is top of the list. In a matter of hours, starting from scratch, an entire operation and manhunt was created with tireless work from police, hospital workers, and citizens.

The film probably will best be seen years from now with more perspective on events, like the film Parkland about the Kennedy assassination, made 50 years after it happened. The raw nerves of the Marathon event are too fresh, still, to not feel abused again by what we know as familiar names and places and inevitabilities.

Hollywood fireworks are not missing here: as the shootout with the terrorists is stunning. Performances of J.K. Simmons, John Goodman, and Kevin Bacon, are appropriately underplayed. Red Sox star and local celebrity David Ortiz plays himself.

If any question remains, it is how to handle the people who were most unhelpful: Tamerlane Tsarnaev’s American wife and Dzokhar’s pothead UMass friends. Their reputations should be mud forever, according to this movie. We would say they got off far too easily.

Since this film may be the ultimate history lesson for viewers of the future, it stands as a moment in time, close enough to events, to ensure its accuracy. If we know anything from documentary history, it is that time dilutes, distorts, and changes the perception of the age’s Zeitgeist.

We think this one will pass the test of time.

Twin Peaks, Trump Plains, & Celtics Lows

DATELINE:  LeBron James as Laura Palmer, Trump as D.B. Cooper

glowing orb

Chicken or egg? We can’t figure out if the Trump Administration has prepared us for the new series Twin Peaks, or whether Twin Peaks has prepared us for the continuing weirdness of the Trump presidency.

When we see President Trump putting his hands on a glowing orb, we know there is a conspiracy of billionaires to control the world. Of course, it is merely a futuristic ribbon-cutting scene from the most recent Star Wars movie. Either that, or it is opening a gateway to an alternate universe, like the plots of Twin Peaks.

By the same token, we feel as if watching the Cleveland Cavaliers with the Boston Celtics is like knitting by Madame Defarge while royalty is having their heads chopped off.

On Twin Peaks, agent DB Cooper has returned to the northwest after disappearing for 25 years. That David Lynch has such a sense of humor.  So far, McLachlan has not rubbed any glowing orbs, but has kissed dead Laura Palmer (Cheryl Lee).

On the Celtics, little Cousin IT (Isaiah Thomas) and AB (Avery Bradley) are from the same neck of the woods in Washington state which happens to be the setting for Twin Peaks. It could explain a lot about how the Celtics are playing like Laura Palmer’s body wrapped in plastic.

Even stranger, we were amazed to see Kyle McLachlan and Sheryl Lee looking just like they stepped out of a 1990s TV show.  It becomes even more amazing when David Lynch has to inject a phrase at the end of every episode of the show that the episode is dedicated to the memory of one of the cast members who is now dead. We mean really really dead dead, like the log lady Catherine Coulson and the FBI agent played by Miguel Ferrer.

As for the dead Celtics, they are merely playing in an alternate universe, sort of like Twin Peaks 25 years later. If there is a glowing orb in the NBA, they better start rubbing it now. Lebron is no Laura Palmer.

Illuminating Lumet

DATELINE:  Basic Workhorse

Lumet

His documentary is standard, if not dull, with Sidney Lumet alone talking to the camera. No other interviews interrupt his self-analysis, though it is interspersed with dozens of clips from his many notable films.

As you might have guessed by the end of the film, Lumet never won a best director Oscar—not that it’s an omission of the prodigious output of his career.

Starting out as a child actor on Broadway (an arch-rival to Frankie Thomas), he tried Hollywood as a child star, but MGM dropped him soon enough. However, Lumet loved acting and being around creative people. He loved to work, and his father Baruch Lumet was a soap opera radio actor as well. It was a short jump to stay with theater as a director as Sidney grew up.

He started at the top in movies, directing the extraordinary all-star, movie called Twelve Angry Men with Henry Fonda about a claustrophobic jury. From there he worked steadily with great stars in less than commercial properties, from Katharine Hepburn to Brando, in their least successful box-office films of the era.

Each film he made was literate, thought-provoking, and from all genres. Few recall he directed Michael Jackson in The Wiz—and Richard Burton in Equus. Fonda again in Fail-Safe. He brought out bravura performances by Rod Steiger in Pawnbroker, and Paul Newman in the Verdict. He made diverse movies like The Hill (Sean Connery) and Murder on the Orient Express (Albert Finney). He made Dog Day Afternoon like a newsreel with Al Pacino and made a hilarious black comedy with gay themes called Deathtrap with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve. All brilliant.

As each amazing movie is catalogued, Lumet dismisses his interest in morality, his love of New York, and his nearly Calvinistic religious fervor for work above all else.

Yet, we realized half-way into the documentary that we never truly loved any of his films. They won our respect, and caught our attention always. However, there was no overpowering sense of directoral style, which may not be bad. He knew how to handle a story and its stars.

If there is an ultimate response to him, we feel regret that he did not receive enough acclaim from us.

 

An Open Letter to President Trump

Dear President Trump,
As one of your earliest supporters and donors, I am disheartened to hear that your head of Homeland Security is seriously considering deporting longtime residents.
TPS or Temporary Protected Status has been given to 60,000 Haitians living in the United States for many years. Thousands came after the hurricane disasters of 2010, but many others were here for political protection or asylum from dangerous thugs in Haiti even before that.
I personally know that some have worked hard in America and believe in the American Dream, learned English, and are consistent taxpayers. Many Haitian refugees granted asylum work in some of the most necessary and difficult jobs in America. They take care of our senior citizens in nursing homes or provide aid to other disabled Americans who cannot fend for themselves. These are the jobs few traditional American citizens will do. It’s hard work, and often unpleasant work.
 Now we hear recommendations are coming to you to deport these people after a decade or more of living in the United States. I have never heard of anything more cold-blooded or unfair.
When I voted for you, I did not expect the decent hard-working people would be the target of discrimination by functionary appointees of your administration.
I urge you, please, Mr. Trump, to grant temporary protected status to Haitians before July 22. To let them dangle until the last minute AND then be deported is harsh business.
Deporting believers in the American Dream is not true to Republican standards of charity and goodwill and violates every standard by which I have lived as a Republican my entire life.
Please give Temporary Protected Status to Haitians immediately.
Your ardent supporter,
Dr. William Russo

Five Great Directors Go to War

DATELINE:  History Backstory

five

Netflix has put together a three-part documentary, based on a Mark Harris book, Five Came Back about the impact World War II had on the careers and personalities of Hollywood’s legendary directors.

They called the work “propaganda,” and it was dismissed by many over the years as secondary to the art of film.

Starting with Frank Capra, the great directors wanted to serve their country—in the best way they could, as filmmakers. The military was suspect of them as creators of fiction. Indeed, even Capra asserted he never watched documentaries when he was thrust into making them.

Others followed suit: John Huston, William Wyler, John Ford, and George Stevens. Each had been highly successful during the 1930s, but after serving in dangerous war zones, seeing death close up, their seminal work would come in the post-war years.

After the war, each had a signature film that displayed the horrors etched into their art form: for Wyler, it was The Best Years of Our Lives, about returning veterans; for Ford, it was They Were Expendable, about the toll on sailors; for Huston, it was The Treasure of Sierra Madre, seeing the deadly sins up close; for Stevens, it was a series of dramas like Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, filmed as A Place in the Sun; for Capra, it was about confronting the darkness from It’s A Wonderful Life.

Along the way, we have the insights on how these men navigated the politics of Washington as deftly as they traversed the world of big studios.

Today’s masters of cinema, like Spielberg and Kasdan, Coppola, Del Toro and Greengrass, speak to the affinity they have for the old masters and their integrity—and their pain.

As a history of Hollywood, the documentary is brilliant and poignant. As a depiction of the war against Hitler, there becomes another layer how our legends may shape our reality. A few of the documentaries produced during World War II were, in fact, re-enactments, much like we see on TV docudramas all the time nowadays.

Though the directors ran the gamut of political attitudes and personal foibles, from arch-conservatives to immigrants, they were drawn together in an epic and spiritual journey.

Rare clips and lost interviews bring insight and deserving recognition. This serves as an important backdrop and backstory to the great films and great men who made them.

Clinton/Curry Versus Trump/LeBron

DATELINE:  Winners Take the Cake

enough already

                                                   NOT BIRD & MAGIC

You may have noticed that the negative feelings toward the presidential candidates, Hilary and Donald, rival the negative feelings toward the presumptive NBA champs, Steph and LeBron.

It’s a negative year for sure.

Curry may be a media darling, but he has worn out his welcome. And LeBron has always been insufferable. It should remind you about the way the media handles Clinton and Trump.

In the NBA Finals, the referees are the objective arbiters of winning and losing. Heaven help us! We already saw these zebras lay the groundwork for a Curry victory in the semi-finals, though the NBA claims their games are not fixed.

We can’t imagine the presidential election being fixed, though we think the media has played the role of NBA referees with all the aplomb of fixers.

Who voted for the referees?

We have only ourselves to blame if the more unpopular candidate becomes president. The process has been fixed by super-delegates.

We are sick of Curry and James enough to expect them to become running mates for Clinton and Trump. That would make for a ticket with a price higher than a court-side seat for Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

The winner of the Curry-LeBron battle will come soon. And they both will go into oblivion for the rest of the summer, not soon enough. They are not Bird & Magic, and won’t be having any Broadway plays written about their friendship/rivalry.

In the presidential race, the losing candidate will go into oblivion forever—but we will be stuck with the winner for four more years.