Thursday, February 29, 2024

Lone Star

There was more meat in this film than anticipated, but part of that may be due to the inclusion of the  DVD special features (basically two interviews).  John Sayles conceived this idea and Texas supplied the material.

In an early part we find a teacher giving the broad outlines of Texas history that included conquests, treachery and slavery.  Contrasted with an argument between whites and Mexicans in a school board meeting.  The town itself has a split between whites and Mexicans with a few blacks  that mostly are the result of a military base.  The Mexicans are not homogeneous by any means with varying amounts of Spanish conqueror blood and indigenous. and a desire to assimilate or retain their culture.

The story is about how the 1957 past pops up in the 1996 present.  A skeleton is uncovered and is identified as a previous sheriff.  The current sheriff realizes that the killer may have been his father and nevertheless begins an intense search.

In this search some secrets are uncovered.  Some of them surprising and one quite shocking.  There are links from the past and we can understand racial tensions have eased somewhat.  We see evil characters and a few good ones.  It helps explain a little bit of the current Texan culture where the European whites try to maintain dominance.  The film uses technology to illustrate the changes and that history is part of the present.

A quote from one of the interviews  is referring to Roger Ebert saying movies make for empathy. The last line of the movie I believe sums up the feeling of creator John Sayles "Forget the Alamo."

A lot of talented people  made this such a memorable film.  Here are some key ones.

John Sayles was writer, director and editor.  He was an independent film maker as he wanted to have control over his subject.  On a film 15 years prior to this one he had visited the Alamo during a protest for the John Wayne movie where he started forming his opinions.  For each speaking character he would write a little biography so they would have background material.  He has 24 credits as director, 38 as writer and 30 as an actor including  "Matewan" (1987) and "Eight Men Out" (1988).  A quote "When we say 'we" how big a 'we" do we mean.  The United States Constitution has a small 'we'."

Maggie Renzi, producer met John Sayles while both attended Williams College and since then they not only partner, but also live together.  She has 18 producer credits and 11 as actress including "Matewan" (1987) and "Eight Men Out" (1988).  She was involved in crew selection and casting.  She was noted for taking good care of the extras.

Mason Daring provided the music with a heavy Tex Mex sound.  He has 29 music departmnet and 85 composing credits including "Frontline" (1983-2024), "Eight Men Out" (1988) and "Something's Got to Give" (2003).

Stuart Dryburgh was raised in New Zealand where he gained experienece.  He was selected for this film by Maggie Renzi who spotted him at the Sundance Film Festival.  One of his remarkable feats was transitioning from the past to the present where the camera was shifted from one background scene to another without a cut, i.e. seamlessly.  He has 57 credits as a cinematographer and another 12 for the camera and electrical department.  Films include "The Piano" (1993), "Once Were Warriors" (1993), "The Painted Veil" (2006) "No Reservations" (2007), "The Upside" (2017), "New Amsterdam" (2018) and "West Side Story" (2021). 

Chris Cooper played the present day sheriff Sam Deeds.  While a set builder at a community theatre he was a last minute substitute in a play.  He has 77 acting credits,, 2 as director and one as producer.  Films include  "Matewan" (1987),  "A Time to Kill" (1996), "The Horse Whisperer" (1998), "Capote" (2006), "Remember Me" (2010),  "The Company You Keep" (2012), "August:  Osage County" (2013)and "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" (2019).

Elizabeth Pena played Pilar the romantic lead with a Mexican background.  Her Cuban parents had set up an Hispanic theatre group and Elizabeth got started with it  She spent time with repertory theatre   She has 104 film credits including "La Bamba" (1987) and "Rush Hour" (1998).  She was a founder of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors.

Kris Kristofferson played Sheriff Charlie Wade, a racist evil man.  To many of us Kris is more famous as song writer and performer.  A big breakthrough for his song career was piloting a helicopter into the yard  of Johnny Cash to offer a song which was later recorded.  Eventually he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Before all that he was a Rhodes Scholar and was also an army ranger captain.  He has 120 credits as actor and 6 as film composer.  His films include  "Blood & Orchids" (1986) and "Payback" (1999).

Matthew McConaughey played Buddy Deeds, the father of Sam.  He was in student films and commercials before breaking into Hollywood.  He has 79 acting credits, 7 as producer and 2 as a director.  His credits include  "Contact" )1987),  "A Time to Kill" (1996) "Amistad" (1997),  "Free State of Jones" (2016), after 2019 took time off to break away from romantic comedies "The Lincoln Lawyer" (2011),  "Mud" (2012), "Dallas Buyers Club" (2013 for which he lost 47 pounds), "Interstellar" (2014). "Gold" (2017and "Serenity" (2019).  Check

Joe Morton played the colonel at the military base whose father was a town resident.  He has 139 acting credits including "Speed" (1994) and "Scandal" (2012).

Miriam Colon played the mother of Pilar.  She founded the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre of New York City.  She has 115 film credits including "The Appaloosa" (1966) and "Better Call Saul" (2015).   

Frances McDormand played an ex wife.  She earned a BA in theatre at Bethany College and then a MFA from Yale.  She maintained a relationship with theatre winning a Tony Award.  She married her director, Joel Coen and has collaborated with Joel and Ethan Coen on films.  She has won three Oscars for acting and one as a producer and has also won an Emmy Award.   She has 68 credits as an actress as well as 5 for producing.  She has added an inclusion rider to her film contracts which requires an equitable diversity in cast and crew.  Her films include:  "Miller's Crossing" (1990), "Fargo" (1996),  "Primal Fear" (1996) "The Promised Land" (2012), "Moonrise Kingdom" (2012), "Olive Kitteridge" (2014), "Three Billboards Outisde Ebbing Missouri" (2017)  "Nomadland" (2021) and "Women Talking" (2023).

Aside from an enjoyable movie this has been an educational experience. 

As usual I have bolded the first mention of films I have seen.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Network of Liars

Trump has been a nightmare obsession of mine, but really he is a just one man.  He had lots of support including the Fox network.  The two  have a symbiotic relationship.

After finishing this book, as others have said, Trump is not the real danger that his followers are, I would say the same about Fox and their supporters.  Fox correctly identified an audience with neglected grievances.  They courted them with great success and then became dependent on them.  The majority of their viewers had racist and homophobic sympathies or were advocates for gun rights or just hated government authority.

Fox learned the hard way, they have created a monster.  They helped create an audience and then found if they changed their tune their audience would abandon them.  Fox management were upset  with Trump after January 6th ( and many before then) and Ron De Santis was seen as a better alternative, but not their audience that had started looking for someone who would support their set beliefs.

On January 6th, Trump was stuck on the Fox station from 1:25 and thus was well aware of the commotion outside the Capital.

The Fox audience lovedsomeone who could defy conventions that they hated.  They bundled Trump's issues into their own.  Any accusations by commentators were brushed aside as political lies.

Only vaguely aware of the Murdoch family and was surprised to learn they were more complicated than previously assumed.  However not surprised that the big focus was on making money.  One son, James with his wife Kathryn was against  right wing politics and the two strongly were involved with environmental issues.  Another son Lachlan was taking over the operation with concerns of building. a bigger empire  Two sisters were mostly in the background, but also had a vote on the business.  Rupert himself was sharp and staunchly conservative in his 90's,  but sometimes distracted by his merry go round of wives.

Paul Ryan, the former House Speaker was on the Fox board director.  A conservative he felt Trump was bad for the Republicans and or Fox.  He was one of those who preferred Trump should be sidelined.    

A lot of Fox hosts play a role in the book.  Number one is Tucker Carlson whose firing was outlined near the beginning and explanations followed up towards the end.  Carlson enjoyed being provocative has gone on to be even more so.  Although he had very high ratings he also attracted advertising boycotts.  Maria Bartiroma seemed to be a true Trumper, a bit unhinged in other words.  Sean Hannity was revealed to be practical in his treatment of Trump.

The Dominion case was covered as they were able to hurt Fox, although only temporarily.  Fox was able to claim their disinformation was based on their honest beliefs.   Dominion was able to suceed to show malice  by uncovering e mails and also some statements bt Rupert Murdoch.  

The House Select Investigation Committee was concerned.  Those who dismissed the hearing findings  should have noticed the incriminating information came from Republicans, many of them appointed by Trump.  They, not the television zombies actually had personal contact with the egotistical president at revealing times.

There are counter trends to disinformation that hopefully will grow.  One example given was from Pete Buttigieg, the Transportation Secretary who has sought an opportunity to speak on Fox which may not convert very many Trumpers, but assures that correct information is received.  To my way of thinking education is a key.  The author recounts how his six year old came home talked about a school test with a quiz "Fact or Opinion?" which Brian adapted to "Fact, Opinion or Lie?" Actually youngsters were able to sort them out.

Brian Selter, the author is someone I used to look forward to listening to on Sunday mornings as he was always trying to get at the truth.  In this book has done a lot of digging to get the details that might help us understand.

Fox definitely enabled Donald Trump and such like.  There were other enablers:

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Luz: The Light of the Heart

 As adults we are always looking for something unique to amuse us.  Netflix has brought a children's series from Brazil.  That makes it unique right away.   

Indigenous rights and diversity are both on display.  These are maybe issues  not something we associate with Brazil.  One location is a school that seems progressive.  The other location is tribal lands.  Black and white students and teachers plus a phys ed teacher in a wheelchair are prominent.  A baby had been kidnapped and conveyed to a Kaingang tribe who raised her up to age 9. giving an indigenous perspective.

She then runs away and ends up in a private boarding school  and interacts with students her age plus some adults.  This series is full of secrets that are revealed to the watcher every few episodes while some of the characters remain ignorant of key facts.  The "Monster Grandfather" is evil.  He does not feel love for real relatives as they are the result of improper relationships.  In his efforts to restore his sick idea of justice he is able to manipulate and mislead. 

My access to background information is not as helpful as usual, but what is available might enhance your enjoyment.  It is well put together.

The directors are listed as follows: Giovnna Machline, Rogerio Sagui and Thiago Teitelroit.

The writers are listed Ana Duras, Guillermo Pendino, Andre Rodrigues and Tereza Temer.

Rumori Deseo Sonaro is responsible for the music.  Near as I can tell that is really a company

Cinematography is credited to Daniel Paulino.  He has 14 credits under Camera and Electrical Department and this is perhaps his first cinematography responsibility. 

 Mari T. Becker is the editor.  She has 15 credits as editor and another 20 in the editorial department including an American movie.

Marianna Santos plays the title character, the charming Luz.  She had been noted for singing and dancing. She has 3 film credits.

Daniel Rocha plays Marcos, a helpful and likable adult.  He plays the violin.  He attended a school for performers at age 17.  He has 20 film credits including as a leading man in soap operas.

Claudia di Moura plays Ga and indigenous leaders who helps Luz.  She has 10 credits.

Gabriela Moreyra plays a bookstore owner.  She has 15 film credits.

Mel Lisboa plays Valeria, an agent of the "Monster Grandfather."  She has 38 film credits and has performed in the theater.  In 2004 she posed for Brazil Playboy.

There are many roles that play a part in the plot.  Despite my lack of information please be assured the production is professionally done.   I have enjoyed some other Brazilian films, but could find no connections.

 A few other notes.  

The term "Indigenous" is used frequently, partly to correct characters who use the incorrect term "Indian."

An underlying gimmick is the use of fire flies.  They are not magical super powers, but they are effectively and attractively used symbolically.  

Should you let your children watch?  There is no explicit sex or gross violence, although both are suggested.  There are 20 episodes that are mostly about 1/2 hour each, dubbed or subtitled  If they are old enough to read subtitles they might understand the story better, but dubbing will let them concentrate on the plot.  Who can tell what young children understand?  They can enjoy at one level while failing to understand underlying factors. The children set a good example to the adults who are mostly decent, except for the Monster Grandfather.  The school itself is progressive.  Let yourself into the story and adults could enjoy with their children or even by themselves.  I found myself binging. 

Thursday, February 15, 2024


"Excluded is an American book on zoning issues.  We Canadians have some of the same problems--a heavy housing inflation, homelessness and undoubtedly discrimination.  A better understanding would help people on both sides of the border

A previous blog about "Caste" (2020) did away with the idea that racism was the basic prejudice and decided that the more basic prejudice is caste.  Check  In "Excluded" (2023) we learn that poor whites are only marginally ahead of poor blacks, but behind in many ways to middle class blacks.  So some blacks have emerged stronger from their past, but many have not, while poor whites have found barriers to upward mobility.

The author states "...increasingly today it is class discrimination that explains America's growing inequality".   This is evident in housing.  The zoning laws have mostly been to suit the wealthy.

Donald Trump bragged that he was able to reverse zoning that had allowed lower income people into higher income zone stating his base would not have to be contaminated by poor and criminal elements. 

For many people their house is their most important investment.  The value of a house normally appreciates during a working life.  It turns out at least these days that the more expensive houses appreciate more.  To protect their investment, home owners want to keep out undesirables.  They seem to feel if poorer people inhabit their neighborhood services will deteriorate and crime will increase.  Some zoning decisions such as allowing multi family housing would allow people who can't afford more expensive choices.  There have been changes, but the concept of deducting the borrowing costs of buying a home give an edge to those are able to make the crucial down payment.

Kahlenberg points out " is not poverty per se, but concentration of poverty that can accelerate social ills such as crime.", but many of us want to avoid any poor people in our neighborhood fearing bad things that might follow.

Kahlenberg points we all benefit from diversity whether it is racial or ethnic or class.  He quotes Martin Luther King Jr "All labor has dignity."

Investment is a strong motive but ultimately it boils down to a caste system where people feel a superiority to others they deem different.  Often that is tied to race.  American whites have demonstrated a willingness to vote against their personal self interest

Environmental concerns  need to get higher priority.  Multi family housing leaves less of a footprint than single family homes.   They are also easier for municipalities to provide infrastructure.  Sprawl diminishes what is left of natural habitat.  Snobbery and NIMBYism hurt us all. 

Education is a factor.  A major complaint is that minorities are unable to get equal education because of where they live.  Education, regardless of location could also be more equal giving minorities a better opportunities to get better jobs and make more money.

A few months ago there were some tents pitched in a nearby park.  Homeowners were complaining, and when a proposal was made to add in some of what were called tiny houses, but catering to the homeless with drug problems. the situation heated up.  At a local meeting our counselor trying to explain was drowned out and later threatened.  I don't know what happened in the background, but there are no longer tents in the area and the tiny houses, meant to alleviate the problem are no longer scheduled.  This is not a wealthy neighborhood.  More on my personal perspective:

Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy campaigned with Blacks, Hispanics and poor whites and it worked.  After they both were assassinated the poor whites were mostly attracted to the Republicans and were replaced by the wealthy white liberals to the Democrats.  The Republicans have successfully used divide and rule separating poor whites from Blacks and really representing the wealthy.

The author's last sentence is a plea, "It is time to recognize the walls that separate us and then proceed to tear them down".  

There is a lot more to be found in these pages and many of you will not want to read such heavy reading, but I hope I have conveyed that equality is nebulous at best, but something to strive for.

As we evolve there does seem to be a trade off of humanity striving for equality and those who want to maintain themselves at a privileged status.  Whether we fully understand this or not we are each part of it.  I hope I can include a greater part of mankind as friends and equals.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Holdovers

To attract a movie audience writers and producers are looking for a set of circumstances that can lead to an interesting plot.  For "The Holdovers" one detail is it is set in a boys' boarding school.  Most of the boys are from rich families and a few have divorced parents.  The teacher at the center has an unknown background and is found boring by most of his students.  The Christmas holidays leave some youngsters stuck away from their families.  That is the setting and the viewers are left to find all the hidden history and agenda behind.

Skillful writers can weave in some details in a timely fashion.  Relationships that are somewhat platonic with elders being patronizing between teacher and student break down under stress.  The acting is really well done and what you might not see, the directing and editing is above average.    

The timing is set for the Vietnam War  with issues of the draft especially of concern to students with rich parents.   One character, the cook is grieving over her son who after being a top student at the school wasn't rich enough to avoid the draft and died in battle.

I was struck by a quote paraphrased as   "To understand the present you need to go back to the past" that gave the Paul Giamatti character a chance to demonstrate how important history really is no matter how stuffy he is.  He backs up the sentiment wth many historical examples.

With all the ingredients for a meaningful and enjoyable story, someone still had to put it together.  Below are some of the key people and some of the mechanisms that brought it together.

Alexander Payne was the director.  He has 18 credits as producer and 13 as a writer, allowing him to have control over films.  His  credits include "Election" (1999), "Sideways" (2004), "The Descendants" ((2011) and "Nebraska" (2013).   One interesting quote regarding casting:  "They (the studio) go through that process when they think you have to find the most famous people possible and they go down the line."

David Hemingson wrote the script and was also a producer.  He had gone to a boarding school in Hartford, Connecticut which provided some of the background for "The Holdovers."  He went onto and graduated from Yale and then the Columbia Law School.  He worked for Loeb and Loeb Law with their entertainment section.  From there he started writing.  One project for a tv series was to be based on his boarding school experience, but when Alexander Payne contacted him wanting to do a movie with a boarding school setup he switched his efforts to the movie.  He has 23 credits as a writer and 21 as a producer. 

Mark Orton wrote the music.  He has 76 credits for composing and 17 music department including "Nebraska" (2013) and "People Places Things" (2015).

Eigid Bryld handled the cinematography.  He started in Denmark.  He has 39 credits including "Becoming Jane" (2007), "House of Cards" (2013), "The Loudest Voice" (2015), "Ocean's 8" (2018), "The Report" (2018), and "No Hard Feelings"(2019).  Check

Kevin Tent was editor.  He started editing educational films.   He had edited every film directed by Alexander Payne.  He has been the president of American Cinema Editors.  He has 42 editing credits and 9 in the editorial department including "Election" (1999), "Shanghai" (2010), "Disconnect" (2012), "Nebraska" (2013), "Parched" (2015) and "The Intern" (2015).

Paul Giamatti plays Paul Hunhan.  His father had been president of Yale University and Commissioner of Major League Baseball.  He has 114 acting credits, 7 credits as producer and 1 credit as director including  "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), "Sideways" (2004),"John Adams" (2008),  "The Last Station" (2009), "Barney's Version" 2010), "Win-Win" (2011), "The Ides of March" (2011), "Too Big to Fail" (2011), "Saving Mr. Bank" (2013), "12 Years a Slave" (2013), "Parkland" (2013),  "The Little Prince" (2015), "The Catcher was a Spy" (2018),  "Private Life" (2018), "Benjamin Franklin" (2022) and "The American Buffalo" (2023).

 Da'Vine Joy Randolph played Mary Lamb.  She earned a classical vocal degree at Temple University and then studied drama at Yale School of Drama.  She has doen well on Broadway.  She has 43 film credits including "The Good Wife" (2013), "The Lost City" (2022) and " Only Murders in the Building" (2023).

Dominic Sessa played Angus Tully.  Originally he was most interested to play hockey, but a broken leg forced him to consider alternatives.   At Deerfield Academy he decided to get involved with drama and performed in some plays.  As it happens the school had been chosen to be a location for filming "The Holdovers" and the casting director, Susan Shopmaker held auditions which Dominic won.  This is his first major role, but already he has won awards.

Carrie Preston played  Lydia Crane.  She met her future husband, Michael Emerson while both were playing in a Shakespearian Festival in Alabama.   She has 77 acting credits as well as 8 directing credits and 7 producer credits.  Some of us most remember her from "The Good Wife"(2010-2016) and "The Good Fight" (2017-2022).  Her character is scheduled to revived for her own series.  Carrie also had a supporting role in "Doubt" (2008).

I watched it on a DVD that had some interesting bonus clips that helped give a deeper appreciation of some points.  Nominated for a few Oscar awards it is difficult to predict the outcome.  There is always a marketing and political battle, but as far as using the Oscar as guideline to decide whether to watch, the nominations and the cast and crew themselves should be more than sufficient.

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Tired of Winning

 Donald Trump does not deserve as much attention as he gets, but unfortunately he still haunts our lives.  There is a lot of old material in "Tired of Winning" (2023) but it is focused on post 2020 and has a lot of personal coverage of the author.  It just reinforces the repulsiveness of the Former Guy.

 He is classically selfish.  Believes he is the center of the world.  He can play by his own rules.  Very angry with obstacles.  Will seek revenge against anyone who offended him.

 Behind the scenes there was some discussion about invoking the 25th amendment including among cabinet ministers.  I suspect the reason it didn't progress was fear.  Trump had a strong voter base that supported his vindictive responses to any criticism.  His base supported him much more than the Republican party.

Another example of Trump's power comes with Kevin McCarthy.  After January 6th he used some harsh criticism of Trump, but shortly afterwards he met with Trump and re affirmed his loyalty.  It was quite a tough road to reach his goal of becoming House Speaker, but would not have been possible without Trump's support.

Loyalty is a key requirement   His power comes from disgruntled voters who think they have found their champion.  They feel their lot in life has been affected by government rules and admire Trump's belligerent style.

After the 2020 defeat some were fired and of course a few resigned.  The January 6th Inquiry was totally Republicans who knew Trump well, but his base paid almost no attention.  They for the most part dismissed the testimony or felt his championing their interests more than made up for it.

The day before his 72nd birthday he was charged with illegally taking possession of classified material.  We were shown what sloppy conditions the material was stored and heard stories that he sometimes presented some of the material to guests with little regard for security.  His base thought it was more proof of persecution.

Trump sued many of his enemies and also needed cash for his own legal problems.  The money came from his campaign funds.  His base presumably felt this was necessary to protect Trump's power.

Another factor confirmed in this account was that he hated any criticism of Vladimir Putin, a man he admired for being a strong man.  This meant also that he promised to stop any any support for Ukraine.    The Republicans had had  policies attacking Soviet and Russian aggression.  That is reflected in current Republicans opposing aid to Ukraine.

As an outsider it seems incredible that Trump has so much support.  It will take more than evidence referred to in this book to change his base.  One can hope that the insanity will at least gradually erode with all the legislation scheduled.  Unfortunately his tactics of delaying help his cause.