On Comet, On Cupid…On Waiting!

I know me. I will not do something until I’m good and ready.

At the moment, I am writing these thoughts when I probably should be working on a proposal for a presentation at a conference next March. I am King Procrastinator, or more likely, a Procaffeinator. I saw that term on Facebook today. A Procaffeinator is a person who cannot accomplish a task until they’ve had their coffee or tea.

Well, I am sitting right here at Panera with my cup of coffee, but the deadline for this proposal isn’t until this weekend, and it has even been extended! Too soon. Thus, the only real deadline I am facing is one in about 90 minutes. That’s when the last bus of the day leaves the mall area.

I have been on a Christmas break from my university job for a week now, so that’s part of my problem. I think I am on vacation, but I am really not, I have spent a lot of time catching up on much-needed sleep when I guess I should have been more productive. I did pick up my room today though!

It’s not that i have avoided the proposal project altogether. Yesterday I did some research, scanning the Internet for potential sites to review on my topic. But I’m really only half done.

Like anything else, I think the only way I am going to get this proposal done and out is by promising myself a reward. Shoot, if my current host Panera and other places like movie theaters can do it, why can’t I? A “selfie reward” I will call it.

The big time waster for me thus far has been my affection for movies, especially the classic ones. When I haven’t been sleeping,I have been watching flicks.

I think how I can get this job done is to give myself the right to watch a decent movie after its finished, and not until. I’ll have something to look forward to and therefore be more motivated.

I wonder what’s on Netflix tonight? Oh forget it! When I get home I’ll do a little research, go to bed and hit it hard in the morning.

At least then I can make some morning Joe.

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Movie Review: “Birdman” Makes the Imagination Soar

I had to go see a movie called “Birdman.” I figured the main character had to be a brother from another mother given his name and my surname. Birds of a feather flock together.

I was looking for something decent, too. I skimmed (I don’t ‘read’ for fear of prejudicing my own opinion) a couple of reviews mainly to see if there were any superlatives. It turns out this  flick I had never heard of is something of a ‘sleeper’.  One major review said it very could well be the best movie made all year.

The flick opens with a backside view of a man sitting in his underwear staring out of a window and musing on his crummy state.. Not having the greatest eyesight, I had to focus to notice that he was in fact sitting on air, i.e. levitating.

This is indeed the Birdman, whose real name is Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). Sitting in a dumpy room reminiscent of pictures of Adolph Hitler’s abode during his early house arrest, Riggan is conversing with an unseen voice. At this point, as a Christian person, I was beginning to have some concerns about the potential spiritualist bent of “Birdman.”

However, the film, i.e., “Birdman”, begins to fly, especially photographically right after this opening scene

The camera follows Riggan around. The filming technique is unique. especially at the beginning. Internet sites focusing on the cinematography note the movie was filmed as if it was all done in one take. The cinematography is the work of Emmanuel Lubezki, the man who also worked his wonders on the space thriller “Gravity”, a movie I had high praise for.

Riggan has sunk all his money into producing a Broadway play based on the work of an author whose book is 60 years old. When one of the key actors experiences an unfortunate accident while rehearsing, the play seems doomed. However, RIggan is glad the man is gone because he was a terrible actor.

One of the other actors, a woman named Lesley (Naomi Watts), uses her relationship with well known Broadway star Mike Shiner (Ed Norton) to convince him to join the play. Initially elated, Riggan begins to regret Mike’s presence when it is clear the actor is a first-class jerk and is taking over the play. This relationship serves as the major character conflict in “Birdman”, Also providing pain to Riggan is his former druggie daughter Sam (Emma Stone), who is his personal assistant.

The “voice” is also a source of conflict. It continually makes its presence known to Riggan, and what he has to say is not particularly encouraging, especially when it comes to the former Birdman’s efforts to be a success on Broadway. The film portrays Riggan as a man trying to attempt a feat he apparently doesn’t have the chops for.

The frustrations experienced by Riggan”s battles with the other characters tend to produce F-bombs at times. I note this only for the sake of my fellow believers whose sensibiities might bothered by watching a film with this kind of language.

Typically, as with many men, Riggan is encouraged by the women in his life, including his ex-wife and girlfriend, an actor in the play. Lawyer friend and producer Jake (Zack Galifianakis) also more vociferously pushes Riggan to carry on, especially since he is privy to their financial straits.

Keaton is Jack Nicholson-esque in his portrayal of the aging, fading actor trying to turn his life around. Norton and Stone also provide fine performances as flawed people seeking to make their way in New York City. Wasn’t it Sinatra who used to sing that if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.

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RIGGAN THOMSON HAS AN EPIPHANY DURING “BIRDMAN”

“Birdman” is definitely a special movie, in a strange sort of way. It is difficult to separate truth from reality in this film, especially when it comes to RIggan’s musings. But isn’t that what the cinema is for–to spark our imaginations?

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Movie Review: “Interstellar”–Loss in Space

In the last couple of weeks I have been thinking of love and loss. This comes from developing those topics in my university classes for the purposes of teaching English to international students.

It’s not that I have this morbid fascination with grief. It’s just that materials I have created in the past on these subjects illustrate how to define difficult terms. As one of the pieces  says, it’s almost a cliche that no one can define love.

Since both love and loss comes in many forms we can attempt to define them.. For example, one recent news source I used in my classes dealt with the assisted suicide of a vibrant 29-year-old American woman who had plenty to live for. It was heart wrenching to hear Brittany Maynard and her family talk of her impending death and the life and people she was leaving behind.

So when I ventured into the local cinema to see “Interstellar”, my schema lent itself to viewing the film through that lens. I didn’t plan on becoming emotional over that theme, but cognitive psychology wants what it wants.

Indeed, “Interstellar” has been criticized for having no themes. It is getting plenty of rave reviews, but these have come because of the movie’s fantastic cinematography and how it stirs the emotions due to technical wowie zowies.

I concur with the critics who have praised the picture because of its  wizardry and roller coaster trips through space. There are times when the film is simply stunning.

In some instances I felt I was riding along with the astronauts as they rocketed into space and zipped through and around wormholes and black holes. I literally held on to my seat during these scenes.

But the story, supposedly a weakness of “Interstellar”, has not been given its due.

As is common lately, it focuses on an Apocalypse. In the not too distant future, the Earth is on its way to extinction due to a blight on its food supply. Cooper (Matthew McConnaughey) is a widowed farmer trying to make due with his two kids and father-in-law on a farm even though his heart is clearly not into agriculture.

But he loves his kids and he especially has a close relationship with his 10-year-old daughter Murph (MacKenzie Foy). When her brother teases her with a reference to Murphy’s Law, she complains to her Dad about the name.

“Murphy’s law doesn’t mean that something bad will happen,”Cooper tells his daughter affectionately. “It means that whatever can happen, will happen.”

This statement foreshadows the events to come in the film.

Seeking to find the location of some coordinates they found in a dust pattern in Murph’s room,  Cooper  finds a hidden NASA facility housing a rocket meant to explore planets on the other side of a worm hole located near Saturn. These worlds have been explored by other astronauts and some are deemed to be candidates for a relocation of humans from Earth.

NASA scientist Professor Brand (Michael Caine) tells Cooper, a former test pilot, that he is the one man trained enough to pilot the craft through the wormhole, but the latter is reluctant. He doesn’t want to leave his family.

However, Cooper eventually relents to the chagrin of Murph, who becomes beside herself with grief at the prospect of not seeing her father for years and perhaps never again. She refuses to send him off happily.

At this point the story moves into outer space. “Interstellar” shows dedication to scientific accuracy here, including the potential effects of space travel on aging. In fact, Cooper good naturedly tells Murph before he leaves that he might be her age when he returns, a thought that does nothing to assuage her sorrow at becoming separated from her father.

This ongoing dysfunctional relationship between Cooper and Murph, two people who clearly love each other deeply, and the effects of their separation give “Interstellar” something more than just the special effects common in flicks in our computerized world. It gives it the film conflict, the element required in any good story.

interstellar_movie_still_2

The movie still have plenty of glitz, including a star-studded cast (Anne Hathaway and Matt Damon, for example). I was especially drawn to Michael Caine’s role as Professor Brand. Caine seems ageless, which is appropriate for a film which has references to space and time in its repertoire. He could have come out of a wormhole himself.

“Interstellar” isn’t perfect. While the pictures of space and the happenings there  are quite unique, some scenes are reminiscent of other movies and television shows. For instance, one closeup of McConnaughey in his space suit  passing through an anomaly is rather hokey. It seems like something out of “Buck Rodgers”. McConaughey  has never been one of my favorite actors. Yet in this film I give him credit for his attempt at portraying a caring father. Where he fails is trying to pass himself off as Harrison Ford in Star Wars.  Furthermore, as one news clip  I saw noted, the movie is so loud I could not understand the dialogue at times.

In addition, it is sad that in a film about loss, this viewer got lost. There were scenes where I couldn’t follow the plot. I think Interstellar’s three hour run time and the aforementioned garbled English had something to do with it.  In any case, I had to read WIkipedia to fill in the gaps in the story.

Even with these weaknesses, I want to see “Interstellar” again and perhaps again after that, viewing it from different angles, including the scientific and sci-fi fantasy aspects. I think by the time I’m done I’ll feel like Alice in Wonderland.

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When I recall this summer, one of the things I will remember was the amount of time I spent with God. And the movies.

By the beginning of July I was toast after a long year a university educator. I had several weeks off, and I intended to sleep a lot and get time alone with God. I pretty much accomplished both.

I did have an agenda with the latter goal, I was seeking God’s leading on my life. What I learned at the end of many hours in the Bible and Christian books and prayer was that God was more interested in me seeking Him: period.

The flicks I watched tended to convince me of this, also.  I am drawn to biopics, and the one’s I have seen this year have centered on the failed lives of musicians, real and fictional.

Before the summer I had seen “Jersey Boys”, the life story  Frankie Valli. I wanted to see it because I had gone to the show in Las Vegas and wanted to see how the movie treated his life.

Both the play and the flick noted Valli’s messy life, although the former focused more on his music, which made it better in my view. The singer was involved with hoods and had a failed marriage. A later relationship ended when the woman decided she would always be second in his life to his career.

Despite his success, I walked out of “Jersey Boys” thinking how badly Valli’s personal life was in shambles, even at the end.

Another flick I saw this summer was a fictional treatment of a singer who is in a rocky relationship with a pop star, played by Adam Levine. In “Begin Again” Gretta (Keira Knightley) is a gifted songwriter, but one who doesn’t care so much about fame. However, she is discovered by Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a down and out record producer who sees her perform a song impromptu in a small club in New York .

Dan is only there because he has gone on a bender after losing his job with an indie record label, one he helped start. Add this catastrophe to his failed marriage and non-relationship with his 14-year old daughter Violet, and it is obvious that Dan’s life is in the toilet.

Gretta is in the pub for similar reasons. She has just moved in with her fellow British pal Steve because she has walked out on her budding rock star boyfriend Dave Kohl (played by pop sensation Adam Levine). The insightful lyricist has just figured out that her boyfriend cheated on her after he plays her a new song which has infidelity as a theme.

Gretta is at first reluctant to perform at the club or anywhere else. She is pushed on to the stage by Steve and when Dan attempts to convince her to let him produce an album for her, the best she can say is that she will think about it.

However, Gretta calls Dave the next day and agrees to come under his wing. What happens next is nothing short of brilliant. Dave and Gretta’s plan for their collaboration is extremely creative.

Their imagination and use of their talents are what makes the story in “Begin Again”. From their vision comes a new life for them and for several other characters in the film.

“Begin Again” will inspire those who find themselves at a crossroads to use their talents and ingenuity to take the next step when their lives are shattered.. Dave and Gretta’s original thinking is a model for people who need to find a way to pull themselves out of the slough of despond.

Finally, there was the movie about the life of “The Godfather of Soul”, James Brown. “Get On Up” reveals the harsh nature of Brown’s upbringing and how it influenced his approach to life. The singer, born in 1933, was the son of a 16-year old mother and a barely adult father. The film shows the violence and immorality surrounding Brown in his youth. His mother eventually left the family and moved to New York. His father is portrayed as an abusive husband and parent. The movie shows Brown spent part of his childhood growing up in a brothel.

I felt sad for James Brown after walking out of this flick. It is said that it is lonely at the top and “Get on Up” emphasizes how true that was for him. His only true friend was singer Bobby Byrd, who helped Brown get into music. As Byrd’s role in their singing group diminishes and Brown’s shines, their relationship in the film becomes more like one between a boss and a subordinate.

Great men and geniuses like Brown seem to have a certain arrogance that drives others way. As the story in “Get On Up” develops, Brown grows more and more authoritarian and tyrannical in his personal and business life. The end result is that he alienates just about everyone around him.

Even as a famous entertainer, Brown can’t seem to avoid jail time. He ends up in the pokey after firing a rifle at one of his business enterprises and leading police on a high speed chase.

Valli, Brown, the fictional Gretta and her producer Dan inspired me to reflect on my own losses. By July I had no strength left and was trying to figure out how to maintain my health with changing insurance rules. In many areas I felt hemmed in. I couldn’t move. I felt I was growing old. I felt alone and abandoned.

The one common denominator in the terrible lives of all these musicians was that they did not have God in their lives. My discovery while doing all the reading and praying was that I did not need direction from God. I needed Him. I needed to give Him my life.

I had supposedly done that in the past–many times over. But this time when I decided to quit trying to manipulate my circumstances and let God do what He wanted to do, I really meant it. 

I was hoping for great miracles and a change of environment. None of that has happened. What HAS happened is that I have more joy in just knowing God every day and trusting Him.

One of the authors I focused on this summer was Henri Nouwen. He wrote, “Your search for communion often takes place too far from where true communion can be found. Still, communion is your authentic desire and it will be given to you. But you have to dare to stop seeking gifts and favors like a petulant chhild and trust that your deepest longing will be fulfilled. Dare to lose your life and you will find it.Trust in Jesus’s words.” 

I am trying to do that minute by minute.

After all the searching for God’s leading I was led to the simplicity of believing that God exists and that he rewards those who seek Him. Just as simple is my understanding that I know God loves me and that I can trust in that love.

 My prayer at the end of the summer was Nouwen’s:

“Dear God, I so much want to be in control. I want to be the master of my own destiny. Still I know that you are saying ‘Let me take you by the hand and lead you. Accept my love and trust that where I will bring you, the deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled.’ Lord, open my hands to receive your gift of love. Amen.”

 

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Movie Review: Chadwick Boseman Elevates “Get On Up”

get-on-up-music-2014james-brown---get-on-up--film-trailer------music-video-----exclaim-tgsdbrwn

CHADWICK BOSEMAN PORTRAYS THE SURLY JAMES BROWN

My hometown of Baltimore was a hotbed of soul music back in the day. As a result, I grew to enjoy groups like The Four Tops and The Temptations. For some reason, I never really got into James Brown. I think his style was a little too edgy for me. 

The newly released biopic “Get On Up” captures the roughness of “The Godfather of Soul.” Credit for this tense portrayal of Brown goes to Chadwick Boseman, who I had never seen before since I missed him play Jackie Robinson in “42”.

Boseman is superb. His characterization exaggerates Brown’s raspy speaking voice and irascible nature and adroitly performs his funky dance moves, including groin endangering splits. Brown created his own choreography, so Boseman had a challenging task in replicating his footwork and other motions.

He told Yahoo News that he wasn’t sure he was right for the role, including the physical part, especially having just come off of playing the more phlegmatic Jackie Robinson. However, after some coaching and viewing his own screen test, he decided to give the character a try.

“Get On Up” reveals the harsh nature of Brown’s upbringing and how it influenced his approach to life. The singer, born in 1933, was the son of a 16-year old mother and a barely adult father. The film shows the violence and immorality surrounding Brown in his youth. His mother eventually left the family and moved to New York. His father is portrayed as an abusive husband and parent. The movie shows Brown spent part of his childhood growing up in a brothel.

I felt sad for James Brown after walking out of this flick. It is said that it is lonely at the top and “Get on Up” emphasizes how true that was for him. His only true friend was singer Bobby Byrd, who helped Brown get into music. As Byrd’s role in their singing group diminishes and Brown’s shines, their relationship in the film becomes more like one between a boss and a subordinate.

Great men and geniuses like Brown seem to have a certain arrogance that drives others way. As the story in “Get On Up” develops, Brown grows more and more authoritarian and tyrannical in his personal and business life. The end result is that he alienates just about everyone around him.

Brown’s life as shown in the film is also a narrative on race relations in the 20th century. In one scene, a couple visiting New Orleans refuses to swim in the hotel pool where the young Brown’s entourage is cavorting, noting that they paid a lot of money and were not going to swim with “niggers”. In a much later scene, the successful Brown comments to Byrd that they have come a long way, pointing out that a white man had just cleaned his friend’s pool.

The singer’s manager, played by old favorite Dan Ackroyd, also contributes to the racial theme. While discussing social justice on a plane with Brown, he reflects on how he as a Jew has collaborated to make a black man rich.

The story itself is not the strength of “Get on Up”, partly because the constant jumping around to different points in Brown’s life and back creates confusion. What makes the movie, in addition to Boseman’s performance, is the music and costuming.

The voice of James Brown is actually used in much of the film to reenact singing performances. Boseman described his musical role to Yahoo News as “singing underneath” Brown’s voice” as opposed to lyp syncing.

The evolution of the singer’s dress and hair is all part of the film’s ambience. Boseman through the work of designer Sharen Davis is attired in blue formal wear, a gold jump suit and even a fur coat. He sports a conk and wavy long hair.

The soul music is what attracted me to “Get On Up”. Boseman’s portrait of James Brown’s role in its development makes me want to look more into the man’s music.

When a film not only entertains you but also moves you to action, what more can you ask of it?

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Movie Review: Keira Knightley Surprises in “Begin Again”

keira-knightley-begin-again-guitar

I have never been a fan of Keira Knightley. It could be that I am just not that into her because of the movies she does. For example, she was nominated for an Oscar in her role in the 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice”. But Jane Austen is not my thing.

I did like “Pirates of the Caribbean”, but I didn’t think she was particularly good in that flick. In any case, Johnny Depp stole the show in that film.

But it has been at least a decade since I have seen Knightley. After viewing “Begin Again” I can honestly say I was wrong about her. Either she has grown as an artist , or I just didn’t appreciate her work in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Frankly, Knightley is fantastic in “Begin Again”. However, it’s not her acting so much that got my attention. Knightley is very photogenic, but it is her musical ability that caught my eye. I think Knightley missed her calling.

I agree with critic Jim Judy, who found the music in the film to be unremarkable, but Knightley’s singing voice “lovely.” I had no idea she could sing like she does in this film.

She plays Gretta, a young woman who is a gifted songwriter, but one who doesn’t care so much about fame. However, she is discovered by Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a down and out record producer who sees her perform a song impromptu in a small club in New York .

Dan is only there because he has gone on a bender after losing his job with an indie record label, one he helped start. Add this catastrophe to his failed marriage and non-relationship with his 14-year old daughter Violet, and it is obvious that Dan’s life is in the toilet.

Gretta is in the pub for similar reasons. She has just moved in with her fellow British pal Steve because she has walked out on her budding rock star boyfriend Dave Kohl (played by pop sensation Adam Levine). The insightful lyricist has just figured out that her boyfriend cheated on her after he plays her a new song which has infidelity as a theme.

Gretta is at first reluctant to perform at the club or anywhere else. She is pushed on to the stage by Steve and when Dan attempts to convince her to let him produce an album for her, the best she can say is that she will think about it.

However, Gretta calls Dave the next day and agrees to come under his wing. What happens next is nothing short of brilliant. Dave and Gretta’s plan for their collaboration is extremely creative.

Their imagination and use of their talents are what makes the story in “Begin Again”. From their vision comes a new life for them and for several other characters in the film.

“Begin Again” will inspire those who find themselves at a crossroads to use their talents and ingenuity to take the next step. Dave and Gretta’s original thinking is a model for people who need to find a way to pull themselves out of the slough of despond.

As noted above, Knightley’s singing, screen presence, and dare I also say—acting–is worth the price of admission. In fact, although I love Adam Levine, she outshines him in “Begin Again”, including musically. Perhaps this is because the songs written for the film were more in line with her character’s ballad style than Levine’s top 40 genre.

Critics have come down hard on “Begin Again” for its profanity, but surprisingly I did not find it distracting. I was also glad, and frankly surprised, that the writers did not have the 40-something Ruffalo begin a romantic affair with the under 30 Knightley.

Dan and Gretta do become quite close, but their relationship is platonic and of the mentor to protégé kind. Indeed, I think the movie would have been ruined for me if the script had led into a sexual tryst between the two.

Without the f-bombs and booze, “Begin Again” could have been a family flick, one that moves people to seek redemption instead of giving up. For this reason, for adults it’s worth seeing.

And if Keira Knightley ever tires of acting, she has a future in music.

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Adventures in Obamacare

I knew that one day Obamacare would show up and bite me. Today was the day.

I am in the process of transferring my medical care to another state. So far, the only thing I could possibly blame on the Affordable Care Act was that it took me three months to get a medical appointment with a primary care physician once I applied. And yes, I had to apply to the medical practice to even be accepted as a patient.

My first appointment was with a nice young fellow in his last year as an intern. I explained all my little medical history and we discussed my referral and prescription needs. I was particularly concerned with continuing to receive a certain medicine crucial to my health, one which I have been receiving at no cost from Novartis, a large pharmaceutical company. My previous doctor set me up with them and I have been getting these pills each month for several years.

My current prescription from the last doctor expires in about three weeks, and it appears that getting  a new one would not be a problem. Thus, I figured my place with Novartis was secure. I was wrong.

Today  I called Novartis to order my monthly supply and was told that my account had been suspended because I now had to apply for coverage with Medicaid under the rules of the Affordable Care Act. The woman I spoke with initially told me that the current state I live in has expanded its Medicaid coverage and thus was considered the primary provider of my meds.

What complicates my case is that I technically am not a resident of the state I live in. I moved here for work. My permanent domicile is in my previous state, which does not have this “expanded” coverage. This is noted on my pay statements from my employer. Even so, I was told I needed to apply for Medicaid in my current state and get a rejection letter. End of story. “No meds for you”, ala Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi, was the message I got. I even pulled the “lawyer” card, but to no avail. “If you are going to ‘chapter and verse’ me on the law, and this is YOUR interpretation, I guess I need a lawyer to come after you guys.” Didn’t work. I also complained that Novartis suspended me and didn’t even tell me about it.

Since I have a short supply left and this medicine is very necessary, I decided that I was not going to go away quietly. I asked to speak with a boss. I got the same story, except after some mild ranting about Obamacare and my short supply of meds, the woman agreed to give me another 30 day supply. I wasn’t satisfied. “I want to speak to YOUR boss,” I said.

Knowing I would get nowhere speaking to a higher up, I took my current antagonists’ advice and just took what I could get and allowed myself to be transferred to some place called “Inventive.” Before the transfer I asked who these people are. “‘They’ll help you apply for Medicaid,” said Amber, my polite supervisor at Novartis. “Fine,” I said. “But WHO are they?,” I repeated. Amber told me they were a “part of Novartis.”

After arranging for final delivery of meds, I was transferred to a very nice man named Jason at “Inventive”. He asked me how he could help me and I gave him the background.  After some communicating back and forth I learned that Novartis could not just cut me off while my case was pending. We agreed that I should apply both to my health insurer and my current state Medicaid for coverage and procure denial letters to prove if necessary to Novartis that I had to pay for my pills out of pocket if they did not do so.

“But that first woman at Novartis was just going to let me go without my meds and didn’t tell me any of this,” I said to Jason.

“She didn’t take ownership of the call,” he said. Jason also expressed annoyance at how Novartis was treating me. He told me to call him if I needed anything on my case. In the end, other the console me, the only thing Jason did for me, however, was to provide me toll free numbers to the two states’ Medicaid offices.

So now I have to probably spend a bunch of time at the social services office applying for Medicaid I am sure I am not even eligible for. The supply of my extremely necessary medicine is at risk, and thus potentially also my health.

Many thanks to the American people for voting the current administration into office–twice. I also want to thank Congress for their support of the Affordable Care Act, also. You like me. You really like me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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