Egged on by arguments raised by the recent change in Administrations, and the white-hot debates generated by the "climate change" brouhaha, a glance at the field of geomorphism, the science of how the Earth changes over time, its forces and contributors, seems a plausible and worthwhile effort.

The average citizen pays little attention to the less sexy but commanding aspects of erosion, relying unfortunately on the headline tropism that provides little in the way of actual explanations or in-depth nuance. Icecaps melting! Shout the tabloid media. Island sinking by 2015, foretold a former Vice President, now proven comically overbloated in his prognostications, highly remunerated speeches and fizzled films.

But let us consider more than headlines in regard to geomorphism, which might reclaim some measure of moderation in thinking about the hubbub over change over the planet.

The geomorphologist has to consider multiple factors in trying to interpret how hills and valleys came to be. This includes the timing of these erosive elements, and what these geologic features look like over the march of years. Erosion as an umbrella overall is a key tab, but occurs at differing rates within a delicatessen of timescales based on rainfall, climate,, vegetation, , composition and homogeneity of rocks, fractures, fissures, landslides,

avalanches, riverine sedimentation and carrying capacity and, often overlooked but supremely important, slope. Nor can the geomorphologist ignore sunrises, sunsets, and even persistent shadows cast by crags and crests, blanking out sunlight for large swathes of day.

Remembering, too, the silent gnomes: Moon and tides, vestigial but vestal.

Instances of data are mobile, note, where the rate of erosion at the surface is offset by the never-ending fores of uplift/gradual upheaval ongoing as constantly, if incrementally, in many latitudes. For word lovers, this is denudational isostatic rebound. (For analogy and lingerie lovers, this can be likened to cunning covered underwires, for bosom support architecture.)

There are some 'easier' rules of gauge—with higher ascents and steeper mountain ridges eroding relatively swiftly: the East Himalayas erode at a whopping 2 to 3 mm per annum, for example. Such erosional rates, themselves, will evolve over time, as well, to meet new equilibrial homeostasis–depending on weather and wear forces noted above. (Such erosional rates hold steady for all earthly features except, one can posit, stubborn body fat, which defies discernible erosion for decades, seemingly.)

"Don't think we'll ever find the single smoking gun of erosion," according to pooh-bah Eric W. Portenga, bishop of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan. "The natural world is so complex, and there are so many factors that contribute to how landscapes change over time." As his measurement paradigm manages to gain foothold in the field of geomorphology, we will glean a better sense of what variables are vital, and which are not, in the erosion saga.

For decades, it has been a geology truism that rainfall is erosion's master driver. Semi-arid landscapes with sparse vegetation, yet the occasional major storm were thought to manifest the greatest grids of wear. But an important study challenges that 'bedrock' idea.

"It turns out the greatest control of erosion is not mean annual precipitation," notes theorist Paul R. Bierman, of the University of Vermont.

Instead, regardez slope.

"People always thought angle was a big deal," says Bierman. "But the data show slope is really important." Who would have thought?

(As with phalli, the angle is critical, for impregnation, as well, of course, as pleasuring.) So the land's angle, the naked scree and tree-root tangle, all fall to the mean—entropy flattening at the smallest suggestion, evolution's Zamboni edge.

Some of course prefer more direct and more calculable methodologies, ways of measuring the vales and hollows and their duration or extinction. Practitioners in this still-emerging field draw from the arenas of physics, biology, chemistry and math to arrive at a more graphic understanding of terrestrial surface processes and the evolution of topography over short-term and longer-term timescales.

We are clearly not yet at the certitude we seek. Needed is a Dionysian, geologic Dian Fossey, the recent Sam Pepys of primatology. Geologists and statisticians need rules of less-than-dumb thumb for figuring the whys, hows and whats of Earth's dynamic surface, translatable to our Earthly rocky past. And hopeful learned future.

Scant evidence, we propose (tongue in left cheek), of a gneiss Deity?



Let's not forget that some people only work for 5-6 months and stop after they make 8000 grand so that they can get the earned income credit. They then take the remaining 6 months off. It's a crazy loophole that exists.

Says the man on disability.

It sure feels like 10-15% of folks are just flat out unemployable.

anonymous writes: 

The gist of your last remark shows up in anecdotes and studies of the current labor market. The quality/skill set/attitude/demeanor of job applicants is a frequent cause for lamentation.

The latest NFIB (small biz) report says 89% of firms hiring/trying to hire see few or zero qualified applicants. And 15% of all businesses say finding qualified workers is their single biggest problem. Both numbers are high relative to history.

Rocky Humbert writes: 

There are many different ways to slice and dice these complex issues. It can be argued that the root cause is the labor force is now unqualified. It can also be argued that employers are reaping what they've sown by investing less into the workforce.

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

Personally, I think this is a secular evolution with plenty of blame to go around. The key variable is that the median job tenure has been declining for years. No longer is a job at IBM or GM or GE a career that spans a lifetime. This phenomenon can be sourced to Jack Welch at GE. It spread throughout the corporate landscape (including to the Bob Rubin/Steve Friedman era at Goldman Sachs).

Some economists will say that this is a healthy sign of a dynamic labor force. Some economists will say that it's a consequence of the absence of defined benefit plans and union power. Some will say its the Gig Economy. It was part and parcel of the loss of job security and the solid American middle class.

But it is also clear that if an employer expects a short employment duration, he is less inclined to invest in his workforce (i.e. training/education) etc.

Marion Dreyfus writes: 

That uptick of .1% is a reflection of hope–people who stopped hunting a job now feel hopeful enough to set foot to pavement. I stopped for months, and notice I started looking again this past month. Many are like me.



Life we take for granted,

we still horripilate at the scent of our end [Have a Will?]

When we think of the thanatic

We freq become emphatic

Docs, like folks of other sort

have devised abbrevs to retort

Thus a man deemed NGMI

Is a Not Gonna Make It guy;

ART, or Approaching Room Temp, means Dead

[or so it's said]

    Far less dire, SIO, now don't scoff

happily translates to Sleeping It Off

Contrarily, that mess covered with a bloody cape

Is a patient in PBS, Pretty Bad Shape

    Another way to put it <sigh>

    Is FTD, Fixin' to Die

Despite the best efforts of meds 'n' docs all day

He might still be GDA — Gonna Die Anyway

    Some patients then become GPO

    Good Parts Only: lungs, veins, scro'. . .

Should you find them sluggish, full of lead

They're now GRAFOB, Grim Reaper at Foot of Bed

    If patient expires, Paws Up, PU,

    Take a hard look at the consequent view:

His LRO, Luck Ran Out, his blood once red

now, alas, HBD, He just Be Dead

    "Discharged downstairs" means sent to morgue

    to celestial transfer. Please don't forgue

At scenes of accident, he's DOTS

Dead on the Spot, zero finesse

    If the crash was gruesome, no breath to spare

    he'll be DRTTT, or Deceased Right There, There and There

Beating Off Angels, or BOA, as docs arrive

Is CPR on hopeless folks who won't survive

    Yet there's hope, CD, as there's the Coffin Dodger

    eluding inept KHB, Knife-Happy Blade, a surgeon botcher

The hurt may prevail over horrendoectomy

the lasting surgical result of foreverectomy

    But sometimes, DTTM, the worst to bod or chromosome

comes to Don't Transfer to Me! patients with LWS –

    Low Wallet Syndrome



 And you plan, hell or high water, to go. Once-in-a-lifetime, Divine Intervention miracle result, TG not to see that woman lie for four more years. Etcetera. So: What to do. How much will it cost? Can you do what needs to be done to make it through the dollar blizzard?

There's the train, if you're coming from a distance. Major bucks more than the bus. You can take the Chinese buses, not guaranteed to arrive on time, but only $30 each way, and reasonable as these things go.

Or the military skirmish-level of flying, squished seating, also sold out, and inadequate luggage space. And the pat-downs and stink-eyes of the airport Homeland Security types. Plus the major layout for last-minute ticketing, unaccompanied by your loved ones, since you have to pay extra for a
1. choice seat on the aisle, and
2. Seat next to a friend or spouse.

Then , where to stay. Pretty much every hostel, now $100/night for the executive manger straw and bunk-bed starvation accommodation, is all sold out. Compare and contrast: Back in 2009, there were supposedly 1.8 million hysterically thrilled up their leg visitors to the Obama Inauguration. The estimate for this year, 20 January 2017, is a shaved 440.000, poor-man's carnival visit list. (That lowball is probably going to turn out wrong, like the mavens of missing who got the election results 98% wrong.)

But now, all the big-buck hotels are pretty much filled by one week prior. So scrambling for guesthouses, B & B's, people you know who have a cousin whose sister has a nephew with a house in the 'burbs with a spare bed.

That costs $175-295 for 3 or 4 sharing. They involve a 20-minute ride from the outskirtiest skirts to a mere 15-minute hike to the parade grounds. If it's the cheaper alternative, you'll need to rent a car, or hire an Uber, or (my humorous alternative, which I have done in the past) bring along a bike. Once in the heart oof Inaugural region, you'll need a trainride to the spot. This all assumes traffic is moving, and that your 'short hop' from outside DC will not become a grueling hur in stuck traffic lanes and fraying nerves.

You have to eat. So if you don't pack a cumbersome suitcase or backpack to haul food, on the astringent diet budget spectrum, then you have to rely on local fare, all genially jacked up for the occasion. At least two or three or four meals, tip and tax, and not looking chintzy with your companions or spice. Figure another $200 for those blue-plate specials.

Hey, restaurateurs gotta eat, too, right?

If you can't cope with these details, as they say, then for a mere $2200, even, you get viewing rights, a nice bed in a good place, and a few invites to galas where your fellow Republicans will be jolly with wassail and beers. Hoisting a tankard or two, you'll justify the extra piracy for the day or two of rejoicing. Then, if you nix the Gala Package for "00 (low end: High end—unknowable digits), you can shell out $300 per gala. So don't forget your gay apparel, in that suitcase you have stored somewhere a headache away when you go back home. You can't be expected to wear your fancy duds all that stand-up time as Donald J. takes the oath of office and you freeze your tootsies waiting for the festivities to begin. The duds are for the nighttime fiestas. So you have one or two changes of clothing to think about packing.

These galas will of course provide tranches of delicacies, tables groaning with terrific stuff. (Even the Dems, when they celebrated, forwent the PC tofu and alfalfa sprouts to knuckle under bevies of branded luxe seafood and tenderest of tenderloin. And so on. So you'll chow down to hold you all the way back to Keokuk or Wainscot or Albuquerque.

Then home, not forgetting to race back for your stored bags and accumulate. Even without the Special Package, you're still in for a couple of thou.

Worth it?

How delighted are you we have finally prevailed over the terror of seeing that pant-suited panther for four extended Obamayears?

Letya know. I'm on the list.



 Of course, the simplest way of apprehending "ARRIVAL" is of a realistic-looking sy-fy dramatic supposition. The disc-shaped on-edge pods ferrying unknown aliens arrive simultaneously above a dozen world cities, resembling truncated elms or sycamores, with free-floating animated roots, more or less. Any number of forerunner sy-fy flicks have featured similar beings, from "War of the Worlds" (2005) to any number of smaller, lower-cost cinematic visitors. This type of alien seems to be a popular concept for this mysterious stranger scenario.

So –Why have they come, all of a sudden?

A melancholy Amy Adams, playing college prof and top language maven Dr. Louise Banks– who appears without makeup throughout the proceedings—a talented linguist contacted by Forest Whitaker, as Colonel Weber (no first name), military official, to try to get through what it is the aliens may be trying to say. Except they don't enunciate—they splootch out finger-y type things that squirt out roundish inky ideographs.. Jeremy Renner, playing Ian Donnelly (what? No PhD? What are they saying here about credentialized scientists in the military mindset?) a recruited scientist, tries to be of collegial assistance, but does not have much to do aside from snappy retorts and functioning as a sanity foil brake on Adams' onscreen audacity.

On the deeper level, coming as it does moments after the election, my immediate link is that these alien beings, separated by a wall of impermeable glass inside the odd space vehicle with no interior furnishings but the separation barrier, represent the current president-elect. He too, to the LA [and DC] crowd, an alien being, apparently, as difficult to grok as an interplanetary essence. An arrival that is unheralded, appearing one day over the landscape, and something that requires 'translation' from the being to Earthlings. Since each culture perceives the aliens as their lens permits them to, most of them regard the appearances as threatening, and begin to act reflexively as if they were being attacked. Prior space films –especially in the 50s and 80s–usually feature US military sending in a fleet of fortified soldiers, blasters at the ready, shooting like gatling guns at the foreign spacecraft. Pre-emptively, before the aliens can exert their mysterious powers on the Earthlings for good or evil..

A hint that the aliens here are sentient and not intending evil comes when a slightly less misty screen capcha shows these trunky beings with warm, sympathetic eyes.

To be sure, world war is a looming possibility as each nation races to decipher what these arrivals want, mean or intend. Such threat also imperils the hard-working linguist and her scientific sidekick. And the continent, should war break out and the aliens turn out to be bad varmints with evil-intentioned trigger splootches. That would be macro-aggressions, we surmise.

It is noteworthy that the key figure sent to decode the language of these untoward visitors is a woman (hint, hint), but assisted by the sensitive and exophthalmic Renner (who also has Trumpish eyes), The drama inheres in the earnest efforts of the protagonists to decode the splotches emitted: Do they betoken threat? Do they mean something less than the imminent catastrophic end of mankind?

We are treated to linguistic theory, good for Indonesian jungle tribes as well as for intergalactic protoplasmic arrangements. Threading through the story are hints of tragic events residing in the Banks character's life, but we don't learn all that much until well into the film.

The acting is convincing, what you need to compel interest. The script is energetic enough. The movie audience with whom we watched the film seemed glued to the onscreen events, though it is more an intellectual effort than an actioner. Just as well.

So my guess is that "Arrival" is the Hollywood Dream Machine's emissary sent to unclued-in Democrats from higher-order Conservatives in order to translate/interpret the Donald Trump phenom creature to the administrators and groundlings of planet America and elsewhere on the globe, where leaders scratch their pates in wonderment and confusion. At just the time when the astonishing revelation of the 2016 US elections breaks worldwide, to the consternation and bafflement of all.

As an interpretive vehicle, it shows how earnest are those who seek desperately to understand this unheralded event and emergence. Who knows? Maybe the Amy Adams character is a stand-in for Martha Raddatz, intrepid and daunting Hildy Johnson-ish reporter. [Raddatz'es true tile: ABC network's Chief Global Affairs Correspondent…]



 No one else seemed to notice that Big Dog, horn hound Billy C, at his stemwinder "humanizing" blurring of reality for his toughguy wife, said how he was so drawn and attracted to Hillary [back in Jurassic 1971] cause "she wore these big horn-rimmed glasses" and had "thick blonde hair"?

But fellas, back then, Hillary was a dark brunette.

She became blonde years and years later.

(Maybe he wasn't even talking about Hillary!)



 Clinton Cash

Director: M.A.Taylor

The important doc to see, talk about, bruit to neighbors and associates afield, is Peter Schweitzer's Clinton Cash–the weapon of choice to launch at the mentally softened, perhaps unthinking, nepotistic or chauvinist-without-cause, etc., HRC voter.

Seen at a private showing with a particular audience in attendance, we hoped CC would get maximal showings—whether that involves movie venues, TV, cable or other screenings in the lower 48, Hawaii and Alaska. Originating from the best-selling 2015 eponymous book by Peter Schweitzer investigation into the 1997 Clinton Foundation's alleged pay-to-play deluges of cash donations in the millions of dollars for alleged favors by the then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the concomitant spiked speaker fees for ex-President.Bill Clinton.

Clinton Cash outlines the behind-the-scenes money reservoirs that fall into Clintonian hands, either directly by country leaders or organizational heads squirreling funds for favors rendered, or via the Clintons' "charitable" foundation, It's no secret these deals went largely unchallenged, despite 'creative accounting' that whitewashed and disappeared many of these windfalls that never made their way to the storm-ravaged- or earthquake- or disease-infested victims of calamity. Divulgence extraordinaire to say that the foundation set up for charitable purposes, so-called, provides a meager 10% of its available monies to actual charities; most of the bequests are actually through-lines to other, more open-handed and monitored real charities.

In a sense, the Clinton Foundation parallels Planned Parenthood in that thousands of comprehensive clinics exist that provide multiple health-care services, while Planned Parenthood, reaping the annual governmental underwriting bumper crop of close to half a billion of struggling taxpayer dollars, is a thin wedge of a provider. A service provider that, were it to disappear, would make no discernible difference in overall women's "health," which proponents seem to conflate with abortion services, not a health-care concern at all. A pregnant woman is not ill. She is not in need of healthcare per se. The ancillary few services provided over abortion are easily trumped by the myriad clinics across the fruited plain.

In just such a fashion, the Clinton Foundation lines its own and staff pockets, deigns to drop a sliver of its impressive foreign funding to a few chosen and often partisan recipient charities. It boasts a lot of mysterious sources in its 19-year history.

The film covers the earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, various African dictatorships, East Asian satrapies, all of which somehow entertained the Clintons lavishly in one way or another, yet failed, curiously, to notice any dent or appreciable difference in the ordinary populace presumably needing benefits promised by the lustrous headliners being entertained and paid for their "advice" or "aid."

As a documentary, it is adequate, but the value of the doc lies of course far beyond an assessment of just its production values and narrative fealty, lushness of cinematography or the like. Investigative efforts like this take many hundreds of hours of research, late-night toil, uncomfortable quarters, fact-checking, back-stopping and…money.

It is a wonder the film—or the book—got made at all, given the many tricks up the Clintonian sleeves, and the many unexplained disappearances of unwelcome reporters or witnesses, whatevers.

Understandable and SOP that Hillary acolytes and proponents will debunk or try to pooh-pooh the contents. If only a portion of the film is factual and true, the Clintons are, as Roger Stone's new book repeatedly characterizes them, epic grafters. Con-men for the ages.

But most of us already knew that. Still, it is instructive to how corrupt this imperial family has been and continues to be. If one is wavering before the coming election, this is more potent, and more damning, than anything connected to Trump steaks, wine or water.

Look for "Clinton Cash" from your various providers. Ask for it at your multiplex.

De Palma

 Directors: Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow

A fascinating and by no means entirely hagiographic week of recording the master filmmaker—he wore the same shirt throughout shooting, for continuity's sake—of the some-say misogynistic but suspense-drenched filmmaker.

Speaking directly to the camera, the genial, occasionally self-mocking.De Palma discusses his methodology, why he chooses certain tracking angles, why specific actors are caught from various heights and distances, and in general gives a chewy, nutritious take on his trademark process, a privileged behind-the-scenes look at an avatar of a certain generation of great lensers, up there with Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg ,and our other faves. De P delights in talking about the young Di Nero and Pacino, whom he discovered in his own early filmmaking and school. De Palma unabashedly honors Hitchcock in camera setups, plotting, framing, suspense sequences and so forth. Provocative, tantalizing excerpts of his many iconic and still virulent films include , Sisters, Obsession, loosely inspired by Hitchcock's Vertigo, Dressed to Kill and the taut G-man drama, Untouchables,. high-school nightmare Carrie, nose-candy Scarface, and illegal eagle skeeves, Carlito's Way,

There is much adult content, violence and sudden gore, which cut into the overall enjoyment, as did scenes involving women not being treated all that chivalrously. De Palma's recollections and powerful opinions about his film, and others' filmmaking, are worth the discomfort. No one is forcing anyone to see those films that handle women as props for bloodletting and screams.

As a doc, it ranks up there with the recent "Brando on Brando"—almost mst-viewing for aficionados of the genre.


 Director: Roger Ross Williams

Someone commented at the screening that this was a good title. Ron Suskind, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, and his wife noticed, early on, that their younger son was not functioning to age level, and seemed to be blocked off from normal routes of communication and interaction.

Owen Suskind, the subject of this immersive family saga that reads larger than one family's herculean effort to rescue their child from the closed prison of autism, is a good-looking, active boy until autism makes its appearance at 3. The remarkable aspect of this family and boy's fight to become an integrated person holding a job, able to interact, and capable of reasonable assisted function for most intents and purposes as non-challenged youth do, is the 'magic.' Obsessively watching every beloved Disney 'cartoon' figures, how they speak, walk, handle crises, enabled Owen to cross-link life with how the Disney animated characters in all the garden of these much-loved films portrayed life and interactions.

Autism used to be a relatively rare disorder. It has become ever more prevalent in our society, now closing on one autistic child in under 100. For most, there is no 'cure.' Its etiology and sometimes, its course is still not well understood, though progress is being made. Slowly.

The film switches between soulful action-sequences in black and white drawings depicting emotional moments and transitions of the protagonist's isolation and disconnectedness, alternating with well-inflected Disney characters and voices (expertly mimicked by Owen, and which we were delighted to see and hear the zany Gilbert Gottfried in the flesh animate those characters he portrayed in the films) The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, Snow White, The Jungle Book, Pinocchio and Beauty and the Beast, among his favorites, reignited, the power of speech long thought gone forever. Other needed skills accreted with showings and work with professionals and those amazing, loving parents. Disney became the tool of choice for dozens of autistic youth, presided over by a thrilled Owen in home and institutional showings.

Remarkably, across the country, the same phenomenon has been noted, with youth of both genders being roused by the empathic characters in these moral tales of animals and humans.

We were initially leery of seeing the film, but by the end, there was an audience full of smiling, delighted viewers, whose enthusiasm was heightened even more by the thrill of meeting the late-20s Owen and his loving, persevering family, Gottfried and some of the doc film principals.. Even without the vivacious Owen and company, the sentient adult cannot help but admire this rather amazing trajectory from darkness and shut-down to swimmingly present and functional.

And the film reminds us all how fraught with adversity, crisis and obstacles everyday life is. Owen is not alone in wishing, along with Peter Pan, that he could live forever in the protected cocoon of childhood.



A prospective client asked me a question the other day. He wanted to know the Jewish word that describes "being a good steward of your money".

Does anyone know what that word (or words) might be?

Thank you!

Marion Dreyfus responds: 


or saichldik  (sensible)

Being a decent chap all around



 A media hullaballoo was stirred this week when, at the Cincinnati Zoo, a longtime veteran gorilla resident named Harambe [which ironically means "all pull together" in Swahili, as in communal action for social benefit] was shot and killed when a 4-year-old boy crawled along a railing and fell into the gorilla's enclosure, into a watery moat. Gorillas, of which there are Eastern and Western gorillas, and further subdivision of 4 or 5 subspecies, are the largest living primates, with DNA very similar to our own.

In terrestrial zoology, gorillas are ground-dwelling, mostly herbivorous apes that inhabit the forests of central Africa. They have been unjustly slandered as being brutish, as when people call a shambling, loutish big male an "ape." In the wild, gorillas are said to live 35 to 40 years. But in captivity, despite what appears to be ferocious resentment and acting-out episodes, they have been seen to live 50 to 60 years. So Harambe could have lived maybe another 40 years, had the zoo officials not rushed to fell him.

New video footage of Harambe, the 17-year-old silverback, suggests he was trying to protect the four-year-old who fell into the zoo enclosure just minutes before the 400-pound animal was fatally shot.

For a few moments, Harambe and the boy had held hands, and footage shows Harambe was indeed being protective of the boy, not aggressive. There is now significant question as to whether the gorilla needed to be shot. Zoo officials said that a tranquilizer may have taken too long to take effect, had there been imminent danger to the child. Protests are already up and running against the shooting.

So our treatment of animals is in the public eye. Again.

I somewhat share the sadness and grief of our poor treatment of our close cousins, the primates, as well as the intelligent elephants, dolphins, whales and; I would include, another favorite, giraffes, all of whom require huge acreage to feel at home, feed, forage and thrive. I also believe, as does the writer of this piece that in the future, we will regard the current-day treatment of these sentient beings with huge discomfort and embarrassment.

Who doesn't love seeing animals in the wild? I have been 8 times to Africa, but a zoo, for all its convenience, is a prison of hopelessness in many cases–it is rare to find a zoo (one exception is the wonderful San Diego zoo, with large roaming spaces, though in fact never enough space, for the habitat needs of these mega-fauna) that does not enrage and defeat the spirits of these noble creatures. In China I saw domestic dogs caged in zoos, and the Westerner's heart broke for the evident senselessness and cruelty. These loving companion animals do not warrant a cage.

The killing of the mature gorilla this weekend may have been necessary (I was not there and cannot tell) to save the life of the child who invaded the cage-space, but I think they could have tranquillized the animal rather than killing it. A full-grown gorilla is in a sense sacred. There is not a huge oversupply of these magnificent near-humans. They are being hunted and shot and 'accidented' out of existence, their numbers steadily dwindling. It is estimated that there are some 150,000 to 200,000 left in the wild, numbers notably reduced from a century ago, when habitat was less invaded, less violated by hunters, and assuredly less touristified.

In years to come, when more research is done, we will know much more of the intelligence of these creatures given us by a beneficent Deity. Our magnanimity to them will enlarge. Perhaps the zoos will be emptier, but larger. And the inhabitants of these zoos will be less afflicted and diseased, wracked with sores and grieving expressions.

Satisfying, to me, is the flamboyantly fabulous aquarium in Dubai's largest mall and hotel complex. There is an enormous depth of voluminous water, and thousands of genera of fish and mammalia, all fed steadily to avoid cannibalism of some of the species who would eat each other if not provided food. I loved the vastness of the swim-space, hundreds of feet deep, which afforded the species room to circle and dive and explore and propagate. I know fish have split-second memories, but the kindness of the aquarium's capacity cheered the children and adult viewers, instinctually.

Zoos need to be like that, too–expansive enough to let the animal's nature not be constricted and bruised for all his barred and minimized life.

This is not to say we should all be in court clamoring for Raymour & Flanigan bedroom suites for chimps, or the latest tablets for orangutans. But a measure of empathy and kindness would not be out of place for humans as they regard those less free than we.



 'Carlos Danger' in his own sex, lies and social malfunction see-all Directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg Reviewed by marion d s dreyfus Anthony Weiner's facial bones are very close to the skin, which is stretched like a snake's taut over its typically grimacing expression. It is rarely in repose, depositing a permanent snarl onsite when the camera focuses on him in the astonishingly naked documentary eponymously titled "Weiner: Inside his failed race for City Hall," which goes from the former congressman's yowling days in the fraternity of the city council to his inglory as a sexting disgrace, his sort-of recovery as he lies to feign injured innocence ("I was hacked!") about the tawdry episodes that brought him down. To the revisiting of his 'problem,' scandalizing the city and sailing further daggers into the heart of his powerfully connected spouse, Huma Abedin, arguably the closest adviser to Hillary Clinton for the past decade or so.

Whether you favor Huma or not, she is sufficiently modest, well-behaved, even elegant, that you keep wondering: Why on earth should she stay with this fraught human freighter of recklessness. She leaves the camera frame often, managing to keep her fury and pain at the threshold, but not Vesuvial. Weiner's half-hearted rehab efforts at a do-over fail to resurrect his tarnished image. Carlos Danger by the end is decidedly a grievously self-injured, acrid portrait of what had seemed, years earlier, to be a promising career in public service, even given Weiner's unavoidable tendency to the nasty insult and mantle of entitlement manifested before the Fall. He was a tendentious pit bull for a while, there.

"I have one daughter," remarks Hillary to a camera for some reporter not connected to this film, "but if I had another daughter, it would be Huma." Without a doubt, much of the fascination emanating from the screen is seeing and hearing the hidden mover, Huma, whom most people are familiar with from photos on planes and runways, but have never heard. Even nonfans of the woman cannot help but be stirred to sympathy for this woman clearly at the breaking point. You ask yourself: Why does she stay? What could possibly salve this mess in her private life? What bargain with which devil prevailed on her to stay in his infested nest?

The camera crew is helmed by a former staffer turned filmmaker of the disgraced congressman, so there was a measure, one supposes, of trust before the go-ahead. As the film advances, in taxis and limos, on the streets of colorful Queens and the Bronx, in the chambers and in the arid, underfurnished campaign offices, the audience cannot believe Weiner let this all be caught on tape. The furious meltdowns with constituencies, the titillating and confrontational interviews where he plays possum; arguments with rabbis in Boro Park; the clammily intimate tete-a-tetes in the kitchen with a visibly ambushed and humiliated Huma.

It won a Cannes award for Best Doc, and one can see why. One just does not understand how this peculiar, Denali-size ego and combusting implosive device could spin and pirouette and posture for the 400 hours of footage winnowed down to these cannot-believe-it two hours.

Although the public has right now a surfeit of massive egos, rarely have we seen one so willing to permit a film crew to colonoscopize a man so monumentally unable to stop his sexting tropism. His acid barbs fly, to all and sundry, including to the filmmakers, who come in for some vintage Weiner vitriol.

Not incidentally, it's being lauded as one of the most intensive scrutinies of inside-the-campaign documentaries, ever.



 Having learned that the august, brilliant meals for a lifetime Junto will soon be shuttering, as of September, I wanted to put voice to the many who would express what I say here, had they the time and opportunity:

Junto. This 40-year iconic Big Apple institution, dedicated to inquiry and finance, science, happenstance, fibonacci extensions and the ground-breaking principles advanced by Ayn Rand, has been an important– no, fantastic– part of the NYC landscape on the first Thursday of every month for a glorious and intoxicating run.

The news that it is coming to a close really caught us by surprise, and was devastating in a way few clubby closings or shifts of societal venue or the like has ever done.

We have made friends, associations and long-term allegiances. We have learned about department stores and Pythagorean beauty. We have laughed and absorbed. The unique quality of monthly junto intellectual soirees have distinguished themselves by lively "yet respectful" discussions and debate from a vast spectrum of attendees expert in everything to be imagined. Vic's pointed call-outs have enlivened and sparked talks that might in other venues have threatened to become too abstruse or potentially ethereal. Clever and pertinent questions put speakers straying back onto the straight and not-narrow.

We have discussed adventurers and BBQ, Japanese operas and peek-a-boo

Junto. We have had street-people in from the cold showcasing their wits despite their reduced circumstances. We have had impressive visitors from other climes, disciplines and countries. (Even our computer maven, taciturn and rarely seen brother, surprising no one more than I.)

We have had sopranos and tenors. Pianists and punctilios. Hedge pros and physicians; magazine nerds and investment terns. We have had ecdysiasts and Reason-ists. We have seen Aubrey from pudgy pup to a wise pre-teen verging-phenomenon slated for great things. We've had the occasional ex-wives and spanky never-were-ex or any-sort-of beaux.

Junto. We have exchanged triumphs and marvelous memes. We have celebrated Ayn Rand's birthday every year when the winter's breath is most frosty on our windowpanes. We have rejoiced in the rich feasts of intellect shared by Victor. We have come in swelter and in rain. Through boom times and busts. Pullbacks and bears, bull runs and the more indecisive creatures of the feral forest of finance.

Junto. Victor has sponsored all this, month after month, year after year. Domiciled in the gracious and gently curling edges of the piquant and historic General society of Mechanics and Tradesman of the City of NY on West 44th Street, opposite the Harvard Club.

We have eagerly pored through the monthly newsletters of graphic artist Iris, who worked closely with the remarkable doyenne herself, Ms. Ayn Rand.

Junto. Looking at all this expanse of mind and matter, scholarly egos and grey-cell clatter, the best of New York (and that is spectacular, all would agree), we would most humbly but seriously wish to plead for clemency– for reversal of this unwonted terminal sentence.



 The NY Post had a splashy (in both senses) photo of President Obama on the tarmac greeting the foreign hoo-ha of cuba. There were several dignitaries in evidence as well as a number of Secret Service men, as is usual in all such circumstances.  You know that old adage, A picture is worth 1,000 words? This picture says more, some of which –surprisingly–show learning on the part of our obdurate and preternaturally untransparent 44th. Or maybe his chief of protocol finally earned his keep by orchestrating the noted change in comportment. Let us count the ways.

In previous such outings in rain or storm with President Obama, his Secret Service detail were shamefully abused by being forced to hold umbrellas over the heads of Obama and whomever else he thought warranted the cover. To outside observers, this may not seem a big deal, but to cognoscenti, the use of Secret Service agents for any purpose other than alert protection is unlawful. The President was informed of this misuse of his protection services by the Service. In this newest photo, as he makes what he hopes would be a legacy-cementing jaunt to the miserable Communist country at our foot, he holds his own umbrella.

Note that he is holding it over himself. The foreign dignitary he is shaking hands with does not have a cover, nor does anyone hold one over his head. Obama shakes hands with Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez, his tall elder daughter in sneakers behind him.Three men appearing to be Secret Service, a few females standing behind the Cuban foreign minister, and…fairly obvious, neither Raul nor ailing Fidel Castro bestirring themselves to appear as a respectful nod to the significant visit by arguably the hegemon of the continent, if not the globe. This is the man who has loosened the restrictions on travel and trade that mean billions in sales, inflated hotel usage, tourists and the like, to this decrepit country hobbling along until either death or takeover frees the population from 60-year-long Castroite handcuffs.

Two nondescript greeter-women, without umbrellas, hold flowers, presumably for the President. They do not look enthralled.

Slap in the face to the United States, as airstrip pomp is noticeably lacking for this apparently self-abasing chief executive, who has extended more than a 'hand in friendship' to the renegade longtime Communist country a hop from Florida's nether toe.

It is uncertain whether the President will inquire as to human rights on the brutal regime where persons with HIV, for instance, are sequestered, and reasons for incarceration vary from state crimes to poetry that runs against the tastes of the Castros. Prisons are notoriously unhygienic and unmodernized,far from the conveniences and allurements of Guantanamo. No squash courts, recreation, reading material or niches for korans, exceptional menu fare that puts pounds on the once-rangy frames of terrorists caught on the battlefield in Muslim lands of cruel call. No telling if he'll request extradition of our criminals, like Joanne Chesimard, AKA Assata Shakur.

Ready and waiting for a tell-all doc by the pubic-faced obeso, Michael Moore. Documentarian of the assertion that Cuban medical care exceeds that available on the mainland. Maybe with Affordable Care Act implosions, price hikes and disreputable absence of actual care, Moore is the person to shame this President into a belated recognition of ACA fails. Naah.

Next, note that the President is again bowing from the waist to the foreign minister, as he did, notably, with the Saudi king early in his regime. (Obama's regime, not Abdullah's.)

The protocol is that US Presidents never bow to foreign leaders. It lowers our prestige, and raises theirs. It is not done. Except by the groveler who cannot even yet, after seven years of making our country visibly weaker (ask any African head—the weaker we get, the weaker they get. Talk to any small-nation potentate, such as the leader of Togo, trying to stay free) abase his country enough.

Third, the sissyboy we have seen on girlie bikes while he is on his multimillion-dollar vacations in Martha's Vineyard and elsewhere is a sissyboy here, too. If all the men in the picture but he are without umbrellas, why does he have to be the sole meltable? It may be all right for Sasha to hold an umbrella, since she's female, and her clothing or shoes or hair may have set the American taxpayer back five-figures, as we have read recently. Her graduation dress reportedly cost $30,000—nice work if you can get it. But this president: Does he have to be the nerd o' nerds? Be a male, O. Just because you live in a permanent protected bubble does not mean you have to lose your manhood. If the Cuban Foreign Minister can cope without a bumbershoot, you can, too.

Fourth, note the smile on this "statesman's" face. Can you imagine Presidents Reagan, Bush 41 or 43 or Eisenhower making such photogenic tools of themselves for an enemy nation, even one on the verge of taking further advantage of the US? Why not be presidential, greet ministers he meets with reserve and decorum? One notes that in Obama's forthcoming visit to the United Kingdom, Queen Elizabeth will not be meeting with this President. No doubt a considered response to his slap in the face to Great Britain when newly anointed 44th president, B.H.Obama, unceremoniously returned the iconic bust of Sir Winston Churchill, hero of the Second World War,on his White House ascendancy. And Obama's shockingly narcissistic "gifts."

A smaller photo in the Post article showed the President near his multi-million-dollar Beast, an armored car the likes of which no man on Earth has ever had. He's smiling the signature wall-to-wall grin we've seen for seven and a half dispiriting years: Mr Ecstatic, cruising in Cuba. How winsome.

How much power can be exerted by such a namby-pamby leader-from-behind? There you have it: 1,000 words matching those telling historic snaps.



 HUNGER GAMES - Mockingjay – Part II

Katniss Everdeen is back, her bow and arrows ever at the ready on her back. Okay, so the books are beloved icons of young adult readers. And the first two/three were [just] tolerable as movie experiences, helped along by the luminescent Jennifer Lawrence, the circus-y emcee Elizabeth Banks, plasticized Stanley Tucci, the guru in nasty-mode Woody Harrelson and the unctuous, evil Donald Sutherland as President Snow. Josh Hutcherson is a mystery: Why was he cast, of all the testosterone running wild in LA? He seems always slightly dyspeptic in all the lensers of the franchise.

Panam is still in rebellion mode, one district against the other, with Katniss the reluctant rebel leader. Her task: Bring together the factions to fight not each other, but Pres.Snow, Mr. Sutherland, hostile-benign dictator. In this go, the last of the 4-part franchise, the beautiful behind-the-scenes Coin is played by Julianne Moore, and one is momentarily upset by the sight of the now-deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman in his continuing role. War between the districts is still ongoing, with .Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour plotting to use Everdeen to their ends, feigning support of the rebels, should they succeed.

The credit roll provides an explanation of why it all seems arid: There are more set dressers, than there are stunt people. The movie looks like a set-dresser's paradise, but it doesn't ring true on any level. The advent of hunky Liam Hemsworth is eye candy, but every scene is subsumed to Lawrence, far more sophisticated in her poise than her age would allow. If not JenL:aw, then Peeta, who is wonky here and flashed in and out of schizo episodes, hovers nearby lest Hemsworth snatch away his beauty, Ms. Bow 'n' Arrow. For all the expensive star real estate, Hoffman, Banks, even Hemsworth had relatively vestigial roles in the lengthy pic.

Ultimately, it all feels ginned up and uninspired, for all the premier-night excitement and the giant IMAX screening venue. Who cares, after all, about this overextended syfy or fantasy story of scarcity and cage-fights? Don't go Hungry: Save your $20.

SPOTLIGHT Directed by Tom McCarthy

 As this essentially true story unspools, based on material accumulated during the past half century in Boston [and elsewhere], you don't have to see flashy costumes or exaggerated make-up, battles and automatic machine-gun 'pods' exploding or vast oceans of inky death licking at the heels of the film's protags, as you see repeatedly in the CGI-dominated Mockingjay. For news junkies, it is impossible to see the gathering of evidence from disparate sources on the closeted paedophilia scandal that has rocked the Church for decades and not think of its filmic forebear. All the President's Men, a masterful pastiche of actors recapping the Nixonian theft of papers from the oppo political party, concerned the Watergate 'caper' that spelled the downfall of one of our noted presidents. The emergence of that story is now a sort of hallowed skirl through politicking and what not to get caught doing, was for months stymied by efforts to spike it as a story, blown up, in the end, by the Washington Post. There, editors had little patience for the Deep Throats and silenced witnesses, and could not be persuaded there was a story worth exposing. In retrospect, any one of the endless skein of hydra-headed scandals of the present Administration dwarfs the Watergate chapter of American news-and-political agit-prop almond chew. Here, too, over a period of several years spanning 1972 through 9/11 and forward, the papers were not interested in in-depth exposes of the all-powerful Boston Church. The unwholesome clerical misbehavior, molestation and paedophilia revealed by dogged legwork shown here brought down holy hell, as it were, on the Archdiocese that shadows all of Catholic Massachusetts.

This is no spoiler, because the major stars have been on all the late-night shows talking about the legitimacy of the story—though adults will not be surprised. What is exciting is the gradual, and adult, work of the ensemble actors—the great Liev Shreiber as the only Jew among the entire panoply of lapsed Catholics at the Boston Globe, and his Spotlight cadre of indomitable reporters, including marvelous Michael Keaton, the irresistible Rachel McAdams—who is treated with dignity and egalitarian respect throughout, a nice change—white-haired John Slattery as Ben Bradlee, Jr., extremely scenic liar-for-hire Billy Crudup as one of the legal eagles who profited for years from the burying bad behavior cottage industry– plus various and sundry character actors who show their acting chops while not chewing the scenery.

Spotlight is unfailingly interesting, without the pyrotechnics. Moreover, it shows journalists who still report and do the pavement pounding, so viewers see how stories come together, after the tough, slogging work of investigation, checking sources, re-visiting tight-lipped lawyers, and making sure the full tale is buttoned up.

Evident, too, is the neither-black-nor-white nature of news today: On the one hand, the Church does many excellent things for people needing comfort. On the other, they consistently looked the other way for decade after decade. And played hob with both documentation and the law. You pray devoutly that there are people doing the work of angels documenting the malfeasances of the current Administration, for next year's block-buster reveals.

One of the standout films of the season.



 I discovered the shul in Rangoon tucked tightly between two Non-descript office buildings in a nondescript road in Yangon (authentic old and renewed name of Rangoon, for native Myanmarese/Burmese).

The shul I find is a lovely gem, gated archway with iron scrollwork name and black paint announcing its provenance. Aside from the wrought iron lamps from decades ago, on the front benches, anterior to the main sanctuary, are a dozen commemorative blow-up B/W photos of great Jewish heroes meeting Burmese greats or UN personages. Moshe Dayan. Ben Gurion. U Thant. Golda Meir. The script at the bottom bears the names of the people shown, the date, and the occasion.

They are good photos, 15" by 15", framed in simple black wooden frames of convenience.

I took pictures of the pictures, and included their legends, beneath. The shul is an old-style European-style synagogue, with lovely bima center, benches parenthetical to the bima, all solid wood, probably teak—the country is famed for its vast teak reservoir forests. There is a small room behind the 'sanctuary' with some lovely old sifrei Torah. The shul seats perhaps 100, but whenI asked the [very dark-skinned] gabbai or caretaker if there were any minyanim, he gently shrugged.

Did he speak Hebrew? I ask. He shook his head from side to side, No. Did he speak Yiddish? No, again.

He said to me that he is indeed Jewish, but like many out of the way ancient synagogues, the story told by the designated watchman is often at variance with the fierce emes. He said there are only [either] 20 Jews–or families– in Rangoon. There is of course no rabbi, though the shul is in overall good repair, overall–not like the hulking lost loveliness of the Cairo synagogue, which soliloquises its glory past of 70 years ago, before Nasser expelled nearly all Jews on the assumption of Israel to the world's yawning yet bristling stage and attentions.

Did they have holiday services? I persisted. Again, he lifted his shoulder blades slightly, universal symbol of "Well, not exactly…".

There is, in all these out of the mainstream synagogues that cry for a dusting and a good morning minyan, a vast mournful melancholia. Here were Jews in a bustling community, those keeping company, perhaps, with the mid-career George Orwell–though he was not a member of the tribe, he lived in Rangoon among the corrupt British foreign-affairs officers and the nearly equally corrupt Burmese officialdom.

One leaves slowly, aware that if one ever wends this way again, the synagogue will be still less peopled, perhaps overgrown with vines or incursive foliage from the humid, heavy air and the rain that falls sheetingly in monsoon months, rains that demand constant pushing away and wiping to remind people that mildew does not inhere as by right.

We met no Jewish Burmese, coming or going.

It is common when one finds such gems that one respectfully wanders about the wooden benches and the clear, clean aisles, the tiled floors, and pokes at the photographs noting its heyday. Distancing oneself from the sadness of the truth that here is a living relic of the Diaspora, when thousands of Jews may have passed en route to sureness of habitation, employment and safety to limb and family.

As in Shanghai's remaining shuls, this is more museum artifact than living totem of the force of Judaism as a sinewy observance.

But a sensitive being catches a persistent lump in the throat. Of loss. Of regret and sadness.

The thought only of a throbbing lively culture in robust Israel, with festive shuls and all manner of observances, redeems one from the forlorn pangs of regret and loss.



 Weird being here again. Country is vastly different–don't know if you in the interim have been back. The luggage carousels at the humongous airport numbered 25! It was an endless walk, using some 8 moving sidewalks and plain corridor traipsing, to get anywhere. Very impressive air terminals they have now, on the same order as Hong Kong and Orly or Paris. Our airports seem drab and confined by comparison but for the brand new sections.

Was rolling around the Thai phrases I knew, and still know, and they are coming in handy. Impressing the natives. Oddly, I seem to know more Thai than Chinese, tho I lived in the PRC much more recently and actually studied Chinese with a tutor while there.

I note on the local Thai TV that there is representation from Hispanic voices, French, German, Russian, many from arab states–al Jazeera is only one of the local offerings– and of course sports stations and CNN. There is no Fox or Fox Business (there is Bloomberg); nor is there anything from Israel. I listened to German TV to get some idea of what was happening in Israel–pathetic I had to do that, but I never trust CNN on Israel (or anything else, most of the time).

The temp is a toasty 86F at 1:31 a.m. In the day, it will be swelter-time again.

I don't see kitois, or maybe I do, but they dress even better now. With elderly white gentlemen of means. Sukumvit is "close" my driver tells me. "Only 8 Kilometers from here…" (Royal Orchid Sheraton.) I have a high room, with a spectacular view of the Chao Phrya from the huge picture window, with colorful barges plying the water in magenta, yellow, green and purple outline strung lights, no two boats the same. Dubai has the same thing, big barges with colorful electric signatures. Come to think of it, a recent run around NYC at night also had the same type of euphoric Crayola-effect barges.

Too many niqabs for my taste, walking invisible-pitch-black behind or to the side of their swarthy and physically unencumbered mates. [I wonder how they can tell it is their wife scuttling alongside, and not some random PVC-garbage-bag-covered something shuffling along.]

I am delighted that this time, I was able with only token emails warning me that "someone is trying to access your account," to get on my account–it took only 2 hrs, here. rather than, as with Abu Dhabi and the Emirates, 5 days of pleading and filling in intrusive questions. Of course, in HK, I was blocked immediately by ideograms telling me I needed additional layers of 'security' and so I wasn't able to penetrate the mysteries. Chinese security, BTW, was quite thorough, confiscating a folding pocket knife with scissors and toothpick and all those gadgets, that I had forgotten I even had anywhere.

En route here, or rather HK, I saw 8 films, some sort of record. Now I might save some time in the NYC theatre houses, if these films open up there. Pacino in "Danny Collins" struck me as a family film, with some touching moments; Jennifer Garner, the wonderful Bobby Canavale and Christopher Plummer. Also, the terrific Annette Benning, always a standout. Who reminds me of my friend Deam.

The hotel offers an extensive menu of wraps and body rubs and massages, or, probably, "massages." Foot rubs cost 1,200 baht; Thai massage, traditional, sets you back 1,500 B. The rate is better than it was–instead of 20 B to the $, it is now 33 and change. You can get a "journey of joy" for a mere 6,600 B (3 hrs); "Romantic getaway–couple" for 4 hrs, only 14,500 B. A "Mandara delight" for 2 hrs is just 4,700 B, a true m'tziyah.

There are body scrubs, 3 types, 45-60 mins, ranging from 3,000 B to 2,500 B. body wraps, also 3 kinds, all an hour, range from 4,500 to 2,800. In the massage department, one can get a thai traditional; Luk Prakob/hot compress; "elemis aroma therapy"; stone therapy; Swedish, aromatic, sport, Balinese, Indian Head massages High iof 4,500 B to low of 2,200 B. There are facials for both men and women, differently priced, promising different benefits.

One of the body scrubs looks like a typo: "Detoxifying green tea crub," it says, probably erroneously.

I will take in some "fresh" air after I do more emails. Cathay Pacific is, as advertised, a rather terrific airline, far superior in service and amenities to the US carriers I have taken of late. Plus they seem to be quite kind, and genuinely helpful. Nonetheless, no one stoppered the child of 3 or so who cried for hours without anyone telling him to chill. For one meal, the dessert was Haagen Dasz deep chocolate-enrobed vanilla pop bars, frozen and delish–I checked the price in HK: $56. HK dollars = about $8 per. And they serve meals even on short hops, unlike American carriers, who give you stale pretzels if you're lucky, on flights under 24 hrs (well, 4).

Will write more as days permit, if computers give me access. Please hold emails while I am afield.



 As anticipated, the heat during the day is oven-ready, in the very high 90s, without a breath of breeze. And humidity at 200%. It is the tail end of the monsoon season, so it spattered this afternoon, not dissipating the blanket of bake at all.

The bath in the bathroom, though spotless, is designed for an Olympic decathlon– the high jump. It is inordinately high to get into, and it is deeper than the floor when you have to set your 10 little shrimpers on the porcelain. Not only that, but the way the shower is constructed makes it impossible for a non-simian to reach the faucets to turn on the bath or shower. You have to actually get in to turn everything on, getting wet in the process.

A small annoyance, but why design such a confounding splash contrivance?

The sheets are clean, but feel slick and somehow…slimy. Fresh but slimy. Not like cotton. But after many hours running around to Emerald Buddha Temples and flower markets rich with alluvial shorn petals and wires, and women smiling invitingly, Buy, Buy! what the hay, a bath seems anodyne. And sleep should be a snap, after 5 or 6 hours post running around the place and assorted travails. The Sheraton hangers, happily, are not tethered to the closet bar. The minibar is a joke, with a single container of shorty short Pringles, one bag of chips, and a price list to turn you off snacks forever. The drinks are on top of the tea-maker, and they start with a squat bottle of Chivas, but nothing the average stressed-out scrivener would want to down for $30, B1,000 Thai.

That I never managed to set foot into this thrilling field while I was living here is mystery enough. The temple is, somehow, madly amazing–you cannot help but wonder how much upkeep these myriad glinting and sparkling stupas and sacred buildings take? And since they are open all days of the year, how do the Thais keep these garudas and monkeys and animal spirits so golden-y gold, these columns so stunningly straight and fully adorned with glass and mirror in all the ROYGBIV rainbow.

Irritating that I had to buy a pareo to sheathe my lower limbs–my skirt was too short, and the legs must be properly covered. I had to buy a ridiculous length of fabric to tie around my waist to curtain my legs and legging'ed lower extremities. Women selling these fabric must-haves were doing a land-office business. They were selling for B3, or 10 cents. some places inside the Emerald Buddha compound, you had to remove your shoes, your hat, so as to honor the custom here. In Myanmar, I am informed, some worship sites insist on removal of both shoes and socks, too.

It is bloody hot, there are way too many muzzies, which, you are correct, when I was here last, there were none. Too many women in hijab–enough to make you cringe in anticipatory distress.

So I finally corrected the historic omission and saw the Emerald Buddha, that vast compound of electrifyingly brilliant buildings and columns and stupas and associated holy edifices. which somehow, while I lived here, I never managed to see. Damned crowded and impossible to get a fix on the greatness, as the heat was overwhelming and the people-crush ditto. Like with the Forbidden City, one needs to take one's time with this visit.

I looked at the King's guest house, locked behind a heads and a half tall fence. Bill Clinton apparently stayed there. And the rich drama of the "King and I" –with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner version, was filmed right in the uildings near this guest house.

Just ate at Soen Daeng, an old time place in the region of Praed Na Kong, with an old timey chanteuse singing classical torchy Thai songs for the whole lunch.

Lunch consisted of terrific shrimp on chopped apple and dressing on lettuce bits. Then an hors d'oeuvres plate of waffle cups with stewed local vegs, wedges of shrimp 'pizza' with local honey sauce for dipping, a fried shrimp dumpling and carrot shreds. Then coconut milk soup with lemongrass and wonderful chicken parts, fabulous. Then some unspiced, unseasoned fish called Gaupra with legumes cooked in brown sauce, wonderful shitakii mushrooms and odd braised cherry tomatoes.

Dessert was divine watermelon balls, really superior wedge of pineapple, some unidentified apple-like but not apple fruit harder than apple with finer texture, and mouth-watering papaya. Then local tea with real milk, quite enchanting despite its yellowish hue.

While I ate lunch, thousands, thousands of cyclists rounded the Democracy Monument (like the Place de la Concorde, or L'Arc de Triomphe circle) across the street, all in powder blue and yellow club or team outfits. Wow. Shortly followed by a hornet's nest of motorcyclists bent on their own, separate, agendae. There are far fewer mopeds and motorcycles than I recall, and many fewer than when I visited Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. The noise level is much lower than erst.

The flotilla of cabs buzzing the busy streets are a gorgeous candy gumball machine of bubblechew pink, persimmon orange, clear grass green and mixed yellow and loden. They dress up the little alleys and byways like a horde of huge water beetles dressed for their first prom.

Flower market was less remarkable than I recall, and less eye-glazing than the Singapore fresh market that was a highlight of my travels. This city is practically unrecognizable–it is not recognizable, in fact.

But people are delighted and surprised by my [little] Thai, and try to woo me, catch my cheery eye, sell me things
–to sidle up to the farang who speaks pasaa Thai tai dai…

I resisted buying any glittering stuff–I saw no clip-on earrings, and those are what I seek. I will try to find some in the five or six Burmese cities I hit. The prices inside these air-conditioned polished teak elaborate emporia are fearsome. And apparently get a rake-off for the guide or whomever brought the hapless sho-peh. (Shopper in English.)

Anyone with the slightest inkling of a sniffle or Galloping Gravidity Gravlax syndrome or its nearest kin wears a medical mask in cotton, to prevent transmission of the bug or bugs. Many faces are almost entirely swallowed in these paltry efforts to stave off contagion. The effect is one of being in the unwell ward of some blemished country. Surely these ambitious shield-sneezes are not the panacea.

And so, to supper and walking around outside to examine the neighb.



 This likable documentary tracks the unexplained deaths of two bull elephants who died with their ivory unplundered in Botswana. The Jouberts traverse the Zambesi in skiffs, using their cameras judiciously or withdrawing on occasion, when an elephant trumpeted and looked to be charging. They following pods of elephants –with unseen helicopter photogs doing some of the flyover filming, as well as other unseen ancillary cinematographers– watching as the megafaunae mourn the skeletal remains they pass, huge heads or jaws bleached white in the 100 F heat of the savannah. The elephants are of course seen to be soulful, and nurturing, and possessed of a sense of fun in the mud from time to time. I objected to the limited focus and range of the narrative, which omitted much of the psychology we know about these magnificent prehistoric megafauna.

They inform us that when they began their forays in filming elephants, there were some 5 million in the world. Now, hundreds are murdered for their ivory in many of the countries of southern Africa, every year. As are the fast-disappearing rhinoceros. The film is a plea for conservation of these magisterial animals, and a reminder not to promote the sale and use of ivory, or rhino horn—which do not, science has assured us, "cure cancer" or other ailments (including erectile dysfunction and infertility), which has been the popular myth for centuries).
Botswana is where one-third of all the Earth's elephants roam without hindrance or threat, protected by a thoughtful president, who is conservation-minded. Poaching is not the problem it is in Tanzania and Zimbabwe—but the shoot-to-kill rule against poachers is slowly—too slowly– putting a punctuation point to these lawless, enterprising ivory robber-barrens.

The Joubert film reminds us that every dead elephant with ivory intact is a cause for celebration: It means that the massive companion beast died not from poison, snares, nets, traps or rifle shot, but from old age.

One amusing note. At the screening, the charming ambassador from Botswana happened to be in attendance. He rose at the Q & A session to thank the filmmakers for their loving pictorial of his beloved Botswana, as well as to invite the packed audience (most, if not all, PBS supporters) to visit his country. "And do not fail to notice, " he added with enthusiasm, if a bizarre memory blockage to note the message of the doc, "the huge elephant in the airport—it is made entirely of elephant tusks!"

We all shook our heads in disbelief.



 On a much more convivial plane, Matt Damon entertains with his cherubic optimism at being abandoned on the red planet, four years before he knows he can possibly be rescued from the mistake made by his manned mission mates at leaving him for dead on the arid wastes of Mars.

Most fortuitously, Damon, playing astronaut Mark Watney, is a botanist. So lucky, huh? So, very shortly after he finds himself stranded inadvertently, he manages quite well, as he says, be "Sciencing the hell out of the situation." Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, trusty Jeff Daniels and a bunch of other people fulfill roles that in the real NASA they would not be occupying, as 95% of NASA is white guys, many Chinese, lots of Jews, and a couple of Others.

Coming to mind with this premise are other kindred entertainments: Cast Away (2000) and Apollo 13 (1995 )—both, Tom Hanks vehicles; Gravity (2014) and, of course, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719), which started it all.

Sadly, when we hung out at NASA down at Cape Canaveral a few years ago, NASA was a shadow of its former self, as the Obama Administration cut its budget, and its mission goals, to bare-knuckle withers. I saw only Caucasians everywhere. Male. But poetic license: We'll forgive the fact that Kristen Wiig seems to be in the background, grimacing appropriately, without any real job to do, and Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara seem unduly dewy and unscience-y to be in the positions they represent.

Actually, on this point, this is a family friendly movie, with a strong math and astrolabe component. Kids will be influenced to pay attention to their math classes and their botany, geology, agronomy and engineering classes, as these play a big chunk of the proceedings.

Kudos to the location scouts, who found somewhere in New Zealand the proper cratered, nubbled and craggy topography, aided by red gel screens for the proper planetary authenticity. Though the film has its share of suspense, we know Damon, even full of sores, and concave-starved after a year on quarter-rations. Won't be sacrificed to the gods of expediency and verisimilitude. Despite his pickle, the film offers quite a bit of humor salting up all the dire near-extinction tropes being leveraged.



 Steve Jobs was the Michael J.Lindell* of computers, as we all know. His genius in driving the industry changes, turbulence and geek revo is celebrated in some 6 films, including an unreleased documentary (STEVE JOBS: THE MAN IN THE MACHINE, 2015), and a recent one starring the attractive but spice-free Ashton Kutcher—JOBS, directed by Joshua Stern (2013).

This film, which excerpts just three incidents of the protean and largely unpleasant complexity called Steve Jobs, deals with the launch of three Apple products, over a span of 15 years. It is thus three highly schematized snapshots, and not a fully feshed out hagiograph of the man who fascinated us with his oddities, vaunted brilliance—and concomitant brittle personal interaction in business and private life.

Michael Fassbinder, a spectacular if not- yet-iconic-name in the Hollywood firmament (Shame, 2011; Inglourious Basterds, 2009;Prometheus, 2012), is outstanding in the eponymous role. He dares to be unlikable through the entire film, yet the steely grip he wields on the audience is electrifying. He is helped along by the remarkable and nuanced talents of a now-brunette Kate Winslet as his "work wife" (playing Joanna Hoffman ) for decades—who manages a slight but impactful Polish accent that blew us away, as she stood up to Jobs hammer of a personality; by a dead serious Seth Rogen, who seethes with resentment at the treatment he receives as Woz (Steve Wozniac, his partner in the start-up garage creation); John Sculley (played by Jeff Daniels, who appears also in a similar role in The Martian); and sundry other top performers.

We are backstage at all three launches, watching Fassbinder/Jobs threaten, excoriate and grind his people down to fine dust as he demands the impossible, within an immoveable time-frame. Only Joanna/Winslet stood up to him. She boasts to Jobs, en route to stage that she was voted toughest resister of his fierce lack of people skills, "three years in a row" by his far-flung staffers and experts in the computerverse. The digital revolution is rocketed to the country, and the world, as this sermi-portrait paints a fascinating partial portrait of this amazing man. Adopted, he never felt loved, and his lack of self worth (spoiler alert: Cheap mini-analysis ahead) drove his shocking rejection of his daughter, Lisa (one of several children, only one of which is seen and participant in this cabbage wedge of his life) and his coarse maltreatment of virtually everyone he knew, even those he liked. This unfinished symphony of clashes and conflicts was carefully chosen, of course, to highlight the peaks of those years, but leaves out much that is equally valid and equally involving.

The film ends in 1998 with the intro of the iMac, more than 10 years before the end of Jobs. The writing is a celebration-worthy feast of clever. Sorkin is a master of rapid-fire, coruscating dialogue, as was seen in many seasons of The West Wing—even if one grew irked at Sorkin's constant pro-partisan Dem skew. There's no denying the pleasure one derives, just listening to this wave after wave of cascading witticism, historical nugget brews, chewy news caramels and character-disclosing volcanic eruptions by all.

True, not everyone loves the film for this. My companion found all the full-frontal geek mulligatawny confusing and off-putting. Those in the market who followed the escalator highs and lows of the digital offerings will be in their comfort zone. Others, average movie goers, might not have a clue as to what all the ferment and agonized recriminations are about.

No matter: It is great film-making. Great writing. Recklessly impressive acting choices. And a glittering, thorny crown of actor jewels to savor for the two hours we eavesdrop on this tormented, terrific, arrogant tornado of a personality at the epicenter of the revolution we are all swimming in.

*My Pillow creator, as you no doubt knew.



 This strange, ancient mariner guy shuffles over to us as we stand, 8:30 pm, in the short but growing queue outside Alice Tully Hall, where the movie will have its world premier at the 53rd Lincoln Center Film Festival. His hair flyaway, his body flapped in summer wear too light for the evening chill in the early autumn air; his skinny height curved in a cautious concave half-parenthesis.

"What movie?" He demands.

We tell him, "The Walk."

"Great special effects, average story…" he mumbles, wandering off uptown. We yell after him: "Have you already seen the film?!" He doesn't turn back. He's off to other adventures, the albatross having evidently flown from his back.

When we get to the auditorium, seated very close to the stage where a moderator introduces director Zemeckis and a dozen of the producers, photographers and lighting geniuses that created a 3D worth the time and effort it takes.

Behind us, Philippe Petit grins from a balcony in a floodlight illuminating his pixie genial face and those of stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the piquant female lead, delightfully named Charlotte Le Bon. From 'way up front, we can't see if co-star Ben Kingsley is also waving down at us all; the angle is wrong. The vast 2,000-person audience smiles and claps, delighted with our privilege at seeing the real deal, the actual tightrope walker, himself.

We weren't prepared for the gripping suspense of the story, as Petit/Gordon-Levitt goes through an amazing series of 'wire-walks' in his native France, sneaking into closed-for-the-night circuses, entertaining passers-by on the streets of Paris. Neither were we prepared for the spectacular and, frankly, eerie special effects of the film that spookily recreates the World Trade Center, up-close, constant, right there in front of you.

We know about blue-screen and all, but this work is altogether dizzying with verisimilitude.

The big shocker is that this meticulous planning of a caper plays like a heist, and we are along for the prep, the setups, the disappointments, the last minute reprieves, the heart-in-your-throat anxiety—will it work?

Hate to say it, but the Petit-gathered "accomplices" that Petit/Gordon-Levitt recruits to traverse the abyss of the 110-storey-tall towers gathers undeniable force, aided by the masterful stars and the outrageous effects that create both the height and the depth of the now-demolished Twin Towers. There is compelling movie-making here, as the plan to wire-walk between the buildings is, of course, illegal, daunting, unheard of. Crazy, sort of. You really can't figure out why anyone would do such a thing, even if their lifelong love is walking on wires without a safety belt—and without even the suggestion of pay.

Don't know if others felt as unnerved by seeing the towers in the glimmering distance and immediately in our faces, remembering that they are no more.

Of course there is no mention of the coming destruction of 9/11, as this was all done in the planks and wheelbarrow days of the WTC construction effort. Back in 1973 and '74, before the concept of al Qaeda was even a speck in the eye of Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld or George W. Bush.

Not a swear word to be found, nor even a teeny sex scene. (Two chaste kisses, okay.) The focus is die-straight. And despite our misgivings about the tragic future of the vaulting towers, It elicited round after round of applause at the final shot. There are a few out of chronology fails we caught, but most people will miss them, or won't mind. Even the doubters, like us, were wowed by the effort, the acting, the filming, the suspense, the dizzying strength of the effective and powerful 3D, which really makes you jump, cynical as you think you are.

Even kids can appreciate this goal-focused tale—and how often can you say that about adult films nowadays?

And "average"? This is no average walk in the park.

Jim Sogi writes: 

In the 70s I was a delivery boy for my father's Wall street law firm. One of my deliveries was to the lower floor of the still under construction World Trade Center towers. I thought while I was there I'd punch the high buttons on the elevator. When I stepped out, there were no windows up a 100 floors and the wind was whistling through. On that bright summer day I could see to the ocean and the mid west, almost to California, or so it seemed.

Russ Sears writes: 

Mr. Sogi's story, the review of the movie the Walk and the conquest of Mount Everest by Mallory all remind me of the days I would go out on a early Sunday morning run going over a marathon distance at a pace that wins most amateur marathons. There were plenty of memorable sights a few wild adventures and plenty of solitude with nature outside and within me. But the reason I did it for as long as I could was a slight variation to Mallory's supposed quote, "because it's there"…. No it was "because I can". Despite what one might feel about a deity or nature, this time spent experiencing my world on the edge of what's humanly possible, assures me that conscience experience is at the heart of existence. Perhaps through quantum mechanics this connection can be quantified. 



There were 75 pairs of shoes at Susan and Vic's doorway, lots of cheery folks eating, songs by two different women, delicious delicacies, flowing libation, a starry, clear night twinkling beyond the large windows of the greatest city… and men striving to establish their alpha maleness in the face of longtime demonstrators of testosterone and smarts. We left after 11, full of carbohydrates, grape, protein, ideas.



 Blown away by the power of the Mongolian film, WOLF TOTEM. The film title in French, tellingly, is DERNIER LOUP—the last wolf, which makes a great deal more immediate sense than the English title.

How it differs from the usual film product: The majesty of the emerald steppes, miles of waist-high sedge, untouched aqua lakes, the capture of the brute elements that play such a role in the Mongol nomadic life, the authenticity of the actors, and the remarkable work evidenced by the director and cinematographers in eliciting stupefying performances by the feral wolves in so many scenes.

It is 1967, and Chen Zhen, played by handsome Shaofeng Feng, an earnest young Beijing scholar, is dispatched to live among the nomad herdsmen of Inner Mongolia. He is soon caught between the advance of civilization from the south, in the rank but domiciled dank mustard of Mao's China, and the nomads' entirely primal and tribal way of life with its setbacks, challenges.. and palpable rewards.

The thoughtful watcher will note the nuanced caste distinctions alluded to in the protagonist student, a Han Chinese, studying these ethnic Mongols so far outside of the (somewhat more) civilized huddle of '60s Beijing. He soon becomes smitten with the herding nomadic life, the camaraderie, and the stoic, alluring, unfussy Mongol women who make such a difference in the hard-scrabble lives of the tribe.

We have long been supporters of wolves. They have been, in the US West, over-hunted, reviled, maligned and legislated almost out of existence. There have been for the past several decades determined efforts by concerned wildlifers to restore numbers to the dwindling fox population: These magnificent animals deserve a niche in the phyla of the world's faunae. Of course, here, they are starving, and prey on the tribe's sheep, gazelles, horses and, if thwarted, even humans. Primordial, they are driven by hunger.

In this striking film, a rebuttal of the new "documentary," UNITY, reviewed in these columns, animals are not vegan angels. they are scarily cunning, biding their time until the nearby gazelles are too full of forage to run quickly—then strike remorselessly. They are resourceful, sentient faunae, yet they are merely following the natural dictates of the laws of nature controlling us. Eat or die. The shiver-inducing scene where the foxes figure out how to surmount the steep sheep enclosure is easily the rival of the emergence of the primordial primates into self-awareness in Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. 
We noted that the wolves in the film are starveling, scrawny and fitting with the Mongols' description. They wait for the best time to strike for their supper. And when hurt or slain, they, too, mourn their dead.

We were happy to hear again the Mandarin that enveloped us when we lived in China, and found interesting the empathic humanity (though we doubt such would have been the actual case during the regime of Mao, ending with his death in 1976) of the exasperated Red Guard official functionary come from Beijing trying to corral and admonish the tribe for "substandard" herding and management skills with the People's magnificent horse herd. Astounding, too, was the scene of those same equines, frozen mid-step in a flash Arctic blizzard. Is it a sculpture? Is it a dream mirage? How did the filmmakers create this tragic diorama, so electrifying, so sad—evocative of Picasso's Guernica?

It is rare that one is caught deeply enough to weep at a film nowadays. This one bore none of the annoying, artificial marks of CGI and SFX that for many detract from the power of many movies to aid suspension of disbelief. So many celluloid fans have stated that they no longer trust Hollywood films, and won't spend their dinero to see them, with few exceptions. Clearly, WOLF TOTEM is no Hollywood effort; it rewards the viewer with a near-biblical simplicity and clarity all can respond to and comprehend.

In fine, the story and its dénouement, might be a metaphor– a tragic preview of mankind, should we not heed the tocsin to caution with our species and the immutable balance of all of life's creatures.



 About a year ago I clicked on 'Al Jazeera America' with the preconception that I'd be treated a glaring example of biased journalism, but instead found their news coverage was presented from a middle-of-the road perspective and clearly not US centric.

Marion Dreyfus writes: 

Al Jazeera acknowledges they no longer hove to the neutrality/journalistic vantage they promised years ago they would. There is a major lawsuit afoot where the failings are bruited–discrimination to non Arabs, women and hirelings, as well as an abdication of following news that is not pro-Arab and involved almost wholly in Arabic and Arabist affairs. It pretends to a journalism it simply does not follow. People of integrity have abandoned them as they noted this falloff.

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Much of what passes for today's journalism is, depending on the publisher/broadcaster, disturbingly and unapologetically, skewed one way or the other. I find myself visiting Al Jazeera regularly - so, too, with Russia Today, NPR, and HuffPo. None are particularly congenial to my world views but each provides in its own way, the dialectic missing from those with whom I find favor. Once upon a time it was recommended that for a view from the right one had to check out the Chicago Tribune, for a view from the left, the NYT, and for a straight account with little or no clever manipulation of adjectives or adverbs, the Christian Science Monitor.

Most other news sources still provided enough of an editorial mix to escape being pigeon-holed. Perhaps the worst thing to happen to print journalism (and with a knock-on effect to the other branches) was Woodward-Bernstein. Hailed then (and still now) as journalistic heroes, their work brought about substantial changes in "straight" reporting. College J-grads increasingly aimed for opportunities to break the next big expose - straight reporting became a dull backwater.

It didn't take long for TV to pick-up on the trend (a liberal trend) which went largely unremarked if not un-noticed . Then Limbaugh and others created some pushback with "talk radio" - which didn't go unremarked, but received a considerable amount of flack - from print and TV…with which I had no complaint…at least initially.

However, what was once a battle between rich publishers with conflicting world views, moved from the Op-Ed pages into the rest of the publication and, eventually, it became increasingly difficult to find a "news story" that didn't, in one way or another, skew the narrative into one that reflected the views of either the author and/or publisher - whether that manipulation occurred during the writing of the article or during the editing process has remained a matter of contention. That question is no longer germane as media outlets increasingly hire only those whose views conform to readily identifiable "values" (to be fair, it is an unusual applicant who applies for a position at an organization hostile to his views.)

Unfortunately, this absence of dialectic has spread to the one place where it should be most strongly championed: the university. No better example can be found than the recent pronouncements of Bettina Aptheker (now Professor Aptheker), an admitted "red diaper baby" and one of the notable participants in Mario Salvio's noted "free speech" crusade at Berkeley - an event whose 50th anniversary will be "celebrated" later this year. Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, Aptheker has had an epiphany. I quote:

"Freedom of speech is a constitutional guarantee, but who gets to exercise it without the chilling restraints of censure depends very much on one's location in the political and social cartography…We [Free Speech movement] veterans … were too young and inexperienced in 1964 to know this, but we do now, and we speak with a new awareness, a new consciousness, and a new urgency that the wisdom of a true freedom is inexorably tied to who exercises power and for what ends."

A growing number of California's public universities have instituted restrictions on free speech. Sic transit gloria mundi.

A final comment. For somewhat different reasons I have a problem with a List issue that came up some time last week. Rocky has regularly challenged the veracity of Zero Hedge's reporting; others throughout the Net have made similar observations. However, as a source regularly referenced by many other commentators/posters, I find it unwise to not keep abreast of their "contributions." However unmeasurable, they do have an impact - one I believe that should be monitored rather than ignored.




Directed by Paul Feig

Desk-jockey CIA analyst Susan Cooper is the unassuming eyes and ears behind superagent Jude Law, the svelte Bond-like asset of the CIA's most perilous missions. When partner Brad Fine (Law) departs the scene and a second top banana (intensely self-mocking Jason Statham) goes into major snit mode, "Coop" takes up the challenge despite the objections of CIA head Allison Janney and cohort). She goes deep undercover –in depressing dowd regalia– to infiltrate the deadly nuke-dealer underworld and (all together now–) prevent global Boom.

We are tipped off early about the nature of this spoof: After Law dispatches a phalanx of baddies–all in tailored bespoke suits– he catches himself in some reflective surface and pats down his hair to its usual perfection. The change here is that many of those lurking oppo guys are tripped up, catapulted to death in calisthenic postures rarely seen, the extreme yoga of dead and dying. What we call nefarions. Everyone has his unique limb stricture and back semi-roll. Hurts to contemplate. But we are on the move seconds later to bigger and better assignments.

For the discerning, "Spy" has its longeuers: Though it packs in the action stunts, the distasteful running gags (mice in the CIA subbasement, right after absurd bats flying around from some ceiling roost) and caustic one-liners we expect, director Feig falls too frequently for the expletive-laden simplistic slur to advance the story and plotline. Landing the joke shouldn't take precedence over the protagonist's developed character, and one-too-many profanities becomes tiresome for those of us who would like to just enjoy the proceedings rather than cluck over the mountain of gross 4-letter pile-ons. Some of course might enjoy the slanguage.

"Spy" is a refreshing modal shift from the usually crude and unlikable characters played by McCarthy, whose persona is becomingly modest and unassuming, a CIA analyst-diva in a Langley vermin-ridden outpost occupied by a sea of similar unheralded and unrewarded. Allison Janney, in Mach-2 sergeant at arms mode, is the head honcho at the Langley HQ, trying to wrest peace from a plot involving sale of a hydrogen bomb, etc.

The vulgarity quotient rises alarmingly, to uncomfortable levels, given her earlier sweetness and tractability, which shatters the kid-friendliness of this amusing romp. Still, it's a hoot to have the avoirdupois dish it out as good as she gets, from the insanely ferocious but gorgeous Rose Byrne, playing Bulgarian diabolical plutocratess Rayna Boyanov, who must be accorded kudos (as can be said for the entire ensemble) for not cracking a smile in the face of hilarious comebacks and insult-mulligatawny from Coop and droll UK comedian Miranda Hart, McCarthy's wingman at the Agency, a giantess. In addition to a welcome presence on the funny-femme circuit.

There is a larder duke-it-out routine McCarthy vs. Byrne, that reminds us of our fencing championship period. It's choreographed masterfully and seemingly in real time. The thing does for pots, pans and center islands what "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000) did for flying aerial swordplay.

Caveats include a steeplechase, between motorcycle and car, that's too long, an occupational hazard for the genre. But we forgive the evident stunt doubles that inflect these sequences. We love the fact that McCarthy's a dead-on shot, even if Annie Oakley couldn't have made them, while riding in traffic, falling off, and so on.

A subtlety that is not lost on women is that though many casual insults and backhanded offense is launched, the undercover-overweight mistress of the situation doesn't become unhinged. Instead, she gives as good as she gets, undaunted by slashing put-downs about her unflattering garments or whatever else passes for civil discourse among the privileged and slim. As with the vast success of the weight-worried Oprah, the audience will happily root for this sweet, tough, capable, unexpected non-sylph heroine.

Though the film could have a quarter-hour haircut, Jason Statham does a running gag send-up of kickass Chuck Norris-Teflon and grouchy imperviousness. If it were a Jackie Chan vehicle, Feig would show outtakes, which one suspects would have been particularly terrific.Like 007 films, film starts with an overdone but beguiling homage to all those husky, sexy singing paeans to male mastery, with color explosions and sliding montages in silhouette and neon contrapuntals, weapons and action figures highlit and backlit. The whole nine yards. We were in no mood to laugh, at all, but soon melted in the face of all the over the top vulgarity part-way in. Not suitable for young kids, despite the inherent draw of LOL reversals and spoofery. Had the director toned it down 5 or 10 notches, teens might have loved this. As it is, viewers should be forearmed with a cineaste's background that lets them compare the originals in cool kill-methods and spycraft with this current iteration.

The mood is admirably sustained: McCarthy does not, as she did in both "Bridesmaids" and "Identity Thief," irritate viewers by her crass and malign personality. But even in horrid roles that make her the butt of Hollywood notions of her 'sin' for being not paradigm perfect, she manages to squeeze out laughs, though her personae have been so vulgar.We like her for much the same reason millions liked Oprah. Heart. Also, of course, outside of the major metropoli, the average female is not Bulgarian heiress "birdy" tiny. Melissa McCarthy typifies many movie-goers more than does Sandra Bullock. Bobby Cannavale, oleaginous but less evil than the beauteous Byrne, is always fun to watch, whether on The Great White Way in a Clifford Odets revival, or in Nurse Jackie as an officious hospital director. Statham here is a pissed-off pisser, but keeps a straight face as he goes into more and more outrageous derring-do that he clearly derring didn't.

The overall film caveat is that, despite the affability of the protagonist, her earlier sweetness is belied and negated by her blue verbiage and attitude as she warms to her nick-o'-time rescues and captures. One prefers she maintain the character of humility and self-abnegation she started with. She's so tough when she's tough that it suggests she could not have been so sweet to begin with, earlier.

Byrne usually plays the upright damsel, innocent, betrayed or alarmed, so this is a fun stretch. The beauteous Byrne rises to the occasion as well as did the evil Stepmother in Cinderella, usually likable Kate Blanchette.Quite the best part is that no matter her non-U amplitude, this comedic heroine scores in accuracy, smarts, self-deprecating humor—succeeds where those more typical of Hollywood's ideal "perfection" sag, big time. For just $65 million, a pittance nowadays, director Feig wrests a mostly hilarious, high-return comedy-actioner out of these ingredients.

Girth-girl, finally, gets the goods. No joke: How revolutionary.



 Given Vic's interest in trees, I am posting this link to some amazing photos of trees. A friend had sent me this link today. I believe you will find it worthwhile viewing.

Marion Dreyfus writes: 

I wrote this about the first tree in this extraordinary series of trees.


He was a lad off to war and fortune. He was in Flanders. He propped his bike against the beloved oak Where in a nimbus of earnest he had embraced his girl expecting her to wait. He felt sure of her, sure she would. And left his gawky 3-speed. A lad of 18, younger then than he'd be now uncynical, unjaded, just a country lad. And the years passed, decade folding over decade. And his girl was affianced to another felled by the waiting for him. But the tree never forgot. And year with year by year on year it stood silent, sentinel awaiting his return, that lad who, ere he left, had lain beneath these capacious shading arms. And not wanting to abandon its friend the tree widened in girth, and stretched in height, enfolding the now-rusted Raleigh incorporating the boy's loveleaving but the handlebars and wheels spoking outlifting the bike with its annual spurt from its packed grassy mound. There for all time awaiting the lad's eager return. The tree grandfather to its earlier self. And the bike? The bike, not still shiny but loyal and mute, keeping its vigil too should his lad ever return.




Directed by Dito Montiel

Boulevard, one of the last films made in which Robin Williams stars as a sad, crimped man, has had a helluva time finding its way to a theater near us, reports the Mirror way back last October 2014.The film, which mysteriously got positive nods at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York (and Outfest in LA) before comedian and actor Williams took his own life in August, tells the gloomy story of a married banker, Nolan (Robin Williams) who breaks from what Henry David Thoreau deftly called a "life of quiet desperation" in search of intimacy (or something) with rough street trade—a hustler named Leo (Roberto Aguire)–in his later years.

We write "mysteriously" because from the first moment the film opens on a grim-faced Williams driving his grey sedan in his grey city and his grey life, the movie exposes the third rail in two ways. We find little that redeems this film from unalleviated discomfort on every level. Few at the screening seemed uplifted or charmed by the morose piece directed by veteran director Montiel ("A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" 2006). That emptiness and equivocal response explains for the film looked at a bleak future.

Though Williams after completing the movie commented that to him the film was a "sad, beautiful story," the other glaring reason for not enjoying this novelty film is that frame for frame, no audience member can forget that this talented, colorful actor did himself in a few weeks after the end of the shoot. Either you feel voyeuresque watching him alive when we know what he did to himself, or we are consumed with a creepy weltschmerz, rerunning those headlines.

So the disquiet of this fundamentally pessimistic life, closeted by his own fears and perhaps his ailing, tough, dying father–for whom Nolan cares when he isn't at the soul-destroying bank job or tending to his loving but unintimate wife (Kathy Baker plays his sensitive, hurt-filled wife, ironically named Joy), is reflected in the hearts of viewers, who can't stop recalling that shocking suicide so recently ago. Did making this unremittingly uncomfortable tale add to his private despair? Did it stoke his desire to end all tomorrows?

The marriage of Nolan and Joy marriage, so far from the model literature and life have imagined for millions, is loving, but reflects what we ought to know: No one really knows the nature of others' relationships. What we assume is sensual and intense may be, in fact, asexual and all but residual.

We. Are. Silos. In. Society.

The acting is superior, the little-town feel is accurate, and the ensemble project that mittel America thast big city dwellers don't have recourse to. That limited horizon. That cautious coloring inside the lines, lest our neighbors "talk." For all the scenes with Leo and his skeevy pimp, there is no actual sex of any kind, as Nolan cannot betray his wife, whom he does love, even though they have for years slept apart, have separate bedrooms, lead separate lives. There are far too many extreme close-ups on Robin Williams' face, and the music behind many scenes can be distracting.

It's not a beddy-bye narrative, as the scriptwriter fails to provide rationale for why Nolan should be so wrenchingly self-abusive, instantaneously with this troubled hustler, who returns very little for all the money and gifts and caring bestowed on him by the older man. The writer infuses his characters with humanity, but implausible reactions, in the case of the increasingly agitated protagonist.

Coming to mind very early on, in fact, was the bleak 1910 verse by Edwin Arlington Robinson, "Miniver Cheevy"– a hopeless soul who spends his hours obsessed with what might have been if only he had been born earlier. Where Miniver drinks to drown his unredeemed, unlovely life, Nolan takes to the surly, unloving street rat, Leo.

The poem frames a plausible rationale: Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn, Grew lean while he assailed the seasons; He wept that he was ever born, And he had reasons. Even closer to the ironic take on men "leading lives of quiet desperation" is another Robinson poem we devoured in high school, "Richard Cory"—which, however, ends more bleakly than does the tacked-on, unlikely ending of "Boulevard": So on we worked and waited for the light, And went without the meat and cursed the bread, And Richard Cory, one calm summer night, Went home and put a bullet in his head. Unlike Richard Cory, though, whose suicide isn't necessarily a shock to those in his town, but a source of morbid fascination and gossip, the suicide of Robin Williams was a shock, and resonated across the Hollywood firmament with disbelief.

Though "Boulevard" is the final film in which Williams plays a suppressed character, there are three still unreleased films starring the legendary icon that have not yet been released: "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," "A Merry Friggin' Christmas," and the comedy "Absolutely Anything." Let's pray this trio of valedictories do not evoke anhedonic references by Thoreau and Robinson.



 24 DAYS: The True Story of the Ilan Halimi Affair

Directed by Alexandre Arcady

Usually, when you think of going to the movies, it's usually something fun or adventurous, sci-fi dazzle or romantic razzle, something you can immerse yourself in harmlessly for a few hours while nibbling on popped kernels of your favorite salty air-popped corn snack. And it is slightly gruesome to see films like this, which are thinly scripted true stories of a grisly episode in Paris 2006. It was there that a telephone salesperson, lured into a honeypot assignation by a pretty moll of one of the gang men paid to seduce a specific fellow, captured the prey a gang of thugs in the banlieux were seeking: A single male, Jewish, abductible for money from his presumably "rich Jewish family."

The entire sordid plan was premised on the absurd belief that every Jewish family, you name them, has millions stashed away, ready to convert into liquid assets and cash at the drop of a cell phone call.

The title tells it all. For 24 days, this gang of motley ne'er-do-wells, North African émigrés, street criminals, aimless Muslim 20-nothings, hangabouts and grafter losers tortured Ilan Halimi, kept him tied up and near starving, while the head tough, a nasty piece of work from cote D'Ivoire, called Halimi's family every few minutes demanding first one ransom, then another. Even with the French constabulaire brought in, these men and women seemed more like Keystone Kops, Paris variety, than thoughtful professional crime-fighters. They resolutely failed, after endless evidence to support the theory, that the thugs were perpetrating a specifically anti-Semitic act. It took months, almost, for the calls and notes and ancillary evidence to finally penetrate that this was no "random" act against just anyone.

The family and Ilan's fiancée steam, worry, weep, plead and simmer in its pain and anxiety about their beloved son. The police direct the father to respond, not respond, answer the clamoring calls, hundreds and hundreds of them, not answering.

It is more harrowing because we already know from the outset that no matter how stalwart and stiff upper lip the Halimi family may be, there will be no happy ending. Even if there is no payoff. Even if the execrable perpetrators get no satisfaction.

Awful epilogue: Like the unlikely but true Kitty Genovese story that occurred in NYC decades ago, March 1964, where hundreds of people heard her cries for help not once but over many minutes, yet could not bestir themselves to call the police. Here, over 700 people lived around the apartments where Halimi was being tortured and abused. No one called the cops. No one reported strangulated sounds or the goings and comings of darkly unwholesome men over three and a half weeks. In Paris, one of the supposedly sophisticated capitals of the world. In the 21st century.

There were psychobabble theories brought into the language to accommodate the shocking desensitization and failures of neighbors to help: They call it "the bystander effect" and "diffusion of responsibility."

Somebody else will help. Me? I'm going to watch the tube….



 Three films for March: A farm tale, a fable, and a photog

McFarland, USA

Directed by Niki Caro

Although a nagging suspicion that this film was released now for a political touchdown at a time of controversy and disagreement over illegals' "amnesty," tax "rebates" (for people paying no taxes) and drivers' licenses dispensed like Pez to those who have no insurance or indeed right to be driving inside the US, "McF/USA" also does what cinema does best: It brings viewers into a world not our own, invites viewers to explore unseen lives in ways more compassionate than pedagogic, and leaves us feeling better informed and more connected to people whose aspirations, unvoiced yearnings and anxieties aren't so different from those we know.

CPAC meeting in the eyes of enthusiasts and TV viewers after the fact also adds to the fuel: Amnesty is very much a part of the conversation across the land. We listen to Jeb and think back to his take on deportables. We watch Rubio and gauge how his view has shifted to right as he competes among his congressional opponents. Rand gets his base hyped up with his signature isolationism dressed as populism. It all feeds into the debate on Mexican and Other Than Mexican (OTMs) living inside the borders, either assimilating or, more often, not.

But. It's a truism that sports-based movies 1. are audience pleasers, and 2. feature the addled or straddled team/individual making it in the end. And those are certainly true here.

Thus despite the (obvious) focus on Costner moods and determination to succeed in this last hurrah, the film had us smiling throughout, with a likable, if grousey Kevin Costner as the Homey coach, Jim White, of a tiny school in a no-count town populated by decent people of Mexican extraction in the south. His 'team' is a One from column A, One from B, etc. The fat guy. The ladies man. The earnest achiever.

They are, regardless of their speed and running prowess, daily migrant pickers of cabbages and almonds, as the season demands, all Hispanics (with nevertheless excellent and unaccented English, which aspect does not seem accurate considering the parents, also pickers, rarely understand a word of Anglo), and all sweet, winning teens with admirable grit, relentless drive, and strong legs. And perfect teeth.

White starts up a cross-country running team, noting how some of the boys in his phys.ed. class run to and from school, lacking cars or bikes. (One could well make a doc about subtropical African schoolboys who run 20 miles each way to and from their tiny shack schools in Lesotho and Namibia. Except those guys consistently come in #1 and 2 in marathons across the land, so no need to highlight their efforts despite poor footwear.)

We train with them as they radiate suppressed hope that they can escape the life of the field their parents have deeded them. We never quite know if these families and warm-hearted people are Americans, and references to the at-first awkward losing team as "Mexicanos" don't help decide for us. But Costner pulls them together, we cheer on these taciturn but valiant boys, whose faith is strong enough to evoke a Tebow knees-down prayer huddle after one win. The parents are proud and strong, hard-working and generous with their neighbors and friends.

Coach White is a ne'er-do-well hothead, dismissed from more than a few school teams for unwillingness to tolerate sass or laziness in privileged teens. He's determined to stick it out at McFarland, though he doesn't really know much about running, or coaching running.

Maria Bello, White's tired-looking but supportive wife, ferries their two daughters around, trying to get her coach-hub to notice their progeny once in a while. He spends every minute trying to get his overworked guys into shape for the meets.

What to say? It's a triumphant Spanish version of Rocky Balboa, with shorter, stockier, tawnier and more hirsute players. But even a die-hard anti-illegal can't help being charmed by the tough but charming likes of these likable, earnest, laconic icons of fieldhands in the modern world.

If it were a confection, McFarland would be a three-cavity entertainment. And the amazing thing is: This is a true story; post-script notes tell you what transpired with each of the boys shown in the film.


 Directed by Kenneth Branagh

With Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgaard, Holliday Grainger, Sophia McShera, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter

More engaging, and subtly sexier, than "50 Shades." Seriously. The evil stepmother, played seductively and with a touch of acidulous irony, is the perfection of Cate Blanchette, marvelous as always. The surprise is Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy Godmother (always a godmother, never a god–<sigh>) , whose choice as cast member is perhaps cheeky: She allegedly broke up Branagh's first marriage, to Emma Thompson, and cut into Tim Burton's too. A real Diana, huntress extraordinaire…) , a real hoot, albeit nearly unrecognizable. Cinderella is lovely enough, Lily James, a blonde version of the gorgeous Natalie Portman, and the handsome prince is sweet as well as alluring, as played by Richard Madden.

We know the story. Yet it still came out fresh and amusing, touching but not mush.

Of special note are the special effects, which seem integral to the action, are lovely by themselves, and are happily images that kidlets deserve to have in their little heads—magical swirling gossamer dresses and mice turning into tiny horses, geese transmuting into footmen, and all the little animals gifted with hilarious comic throw-away comments.

The tiny tots in the audience enjoyed it immensely, judging by their giggles and smiles, even at the late 8:30 screening. More surprising, so did the adults.

 The Salt of the Earth

 Directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Salgado

[France/Italy/Brazil] [Documentary]

A spectacular meal for eye and mind, a life told in sweeping, oftentimes morally outraged pictorials of cultures, wars, African massacres, jungle peoples, exquisite natural wonders, catastrophes, natural beauties the world over. Elegant and mind-bending in austere and brilliant black and white.

Some critics carped that though this is a documentary of a great photographer, told by his son and great filmmaker Wim Wenders, there was practically nothing in the way of tech talk of cameras, shutter speeds and all the lacunae of the photography dodge. Nor are there experimental angles or unusual cropping, which some viewers complained about. (The same ones.) For the non-pro, the film is a ravishing look into the encompassing lens of a talented, searing artist over a lifetime of awareness.

In Portuguese, Spanish, French, English. Subtitled where needed.



 Following on theologian Fay Voshell's helpful and erudite review ("50 Shades of de Sade," AT, 16 February) of the political trappings and concomitant events that gave rise to the BDSM predilection in its originator, the Marquis de Sade, the film itself fails on the level of eroticism it tried to evoke. Sadly, too, it fails on the level of basic entertainment. One reviewer, Robert Levine, commented that "50 Shades" is as "stimulating as a cold shower."

One sign that we have come a distracting distance from eroticism and pleasure is the fact that today, writing "BDSM" in a review for a general audience, one needn't even specify what the acronym represents. Anyone past adolescence, anyone with a computer or tablet, knows what it stands for. And having said that, the one-time whispered sordidity, perhaps, has lost its power to thrill or generate much in the way of shivery pleasure.

We all knew, and probably avoided reading, the bodice ripper fan-fiction by E.L. James. No man admits to having read the book, and the few females who have, and who live in the cultural matrix of educated book consumers, all admit they could not plow through the turgid prose after a few pages. The film was an attempt to capitalize on those millions of women somewhere in flyover country who did read the book, and presumably liked it enough to then rummage through sex-toy and –device emporia to buy the whips or paddles or whatever impedimenta the plutocrat sadist in the novel employed to subdue his innocent captive. Sales of "dungeon" stuff–updated and prettified from those used in real dungeons in Zanzibar and other fetid stops along the African slave-trade route operated by Muslims 200 years ago—have reportedly enjoyed an upsurge since the book's popularity took off.

Dakota Johnson, the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, is pretty enough, and reminds one somehow of the early, dewy Anne Hathaway at the start of "The Devil Wore Prada." The female lead in "50 Shades," however, never actually decides, though she accommodates her non-explicit dominator, played by scowling, handsome, well-built Jamie Dornan–who would make a great Superman in any forthcoming installment of that franchise. His megabiz is never quite explicit, though wouldn't we care to learn how he made his billions? He certainly never smiles throughout the film.

We see that he has a bevy of willing and beautiful potential victims, were he to look around his shiny office. The audience is never told why this sweet but unexceptional female, accidentally there to interview him instead of her roommate, a real reporter, is chosen for his erotic/abusive escapade experiments. His apparently unpleasant origins are vaguely but unsatisfyingly hinted at, but not enough to give the audience anything much to explain why he insists on absolute submission, or why he can't seem to function without using his high school notion of "torture," his ridiculous "playroom" full of restraints, chains, flagellation leathers and suchlike.

True, the first 15 or 20 minutes, when Christian Grey is seducing Anastasia Steele (could you find a more artificial construct, one combining the last daughter of the last tsar with the Anglicized last name of the cruelest Communist, Stalin?) into signing his contract as a submissive, has its sensuous and appealing moments.The choice of male moniker, Christian, an ironic take on is unCatholic sexual proclivities, modified to a tolerable, "grey" level, perhaps?

Once Anna is beguiled by gifts and dazzle to submit to his determined advances, however, not his "love-making" nor his applications of infliction of "pain" nor his expensive and puerile sex chamber toys offer much in the way of diversion. We've all seen better, and we've all experienced more in the way of satisfying and reciprocal embraces or approaches. In the end, the not-quite-submissive rejects the whole notion. In the end, most adults. . . yawn.

There is little to the story beyond the hanging question of whether this assertive young woman will in the end sign up for dotted-line-always-say-Yes. There is little in the way of character development, of course. The cinematography, however luscious in various outdoor venues—one particular scene evocative of Claude Monet's "Bain a la Grenouillere" (1869), another of glossy surfaces so refractive one cannot actually figure out where or how the characters actually walk without cutting themselves on edges or metal or glass borders—is wasted. Though initial box office is in the very respectable mid-high nine figures, predictions are that this bauble of bang-up bedding will not resonate very much longer than a pebble in a muddy rill. Maybe word of mouth will guillotine its mushy march.

 Audience interest, keen in the early scenes, hyped by the popularity of the novel and the Hollywood magic-machine, wanes even with the discreetly nude forms of the protagonists. Brief appearances by Marcia Gay Harden as the billionaire's adoptive mother, and the usually lovely Jennifer Ehle, do little to deepen the film for public consumption. Nothing much happens beyond one-wayism.

Spoiler alert: Strangest of all, the film ends so abruptly that people actually stormed out, irritated. Pockets of discussants in the lobby afterwards were thick with complaints about how the film failed on the levels it attempted. After a week of mulling over the screening, one is left with nothing at all much to think about. The eroticism seems a cheat. There is no warmth between the leads, and one is left with a vague, empty sensation of disquiet. Our colleague correctly notes that if Dornan had courted Johnson from a trailer camp, with a dirt bike instead of a swoop over the countryside in his ultralight, no one would give the film the time of day.

Takeaway: Costing $40 million to film, global box office came in at a dominating #1, $240 million in 55 foreign markets ($90 million of that, Stateside), the continentals must be grumpy with political agita, taking to the silly and ephemeral to alleviate the daily grimness of headline news. Those numbers, alas, probably guarantee a sequel.

The Roman Stoic philosopher and moralist beloved of Nero, Seneca (4 BCE – 65 ACE), wrote the correct view to take in deciding whether to shell out for "50 Shades": "De Brevitate vitae"—life is too short to indulge in this clumpy tale for frustrated or celibate shut-ins.

Gordon Haave writes: 

Wasn't that sort of equipment also used in west Africa on the slave trade operated by Christians and Jews?

Stefan Jovanovich writes: 

Gordon has it 2/3rd correct: the "primary" dealers in slaves were Muslims. On the South side of the Sahara they dealt in people with black skin who were - for the most part - animists. On the North side they dealt in people with what we now call "white" skin who were all Christians. The Atlantic slave trade itself was truly a Rainbow coalition; even the Jews got involved. One of the founding Lehman brothers was a factor/lender for the dealers at the principal slave market in Alabama, in the capitol city of Montgomery. (Funny how servitude and government go together!)

Since today is the anniversary of the unconditional surrender of Fort Donelson in 1862 (the first Union victory of the Civil War), I will stretch the reference to religion and commerce to explain why Grant issued his order to exclude Jews from the delta cotton lands the Union Army was capturing. In 1862, in the South, none of the financial intermediaries for the cotton trade were Gentiles. Southerners who wanted to sell their cotton North (by May Farragut had closed access to the Gulf by capturing New Orleans) would be dealing with Jewish cotton merchants and their Northern correspondents. Grant also also knew that Judah Benjamin (who ended his days escaping extradition by living at the Vatican) was quite literally the only financial brain the Confederates had. It would be nice to believe that Lincoln countermanded Grant's order out of a respect for the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but the explanation is much simpler. The New York houses were already deep into the contraband business, and they let Seward know how unhappy they were with the prospect of losing access to grey (bad, bad pun!) market cotton.



 AMERICAN SNIPER and THE HURT LOCKER aside, it's relatively rare for a film today to exude l'air de macho accomplished. John Wayne bought the farm a while back. Van Damme and company are on hiatus. Liam is being re-TAKEN and re-re-TAKEN.

But BLACK SEA comes close to being a tough-minded, suspense-driven masculine welcome basket to movie goers hungry for actors, not CG effects. For tough-minded scripting, withut PC rubbish leavening the text for the delicate micro-aggression-oriented.

"Black Sea" is that movie. Directed by Kevin Macdonald, the story starts in the dismissal of Robinson, a vet submarine captain, played by a terrific, corpus-hardened Jude Law, who walks with the bowlegs and slight caveman predisposition of a long-time swabbie. Sailors on land look always slightly untrusting of the ground beneath them, and manifest a wide stance in case the terra become not-so-firma under them. He's being excessed by a maritime salvage company that is dry-eyed about its seamen, and not given to watches and lifted-pinky farewell parties.

Some 70 years ago, a German U-boat laden with $40 million or so in gold was lost somewhere in the Black Sea. Recovering it is a scheme Law and his close mates come up with to generate money after they've been cashiered without much of a envelope. Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Outfitting the old sub they are given by a go-between, Daniels (Scoot McNairy) to accomplish the recovery of the gold bars means hiring a roughneck crew: half Russians, half Brits. Much of the dialogue is in untranslated Russian, but when there are subtitles from the swarthy, often taciturn Russkies, they are mouthing wisecracking or typically no-bull grit the audience laughs with, though the British naveys have no idea about. The movie might well gain if they were to subtitle the British dialogues, since they are fast, guttural and often below the obvious comprehensible threshold.

The opening credits feature a montage of Stalin, WWII at sea with Germans and Russians in grainy perspective, and on land, with a wash of blood drenching the screens top to bottom. These B/W and aged-brown photos and footage set the scene for the coming hours of risky scrimmage against Russian fleets, inter-ethnic and internecine pile-ons, ever-present perils of being leagues deep in a Sargasso of oceanic dangers and unpredictable fails. And a stunning betrayal even the savviest could not swallow.

Robinson/Law runs the Russian diesel sub, grizzled and believable. There is a young guy, 18, Tobin (Bobby Schofield) who's a last-minute hire, aboard for lack of one of the experienced submariners, and he both grows with the part, learning the baffling wheels and pressure gauges mostly from the Russian orders, grunts and directional hand-language—as well as from the fatherly interest taken by Law in him. It is a humanizing affection that–each time it is exhibited in the midst of crises of increasing severity—makes you aware of the subtlety of Law's work—often, such men have scant room for affectionate care of anyone, let alone newbies they are stuck with in battle conditions.

The Russians, superstitious and tough, call the young man dragooned into being their 12th, derisively, The Virgin. Men of the sea don't think it propitious to travel with a virgin. (In our experience amain, sailors and such high-risk adventurers do not take kindly to women traveling with them in any capacity, either—even disguised as so-so effeminate men, with breasts squooshed.) We see Robinson's gauzy flashbacks to his once-happy family, gone consequent to his career choice.

In such circumstances, there is usually a split unequal in the divisions of the eventual haul, should they manage to find the sunken sub and extract the gold. But Law's skipper knows the men are all working equally hard, all under equal risk, and he rules the gold is to be divided equally among all the men, leading to no small squalls of rage, envy, grumbling and dissatisfaction.

The cinematography is fine, managing to convey the claustrophobic and ancientness of the craft, but capturing the man to man to man interactions in life and death encounters. Viewers are gripped with each hair-trigger decision and crisis.

The story, taut as it is, is something of a relief, coming at a time of Angelina Jolie's harrowing but true UNBROKEN, Hawking's crippled presence in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, and Turing cerebral, aristocratic IMITATION GAME. It's about the recovery of millions of dollars' worth of undiscovered gold, not existential catastrophe and civilizational doom.

It's a man's movie, a relieving movie, like a trou Normand—it clears the too-brutal menu of realia from the average filmgoer's palate. It is a tense, manly engagement, revealing how men on their uppers handle cooperation, fear, competition for top dog, and … prime in such cases, greed.



 I always thought dogs were angels too, and trained hard many years in veterinary school to heal them.

However, certain dogs in certain countries, depending on the people that influence them, in one month turn from angels to snarling demons. I learned a lot in the past seven months fighting about eight dog packs of 5-10 animals each by being surrounded by them all snapping within four feet – front, back, and either side.

The best thing to do is to back into a corner. Otherwise the fastest alpha will sprint around and try to hamstring you by biting in the rear. It's impossible to watch 360 degrees, so if one is encircled without any plan or mental rehearsal, blood is sure to flow. Yours.

It's exactly the same technique I watched on a National Geographic film of packs of 6-10 wolves each taking down caribou, deer, elk or even bison in Alaska. Unless the prey can outrun the predators (not me any more), or back into a corner so there is no real side or rear attack, or grab a weapon, then one is at the mercy of the canines.

This never happened to me, though I was bitten biweekly by the Peru Amazon street dogs in various haunts where I walk. The two primary fighting techniques were to pick out the alpha (usually the biggest male), and charge it ignoring the attempted nips from the rest. Once you kick the alpha in the teeth and he whines, the rest retreat. In the common case of the fastest dog running around end to get behind you, I always turn and immediately chase it trying to kick it. You need to get to it fast because as you turn to face it the rest of the pack rushes your heels. That dog is the fastest, usually the bravest, and once it zips off the rest will follow its lead away from your body.

Once I got these strategies down, I actually looked forward to the afternoon or night workouts of fighting off the packs after a long stint at the 'office', and it was restful before going to bed.

Sad to say for a veterinarian, I resorted to psychological warfare to turn the tide to keep from going psychologically rabid myself. I knew the dog alpha of each of the eight packs in a blink at a block's distance; it was usually the biggest male, but nearly as often the stupidest which is to say most fearless, like pit bulls and bulldogs. My psych warfare was to stalk them during their sleep, especially during a night rainstorm, and kick them directly in the cranium. If you kick in the eye, ear, nose or teeth it can cause permanent damage, but I only wanted to establish myself as their dominant. My foot made hard contact about twenty times over the months with the various sleeping alphas, as hard as football punts, but their heads are so hard that it was like kicking a 8" diameter rock. I alternated feet over the weeks waiting for the soreness to go away. I have no toenails left on either of my big toes from this.

Then the psychological part comes into play – a hard head kicked sleeping dog awakes instantly and instinctively turns and bites at the foot. There's a split second to kick a second time with the same, or better, the opposite foot, and about one second after your first kick the animal registers pain, the eyes dull, and it withers off yelping in pain with a tucked tail. Now is the time to follow it through the rain for blocks, not letting it lie down, rest or sleep for about thirty minutes. It's easier than you think because every alpha returns to the same spot after a few minutes, so I just lay in wait, as they have done with me, and keep them awake and moving. It's a combination of pain and sleep deprivation, and after a few nights of this, without fail, the alpha will no longer lead the pack in attack. Instead, when it sees me coming, it lowers the head in a cowering gesture and sulks off, followed by the rest.

That's the time to be on the alert for attacks from street people, who live like them, and empathize in bands. I know this from hundreds of encounters with the same packs in the past few months in the Amazon where the dogs have turned nasty with a sudden rise in consciousness of the people who now treat the dogs like second, instead of equal, citizens.

These are the techniques to beat fallen canine angels. And they worked on people too.

Pitt T. Maner III suggests: 

These high frequency deterrents called zappers work fairly well and could be easily shipped to Peru.  At least it would make an interesting study.

Marion Dreyfus writes: 

When I rented a house on a hilltop at End of The World, Zimbabwe, baboons made increasingly aggressive encroachments toward me and the house. I remember saying to the park ranger, who came and shot the baboons dead: "Once they are no longer afraid of people, they will rip your face off. We must kill them to keep that from happening."

Andy writes: 

A recent study on Montana and Wyoming data indicates that killing wolves leads to increased depredation of farm livestock.

One theory proposed is that shooting the alpha breaks the discipline of the pack and leads to more independent wolf breeding pairs. These rogue lone attackers are more likely to predate livestock than an alpha led pack.

The researchers did not find a drop in the depredation until >25% of them were destroyed, which corresponds to their population's rate of increase.

The idea for a rancher is to avoid killing the alpha unless he can and will take out more than 25% of the population of the wolves.



Though i am but one of myriads of females who admired and adored him, Ed was a keeper, and a sagacious pip whenever he appeared, and was gargantuan, as Vic indicated, in all of his parameters, including his appetites and affections. Whether what he said turned out to be accurate or no, his views were persuasive and compelling, and he was a titan in the many ways that few can hope to emulate. We shall all miss him greatly, and among those, I miss him already as a rapscallion prince who flashed by our way for too brief a transit. Lucky were those who spent much time with him. I shall cherish the times i got to speak and listen to this cornucopoetic man. I think he is looking over us all and smiling, knowing he is so missed. and keeping his angel fingery-wings crossed that his predictions will come to fruition, no doubt, within the next fiscal quarter.



 Benedict Cumberbatch has an astringent face — high-planed cheeks, small eyes, soft small mouth — one that seems particularly English. His ascetic, near-obnoxious imperviousness fits well with the part he plays in Imitation Game.. Cumberbatch stars as Alan Turing, the flinty British mathematician, logician, cryptologist, and paradigmatic pre-computer scientist who led the charge to crack the German Enigma Code that turned the tide for the Allies during WWII.

Other films have related this history with varying degrees of accuracy and interest, but this iteration seems for many reasons to be most compelling; and even if some celluloid has been given to the subject heretofore, millions still have no idea of the remarkable efforts that went into deciphering the "unbreakable" Enigma machine that transmitted orders to the German juggernaut, submarines and air fleet, over the deadly years of the war.

Part of the joy of viewing this film is its female star, Keira Knightley, who redeems her peculiar performance in that recent film, A Dangerous Method (2011), where her facial contortions made her unwatchable. In Imitation, Knightley plays the brilliant Joan Clarke, who fights to work amongst the male cryptographers despite the glaring sexism prevalent in 1940s England, both in the country at large and especially among the tight knot of top secret scientist-geeks working at Bletchley. Clarke's proficiency at solving crossword puzzles faster than Turing himself won her a coveted spot among the decoders at Bletchley. Bletchley Park, in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, was the central site of the United Kingdom's Government Code and Cypher School, which during the Second World War penetrated the secret codes of what our Mancunian forebears used to shorthand as "the Gerries."

Dozens of dedicated and talented women, too, worked at decoding and message interception at Bletchley, but this film addresses Turing and his small crew of decoders.

Although Turing is clearly not inclined toward females (or even toward his coworkers, as he shows through scenes of aristocratic arrogance), he gets along splendidly with Ms. Clarke, and his team endures considerable scathe and opprobrium from their uppers, especially Charles Dance as skeptical Commander Denniston. The effort to decrypt the Enigma stalled for months, no matter what Turing and co. tried on Turing's ingenious "Christopher" simulacrum of a decoder. Naturally, there is also a spy in the works.

Turing was, of course, the precursor of, and father to, today's computers. Early computers were tagged, in fact, "Turing machines."

Another pleasure was the quaint environs of Manchester, this reviewer's natal home, and the Brideshead Revisited atmosphere pervading the goings-on. Scientists on bicycles and cobblestoned streets, richly captured and photographed, are charming reminders of past efforts in the field, preceding the grungy garages of the recent past, and sleek labs of today.

We all know the outcome of the war: We speak English, Jews still live in the world, and few kids are named Adolf. But the tension and suspense inherent in this race against time and destruction of villages and continents holds us tightly in its unrelenting grip.

Although Turing then worked on the development of computers at the University of Manchester after these events, he was hounded by the UK government for then-illegal acts deemed "unnatural." He ended his life at a terribly early age, losing the world his huge potential genius to the morality police of the time. His indefatigable efforts to defeat the Enigma was kept secret by the British government for over 50 years. It is estimated the group effort saved 20 million lives.

We remember well how Harvey Weinstein stood downstairs at the Walter Reade Theatre after the Film Festival screened the ebullient silent black-and-white experiment, The Artist. Weinstein knew he had a winner when everyone exiting the theatre bore a huge grin and fairly floated out of their seats, a nimbus of pleasure wreathing their faces. With Imitation Game, history has been served, audiences are piqued and pleased
– and Harvey scores another bulls-eye.

Crossword-puzzle enthusiasts, there is hope for you, yet.



 First thing was, they gave all the attendees, several hundred of us, free big bags of popcorn and giant slurps of soda. In the past, such freebees usually meant the movie we were about the see was stinko. But we were told that the screening was a mixed one: Part Academy invitees, part movie reviewers, part mystery meat.

It is a true story, as we figured out by closing credits. With practiced and stellar screenwriters like the Coen brothers, we expect smart writing, pacing, storyline and developments along the way.

And there's no denying that the long film depictions of three men in a yellow neoprene rubber raft for 47 days before they are captured by the Japanese and interned in a hellhole of deprivation and wanton torment by sadistic commander Watanabe makes one thirsty and hungry. Asked what he thought of the film, one associate had but one word: "Long." The protagonists grow emaciated and filthy by degrees, threatened by sun, salt water, hunger, sharks, storms and giant waves. Then tossed into dark, dank, blighted cells before they are aggregated as unwilling slave labor for the classically brutal Japanese in several prison camps.

UNBROKEN relates the trouble-spackled life of Louis Zamperini (played by Jack O'Connell), an Olympic runner taken prisoner after many days at sea with two Air Force compatriots by your horrendous Japanese forces during WWII. Seems that, with IMITATION GAME and other WWII sagas running currently, this is the look-back at the Greatest Generation season.

 The problem is we have seen this before, with less picturesque flyboys in the key roles. In BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, the men were not lovely of face, with glistening white teeth and no growth of beards after endless days sans hygiene rescue. In a Colin Firth factual biopic, the powerful THE RAILWAY MAN (2013), the savage Japanese seemed realer, the tortures more routine and less prettified. Our hero, Louis Zamperini, an athlete from Torrance, California, who ran in the Olympics, is handsome as hell, and he suffers picturesque torments. Yet when he emerges on the other side, he is no thinner than any healthy frat boy would be, his skin unpocked and unpunctured by the beatings and starvation and privations he sustained. The American men are interned, starving, but they are, amusingly to us, anyway just a bit more robust than all the Japanese guarding them.

We understand: It is Jolie's debut work, and while it is competent enough, it lacks a formalistic look. There are no heightened Jolie-esque set pieces or particularly memorable scenes—though the cold, snowy sweeps of the northern Japanese prison camp come closest to indelible, with the calligraphic ascending queue of hundreds of American POWs sooted nearly grease-black by the coal-dust they are forced to mine, carry and transfer. Nothing particularly says this could only have been done by Jolie, like David Lean in his immaculate LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962).Perhaps that cavil is unfair, as she is here a novice on this side of the camera. There's lots of string left in that skein.

More important is the arid sense of the film's trajectory—you just don't care all that much about the protagonists. They are too quickly healed. Their skin is too pristine, those American pearly whites never gummy with confinement plaque. Their bodies are not as emaciated as you think they would be. The handsomeness of the POWs seems not… quite…right, their shaven faces, sturdy boots and untroubled eyes a signal that this is after all, only a movie of a "true story." Early on, and for too long, there are too many featureless days bobbing, sluggish and sunburnt, asea. There are questions about how the menfound anything to drink. They ate, of course, the fresh-from-the-drink captured precursors to what we eagerly scarf down as sushi—without the soy sauce or wasabi. One man dies seemingly because he decided to die, "I shall die, I think, tonight." And he does.

Thanks to the director, with Jolie and Pitt wizards of PR and self-promotion, the film will garner lots of ink, and is having umpteen previews (with popcorn and soda). To us, and despite loads of yen and yin expended on production and sets, UNBROKEN seems an extent of punishment, with occasional moments of interest and "acting."

In its favor is the anhistoric public, who have not been exposed to this theme for a while, but for late-night reruns of WWII classics on Turner Movie Classics. This film goes some distance is coloring in the privations and scalding truths of armored belligerency on the world stage. It may educate a few of the feckless and frivolous.

The stirring Victorian poem "Invictus"–penned by William Ernest Henley in 1875, published in 1888–accomplishes much the same defiant clarion, in less than a minute:

"Out of the night that covers me/ Black as the Pit from pole to pole/ I thank whatever gods may be/ For my unconquerable soul…"

UNBROKEN is no KWAI, and maybe not everyone's cup of saki, but we will no doubt hear much more of quality from the feisty Jolie. This is at the least a noble effort.



 It is by now axiomatic that Eddie Redmayne "does" Stephen Hawking remarkably well. He studied ALS patients, viewed dozens of films, and met Hawking several times. Hawking has even endorsed Redmayne's characterization as accurate.

At one point in this engrossing film about the astrophysicist who has outlived his doctor's predictions by some 40-plus years, Redmayne as Hawking is in his wheelchair, curled up in the well-known curled fiddlehead fern posture, when a young student in the audience drops her pen. Imagining he will 'rescue' the lady and retrieve her pen, Redmayne/Hawking steps gallantly and invisibly out of his wheelchair, straightens up to his full height and his handsome visage, strides down the few steps, lifts the red ballpoint from its inconspicuous place on the floor, and gently flourishes it to the collegian, who smiles. Breathtaking to see the transformation both out of Hawking, then back in.

The sensitive audience gasps, since it may be an imaginary episode, but seeing Redmayne for over an hour angled into the unnatural poses forced by Hawking's disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), one is shocked and alarmed that he can so easily uncrook himself. Indeed, far from being disabled and less than fully presentable, Redmayne in life was a recent contender for People's annual Sexiest Man Alive this year. That he lost to 'Thor,' Liam Hemsworth, is no slur on Redmayne.

The film surprises in showing us the passage of Hawking from a 'normal' collegian, through his romance with first wife, Jane (an outstanding Felicity Jones), through the steady and incorrigible decline of his faculties of mobility and, eventually, even speech. The audience for the film itself surprises in not being uniformly PhD candidates, but regular people who might also attend flip entertainments like the embarrassing DUMB AND DUMBER TO. (Note to English teachers: Rail against this abuse of homonyms. Hard enough to get texting maniacs to acknowledge spelling of any kind, what with Spell Check ruling the roost, let alone marketing an entire mass heehaw with a deliberate misspelling in its title.)

Others in the cast are equally good, including the now-husband of Jane, played by an excellent Tom Prior, who was such a help to the Hawking duo with their three children, and the now-wife of Hawking (who even in his wheelchair managed to gather his rosebuds a second time. Evidently though not much else on his physiognomy worked, that still worked fine).

Though the subject matter of space is fascinating, few in a general audience know much of the specialized vocabulary, dark matter, wormholes and novae that form the bread and butter of such as Hawking, but the film does not condescend, and it shows a magnificent Jane holding her own in explaining the larger outlines of what her husband does. We don't, on the other hand, get very much of the stuff of the field, and attending the recent American Museum of Natural History's first extremely fun-filled and informative Hackathon, on space and all the majestic mysteries attached thereunto, we are happy to see the field is getting much-needed attention. Finally. Redmayne conveys with a twinkle the sharp wit that is Hawking's, amazingly enough. We are by now more familiar with Hawking's robotic voice than we were with his organic original. I predict that ideas of Hawking will now devolve more on Redmayne's portrayal of the scientist than on the man himself, much as many of our latter-day impressions of famed historical figure recent and past tend to transmute into their movie personnae.

In the case of THEORY/EVERYTHING, little damage will accrue if we do so in this case.



 I admit I have difficulties separating myself from the monkeys.

During trading strategy development, most of the time I have found that a 'good' strategy by many criteria can't actually beat out the performance of the random trades by monkeys. So the question is what constitutes intelligence? Is performance the sole criterion that separates intelligence from non-intelligence? If not, what else? What can make me say, "ok monkeys, I can't beat you in performance, but this thing makes me much more intelligent than you"?

Marion Dreyfus writes: 

Monkeys' investments are hypothetical; no one has really actualized this hoary supposition. Your trades are measurable and real.

Et voila la difference.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Because you think too much.

No joke.

You look for an "edge," i.e. an asymptotic probability weighted mean that is > 0.

The monkey - he doesn't. He does not posses that great big brain that leads him to believe in the delusions (see previous line) that you do.

He is only concerned with a finite time horizon, one play (get the banana! Don't worry about the small probaiblity of a chock, get the banana), in his case. You, on the other hand, have used your big brain to lure yourself into thinking you will be around tomorrow, something you take for granted.



 Dedicated to the upcoming Gary Webb biopic, dir. by Michael Cuesta and starring Jeremy Renner. KILL THE MESSENGER comes by way of Webb's own first-person report in his book, DARK ALLIANCE.

Evocative of policiers such as the 1982 film starring Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemon, MISSING, and the iconic ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, KILL THE MESSENGER announces its aim right from the gate, which is perhaps its only misstep. Kill the messenger tells us too much, too soon, since we are all familiar with the Greek-tradition from which that phrase hails. Famously scripted by Shakespeare in Henry IV (1598) and later in Antony and Cleopatra (1607). Prior to that, a similar sentiment was heard in Sophocles' Antigone: "No one loves the messenger who brings bad news." Messengers with bad tidings from the war front breach the invisible code of conduct, where commanding officers were expected to accept and return emissaries or diplomatic envoys sent by the enemy unharmed. UnKumbaya warrior leaders, of course, never got the memo. Ancient messenger job definitions often failed to add that the job description had unexpected short-range expiry dates.

Reporter Gary Webb, from a tiny provincial newspaper in a minor media market, becomes the unrelenting target of a vicious delegitimization campaign by larger sibling newspapers and the thin-lipped octopus of the federal government operating under dubious justification. The clandestine op was never supposed to have emerged, and it is perplexingly layered and dark, at every level primed for plausible deniability from prying eyes. The pushback, steely and implacable, drives Webb from job and family and to isolation and despair as he exposes the CIA role in arming the Contra rebels in Nicaragua by a Tom Clancy-like black ops to fund rebels via moving unthinkable quantities of cocaine. One kingpin in a grand jury admits to selling more than $1 million a day, of hotel rooms rented solely to stash unmanageable ceiling-high mounds of cash. Though the Agency covers its tracks, confident they are above investigation, as who would dare?, they mount their entrepreneurial cash-only business importing and selling crack: "The powder's for white-folk. It's too pricey for our market," says one dealer.
The fallout, as clips from the 1980s demo—several showing Maxine Waters and other activists of the time, and today–is an epidemic of crack users among the inner cities, in America's black communities. What seems a novel aspect is that even the drug dealers pushing tons through the ghettos do not have an inkling who or what is behind the importation and distribution network. Even they seem flummoxed by the scale of the op, and by its 'sponsors.'

People 'disappear.' Witnesses melt away. Identities sift out of existence.
The exemplary Renner heads a stellar cast in a tautly scripted, tightly packed thriller of how one reporter's diligent reportage of the drug phenomenon of the 1980s was a deliberate, unsanctioned project of Langley, Virginia. Drugs for money for unseating the side the US chose to kick.

The action is as cinema verite kinetic as possible, with major kingpins in jail (Andy Garcia as Norwin Meneses), billionaire 'farmers' leasing their fincas to gun-toting drug processors and flight drops, DC insiders and a host of side players: Ray Liotta, a shadowy character seen in dusky partial light, remorseful but uber-cautious John Cullen; and a sympathetic but stressed, loving wife, Anna (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, empathic in a painful, equivocal role). Curvaceous Paz Vega is underutilized as a top drug-lord's svelte, impossibly gorgeous, scarily manipulative babe, Coral Baca. Michael Sheen is again outstanding (watch him and Lizzy Caplan in "Masters of Sex") as driven, reluctant government deep throat, Fred Weil. Oliver Platt the great plays the tough editor of Webb's home newspaper.

Webb tries to keep the home-fires burning as his life is everted like a Glad Bag in the town dump. The sudden star cub earns his spurs, briefly incandescent in a field laden with hidden and overt landmines.

Most Americans wondered why all of a sudden a crack epidemic burst all over the news; now we know. It was engineered and massaged by lawless Big Feet who needed lots of do-re-mi to fund their pet contras. In the event, millions of young men and women died. Millions of minority kids spent their youths out-smoking their educations and incomes and career aspirations.

The late-comer rival papers and the murky men behind the grey suits and unsmiling faces unsheath their silent threats. One way or the other, how does one lone man stay the course, navigate between ominous antagonists eager to shoot down all those inconvenient 'truths'?

What is deplorably worse, it is all based on a true story. We felt the way Renner/Webb seemed to feel when we were investigating the "suicide" of Vince Foster, Hillary's quondam lawyer, or more, found in peculiar and impossible circumstances in a DC park. Found with an attaché, first full, then empty, with an office first full, then empty. We felt hunted, every moving light at night a threat and a fear. Every window an invitation to a magnum.

How, by the way, does one classify TWO shots to the head as a "suicide"? One is dead after the first shot; any second shot would be impossible.

We vacillate: Is this an anti-patriotic, anti-government exposé depicting the corruption of our investigatory agencies? Or a chapter that needed to be told, damn the consequences?

More than a thriller. Gritty, compelling, fraught with betrayal. Oscar bait.




 Belatedly ran across the quirky, gently humorous, wonderfully directed indie, ROBOT & FRANK–from 2012.

Produced in part by Galt Niederhoffer, this film offers any viewer from the neonatal to the nonagenarian an unfolding, unpredictable, often charmingly gentle, smily movie experience.

Frank Langella plays aging second-story man, Frank, with his specialty stolen jewelry "by the ounce." He has served several stretches inside, as they say, for a modest variety of thefts, shambling around his increasingly messy home in the outskirt woods of rustic Rye, NY. The rest of the world is electronically savvy, though Frank sticks thoughtfully to his Ludditism, happy enough to avoid all the modern paraphernalia if he can plan his next heist on paper. His two children check up on him often, mindful of his lapses into forgetfulness. He insists he "is joking" if caught in a senior moment.

It played quite briefly, but is now available on NETFLIX, should you have a spare hour or two when you'd like to be delighted, laugh, and admire the great Frank Langella in a role he plays to perfection. The memory-lapsing father/thief receives a sometime gift from his son, Hunter (James Marsden): A robot 'butler' who is programmed to look after Frank, in part to relieve Hunter of his weekly 10-hour round-trips to check up on his father, and loving daughter Madison (Liv Tyler), calling in from Turkmenistan. Stubbornly, not obviously, the father stops resenting the "space-helmeted" short robot as it dawns on him how useful a powerful aide can be. Soon the odd companions try their luck as a heist team.

Jeremy Sisto as town sheriff, Peter Sarsgaard as voice of the appealing robot, boutique store owner Anna Gasteyer in a hilarious hairdo — the film occurs "in the near future," a caption informs us at the opening credits. Susan Sarandon manages to subsume her politics in a sweet (and eventually surprising) role as town librarian.

Not a word of 4-letter animus. No CGI. Beautifully directed, as if the indie were a full-fledged studio offering. Nearly every scene has a lesson to impart on helping the infirm, or not intruding on others' autonomy, plans going awry despite best efforts, with a ripple of ruckus and a chuckle as we consider this improbable Crutch Cassidy & the ceramic-helmeted kid. It did not stay around in theatres very long, mysteriously, but it's a great rental, Netflix flick, or party backdrop. Like honey-laced applesauce and oatmeal in winter, it's a comfort film.



 The "haunting" story of THE GIVER hails from what librarians classify as the young readers section, a celebrated 1994 book by Lois Lowry, and feels like it. A bland inversion of THE TRUMAN SHOW, where pretty much everyone–save Meryl Streep, playing a Big Sister, husky-voiced Elder to no great effect, and Jeff Bridges, as the society's keeper of memories, the "Giver"– lives a uniform, unruffled, nearly pathologically colorless life. Sameness is the order of the day.

The set design and scheme of the Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, 1992; Clear and Present Danger, 1994; Rabbit-Proof Fence, 2002; Salt 2010) film is stripped of vibrant color and 'edge' for its depressed-affect population until handsome teen Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), under the tutelage of The Giver's transferred societal memories, emerges into the light of self-awareness. He also, by virtue of these tactile transfers, gains first-time emotion, a broad-spectrum color palette and drug-free, now anxiety- and strife-invested life. At that point, plink, he becomes an ardent, pained explorer for that unknown thing called love. As hinted at in the constricted narrative and orbit of the tale, his mission supercedes that of assigned memory keeper, but one of trying to open the eyes of those around him.

There are endless ways this premise and its neat all-Caucasian, Orwellian premise fail. People in unisex clothing attach to "family units," artificially deposited children such as Jonas and his perky sister, and parents paired for convenience, such as Jonas' mother, Katie Holmes, bleached of emotion, and a robotic father, played by Alexander Skarsgard. Strong emotion is discouraged by daily doses of some unnamed pharmaceutical dispensed via a ubiquitous "Reset" button in every unit. Conversation is peppered with cautionary reminders not to be too expressive or excessive: "Precise language, please!" Katie Holmes chides her rambunctious progeny.

Probably the strongest emotion we felt, aside from discomfort and eruptions of ridicule, was admiration for Ms. Holmes at having cunningly escaped the confining hamstrung life of marriage under Scientology, as the third wife of the cult's most renowned devotee.

The adults are automaton-like, yet the teenaged kids we focus on at the start have normal teasing and high-spirited exchanges, flirtations that are more yearn than learn or spurn, and occasional naughty references that could not exist into the overall picture if the compacted societal rules would be universally observed. Every home is identical. The gardens and walkways are immaculate, featureless, drained of distinction.

There is no weather, since that has been eliminated as a cause of strife and uncertainty of outcome. We became uncomfortable at the unsubtle nudges about pet notions of the Left: Climate change and its endless bad results. How the government knows best for us. Mind your mouth, and forget freedom of choice, direction, entertainment. People have babies somewhere, but apparently separate from actual love or passion. Babies are raised all-but-hydroponically, in vast nurseries.

If an infant, even one only a few months old, fails to conform immediately, it is "sent away." Aside from Jeff Bridges, no one in the society is grizzled, but for some occasional panel of Elders who decide whom to "release to Elsewhere" or whom to discipline. They have zero personality.

 We became increasingly restive as the fable proceeded to show the Chosen, Jonas, reject all the shackles of his life, once he gains insight into joy, pain, fear and war. We thought it ridiculous as "memories" consisted of sledding, or swimming, or praying to alien deities, shown in fast, stereotyped montages that to us were insulting and abusive of actual human history. One does not have the right to molest sensitive images of real history for the dumb wallpaper of this fatuous film.

Many conceits in this freighted film are frankly cringeworthy: As Jonas escapes with his infant brother, he traverses forests, snowy wastes, deserts and other extremes, all on foot, without any visible food or water, and sans special clothing for him or his tiny brother. We bounce back and forth between fable we half-swallow, to real-life considerations of absurdity—How do the two not die of exposure? How do they not starve to death? The cliff edges of the manicured world are ridiculously close, yet no one ventures beyond the cheery clouds permanently shrouding the rest of the unmanipulated world, discouraging investigation or penetration. No one even has a last name—which would seem to indicate a biblical paucity of inhabitants. There are no physical challenges, other 'ethnicities' or cultures evident, no people with illnesses or deformities, special-needs people. (Oh, right: Such nonconforming people would be smilingly "released" in this halcyon fake-opia.)

As in some controlled societies today, ceremonies invest the populous with their assigned jobs, and no one is supposed to cavil. The premise is dopey, less sophisticated than in a similarly dystopic speculative fiction by Margaret Atwood and film, The Handmaid's Tale (1985; film, 1990), but without the layers of nuance and important literary subtext.

GIVER centers on Jonas, who looks like a younger version of Josh Hartnett, though less piquant, a youth who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. As he begins to imbibe memories with The Giver, the sole keeper of all the community's backstory or whatever, Jonas quickly begins to uncover the dark and unlovely truths of the Stepfordish community's supposedly shrouded past. With this newfound power of knowledge, he realizes that the stakes are higher than imagined. He feels the stirrings of…whoa…sex and love. A kiss caught on a surveillance camera, one of the surfeit of drone monitors, captures Jonas and love interest, Fiona, played by Odeya Rush, kissing. Those watchingon screens are perplexed: What are they doing? they quiz each other.

Are we to understand that in this 'idyllic' landscape, sex is so far in the past that people don't even recognize first base?

Come on. Really?

The problem, from an award point of view, is that flattened affect in a society such as that depicted here means that the actors don't have much to do but emulate massive Botox injections to the body and face. The "memories" Jonas drinks in are clips from battles, seim meets, rebellions and resistance to tyranny—but they are flashes. There is no literature or art or architecture or gardening or philosophy or great food and games anywhere in these collective memories.

There's no grit, nothing to hold onto. Meryl Streep hits one note throughout—not her fault, of course. Skarsgard is a total nullity. Katie Holmes is also wasted. Worse, Jeff Bridges appears to speak from the front of his mouth, rather than from back in his throat and diaphragm. He speaks with marbles or cotton wadding, too—he does not have a believable delivery, though he looks right for the part. Taylor Swift appears for seconds, and is unrecognizable as the forerunner of Jonas, a "failed" receiver of memories. Even Jonas, handsome and earnest–an Aussie in real life, like the director–fails to manifest anything beyond an occasional moue of distress or pangs of love for his chum, an attractive but undemonstrative Odeya Rush, Fiona.

To call the ideas explored here superficial is to award it a prize of depth. It is approaching not absolute zero, but absolute tosh. We were not surprised to hear a few well-placed chortles at supposedly Important Moments from the audience, but surprised there were not more uncontrollable giggles at the stuff being shown. Yes, the points being made are that drugs are compressing reality, that we are an overmedicated, bellicose society that ought to be more mindful of the residuum of government largesse and removal of pesky pains and accompanying torments. That we willingly submit to too much massaging of life's flintier aspects.

Though many Conservatives are giving this a thumbs-up, insisting it promotes solid values and resistance to nodding to whatever is handed out by presiding powers, to us GIVER is glop for a distraction-starved viewer, not adults with BS detectors well installed and cynical receptors long imbedded in our DNA.

Maybe it's a black-and-white parable for the end-product of the liberal/progressive agenda. We just found it annoying, illogical, unscientific and… adolescent.





Written/directed by Luc Besson

From Bradley Cooper in an earlier incarnation of bumped-up brainpower, in 2011's LIMITLESS, to Scar-Jo in LUCY, we are tantalized by the notion that we are only partially utilizing our remarkable brains. In the case of Cooper, the plot revolved about the machinations of a super-ON Wall Streeter presaging and manipulating the Market via brilliant leaps of analysis and gestation of the data (using a drug that pumped him beyond the usual capacity of humans to think, dissect issues, and function). For years, celebrated French Director Luc Besson has given us some chewy, flinty, memorable female power heroes in celluloid: Milla Jovovich (dubbed "the reigning queen of kick-butt" in 2006) in THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997); JOAN OF ARC (1999); not to mention the unforgettable, feisty-yet-dewy Natalie Portman in 1994's THE PROFESSIONAL.

Here, Besson directs the shapely and sharp Scarlett Johansson in LUCY, a more-than-slightly unprovable action-thriller that tracks a regular woman adventitiously caught in scurrilous dealings without her wanting any part of them, but who deftly turns the tables on her Asian and Occidental bad guy captors. Rendered increasingly mentally capacious by virtue of accidental ingestion of a superdrug, she morphs into an affectless and merciless Spartan so evolved beyond human logic that she cannot be bested, shot, caught, or controlled. If you've seen the trailer, you see her vanquish would-be killers by a scornful glance or shrug. Though it is fun to imagine what immense unleashing of our brain-power might enable us to accomplish, there's little scientific evidence, we know, in the hypotheses demonstrated here—effortlessly changing one's eye-color and hair, de-weaponizing men at 40 paces with a look, floating people out of interference's way onto a ceiling—but it's amusing and interesting, and some of the set-pieces dazzlingly remind one of Kubrick's historical and future captures in 2001.

Not an epic, but a colorful amuse-bouche. And there's no better metamorpher than romantic, medieval, puzzler, centurion, political, nourish, strong-minded advocate than Ms. Scar-Jo.

Into the Storm

 Directed by Steven Quale

Storm trackers, drugged-up extreme-sport nutjob thrill-seekers, and regular townspeople experience an unprecedented (and, admit it, unlikely) drumbeat of major weather touching down in the town of Silverton.
An unprecedented onslaught of tornadoes hits the innocent [fictional Midwest] town of Silverton. Much like the 1996 earlier icon of tornado/Sharknado-revisited disaster pics, Twister, which gave us the novel image of a cow slowly turning end over end, along with assorted high-capacity family vehicles twirling up in the air, starring Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton and Philip Seymour Hoffman as showcased storm chasers, the breathtaking special effects of Storm are, well, blow-you-away great.

Few stellar or known cast members stud this go-round of town-center being de-roofed and de-schooled in moments, but one thing is true. Like the dialogue or not, empathize with the somewhat cardboard-y characters or not, the last half of the film is just plain harrowing. The sound alone is deafening. In the theatre we saw it in–the premiere of the film, mind you (we sat behind Paris Hilton, no less)—the persistent sound of water dripping ominously seemingly in the walls of the theatre seeped into your brain, a foretelling of the massive drenching and howling winds and whirls to come.

The queue at the women's room after the film wrapped was the longest in years (probably since Lawrence of Arabia's clamorous line for water after that film's arid desert scenarios)—you really feel squeezed by the power of this cyclonic Level 5-plus storm system bedeviling hundreds of school kids and major characters taking shelter from the miles-long storm front. Most seek shelter, while others dispossessed of sanity run toward the boiling vortex, testing how far a besotted storm chaser will go for that once-in-a-lifetime piece of film.
It isn't altogether unconvincing, either, even given the expected damsel and teen swain in distress and all the ruckus amid dialogues—huge airplanes lifting up and blowing around like so many badminton feather shuttlecocks. STORM tosses you plop into the very eye, to hear and feel Mom Nature at its most voracious. There's a heraldic moment when one newsie, lofted high above the storm by the swirling winds in his storm "tank' breaks through the dark black turmoil of the ferocious winds, and full redemptive sunlight hits him, and the audience, full in the face, before plunging him back into the maelstrom. If one waits and holds on, we gather, the sun will come out, tomorra.

Our question: Is this underwritten by Algore et alii, another entry into the non-event of warmism; an extreme weather cataclysmic bit of nonsense pushed by the uninformed left?



 Birds of a feather flock together includes people and dogs. Today a young Utah tourist, part of a new American wave to strike paydirt at the ayahuasca mecca of the world in Iquitos, Peru, was surrounded by four grimy youths flashing knives at his breast and throat. The scene was at Gang Corner where I've been attacked on each seven previous nights at the same hour. My assaults have not been by uprights, but by dogs dressed in the local people's clothes, with snapping canines in the yellow lamplights. The Salt Lake man had just stepped out the tenth annual International Shaman's Conference at a ritzy hotel at 11pm and walked a hundred steps to Gang Corner, on the fashionable Rio Amazon malecon, when the knives flashed. The waterfront Belen youths surrounded and demanded his knapsack, knowing it contained the tourist's valuables of camera, laptop and maybe a few dollars. They would be surprised to discover the victim's U.S. passport.

Why hadn't I been robbed at the same corner at the same time by the same two-legs gang? Perhaps the snapping circle of dogs each night dissuaded them, but more likely they knew the exact hour the Shaman's conference dismissed and lay in wait for the first unsuspecting tourist. Having a passport stolen presents a Catch-22 of needing to prove one's identity to a U.S. Consulate, and coughing up a hundred bucks without credit cards that usually accompany the theft, as well as paying for two weeks hotel in wait (unless a harsh expedite fee is paid). Since the nearest embassy is in Lima, the Salt Lake man went to the airport today in hopes of boarding without identification, and then 'throwing his feet' in Lima on the Consulate's doorstep. Fat chance.

This poor man's misfortune was my stroke of luck, and I took the tip to the police station. I must find an equalizer. This is because I must walk past Dog Corner nightly from the last day's activity here at the Cyber internet to my hotel. The sycophantic policemen urged me to take matters into my own hands by purchasing a $20 mace spray that shoots a 15' stream like a squirtgun that will 'stop a charging beast'. They instructed to aim for the chest, not into the wind much like a urination, and the spray will splatter and dispense temporarily blinding and inducing respiratory distress. The recipe is tear gas and peppermint. Then, they smiled, bring the predators turned prey to the cop shop and they'd beat them for a song. So, I got the mace.

An equalizer is required whenever a smaller person faces a larger, or armed, or group of thugs. During twenty years of world travel I have never carried a weapon for two primary reasons: it ups the blood ante of any altercation, and it cancels the mental rehearsal of the manly art of self-defense. My former equalizers have been fast shoes and quicker hands, with a swifter tongue. However, now I required something more concrete at Gang Corner. The ordinary doorstop on skidrow hotels is a baseball bat, in Manhattan the world squash champ used to jog through Central Park at midnight brandishing a squash racket, I would prefer an oversized modern racquetball racquet for the lighter swing weight, on the rails the standard is a 7" railroad spike, but now the answer was protective spray. I can take it in checked luggage to USA where it's also legal, yet in California the net weight must not exceed 2.5 ounces. A squirt reaches twice as far as an arm and knife.

The reason for my concern is that if I get stabbed it would be more hapless than the Salt Lake tourist. The protocol is that the foreigner is taken to a hospital, he is patched, but not allowed to stay if he cannot afford the bill, and on leaving is met by the immigration police to check documents and explain why a tourist can't afford a hospital stay. I couldn't pay it because of a defaulted loan before this trip to a former acquaintance. The mace is an insurance policy tonight, as I venture out to Gang Corner.

Ralph Vince writes: 

Weapons & Women….

I like the idea of a mace-style spray like that. First off, regardless of whatever anyone thinks they are capable of in terms of defending themselves, one thing is for certain, when there is more than one assailant
– and absolutely when there are more than two — you need a weapon (personally, I carry at least two anywhere, depending on the local laws as well as the context. A genteel dinner party is different than a late-night, city walk. Everyone should carry at least two, non-redundant weapons).

One of the main concern with any weapon is its range. A rifle ught be good at 100 yards or longer, a handgun from 40 feet on in. A knife, only out to about arms length (but deadly in that range). Some weapons have to be swung (bats, tire irons, batons, etc.) meaning they have to be moved in a plane
– get outside that plane and you're safe, and the plane is almost always primarily vertical or horizontal, and with a very finite range. Not only is the far extent of that plane finite, in close it is of no use. So an aluminum bat might look very imposing, but sternum-to-sternum, it's quite useless as well. The sooner you can get sternum-to-sternum, or out of the plane of that thing, the sooner you can stuff them with it or be high-tailing it away (In fact, any of these swinging-style weapons are a poor choice becuse they are plane-restricted, have a finite range in both directions, have to be chambered, etc. They do not hide well, and you can usually be quite certain any loogan carrying such a weapon has only THAT weapon. When you see the guy on walk with the golf club to fend of a loose dog, you can be quite certain he is, for all intents-and-purposes, unarmed).

Spray, is like a gun the the sense that it's range is beyond the reach of your assailants arms and legs, and works sternum-to-sternum, and hides well. It's a nice weapon provided you have something else you can get to from any practically any position.(I onceu asked a postman, with sun-cragged skin from too many years of Florida delivery, if he ever had to defend himself against vicious dogs with the can of mace at his side. He mentioned how it works well against bees in the mailbox, and vicious dogs but that you "Gotta get it right in their eyes." Maybe spraying the chest works with people but I'm not so sure about dogs!)

As we get a little older, even though we may think otherwise, we ar arme a LOT slower than a young person, andwith far less wind than a young person. The best young person fighter can perhaps take on two at once — someone older, beyond more than one assailant, you absolutely must have a weapon to have a chance. In other words, when you know you are going to be accosted by more than one person, make up your mind that they are going to be needing an ambulance here. It's SO much easier when you really WANT to hurt someone in those situations.

The most important thing to remember when being confronted by more than one assailant is that nobody really wants to be harmed. You want to plant in their mind that there's a chance things may not go right. Put some doubt in their mind that they may not get away without harm. The only reason people do bad things is they think they're going to get away with it and not be harmed. So how do you do this? They are reading your body language. They are checking you out to see if you can defend yourself — specifically, to see if you're tuned in to what is happening and if there's a reasonable chance you might hurt them.

So don't look to intimidate, and don't get all huffy & puffy. Make eye contact (You are not making eye contact, per se, but rather looking at their sternum. Solid eye contact is a challenge and you are not in as good a position to "see," specifically their lead foot which will always, ALWAYS move at you when the go to grab or strike you) with your potential enemies, in a non-emotional manner.

Marion's remark is very wise. Just as I take the incandescent light for granted and the flush toilet, so too do Western women very often (because we are accustomed to) take their individual safety for granted in an historical context. We have come to assume that is how things are when in fact, this is reltively new in human existence, and hasn't yet reached many parts of the world. When you're with a woman in a bad situation, bad people are MORE likely to come after you (a woman with you is akin to your being a wounded animal in the wild — it is viewd as an impediment to your being able to effectively defend yourself). You have to be more prepared, more ready to hurt people who are a threat in those situations.

A woman who is armed has at least a chance of inflicting harm and getting away if unaccompanied. The best situation, is to be accompanied and armed as well — Bo's idea of mace is a great weapon in the battery of weapons someone ought to have.

Marion Dreyfus writes: 

When I was traveling solo in Peru, I frequently chafed at having to stay in after dark if I did not have a bunch of fellows to go out with, since I never usually call it a day until it is very very late, especially when I am a-traveling. One time high in the hills, I asked a few men I vaguely knew if they would accompany me out for a late look around the town. All were tired and did not want to risk a strange place at night.

One woman thought us silly, trying to find compadres for the walk. An attractive 20-something, she took her backpack on her back and left for her own town investigation. She returned in an hour, a wreck, crying hysterically, her clothes a mess, her hair disarrayed, dirty and unconsolable: She had been accosted by 3 or 4 men, her backpack was taken, her passport and all her money was gone, and she was fortunate she kicked up enough of a fight not to be raped. She spent the next days desperately trying to get her passport replaced, not doing anything else in Peru.

I was glad that I had not ventured out alone that night. Later in the week, I rose very early and flagged a small cab, directing him to go further up the mountain. I wanted to check on a statue that someone had pointed out to me, one he said had been given by muslims to the town in gratitude for something or other in the early 1940s. We went to the statue, 6 am, as the sun was rising, and I studied the plaque at the foot of the statue, though it revealed little that was of use to me. I reboarded the same taxi and returned to the hotel/inn, before most people had even risen for breakfast.

But traveling in such places, if I am not with several men, I do not venture out. All well and good to be a tough and adventure-seeking female, but the rest of the world does not necessarily appreciate our independence: They read a female alone as an opportunity for free money, free unbidden sex, and free harassment fun. Or worse.

One of the reasons I canceled my trip alone to Yemen, where women have simply disappeared if they did not travel in a dense group.



 An American–no, a New Yorker, with all that barely veiled snark and crankiness-if-denied that implies– inherits an apartment in Paris that comes with an unexpected resident.

One of the best films of 2014, with compelling and affecting performances by the no-words-can-say-enough Maggie Smith, the grandiloquent and remarkably caustic Kevin Klein, as usual a standout while understatedly hilarious, a sterling Kristin Scott-Thomas, and a plot that is alone worth the price of entry as it tweaks the brain and makes one wonder until the last credit rolls… Did they? Were they–? Could it have been? What about…?

In the script, Klein is in Paris, but supposedly speaks little French. In reality he has performed entire films in French. Similarly, though he is portraying a down-on-his-luck feisty guy without a home, woman or excuse, you can see in his smart line readings the Shakespearian thespian that he also has been, having won many plaudits for his tragic and comic stylings of the Bard during many a summer in Papp’s Central Park offerings of the great William.

A few plot niggles obtrude, but not if you just swim with the Tennessee Williamsesque quality of the essential plot, which is converted from a stage play. Klein says at one point that he grew up poor, and all he had was the watch and the apartment and some old books when his father kicked the bucket. Yet later in the film, he says he grew up wealthy on Park Avenue, which of course necessitates mucho dinero. And does not accord with threadbare penury. Ma’alesh, as they say: Who really cares?

Woodster Mr. Allen could be envious of the flamboyantly gorgeous old Parisian wharf-, niche- and street scenes. Shimmering in the memory, delicious to re-visit. This could have been filmed by one of Woody’s immaculate cinematographers.

Several of us reviewers discussed the finer plot points animatedly after we left the screening.

Truth to tell, with the intensity, delicacy and kinetics of this story, we would have preferred a more entrancing title than My Old Lady, which is at once too slangy and disrespectful a term for the deferential tale told. It distances the viewer before he even sits down, and as the story develops, one is pestered by the ill-fitting title of this triumphant tale of an elderly woman who is not only nobody’s fool, but deeply intellectual, witty in conversation, and deft in social engineering. The exasperation one might feel, empathizing with Klein’s plight of not being able to wrest control of his father’s singular apartment in Paris is soon softened and modified to respect for the spirited elderly contractual resident who has some sparkling episodes in her articulate life. Kristen Scott-Thomas, a treasure of an actress seen more often in French films than American or English, is unaffected, so real you recognize how false are the Hollywood demoiselles of makeup and wardrobe unalloyed with genuineness or affecting emotion.

Director Horovitz is justly honored for many long-running Off-Broadway one-act and longer stage and TV presentations, films past, present and future, and author of more than 50 produced plays, of which several have been translated and performed in as many as 30 languages. Among Horovitz’s best-known plays are Line (in its 25th year, Off- Broadway, at the 13th St. Rep Theatre), The Indian Wants the Bronx (which introduced Al Pacino), and a crowd of Obie and Emmy-winning sole and collaborative successes on big- and small screens.

Notwithstanding the title, this engaging mind-candy is a worthy, if early, contender for the Academy Awards.



 Land Ho!

Directed/Written by Aaron Katz & Martha Stephens

Starring: Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, Karrie Crouse, Elizabeth McKee, Alice Olivia Clarke, Emmsje Gauti
A refreshing buddy movie, this time doubly so because A, it takes place with two men of a certain age, old timers taking a breather from retirement, disappointment and sadness, and B, it unspools in Iceland, and the very venue is a delight in these muggy, Arthur-visited, over-blanketing summer days of stifling mercury.

It's not a huge mega-production. We could find nary a stunt man, not one wayward CGI fake animal, bot or alien. There were no shocking scenes requiring coverage behind one's fingers.

Just a wry, whimsical bit of narrative with a crusty retired doctor, Kentuckian/New Orleangian Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson), and his former brother in law, dour-faced Colin (Paul Eenhorn), an Aussie-American mourning the death of his wife, Mitch'es sister. They go to museums up in Reyjkevik (one of our favorite spots, fondly remembered for all sorts of activities), rent out simple beds and one-floor motels, meet Mitch'es younger cousin and her girlfriend up there by happenstance for a few days, go fishing, meet with normal locals, and…talk, grumble, wage folkloric wisdom or remain tight-mouthed. There's gentle humor, naughty references you don't expect from the benefactor of the trip. Once of twice, you fear the film might descend into a fright movie. But…no.

The film stays firmly in the provenance wheelhouse of getting older. They may bristle and butt heads, but each needs the other, and they need the goodwill and fellowship that comes from sallying out in strange venues, after disappointments and failings they bandage over in small bits of revelation.

It's not Michael Bay or Spielberg. Tom Cruise and Jason Statham never put in an appearance.

But it is an enjoyable film for the time it takes. And seeing the bracing scenery and 'bergs up north, in the midst of humid, sun-baked NY, is recompense all by itself.


Better than 21 JUMP STREET. More silliness. More partnership foolery with Jonah Hill and the magnificent Channing Tatum, this time in college to unearth the perp who is selling drugs and may have murdered a co-ed. An easy-to-digest dessert after anything else you decide to see or do first.



 I feel like a Spanish conquistador on a small scale. My past vanquishes from seven trips to Peru include malaria, elephantitis, amoebic dysentery, hepatitis, and last year three fly larva with sprouting wings crawled beneath the skin looking for a way out. Once any disease is identified, the treatment is straightforward and efficacious, as with these. Each ailment, if one is able to study and feel it in progress, is an honor with a merit badge of antibodies or sash of resistance. I was ready for the next exotic disease.

However, I got blindsided yesterday with the diagnosis of chronic anemia from a worm infestation I had pined for since veterinary school out yonder in the Michigan countryside on call at the barnyards (our offices). There the extracurricular dogs, wasted and grown so thin they were shadows of dogs, except with hanging pot bellies, were dosed with worm medicine before we went on to the big jobs of treating the cows and horses. I grew fascinated with intestinal parasites but had no idea that the chronic anemia the suckers caused could nearly kill a person.

Anemia is a decrease in the number of red blood cells or less than the normal quantity of hemoglobin in the blood. Hemoglobin is a main part of red blood cells and binds oxygen. If you have too few red blood cells, or your hemoglobin is low, the cells in your body will not get enough oxygen. Breathing is like drawing air out of a paper bag. The name is derived from Ancient Greek ἀναιμία anaimia, meaning 'bloodlessness'. Because hemoglobin (found inside RBCs) carries oxygen from the lungs to the capillaries to every cell of the body, anemia leads to hypoxia (lack of oxygen) with varying degrees of anemia fostering a wide range of clinical consequences. Anemia is the most common blood condition in the U.S. affecting about 3.5 million Americans, while the 2014 issue of Blood magazine for medical practitioners reported that the global anemia prevalence in 2010 was 33% or 2.3 billion people.

Chronic is a condition that persists and has been present for at least three months. I'm certain my anemia was contracted nine months ago In Peru when I was unable for one month to escape the delivery boat of a demented captain far up the Rio Tigre and ate and hobnobbed with a string of villagers where hookworms are indigenous and zoonotic among their runt animals that made my earlier Michigan barnyard dogs and cats look like champions of show.

In collecting evidence on a medical subject there are three fronts: observation of the client, his history (more difficult for animal patients), and laboratory reports. My Peruvian doctor said I was as white as a ghost, and then began the history. A physician who takes a good history and a patient who gives one nearly always and quickly solve any mystery that we call illness. I learned the first rule is to take the history chronologically, and the pieces of the puzzle fall together into a diagnosis before the mercury is shaken down into the thermometer. Then he gasped as my lab reports popped up on his computer monitor. 'You'll be a very sick man if you're alive one month from now without treatment.'

My hemoglobin is 6.3 gm/dl while the adult male's normal range is 14-18 gm/dl. In the laboratory test hemoglobin (Hb) is measured as total hemoglobin and the result is expressed as the amount of hemoglobin in grams (gm) per deciliter (dl) of whole blood, a deciliter being 100 milliliters. My hematocrit by volume is 22% whereas the norm in males is 40-50%. Hematocrit is the ratio of red blood cells expressed as a percentage by volume of the blood. It can be said that I'm existing on less than half the oxygen of what the normal reader is.
The lab report supports my suspicion for the past two months that I am hypoxic; however I thought it due to a heart or lung condition and estimated the reduction of available oxygen at 30%. Unless you have been there, it is hard to explain how a desert dweller develops a skin like a coyote nose that detects water at a distance, and how an athlete who has jogged eight miles a day for twenty years owns a palpable cellular sensation for the presence, or absence, of oxygen. The three symptoms for the past two months have been dizziness, fatigue, and shortness of breath. To climb a flight of stairs has created the same oxygen debt as fifteen minutes of wind sprints with the similar inclination to keel over. Twice I've lost consciousness during uphill walks with the faint echo of the inspirational lyrics from The Impossible Dream, 'To try when your arms are too weary…to reach the unreachable star'.

I could never have imagined that a legion of vampire worms could cause such hypoxia to deprive an adequate oxygen supply and cause a near death experience. There have been a half-dozen instances when I felt I could 'will' myself to die as the old folks in homes that I used to do volunteer work at claimed was possible, and in Indian circles. It's a floating, paradoxical REM sleep. A person may die when, scientifically speaking, he ought to have lived if he is in an almost heaven. Yet, each time as consciousness drained like a liquid from lack oxygen in the brain, a spark ignited alertness perhaps due to old timers urgings such as 'This ain't a dress rehearsal, Sonny', and 'Get out and milk life dry.'

My nemesis is Uncinaria, a large family of hookworms that infects man and dogs, with frequent zoonotic transmission between them. These hookworms are present throughout the world, and especially in warmer climates. In the United States, hookworms are found everywhere and commonly along the East. Worldwide, zoonotic hookworms are found in tropical and subtropical regions where the parasite is better able to survive in the tropical conditions. Their mecca is the Amazon where they grow three times as large as anywhere else in the world to 1.5 inches.

These nematodes are slender beasts with bent heads like a hook for leverage of a hammer claw and a mouth with cutting plates and an inner single pair of teeth to bury deep in the intestinal mucosa to gnaw through the walls to the capillaries. All hookworms suck blood, and the Amazon variety are capable of removing 0.2mls of blood per worm, per 24 hour period. They are in competition with themselves for space and blood along the walls like bickering tenants in a skid row hotel, or old revolvers in newly opened mining districts so that when they do want RBCs, they want them badly. Dogs have been known to carry thousands of worms in their intestines, and I suppose given the chronic anemia that I may harbor as many.

The Uncinaria were positively identified yesterday in a microscope slide report at an Iquitos clinic that was tardy relative to the other results which had provided a clean bill of health. The lab report didn't quantify the infestation beyond 'heavy', and was supported by a greatly elevated eosinophil count of 27% (eosinophils usual account for less than 7% of circulating leukocytes) which makes it a textbook case of parasitosis, according to my Peruvian doctor who has seen several as severe.

The patient has two sleeves, one containing a diagnosis and the other a therapy. The diagnostic lab is my favorite area to place the first sleeve, and in vet school I worked six illuminating months as a budding medical Sherlock Holmes, as we all were, diagnosing diseases by a battery of tests – blood, fecal and a few others. The laboratory spun with tubes and slid with slides like a rock concert. The medical lab is the bastion of the fight against disease where the etiology of each is identified by the tests. Sometimes the lab reports weigh as much as the emaciated patients, so much the better. Reading them is exactly like perusing an Ellery Queen mystery such as The French Powder or The Dutch Shoe mystery and solving for the crime before the last page is turned. (By the way, Ellery Queen is both a fictional character and pseudonym used by two cousins from New York.) The laboratory is a palace of probability that few pathogens can sneak by undetected, and once fingered they stand little chance of survival.

'This is Good Medicine!' I cheered the doctor, on the way out the door, and he understood that modern medicine had diagnosed and would conquer another microscopic army that had tried too hard to infest a human body. If more smartly evolved, the worms would have allowed me to remain asymptomatic while sucking me dry instead of my plan to load for bear to kill them and then taking the advice of the oldsters to suck life dry.

Hippocrates advised, 'The physician must be able to tell the antecedents, know the present, and foretell the future — must mediate these things, and have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm.' That is exactly what this seasoned tropical doctor did, and I walked out his office on lighter feet. He was a general physician, and It must be understood that no one can be a good physician who does not perform surgical operations. There is as great a difference between a physician and surgeon as between a mechanic who has learned from texts and one who has lifted hoods and had his hands in the muck. Never settle for a doctor or specialist who is not also a surgeon. Even in middle age he seems astonished at being paid for doing something as enjoyable as solving daily medical mysteries and curing. Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is a love of humanity.

The doctor proposes that my severe condition, which he's seen in villagers that have a 20% incidence of hookworms, requires no blood transfusion. In the USA, in contrast, a severe anemia is defined as hemoglobin of 8.0 or less with symptoms present and is considered life threatening and prompt treatment is required. In U.S. my case would probably be met with a blood transfusion, which currently is controversial with a circulating slogan 'Anemic patients should know they have the right to speak up for a transfusion.' However, I've seen thousands of potbellied people and pups around the world looking more bedraggled than I, and don't worry a bit about the diagnosis. The anemia is a blessing, but a change, and requires a moment in the thick of the crisis to check the flow and redirect the focus.

After the diagnosis comes the treatment, as he penned two prescriptions in striking calligraphy: Albendazole and Confer. The former is a broad-spectrum anti-helminthic for roundworms, hookworms, threadworm, whipworm, pinworm, flukes, and other parasites that works by killing the worms straight out from the blood. It doesn't taste badly to me and I suspect something is added to intoxicate the toothy heisters. This really is war, with my life at stake, and theirs. Despite their sophisticated mouthparts, and a nervous system that may also deliver an almost heavenly state of consciousness, these bloodsuckers have no excretory organs and no circulatory system, that is neither a heart nor blood vessels.

I'm not a pill Frankenstein tampering with nature, but there are many bull's-eye synthetic and natural medicines that are literal miracles that I will take, and otherwise would be dead a few times over if having lived in the time of Tarzan a century ago. Albendazole is an efficacious one. It is commonly prescribed worldwide, and particularly in USA for zoonotic infections. It's on the World Health Organization's List of Essential Medicines, a tally of the most important medications needed in a basic health system. In 2013, GlaxoSmithKline, the principal international marketer of the drug, donated 763 million Albendazole tablets for the treatment and prevention of parasitic infections in developing countries such as Peru, bringing the total to over 4 billion tablets donated since 1998. Closer to home, since 2010, and for understandable reason, the U.S. price of Albendazole has increased by 4000% to over US$100 per 200-mg tablet. Disease is the biggest money maker in our economy. I paid 20 cents a tablet yesterday for my two-tab a day supply for one week totaling about $3.

In addition, I filled a prescription for an oral iron supplement called Confer. Unlike salt licks, you may not find the nearest igneous outcrop and expect to lick usable iron. Because iron is the principal component of hemoglobin, consuming a supplement and iron-rich foods will raise your hemoglobin levels. Dietary iron must be attached to either animal meat or plant tissue to be absorbed by our intestines, and the supplement probably contains both. I've also started eating iron rich seafood, red meat, and leafy green vegetables. The doctor assures that my 6.3 hematocrit will increase two units per month so that in four months I'll reach the low norm, a triumph as complete as Operation Detachment in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

But I also have my own ideas about disease recovery to cure. Walking is first rate medicine and is my first thought to accelerate the doctor's prescriptions. Healing is a biological process and there are few ailments that do not respond immediately and expansively to the increased circulation of a vigorous walk. Walk in increasing increments with escalating weight to let the clean air blow the cobwebs from your body.

In the aftermath, there's money in the bank to cover the cost of the trip to Peru and lots of salads and seafood. The medical expenses totaled $US200. In the USA it would have cost twenty times that, with additional superfluous tests and requisite specialists, and taken weeks instead of two days. One well-trained physician of the highest type will do more for a patient than ten specialists because everything medical within the body is interrelated and cannot be separated.

A Darwinian view of medicine makes disease more meaningful. Diseases arise ultimately from past natural selection. It's a continual war within one's lifetime, and over the centuries, of the forces of pathogens vs. the soldiers of the immune system. They evolve after each skirmish, and then counter-evolve like in Mad magazine's wordless black comic strip 'Spy vs. Spy'. Paradoxically, the same capacities that make us vulnerable to disease often confer benefits. The capacity for suffering in itself is a useful defense After all, nothing in medicine makes sense except in the light of evolution.

Nature didn't find the perfect place to hide the little assassins in my gut; but rather the Uncinaria developed through epochs of struggle and earned their position. Now they have revealed themselves and will die. Perhaps a few during the Albendazole fusillade – one in 10,000 - will adapt, survive, and reproduce resistant pathogens. Such is life.

Through hard traveling and having contracted and beaten a string of diseases that remain like untied knots the emotions have been, 'I love you. I hate you. I like you. I think you're a loser. I think you're wonderful. I don't want to be with you. I want to be with you. You should have believed me.' Health and disease, unlike what you may have been taught in middle school Health Science 101, are the same thing – vital actions intended to preserve, maintain and protect the body. There is no more reason for celebrating health than disease. After vet school my body became like an aquarium to me and I always carry a fishing pole to catch and squeeze every ounce of information I can out of each condition. I´ve had and recovered from nearly 33% of the ailments listed in the physician´s bible called the Merck Manual only to conclude that life is so short to learn so long a craft as disease cure.

In a subsequent medical text of alternative cures that I wrote, a certain pleasure is revealed that came from nudging the ill layman in the direction of terror, and bringing him back safely and happily and licking his wound. It´s too bad, but given the conventional medical wisdom that's the sort of paradigm shift required to accept like a Third Worlder that disease is a normal course of life. We don´t have to get as sick nor as often in the First World, but our attitude can become saner by accepting rather than fleeing in dread from the knock of unfavorable conditions at the door.

If you 'listen' to your body and intuition, they'll guide you well through sickness and into better conquering forthcoming illnesses and old age. You´ll gain wisdom about anatomy, physiology, biology and the mind. There are countless ways to develop the listening skills such as sports, dancing or drumming, but most of all by awareness through disease, while keeping a journal. Read about it in texts. It's more interesting to examine an ailment in onset, flow, and remission than it is gazing at virus Facebook.

The public bladder about medicine is that one must see a specialist and get a battery of tests when actually as much and almost instantly for free can be gleaned from recovered peers at an online chat forum for specific ailments. Such a well-chosen anthology of case histories is a complete dispensary, as well as studying the progress of one´s own conditions. Always pick a physician who is older, seasoned, a surgeon, preferable a sports medicine practitioner, and lord help you if he is busy. The profits will follow a good physician to the grave, but he is more difficult to find nowadays in USA, and all the more reason to seek professional treatment at a fraction the cost in other countries. Perhaps this is the only solution to whip the ill American health care system back to health.

As for Global Anemia, already the dead worms are evacuating, and I say, 'I tried to tell you. You said you didn't care, remember?' Today we fight. Tomorrow we fight. The day after, we fight. And this disease plans on whipping us, but if we have paid close enough attention they had better bring a sack lunch for the extra innings.

Victor Niederhoffer writes: 

A rather heroic friend I have.

Marion Dreyfus writes: 

One of the most useful posts I have read. I am sending it to a friend who has been battling Pneumonia contracted while she was in Paris, and had collapsed lungs and hypoxia when she was admitted to Roosevelt for a week. Thanks for troubling to write all this down, Bo. She is now completing her regimen of O2, and can begin to ambulate again like a regular person again.

Bo Keely writes: 

In any respiratory distress the first line of defense is a simple technique few doctors will prescribe. One must have lived in the North where pipes freeze to think of it. It´s loosely wrapping a towel or scarf around the neck & knotting it while sleeping all the night. This heats the air going down the trachea and into all parts of resp system. It cuts healing time by half and prevention is about the same 50%. Tested and proven by Michiganers. The other thing she should do that even the best doctors may not suggest is during recovery, when able, she should be walking or bicycling to keep things moving inside the body which promotes healing.



 All due respect, the slam against female CEOs is only because there are so few of them in the CEO biz that men can still poke fun and smear. Once there is a substantial percentage of progesteronic/estrogenic CEOs around, the model will magically "get better".

Or so I feel.

Ed Stewart comments: 

M, it is not necessarily that the lady CEO's were not up to task, but rather that desperate companies looked to "pass the buck" to a female CEO at just the wrong time. And the reason i think is that it is still a "newsworthy" or "progressive" thing to do, so the company can get good press about it (particularly in the tech industry) and appear to be innovative without actually accomplishing anything of substance. As very few women, even highly intelligent women, are truly tech oriented, they tend to bring in "Jargon-filled, MBA dialect" solutions which tick off companies that have an engineering culture, etc.

A counterpoint (with regards to performance) is TJX CEO C. Meryowitz who came in in 2007, who many credit with an outstanding performance that has vastly rewarded shareholders. She also worked up the ranks and was not "cherry picked" and placed on top at the last minute.

On a related note I firmly believe all men should consult as many women as possible in order to understand the modern consumer economy. So much of the spending makes such little sense to so many of us (men) we are completely lost. For example my wife was shopping at Lululemon early on, (a store I laughed at as ridiculous), I didn't think whole foods would catch on and continue to grow, TJX seemed like a bunch of junk no one needs - but to Meryowitz's (and my wife's) credit it is now one of the stocks that I own with the largest unrealized gains, in spite of not doing well this year. 



 Just Jim Dale at the intimate Roundabout theatre (The Road to Mecca,The Threepenny Opera) near Bryant Park offers a garland of goodies from delight-meister Jim Dale, a thesp wit' de best. Just Jim Dale is a piquant, effervescent mix–UK Music Hall, vaudeville-style shtik, classic theatre outtakes, reminiscences and ha-ha riffs on Harry Potter.

Um, maybe the word shtik is slightly misleading. That word provides a hint of slightly non-U humor and devices. It is not the consummate expression of a merry jokester like the ineffable lithe stage presence of Jim Dale.

Two-time Grammy Award® and, Tony Award® winner Jim Dale (né Jimmy Smith) provides a classy performance, with memory of the UK, his roles in serious films (Joe egg), his award-winning song for "Georgie Girl" and his bravura all-voices audio series of the complete 7-book series of Harry Potter. He does funny walks, recalling how, as a small child at the Music Hall in his tiny town, he was bowled over by the audience guffawing at the clown acts of the comic. At 7 or so, he decided he wanted to be making audiences laugh like that.

Directed by Tony winner Richard Maltby, Jr. (Fosse, Ain't Misbehavin'), Just Jim Dale is a re-charging station, a laugh-jogging, no-scatology (except for his mock-mumbled irk whenever he mentions Harry Potter) tour-de-force. At the Roundabout until mid-August, Just Jim Dale is bracing, particularly if your theatre memory extends to the delightful "Pete's Dragon," to the "Carry On" series, pieces from the 70s, and if you are familiar with both Oscar Wilde…and Will Shakespeare.

If you're partial to the Bard, Dale does a remarkable wraparound… rap around…Shakespeare in our everyday expression—even if you think nary a word of Will Shakes ever passes your lips.Dale goes up hill and comes down, well, dale, as he flounces and flaunts the endless skeins of daily phrases and vocabulary doilies that stitch our speech. None of several thousand words and phrases would even be found in the language but for Stratford Will.

Best to see the show with locals, as the Wednesday tourist crowd tends to be a "feed me!" crew—they don't brighten at the plays native Yorkers have been savoring for decades.

Dale inhabits the stage without a drop of support for 90 minutes—other than his rotund piano accompanist, Mark. The slim and fit Dale does not disappoint.

Even if you're a career-class grump, this will jolly you.

And the kicker?

This sprite-like talent-rich prankster is an amazing 78. Performing a 90-minute set sans intermission, 6 days a week. Quite the magic.

At the Roundabout, 111 West 46th St; 7:30-9 pm nightly



Italian anchovies that cost the moon are silvery-white gorgeous and silken on the tongue, not very salty and worth every penny.




A new Bong Joon-ho is in the offing. Chilling news for his aficionados.

SNOWPIERCER takes place in 2031, 17 years supposedly after the world has become so intolerably warm that scientists, in a bid for immortality and man\kind's enduring thanks, have manufactured a substance that can cool us down. Alas. The coolant does such a bang-up job that the Earth freezes, and nearly all life ends.

The dystopic SNOWPIERCER begins on an infernally lengthy train bearing the last remnants of living beings. The hellish conditions aboard the train, run by a perpetual motion engine in the very front of this grim, dun-covered ark of humanity's remains, are what we see first, and for the better part of an hour.

A class system has clearly evolved, though the resident passengers we see and empathize with are not fully apprised of how deep go the class divisions. In a status-cleaving that to this reviewer echoes the horrors of the DPRK and its starving, abused Korean populace, the abused inmate/inhabitants of the back of the train are given 'protein' gel bars–rubbery black yuckiness incarnate. But it is all there is, they think.

Every face of every passenger/inmate is filthy, and many of those present have a peculiar lack of limbs, cut off from above the elbow, or only one leg. Like the inmates of the Concentration camps, the luckless riders are herded and forced into attendance cadres, rank upon rank. Those failing to sit or stand on command meet the bark of the visiting uppers, threatened with machine guns.

It becomes clear that the rulers of the train, who carefully avoid any nomenclature that would delineate their role as overseers and dispensers of goods or otherwise, come from "the front" of the train. They arbitrarily punish the grungy mass of leftover humanity, remove those of their children that are particularly appealing, and on occasion simply shoot those who get out of hand. The worthier privileged are safely in front, near water and real protein, real coats, real beds. Rebellion, revolution, dissatisfaction rive the back-people, while their betters are imperturbable, save for the slightest contact needed to scrape off the cutest young and raise them for their pleasure.

Stalwart Chris Evans, in black beard and hair, shies from becoming the leader of a desperately needed insurgency. He has all his limbs as well as that profoundly handsome profile. A wise elder, one who has been clipped by the overlords, judging by the evidence of his iron peg-leg and ratty attire, is John Hurt, who tries to appeal to the reckless or intrepid to fight for more, to "go to the front."

Tilda Swinton, in a star turn, represents one of the privileged frontpeople, but her PR-polished body language and out of touch backpedaling words seem to imply comfort and all-is-well, despite the evidence to the contrary. She is a feast of eccentricity, bizarre in her white Nehru-like suiting, her pinned-back russet hair, her outsize wide-mouthed assertions meant to comfort that all will work out. She is the bromide. But the crowd does not buy her threat-laced brand of propitiation, denial, awkward well-intentioned there-there's.

The film proceeds to depict the car by car revolution, the fight-back thugs who shoot randomly and ferociously at the men and few women braving the advancing train cars.

We see the evident transmutation from brutish environs to whimsical gardens, schoolrooms taught by the amusing and serpent-like Alison Pill as agenda-driven instructor of the brainwashed children in her command. Pill's bright, wide, even innocuous face is a denial of the seething mission of her teaching duties. We see the water-cars, central to the continuation of life aboard the rushing train. Gardens cars. Club cars and their dissolute druggies and drinkers, their elegant fashionistas and stewards. We see windows, and the thin sun through the glass that is denied the backmost cars, the groundlings revolting from their wallpurgisnacht lives. We are sickened by the evident madness of the train's "chef," whose base material for the gelatinous bilge the back-people are provided appears to be nauseating dead ingredients too vile to identify. Better, the rebels realize, not to ask, or peer too long into the cauldron of muck.

And so it goes, with axe fights and gunfire and resistance and unsparing ghoulishness, they advance, losing many. There are many casualties along the route. We pass cities mantled in icy towers and peaks of global warming—ha—unlived and unlivable.

And there is the always-intriguing Ed Harris, the soignée plutocrat's plutocrat, again in a position of major manipulator, as he was in TRUMAN. Asian action is engaged in the persons of 'hero-warriors' Ah-sung Ko, Kang-ho Song, and Steve Park. And tough Octavia Spencer fights along with the men for her liberty.

For some, this bleak dystopia might be too wrenching to stomach. To be fair, many reviewers, fans of award-winning Korean Bong Joon-ho (The Host [2006]; Mother [2009]; Memories of Murder [2003]) were not turned off by all the gore and mayhem, as this is, as many now know, par for the course with Bong. Tarantino, that understated maestro of idyllic serenity and uncomplicated amatory delights, considers Bong works "masterpieces." The passage of the film, like the unspooling of a similar negative utopia, ELYSIUM, from 2013, is not hard to predict. Fight the evil overlords! Claim one's rights, better conditions, real food. There is little suspense, frankly. One watches it all unroll, but there is not that doomy foretell spasm we so enjoy in the true masterwork. But perhaps fanboys of this director, and this genre, clearly know the ground-rules, and suspense and surprise are not foremost on the menu.

In the end, it was fairly evident that this was a parable on the horrors of closed societies, and as Bong is Korean, North Korea seemed the logical target of his venomous saga of denials, revolution and take-over.

The time frame disturbs, as it is only 17 years hence. Is this North Korea or another dictatorship of abysms, is it the future of the United States, with well-meant but unsupported non-science propelling the train of state to a desperate catastrophic end? Or is it a tale of lefty economic upheaval/rebellion?



 Following on the successful Thai forerunner of this film, this new iteration provides a somewhat relaxed intro to a basic horror genre manifestation.

A man, Eliot (Mark Webber), gets telephoned tasks that begin deceptively mildly, though not without a disgusting quotient all the same. For his participation, which becomes more and more non-voluntary, he is gifted with increasing sums of money to alleviate his difficult living conditions: Loss of his job, a pregnant girlfriend, a vicious father, an Asberger's-afflicted brother needing institutionalization, and a looming wedding. Cash is too much in demand for the hero to turn down the increasingly horrible (and weird) tasks–though to Eliot's credit, when his orders include bloody dismemberments and ultimately the decapitation of innocents, he takes a stand. Forfeiture and loss are baked into the cake, but the ride is supposed to ensure that we get the full Monty of bloody excess. We never do know why the tasks are so arcane and crackers, though Eliot is a good stand in for Average Joe afflicted with what he thinks is an easy answer to his many money problems.
One usually steers a wide berth around full-on horror pics. This is not as gruesome, as soon, as the vast run of the field. But it gets there, Grasshopper. It gets there. There is no sex, no scatology, nothing offensive… except the premise and the grue-index as it escalates.

The film is not uninvolving, for a time. The production values are there: Attractive enough cast members, including Ron Perlman as a detective, accommodating scenery, scripting that does not wholly disgust the discerning. At first. But halfway through, the story line becomes muddled. One cannot figure out who is ordering the protagonist to do such outlandish and uncalled-for "sins," and soon, one gives up trying. The plot commits that ultimate sin: It fails to make sense. The story falls apart, and even by the last reel, we have no idea who did what, or why. Who won, who lost. Who cares. There are a cornucopoeia of questions hanging in the air at the end. That makes for audience annoyance and dissatisfaction. Be it known that the Thai original made better and more logical sense than this version.

It is still a mystery why even teenagers would want to see gore like that slathered over viewers with such films. (NB: Boys supposedly take girls to slasher films so the girls can squeal and climb onto the lap of her escort. Or clutch him for 'safety.' That part of the plot never changes…) Isn't ordinary life nowadays frightening enough, with its disappearing Malay airliners, its Ukraine takeovers, and its insane PTSD shooters going postal for no ostensible reason?

Guess it's a narrow, male-chromosome thing.



 The trailer is, well, weird. It is episodic bits and pieces of the full film, but you never get a coherent notion of what the film is about. It's Sacha Baron Cohen without the crudeness or the array of self-conscious cleverest boy in the room.

When you see the film itself, you understand why.

It is a solidly hilarious, but understated, shaggy dog tale. An as-told-to yarn about a marvelous mythical old hotel with the period furbelows and flourishes of a great majestic institution catering to the wealthy—at one time—and the down and out, as it slowly deliquesces. It is framed by F. Murray Abraham and Jude Law talking about the lustrous past. It is like Mad Mad Mad World, but less noisily hectic, [slightly] more refined.

Okay, a tidbit thumbnail: It is the Campbell's condensed soup adventures of Gustave H, a mythic concierge at a famous European hotel between the world wars, and his faithful servant, Zero Moustafa, the Lobby Boy who becomes his most trusted accomplice and confidante. Mixed in is the theft and recovery of a priceless Renaissance painting and the legal bataille royale for an enormous family fortune — against the backdrop of a dramatically evolving, modernizing European continent.

The movie stars Ralph Fiennes, but he is just the topmost foam above the vast surge of hilarious cameo appearances by beloved or irascible stars who are all but unidentifiable under moustaches, or bald pates, or beards, or tattoos. A lot of the fun is decoding who was that official arresting the duvet chevalier M. Gustave? Who is that chambermaid cum confection spinner with a birthmark the shape of Mexico? Who is the twittery old dowager, ready to plight her troth, with the agitated face and the powdered hair who adores M.Gustave? Adrien Brody plays against type, Willem Dafoe doesn't. Bill Murray is smarmy, Jeff Goldblum is sticky, and on and on.

It is an effervescent and convoluted bonbon spun in grand style, and even if we explained it, so what? The fun is giggling through reel after reel, seeing all the silliness and unbelievable script goofiness that has been perpetrated. The whole thing looks like it could be miniaturized into a Hummel Swiss coo-coo clock, with hourly suavely concierges bedding dowagers to everyone's delight. (Almost). And bad guys chasing good, followed by evil stepbrothers and ugly kinfolk and nasty hooligans trying to wrest away the spoils. (Priceless painting.)
One knows for sure that the dozens of actors who leapt at the chance to do these marvelously counterintuitive roles must have had a hell of a good time in rehearsals. It has many of the qualities of a Feydeau farce. About the only thing that bothered us were the stolidly American nasality, the inexplicably flat American accents. One kept expecting the carnival carousel of characters herein to skein out in guttural or mystifyingly unidentifiable European sonorities. This they resolutely did not do. Aside from this constant quibble, the movie is a foamy ice cream sundae of inebriated entertainment.

No bad scenes. No bad words–um, save for a few in exasperation, well earned. Plunking you back into the past elegant century in mittel Europe.

If you have ears to hear and eyes to glom, enjoy this silliness and giggle yourself away for a coupla hours.



 The first ROBOCOP, made for somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million back in 1987, with Peter Weller and Nancy Allen in the critical roles, directed by the capable Paul Verhoeven, was a hit. A sequence was quickly made in 1990, with Irvin Kershner as director. This being the animation- and action-feature era of films, 15 years is enough passage of time to give a permit for a run at a second potential franchise.

It's now 2028, but the plot is still the same: A dystopic and crime-ridden Detroit, and a terminally wounded police officer, Alex Murphy, is engineered by clever scientist Dennett Norton (played by the ever-suspect Gary Oldman) to return to the crime-fighting force as a powerful part-man, part-cyborg haunted by submerged memories. Norton is managed by Michael Keaton's opportunistic C EO of OmniCorps, Raymond Sellars. All together now: OmniCorps is a multinational conglomerate. Hiss, boo. And we know that though there are bad guys [inside and] outside the streamlined, latest-word police station that loving husband and father Murphy will get to dispatch without a backward glance, unerring in aim, the real baddie is the corporation. Surprise.
While it's good to see Keaton after a too-long hiatus, he seems slightly overshadowed by the acting firepower wattage of Oldman. Keaton was always better as a sardonic outsider, a cynic. Similarly miscast is a new character, Pat Novak, a talk-show host in the rabble-rousing, controlled-fury mode of Howard Beale, played by an over-the-top, too-out-there Samuel L. Jackson. He seems to be the moral conscience of the film, the Greek chorus, telling us that whatever fun being bad seems, the US is the greatest, and we must remember that through all the gunplay.

Today's eponymous popcorner was made for $130 million, about 10 times the cost of the original. And, yes,it has a glossy sheen with technology and whizz-bang graphics—as well as a blunderbuss percentage of special effects CGI that practically draws a text-message box at the audience—Here Be CGI for the ruined body of the Injured cop, played now by the unremarkable (though tall) Joel Kinnamon, new to films. The political angle enters as the Senate acts against the inclusion, Stateside, of robot cops with human internals. Around the world, we see the 'bots clomping around Japan, Afghanistan and elsewhere making the streets safe for pedestrians, but the corporation fears Americans won't cotton to huge, clanky-geared mechanical minders and transformer robots stomping all the spontaneity out midtown areas. The introduction of robots with "feelings," instead of the pandemic law-enforcement droids that maintain order around the world, is deemed the solution, but is debated hotly through the proceedings, and called, amusingly, The Dreyfus Act.

Not given enough to do is the beauteous and talented Aussie, Abbie Cornish, playing Murphy's determined and loving wife, Clara; we interviewed her in 2009, when she starred in the refined BRIGHT STAR, the captivating romance between 19th century poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne. We thought she deserved an Oscar for her portrayal. Also lovely in a supportive role is the porcelain beauty, Jennifer Ehle, one of the corporate bad guys. Titian-haired Ehle was seen in ZERO DARK THIRTY two years ago, for too few minutes, before she was heartbreakingly terminated by an IED in front of us.

As depicted in the gorgeous computer graphic representations and on-street live action sequences, Detroit looks spectacular. Though it is apparently riven by petty crime lords and drug dealers. Detroit should live so long to look the way it's depicted here. Glitzy enough to rival Las Vegas. There is no hint of the ravaged city we know it to be, with vast swathes of the urban landscape blighted and abandoned to wild grass and the Northern equivalent of sagebrush. We see on Novak's hologram-inflected TV show that the President is some older guy, not H-R-Hillary nor Chelsea. [Thank the Deity.]

With enough shooting and white-hat carnage to rival the most violent video game, we can begin to see why there is a national shortage of bullets. Neither the fleshly, greedy creeps nor the droids get a shot in, 99% of the time, so there is little suspense. Murphy is, after all, largely managed by a chip that makes him near-invincible, and nearly mechanical, though his humanity seeps back in somehow at frequent intervals. Despite the constant fusillades and street firefights, we see little blood, and even the massively damaged Alex Murphy is discretely disarrayed when shot, his excellent red-laser-slit visor broken and sedately askew. There is little haunting injury or picturesque violence that speaks to the reality of gun contests , as there are few profanity logrolls, save for one sequence—bleeped–on Jackson's Crossfire-like program. Kids won't notice the underlying message of unbenign corporation vs. man vs. criminals. It's so like their video exploits, their fingers might twitch. The one stylized spousal scene between Clara and Alex is oblique and chastely not graphic.

Takeaway: The original, modest ROBOCOP of 1987 had more humor—more heart, too—than this one does. Despite the tacked-on patriotic message we get thrown at us out of the ether. Catch the original on late-night TV.



 For fans of the Fab Four, John, George, Ringo and Paul, Lennon elder son Julian Lennon has curated a round-up of many affecting or amusing, B/W photos (some in color), album-cover fodder, on the occasion of their 50th anniversary.

The venue is the somewhat grungy, atypical 2nd-floor gallery of the SOHO Morrison Hotel on Prince Street.
The opening on Thursday, 6 February, was underwhelming, stuffed with neighborhood and uptown types jockeying for position in front of the minicams and still photogs, a bare wine table on offer to those slogging through the freezing night. For a minimum of $700 per, to well into the four-figures, one can purchase a prime shot of the mop-tops as they arrive for sundry song celebrations and interviews in the UK, US and around the globe, with Muhammed Ali, on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show appearance, solo and group portraits of each of the four, with guitar or on the tarmac. Limited editions of 25, 50, 75 or open editions, plus estate-stamped prints. Signed originals go for $7,500.

Surprisingly lean opening, considering the preciousness of entree, where one had to swear one's first bale of spun-gold hay or one's pancreas to get in. Up the rickety steep stairs, the gallery isn't much to look at, and of course, there's no John or George anywhere to greet one.
No Yoko or Julian, either.

Maybe no one else expected it to be so bland and sound-challenged. It did seem as if they could have played at least background Beatles, if the venue and fare were both so declaratively modest. Of celebs, nary a one in the throng of wine toters. Few if any fashionistas spotted in the crowd, though Fashion Week–held all over town, which begins on 6 February, too–may have siphoned off the tonier types.

In fact, it could have been the second or third anniversary of the brilliant band, not the 50th. Quietly on the down low, with little external glitz to clue one to the importance of the band.

Maybe it is a belt-tightening signal of filial devotion by John's first son in a notably straitened economy.

As they say, Let It Be.



 I went to see Wolf with a friend who has zero investments. As we watched the film, which for all its 3-hour length flew by in a compulsively sickening but sustained high-wire act of what's next?, he commented that she owns no securities. Now, watching this debauchery, he would never invest with this species of human infection.
When I spoke with my account manager after the film, I admit that even I–much more sophisticated than my friend, if far less knowledgeable than anyone in finance or the Speclist–also spoke with some shaded caution, as the film reminded me of the storied excesses that were tamped down in the 80s, 90s and aughts.

The initial article in Forbes that depicted Jordan Belfort as an ethics-challenged trader-wolf, Scorsese or the Belfort biographer would have us believe, initiated a tsunami of voracious young money-hungry who washed up in waves, excited by what they had read. But our reaction through the 3 hours, never less than interest, was yet never more than soured observation. Monitoring my reactions as the film unspooled, I was troubled, often found myself grimacing, disbelieving and disgusted. The man gave nothing back, and treated those who behaved less avariciously than he with oblivious cruelty. The single person who benefited from his early largesse, we are told in the film, is a female stockbroker who was given $25,000 at the start of her company tenure. We don't know if that is even true.

What is true, but got not one second of screen-time, were the pigeons, the wealthy and mostly not-so-wealthy who lost their savings, their IRAs, or their families in the wholesale losses engendered by the unscrupulous stockbrokers of Stratton Oakmont.

Earlier films in the same genre—Wall Street and sequel, Boiler Room, Glengarry Glen Ross, even the current American Hustle—spare a reel or two for the sorry shards of those impacted by all the coked-out fleecing. Though Belfort has by now served several years for his fraud and illegalities, he makes five-figures for motivational talks. Few of his numerous victims have yet gotten a dollar-for-dollar restitution. We see the Whee! rollercoaster, never the people vomiting outside the ticket booth. Belfort's sleazy partner, played by Jonah Hill, almost chokes to death from a failure of coordination brought on by heedless blow inebriation—but in real life, there must have been more casualties, directly, from that rampaging copulative and pharmacopic careening.

The core group of clueless dufusses who began the company with DiCaprio/Belfort discuss what they can and cannot do when they debate hiring dwarves to toss at a Velcro money wheel. The thought that such a subcivil act is abhorrent on the face of it never enters their mind. They are concerned only with the lawyers' codicils on what is actionable insofar as law and crossing the line goes.

 The drug-taking is endless, such that one doubts they would not have suffered cardiac arrests after even a few months of such pharmaceutical free-basing. Similarly, the women, prostitutes and for-hire, blur into a montage of backsides and breasts. The coarseness of everyone in major focus, and their vulgarity, is worse than that seen in the more resonant film, AMERICAN HUSTLE, where a few people could claim righteousness (or the movie poked fun equally at all societal tiers, frauds and famed, lawyers and lawmen, layers and layettes. In Wolf, only the FBI seems above greed and compromise for lucre, and even that's dicey for most of the film. Though Belfort clearly adores his second wife, he sees no problem whatsoever in orgies on planes, the office loo and anywhere else with anyone handy, even grading their whores in three levels for the audience's benefit. Oh, yes, he breaks the fourth wall frequently, in the manner of another Scorsese exemplar, Casino, to speak directly to us.

Scorsese's protagonists' motto, seen in this character as well as his other top-ten draws in Goodfellas, according to most of his oeuvre, is Want. Take. Simple. They snort enough nose-candy to mantle the Matterhorn an inch deep.

This was not prehistory: Didn't the female associates in pump-and-dump Stratton Oakmont feel devalued and denigrated by the disrespect and freak-show testosteronic hedony by their male colleagues? Didn't anyone get socially transmitted diseases?

And just sayin': Didn't the female associates in pump and dump Stratton Oakmont feel devalued and denigrated by the disrespect and egregious freak-show hedony by their male colleagues? Didn't anyone get socially transmitted diseases? Sexual harassment was well-known at the time: Did no one ever sue in this rank tank? Even Belfort's father, played by Rob Reiner as a shreier [screamer]against obscenely high T-and-E ("T-and-A" in the story) receipts, comes across as wistful he came along a generation too soon to enjoy the same… avocations his son is enjoying. More amorality.

There was no electric effervescence in the theatre, as you get from many movies that goose the public sensibility. Everyone sat in his or her private funk, watching the limitless crashing of our tradition-taught ethics. There was no laughter, not even any humor. There was silence and glumness at the spectacle of such dishonor. Worse to tell, this occurred in the late 80s and early 90s. But we are scarcely shed of this back-room bacchanalia even today. Much of what Scorsese shows could easily be updated with Madoff and his collective successors.

Do the corrupt goings-on and relentless abuse of women and bodily functions entertain, or do they instruct the young and impressionable that, say what you will, such unregulated frat-party-room excess pays off in the end. Babes. Pills. Candling backsides. Casual betrayals. Incestuous aunts. Exotic homes, cars, yachts. But also: Broken homes. Divorces. Swindled masses. Ruined lives. Children traumatized.

Does such a shocking glam-flam-stank-you,-ma'am make viewers less inclined to try to pull off such a litany of larcenous trespass, or does it instead encourage hot-breathed replication at any cost?

Is Wolf a howl of indictment, or an ode to the overdone olfactory?



 We hardly admit it, but we're drowning. Everyone reading is pretty much unable to stay above the tide. Like fish, only more sentient, we're dead center of the slurry, oceans of information swarming our eyes, crashing our senses.

We feel guilty when we sleep, take just one more peek at the email, post just a quick Tweet before we meet friends, dip into our mail for a fast minute at work, find we've deleted something we regret, but simply have no seconds to stomach the full-time, endless "oughts" of the electronic tsunami.

We all know someone who fancies herself smarter than the rest of us, because she won't truck with the latest cell phone, won't bend to the Illuminati of the instagram, doesn't yield to the demands of the computer.
But that person is seen increasingly through the rear-view mirror, trafficking with the stegasauri and Jurassic eosinifils. The rest of us can't afford to be that ludicrous, in the sense of celebrating the estate of being a Luddite.

Makes a nostalgic throwback to an earlier era. We don't have the luxury.

So the increasingly few opt out. They are now so quaint a phylum they own their own kenning: The cellphobes. They neatly elude and sidestep what the rest of us live with night and day: deadly Fear of Missing Out.
And as we fail to admit we are awash and below catch-up level of our Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and Twitter accounts, not to mention our humdrum but cataracting email interstates on a daily basis, do we any the less avoid admitting we have FOMO phobia?

It feels ridiculous to admit the cyber manacles of our dancing digits, our pixilated programs. Though they suck the life from our life, induce stiffness in the joints and make of our bottoms the environment for immobile moss fields, we stay at our screen, at our tablets, at our Droids. Walking, as we almost all do, eventually, into curbs, traffic-filled streets, other people. We commune, we think, with others. But it is rather more a solipsistic arabesque with ourselves. We are ever more unapproachable, and even our social talking one-on-one skills are taking on water. Or oxidizing.

Can we opt out of text messaging, insta-memos, Wiki and pricky, emoticons and apps, sexting and wrexting?

Some decades ago, extrapolating from what scientists saw were disabling loss of mobilities when an organism failed to exercise an extremity or its limb, researchers predicted the loss of our toes. Why would we need these uncomplaining cuties, if we lumped ourselves endlessly at a screen, and walking was only a temporary way-station to further sedentary electronics? Think the animated feature, E-Wall, where evolution had re-scripted us, and no one could walk after centuries of sitting.

Ergo, we have, if you check your own footfalls, nearly sacrificed our metaphysical toes. We hardly walk the talk any more, making it all about the pecking order, the not-real-time message that need not extract a real-time response that might interfere with our communal communing. Do you prefer the cyberdunk over the telephonic challenge? We save time not speaking.

Even at important events, our preeny little bastards sit smugly on the table, wanting just the tocsin to light up and divert us from actual discussions with real protoplasm and corn biscuits, a bad hair day and Reeboks on decrementalizing feet.

These svelte palm-fit slugs with all the fingerprint maulings, 3" x 5" peremptory pashas, command our instant response. Our tablets command our eyes, engage our hands. NCIS would make a meal of these most intimate companions. We rush out of the conference, twist and tilt the axis enough to give us wrist-lock, artificially quell our a-borning panic with the callback feature.

Moreover, soon we are afflicted with telling thirst, as we see a dwindling energy supply. Bars fading. Shrinking-percentage screens. Making us dependent every night on the recharge buffets, slurping it slowly from our walls. Like those kissy-face suckerfish, the Plecostomus (Pleco to friends) that keep the aquarium clean by scarfing up the daily algae, their smooch-up lips tight to the glass tank; filling us up, getting us back to command-enabled. Open and charged for business, yo.

A good thing, since AAA doesn't service anything non-auto. Out of juice, we stay edgy and unfinished until we can refill. Even if we have those accessories that are quick-recharge. Another drain. Another device to keep track of, to lose.

And as with the emergence of all new industries, our energy usage obsession has spawned a pop-up industry, as devices get gussied up in a diversity of fashion: Some covers and tablet cases are fit for de Sade. Some for Masoch. Spikes, leathers, mirrorings. Studs and sequins.

Apps. Musical codas. More apps.

M etaphorically, we half-listen for a flashing beep, a vibrato, a tone, so we can importantly acknowledge our busy-ness. We choose to rudely respond to our strident musical summons, sometimes over what used to be considered far more …rewarding pursuits. Most barely remember to apologize for repairing to the handheld when in company.

Quick.Before it stops its variant b-b-r-ring.

An uncivil act, at base. Whipping us from meeting, art and intimacy. From the once-unshaken millennial cycles of sleep and life, work and rest, we get the permanent wash of twilight bytes. Crouched and poised to snap off our attention over anything less encompassing.

We are largely dependentized, now little more than unwonted reception-delivery systems.

We chomp, tautly tethered to the tele-, rather than they being umbilical to us. We subsume our creativity and -ertia to its vibratory summons. It is a molecular cyber-rope, just an architecture and definition from being just so much cyber-rape.

It is of course not Luddism we fear. It is much more the terror of being left stranded, Cast Away, but inside our metropoli. A more potent whipping than any lash; a guillotine of guilt and lockstep keeping-up'ism.

Our now-indispensable life-supports dispense telephony. We swim with, and against, the tide they provide, even if we might wish to be decoupled from their unending burden. Preferring not to be swept overboard, yet even on vacation, we clamor to outlets, recharging, hungrily back into the cyberswim.

Some of us are more manic than others, but even the mildest put in a toe, a foot, our all.

The question is, given our growling reluctance to be drowned, possessed by the nonstop tsunami: Do we dare click off?



 Blanchette does not get to depend on the kindness of strangers…

After a few films that do serious funny, such as the delirious Midnight In Paris and the slightly less gloriously fizzy To Rome with Love, as well as his tetralogy in London, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, along with Match Point, Scoop, and Cassandra's Dream, the Woodster is officially back from the UK, Madrid, Paris and Rome, to home soil again. He is not about the nervous recognition laugh this time out. San Francisco and the Hamptons, in the top-tony sancta of the glassily rich, and the scruffy, wife-beater-singlet dinge of the lower-middle, are his foci.

The prolific Mr. Allen: Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen's 14th film since the millennium, if you're keeping count. No secret that Allen will set up shop in whatever locus/city donates a substantial production grant/stipend of anywhere from a quarter- to a million and more if he dangles producing a film in their fair city.

This travelogue time out, San Fran got the gilded Allen halo, though it seems a far cry from the SF the rest of the country knows. No matter. Film is by definition filmy, not unlike the colorful gauzy scarves Blanche Dubois and Jasmine prototype (Jeanette by birth) toss over the room lamps in N'Awleans to 'soften the glare' of unflattering glare on the face. The NYC and the California scenes seem chock-a-block with lower-echelon types, exemplified by a rare more-than-foot in water by Andrew Dice Clay (MIA for lo, some 20 years, according to a recent on-air in late July) and an adorable lowlife but earnest Bobby Cannivale, playing Chili (swiftly becoming a personal fave, after recent stints on "Nurse Jackie" as an officious hospital head of department arse and on Broadway as a harried writer in the terrific Clifford Odets revival, "The Big Knife"), along with a B-side of average Joes intent on their beer, sports and just hanging out trying to live their lives.

Baldwin steps out again after his narrator-framing character in To Rome, this time in a skeevy Madoff-redux role he broke in back in 1996, in Miami Blues, as a charming, conscience-free cold-eyed petty crook to the ingénue heart-o'-gold hooker played by teenaged Jennifer Jason Leigh. Sally Hawkins, so wonderful in the Brit romp, the infectiously optimistic Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), is enjoying a reprise here, too, as younger sis Ginger, having first appeared in Allen's Cassandra's Dream.

Like his work or not, as a director, Allen has always led the crowd in recognizing lapidary talent he finds and features before the rest. You can make bank on the exquisiteness of his casting. (Full disclosure: I am still [sort of] downcast he declined to cast me in one of his [non-funny] flicks. After I saw the final cut, I thanked heaven he hadn't put me into the B/W freak show. You live forever in ignominy, frump, ditz or weirdness in all Woody flicks.)

With a filmography output of a film a year for roughly 35 years, he can be forgiven if he here cribs a plotline or two. With BJ, Woody Allen borrows from one of the best. Tennessee Williams, whose scalpel to the jugular of the disappointed but crawling-out-alive Deep South was exorcized in his timeless Streetcar Named Desire.

Most movies could play sleazy Madoff-type conmen and their outsize philandering and living large for cheap laughs. Not Woody. He sets the scene immaculately, with the slick golden real estate nabob (Alec Baldwin) in his tasteful and money-drenched aeries of fantasy money and glitter, a glossy if absolutely unemployable arm-candy wife (Cate Blanchette, certain to land her an Oscar nom). She dimly experiences life on the salon-yoga-shopping-charity mandatory must-be-seen lifestyle Roladex. Not incidentally, Alec Baldwin in fact played Stanley Kowalski, Blanche Dubois' brother-in-law nemesis, in a 1995 Streetcar. The role of latter-day beau Mitch, in Streetcar, is played by the popular if raffish comic, Louis CK, who here swains younger sister, Sally/Stella, Ms. Hawkins.

Brief recap: You probably recall Streetcar, if not from high school junior drama days, then from the brooding rough eroticism of Marlon Brando as Kowalski, his wife, sweetly besotted Stella, in her now-tatty living milieu by her macho husband.

Set in the French Quarter of New Orleans during the restless years following WWII, "A Streetcar Named Desire" is the story of Blanche DuBois, a fragile and neurotic woman on a cascading search for someplace in the world to call safe, to rest. Blanche explains her unexpected appearance on Stanley and Stella's (Blanche's sister) doorstep as nervous exhaustion. In reality, she has been exiled from hometown Laurel, Mississippi, for seducing a 17-year-old student at a school where she taught English. She claims her exhaustion is due to a series of financial reverses that have claimed the family plantation, Belle Reve. Stanley, unimpressed with her explanations, states that "under Louisiana's Napoleonic code, what belongs to the wife belongs to the husband." Stanley, sinewy and brutish, territorial as a panther, circles Blanche in a mix of distrust and intolerance; he doesn't cotton to being swindled of his wife's patrimony and demands to see the bill of sale. They are opposing camps; wife Stella, soft, accommodative and uncomplicated, is caught in a no-man's-land. She and Stanley are, in fact, despite the difference in their early stations, deeply in love.

Stella (Ginger in BJ) in Tennessee's play is simple, accommodating, drunk with love; and the fragile cut-bloom of Blanche, done to the nth by Vivien Leigh in the 1949 Streetcar, is a shadowy, fragile neurotic reduced in circumstance by events we learn gradually as she tries to collect herself in the shabby home of her sister and visceral, suspicious brother-in-law Stanley. Where is the family money? he asks throughout. Neurasthenic, delicate Blanche cannot be questioned. She has no firm answers to anything except her need for beauty and recovering lost…dignity, status. Peace of spirit. It does not end well for her.

Blanche/Blanchette/Jasmine is alluring, seductive, neurotic and mournful, prone to dark, cryptic pronouncements—the centripetal force of the film. In her shadowy past there are hints of poverty and sexual misdeeds or abuse. Men find her bewitching because there is so much they don't know. On a physical level, she is willowy and stunningly fair, blonde, unable. They interpret her remote fragility as the promise of female salvation and unearned ego-propagation. Here is a wounded being, the Southern male thinks, per Southern Mr. Williams. She does not challenge nor question, but will gratefully, perhaps erotically, accept the gallant assigns of affection consigned by the undemanding shaky ego'ed male…She has few definitive edges or constructive ideas except to get herself a safe niche. Strapped for cash, she reluctantly accepts a receptionist job with a horny dentist.

This classic scaffolding and a scant few laughs offset the sad reminders of Woody's obsession with his own eventual demise. Allen has been working on these late films for nearly two decades. This latest, Blue Jasmine, is a return to yeasty, emotional 80s Allen. It is a bittersweet, engrossing epilogue. Or a nervous, unreconstructed prologue.

Cate Blanchett is the title character, born Jeanette, then husband-dubbed Jasmine. She is the wife of an indulgent, dodgy finance oil-slick played by Alec Baldwin. He is not beyond a bit of philandering; it doesn't much surprise that Baldwin is a crook, though his wife, like a "Sopranos" spouse, is not concerned or even dimly aware of how she gets her palatial home and jewels and designer clothing. She's a full-time, subsidized self-absorbed foundation. Charity parties. Entertaining. Yoga, Pilates, Zumba. Shopping. Looking beautiful, matching the décor to her loungewear. Baldwin and cosseted wife lose everything in a squalid financial scandal. Jasmine westers to San Francisco to move in with her guileless sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a checkout girl at a grocery store. Her one-time husband is an earthy contractor played by Andrew Dice Clay. She has no airs, is a mom of two boys, and willingly shares what she has, ignoring the condescension and little-masked scorn of her elder sister. We account for the notable differences in physical traits, IQ and personalities by understanding both were adopted. "You were always smarter than I was," comments Ginger in reply to most unreconciled soliloquies by her reduced Blanche/Jasmine.
Allen hasn't set a film on the West Coast since scenes in Annie Hall. So it's odd that his SF seems as if it's somewhere near Hoboken, filled with dese, dem and dose types with unpretentious vocations instead of idolaters and oblivious self-promoting millionaires. But Woody's cities have always been as much a paradisiacal avatar, caught by his glorious cinematographers, as Chevalier's Paris. Don't go to Woody expecting subway graffiti or traffic backup on the L.A. Freeway. But he gets Marin County and the Bay area: the vapidities, casual wealth and enbubbled lives of the uber privileged. Full of, as Alvie says in Annie Hall, "wheat-germ killers."

The two sisters cohabit uncomfortably together in a too-small apartment—"it's so…cozy," Jasmine notes—and they each meet male love objects: an aspiring diplomat and a shvitzy audio tech, played by comic Louis C.K., who showcases the hyper, entitled and down vibe of the area.

Blanchette is amazing, breathtaking as the shrill narcissist falling apart. Her desperate prowl for a safe landfall makes her seem histrionic, but she is always in the act of creating an alternate, acceptable reality for herself, reflecting her dismissal of her actual fallen circumstance in the grubby present. Like Blanche, Jasmine's self-delusions and thrice-told bravura tales have finally worn through. In a revealing moment she explains more to herself than to her skeptical little nephews—who here form the Greek dithyramb Allen featured in Mighty Aphrodite–when they ask if it's true she went nuts, that "there are only so many traumas a person can bear…" Her disintegration is graphic. Even her little nephews note the distance between their sane mother and their flighty, uncertain aunt.

BJ is a layered rendering of a woman in a crisis of self-definition after living in cushy denial most of her vague life. It's guilt, trauma and retribution, of accepting the obvious, themes beautifully developed in his masterful Crimes and Misdemeanors, which some (me) consider his masterwork. His icy analysis of this character's state of denial is always at an artistic remove.

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen's umpteenth film since 2000; accurate, in a sense, yet absent self-involvement. Again, his casting kills. His casts do more to enliven Allen's themes than do the casts of most other directors. And his films, oddly, wear well over time.

Jasmine's efforts to impose herself between Ginger and her men, her unending haranguing of her sister's rather unprepossessing males, enrages the animal inside first mate Dice Clay, then fiancé Cannivale. When Mitch/Peter Sarsgaard, a diplomat on the rise—arrives on the scene, acutely class-conscious Blanche swiftly sees a way out of her spiraling predicament. Sarsgaard, wealthy, suave, polished and above the brutish, himself on the rise, reveres Jasmine as beautiful and refined, focusing on her expensive and understated wardrobe, her beauty, and her distracted, unthinking superior airs. Yet, as tendrils of truth emerge of Blanche's/Jasmine's past—her suicided financial-cheat spouse, her financial destitution, an unspoken-of adult son, are spilled by an inadvertent meeting with her sister's ex-spouse Clay—suddenly catch up to her and her ideal mate, her circumstances become unbearable.

A not-funny Allen is still, overall, and with all the usual caveats (at least he's not lampooning and flagellating his Jewish background here, as he did in so many of the early, funny films; and he's not lambasting all women as unbearable, unisexual shrews, ditto; and he does switch laugh-triggers in updating his standard Valium throwaways to Xanax in the set-upon heroine) top shelf stuff. The good part is that for the average cineaste, we can watch the hybridity of his soiled and spoiled rich and poor lives with dispassion, since they are not the commonality of our picayune daily lives. We aren't Jasmine. And our crooked menfolk may have their bêtes noirs, but they are not Alec Baldwin/Madoffs.

If we had to choose, the message BJ is communicating is that loving passionately and plainly without all the tchatchkas of great wealth, ill-begotten especially, beats the hell out of loving money and privilege, both of which can be wilting, fleeting and dissolute. There is no hint of mission drift here; Allen grips the story, tells the hairy alarums of the wealthy, heedless life, and pays off the watch with a remorseless dénouement. A film risque and melancholy, moody and invested with intensely engaged and sometimes sexy performances, it is ultimately tragic.

A so-called amusing indie you can safely miss: Pedro Almodovar's latest–I'M SO EXCITED– a gordo disappointment. Too fey, crude, implausible and humor depleted to audiences primed for some of the keener and friskier glimpses into the manic Almodovar mold of tout Madrid. This one misses the mark by the 33 years since a vaguely similar but much better Zucker & Abraham's AIRPLANE! torched the high-giggle-meter high-jinks aboard a 747.



 Let It Be: A celebration of the music of the Beatles at the St. James Theatre

Your toes are tapping. Your fingers are snapping. Your hands are clapping. By the end of the first "act," the whole audience, mezzanine and all, is swaying and rocking such that my companion and I fled downstairs, afraid the balcony would crash to the ground with the syncopated movement of the St. James.

Let It Be, playing a limited engagement at Broadway's St. James Theatre from July 16 to December 29, sings its way through the extraordinary repertory of some of the greatest songs of the past three generations. We get the history of the fab four from a rock cavern in Liverpool to their world-acclaimed acclaim …everywhere. Strung tightly between bouts of newsreels and TV clips, grainy video of live-audience reaction back in the 60s, four nonstop singers give us note for note what we got and never forgot from John, Paul, George and Ringo. Graham Alexander (the only Yank among the fab Brits onstage), John Brosnan, Ryan Coath and James Fox go from earliest mop-topped teen time in Liverpool to psychedelia, war protests, Sgt. Pepper-y to…using a boatload of amazing-looking guitars (they changed instruments almost every song), a dandified piano, duds (Jack Galloway), and hairstyles, shoes to barefoot, and moustaches to go with the change of era. Bonus: They kind of look like their pseudonymous alter egos. Props to Jason Lyons and Duncan McLean for never-analgesic lighting and video design, providing drama and color and variety to suit the mood of every song.

Broadway wasn't designed for this many people rocking out in rhythm for some magical two hours. The balcony, BTW, seemed to hold the youngest theatre-goers, but even the real kids in the crowd were massively enthusiastic. And everyone knew the words to everything. Downstairs, though the crowd waved their arms and swung their bodies, they were older. But everyone, even those of us who broke out into lachrymose sniffles at memories of first boyfriends, ended up cheering madly for every set. Plus three generous encores.

A few years ago, there was a similar Broadway production, called Rain, using much the same menu of power-pop compositions and beloved standards, similar blocking (we are told) , Carnaby and updated threads and hair fittings. Some of the talent in this show were in that popular production. The ensemble, including additional musicians enhancing the sets, sing ther hearts out, bopping from one terrific torch to another wrenching memory. Though we never got to see Rain, and've all been sweltering in this week's weeklong melt, nobody going to see this will go away disappointed. Not 6, not 96.

We wondered if Yoko had dropped in yet. (It's not sanctioned by Apple Corps or The Beatles.) Even the ushers were rocking, smiling and moving with the crowd. "I'm 45," one usher confided, "and I love this stuff, every night! Love it."




Actually Stalin meant steely man, too. Would his mild-mannered alter ego wreak more impressive havoc today than the muscled one-man wonder?

Directed by Zach Snyder

Superman was created in 1938 by Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster, designed as an adolescent anodyne and savior, in large part, from the hitlerian juggernaut that had sent so many surviving graphic artists and novelists over the oceans for succor.

For fact-chasers, this year marks the 62nd anniversary of the first Superman movie, Superman and the Mole Men—but not many will recall that first go-round of the man of steel franchise. The first Superman most of us recall or can see on late-night TV was the impressive Christopher Reeve, whose looming physique and chiseled good looks combined with his Juilliard-trained acting technique to generate the most paradigmatic Superman to grace the screen for the 5-issue franchise beginning in 1978.

The Brit Henry Cavill, who plays American Man of Steel without a lapse back into English (joke intended), is certainly handsome enough, but lacks the smooth, seamless facial planes and hauteur of his predecessor. Certainly, Cavill's physique is peerless, but he seems querulous and even hesitant onscreen as often as he seems commanding. It does not fill one with confidence. He seems a bit weather-worn, in a way that Reeve did not. Also lacking from this man of steel is much of a personality, or that naughty glimpse of sly humor that delighted audiences as it trickled out when Supe dealt with Margot Kidder's Lois—especially in those close-ups with chemistry evident between the two leads. Amy Adams, always competent, talented and pert-nosed cute, does not resonate any of the heat that you hope to see, especially as so few of these moments are visible onscreen altogether in MoS. She is a spunky, responsible reporter, refusing to reveal Superman's whereabouts to Zod or his people. But no frissons.

The Krypton mega-villain, the re-enlivened comeback Zod, played by a face familiar from innumerable mob pics, Michael Shannon, does not measure up to MoS villains of the past–Terence Stamp, Jack O'Halloran, Kevin Spacey, or the slightly buffoonish but clever Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor (whose solid chops as a tough guy, G-man and outlaw before this character stood him in good stead when the part as written could have defenestrated a lesser actor–and his diction slips into thugdom's unwonted dese, dem and dose from time to time. Krypton did not have a canton of Brooklyn to school such a pronunciation.

Jor-El, chief Kryptonite scientist [and father of Kal-El] played by sturdy Russell Crowe, sports a beard; one person, at least, who doesn't have a dimpled chin, as almost every major character seems to. It seems almost a cast member on its own, these dimples everywhere. (Is there something about dimpled kids that hurtles them into acting? It would seem so.)

This absence of chemistry between Lois and Supe may have been a choice of the writers, who figured people would go for the effects (yes) and the escapism (ditto), not necessarily for the romance (wrong).

Harking back to the innate value of the story (if that is what you unconsciously expect at base), the plot points are artificial, as nothing is at stake—the bad guys are just bad. There's no "On the other hand…" The earth is imperiled, OK, but that's SOP. We don't really worry about Metropolis and the violated and punctured mountain tops or glacial vistas. We watch the screen, zonked by the amazing effects that seem impossible. Thirty five years in advancing SFX have made a discernible difference. But viewers don't feel invested in either the characters or the outcome.

 As a counterpoint to the pure evil, we can say, of the Reich and its übercommandos, Superman was conceived as a polar opposite. You know the drill: Dedicated to truth, justice and the American way. (Had the comic geniuses that poured into the US to escape nazism fled to the steppes, we would have had a different and less fortunate motto: Truth, justice and the Really Red Cape Way.)

For lovers of complexity, Clark/Kal El is hard to get, one would think. An übermensch too loaded with powers and too innately good to be a source of much dramatic tension. Except in our day, when goodness and power are not often a matched set, a character exemplifying these traits may seem obvious for the child primed by a constant stream of fiction fodder. For the sager adult knowing the shades of complexity and gradual moral elasticity/atavism of the world we inhabit now, the dramatic tension shifts not to this avatar of goodness and ethicism, but to our shifting relationship and accommodation to compromise.

One could argue that we adjust to evil and a full-spectrum response in hellholes, say, Sudan, Iraq under Saddam, North Korea, Uganda under Amin, Chechnya, Romania under Ceaușescu, under their absolute tyrannical heirarchs, more easily than we do to the obverse scenarios. We idealize Shangri-La, but would soon grow irritated and restless under its unfailing puffy white cumulus and imperturbable smiling sun. Nothing but free golf and chicken croquettes.

Though Superhero Kal-El (in Hebrew, where the preponderance of comic book ethos originated: Vessel of G-d) is supposed to be uncomplicated, in reality, this generation of consumers of the myth sees a character fighting against his better instincts, as instructed by his earthly parents (Kevin Costner, Diane Lane). The battle is maintaining the goodness in the face of vast cynicism and normalized unwholesome. Young Clark wants to vent his anger when taunted, pestered by school colleagues—but holds back. We are taught now not to suppress our wishes or desires or instincts (other than murderous rage, perhaps, or the male lusts to have every passing female on the average American street). Superman must squelch his natural desire to pay back bullies so as not to raise fear among his little schoolmates and community. Thus there is a reverse dramatic tension: We would not hold back. We'd smash their faces into the electric fence, knock the bejezzus out of the drunken jerk in the bar. But Clark doesn't, even when his own father (Kevin Costner) is at risk.

Risen out of adolescent escapism, Supe had, critics had it, nothing much to say about the human condition other than to indicate by his existence and responses to threat or calamity that salvation was possible, and that goodness could be sustained in the world of constant unpleasant surprises. Today that optimistic template reads as revolutionary. We've largely forgotten optimism.

After devouring Superman and his Action Comics supercolleagues as a child—I often ascribe my relatively commodious vocabulary to the thousands of comic panels I consumed after buying them with my tiny allowance—during my teen years I came to apotheosize him as the ideal boyfriend. Not someone I could hope to locate, but someone to aim for—he was a goody two -boots in the primary colors with all the Jewish values: Decency, charity, openness to others, helpfulness, sobriety and zero dark mishugas. Unlike American friends, I was brought up British-strict, and he represented my salvation from a personal raging tyrant. As it turned out, the boyfriend I had was probably better than Superman, because he was smarter, funnier, and clued me into many of the clandestine realities my family never imparted.

 Superman makes broad-brush discriminations: These are good people. These, bad. We have many more dubious opponents, however, than were dreamt of in that Shuster and Siegel cosmogony. Most baddies today would not fall easily into either definitive camp. Superman and his cohort followers Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Aquaman et al., never dealt with the latter-day scourges of Communism or, more immediately, terrorism and radical islam. The seeping result of infiltration that imperils the free world with its encroaching ooze into all segments of society is not amenable to flying thrusts and grunting, lifting pounds per square foot. A man as rigorously physical as Superman has less impact on such foes than would, in fact, the meeker, milder spectacled version, Clark Kent. Kent's métier, as a reporter/journalist, unmasker of evil schemes and unholy plots, would today be effective in subtler ways, by informing the public and helping to dismantle terror networks. Clark is a crusader without a cape, a pen-in-hand counterweight to the forces tripping us up.

The film disappointed in its conscientious product placement of restaurant chains, camera brands, electronics and a variety of stuff we don't want to see any more in prominent Look-At-Me locations in our films. The flurry of product placement roused a counter-reaction that made such deliberate "subliminal sales" efforts embarrassingly gauche. Bad enough to have to cope with banner ads and customized computer–generated product sells on our laptops. No doubt the producers lowered the staggering costs of the film by selling rights to these commercial interests. (They have reputedly already netted $150 million before the film officially opens.) The authors of the hero, by the way, got the princely sum of $130 when they sold their strip in 1938, and until their dying days (1992, 1996) fought court battles to a fairer remuneration for the titan that is the Man of Steel. Using a dedicated lawyer and comic maven, Marc Toberoff, their heirs recovered some millions after epic battles in succeeding decades. $130!

For the alert, the film features a number of homages to films before it: Field of Dreams (Costner's 1989 baseball fable), Orson Welles' immaculate Citizen Kane, and a host of other swift visual refs. Most unsettling are the subtle but iterated Christ-like iconic shots of the Man of Steel as he stands still in the sky above citizens, erect and crucifix-like. Created by Jewish artists, about a largely idealized reverse-Dybbuk-figure of idolatrous [Jewish] beneficence, Christ imagery comes as a bit of a startle. There is no end of pertinent applications of Christian imagery in myriads of books and tales; this is not one.

It does damage to the well-worn legend of the destruction of the planet Krypton, a planet peopled by extra-uterine birth (but for our man Kal, who is the only normally birthed child, on screen, according to Jor-El, "in centuries"). The fellow next to me whispered: "First time I knew Jor-El was an Ob-Gyn!"

That pointed to another problem in the movie. There were too many scenes where if the audience was not so rapt on the special effects and blam-blam, they would have laughed at the silliness and unsubtle goings-on. Amy Adams scoots around the North Pole in her kicky parka and cute booties, no face mask, no earmuffs, all solo, crawling on rock faces jagged with ancient glacial formations. Really? I mean, really? The guy playing Zod, Shannon, is this side of over-exposed, a bad guy we have seen in one too many gangster flicks. His elocution is hardly Richard Burtonesque, when it needs to be, frankly, better. The guy next to me: "Burton wasn't available." Other reviewers, mind you, loved Shannon's performance.

Superman himself was slightly weathered in a way Chris Reeve was not, the planes of his face being more indented and chiseled than we are used to. He is immensely well-built, of course, so perhaps most people won't mind his indented look. The exuberance of diving up and clomping down on mountaintops, however, wears thin: Why just showcase wanton destruction of ice-faces, berms, earth forms?—We know what he can do. We miss the scene of the complicated Krypton baby-pod (hat-tip to Alien) landing in a Kansan field. But the liberties this sequel/prequel/he-quel takes with the cherished Superman tale (the film runs 143 minutes) get under the skin, even if viewers don't notice the feebler elements of the script, or the occasional silliness overall. Did anyone notice that all major characters except Diane Lane and bearded Russell Crowe had chin dimples? Even the bad-guy generals. What were the producers trying to say?

The time-honored red cape and red, blue and yellow body-leotard and tights worn by the toothsome but not quite right Superguy has been darkened here to deep navy, ruby wine red, and ochre yellow. It is a magnificent textured suit, a more mature palette, with a marvelous cape that you can tell at a glance has a lovely "hand," drapes beautifully as he walks or flies. Superman appears, from a distance, slightly colorized pewter.

But you'll go to see it no matter what the criticisms listed.

Best advice: Go with a witty companion. And note that the reporter actually has more impact against true evil today than the mighty Superman ever could. One serious op-ed, a stomping journalistic call-out, and Boom go the bad guys entrenched and doing their utmost damage in our upper echelons.



 BUT WAIT! Get a Second One FREE, just pay…

We've all heard the late-night spiels for some lightweight crinkle hose, or a new miracle chopper, carpet-tack holder or cat feeder floor- shield. Or domestic mail ricin detector.*

The ad engagingly shows you how fabulously easy it is to use the doohickey, how much time or energy or weight it saves you ("Why should you expect a cane to support you, if it can't support itself?!" Sophistry aside). Then comes the money shot, as it were. You can buy this life-changing device or product or varmint destroyer for just $whatever. Whatever or so. O, oh joy. Then the kicker: Wait! We'll "give you" another one, totally free! "Just pay postage and handling, extra."

So if P&H are, say, $9.99 for the first item, and it can easily accommodate a second item neatly spooned in a slightly larger cardboard box shipped to your front porch, why do you have to pay a whole extra $9.99 for the "free" second item you don't really need?

Because the manufacturer/retailer makes all their profit on that near-subliminal catchphrase: "Just pay extra postage and handling." Wow, what a deal. If you weren't so logy from sleep deprivation when you hear these infomercials, you'd pick up on the dicey proposition to separate you from your wallet with a feint to the word FREE! and the sub-audible addendum about the P&H extra cost.

Who knows? Maybe these incontrovertible must-haves are foreign, and they fall into the "overseas contingency operations" beloved of a certain gunmetal-haired appointee of the current Administration that do merit extra postage, taxes, handling, to get through Taiwan border sentries…? Last giggle: If you try to purchase the device or product without the add-on, they won't sell it to you. Discretionary purchases that wend their way into mandatory.

What brings this to mind is the bait and switch we experience with the late-night chief executive, who feeds us one message about "saving babies" in the Newtown, CT, massacre of kindergartners, a tragedy, versus his "celebration" of the long-lived, mostly government- underwritten abortion palace of Planned Parenthood, whose sole purpose is to crown our efforts with yet another aborted fetus or seventeen million.

The issue is laden with land-mines, yes, we know. For a period of time, most advocates of limiting abortion were, for perhaps one or two decades, advocates of "women's right to choose." A neat runaround for the notion that, au fond , we are speaking of the slaughter of little humans.

The worshipers of the faux notion of climate change, a theory that is maximally disputed by many, especially scientists without a Democrat agenda or debts, don't apparently believe the indisputable fact that it is human life developing from the time of the dividing zygote. They'll swallow climate change on the falsified info of dubious charlatans and wannabe's, but won't accept fertilization: Call them Cirque du the sun-addled.

Because we are never to be inconvenienced, we women must be permitted our hard-fought right to erase our 'mistake' (the current president's locution when once asked about the possibility of one of his daughters' becoming pregnant—she should not be "punished" with the results of her "mistake"). We are busy. We are important. We have other things on our minds. A baby would interfere.

Mind, we are not addressing the issue of pregnancy from rape or incest, or a threat to the health or life of the mother-to-be, all of which have legal, moral, ethical perspectives and dimensions apart from female or marital convenience. But in view of the ongoing but strangely muted coverage of the Kermit Gosnell trial for his decades-long grisly handling of babies born live after his maladroit abortive efforts, and his consummate population reduction of gestational mothers who pass his way, it is mystifying the larger public is not gummed to their recliners at the gory spectacle of "snipped" infant spines and shelved, bottled baby parts ( no pimiento included, sorry, folks )–scenes that have kept the tabloids in chocolates and Crystal for eons. Why the reticence?

It has all the ingredients of a bloody disaster ("tragedy" being the White House resident's fave locution, after not tragedies but deliberate acts of heinous sabotage and slaughter) so beloved of the famed "Never let a disaster go to waste," or waste disposal, crowd.

Hey, Janet Incompetano: Here's a REAL "man-caused disaster. " Yet Ms. Janet is…mum…on this issue that upholds and justifies her tortured and otherwise bizarre linguistic pretzels.

Doesn't Dr. Kermit warrant a wee wrist-slap by the nannygrams of the regulation-happy Ubama Reich? Don't hundreds of killed infants near to term, a Dr. Caligari-level chamber of umbilical fetal "preserves," and a handful of regrettably slain moms-to-be, rise to the level of public outcry and revulsion by the ever-outraged #1 Peevish POTUS and his ever-feckless companion Incompetano? Et al? (Actually, no one in the past fervid five years under BHU has stooped that far. No one et Al. Yet.)

But wait! You get two monsters in one—kills live-born babies and their 'inadvertently' murdered moms—just handling & postage, extra. Ye Presidential nostrils do not descend to the aroma of this particular olfactory stimulus.

Is there a way to package the Gosnell's gossamer tale of grue with the darned inconvenient Tsarnaevs of Boston Bombing infame–which colorful duo (and screeching family) "have no known connection to any known terrorist sect or group," right, Ms. Janet? And did this all wholly unaided by foreign monies or assistance; correct, again?—so that we get them both, FREE, just adding correct postage & handling, so we can drop-ship them anywhere out of the orisons of the lovely folk who brought you UbamaCare, otherwise dubbed the Affordable Care Act, whose very vocal proponents are now scrambling to exempt themselves from its regulation-barnacled, writhing, exorbitantly unmanageable and debt-ivied tentacles?

Call it Don't ask; won't sell.

*restrictions & conditions apply

Jeff Watson writes:

That get one free for additional S&H is exactly the same thing they busted McDonalds for when they offered super-sizing. I've often wondered that when one is at the airport and the bar at the airport offers a drink for one price, then offers a double for a little more, how much their profit margin goes up? Hey, with a short pour, a little at the top for taste, their profit margin might double. I know about up-selling, as that retail 101, and will make a mediocre business a profitable business. I wonder how many times a day the Mistress of the Market tries to up-sell the players? Probably on every trade…



 You may know a man by his enemies. So goes the adage, which is the guiding principle behind "Hating Breitbart." It fits. A summary of this intense documentary would be a man with a website who forever changed the narrative journalistic paradigm, upending the traditional press and changing the ground-rules of political journalism.

A year after the passing of media gadfly and truth messiah Andrew Breitbart, an exemplary doc on the brilliant and passionate advocate who was Andrew Breitbart is a biting, often hilarious, usually provocative leave-behind for those who noted his Olympian fight against lies, government distortions and, especially, media skew the size of the Andes.
He died, we were told, of a massive heart attack at 43. What some might not know going in is that Andrew (like his sister, who has strong Mexican blood) was adopted, so his genetic predisposition to heart or related ills was not known. Intriguing factoid: His close friend confided to me that she thought he was related to George Washington's family, since there is a resemblance [of sorts]. She added that Breitbart had tossed the idea around with her, too, so perhaps it tickled his fancy that as an acknowledged, rambunctious avatar of STTP–speaking truth to power– his DNA may have hailed from the Father of the country he so boisterously, and corruscatingly defended to his last breath.

The filmmakers culled his impish wit in hotels,conferences, panels; in cars on the move, with his ever-evident laptop a constant companion as he prepared to speak before appreciative, adoring crowds; in CPAC and at Tea Party gatherings. I attended several of the events he appeared at, where newsies massed in plantations of mics and notebooks around him for impromptu pressers, more often than not attacking him with unwarranted, even bizarre, accusations–desperate to take him down in their zeal to defend against his (what Gandhi called satyagraha) truth force. We see Blazing torrents of righteousness and sardonicism. His take-no-survivors full-on fury at those who tried not to correct the lies he pointed out, but to smear and barrage him from getting to the public with his message, make for amazing viewing. He did not back down when people of note accused the Tea Party protesting fiscal irresponsibility and waste (sound like the current sequester LP saga, eh?) of (baseless) racism. He offered, as we recall, the impressive sum of first $10,000 to anyone who could document even a single call against various black congressmen and "war heroes"–then, when nothing came forward, $100,000 to bring any solid video evidence of anyone calling out the N-word, let alone "15 people calling it out 15 times." With the thousands of cell phones and electronics, cameras and TV crews in evidence, not a single instance of any name-calling or deliberate "spitting" could be adduced or brought forth: No one collected. The charges were fiction.

Same thing happened with Breitbart as he broke the news of Anthony Weiner's …weiner being a public offering on Twitter and perhaps elsewhere. The first thing the press did, again, was to attack Breitbart; Anthony himself spent a good few days denying the evidence of his own underwear and his own privates on parade to college coeds and others of indeterminate but female non-wifehood. The scabrous attacks against him continued. When the truth emerged, and Weiner finally acknowledged his genitalia had 'unwittingly' made the news via his irrepressible obliviousness to how public the social media had become, not a soul of all the cackling hyena media apologized. The cheering section for the Administration failed to apologize for their insistent misstatements and distortions.

There are excerpts from TV interviews on all the major news channels, as well as those prominent for being unwatched but vociferous and consistently against the Fox channel. In most instances, tellingly, the razzing press indict themselves by their crude and unmodulated baying and nonsensical charges.

Breitbart's part in getting ACORN's flagrant abuses against ethical government and lawful policies is another major feature of this riveting doc. We see the two now-famous intrepid young journalists affecting prostitute and pimp as they ask office people in various cities how to cheat the government and get subsidized for bringing in underage South American girls for brothel use. The ACORN-hired and -trained workers colluding in practices both abhorrent and illegal are soon fired. Better, as we know, all of ACORN is exposed for the scam it has long been. Although they have changed their name and still operate under different guises, exposing this scurrilous tentacled scam was a major public service. Likewise, Congressional racism in the Shirley Sherrod case is also covered, with the usual suspects coming under scrutiny and eventual discrediting.

The focus is unswerving and blistering. Righteous indignation rises in the gorge of all viewers (or should). It is also the eponymous name of Breitbart's well-received and popular political scathe, Righteous Indignation. His impish humor is on display throughout, but when he is correctly exercised at media abuses, and they are legion, even today, he is unremitting in his salty censure. Not backing down from absurd charges, he relished his encounters with interviewers less prepared than he for a Brobdingnaggian fray and bruising back-and-forth.

Since no one knew his genetic parents, although he had had premonitions and signs of heart weakness, in the end, he could not, apparently, joust against the only combatant he could not shout down with mirth, brio and witty, palpable integrity. His like will not soon be matched.

In another century, in another country, he would have been an honored presence, a holy jester of counteraction. A year post-attack, Breitbart is sorely missed: He would have lots to merrily debunk.




Directed by Steven Soderbergh

A cleverly plotted film that only reluctantly becomes evident, SIDE EFFECTS is a roller-coaster Hitchcockian ride starring a taut Jude Law, and a nearly unrecognizable Rooney Mara, a buttoned-up Catherine Zeta-Jones and Polly Draper (she of the whiskey voice from "Thirty Something").

Hate to say too much about the plot, since one of the rewarding parts of seeing this film is discovering what's going on, but nominally: A young New York couple's tidy world unravels when a new anti-anxiety drug prescribed by Emily's (Rooney Mara) psychiatrist has unexpected effects—on patient, husband (Channing Tatum) and others. Don't expect Tatum, beefcake delectable, to visit through more than the briefest of celluloid. The baddies in this thriller are not whom or what you originally think, especially given the title. BTW: The pharma industry now dubs them "adverse events," which neatly avoids the chilling taint connoted by the earlier, more popularly known term.

One of the choicer elements of the film is its exceptional photography; one sees a Gotham that is not the tired vernacular. This scenic Trou Normand may coast under one's cognition radar, but it is elegant, almost-Gordon Willis-level cinematography (from Woody Allen's more elegiac films), a gift floated to the receptive viewer. Audience members, many of them apparently physicians and therapists, gabbed with each other afterwards, discussing their take on the goings-on, comparing notes from their practices.



 Ban-dido Ban-ada, Oh Ban-ada Ban no-no Ban-dollar-O

Girls just wanna have guns

By marion ds dreyfus

By virtue of being lithe and of lower body mass, and having much smaller feet, in the main, women have always been terrific at mountain climbing. Women with ‘scopes were first among perseverant astronomers, though their achievements were largely ignored and stepped on by males with high-power magnification. Women are superlative and self-abnegating in the lab, often working 50 and 60 years, unmarried and unchilded, in the shadows of their discoveries before they reap awards and recognition.

Women are great in a myriad of occupations and professions, are as brave and heady as males in the full spectrum of human endeavors—not to mention childbirth, which Norman Mailer quipped would never be anything a male could do.

Since time began, women aspiring to “male” jobs and occupations have been derided and disrespected as a consequence of their menstrual periodicity. Everything suspect, from womb-connected “hysteria” to lack of judgment and inferior cognition was assigned to the female, and used as a club to deny women representation in education, careers, the opportunity rung on the rigorous escalator of achievement.

But women, on the whole, are not the best candidates for firefighter roles, other than support. The heavier duties of carrying deadweight injured comrades, the upper-body strength needed for many of the tasks associated with the military, and the steadiness required to maintain combat positions in the face of withering fire and lengthy attack, are not the circumstances where women shine. To disagree that women are, in fact, different from men in these specifics is to live in a faux-construct—we have many strengths, but we are not gorillas, and we have different musculo-skeletal apparatuses and hormonal tides than men.

All this by way of explaining why Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s recent initiative to open some 328,000 combat jobs is a bad idea. The prospective groundbreaking decision overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule restricting women from artillery, armor, infantry and other similar combat roles.

Career advancement, yes, does often result from valorous action in war, and to date these emoluments and ribbons of glory have been male-only. But there are numerous reasons not aired in the miles of ink generated by Panetta’s (and the President’s) little change of definition of who qualifies for what in combat-forward posts and training.

As Ryan Smith, an ex-military (currently a lawyer) who served several battlefield tours in Iraq explains in “The Reality That Awaits Women in Combat: A Pentagon push to mix the sexes ignores how awful cheek-by-jowl life is on the battlefield,” there are egregious battlefront conditions that absolutely militate against women being crammed into such conditions.

If you rejoinder that “women can take it,” assuredly yes, we can. If we choose to subject ourselves to the glaring lack of hygiene, the days-long stakeouts without toilets, the long spans without proper bivouacking, the shattering noise and grime, and the eternal close quarters with men in the same clutch of duty, without end. But the esprit de corps that is critical to unit success in the military is broken by having women around—even expertly trained, above-average-strength women with top honors in pushups and hauling and obstacle-course running.

Women are great firearms experts. We win awards in shooting competitions year after year. And Annie Oakley is a proud estrogenic legend in the country. But shooting is not the sum of tasks in combat. More of the time, most of the time, is spent in awkward human-human contact that is uncomfortable, difficult, dangerous–and messy.

“I think people have come to the sensible conclusion that you can’t say a woman’s life is more valuable than a man’s life,” the retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught once said. But in the IDF, there is a recognition, as is only reasonable, that women are different from men. And they are child-bearers, and their status in society is different, obviously, from that of men. Those differences bring consequences that ignoring would be worse than folly on the part of military brass. Imperiling lives is the natural result of the congeries of elements making women in close combat quarters a decided and constant liability.

Israel’s top-notch IDF (Israel Defense Forces), acknowledged as one of the best fighting forces in the world, has long had women in their military services. But the jobs they are assigned to are predicated on what women can do without subjecting them to frontline bullets and man-on-woman infantry and the like. Women are recognized as child bearers, and hard-wired male consideration for women cold-cocks neutral equality on the battlefield. The addition of women into the traditional male-male mucky soup of war or defense changes the equation. Men are prone to gallantry instead of better moves that save themselves and their fellows. Gallantry has little place in the menu of man-hours fighting. It will, as many writers and analysts have observed, cost us lives. Needless lives lost.

And as for training, there are indications, even now, that standards will be lowered. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made reference to such lowered norms at a Pentagon press conference in January that will be used by critics of the decision to open up combat roles to women. The New York Times headline read: Gen. Dempsey hints–Bar likely lowered for female combat units.

No. Wrong. Lowered standards are automatic reasons for rejecting the ‘wisdom’ of this females-in-combat initiative. Women in threat conditions need the same training and the same reliability as men. Making women acceptably laxer or less tough is simply unacceptable, and works against the equality notion we have come to worship as the gold standard in all of our public life.

Sources say outgoing Sec. of Defense Panetta will announce his decision to permit female soldiers to participate in combat roles starting later in 2013. Special units like the SEALS and the Army’s Delta Force, will have until 2016 to document why they should qualify for an exemption to the new ruling.

While some women may be able to come up to the mark achieved routinely by male inductees, most simply won’t. How many women wrestlers, miners and construction workers are filing their tax returns, even in 2013? Not that many. This is not about to change any time soon, even with Pilates, Super-Spin and Zumba classes as the hottest gym tickets around.

Aside from the ineradicable problems of excreting and undressing or not undressing in the tightest quarters, body sores from lack of bathing and maintaining uncomfortable postures for hours on end—as is typical when armies are on the move, as was true with Desert Storm in Iraq, and will continue to be true, even with reduced military budgets.

Which brings us to the slash and burn budget curtailments of the newly re-elected president. President Barack Hussein Obama’s brutal budget slices have already, to hear every defense head of the Joint Chiefs, destroyed our retaliatory or offensive strength, such that we will be sitting ducks for a determined and especially asymmetrical force such as the ever-stronger al Qaeda in both the Maghreb–and wherever else you pin the tail on the map. Such carefully calculated cuts in military and tactical supplies, equipment upgrades, accessories and general provender have been detailed despite strenuous objections by the military charged with conducting their forces to exemplary effect.

This initiative is, it seems clear to this writer, another in the nefarious efforts of an obdurate administration that believes in nothing, very much, beyond their own peculiar and failed notions of “normalizing” the status of the United States into the mediocrity of their imaginings. This initiative, coming from the mouth of Leon Panetta, but fronting for the top dog of the Administration, is another in the pantheon of disastrous missteps along the lines of Fast and Furious, a Team Obama/Team Holder stab at disenfranchising the nation’s gun owners by virtue of trafficking firearms to Mexican drug mafias in hopes of public alarums against gun availability.

From a comment thread between David Brooks and Gail Collins of the New York Times: Now [women] wear fatigues and tote rifles. So the Joint Chiefs of Staff have bowed to reality and told Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that “the time has come” to stop excluding women from combat positions. The transformation won’t happen immediately, and it might not be universal. But it’s still a groundbreaking change. When the recommendation became public Wednesday, except for a broadside from the Concerned Women for America (“our military cannot continue to choose social experimentation and political correctness over combat readiness”), the reception seemed overwhelmingly positive. [Emphasis added.]

It’s hard to remember—so many parts of recent history now seem hard to remember—but it was the specter of women under fire that did more than anything else to quash the movement for an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution in the 1970s. “We kept saying we hope no one will be in combat, but, if they are, women should be there, too,” recalled Gloria Steinem. (Gail Collins excerpt)

Why? Fortunately for the country, the stunningly failed plot by the anti-Second Amendment President Barack Hussein Obama and the 82nd U.S. Attorney General, Eric Himpton Holder, who seemingly share an aversion to the continued hegemony of the United States, flopped. Big time. We have, of course, under this current Administration, yet to get a full accounting of the bluffing, intransigence and simple mendacity involved in this audacious and simpleton scheme, which resulted in deaths of many innocents, including our own Border Patrol agent.

In a Newsmax article by David A. Patten, ex-Navy SEAL Ryan Zinke comments:

Former Navy SEAL commander and Montana State Sen. Ryan Zinke reacted sharply [Wednesday] to news the Obama administration will drop the prohibition against women serving in military combat roles, warning it is “nearly certain” to cost lives.

A Republican who served in the elite SEAL Team Six, Zinke cautioned that introducing male-female dynamics on the front lines “has the potential to degrade our combat readiness.”

“I know there are some women who can do the physical training,” Zinke told Newsmax in an exclusive interview. “When I was a SEAL instructor, the Olympic training center is in San Diego, and I watched some Olympic-caliber women athletes run through the obstacle course better than certainly many of the SEAL candidates could do.

“These were quality athletes. So physically, I think there are some women who can do it. But the issue is what are the unintended consequences? This is not a Demi Moore movie.

This administration seems to excel in leakproof debacles that then leak, hurt the country, hurt our citizenry, hurt our prestige and standing abroad (Think: Benghazi. Think: Algeria) yet manage never to result in an open airing of underlying orders and ideological priming that created the specific imbroglio. Somehow they only reluctantly come under the microscope of the bemusingly slacker media.

Ex-SEAL Zinke also suggested that the decision appears to be hastily undertaken and fails to reflect a real-world understanding of combat.

“The hard truth of combat oftentimes is brutal,” he said. “It involves face-to-face, hand-to-hand, close-quarter battle. And I think we forget that. We’ve become so sensitized that warfare is wrapped up in a 2-hour movie featuring stars who always live. And that’s not how it really is.”

Zinke said the decision to open up combat roles for women should have followed “a longer national discussion than a simple executive order.”

“I’m disappointed that it was taken lightly, and obviously it was,” he said.

Zinke also addressed concerns that mixing men and women on the front lines could impair unit morale and effectiveness.

In the case of women in the military, the “jobs” that could be provided would be taken up by men, if women do not fill them. The record of this government in the past four years has not been exemplary in their job numbers, either assessing the jobs they “will” create, or the jobs they “did create.” Both facets of employment in the public and private sectors have been, at best, extremely dubious, and given to all manner of Howevers, and data manipulations. The current 7.8% unemployment, for instance, “forgets” four million jobless who have given up in hopelessness, but they have been expunged from the official jobless rate, as have minority jobless figures, which conveniently ignore long-term unemployed among minorities. The true jobless rate is likely twice the official 7.8% in most cases.

But regarding the women in combat issue, again, this is yet another stealth way of de-balling the one institution in the country that works well, at least until the advent of the scorching budget cuts de-man the military’s effectiveness as a defensive and offensive force. It is no secret that the military is the orphan-child of a President who has little use for defense. His failure to react to provocations against our people on a global scale is already a scandal, at least among those who love the country, if not among the glazed eyes of the fawning and subterranean-IQ news corps.

Women in the military, in combat-forward posts, will further compromise esprit de corps, will lead to a heightening of the already-notable rape and sexual harassment in the ranks, will lead without question to a rise in unwanted pregnancies and liaisons (wanted or otherwise), and will create, as per the law of unexpected consequences, a host of other unconsidered sequellae. Men in command units cannot act as they normally would if a female colleague is threatened or in trouble: That spells certain disaster. Female soldiers might not be able to rescue fellow soldiers when one is injured. Women experiencing their menses may be sussed out by sensitive dogs and/or detection devices, and staked positions in camo may be disclosed.

Seem unlikely? It is not. Hunters refrain from aftershave and perfumed soaps when on the hunt, as do professional anglers: Animals and even fish can detect an infinitesimal taint of sweat, scent, cosmetics and ointments in hunters and fishermen.

This is not even to broach the fearsome scenario of captured females in war theaters. What will be done to captured women soldiers, when what is done to our brave male soldiers beggars description and defies comprehension for normal humans? All other armies are all-male–what are the uneven results of having a male and female force confronting an all-male force? Tennis gives us a good idea: The mixed-gender loses to the usually superior all-male singles.

The men making the decisions are, in this unmilitary Administration, largely unacquainted with military needs and circumstances, the President included. They are also signally uninterested in correcting their unacquaintedness with the military life. They know it all already, no lessons needed, thank you.

Is there any out? Perhaps. As James Taranto wrote on this topic in his Opinion column in the Wall Street Journal, Panetta's decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

Net-net, our now-disemboweled military, with the addition of albatross women in duties for which they are unfit and unsuited, will be rendered a laughingstock. Exactly as apparently desired by the current, regrettable, Administration.

This is not “equal rights” for women. It is unacceptable wrongs, for men, and for women. Adoption of this foolhardy misstep will entail headaches, loss of efficacy, and needless deaths. Those in the military who know whereof they speak have already predicted “almost certain needless deaths.”

As a colleague once remarked to me, when she felt she was being shafted by our employers: The fornicating we are getting is not worth the fornicating we are getting.



 Remember the great Costa-Gavras political thriller from 1969, Z, which was so powerful in impact that even today it resonates in iterations of many a realpolitik lenser across the globe? NO bears a strong resemblance to its forebears. It is almost documentary in its unflinching reproduction of that time, the late 1980s, and place, Chile.

In that earlier film, after the murder of a prominent leftist, an investigator (Jean Louis Trintignant, sleek, young and gorgeous, as he does not any more in Amour, for all its current cachet) tries to unearth the truth while government pols scramble to cover up their participation and culpability in the murder.

In NO, a critically important work as much for what it reveals about our own relentlessly bullying and fraudulent leadership and the tricks it pulls to hide responsibility and machinations from the public, the script follows the tense efforts of subversive democratic free-thinkers to rid themselves of the torture- and murder-rife dictator, Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet (written PIN-O-8 on cars in the movie, referring to Pin + 8 = ocho = chet) after the 1973 coup displacing President of Chile Salvador Allende as head of a popular unity coalition of communists and socialists.

In the palace bombing, Allende mysteriously disappears, one of over 1,000 desasparacidos (the disappeared, numbering tens of thousands, one protest of which I witnessed in silent witness in town squares when I visited, hundreds of signs and photo-affixed placards held up by the mothers, sisters, wives and brothers of the vanished-by-government) who disappeared under the vicious mandate of Pinochet, never to be seen again.

Due to international pressure following reports of thousands of tortured and murdered and disappeared citizens under his watch, Chileno military bruteman Augusto Pinochet in 1988 was forced to call for a plebescite on his presidency. Should he "win," getting a popular YES, his presidency would be extended another eight years (unstated, but obviously: of more of the same).

Opposition leaders for NO persuade a brash adman (Gael Garcia Bernal) to spearhead the campaign for NO on the plebescite, which seems to have little hope of winning. Such is the bully pulpit of dictators who control most of the media and the low-interest, low-information citizenry. Or nameless leftwing leaders with media clamps in their pocket.

The script, exemplary for its representation of both sides of the effort to displace the dictator, provides insights on the Machiavellian doings of Pinochet's defender-domos, and the advertising and PR men, exemplified by the soulful camera-eye visage the intense Bernal, manufacturing film and tape and promotional efforts to wean the Chileno public away from frightened, knee-jerk votes to continue the murderous, genteelly rampaging Pinochet.

Unseating the all-powerful Pinochet seems to be an uphill mano-a-mano, as he counters the NO campaign with silly echoing la-di-da campaigns of his own that make the public shake their heads.

WAG THE DOG (1997) and, more recently, ARGO (2012), come to mind. The public is being manipulated cunningly by those adept in the memes of persuasion, cajolery and propaganda massaged with pretty faces and breezy photography. Camerawork, and acting are uniformly superior. Hard to discern, sometimes, whether this is a staged film or a documentary.

Most Americans have zero idea of the abuses of South American near-dictatorships. News stations rarely report on anything below Mexico, unless it is an Earthquake of epic dimensions. Newsmagazines? Scarcely today even picked up (Newsweek is now solely online–not that anyone cares), so whatever they report is long-ignored.

Perhaps one failing of the film is that the interior dialogues and discussions assume a level of sophistication and familiarity that might be entirely beyond the Beyoncé- and Kardashian-addicted crowds that jam the multiplex. NO is not for those low-brow types. They get the current burnt frankfurter-and-mustard likes of DJANGO and THE GUILT TRIP. Low-hanging fruit requiring zero knowledge beyond where to sit one's glutamus down.

It is startling to see clips of Christopher Reeves (before his terrible accident), the traitor Jane Fonda, and [my faux husband] Richard Dreyfuss, on air with their actual testimonials, back then–amazingly, on behalf of NO, the side the audience clamors to support.

Excellent film worthy of awards already promised.

Go to see NO?





Directed by Christian Petzold

With a time-frame starting back in 1980, the accumulating tension of time and place in Barbara begins as physician Barbara Wolff (Nina Hoss) arrives at a modest rural pediatric hospital in East Germany, clearly transferred there not with her acquiescence, from a prestigious hospital in Berlin by never-named Authorities. Her 'crime' is obliquely referred to as that she had had the unmitigated gall to commit a request for an exit visa.

What comes to mind is the Orwell book and film 1984 (1984), where remorseless monitoring, and literally rewriting reality into a never-was 'history,' are the norm. Adding to the received nerve-rattling classics of life under surveillance as the German The Lives of Others (2006), and 2007's Romanian 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days, director Christian Petzold—one of Germany's leading contemporary filmmakers—visits the perturbed, seething yet everyday calamities and wastes of the East German totalitarian era: Paranoia goes deep. But, heavily draped with an Iron Curtain, paranoia is entirely justified.

The Barbara we see for the preponderance of this meticulously reported could-be reality is cool to stand-offish with colleagues—even a handsome, responsive doctor named Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld) who gallantly batters against the wall of her reserve. No matter her remoteness from her physician coworkers, she comes to life with immediate sensitivity, professionalism and warmth when dealing with her sometimes desperate patients, who suffer from a plethora of socially induced ills. A century ago, these women would have been given a DX of "hysteria," but here, their paroxysms and longeuers have readily apparent etiologies. People cannot live healthily under constant fear, badgering, harassment and humiliations large and small.

We see from constant random body searches and intrusive shakedowns of her apartment that Barbara has ample reason to maintain her reserve. Anyone, everyone, in Cold War-era East Germany could be an informant or "a cadre" (as my grad students in China called class informants they surreptitiously, and cautiously, pointed out to me). Through another ocular, by the same token, anyone can also be an anonymous, clandestine hero. This however takes planning and cunning.

We see from constant random body searches and intrusive shakedowns of her apartment that Barbara has ample reason to maintain her reserve. Anyone, everyone, in Cold War-era East Germany could be an informant or "a cadre" (as my grad students in China called class informants they surreptitiously, and cautiously, pointed out to me). Through another ocular, by the same token, anyone can also be an anonymous, clandestine hero. This however takes planning and cunning.

With spare narrative and a dead-on sense of physical and emotional atmosphere, Petzold creates an unbearably vivid portrait of a period that, in the intervening decades, has come to seem strangely both current as well as fractured-old. Facial expressions do not alter with time, nor does the practice of medicine; even the era-clothing is not distinctive enough—as in the new American release about adoptive restrictions to non-typical couples in the early 1980s, Any Day Now, which shouts gaudy gauche gefehrlach post-psychedelic America to such an extent that you keep wanting to bring in the wardrobe mistress—to spank her for such transgressions against good taste. Filmed in strong mustards, greens, blues, it nevertheless reads like a grainy black-and-white feature of Russian 1950s vintage.

Filmed in the verdant, lush, blustery province of Brandenburg, Barbara is often ravishing to the eye, especially as the lithe eponymous character pedals through forests, windblown fields and country roads. As she appeared in the harrowing WW II A Woman in Berlin (2008), Hoss, who never smiles for the first two-thirds of the film, exerts an almost-hypnotic effect, drawing us in steadily to unveil a character whose single-minded goal, only gradually glimpsed, slowly yields to more, and more complex, issues. John Le Carré spycraft sensibility threads the story. Secrets are harder to keep when one's office, home and bodily orifices are searched at whim. As the story transmogrifies to assume the lineaments of a thriller, it might be open to debate whether the film ends the way Westerners are accustomed. Is it a 'happy' end? Such questions are often irrelevant to serious filmgoers, as they are noxious to fair consideration of the handling of important themes.

 This is not a manicured, made for TV all-ends-tied-together pastiche. In this sophisticated, deftly crafted portrayal of grass-roots Communistic realpolitik, Petzold leaves viewers with the sense that, when it comes to such events, people and issues, neat packages are rarely available. Nor, to be fair, ought they be.

The residuum is a silent acknowledgment that, indeed, some progress has moved the needle forward. Injustices and totalitarianism still exist, but a few of the worst have in time been ameliorated. There is some sort of hope in that.
In German. English subtitles.



 Throughout the year, you can run your maze of responsibilities, your jobs, your organic woes, your ironic little side-turns to absorb time we used to call hobbies. And you do it, you accomplish these daily To-Dos with as much dispatch as everyone else. More or less.

But comes the hols, those dreaded end-of-year false-cheer times, when people rush about buying unavoidable 'gifts' they can't get away with not buying. When doormen and concierges and mailmen and all the run of the necessary people we deal with have their smiles pasted on their warm and inviting palms. Tip or die, we might call that. They might make more in absolute terms than we, but Heaven succor you, sucker, if you fail to lard that particular bundt-cake pan.

For the average, which one believes is still the two-fer, the married duality of citizens, holidays is a grit and grin it and bear it. If in the rear-view mirror anyone accidentally admits they had a grand time with distant family and micro-universal friends from here and far, it seems, by the weight of post-holiday scrivenings, to be an anomaly.

Most people prefer the company of their nuclear selves, if they are well-married and well-childed. Even the Grinches in feathers and elongated nails have their preferred broods, and sit out the mandatory meals and avaricious present-openings with as much grace as can be mustered.

But the Single.

Now, we won't pretend that what was once the case, with a tiny sliver of the population being in the garb of the Star Wars creatures who could throw over their carefully coiffed heads a cloak of invincibility. No, the Single is now a huge demographic, like it or not. Particularly in the metropolis that get the most filmic exposure and the rivers of ink flowing into our still-breathing magazines and papers.

Singles can make plans, as they ought to, months in advance of the Chanukah/Christmas logjam of false merriment and hysteria, the flurry of swarming Happy! Jolly! Merry! That threatens to bury us before our time. Because though the days in January seem long and far before the horizon of the "the holidays," in fact they steal up pretty darned fast, and there you are, solo at the friend's table, alone at the vet's party with your shih tzu, hustling onto the Metro North to your aunts or cousins or nephew's aromatic, festivity-strewn homes.

Singles dread them. If they are not hooked up with a Signif. Oth., or a reliably haul-'em-to intimate partner, they are always the one at the tail end of invitations, at the nether end of the living room, at the "oops" side of the gift ledger. Not getting gifts is no calamity, of course. Most Singles can buy their own, we know.

But the prospect of yet another hilarity-imbued family or friend get-together where the preponderants are able to point to a spouse or cherubic Sunday-best-dressed kidlet is a quick killer. The data for self-send-offs are pretty clear—more people, probably solo, do away with themselves around the holiday period than at any other time. In nobody's book does the festival tranche engage Singles in an amplitude of joy and resolve: They are, /whoa/, again at the sideboard buffet, alone. Buying a ticket to the multiplex for the hot actioner, for one, then hiding companionably in the cozy bosom of the dark theatre, where no one can distinguish Matched from /Oy yey, still single?/

The single, in a sculpture, could be—not all, of course, but enough—anthropologized as a forward-leaning, vaguely huddled figure pressing his, and increasingly her, nose against a cold pane. The sculpture could be of bronze, as that is a suitable, enduring material, and well headlines the circumstance of the outsider who wouldn't like it to be so.

Of the great new possible holiday ideas, has anyone yet proposed a Singles week, or month, for those who give wedding presents to everyone, and never get anything back until or unless he/she ever manages to find a mate? For the millions who are perfectly unsubstance-abusing, relatively washed and shod and perfumed, yet have no one in their lives who can open that vault of loving feelings just waiting timorously to be opened and distributed in intensity borne of long sequestration (/not, /mind, the 2012 fiscal kind). Nah, because the namers of holidays, National Mushroom Day, National Chewing Gum Day, are married, and it never falls to their active creativity to cast a lasso to the ones pressing their noses to the wrought-iron gate of Everyone else.

Are these maudlin thoughts at a time when bells ring and smiles wreath the faces as leis bedeck the doors in MostTown, USA? Recent clerics in the received religions have doubted the existence, really, of Hell. Quite. No proof attends, and no one comes back with a cheeky Tweet to assure us it exists. But for Singles, Hell is a resident transparent reality existing side by side with the gratifyingly abundant life we lead in the 21^st century modern West. Hell is coping-through. Hell is Nobody-with. Hell is smiling-fast.

Singles have their own outreach programs by religious entities all too aware of the dichotomies of yoked, paired and unpaired, solitaries. But not everyone is within the compass of the religious outreaches striving to incorporate the not-hungry, not-destitute, but the flailing and annually sad.

Holidays evolved from holy days, of course. But for the Single, such periods of usually frigid temps and hurrying from transit to warm convivials and grog always making up for the parched absent embrace of someone else, holidays could as easily be spelled Wholly Daze. Wandering around in mandated visits, or alone, waiting for normalcy to re-descend. The tendrils of chugging into January's revived work or reconnoitered tasks, unremarked upon and anodyne.



 Jack Reacher

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Key to enjoying this competent and enjoyable flick is the fact that, one, Tom Cruise produced it, and his mother didn't spawn no laid-back fluke—he's not in the business of selling dogs; two, we are in the presence of a tightly crafted entertainment that aims to please, and it achieves just that.

A solid police procedural of a convoluted and ingenious crime, Reacher is a former USAF M.P. with Sherlockian powers of ratiocination. Hailed into a case of seeming mass murder, he immediately takes mastery of the mise en scene, baffling the defense lawyer (pert Rosamund Pike) who must patch together some sort of defense for the accused sharpshooter despite overwhelming evidence against him. We willingly suspend disbelief because Cruise/Reacher shows us how initial cut-and-dried judgments of who is guilty, why and how, can be…dead wrong.

Beyond the fun of a tsunami of testosterone (you feel like chewing 10-inch nails when you get out, even if you're a protected party fille in designer Louboutins), you have in the lead character, eponymous Jack Reacher, an update of the taciturn Alan Ladd Shane icon, a slightly more stateless cool Clint Eastwood. Man Alone. You get the idea.

Cruise's shrewd conceit is to strip his anti-hero hero of the lanyards of civilization today: While none of us can cruise through life without credit cards, jobs, telephones and bills, a change of clothes, a set of wheels—the whole connectedness matrix—the film asks us to accept that unlikely convention. Reacher is hard to reach, 'cause he lacks any of the usual tentacles of society making it so easy to Google or Wiki him blam in a tick. It further teaches us to accept his rootlessness. We do.

By this time in the ongoing saga of film's century we've seen enough crime thrillers to expect a chase, but this one's done by the hero—no stunt subs. The pacing is no shilly-shallying. And the script features a pilpulic intelligence: Reacher is encyclopedic in his grasp of the essentials, the details of any setting, the unstated unobvious. It's a Mensa tease-out to see him at lightning speed dismiss the supine superficial clue for the tertiary extrapolation of what something means. You try to out-jump him in his leaps from the evidence to what is really at issue. More fun than an SAT, Watson.

Add into the mix the droll, welcome appearance of crusty and lovable Robert Duvall; an authentic sonuvaB bad guy, Zek (Warner Herzog), that your skin crawls at the sight of; and an impressive if ambivalent D.A., Richard Jenkins. It's played out in Pennsylvania, too—no jamming up the bridges and back-roads of Gotham or LaLa Land, for a decided and relieving change.
Much of the flash-by scenery is dark, gritty, uncosmetized. Another aspect of the film is that it is devoid of scatology, a holiday surprise. And even more unusual, considering the lovely heroine, there is nothing you couldn't show to your maiden church-going aunt. Say what you will about the nutcase private sensibility of Mr. Cruise, under this film's game-plan, he pulls it off, as confident and maximally controlled as any Luke, Craig or Gosling.

No cursing. No smoking. No onscreen s-e-x. All right, it's not a perfect holiday bonbon. How compelling could such a flick be?


Caveat emptor: The film features gun violence that some will react negatively to, given the recent deplorable events at Sandy Hook.




Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Hunting Bin Laden: Zero Dark Thirty

Ultimately, though it is an inevitable Academy Award nominee, I found ZD30 suspenseful, well-complected—but unsatisfying in parts, and as a whole. Others will probably disagree with my assessment.

Even in midweek, at a midnight showing, the queue stretched all the length of the huge AMC across the street in Manhattan's Upper West Side. This is a movie that was pre-sold in a major way—not by ads, either.

It is not only the liberties taken with the objective truth of the event, the culmination of a decade-plus of intensive CIA and allied effort. Bigelow and her associates purportedly spent considerable time closeted with the oh-so-busy President getting secrets that ought not, in many people's view, to have been shared. Operational coverts have no business being bandied about in an entertainment as easily viewed by national enemies as by the neighbor's kid. Our SEALs and our national security are abridged and narrowed by such disclosures. All for a buck or a billion.

It is also not only the fictionalized so-called 'torture,' which is scarcely even in the ballpark of real exertions visited upon our servicemen in the field when taken prisoner by jihadi and related Middle easterners or Mexican drug cartelniks. As this stuff goes, it was not, to this reviewer, even reasonable or realistic. The intensive enhanced interrogations looked uncomfortable, to be sure, but torture? No. Even so, the interrogator, a handsome, bearded guy (Jason Clarke) who scarcely fit the image of the kinds of guys who get put into this gig, was somewhat…genial…while intimidating, occasionally bequeathing drink and food along with his threats and demands.

Littleinaccuracies, here and there, marred the whole.

Watching from not far away, Maya, the female CIA operative intel officer (interesting Jessica Chastain, in a career-making role) stood awkwardly with an unlikely cascade of strawberry blonde hair and somber expression. (Originally cast: With Rooney Mara, */The Girl/* */Who/*… franchise, in the key role, the movie would have been immensely different if she had accepted.) Though she is murmured about as a "killer from Langley," Maya looks upset and uncomfortable on site at each 'enhanced' interrogation—this is wrong. She is telegraphing her own feelings as an actress to the movie audience; she is not playing the 'killer' who can take whatever is dished out in the highly charged field of black ops in Pakistan, Afghanistan and similar wastes.

Having spent some time in both the American Air Force and the Israeli, I think her speech tone and texture sounded about right, but her posture and reactions semaphored wrong. The expectable gaping (a beautiful woman! In "torture" scenes! And the prisoner/interrogatee [French actor Reda Kateb] did not seem to take note?) and service sexism that exists in all such government anti-terrorism outposts was entirely absent, which struck a continuing false note. Maybe writer Mark Boal, whose film this is, was not sensitive to this obvious issue, but its absence through the 2-hr film clanged. /Uh uh./


Even a total professional, as Maya evidently is, would get hit on in a 99%-male environment. Correctly, she encounters skepticism along the way, dedicated and insightful and hard-working as she is. As Gandolfini as CIA chief says to an underling who wants to trust Maya's judgment because "she's smart," in the face of widespread skepticism, "Hey, we're /all /smart."

The 'story' of the long and often frustrating hunt for UBL is so well-drilled into the audience that much of the work storytellers have to impart was pre-accomplished if you read the papers or have a TV or net access. The film begins in voiceover headspace, total black-screen pierced by audio of voices, cries and soothing 9/11 operators to incinerating WTC victims.

The gadgetry and spy tradecraft was about right, and the SEAL teams, seen relaxing at base as well as in the suspense-tautened scenes of the actual attack, are well-schooled, if beefier and more grizzled than the Channing Tatum-models we envision.

We don't see anything of Maya's private life—she evidently has none. She is single-minded about her goal. Bigelow must have kissed the stars for finding this bon-bon of a gift to her movie; most such narratives are devoid of females of such importance to the story. Maya doesn't, like Angelina or ScarJo, kiss ass. She kicks major IT. As she doesn't answer another female intel operative, another beauteous op, Jessica (Jennifer Ehle), in the ill-fated Islamabad Marriott, who asks if she has any friends, we gather Maya has none. /Homeland/'s intense Carrie Mathison comes to mind, but here, minus the bi-polarity. Explosions and bomb effects in */Zero Dark/* are done very well, indeed.

Though the film shows dead ends and many snatched meetings with bigs in DC and along the decade-long trajectory of the narrative—including a welcome James Gandolfini as top general, to amused chuckles in the audience to see Tony Soprano suddenly elevated to such a high government post—the film is a tale of eventual success. The last half-hour is extremely well-done, though almost entirely in night-vision dim and green-light specialty goggles. The Angel of Death choppers are top of the line, but even as "quiet" as they could have been, how could they not alert the entire Abbottabad neighborhood? Which, of course, they did.

All that being said, and as deft as Bigelow and her tremendous crew clearly are, and despite the smattering of applause by the late-night SRO audience, I felt unsatisfied with the lacunae and drifts from actuality that I know were displayed. And I'm nobody.

We know the story in outline. We see the striving for telltales and leads come to naught. But the audience is all at the edge for the successful terminus, which gives the film more impetus than a regular entertainment offers. The conclusion, in this case, matters.

Is it worth a come-see? Assuredly. By the fanatic long lines even late at night, this is the pic to see. And probably 90% went out satisfied. But is it /all that/? Not so sure. Bigelow earns her stripes/, *The Hurt Locker*/ won Best Pic of 2008, and merited it. Moreover, probably few directors could have landed this baby as well as she. But somehow I think the hype is selling this sizzle more than the steak.



A Model, from anonymous

December 5, 2012 | 3 Comments

The best model I have for how the future will unfold is that of a "weakly" occupied country:

-The remaining enemy must be marginalized and denied growth opportunities

-Order maintained with a heavy hand (although without violence, as much as possible), those who are not with us are against us

-The "hero myths" of the Ancien Regime wiped out and/or turned upside down

-A new base of support and new institutions established

-Leadership enjoying the spoils of war without undue sensitivities

Kim Zussman writes:

This game is a perfect example of intelligent use of the source of power in democracy (majority rules):

Obama will only accept higher taxes on the minority (wealthy), which is supported by his constituency (the majority / non-wealthy)

The minority's representatives (house Republicans) lose in all cases. If they capitulate they will lose seats. If they don't, we go "over a cliff"– defined by Obama and the majority as increased taxes and decreased services for the majority — and Republicans will be to blame.



 Those familiar with Sacha Baron Cohen's sacrilegious work –"Borat" (2006) and "Bruno" (2009) will wonder why this film, "The Dictator"–not directed by the comic himself–made gargantuan strides into … nothingness. Hardly a soul saw it, and reviews arced from tepid to uninterested to quasi dire-warnings.

This then is the non-epic epic of a weaselly dictator who risks his life and limber length to ensure that democracy never gets to the desert country he so happily oppressed.

Though it got hardly a ripple in the critical columns, Sacha Baron Cohen's (vulgar but incessantly ribald) THE DICTATOR goes farther than any popular film (omitting the recent, much-criticized though unseen fraught "Mohammed video" trailer that may have spawned a reactive series of riots—not) at lambasting the deficits and negatives of life in the Arab Middle East. Naughty, profane, hilarious–but also prescient, no-holds-barred, and full of delicious ironies, DICTATOR is worth a gander, or a Netflix order, if you have a strong tolerance for some not-so-subtle digs at the foibles of the UN, diplomacy, our tolerance for the insane, and a little uneven but atypical romance, with a sprightly but naive Anna Faris playing the fervid "cute little boy" health crazy the dictator starts to work for in his effort to re-achieve his proper station in life.

If this nails your quirky late-night preference, you are invited to follow the giddy current adventures of a Middle east potentate of a country called Wahdiya who becomes displaced by his body double through a series of deliberate tricks and schemes of his major domo, Uncle Tamir, played elegantly and soberly by Ben Kingsley. As he tries to work his way back into power, and destroy the new Constitution his double will be signing, we follow him into the Waldorf, the new Apple store a block away from this reviewer, Brooklyn Heights and various tony watering holes of the clouted and privileged.

There are double-over laughs in nearly every scene, a mirage of a fantastic Wahdiya palace shimmering in the desert somewhere (perhaps Spain). Scenes from the months-old film are startlingly current, and especially the scenes in the UN could well have been time-jumped back to the filming of this silly-tickle outing. And made just about the same appeal to rationality and discernment as did the real goings-on in Oyster Bay.

If laughing is your game this week, given the fumbles in NFL football, you might aim your remote at THE DICTATOR.

"Much fool may you find in you, even to the world's pleasure and the increase of laughter."

/All's Well That Ends Well 2.4. 34-35/




Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Joaquin Phoenix as the skanky ex-WWII sailor, Freddie, who falls under the sway of The Master played by Philip Seymour Hoffman has a broken-backed posture that is ape-like, consistent throughout the film. His arms curve down, into his unhealthily skinny, strange parenthesis of a body, like a starved gorilla's, ready to break someone's skull—if they say or do anything that runs counter to Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd, a Hemingway-cum-L. Ron Hubbard amalgam with all the animal charisma, robustness and pseudo-sagacity of those epic characters. Is his Master at peace with such overreach? Dodd waggishly calls Freddie a "naughty boy" after such explosive incidents of lethal enforcement: Here is his useful tool for control of others.

Dodd's "processing" of the Id that is Freddie is not a cost-free transactional process. Freddie's mother is institutionalized. His sexual hunger is about debasement, not lust. He is a composite of a feral wild animal.

The unhinged, barely civilized Freddie meets the happily idolized Dodd as a stowaway in the latter's boat as it rounds from San Francisco through the Panama Canal, up to NYC. It is the 50's. Hoffman cannily corners the near-savage bootlegger Freddie for his own purposes, in a dysfunctional dynamic that manages not quite to quell the furtive Freddie of his internal demons and bad parentage. Freddie does not even require direction from the force-field puppeteer, Dodd: He easily slips out and kills those who question the conman cult-meister of The Cause, a shoo-in for takeover -ologies like Scientology.

The film has ravishing setpiece after setpiece befitting the accomplished director of BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997), MAGNOLIA (1999)—which shares this film's excoriation of strata of perhaps-corrupt society, and the grim hematology of THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007). Here, though the performances by the principles, including a primly demonic Amy Adams as Dodd's steely controlling, artificially beatific wife, Peggy, we are at a loss as to why all this energy and fury are expended for a topic that, distanced by some 60-odd years, means less to us than his prior cinematic subject matter did. Other than the news wagged by the Cruise shocker divorce initiated by a fed-up Katie Holmes, what meaning does the film convey, except to beware of Elmer Gantry-esque charlatans selling snake-oil "cures" for personality defects? In a parallel that may escape notice, Freddie has concocted a powerful alcoholic quaff that he sells to the eager unsuspecting. Like highly bruited China's exported foods adulterated with sweet melamine that go undetected until a baby or pet somewhere dies, Freddie makes his power likker using 'sweet' but toxic derivatives that pack a bigger punch, shall we say, than the average mini-umbrella cocktail.

There are anguished scenes involving de-programming effects that are treated the way Roman audiences at unfair gladiator vs. hungry lion spectacles were treated, or like the inane wealthy viewers of THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) were treated: These are just tickle your fancy entertainments, although we know, if we have an iota of decency, they are immoral and a crusty abuse of decency. There is a 'dream' sequence involving an entirely unnecessary signing Dodd, complete with naked ladies and fully clothed men. It serves no purpose other than as a fevered interlude for prurient rise in testosterone. Or whatever. I found it utterly unredeemed by anything preceding or following it. It could as easily have been excised and the film lose nothing.

The verbal and acting hijinks on screen immobilize the audience, but no good comes of it. You watch with queasy disgust, find yourself reacting with distaste and a push-pull desire to leave, while wanting a satisfactory resolution. Which never arrives.

Though MASTER is up for several European awards, chiefly for the two protagonists going at each other with such implacable force and verbal weapons, you leave your seat angry, uneasy, unsatisfied and perturbed. This is not to say that the filming itself does not capture the time it deals with. There are striking tableaux every few minutes. The jail sequence between Freddie, crashing his toilet out of rage, juxtaposed against the calm, almost professorial Dodd, standing with elbow crooked against the upper bunk of his neighboring cell, is a classic-to-be. But let Europe choose its poison: This is a masterfully filmed ugly film that does not teach us anything we did not already know, nor provide us with an elevating entertainment. It's one reason one avoids horror films—we know what there is coming, and if gore is not your chosen menu du jour, you steer clear.

Reactions range from robotic admiration for the many technical proficiencies, the cinephile's gotta see it, to the view that the protagonists are busy chewing the scenery and the movie as a whole is a visual feast but a mess.

To the extent that audiences buy in to this feast of sordid and nasty, we need worry about the direction of the population. TV is free, relatively speaking. To pay to see this, dragged into this muckish spectacle, is a judgment one must anguish over. The inkling of good the film might supply is the wakening of millions to the dangers posed by demonic and ungloved movements (and 'leaders') like Scientology, which historically stop at nothing to silence their detractors.

Is Anderson subtly signaling that we are blindly following the lemming example of a latter-day Pied Piper? Or is this just a movie?



 There is an old German phrase: Mann tracht; Gott lacht.

Roughly translated, it means Man proposes; G-d disposes.

This gritty, arresting mise en scene in the deep Carpathian woods in a wintry mid-Europe shifts from bardeau to bardeau. It starts as an actioner, shifts to a quirky comedy between the two dumbkopf hired killers, cycles to a torture spectacle, finally to an opera buffa of crescendo'ing blood and unexpected peripety (as the Greeks used to call it).

Two men, Walter and Micky–one of whom has erred in a simple rubout–are hired for what they are told will be essentially a walk in the woods kill gig deal. Plus they can, they are told, build snowmen. Hike. No real details, but their comfort with guns and silencers will be, they think, put to easy and uncomplicated use. It does not work out that way. They encounter the unaccountably out of place and sexy girlfriend, Sybelle, of tough-guy entrepreneur Berger, their employer. They are not good handling the days of waiting, enticed by alcohol, deep woods, the no-tell-hotel, and drugs, vistas of drugs. It takes days before they even learn what it is they are expected to do. Events before, and after, do not go smoothly. Sybelle is not what they had anticipated.

The gorgeous stenography of trees and snow, stark photography of pristine pines amid depths of snow, an exquisite ice-storm weighting down the branches of thousands of trees, a lonely hotel in the midst of nowhere, makes this an eerie metaphor for man against enemy nature, as well as man against man.

The protagonist we are first sickened by becomes the one we soon identify with. The goofball assassin partner, impressionable skinny Micky, we first like, we soon turn against. The implacable rich man experiences his comedown–and the hired gorilla-body man tries to out-think his boss in a fizzled-out mutiny.

It may start out a genre film, but swiftly transcends itself into a complex examination of turn and turnabout, resistance, keeping one's counsel in extremis, and the quirky results of not over-reaching, over-acting, or over-thinking one's predicament…

… But getting the hell out of the way of those even more bloodthirsty and disordered than one started out. A spare but provocative rumination for the un-faint-hearted.

Made in 2010, SNOWMAN has been on the shelf for two years. We can hear from the dialogue all the impacts US slang and culture has on German patois and issues. The music, often at amusing variance with the onscreen bloodletting, is in English sometimes, as well as in German. There is a contrapuntal lightheartedness in the early narrative voiceover. Mid-film descriptions, diagrams and explanatory freeze-frames add to the sang-froid, as it were, if not the seriousness of the proceedings.

In German, English subtitles.




Directed by Anne Kauffman
Written by Greg Pierce

Tucked away directly above the Vivian Beaumont, in a brand-new intimate theatre seating fewer than 132, is an inaugural new piece called "SLOWGIRL." It stars the longtime stage and screen character actor, Zeljko Ivanek, and (relative) newcomer, Sarah Steele. The story occurs on a long week of days in the Costa Rican jungle (FYI: This reviewer spent a while there while living in San Jose, capital of Costa Rica).

Zeljko plays the reclusive, loner uncle of his niece, a wise-acre, smart-mouth Californian late-adolescent who has been sent down to stay with her uncle in his isolated hideaway until things cool down back home, where she has been accused of a serious crime involving the death of a schoolmate. As we learn as the play proceeds, the laconic, self-sufficient uncle has a few secrets of his own involving stock dealings and partners, money disclosed and money undisclosed. Circumstances and precise stories evolve slowly, as the two mostly unacquainted relatives spend time in the wooden shack–drinking, smoking, reacting uneasily–surrounded by trees, geckos and various creatures of the forest. They talk. Truths emerge, fragmentedly. Playwright Greg Pierce is a fierce, assured voice; there is little humor, much menace and unfolding as the no-intermission play unfolds. Both characters are exceptional in their roles.

We don't know what to think, but raptly go along for the uncoiling of secrets. There are hints of actions and interactions that make brief appearances, but surprise the viewer by veering in another direction from what one expects … or fears.

There are no easy answers to the ethical considerations brought up by the protagonists. It is a great evening at the theatre, enhanced by the wooden lanai right nearby that lends an unwonted view of the Lincoln Center Fountain and plaza, and abetted, if you have a mind, by cocktails or bocas at the well-appointed little bar inside near the terrace. Also a factor: In an earnest to encourage new demographics attending the theatre, The Claire Tow Theatre, the diadem of the LCT3 effort devoted to producing the work of new writers and developing new audiences for Lincoln Center, makes tickets available at $20 per. "SLOWGIRL" mark's the playwright's New York debut production.

The roof complex was designed by Hugh Hardy, and offers valuable rehearsal and office space as well as the attractive open-air deck. Pierce's first production was performed last year at Scotland's Edinburgh theatre festival. My companion (usually a hard-to-satisfy hombre) and I spent an intense while afterwards discussing aspects of the play.

The theatre was understandably packed for the evening. Get tickets well in advance if you want to see America's newest theatre, in a taut, well-directed, contemporary mise en scene. Now through 29 July.



 What a glorious graffito of glamorous niceness NYC can be. Case in point, Thursday, 28 June. (When one needed a relief from Supreme Court doings of earlier that same day…ugh.)

Acquired two tickets for a reception and play for 6 pm, down at the Manhattan Theatre Club on West 43rd. The producers seek to make Hell's Belles into a perennial song-fest and fun evening like the long-running Forbidden Broadway (since 1982!) or the equally jolly perennial Nunsense (from 1985). They plan to open it for four perfs a week at a 150-seat house, Off-Broadway.

Having seen both Forbidden and Nunsense, I think the producers here have a safe bet–this is nonstop laughter and giggles.The reception was wine, cheese, chunky chip cookies, crackers, gooey Devil dogs, and soft drinks–with women in purple hair and exotic duds greeting each guest, welcoming comers to the evening. The revue, at 6:30, a cabaret in Hell for the more famous denizens of the deep, following the reception, was an hour of hilarious songs and movement.

The revue called "Hell's Belles" features hilarious quick-change sketches of famous people in Hell. Included: Eva Braun ("I saved hitler's [sic] brain"–hands-down favorite for this viewer), Janis Joplin ("Sex, drugs, booze–and Rock 'n' Roll"), Marilyn, Queen Guinevere ("I-N-F-I-D-E-L-I-T-Y"), Judy Garland, Lizzie Borden ("I got off scott-free–because I had a good LAWYER!"), Bette Davis & Joan Crawford ("I am twice as camp as you!"), Eva Peron ("Andrew Lloyd Webber made me famous") Princess Di ("All the best people are here"), Calamity Jane, Lady Godiva et al. Lyrics were screamingly funny, and the MC, Lester, was the devil. The three multi-talented female singers changed clothing, hats, capes, etc. They were in fine voice, and were not afraid to be funny, ridiculous or hilariously scathing.

When it was finished, I raced uptown to the Paris, where I was seated in the VIP section next to one of the Damages producers, I noted. SRO seating, and many speeches from directors, producers, etc., in a very posh crowd, indeed–lots of bling, of sky-high heels (among them, Glenn Close, who seems shorter than I am, but wore 6" heels, so she came up to my navel). The new season of the riveting law-and-mayhem series itself was dark and terrific, tense and dramatic, with gorgeous Boston backdrops–features Ryan Philippe, a terrific Jenna Elfman, John Hannah and gorgeous Rose Byrne as well as the pluperfect villain, Glenn Close, all did themselves proud. Afterwards, all these fab folks walked the 30 paces to the Plaza, where all ate and drank deep into the sweltering night.

A great, quintessentially NYC evening.



 Rock of Ages

Directed by Adam Shankman

"Rock of Ages," the long-run Broadway jukebox musical set to beloved 1980s power bubble gum ballads and demographic-cohort anthems, takes place in the '80s, when bands were still found in the smoke-wreathed clubs downtown, in CBGB's or along Los Angeles' Sunset Strip. No CDs or instant call-up of music that played subliminally in your iPod zonked-out consciousness 24/7. In times when record emporia were places to scumble through racks of LPs. Remember Tower Records?

Set in LA, 1987, rocker Drew (Diego Boneta) and ingénue songstrice Sherrie (Julianne Hough) are two new starry hopefuls chasing their (never before heard-of Hollywood-make-it-big-in-music) dreams in the City of Cynicism. When they meet, these two pluperfect examples of give-me-a-break, it's amour at first meet, though their romance will face a series of hurdles and setbacks. Yawn.

The film is a not-humorous graft of affectionate smirking homage and snarkily subsumed copycat for such icons as Journey, Foreigner, Guns N' Roses and Pat Benatar. It features such bastions of humility as Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones and music-sirenista Hough, attractive young talent Boneta and the ever-commercial skeevy agent played by Paul Giamatti. Almost unrecognizable as a philandering, masochistic husband, also a secret cuckold, is the intense actor Bryan Cranston, who has won Emmy plaudits for his TV persona as a drug-manufacturing chemistry prof, in Breaking Bad. Mary J. Blige's strip-club owner, who hires the perky Hough to "waitress" as she struggles to make it in Hollywood, does not exist at all in the stage play, like Zeta-Jones' character. Even in the film, one can't really see a reason for Blige's inflated role. One sign the script will be unreal: The minute Hough arrives in Hollywood, her suitcase is snatched by a sharky passer-by. Bloomy Hough frowns for a nanosecond, then proceeds to wear dozens of wardrobe changes from no money and no luggage.

I write "not humorous" because, aside from a very few visual pokes, such as Tom Cruise's bejeweled dragon codpiece, self-adulatory tats and tuchis-cutout chaps, and scruffy Alec Baldwin's mockup of a discovery I-have-feelings-for-him duet with over-the-top Brit Russell Brand, there is little to make anyone with a gamma-plus IQ laugh. Still, Baldwin and Brand are at least smile-worthy for going along so gamely.

The songs are of course winners, but the production is 'way over-tweaked, over-teased, over-something'ed. There does not appear to be a genuine emotion in the entire 2 hours. In the play, BTW, Catherine Zeta-Jones as a Tipper Gore-like scold does not exist. And Tom Cruise's role as the hyper-sexualized, tattoo'ed louche druggie Stacee Jaxx has a role no bigger than child-killer Casey Anthony's post-legal popularity in the stage play, like the energetic and talented Cath Zeta-J, who does her best with a singer/dancer yet still hackneyed role.

Whoever the high-priced talent, the film is like a two-polished speech: There is nothing fresh, nothing surprising. It is a stylized caricature. We've seen it all before, and we liked it not that much the first two dozen times.

The Cruise turn is at least amazingly seductive, more pronounced in his erotic squalor and vocal excess than his "Magnolia" (1999) huckster. His bevy of half-dressed bimbos and his half-cocked sensibility are more of the same: What Hollywood erzatz think a hot time consists of. And there might be truth to the blitzed-out druggie stupor and the lack of ethical dimension. He has a particularly libido-drenched interlude with a 'prim' Malin Ackerman, a reporter for Rolling Stone, to Foreigner fave, "I Want to Know What love Is." She never comes across as anything other than a comely starlet barely managing to keep her knees together, not a reporter from anything. But who cares?

Tulsa Sherrie befriends a sweet barristo name of Drew (Boneta), as a troupe of disapproving housewives protest 'filth' outside the Bourbon club where it all happens. Zeta-Jones's "Thriller" swivels–in a bravura production number of Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," in a church, no less–exemplify fleeting amusements that provide an otherwise-becalmed exercise in overproduction momentary lift. (Others arrive courtesy of Baldwin and Brand, as well as Cruise and Malin Ackerman, whose libidinous duet of Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" is staged for goofy indulgence more than explicit humpty-rumpty.) Throughout, sartorial excess, audial excess, booty excess.

Director Adam Shankman makes the camp and kitsch pile on for the demographic aimed at, but it is hardly worth the popcorn. "Rock of Ages" is chockablock treacly in add-on dead-ends, predictable snafus and theatrical numbers that are all too obviously pickups from the stage show. It goes on and on, per the trigger Journey song. And more than anything else, the word vulgar comes up as the aptest adjective for the entire endeavor.

As much fun as it is to watch Cruise, Giamatti, Cranston and Brand/Baldwin self-deflate at their own typical personae, "RoA" jumps the shark rather early, and never achieves the deft humor, release or gaiety it strives so sweatily to attain.

And if you're of the exeunt from Egypt faith, utilizing the name of a timeless Hebraic paean to immortality and perseverance seems a bit uncalled-for, too, you ask me.

Lots of sexual innuendo, pole dancing, drinking, drugging and profanity.



 MIB fandom: This third installment of the alien-fighting franchise headlined by the lovable duo, slick Will Smith as Agent J, and dour Tommy Lee Jones, Agent K, still wows with jaw-dropping CGI special effects, terrific galaxy-saving home-office somewhere on Wall Street, with ever-more incidental extraterrestrials tickling the retinal funnybone—including the small-fry skinny gold instrument-playing worms we loved from the first MIB–with the clipped, understated Emma Thompson in a comedic cameo as Agent O. Her younger blonde self is played Alice Eve. (One–<sigh>–misses Rip Torn, however.)

This time out (pun intended), hunky Josh Brolin does a head-turning rollout as the younger Tommy Lee Jones, giving a tiny bit of back-story to his usual laconic dryness. This segment installment of the enjoyable partnership presents us the ugliest villain, yet. When so many films are competing to out-ugly each other in the bad-guy department, having one this memorably alarming is an achievement of sorts. Boris the Animal is done by Jemaine Clement, who gives Hannibal Lector a run for his money in terms of hideous amorality and resentful nastiness to his captors on Earth. SNL standout Bill Hader is comfortably acceptable as a 60s icon, unrecognizable as Bill Hader.

Boris the Animal breaks out of major security in a remote, really inhospitable Moon prison keep, and threatens to destroy the Earth as his genus or whatever have in the past destroyed every planet they have hit upon in the galaxy. Scenes take place on the Moon, NYC, Coney Island, the Chrysler Building and Chinese restaurants cum aquaria, with hugely unappetizing “foods” available for the intrepid and undiscriminating. MIB HQ is, as ever, evocative of the brilliant architectural innovations of Eero Saarinen. J must go back in time to rescue his partner, K, from Boris' depredations.

Fewer laughs fly in this one, though the faster you are, the more likely to get the zingers that occasionally loop out at the audience–but also nothing in the way of blue language. The scripting is a lot darker, less larky than the first time our hearts went to these intrepid invader-fighters. It’s safe to bring the kids, if they can sit without fidgeting for the elimination of many alien life-forms in refreshing explosions of spectacular slimy goo. The love (=sex) interest here is exceedingly curtailed, a throwback to pre-movie code primness. Basically, don’t go expecting erotic stuff, as there is exactly none—the plot gets its kicks from time travel back to 1969, where we can comfortably amuse ourselves at the extended makeup, Andy Warholiana, and Hippie cool of The Scene. But for the fact that it’s not really true, the residue from the film is that there is not that much difference between 45 years ago and today, except for the miniaturization of cell phones and the tamping down of hairdos. Not everyone will want to be tickled, and it is always a treat to be in the presence of Smith, Jones and Brolin.

No Afghanistans, Syrian massacres of protesters or Egyptian elections. No Occupy foolishness. No terrestrial debt-ceiling headaches. Not even any Army or Marines–our heroes manage touts seules.

The good-natured biff-bam-boom offing the bad-guys that our black-suited designated alphabetic agents preside over is less taxing than the heavier hardware of many contemporary films, which is a small triumph in itself. The credit roll, BTW, had almost everyone in the non-industry audience sitting put, hoping for a post-credit scene or outtakes: Uh-uh. One assumes then that this is the last of the series.

Still, not a bad evening at the celluloid altar.




In Association with National Basketball Association

Directed by Thomas Kail

Written by Eric Simonson

Juggling. That’s what comes to mind as you sit transfixed by the terrific new play at the Longacre.

Juggling gets its power from two things: The juxtaposition of multiple balls or knives or bowling pins in the air, simultaneously, as the performer in front keeps up a running patter. And keeps those heavy, dangerous things in the air at all times.

With your expectation that they’ll fall. Especially if you’re sitting in the front row.

You hold your breath, convinced the agile guy doing his thing will ‘drop’ them, and all the whizzling, whirling heavy things in the air will plop, maybe onto your lap. Maybe into your face.

Just so, this fascinating study of the well-known animosity between the hoop greats, Louisianian Larry Bird, and the equally fantastic Michigander, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, in a terrific long one-acter by Eric Simonson. The stage design accommodates the sport by having two pneumatic backboards with fixed hoops revolving onto the stage for many of the scenes featuring the two main characters. They do lay-ups and toss basketballs from various angles into the hoops. (Are they gonna miss? Will I get hit in the head, since I’m right next to them?)

They don’t. They are big guys. They have big hands. They command the ball, the stage—and you.

Peopling the stage is a cast of wonderful actors, black and white, with accents from French Lick to LA to Boston. They are hoopsters, managers, barristas, moms, the greats themselves, assistant coaches, media egos, and friends of the Celtics and Lakers. The action takes place from 1979 through to the present. Along with the net contrivance are screens and scrims that show you the actual games, foul lines, interviews and rivalries as they were telecast back in the day. The woman next to me, some sort of Celtic fanatic, grunted and feverishly repeated the wins and losses, hoarsely whispering: That was the actual game! That was when it was happenin’!

And as terrific as are all the revolving characters onstage, you soon realize they are just six dazzling (mostly very, very tall) people, doing a whole mess of roles. As we know, Larry Bird was a whiz, but was, let’s face, it, pretty doofy looking. The guy playing him onstage, Tug Coker, is much handsomer, a Nordic stony-faced monolith, as taciturn as Magic (played by the generous Kevin Daniels, who actually wrote to thank me for my rave Tweet praising him) is gregarious and winning.

Another thing that hits you as you watch, not far from spellbound, is that with most plays, even titans like Tennessee Williams or Eugene O’Neill–let alone a Mamet, Shepard, Athol Fugard or Albee—they have their emotions cooked into the play. Absent the characters’ doing a creditable job onstage, you aren’t all that involved or moved. The pyrotechnics are on the boards, or you are becalmed in non-reactive dormancy. But because, even to a sports illiterate, we know the cultural givens of our beloved (or be-hated) cultural icons, the emotion can be far more nuanced and subterranean than in the flaunt-it! characterizations of most Broadway vehicles, Off-Broadway pleasers, or even your perennial straw-hat circuit faves.

What a delight to hear and see the laconic answers of this largely outstanding dramaturgic team, and yet laugh with knowing—we remember or have seen the stuff that went on before and after these captured onstage moments. You bring to it a lifetime of hearing the dish, reading the gossip and watching the blah-blah. We revel in the life given to them here, in the grainy film clips from TV and game telecasts, or as a clearly non-Bryant Gumbel (Francois Battiste) squeaks out some freeze-frame datum or other about the latest Celtic-Laker win, loss or rival moment. The managers’ (Peter Scolari as Pat Riley and Red Auerbach) devotion to their charges is evident. Bird’s mother’s obsessional stats-awareness (a spectacular Deirdre O’Connell) is hilarious, homey and believable. Bird is a stoic, totally taciturn tall presence (though miles more good-looking than his alter ego). Magic is engaging, lovable and delicious. We are let in on their ailments, aches and sprains and more … dire … diseases.

A particularly risible moment came amidst a two-fer argument between the two rivals, as offstage, a huge roar went up, and the two ball-players looked at one another and, simultaneously, knowingly dipped their heads, grimaced, and mouthed: “Michael…”

Credit where credit is due: The writing is not flashy but is constantly first-rate. Even without an intermission, two words sum up this welcome arrival on West 48th Street: Slam dunk.

At the Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th

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