Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I Ain't Gonna Stand For It

Why do people stand for God Bless America? It's a pop song for crissakes! When the Philadelphia Flyers' fans of the 1970's adopted the Kate Smith version as an anthem of sorts, back when the Broad Street Bullies fought their way to the Stanley Cup, it was a perverse claiming of a schmaltzy chestnut as statement of identity. But since 9/11, when the Yankees had Ronan Tynan sing GBA, it has taken on an air of the holy. People were already standing for the 7th-inning stretch, why sit now? God Bless has become such a quasi-anthem that the New York Police once ejected a fan for going to the bathroom during its singing. That the scofflaw was a Red Sox fan may have more to do with it than the perception of insufficient patriotism.

I rail at this, but this Paul Revere horse has left the barn. There's no getting back to the idea that God Bless America is merely an Irving Berlin ditty, written for the Hit Parade. I tried explaining this at a recent Rotary meeting and was met with dagger stares. It's getting worse. Yesterday, Rotarians, haltingly at first, stood for the singing of America, the Beautiful. First, one, then two, then, guiltily, a few more, until the tide was irresistible. We all arose and I stewed. What can you do?

What's next? Should people stand when they hear Simon & Garfunkel's America? How about James Brown's Living in America? It has "America" in the title AND was featured in Rocky IV. What a red, white and blue juggernaut! And what about the songs from the group America? I won't stand up for A Horse with No Name, I assure you.

However, I could be convinced to rise for Sister Golden Hair.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Music and Movie Thoughts

From, say, 1983-1993, I was 100% devoted to jazz. The managers of Slipped Disc Record Co-op at SUNY-Binghamton were given free records instead of a cash stipend. Some geniuses well before my time as General Manager devised a point system that maximized the amount of records we could take to gibe with the equivalent cash value of a similar campus job. After one year as GM, I had fairly well maxed out my pop and rock needs and, looking for a new musical outlet, I tried jazz, loved it, and that was that for the next decade.

The only exception I made was for new releases by old favorites: McCartney, Dylan, that sort. I knew I was missing out on bands I really liked, but choices had to be made. I find myself catching up now, buying bulk lots of instant record or CD collections on eBay. It takes a bit of patience, but I'm making my way towards fixing that hole.

The Smiths are one of those groups I liked but never bought. I had entire John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins catalogs to make my way through! There was no time, or extra money, for Meat is Murder. Yet, lately, The Smiths are all I hear in my head. If I listened to "Half a Person" once this morning, I listened to it five times. Don't get me started on "Girlfriend in a Coma," which seems to be swirling all around me the last few weeks. So, as I watch and wait, looking for all The Smiths albums in one fell swoop, I'll keep playing Louder Than Bombs and watching You Tube clips. I will end up with all their records eventually.

I've seen every Marlon Brando movie save two or three. There are lots of stinkers in his canon, but Brando is always a sight to see and one scene can make the time well spent. Crapfests like Morituri (or, Saboteur: Code Name Morituri) are made memorable by Marlon moments. Robert DeNiro had that skill for some time, but now that his acting skill has been reduced to the permanent Focker grimace and mugging that was once comedically fresh (Midnight Run) but is now annoying and pathetic, Bobby has become almost impossible to watch.

It's Edward Norton that is the real heir to the Brando throne and, paired with DeNiro in Stone, it shows. Norton's convict of the title is deep, inscrutable, and natural. DeNiro, as his parole officer, can't keep up. It' s hard to believe I could write that but it's true. The film itself is mediocre, but Norton is what makes it worth watching. There is one scene, towards the end, when DeNiro gives up on believing in Norton's character. It's old time great DeNiro and coupled with still great Norton is brilliant work.

Harry Potter. I've never read the books and when I'd hear adults tell me they read them and "they're really good," I have no doubt. But, you know, it makes me sick.

"You're an adult," I scream internally," read Crime and Punishment or something. Half Blood Prince is where you make your mark on reading? And go no further? Come on, don't be so infantile." Exhale.

The movies are OK, but each one's marginal return is less and less. I finally saw Deathly Hallows Part 1 last night and it was fine. It was the first one in the series I hadn't seen in the theater and it was good enough that I didn't regret the time spent. A little too much Lord of the Rings-y for me. Could Dobby be any more Smigel-like in concept, or the Horcrux that, when worn, makes the wearer behave badly? "Precious" anyone?

I know we're all supposed to believe in the love triangle of Harry-Hermoine-Ron, but does any sentient being over the age of 10 believe in the sexual chemistry between any of those three dweebs? Seeing Weasley with his shirt off is enough to make me call in the Death Eaters.

I have no reason to see these films other than completing the set, and I will dutifully see Part 2, but I can't say when. It'll definitely be without any enthusiasm.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A Cry in the Casey Anthony

A mother, baby daughter dead under mysterious circumstances, is pilloried by the public and press. "Of course she did it, just look at her. Her story makes no sense, her emotions are off." Casey Anthony? No, I couldn't give a shit about her or her case. Thousands of injustices are perpetrated every year in our judicial system and more innocents than that are victimized. Is it because she's white trash and the salivating public can feel superior to her wanton ways? Again, I don't give a shit.

It's ironic that we sat down last night to watch A Cry in the Dark, the 1988 Meryl Streep vehicle, made timeless by Elaine Benes' "Maybe the dingo ate your baby" line in Seinfeld. Robbie wanted to catch up on courtroom classics and this was one of them, and one of the few I've never seen.

Director Fred Schepisi does wonders weaving the mass reaction to Lindy and Michael Chamberlain's possible murdering of their baby girl Azaria. This true Australian crime story came to a head just months before the movie's release. It's both gripping and off-putting, much in the way that the main characters are. As parents they are a messed up pair of religious zealots and weirdos. Streep is top-notch, Sam Neill is too, and I learned that Ozzies of both sexes were very much into tube socks in the early '80's. This, more than anything, is what I'll take away from the movie.

The DVD we got from Netflix was cracked straight across from center to edge. I assumed it wouldn't play at all, yet it did, for over an hour. Then it stopped. We were left in limbo yesterday, not knowing the truth, the courtroom scene about to begin as the film froze. Now, we'll have to wait for another copy to see how it all played out, whether the parents were guilty or not. The verdict is still out, the result of a faulty piece of media.

How's that for symbolic resonance?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Why Remake?

What's the point of a remake? A new artistic twist, a la The Killers morphed into Pulp Fiction? No argument from me. The Americanization of a foreign plot, say The Seven Samurai, converted to a more comfortable western setting (The Magnificent Seven). Again, I've got no issues. Still, you've got to say something different to make it not merely an economic cash-in or an "American audiences are just too dumb for a foreign film" re-do.

The Coen Brothers' True Grit is a fine film, but adds nothing. Jeff Bridges is as gripping as John Wayne in the Rooster Cogburn role. Matt Damon is better than Glen Campbell in a "no-shit Sherlock" kinda way. Hallie Steinfeld is very good, but Kim Darby defined the role of Maddie and, though Wayne won the Oscar, Darby stole the show. Or maybe it was the hair?

There are couple of Coen specific touches - a camera pulling back from a desolate cabin, a bit of digit related violence - but, though I very much liked it, I couldn't see the point and forgot it quickly.

Let the Right One In was one of my favorite movies of 2008. A vampire movie that was more coming of age, Swedish mood piece, the performances were superior, the atmosphere depressing yet triumphant. Quite a great film. So why Let Me In? This 2010 Hollywood version is fine. It's a nearly identical remake (though not shot by shot like Gus van Sant's Psycho, which, though a piece of shit, had an artistic point of view). It's good, but, again, why, other than it's in English.

Is it so true that Americans can't handle a superior original in subtitles? Did Let Me In do better at the box office, considering its budget, than the original would have done in wider distribution? Doubtful. The effects are horribly fake and the setting of Los Alamos is a distraction, planting thoughts of nuclear fallout and radiation that have zero to do with what's onscreen. Weird.

Do yourself a favor - see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels in glorious Swedish before you're forced to see the Tinseltown takes. Not to say H'wood will do a bad job. They just won't do a better one.