Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Big Short Beasties

The Big Short was kind of funny, kind of sad, all terrifying if you stop for a minute to contemplate the ‘Beasts of Banking.’

Please go to the review in the Times (URL below) so I do not have to make the slightest effort to describe the content of this film. I’ll just say that it’s a comedic docudramatic account of how a lot of mediocre but very greedy people in every branch of banking and real estate brought a lot of the financial world and by default a lot of real people to their knees…and how a few smart and maybe slightly less flawed guys saw it about to happen and made a ton, a Ton, a TON of money with their foresight—and felt a bit sad about it.

It really is an odd film, not exactly a story like Wolf of Wall Street, with a ‘main character’; here money is the main character and it has a perverse sense of humor. One of those films you can just as well watch on the small screen. But good.




Beasts of…

So I posted a review of Spotlight which I might have called ‘Beasts of the Church’ but since then I’ve watched The Big Short and Beasts of No Nation. I could have just written one big post called ‘Beasts’ as they are everywhere.

Fantastic flicks. Movies of magnitude. Fabulous films. All of the above. Both of them. But in one there are some bad guys, in the other a bad and complicit society. Or maybe both in both.

Beasts of No Nation is really a powerful moving important film. It has history—contemporary history and politics—think ego-maniacal Trump and religious-fanatic Cruz in a hot climate gathering their minions of poor, displaced, uneducated youth (and grown-ups who should know better) and lots of available weapons and don’t think for a minute it would be any different right here in river city.

I gather the story is based on Sierra Leone’s endless civil/warlord war and maybe on the Lord’s Resistance Army in Ghana. It’s especially horrific because of the use of children as soldiers/killers but as I write this I wonder why that is somehow more horrible than what is happening to the children of Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan as they’re brutalized and starved and left without families or homes or education. The problem is when I start thinking about one hideous miscarriage of justice there are always ten or a hundred more to weigh in on the more-or-less horrible scale.

Focus then on the absolutely tough and brilliant performance by Idris Elba as the commandant with his army of disadvantaged children. Obviously the commandant is a bad guy so how is it Elba makes him bad—very bad—and believable—well that might not be so hard since very bad guys abound—but also sympathetic or do I mean empathetic? I don’t find the commandant unbelievable nor do I believe at heart there’s not a bit of humanity/caring/empathy of his own left. I almost care about him too. Well I do. Some. So that is a performance people. And why Elba isn’t one of the nominees makes me believe the Academy is flawed, a lot, just as so many people are saying. Idris Elba is simply such an amazing actor he could play an insurance salesman that you cared about… There I’ve said it …that’s how good he is.

I think I’ll save The Big Short for an evening think and wine






So much film, so not-enough time, American and foreign films and documentaries. Eighteen in all. Oh yeah plus a couple of films with black stars or directors that should have been nominated. Twenty then. Five down, fifteen to go. Only evenings after gym when I’m too tired to do anything else are eligible as show times. And Saturday night after writing all day.

See what I do. Make everything too much. So I almost fail. Or fail.

But what a treat it all is anyway. Friday night it was Room. The book drew great praise but I did not read it. And honestly, went reluctantly to the show…which turned out to be excellent. It gave reality to the horror stories of real-life kidnapped women, held prisoner and bearing their captors children. I know there are books out there and probably documentaries from actual incidents but I’ve missed them so this was my Oscar-film reality check.

A review tells us very succinctly the gist of the story: Held captive for years in an enclosed space, a woman (Brie Larson) and her 5-year-old son (Jacob Tremblay) finally gain their freedom, allowing the boy to experience the outside world for the first time. The action, or lack thereof, takes place in the smallest of spaces, the garden-shed prison and, although the pace is deliberate, Larson and the boy, Jacob Tremblay, keep us with them. The kid, in fact, should have been nominated for an Oscar. Truthfully he is as good as Quvenzhané Wallis, the girl in Beasts of the Southern Wild and that is about as good as it gets.

In any case this intimate, almost claustrophobic, small film manages to feel authentic and kind of important.

My Mad Max

Max as she was ever-so-fondly known (the memory of why I named her Mad Max is lost to time) was the world’s smartest and most beautiful dog. I loved her dearly and she was my very best traveling companion (Teresa, you are next best…).

If I had her to rename I’d probably call her Furiosa after Charlize. About Mad Max Fury Road. The new Mad Max is not a movie I would usually see. I was however in Grand Rapids, Minnesota this summer with Robert and Marsha and, wanting to go to the show (as we called movies/films back in the day), it turned out the only halfway seeable prospect was…the new Mad Max. And now that it’s been nominated I am so happy to have gotten it out of the way early.

Let me hasten to add it wasn’t really a bad experience. Charlize Theron is my idea of the perfect ‘tough broad’ so that gave us old ‘libbers’ someone for whom to cheer. Still, basically, all Mad Maxes are boys’ gigs. Lots of big bad vehicles, including cars, car parts, car parts pieced into weird configurations, car parts broken, repaired, glued, bullet riddled…you get the picture. All accompanied by a few nearly-naked seriously-voluptuous sweaty dirty 100% gorgeous women. Good stuff, right guys. And yay for Charlize who made all that roaring and banging and speeding almost palatable.

A slightly faded woman, an old car and Mad Max.



I picture a wild creature, lean and swift and tough, racing against the wind. And the mustang in this movie is just that…a wild young girl racing against her family’s attempts to tame her. Mustang is a beautiful film, submitted for a foreign film Oscar as a French/Turkish/German production. I had a lovely couple of hours at the Guild—the last time I was there was sometime in the 80s for The Gods Must be Crazy (Botswana). Once again I’m vowing to go often from now on. It’s like being a kid at the Royal Theater in Northome, Minnesota.

Here’s part of a review from The Atlantic:

Mustang tells a straightforward story of female empowerment, but it’s the way it tells that story that makes it deserving of all the accolades it’s received, including an Oscar nomination for best foreign-language film. Though the movie has won (superficial) comparisons to The Virgin Suicides, it has a more distinctly female perspective and is too close to its subjects to feel voyeuristic. The trouble begins in the first 10 minutes of the film, when some nasty gossip and a misunderstanding turns innocent fun into a minor sexual scandal, leading the girls’ relatives to increasingly shut down their access to the outside world. The Turkish-born French director Deniz Gamze Ergüven balances out the film’s creeping claustrophobia with quiet (and not-so-quiet) acts of rebellion, unexpected humor, and warmth, and the result is a tender and fresh coming-of-age film that honors the bonds of womanhood and sisterhood without taking them for granted.

Why do foreign films seem both more authentic and less real than those we make here? But then I am so very stupid about filmmaking although not about the stories they tell. Do other countries make more films on the locations where the story actually claims to take place? Somehow the locations seem to play bigger roles in the foreign film offerings. Loved Mustang.  GIRLS RULE.

The Annual Movie Marathon Begins

Movie time. Off and running. Spotlight last night, Beast of No Nation tonight, Mustang tomorrow, Theeb Monday night.

This year no party. Just five-six weeks of intense movie going with a slightly new approach. I am determined to see all of the best picture (even if it means I must see Revenant) and foreign film nominees, the documentaries and the films that ‘should have’ had some nominations. And then tell you the truth about which ones were the best. I’m the kid that begged her mother for Photoplay (and Western Horsemen because my favorite shows were all about horses and their cowboys). Now I just go to a whole bunch of movies once a year and watch the news channels to see my favorite stars! So who better to keep you posted during Oscar season?

Spotlight. A cold night, warm movie-going fleeces—the old stuff you can get popcorn butter on—although I would satisfy my salty desires with Saltines for this night only, and end of a stressful week. Spotlight. A film pretty much as good as it gets. It’s the story of the Boston Globe reporters whose fierce investigation managed to reveal the prevalence of sexually abusive priests in the Catholic Church and the hierarchy that sheltered them and, in many cases, allowed their activity to continue.

Spotlight is the best of all worlds for me. Drama; journalism; revelations exposing one of my several least favorite organizations—The Church (religious institutions in general—not just Catholicism); and a cast of very fine actors. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams maybe foremost among them. I’ve never followed them particularly—even after Birdman last year—but they are so fine in this film. Strong and passionate and always making you believe they’re the real deal.

My only sad afterthought is wondering if all of that work and those revelations have actually changed much. There has been change, right? Right? Or does power always corrupt and absolute power (which religious authorities have) always corrupt absolutely? Yes is the answer isn’t it?


My Stomach and Other Things

I am fortunate to be a strong healthy elder (or as my brother would say–a tough mean old Norwegian like Grandma Neset…Brothers!) but there is this ongoing battle with my sensitive stomach. Can’t eat in the evening, can’t eat or drink this–or that. Annoying but only a serious downer if allowed to be.

So my stomach tried to steal this weekend from me. Keep me from doing what I planned. Tried to get me to waste a beautiful two days at home with my books and stories and recipes. Can’t steal my time, stomach…I have all those books, remember…and time is never wasted when spent reading a Very Good Book. Which I just did.


 Pacific: Silicon Chips and Surfboards, Coral Reefs and Atom Bombs, Brutal Dictators, Fading Empires, and the Coming Collision of the World’s Superpowers by Simon Winchester.  Winchester has picked key, and exceptionally diverse, events to give us a sweeping history of all that has happened under, above and on the shores of the Pacific Ocean since 1950.

I recently went to a talk by Winchester and he really is a walking, charming, articulate encyclopedia of big and small knowledge. I’ve read several of his books and would call them social/political/cultural/environmental/military/human geography-based histories—that double as travel narratives.

As with any good book there are both discoveries and connections. Although I learned much that is new about the Ocean itself and about its influence on the lands it borders,  I particularly enjoyed the tales to which I feel most connected.  The North Korean seizing of the USS Pueblo in 1968 for example. I was living with my airman husband and two sons on Seymour-Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Don came home from work early, said he would be leaving in a couple of hours, couldn’t tell me where he was going, packed and left. The same scenario was playing out in my friend Sue’s house. She and I spent the entire evening calling various base authorities and demanding to know where our husbands were going. We were never compliant military wives I’m sorry (proud) to say. When the 10pm news came on of course we knew. Can’t remember how long the deployment to South Korea lasted.

And then there was the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines which permanently closed Clark AFB—leading ultimately to a military vacuum that China has been intent on filling ever since. Earlier on in my military wife years I lived most contentedly in Marisol Village, just off the base, a very few miles from the mountain. Wonder if my pretty airy house was destroyed.

My kids in my pretty house in Angeles, Pampanga, the Philippines.

My kids in my pretty house in Angeles, Pampanga, the Philippines.

Shouldn’t reading history connect and surprise in equal measure…and nice if it makes us think as well.

My stomach still hurts, maybe it’s the flu everyone at work has, but at least I can look forward to an evening of PBS. Last week’s Downton, this week’s Downton, Doc Martin and to top it off an Aljazeera special on Albuquerque the Violent. Which altogether will make my stomach worse, my eyes burn, my body atrophy…

Cheers…happy week ahead.

On My Way to the Castle


Two months of big (Oscar countdown) and small screen bliss, amazement, annoyance…engagement. First it is that time of year, the time of year, last time of year for Downton Abbey. Cannot remember being this sad about a show ending. Ever. Like millions of intelligent sensitive wise nostalgic and addicted people, I am a die-hard DA fan. Why? There is nothing new to say about DA addiction but—for me—it’s all about the historical drama; and those great characters…every single one of them powerful and unique and full of British Character with just bit of a flaw or two to keep them relatable; and that intriguing mix of the beautiful and grand and the ordinary and tragic. I. Love. Downton. Abbey. Love.

This evening I’ll make some little toasts with butter and the Downton Abbey orange marmalade my friend Susanna gave me for Christmas. I’ll brew a cup of Earl Grey. And pull my chair up very close to the TV so as not to miss a single word or gesture…♯♫…It’s Downton Abbey Time…♫♯


Welcome 2016

Starting the year in the cold Bosque. 32 chilly degrees.

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