Splendiferous Movie Recommendation: HIDDEN FIGURES

Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer star in HIDDEN FIGURES.

Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer star in HIDDEN FIGURES.

Would you like to see a movie that will make you stand up and cheer, and not just once, but several times?  Then I can’t recommend a better one than HIDDEN FIGURES!

It’s 1961, and the United States is in a mad competition with the Soviet Union to win the “space race.”  Far behind the scenes, three gutsy and incredibly gifted African American women are working as human “computers” at NASA in Virginia.  Their talents are being well utilized by the powers that be…but the unenlightened time period is such that the ladies, and the rest of their friends in the Computing division, are being subjected to one segregated indignity after another…

I never like to include “spoilers” in blog posts about shows and movies so I don’t want to say too much more about the plot of this wonderful and layered film, except that the three lead actresses are terrific.  Katherine, played by Taraji P. Henson, is a mathematical genius and also a widow raising three lovely little girls; that Janelle Monae, as Mary Jackson, dreams of becoming an engineer; and Dorothy Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, is already working as her unit’s unofficial supervisor but has yet to get officially promoted.  Oh, and in addition, they’re all part of the team at NASA that’s frantically trying to get a man on the moon…

I’m already planning  to see this movie again, I liked it so much.  HIDDEN FIGURES won the SAG Award for Best Ensemble Cast.  It’s also rightfully been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, and so is Octavia Spencer, for Best Supporting Actress.  My only wish is that Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae  could have been nominated as well, because they were equally superb.  Kevin Costner is also fascinating to watch as Katherine’s initially-remote boss.

Meanwhile, get out of the house and go to see HIDDEN FIGURES.  These ladies will remind you that it’s always a good idea to reach for the stars!

Here’s the trailer: HIDDEN FIGURES

 

York Theater’s Fabulous Production of MILK & HONEY

MILK & HONEY at the York Theater's Musicals in Mufti Series: Mark Delavan, Anne Runolfsson, and the hilarious Alix Korey.

MILK & HONEY at the York Theater’s Musicals in Mufti Series: Mark Delavan, Anne Runolfsson, and the hilarious Alix Korey.

On Saturday night I got the treat of a lifetime: the chance, at long last, to see Jerry Herman’s musical about Israel, MILK & HONEY, performed in concert at York Theatre as part of their “Musicals in Mufti” series.  It’s a no-frills production without elaborate costumes or sets, but that only adds to the fun.

If you’ve read my blog this far, you already know what a fan I am of Jerry Herman’s wonderful, uplifting music.  MILK & HONEY was his very first Broadway score, and there’s songs in it that I have adored for years.  However, I never saw a production of the show before.  That’s because it was on Broadway the year I was born, and for some unfathomable reason, has never been revived since.

And that, my friends, fits my idea of nothing less than a crime, because this show needs to be seen, not relegated to the theatrical history books.

I was astounded by the show.  Jerry Herman’s work is always upbeat, and even in his first attempt he nailed it.  And how!

The plot revolves around a group of adorable American Jewish widows who land in Israel for a tour, circa 1961.  One, Clara Weiss, played by the hilarious Alix Korey at the York, is there specifically in the hopes of meeting a wonderful guy.  Another, Ruth Stein (played by Anne Runolfsson), is the first to actually meet one, a nice man named Phil Arkin (Mark Delavan).  But there’s a problem: Phil hasn’t quite managed to divorced his estranged wife…

Yet there’s an additional “character” in this show, and it’s the pioneering spirit of  Israel.  Phil has an equally nice daughter living on a collective farm, and the going there is tough, but as the characters sing in the title song:

“What if the earth is dry and barren?

What if the morning sun is mean to us?

For this is a state of mind we live in,

We want it green and…so!  It’s green TO US!

For when you have wonderful plans for tomorrow somehow even today looks fine

So what if it’s rocks and dust and sand?

This lovely land is mine!”

I sincerely hope the York Theater finds a way to record a cast album of this production.  I’d love to see them propel this show onto Broadway, too.  It’s hopeful and positive, with a heartbreaking aside, and should be seen by as many people as possible.

I didn’t know until I read the notes in the program on Saturday that the main character in the show, Ruth Stein, was named after Jerry Herman’s own mother.  I saw that and almost began to cry.  It was Mr. Herman’s mom’s positivity that inspired so many of his most uplifting songs later.  When he came home from school one day and asked his mother why she was throwing a party, she replied, “It’s today,” a line that became the inspiration for the party song he wrote for Mame.  Ruth’s philosophies have been enhancing people’s lives all over the world through the music and lyrics her son was inspired to write, and I for one have gotten so much joy from his work over the years that I wish I could have met her.  Unfortunately, the real Ruth Stein Herman died before she ever saw one of her son’s shows reach Broadway, but if there’s any order to the Universe at all, somewhere, whenever the curtain goes up on one of her son’s productions, she’s humming along – and bursting with pride in the way her son pays tribute to her through his work.

Here’s  a link to the York Theatre’s website.  Berlin to Broadway by Kurt Weill is up next, followed by Jerry Herman’s Dear World, starring Tyne Daly, is next up as a “Musical in Mufti,” so New Yorkers, you won’t want to miss it!  I’ll be at both – with bells on.  Tickets can be found right here: http://www.yorktheatre.org/buy-tickets.html

Jerry Herman when he was first starting out.

Jerry Herman, about the time he wrote MILK & HONEY.

The original cast album of MILK & HONEY. York Theater: please record your cast's version, too!

The original cast album of MILK & HONEY. York Theater: please record your cast’s version, too!

Onward to the Oscars!

Absolutely adorable: Sunny Pawar, child star of LION.

Absolutely adorable: Sunny Pawar, child star of LION.

Now on to something more pleasant than that last blog post I had to write.  Pretty soon we’ll be finding out who will be nominated for the Oscars!

I saw so many wonderful movies this year that it’s going to be fun to see who gets the honor of a nomination.  This year I’ve got so many favorites that I don’t even know where to begin.  My personal favorite movie was PATRIOT’S DAY, and if Mark Wahlberg doesn’t get nominated for his performance in it then there’s a flaw somewhere in the universe.  John Goodman should get a nod, too.  So should J.K. Simmons.  So, too, should about five or six other cast members, including the two actors who had the unenviable job of playing the bombers.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA was a powerful dramatic vehicle for its wonderful ensemble.  Casey Affleck will almost certainly be up for Best Actor, and  Michelle Williams for Best Supporting Actress.  The star of JACKIE, Natalie Portman, knocked the part right out of the ballpark.

But my favorite star of them all is a pint-sized newcomer: Sunny Pawar, the irresistible little boy who played Saroo Brierly in LION.  I’m not just hoping for LION to get nominated for Best Picture, as well it should, but I’d love, love, love to see that little Sunny nominated.

Tuesday, January 24, the nominations will be announced.   Stay tuned!

Disturbing and Creepy

Exactly!

Exactly!

 

What would you do if, as an adult, you found out that one of the people in a position of responsibility over you, as a child, may have had an unhealthy attachment to you?

What would you do if someone told you that that person still, decades later, asks all kinds of questions about you to mutual acquaintances, desperate, or so it seems, for news of you?

And what if this was the last person on the face of the planet you ever would have wanted anywhere near you, whether you were a child, an adult, or even the sole survivor of earth, save for the jerk in question?

This, apparently, is the position I’ve been told I’m in, and I never even knew about it.  I was jail bait to a pervert?  That’s as insane as it gets.  Yet two of the people who were approached about me, and barraged with questions, said that’s exactly what it looks like to them.

Fortunately, it’s hearsay, and might not be true…and yet.  It could just as well be accurate, disturbing as that is.  In a way, some of the events I remember regarding that particular individual now make a lot more sense.  I was a very observant kid.  That, surely, made me a threat to someone who was into that which would not have survived scrutiny.  No wonder that person tried to undermine me later, several times.  But prior to realizing I was savvier to the ways of the world than Creepy had previously believed, there were other incidents, too…which went nowhere because I didn’t let them.  But…it’s shaken me up, wondering how bad things may have become if I’d been less of a strong-willed, no-nonsense child, say, one who could have been pushed, who didn’t know quite clearly what I didn’t want, rather than one who did…I wasn’t, but even so…

Why am I writing this on my blog, though?  Well, it seems to me that anyone who would be asking questions about me, my life, my this and my that, behind my back, yet,  forty years after the last time they saw me – yes, folks, forty years! – is probably reading my blog, too.  As creepy as that is, I’m going to use the blog as a signpost to that now-geriatric lunatic.  Read away, creep!  Go away, too.  You want to track me, fine, well, TRACK THIS!  You’d better hope I don’t start talking, because if I hear you’re asking more questions, guess what?  I’ll be pushed to write a blog post about this again, next time, I’ll name you, and all those who, unlike you, really know me, know I’m capable of it.

Two Massachusetts Movies: Manchester by the Sea and Patriot’s Day

Manchester by the Sea: realism at its best.

Manchester by the Sea: realism at its best.

It’s a fun coincidence that two of the best movies that are in the New York theaters at the moment are both set in the state of Massachusetts.  I saw one yesterday and the other today.  It’s a wonder I’m not talking in an accent that leaves out all the R’s by now, after such a  double-dip of Massachusetts dialogue.

Both of the movies – Manchester by the Sea and Patriot’s Day – were awesome, though different.

Manchester is the fictional story of a man, haunted – for good reason – by his actions in the past, who “inherits” a teenage nephew, Patrick, when his brother dies.  Unfortunately his brother never discussed naming him his son’s guardian before appointing him in his will, and it’s not what he’s up for…  Casey Affleck is Uncle Lee, Michele Williams plays his ex-wife, and Lucas Hedges plays Patrick, heading a terrific ensemble cast in one of the most realistic movies I’ve ever seen.  The scenery, in many of the shots, is spectacular.  My one critique: the number of F-bombs dropped in this movie was way over-the-top, and hey, I’m no prude when it comes to foul language.  I do, however, find it works more effectively when used for emphasis, not practically as conjunctions.

Patriot’s Day is not in wide-release yet, but it’s here and I saw it tonight.  Patriot’s Day is a Massachusetts state holiday.  It’s also the day of the Boston Marathon, and this movie covers the participants in the true story of the cowardly bombing of that event that took place in 2013.  If you’re faint at heart, be warned: in order for the movie to remain true to the subject matter, there’s a lot of violence and graphic medical scenes.  I’m usually pretty much of a toughie when it comes to seeing violence onscreen, but there were a few hospital scenes even I found unbearable.  So avert your eyes, if need be,  but then, keep watching.  It’s fascinating to see how the police, FBI and first responders conducted their excellent investigation into the perpetrators.  Mark Wahlberg stars as cop Tommy Saunders, and you’ll come out of this one feeling “Boston Strong!”

Patriot's Day: the story of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Patriot’s Day: the story of the Boston Marathon bombing.

 

Five Good Movies and A Stinker

One of the best things about living in New York City is that, if you’re into movies, we get them all first!  A whole slew of new ones have come out lately and of the six new ones I’ve seen, five were terrific.  There was also, however, one absolute stinker.

I’ll start with the good ones.

Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy in JACKIE.

Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy in JACKIE.

JACKIE, about Jacqueline Kennedy in the aftermath of her husband’s assassination in Dallas in 1963, was very interesting but extremely sad.  This poor woman not only witnessed the brutal murder of her husband but was sitting right beside him when his head was blown off, so you can just imagine the extent of her trauma.  If you are not someone who has read a lot about the assassination, as I have, fair warning, you might be a bit confused by the format, which skips back and forth over the timeline of events.  However, it’s a good movie.  Natalie Portman does a superb job.  I could not help but wonder what it must have felt like to be Natalie, playing this role, and donning the iconic pink and navy blue suit and pillbox hat that Jackie was wearing on the fatal day…

MOANA, from Disney.

MOANA, from Disney.

I love anything Hawaiian, Tahitian, or anyplace in between, so I had to see MOANA.  A gutsy girl fights to save her island with the help of an egomaniacal god.  It’s good, clean fun, and the songs are pretty cool, too.

DENIAL, starring Rachel Weisz.

DENIAL, starring Rachel Weisz.

DENIAL stars Rachel Weisz as a professor fighting the claims of a Holocaust denier who calls her a liar and says the Holocaust didn’t really happen.  Weisz does a great job, and the movie, which could have turned out too slow since it’s all about lawyers and strategies, moved along and was riveting.  Lost somewhere in the middle of it was one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard with regard to shutting up the Holocaust deniers: that someone should have gone over the ruins of the gas chambers at Auschwitz and done a forensic analysis of them.  Indeed, that’s a great idea since the evidence would speak for itself.  Meanwhile, the only criticism I have of the movie itself is that it didn’t show the childhoods of the two main characters, but merely mentioned them.  It would have been good to see some of their backstories play out.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in ALLIED.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard in ALLIED.

ALLIED is set during World War II in Casablanca, France and England, and it’s very good movie.  Brad Pitt is married to Marion Cotillard who is a Resistance heroine…or is she?  There’s some problems with the plot of this story, since the resolution wasn’t as clear as it could have been, but Pitt and Cotillard are a beautiful couple, they’re eye candy like the stars of old used to be, and it’s stunning to watch.  Bring a hanky.

ELLE, the most wretched movie.

ELLE, the most wretched movie.

Before I get to the best of the movies I’ve seen these last few weeks, I may as well mention the stinker.  It’s a French movie called ELLE, and frankly, it sucked.  I went on the afternoon before I started a new job, hoping to sit back at a nice movie, relax and enjoy it.  Ha!  Instead, I walked into a creepily terrifying movie about a sexual assault.  Isabelle Huppert is the star.  This bomb of a movie starts out as an apparent whodunnit and slowly (too slowly) devolves into a what-the-hell-is-it?  Add to that, I know enough French to realize the subtitles weren’t always the correct translation of what the insane characters were saying, but not enough to catch all of it.  Perhaps it’s better in French, but it left me with questions, not answers.  As for the violence, well, if you want to give yourself a heart attack, the ferocious scenes in this awful flick might be enough to send you to the Emergency Room, but if you don’t want to have a cardiac arrest, as we say in Brooklyn, FAHGEDDABOUDIT!

The best one of them all: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM.

The best one of them all: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM.

Now on to the BEST of all of these movies.  For cuteness, suspense, fun, and sheer entertainment, J.K. Rowling’s FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM was the most enjoyable movie of them all.  Newt Scamander of HARRY POTTER fame, played by Eddie Redmayne, comes to New York City in 1926 with a suitcase full of magical creatures…and they promptly get loose…I’ll say no more, but the ending of this one made me want to stand up and cheer.  Want to be entertained?  Stick with anything by J.K. Rowling!

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A rose grows in Brooklyn.

A rose grows in Brooklyn.

This was such a beautiful day that it was almost surreal.  The sun was shining over swift-moving fluffy clouds here in Brooklyn, New York, and I have rarely seen such a beautiful jewel of a day.

I’m between jobs at the moment, due to “downsizing” at the really nice non-profit organization where I have been working for the past year and a half.  I had hoped to stay there permanently, but Fate had other plans.  Many, many years ago, there was another jobs where I’d hoped to stay permanently, until I retired, but two years later, that particular company went bankrupt.  This is America, where this sort of thing happens a lot.

So, once again, I find myself off from work.  I spend many hours applying for jobs online.  Having to find another job, while still wishing the one I had will call me to say they can afford to take me back (which would require a miracle at this point), is a challenge, but one that’s rife with possibilities.  The right position is out there for me.  I’m going to find it.

In between filling out forms on the computer and going on interviews there’s time to, literally, stop and smell the roses.  Take a look at the beauty I photographed today!  It’s above, and it’s gorgeous.