Saturday, December 21, 2019

No cartoon - Joaquin Phoenix in Tour De Force Performance.

I knew this wouldn't be a "feel good movie" going in, but had read enough of the reviews to be intrigued. Joaquin Phoenix as "Joker" is both sympathetic and revolting. He makes you weep for his character, while also creeping you out, big time!
Prior to seeing this film, the only character I have seen that comes close to the authenticity of a damaged and dangerous being is Anthony Hopkins' "Hannibal Lecter". But in some ways -  ironically! - Lecter is cartoonish in comparison with Arthur Fleck, whose personal history is riddled with misery and pain.

There seems very little let-up in cruelty towards Arthur, except for from one of the characters.   It is evident from the beginning of the film that Arthur is emotionally fragile, and mentally off-kilter. He could snap at any time. The build-up to his course of actions follows many incidents of abuse by others. It certainly doesn't help his case that he has an impediment - laughter that he cannot control. This gets him into trouble, at times.
Arthur's relationship with his mother Penny (played beautifully by Frances Conroy) has an undercurrent of sadness and dysfunction that boils over when Arthur learns that she has kept important information from him.
Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant in this role, perhaps his best ever.  Arthur/Joker gracefully dances in a few scenes, lost in his own world. In fact, it is possible that some or all of the incidents in this film were not real, but instead the figment of Arthur's imagination. In any event, it was all real to Joker, who reacted accordingly.

Joaquin Phoenix deserves the Oscar and other awards as Best Actor of 2019 for his performance in"Joker", for sure. Artfully directed by Todd Phillips, the movie sets up for the next Batman movie.    However - I wouldn't advise viewing"Joker" if you are prone to depression.  You need to distance yourself emotionally to some degree, to truly appreciate the performance and messages in this film.

Friday, December 20, 2019

See's Candy and Mission Paks for Christmas

I've been seeing this display since I was a kid - and that's a LONG time ago! It's the SEE's Candy Santa Display in South San Francisco.

My Auntie Arlene used to work at that See's Candy Store in SSF. Any time we were there, we'd ask our mom if we could visit Auntie, but Mom didn't want to disturb her sister-in-law at work. That was Mom's story, but she also never got us the cakes or sweets at our church bake sales or when the Bread Man rolled around. Maybe she was doing us a favor, not loading our bodies with sugar(which we have more than made up for since then). Auntie Arlene and Uncle George used to send us Mission Pack fruit baskets for Christmas (remember those t.v. commercials? I still remember the song).

Mom would torture us
by having us look at that thing until Christmas Day. We kids were hungry/starving most of the time, so food was always a great gift choice. Meanwhile, Auntie, Uncle, and their lucky kids would go off to Hawaii for Christmas. Mahalo, Auntie and Uncle! mele Kalikimaka!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Wouldn't it be great if we could re-write history? Quentin Tarantino does just that, with his latest film.   I should preface this review by admitting that I have only liked a handful of Tarantino movies.  But it appears that he has progressed as a filmmaker, judging by his latest achievement, "Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood".  This film is not only a super-entertaining depiction of 1960s pop culture - it is a loving tribute to those who didn't make it to the 1970s, who should have.

Tarantino did a lot of research into 1960s culture and history. His story is set in the year 1969.
That year brought us Woodstock and the Apollo Moon landing, which was historic, magical, and epic. But it was also the year that my 16-year-old sister was killed in a car accident, devastating my family permanently. In 1969, the Beatles performed in their last public performance together, Senator Edward Kennedy's car skidded off a bridge, resulting in the death of his 28-year-old passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. The year ended with the Rolling Stones' disastrous Altamont concert, and the death of Meredith Hunter.

Oh yes - and then there were the Tate-LaBianca murders. The victims seemed to receive far less press coverage than the Manson family. Even recently, I read Dianne Lake's memoir: "Member of the Family", about her time at the Spahn Ranch, and what led up to the subsequent killings, with way more written about the perpetrators of that ghastly slaughter than about the innocent targets of their murderous depravity. There are many films and books produced about Manson and his band of followers, but almost nothing of significance about their victims.   The affect that those murders had on Hollywood - and even for the rest of us, back then - has reverberated throughout the decades.  The images stay in our minds.  
History aside, two fictional characters dominate "Once Upon a Time..." with performances by actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt that are definitely Oscar-worthy. Both actors have sunk their teeth into their roles with gusto, a definite treat for viewers. 

"Don't let the Mexicans see you crying." 
DiCaprio plays introspective leading man t.v. star Rick Dalton.  You rarely see Dalton without a drink in his hand or a cigarette in his mouth. Regrets are many, as he is reminded that his youth and bankability have passed him by.  There is plenty of scenery-chewing by DiCaprio, who shines as the seasoned pro that he is. 
Pitt plays the part of Dalton's stuntman Cliff Booth to perfection. Booth is not introspective, except perhaps in one scene where he winds up daydreaming while fixing an antenna on Dalton's roof. Otherwise, he is just a "live and let live" kinda guy - unless he is crossed.  Then, watch out! 

I have to say that I was very impressed by the casting of Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen, and Cass Elliott.
The details and authenticity of "Once Upon a Time..." are enough to give those of us who were alive back then the "suspension of disbelief" we need, without our saying too often: "But wait a minute - it wasn't like that."
The music, fashions, products, technology, transportation, cinema, television actors, shows, commercials, and other signs of 1960s pop culture are authentic enough to pass muster.  He did his homework. Any discrepancies or inaccuracies are minor.  

Yet in addition to creditable details, we find the blessings of fiction, for this is not a documentary, and not made to be.  There are Tarantino's usual fanciful meanderings into scenes that go slightly off-path. They are great character studies, though. and are fun to watch, which is really the point.

I'm thinking that this one will be taking home the bulk of the Oscars.  Hollywood especially has needed this one, I think.  

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Dog Gone Sad

I probably should preface this by saying that if you don't want to be sad, don't read this blog, and leave it at that. 

A friend had recently asked me what my most exciting Christmas gift as a child was.

That would have been in 1958. My sister, brother and I saw a large box by the tree. We went to the box, and saw a puppy. We were THRILLED. We had never had a pet before. We took him out of the box, and just played with the puppy - who we named "Chauncy" - all day. Had to go to mass, and were impatient to get back home to play with Chauncy. 3 months later, Chauncy was sick - apparently, he had distemper. My parents had bought him at a pet store in SF. He had to be put down, of course.  We were DEVASTATED!

Our next puppy was 6 years later - half chihuahua, half cocker spaniel. My father named her "Lisbeth Tailears." We had Lisbeth for 3 years. We ADORED her! 
My sister Susan holding Lisbeth Tailears.

But we stupid kids were walking her around Pacific Manor one day, and decided to take her off-leash (there were no leash laws then). We were blabbing away, crossing the overpass - that one that they just re-did in Sharp Park. We suddenly noticed that Lisbeth wasn't with us. We looked around, and saw that she was crossing the freeway, below us. She was afraid of heights, I guess. We looked down, saw her look up, and then saw her being hit by a car! We rushed down to where she lay. She was killed instantly. The driver stopped and apologized - he felt horrible. We reassured him it wasn't his fault, that our dog wasn't supposed to be on the road. My brother Arlo and I were just sobbing, almost hysterical. My sister Laurie picked up Lisbeth's body, and I ran to a pay phone to call our mom. Laurie told Arlo and I to stop crying - that Lisbeth was "just a dog".  I remembered Laurie's comment 5 years after that - 1969 - when she was killed in a car accident. More grief. 

We had other dogs - Laurie's dog Lucy was hit by a car and killed a month after Laurie died. Lucy was LAURIE'S dog, no other, and she grieved, that dog just mourned for my sister (as we all did). 

Around 1970, my brother had a dog named Nina that had puppies. We were excited about the pups. A couple of days after the pups were born, we looked everywhere for the, and couldn't find them. Our mom told us that they had all died. We were freaked out - a litter of 6 pups all died? Years later, my mom confessed (while drunk) that she had drowned them all in the tub. I guess she was feeling overwhelmed. I can't have pets - I'm bad luck for pets - they all die on me. 

The second most exciting Christmas gift was the Beatles Rubber Soul album.