Saturday, May 28, 2016
1974's CANDY STRIPE NURSES was the final entry in the series, this one featuring high schoolers who volunteer as candy stripers in their local hospital. Exploitation starlet Candice Rialson plays Sandy, an easy with her virtues, crafty young lady who juggles several affairs (one with a doctor) and eventually tries to help a famous rock star with his potency problems; this is of great importance as the Englishman hasn't written any hits since he last, well, you know. This despite the constant presence of two scantily clad groupies. Future soap opera star Robin Mattson is the intellectual Dianne, who aspires to be a doctor and finds herself involved with a high school basketball star with a drug problem. Maria Rojo portrays Marissa, a delinquent who plays detective in attempts to prove a young patient's innocence in a gas station robbery.
That's a fair amount of plot for this type of film, though the NURSE pictures often had subplots with political overtones. Efforts to shoehorn more serious subject matter amongst lascivious liaisons didn't always come off but you had to give the filmmakers some props. Many were downright feminist (ref. films of Stephanie Rothman). Trashy '70s movies like these were much wiser than their trailers would suggest, and for all of their embarrassing moments still seem like art compared to the genre offerings of recent days.
CANDY STRIPE NURSES is primarily recommended for students of this era's cinema, albeit a very specific type: the moderately intelligent softcore. This one doesn't quite cut it - with its unevenness it feels long despite a running time of only eighty minutes. The title sequence illustrations are unbelievably cheesy. The score is hilariously repetitious. But....the atmosphere of 1970s Los Angeles is really vivid. Director Allen Holeb does a nice job of capturing the scenery and the vibe. And yes, buffs, B-movie character actor extraordinaire Dick Miller once again has a cameo.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
No. It's awful.
Jane Craig (Holly Huter) is the sort of person who is not fulfilled unless there is some sort of crisis in progress. Some impossible dilemma to conquer. If one doesn't exist, she'd likely create one. So a network control room is a natural habitat for her. A place where disasters are constantly being averted, often by seconds. She lives for the rush and the well earned sigh of relief afterward. Probably more satisfying for her than....In fact, Tom (William Hurt) tells her that hearing her voice in his headset as she gives instructions as he delivers a newscast is like "great sex", so maybe he's one of those types, too.
Aaron (Albert Brooks) rounds out the main trio of 1987's BROADCAST NEWS. He's another of those types. Like Jane he's quick and quick witted. Loves the thrill and chaos and the constant threat of failure. And like many such behind the scenes wizards, he's underappreciated. Possibly because he doesn't have the "face", or the air of an on camera anchor, like Tom. Never mind that the handsome guy knows next to nothing about current events. That he resembles the "bubble headed bleach blond" Don Henley sang about. To the network, it's all about appearances. People tune in to see pretty faces and long legs. When I watch cable news these days, I wonder if each of them have a Jane or Aaron in their ears, telling them what to say seconds before.
Now Tom's naivete may be a bit of a stretch, that writer/director James L. Brooks' character is an exaggerated symbol for all that is wrong with news reporting. Maybe not. Some news people hold their own on the couch across from late night talk hosts, but others are not so sharp. This is true of many actors as well. Without a script, they're adrift. And the news is really just show business, no?
BROADCAST NEWS of course seems quite prescient what with what has developed since '87. But it wasn't difficult to see the handwriting on the wall. NETWORK had called it eleven years earlier. BROADCAST NEWS does not share the earlier film's seething point of view, rather a quieter, though still sardonically observant take on the business and the people who make it happen. Brooks' characters stand around and have mini debates about ethics, then willfully violate what conscience they still possess. Late in the film a character is accused of faking tears during an interview, to the outrage of Jane and others. But I'll bet it happens often. In fact, that character will later get a promotion!
There's no shortage of self awareness in BROADCAST NEWS. I especially like the blunt truths Brooks' characters utter. Whether it was Aurora to her daughter in TERMS OF ENDEARMENT ("you're not special enough....") or Jane with a boss, who similarly knocks his star journalist down a few pegs (and she agrees!), the dialogue may sound cold compared to many feel good rom-coms with similar plots, but it is realistic and a tonic to hear. Also, the characters sound like actual adults, rather than slang spewing overgrown adolescents. Ah, there was a time....
But BROADCAST NEWS is also, again, a love story, the classic triangle of one torn between two others. Jane resents Tom's character but still wants to hop in the sack with him. She feels guilty for her lack of attraction to Aaron, who is more on her level and quite funny. What is a girl to do?
Friday, May 20, 2016
There are some pictures in this entry, but really, they're not even close. I truly was stunned as I stood on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Even as I walked around the Botanical Gardens in Papago Park in Phoenix, seeing several varieties of plant and bird life, I felt as if in another world, on an alien landscape. When you hail from the flat (and wet-) lands of Florida, a mere elevation is a novelty. Arizona has elevations and canyons. As our tour guide in Sedona remarked, "Here you look up, there (Grand Canyon) you look down."
We in fact began out recent vaca in Sedona, spending two days wandering trails near our resort, The Sedona Summit - recommended. After selecting one of the one hundred and one advertised omelets at The Coffee Cup, we walked around the very quaint business area, amused by all the New Agey places about. The town is known for its mysticism, and the "vortex" is a spiritual convergence reputed to junction at Bell Rock and Boynton Canyon, among others. We did not make it there, or to Devil's Bridge, a narrow stone shelf off Dry Creek Road. A fair amount of our time in Sedona was rainy. During said tour we drove right up to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, but did not enter due to the weather. Next visit.
We did gaze at Red Rock Crossing several times:
On Monday morning we moved on to the town of Williams, about an hour outside of the Grand Canyon. We lodged at a hundred plus year old hotel called, The Grand Canyon Hotel, right on the famed Route 66.
The G.C. Hotel is a bed and breakfast without the breakfast. The hosts were very friendly. The rooms are adorned with old furniture and the bed covers looked ancient. Loved the chipping wood floors, too. A very comforting place to be.
We ate at Rod's Steakhouse, a decent restaurant that's been around for seventy years. The clientele was mostly retiree, with some families. Nothing fancy. We posed with the cow out front for a pic but it was too dark. The second night we dined at Red Raven, a quaintly decorated, warm place with good seafood and attentive service.
We drove to the Grand Canyon on Tuesday and Wednesday, completely enthralled both days. Opened mouth astonishment, I tell you. Nothing else like it, at least in my experience. There is a reason why so many cross the globe to visit. In fact, most of the folks we encountered there were foreigners.
The climb down the Trail was deceptively easy. Coming back up, not so much. It was steep but the altitude change (the top of the rim is near 7,000 feet) really affected my breathing. I had to stop several times, not from burning or fatigued legs but labored breath. Meanwhile, people much older than me blew by like pros. We did speak with one guy in his 70s or so; he said his son (around 40) was "not doing well" on the trail. If you try it, bring lots of water and be aware of the temperature changes: it was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit at the top and almost thirty degrees warmer at our turn around point. Many people have to be rescued from the trail each year. Heed the sign's warnings!
It makes you feel insignificant, a bit sad too as you consider the slow erosion that has occurred, how much of this rock has disintegrated. You think of the future, when someday it will all crumble. The IMAX movie we watched at the end of our tour attempted to consider the peoples who lived in the bottom of the canyon thousands of years ago. Fascinating.
During the Jeep tour we even braved one rock that jutted a bit further than good sense beckoned - Chris took a shot of us that I've yet to see on our camera. It was a scary moment, one wrong footstep and this entry would've never been written.
Before and after the Grand Canyon we hit the town of Flagstaff. The downtown area has lots of cool shops and a college campus. Between there and the canyon, we stopped at a pass/cliffside where several American Indians were selling their wares. We bought some cool jewelry and a unique bookmark from a lady named Margie Laughlin. Let me put in a little plug for her:
Margie Laughlin Southwest Jewelry
P.O. Box 2086
Page, Arizona 86040
P: (605) 517-2207
We headed back to Phoenix on Wednesday afternoon for my annual audiology convention. You can go back a few postings to read about it. We stayed in the Palomar Hotel downtown. Very modern and comfortable. I could see the stadium where the Diamondbacks play from my window. My wife visited an old house/museum a few blocks over and went horseback riding while I was at the Convention Center.
The convention wrapped up at noon on Saturday and we headed to the Desert Botanical Gardens. For botanists and would-bes, you'd be hard pressed to find an area with more cacti and agave. Some of the plants are rare and endangered.
Our final night (my birthday!) in Arizona was spent in a unique hangout called The Duce, just outside of downtown Phoenix. It's housed in an old warehouse. I think the slogan was "Where gritty meets pretty" and that was apt. We met an old high school friend of mine who has lived in nearby Chandler for some time. We ended up with a large group, many of whom were friends of my high school friend's friend (got that?) who was also celebrating a birthday. I drank Olde Style beer. The Duce is part restaurant, part gift shop, part club, and part game house with folks playing bean bag toss over the gymnasium floors while others watch them from the bleachers.
We're ready to go back to AZ. Next time we'll go back to the Grand Canyon at night, to see all the stars in the sky that city lights normally wash out.
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
COWBOY BEBOP THE MOVIE explains the actions of Vincent Volaju, who seeks to destroy civilization on the planet Mars, colonized in the late 21st century following devastation on Earth. Vincent, an ex-soldier, was a guinea pig for a military experiment involving a mysterious pathogen and its vaccine, the administration of which rendered him an amnesiac. He suffers from an inability to discern what is real. Yet he is keenly aware of what has happened to him, what he lost.
Is Vincent inherently evil? Had these events not occurred would he be a productive member of society? What keeps anyone from hatching plots to annihilate the world if the former is true? Is "evil" separate from a mental disorder? These are questions that beckoned as I watched this 2002 anime feature, based on the '90s television show that ran on The Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" block years ago. I watched the program intermittently, not very familiar with its details. This does not prevent engagement in the movie.
"Bebop" is the name of the spaceship piloted by a group of bounty hunters: Spike, a former criminal, Jet, a former cop, and Faye, once a target of bounty hunters herself. Joining them are Ed, a young girl with a shrill voice and considerable computer hacking skills. There is also a synthetic dog named Ein who may be as smart as the lot of them. The movie - which is said to fall chronologically between episodes of the television program - follows the team as they attempt to learn why an explosion carrying the aforementioned pathogen was released from a pharmaceutical company truck in the capital city. Spike will have encounters with a company informant and later an agent for Cherious Medical named Elektra, who has a past with Vincent. The bounty hunter will also see a version of himself in his target.
Keiko Nubomoto's screenplay is loaded with nicely developed scenarios. The story is bleak but humor is never far away, some of it mordant. Director Sinichiro Watanabe successfully makes this strikingly drawn anime feel like a live action feature, with intricate shots of edge of your seat action sequences such as the monorail pursuit and the climax, involving a fleet of old airplanes that can barely remain intact (with nice touches of humor).
In fact, the entire third act of the film is edited expertly, recalling earlier Hollywood features that knew how to keep viewers riveted both with hairpin scrapes and well timed dialogue - note Faye's lines in the weather control center, "forecasting" the falling action that also has some nice metaphorical overtones for those so inclined. The use of butterflies throughout and Vincent's final line will also prompt some essays and debates from series buffs.
Friday, May 13, 2016
Maggie Gyllenhaal is fabulous as Lee, a troubled young woman in Central Florida who regularly inflicts wounds upon herself. She comes from a pretty dysfunctional family. After a hospital stay, Lee decides for a bid to the mainstream and takes a job as a secretary for odd, fastidious local attorney E. Edward Gray (James Spader, also quite good). Gray is reluctant to employ such a shabbily dressed, socially inept individual but recognizes a certain quality about her. Attraction?
Lee proves to be a mediocre secretary at every turn, prompting endless criticism from her new boss. Gray also learns of Lee's habit of self-injury. But she is subservience defined, always willing to try again, to correct her wrongdoing. Gray is taken with her, finally\joining in his secretary's S & M and bondage leanings. But of course that is not the end of the story. Lee has a boyfriend who may become her fiance, but she's bored. Not many straitlaced guys tolerate role playing that spills over into physical torture, even in the movies. While Gray is alternatively a very suitable match, there have to be several obstacles to overcome before their bond is official. A happily ever after that may involve the placement of a dead cockroach on a pillow to stimulate arousal.
"Daring" is a word many like to use when describing films with potentially offensive content, but SECRETARY does in fact earn it. Material such as this always runs the risk of becoming merely lurid and ridiculous. Director and writer Steven Shainberg (with Erin Cressida Wilson) tread carefully yet fearlessly, gradually developing the fascinating dance between these two kindred spirits. It's in many ways a fairly traditional story, just with assorted bondage props.
My only complaint - if you're attempting to convince us the story is set in Clermont, FL, lose those impossibly tall L.A. palm trees, guys.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
I've written about the AAA convention before. Much about it has changed, but the real metamorphosis was perhaps within myself. I had become jaded, not so easily impressed. As I wandered the convention center in downtown Phoenix, I recalled the first few times I attended, as a student. It was a very exciting, wide eyed time, especially my first, in Washington D.C. in 2005. It was all new, sure, but there was a certain formality and professionalism about everything that made me proud to be part. CSPAN even featured the opening night gala on its network. The lectures were top notch, though many of them sailed over my head as my audiology (especially Ph.D. level research) knowledge was just budding. Things were fun, too, as noise cancelling headphones and iPods were regularly given away. The hearing aid manufacturers threw lavish parties and concerts.
That all changed a few years back. No more gifts or Huey Lewis shows. One of the biggest companies pulled out of participating on the Expo Floor. This year, a few more followed. One rep. explained that it was becoming too expensive. Too many conventioneers were not buying/committing to buy devices but rather were merely rushing the booth for those coveted free passes to parties. The party ended.
Well, not entirely. Another big manufacturer still had a Thursday night bash. At a dude ranch outside of Phoenix in a town called Laveen. A mariachi band greeted us as we stepped off the bus. There were indoor and outdoor concerts, mainly country music. In the back field, potbellied pigs had a race. There was a mechanical bull (which looked easier to navigate than the one in URBAN COWBOY) off to the side. Even a rodeo. Good Mexican food and Corona beer were plentiful. Later, bonfires were lit for smores. The warm, dry Arizona air was fresh. My wife joined me to reunite with old classmates and the company rep. who is one of the sweetest you'll meet.
The day sessions I attended were overall, quite good. Luminaries in the field spoke of the importance of considering cardiac physiology when diagnosing hearing and balance issues. Others made the case to re-examine diagnostic tests such as the acoustic reflex (to be featured in a future "Your Audiology Tutorial" entry) in our daily batteries. I listened to a few industry talks, including one taking a different approach to tinnitus management via sound therapy. It raised many questions, but sounded favorable. Whoever finally cures tinnitus will win the Nobel Prize, or at least should. Two ladies with whom I graduated did presentations for their respective employers as well.
There was one talk on misophonia that was, well, the less said the better. I almost walked out. Someone really needed to proofread those slides. And no, you don't get a pass because English is your second (or third) language.
But the thrill, as they've said, was gone. Everything felt, well, tired. And what happened to the Trivia Bowl? An end of convention tradition where teams with funny (sometimes risque) audiology related names answer really arcane questions about the field?
Seeing old familiar faces is always fun, but even many of them have been reduced to a few polite exchanges. We used to have real discussions! Ah, life. It happens. There was one reunion with a dear friend that was more than just a few smiles and stale memories. My wife and I got to spend some quality time with her at the dude ranch and dinner the following evening at a decent place called The Arrogant Butcher.
A plug was made for next year's event in Indianapolis. They promised a "fresh perspective", really touted it as something new. Perhaps even the organizers have sensed the malaise. We'll see. Although, I'm holding out for Nashville in 2018.
Friday, May 6, 2016
Evans narrates 2002's THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE, stating early on that he was "shitting his pants" during his brief career as a Hollywood heartthrob. He much preferred to be the guy who got to decide if the kid stayed in the picture. By the late 60s, after gaining the attention of Gulf & Western titan Charles Bluhdorn, he would become head of production at Paramount Studios, then ranked ninth among the Hollywood fantasy factories. Evans dramatically reversed fortunes and an impressive string of films (ROSEMARY'S BABY, TRUE GRIT, THE GODFATHER, LOVE STORY) would be made during his tenure. But the kid was tired of "making everyone else rich" and became an independent producer in the mid-70s, beginning with CHINATOWN.
There would be several more years of success before the inevitable fallout. He would finally succumb to drugs. The movies started to bomb. There was even an unfortunate association with a murder case that would put him on the LaLa Land blacklist. He would lose his office at Paramount and his beloved Beverly Hills hideaway. Perhaps a classic riches to rags tale, surely one of many in Los Angeles.
Maybe Evans was a classic Hollywood "winner": driven, aggressive, tireless, combative, manipulative. Qualities that "get the job done". One doesn't climb the ranks by always being agreeable and tender hearted. Perhaps it was just survival. Life in the shark tank requires a mettle and fearlessness that many do not have the stomach for. Like that of many similar classic Hollywood legends, his personal life suffered badly. Seven broken marriages, a few "blink and you'll miss it". One annulment. Another with rising star Ali MacGraw, who would bear his only child and eventually leave him for Steve McQueen.
THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE is a generally satisfying paraphrase of Evans' book, a tell-all of the Hollywood fast lane. I have not read it (wonder if it's as brutal as Julia Phillips' You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again?) but am curious to learn more about all those marriages (only the one with MacGraw is mentioned here) and the behind the scenes fracas with Coppola on THE GODFATHER and later, the bloated, ill-fated THE COTTON CLUB. I felt a bit cheated with the time spent on GODFATHER, but surely a miniseries could be created on that topic alone. It was interesting to hear that Paramount actually shaped the book Mario Puzo wrote before it ever became a movie adaptation. The ambitions were high for this saga, and Evans and company set out to make a truly authentic Italian Mob drama, as all the previous ones were "made by and starred Jews."
Directors/producers/writers Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgan have created a brisk, fascinating bio that sports a wealth of privileged photographs of Evans' high and low life and some creative use of pop-up book like images to punctuate the subject's anecodotes. Bludhorn, for example, is always shown in black and white with a semi-malevolent expression, whether smiling or otherwise. There are clips from talk shows and Dustin Hoffman does his best Evans impersonation over the end titles.
Evans' voice is both soothing and irritating, his cockiness still intact even after decades of failure. But he always sounds wistful, full of longing and acknowledgement for his halcyon years. Wise to his own excess and flaws, though I suspect he whitewashed his story (and himself) for this documentary, lest he sound so self absorbed as to be a complete turn off. It's hard to tell sometimes if we're being buffaloed by the man, and what to say that the film begins with the very accurate statement that every story has three sides: mine, yours, and the truth? I can imagine MacGraw, Coppola, Robert Towne, and all the rest might have a different take on the events depicted.
But either way, being an insufferable asshole does get you places, just take a gander at the current Presidential race.
Monday, May 2, 2016
This is confirmed over and over in 2015's THE BIG SHORT, an adaptation of Michael Lewis non-fiction book. The key moment may be when hedge fund manager Mark Baum (well played by Steve Carrell) and his brokers listen to mortgage guys explain how they really make serious money by selling risky mortgages to the banks on Wall Street. The loans have been converted into what are called a collateralized debt obligations, basically bonds that have their principle backed by a pool of mortgage debt. It only gets more complicated from there.
The screenplay by Charles Randolph and director Adam McKay attempts to make the multilayered financial machinations and jargon at least semi-understandable to the layperson, but unless you're in the business (or were one of those who suffered a foreclosure), good luck. Wall Street wants you to be confused, to not have a true understanding of their workings. This may be true of other professions as well. Things are so complex the filmmakers thought it helpful to have periodic fourth wall breaking by celebrities like Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez (appearing as themselves) to break it down in easier to understand terms. Even chef Anthony Bourdain shows up and uses an analogy with day old fish.
THE BIG SHORT switches among several characters, all of whom are following the hunch of Michael Burry (Christian Bale), another hedge fund manager (and medical doctor) who is convinced that the housing market will collapse a good two to three years before it finally occurs. He alarms his bosses and clients by creating several credit default swap accounts at banks all over Manhattan. It's a long term strategy that will cause his companies to lose millions until the day of reckoning, when the collapse causes a 489% increase in his fund. But who wouldn't panic in the meantime?
Other traders and investors catch wind of Burry's strategy and likewise brave the wild ride, and the film intercuts their scenes fairly well, never feeling episodic, maintaining a manic energy throughout, much of that owed to caffeinated editing by Hank Corwin and a lively soundtrack of rap and rock music. The cast also includes Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt, who plays a retired securities trader who assists a pair of upstarts.
Curiously, it isn't until late in the film that the characters begin to feel some remorse - they are about to profit from the destruction of several financial markets around the world and all the poor souls who entered into unwise terms. There are scenes where the characters express regret, even go to the press to try to expose the banks, but on doomsday still take the money. So you could argue that they are no better than the bankers and CDO managers. Pretty depressing.
2015 was a year where some directors like McKay, more associated with goofy comedies, made a bid for more high brow fare. Note Jay Roach's helming of TRUMBO. Not sure about that one, and McKay gives THE BIG SHORT a good try, but I wouldn't toss him the keys to any potential classics just yet.
The end scrawl informs us that CDOs have returned to the market, now called "bespoke tranche opportunities". Unsurprising. I wonder if there is a Michael Burry type looking to profit over a possible/probable student loan bubble to come?