Friday, October 21, 2016

Money Monster

Okay, I finally got to see Jodie Foster's film, Money Monster, last night on pay-per-view. I wanted to see it from the time I first saw the trailers at the movies.

Directed by Ms. Foster and produced by George Clooney, Money Monster is a tense drama, riveting to the end. In fact, it was time to feed the dogs, midway through the film. They sat begging at my feet, so I paused the video, got up, fed them, and went right back to watching, foregoing my own meal until after I watched the whole thing.

With an impressive cast and a talented director, this is one to see.

George Clooney stars as Lee Gates, the host of a television show called Money Monster, which uses hip dances and appropriately cheesy pop culture to give the viewers investment tips. Julia Roberts plays Patty Fenn, the longtime director of the program. Dominic West, a talented British import, excellent at playing the wealthy amoral man, plays Walt Camby, the owner of a corporation which lost $800 million dollars literally overnight and bankrupted many of the stockholders. Caitriona Balfe, of Outlander fame, plays his assistant, his mistress, and the one who suspects he was involved in the disappearance of the money. Long time character actor, Giancarlo Esposito, plays the police captain in charge of the SWAT team. Christopher Denham plays Ron Sprecher, whose comic misadventure makes him oblivious to the real danger. Lenny Venito plays Lenny, the cameraman, brave enough to follow all the action.

And last, but certainly not least, Jack O'Connell plays Kyle Budwell, a disgruntled investor who lost all his money by following Gates' advice to buy stock from the company of Dominic West. Wiped out of his meager fortune, he sneaks into the studio as a delivery man while the show is live on the air. He makes it into the studio, pulls out a gun and a vest with a bomb on it. He takes over the studio on live tv and demands Gates put on the vest and explain what happened to his $60,000.

A consummate professional, Patty (Roberts) deftly gives Gates' instructions in his earphone while directing security personnel to call NYPD.

Naturally the situation deteriorates from there with the police wanting to storm the studio and take out Budwell and possibly Gates if the bomb goes off in the melee. Patty starts releasing all nonessential personnel in the background, allowing them to leave the building.

Meanwhile the broadcast is still live. People all over the world are watching and a couple of them are involved. People all over NYC are glued to their devices watching the live drama unfold. When Budwell takes Gates out to the streets, all the while being broadcast by Lenny, the brave cameraman, the situation gets even worse. In the background Diane Lester (Balfe) conducts her own investigation of the stock fall and finds some irregularities. She speaks to people all over the world to find out what really happened.

The film grabs your attention as the people race to find the solution and save Gates.  He understands Budwell and begins to bond with him. Gates has to face some hard facts about himself, learning a painful lesson about his life. Budwell turns out to be a sympathetic character forced by the desperation of his circumstances to act as he has.

The film races to its surprising conclusion and the viewer is left feeling like you've run a marathon...i.e. stunned and drained of energy.

It didn't get great reviews when it was released, but when has that ever stopped me?

This one is a gem filled with good actors, a meticulous director, and a taut script. It also got me thinking about my upcoming inheritance and how NOT to invest it...sigh, reality bites, you know?

Until next time, take care and enjoy our rich and varied pop culture...

Saturday, October 15, 2016

I sold my mother's jewels today

Thirteen years after her death and ten months after my dad's I finally sold my mother's jewelry today. Both of my parents wanted me to have the jewelry. In fact the day after Mom's funeral, Dad trotted it all out, informing me it was mine.  He was happy to do it, even smiling. He didn't understand when I said I didn't want it.

He kept pushing and pushing until I yelled at him. "I want my mother not the blasted jewelry!" His face took on the puzzled expression I would see more frequently as he slipped into dementia.

Knowing he'd just lost his wife and would never understand anyway, I gathered up the jewelry and packed it away for my return trip to Texas.

Thus began the saga of my mother's jewelry. He asked if I wanted him to place her large solitaire diamond ring with a local broker to sell and I agreed. After a few months it sold. So I didn't have to see it or think about it. The rest I plunked in a safe deposit box and ignored. Once I went and got out a couple of rings and a diamond bracelet for a role I was playing in a current production. Other than that, I never wore it.

I probably sound like a brat. Maybe I am, but here's the and the pursuit of it ruined my family. My entire life my parents were all about money. I understand why. They were both children of the depression who grew up in genteel poverty.  Both of my grandfathers worked when others didn't. My mother's father worked construction in Miami at a time when the resort was beginning to boom. My father's father worked in law enforcement, so he always had a job. But he had six children to feed. In my mom's family there were three daughters.

Money or lack thereof was a frequent topic of discussion in their respective homes. They came to think with money they would always be safe and free of fear. Of course they were both taught otherwise frequently as adults but clung to their core belief. It was the only refuge they knew.

As a child I recognized the emptiness of pursuing wealth. I never wanted to drive a new Cadillac every year, sparkle with jewels, or wear dead animals on my back. I grew up to be a hippie. People were more important to me and I ended up in social work. My values were opposite of both my parents. I worked for the poor, the neglected, the abused, and the exploited. I went places law enforcement wouldn't go, at times knowing my life was in danger. But I went anyway because those people needed an advocate.

My parents aged and Dad retired, no longer the "big wheel" he once had been, and smarting from it. They were at a loss in retirement. Dad played golf in his expensive country club neighborhood. My mother, always shy, mostly stayed home, seeing few friends, and drinking more until she got so sick she didn't drink at all. She never connected well with people except by being the richest one in the group. Where they lived their last years everyone was on their economic level, some even higher. Her life crumbled around her. She shrank into herself and into a bourbon or vodka bottle, her diamond rings flashing as she lifted the glass to her lips for another drink.

Bedfast for seven months, gradually she put away all her fancy jewelry, wearing only her wedding rings until the day before she died. She asked Dad to put them away finally.

All of Dad's accoutrements of wealth went the same way during the ten years I was his caregiver. One by one everything slipped away. He was no longer able to physically play golf. He finally agreed to sell his beloved Cadillac, couldn't figure out how to change the time on his Rolex and wore his beloved golf clothes which hung on his much smaller frame. The last time he wore them was the last time he went to the hospital. He was wearing them when they wheeled him into the ER. He stayed there over a week and went to hospice care. The rest of his life he wore pajamas.

He was called before the homeowner's association board for the condition of his yard. He shuffled into the meeting in a stained jacket, one of his golf hats and one of his ensembles for the golf course. He was sadly arrogant, a ghost of the man he had been. He laughed at the board with scorn, saying "you don't know who I am. You can't do anything to me." They gave him a deadline to fix the dollar weed problem or face fines. He walked out of there, the shadow of the international vice president he had been, a satisfied smirk on his face. The next day he had forgotten about it, his own perceived victory vanished into what was left of his mind. I arranged for the treatments to the yard and wrote the checks to pay them.

Their house has long since sold to a new family who did extensive renovations. Dad is buried beside Mom at a local cemetery. All the things which were their benchmark for the success of their lives are dispersed.

I sold a few pieces of Mom's jewelry when we had the estate sale. Someone bought them for his wife. They had an important anniversary coming up. The woman who ran the sale said he was thrilled. I'm glad. I hope she enjoys them.

I didn't sell the rest of her jewelry while Dad was alive. I didn't want to hurt him. He'd lost so much already.

Earlier this week, a local jeweler announced they were setting appointments for buying jewelry. So I made one,drove out there this morning and sold everything I brought. They didn't pay much. I didn't expect them to. For all the baubles, rings, bracelets, a diamond heart shaped pendant, and a Baume & Mercier gold and diamond watch, I got ten cents on the dollar. That's okay. I'll use the money I got to pay expenses for Dad's estate, still not settled.

Our family life was what it was. I accepted it and went my own way, knowing I couldn't change anything.
Today I grieved once more for my lost parents.

Freed of the burden of the jewelry, I thought I'd feel better, but I am numb.

It will pass.

Until next time when I promise another movie review, take care...blessed be.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Westworld - HBO

The original film, Westworld, opened in 1973 taken from work by Michael Crichton, known in those days for his books such as The Andromeda Strain.

After months of advertising and teaser clips, HBO premiered their new much-anticipated limited series. The first episode of the series Westworld aired last night in the coveted time slot True Blood once occupied.

It starts out with background staff of the amusement park known as Westworld investigating some unanticipated malfunctions in the robotic units, known as hosts to the visitors at the park. The action switches to a scene between Ed Harris, playing The Man in Black, Evan Rachel Wood, playing Dolores Abernathy, and James Marsden, playing Teddy Flood.

The scene is a tease. Marsden has been followed by the camera from the beginning, giving the impression he is a visiting guest. The hosts are not able to kill the guests, their guns do not function when pointed at a human being. However in a confrontation with the Man in Black over Dolores Abernathy, Teddy Flood, whose shots were ineffective against his adversary is "murdered." The unaffected Man in Black drags a screaming Dolores into a barn where he shuts the door as the screaming intensifies. Then it's the next morning, Dolores is walking around the town with a smile on her face as she greets Teddy who is all hale, hearty, and also smiling. They have no memory of the night before.

Get the picture? Westworld is an amusement park for the very rich and salacious segment of the human population. When humans come to Westworld, they are free to do whatever they wish to the hosts. The hosts on the other hand may never harm a human. Even the horses, dogs, cows, etc are robotic doubles of biologicals.

Uh huh.  The advertising slogan for the 1970s movie, was "Westworld, where nothing can go worrngg."

In the original, the androids revolted and massacred the guests not only in Westworld, but in two other adjoining parks with similar themes. Two guests, played by Peter Fonda and Blythe Danner, managed to outwit The Man in Black, played by Yul Brynner as a gunfighter in the same all black outfit he'd worn in The Magnificent Seven thirteen years before. He was one of the androids determined to kill the pair. He followed them until he was finally incapacitated and could no longer move, thus allowing their escape. (I fell in love with him when I was six years old and some neighbors took me to see The King and I, the big movie that year. Bless him that man had GRAVITAS...)

From the first episode of the HBO series, I sense this one is going to be much darker, more malevolent than the original.

It's eerie and evocative with lots and lots of completely naked hosts, all shapes, all sizes, all ages. Lots of shots in one scene of unclothed hosts sitting on stools taken from behind, their derrieres unflatteringly displayed. (Just imaging mine displayed that way made me put away the sugar free chocolate!) In the first episode, very little was not shown, particularly on the men. So this probably isn't something for young impressionable children to watch.

There was the usual statement about nudity and sexual situations so trust the disclaimers on this one.

There is also some graphic violence depicted with the "guests" cheering and guffawing as they shoot down the hosts one by one in horrendous, blood spurting gore.

After one particularly brutal scene, I thought "yep, I know where this is going..."

Anthony Hopkins plays Dr. Robert Ford the creator of the citizens of Westworld.  He is seen, an amiable Geppetto, examining one of his creations while he and Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) examine a malfunctioning unit. The host has developed "reveries" or gestures which he was not programmed to do. They decide the gestures may be a precursor to more unlearned behavior, or in other words, trouble.

I have my thoughts on what will happen, but I'll save them for the end of the series. Let's see if I'm correct. Knowing HBO, they'll have some twists in this one, no one expects.

Filmed on location in Utah, the scenery is breathtaking, a true picture of the old west. The wooden town is surrounded on all sides with sand, scrub vegetation and majestic mesas.

Just remember this is the place where nothing can go "worrngg."