Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mary Tyler Moore

I just heard Mary Tyler Moore has died. I feel like I've lost a beloved friend. Not only was this woman a talented actress, dancer, and musical comedy star, she was funny, but she was also an unintentional feminist icon.

Her first ongoing television role in a series was the secretary of detective Richard Diamond. She was always shown behind a desk with her legs crossed as she answered his phone. In those days, women did not wear slacks at office jobs. They wore dresses. So the camera always caressed her legs crossed and wearing high heels as she talked on the phone. He called her "Legs" for good reason. Her voice was sultry as she offered him her take on his cases. We never saw her face on the show, only her dancer's legs.

Following in the footsteps of such shows as "Ozzie and Harriet" and even "I Love Lucy", Moore was hired to play Dick Van Dyke's wife on his show. She was known a Laura Petrie, a glamorous woman her husband met when a USO show came to his base during his stint in the military. She was a dancer for the USO. The action in the series took place several years later when they were married, living in New Rochelle, NY. Van Dyke played Robert Petrie, known as Rob. He was one of a trio of writers for the fictitious Allen Brady show. Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner's father, played Brady. The Petries had a son named Richie who went from being about 6 on the show to 10. Laura was frequently dressed in form fitting slacks, rarely did she wear dresses unless they were going out. Such outfits first introduced on "I Love Lucy" were still a rarity.

Unlike Harriet Nelson, Laura Petrie was no old-fashioned wife. Unlike Lucy, Laura's show business dreams were fulfilled. Rob never forbade her. He was very proud of her. It was a wonderful show, my favorite of that era. All of the regular cast were wonderful. The dialogue was bright, some of the situations were hysterical. Mary Tyler Moore added spice and an example of a woman who met her husband as an equal in certain things. The first of her kind on television.

A few years after the demise of The Dick Van Dyke show, The Mary Tyler Moore show was born. This time she was a 30 something single woman with a career and a cadre of "second bananas" on her show. The ensemble on this one was just as wonderful as that of The Dick Van Dyke show. Hired first as a secretary, Mary Richards (Moore) was elevated to producer in the world of the independent television station in Minneapolis/St Paul. Her character worked more as an equal with most of the men than any other female character on television at the time. The show ran several years and was finally cancelled. They had a killer final episode which left with a long laugh from the studio audience.

Just a side, come on you knew I'd do this, don't I always? The Dick Van Dyke show was famous for having the longest sustained laugh from a live audience in television history. I remember a longer one on the great show "Taxi" a few years later. But that one was interrupted by ongoing dialogue. Anyway, the cast on the Dick Van Dyke like the good stage actors they were, held their dialogue until the laughter wound down. Course Van Dyke and the guest star Greg Morris (who went on the be part of the original ensemble on "Mission: Impossible") both had tears running down their cheeks from laughing along with the audience.

After her sitcom successes, Mary Tyler Moore worked on Broadway and in occasional films. I heard her interviewed on NPR a couple of years ago.  She said she didn't really like California and preferred New York. She liked appearing on Broadway to live audiences.

She was nominated for an Oscar for her starring role in "Ordinary People" but did not win. Although the film won Best Picture. Directed by Robert Redford, his directorial debut, it won for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Timothy Hutton), and Best Adapted Screenplay. Moore was nominated for Best Actress and Judd Hirsch for Best Supporting Actor - neither of them won.

Moore won an Emmy Award for her work on the 1977 season of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show" - The show won for best comedy that year as well.

Later in her career, she won a special Tony Award for a production of "Whose Life Is It Anyway?"

During her time on Dick Van Dyke's show, she was diagnosed with diabetes, which plagued her the rest of her life. She never let it slow her down or affect her  performances.

Finally I say, Goodnight, Mary. Thank you for inspiring generations of girls and young women by showing what we could all do. No meek little housewife here. Even when she was young, Ms. Moore was a woman of substance with keen intelligence shining from her eyes, taking charge of her destiny. Rest well, you deserve it.

So begins 2017... I hope we won't lose as many celebrities as we did in 2016.

Until next time...

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Accountant

I've been on a movie watching spree this week. This time I've been watching on pay-per-view instead of venturing to the movie theater.

My first film to see in the comfort of my own home was The Accountant starring Ben Affleck. This one is a taut suspense film both in learning his background and in law enforcement's pursuit of this well shadowed assassin with deadly fame.

Affleck plays Christian, a man with a type of Autism which allows him to function in society. Labelled a math savant, he becomes an accountant as he is excellent with numbers.

The film begins with scenes in his childhood home. Christian is difficult to handle. It looks like the mid to late 1950s. His mother insists he needs help and they go to a rural institute in New Hampshire seeking care for him. The creator of the facility talks to the mother, while her husband, a military officer, stands with his arms folded tightly in front and a stoic expression on his face.

The doctor offers to help Christian to which the mother expresses her gratitude. But she is countermanded by her overbearing husband. He doesn't think Christian needs any help.  He needs to be exposed to the real world so he can function and get out of this phase of his life. The husband thinks his wife is just silly and indulgent. Later in the film, she leaves the family one day, just walks out, leaving her husband to handle Christian's emotional outburst. Her younger son watches her leave as he gives her the one finger salute looking out the window at her.

Thus Christian and his little brother are left in the hands of their uncaring father. The boys are trained in the martial arts with their father directing them in picking fights with older boys until they are proficient in hand-to-hand combat. Then they are trained in all manner of weaponry.

As an adult, Christian is an accountant with a small practice out of a rural strip mall office. He is an excellent accountant with his ability with numbers. However, he is a much better covert assassin with his expertise in weaponry and lack of compassion. Hired by some very dangerous people to do their dirty work with no slips, he has become very wealthy and picks his jobs as he pleases.

He is always careful to set up a new alias and personal info for each job. But the head Treasury agent is on his trail. Played by the venerable J.K. Simmons, who seems to be in almost every film I see these days, he is close to discovering the truth about Christian. So he brings in a subordinate agent, a woman, to finish the job under his supervision.

In the meantime, Christian has met a young woman on one of his cover jobs, temping for a company with problems with their finances. He clicks on to the woman, played by Anna Kendrick. They have some life experiences in common. He saves her when rivals attack.

That's as far as I'll go. I don't want to spoil the film for you.

Affleck is excellent as Christian, with just enough humanity to keep him from seeming a robotic monster.

Simmons does his usual job as the retiring director of the Treasury Department.

Anna Kendrick, who I have only seen in lightweight comedies, was a surprise in the depth of her character portrayal.

This is a tense, solemn film, with a bit of a hopeful revelation at the end. It was refreshing to see Affleck play something other than his villainous portrayals in recent films.

In places this is an exciting film when the battles are being waged. For that's what Christian is, a warrior equipped with gifts beyond the norm.

Until next time...

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Deepwater Horizon

I should know better than this, but I watched Deepwater Horizon, another Mark Wahlberg film. This is based on the gruesome incident which took place in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. An oil exploration platform basically exploded, killing eleven of the workers. It is estimated to have to have spewed 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, making it the worst such accident in history. Areas of the Gulf were so befouled, fishing an important industry in that location was suspended for many months. Consequently the prices of seafood to the consumer went up exponentially. Marine life, including fish, shrimp, oysters, and birds was decimated.

In a film with harrowing scenes, one of the worst was before the humans realized the oil was starting to blow. A pelican, by the look of  it (identification was hard because the poor creature was coated in oil.) The bird flew through a window breaking it. Then it kept hitting things as it flopped around in the interior, screaming and panicking. It finally hit its head once too often and collapsed to the decking, a glass shard protruding out of its chest. Yes, I know it was done with CGI, but I couldn't help imagining how rough it was for the biological creatures in the path of the behemoth disaster.

Clearly caused by a gigantic case of hubris from the visiting BP (British Petroleum) execs who ignored warning signs and oil rig workers who pointed out the growing problems on their dials and gauges, this was a tragic situation that could have been prevented.

Led by John Malkovich the visiting execs were well portrayed. In the firestorm caused by the accident, the BP fellows insisted a life raft leave the area only partially filled while others were swimming through fire to get to the safety of the craft. Two of the men were eventually convicted with manslaughter as a result. But were later comment.

Along with Mark Wahlberg and John Malkovich, the cast includes Kurt Russell, his step-daughter Kate Hudson who plays Wahlberg's wife. Also notable is Gina Rodriguez who plays one of the staff minding the dials and gauges. She is responsible for sounding an unofficial "Mayday!" to the crew before her supervisor is sure it's needed. In fact he's chastising her when the whole thing begins to blow.

Eventually, BP had to pay $20 Billion (yep that's with a B not M) to the employees, the families of the deceased, and people whose livelihoods (i.e. commercial fishermen) and property were destroyed in the onslaught of oil that coated the northern Gulf of Mexico.

This is an incredible film, even for a disaster movie. I didn't have the guts to see it in the theater. After seeing Patriot's Day late last week in the theater, I really appreciated my choice of seeing this one at home.

Make no mistake, this is a well-made film, entertaining, shocking, and horrifying in places. Somehow I didn't really want any popcorn, though...

This one's available on pay-per-view with the various cable carriers and is available on rental basis or purchase.

Until next time...

Friday, January 13, 2017

Patriot's Day

Today I saw the new movie Patriot's Day - The story of the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, the film is earnest, hard-hitting, and realistic in its depiction of the crime as well as the carnage.

This is NOT a film for the faint of heart. The malevolence of the terrorist event is shown in chaotic motion, complete with the mix of the noises when the smoke died down and people began to realize what happened.

Have you ever been in a big accident, or near an explosion, or in a tornado which dances its malevolence near your house? The same thing always happens. During the incident, everything is just a confused jumble, then there is a moment of silence as the people/victims breathe for a minute and come back down to earth. There is always a period of stunned silence before all hell truly does break loose.

In an intense film, these moments were the most shattering. It happened when the victims and the helpers were looking around trying to understand what had just occurred. Many of the victims discovered severed legs or arms, their own or those of their loved ones. The screaming was awful, stirring the viewers with multiple emotions, shock, sadness, anger...That scene was masterfully crafted, though hard to watch.

The worst moment for me came when they discovered the body of the little eight-year-old boy who was killed. He lay sprawled in the street, straddling the curb. They covered his small broken corpse with a white blanket through which the blood soaked. The rest of his family members were injured and taken in the confusion to different hospitals. The FBI insisted his body stay where it was as it was now "evidence." The Boston police on the streets, led by Mark Wahlberg's character protested long and loud at this one, without success. So one of the officers, a member of a mounted patrol by his uniform, stood guard over the small body covered by a bloody blanket. They would show shots of him standing at attention during the investigation at the scene. When they finally allowed the body to be taken to the morgue, the officer stood at attention and saluted with tears flowing down his cheeks until the ambulance disappeared down the street.

It will be a long time before that image leaves my thoughts.

The film shows the action before the day of the bombing, introducing the main characters, including the bombers and goes until the younger brother is taken from the boat in which he hid in a Watertown backyard.

All the performances are tight, realistic portrayals of the people caught in this horrendous act.

There were standout performances by Mark Wahlberg (who also produced this film), as a Boston Police Sergeant who worked the marathon as final punishment for insubordination. He worked the case night and day until it was solved.

J K Simmons, my favorite psychiatrist from the old Law and Order series, portrayed the Chief of the Watertown Police Department
John Goodman (so much slimmer than in his Roseanne days) portrayed the Boston Commissioner of Police.

Kevin Bacon played the war-weary FBI agent in charge of the investigation.

Honestly, there were more than competent performances given by the entire cast.

At the end of the film, they introduced some of the real people played by actors in the film. They showed the Boston Strong movement and how some of the survivors have recovered and gone on to run in the Marathon.

They also showed the one remaining bomber in custody awaiting execution in prison.

A note - I have a history of motion sickness. It's one of the reasons I rarely fly. It's also why I prefer to watch fast moving film footage on my home television rather than a huge screen at the theater. I was really glad toward the end of the movie I had rushed past the concession stand on the way into the theater.
But it did give me an idea on my first thriller manuscript to beef up the climax scene a bit. You know how authors are...always watching for inspiration.

Take care and enjoy some pop culture. It's a nice change from politics!

Until next time...