Two movies, two thumbs-up

We caught two of the recent movie releases and can give them both a thumbs-up. They are two very different movies – “Blade Runner 2049” and “The Battle of the Sexes.”

“Blade Runner 2049” is a sequel of a cult classic movie with Harrison Ford. It was a dark futuristic movie and the sequel does justice to the original. Ryan Gosling and Robin Wright star along with Ford, but the other supporting roles add greatly to the movie, especially Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Mackenzie Davis and Jared Leto. If you did not like the first Blade Runner, you won’t like this one. But, it does have a good plot and theme. I would add what seemed so science fiction when the first movie was made in the early 1980s, seems less so now, which is a little unsettling.

Gosling plays his role quite well as does Hoeks. De Armas’ role is quite interesting too, and she is ideally suited for it. I will try to stay away from further reveals, but encourage you to watch it. Some have called the movie sexist given some of the roles. I understand their point and would agree that parts of the movie are. I would counter that Wright and Hoeks have a lot of screen time and play key roles, so I will let you be the overall judge.

“The Battle of the Sexes” is about the lead up to the famous tennis match between former men’s champion Bobby Riggs and current women’s champion and advocate for women, Billie Jean King. Riggs was a renowned hustler who loved to gamble in conflict with his wealthy wife’s wishes. At the age of 55, he saw a chance to make money by challenging King, who initially turned him down.

King knew Riggs for what he was, a showman, and she was deep in the middle of the start of the women’s tennis circuit called the “Virginia Slims circuit” when they boycotted the USTA for the much smaller money being paid to women. Riggs did find another opponent in Margaret Court, who was married with one child, playing her on Mother’s Day. Although, the current number one player, Court was not prepared to play that day (and greatly underestimated the situation) and Riggs easily beat her, which drew a match with King.

I remember this national prime time match between King and Riggs, so the movie brought back a lot of memories. The other key subplot is King was dealing with her own Lesbianism which began to manifest itself during the Virginia Slims tour. To say, she was conflicted at this crucial time is an understatement. Her husband Larry stood by her for awhile, but to see his angst through this is also important, as she loved him and respected his input and support.

The movie stars Emma Stone as King and Steve Carell as Riggs. Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming, Andrea Riseborough, Elisabeth Shue, Bill Pullman and Austin Stowell also play key roles. Stone and Carell are excellent in their roles. Cumming, though, eats up the screen with his role, in my view.

Check them both out. Let me know what you think. Is Blade Runner too sexist? Do you remember the King/ Riggs’ match?

 

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Hypocrisy abounds with the NFL

Colin Kaepernick, a proven talented quarterback, cannot get a job in the National Football League (NFL). Even non-football fans know the reason is he chooses to exercise his First Amendment rights and kneel in protest during the playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick does this as he feels blacks are not getting fair treatment in the US and too many are being needlessly killed.

Yet, this protesting prevents NFL football teams from hiring him since his release from his previous team. You would think the man is radioactive. Many fans are stridently against him given a bent to jingoistic behavior. But, before you decide to do the same, let’s speak of three hypocrisies in the NFL leadership ranks.

First, the NFL likes to portray a patriotic theme, with heavy military showmanship. Looking under the covers, your tax dollars pay for that show. Our military pays the NFL for the privilege to advertise their service for employment recruiting purposes. I am not saying we should not be patriotic, but this payment for jingoistic advertising may be the key reason he is not being hired.

Second, Kaepernick is exercising his rights to free speech, which is preventing his being hired. That is more representative of our freedom than a national anthem. But, digging deeper, the NFL has little problem with employing convicted or suspended players who have committed crimes such as domestic violence, drug possession, drug distribution, theft or steroid use. Advocating for Black Lives Matter is perceived to be worse than these crimes.

Finally, it would be well within the rights of Kaepernick to protest the NFL for its role in hiding their concussion problem that led to brain injuries that may not appear until after the players stopped playing. This active and prolonged obfuscation of the truth caused even more players to get concussions and be exposed to brain injury. The NFL eventually settled the law suit against them for $1 Billion which went to impacted players. While this is a major step, the league still tries to avoid some painful truths.

When I see commentators and fans denigrate Kaepernick for exercising his rights, I think of these hypocrisies. The answer for his problem rests with the other players. Unless more than a few kneel out of respect for his rights and his legitimate protests,  Kaepernick will not play again in the NFL. In the meantime, we fans need to understand why he is protesting and support his right to do so.

 

 

 

A few distractions from unexpected guitarists

With so many things happening in the world, we could use a few distractions. The following music factoids on some interesting guitar collaborations are quite unimportant, but may bring a moment of relief and reflection.

Joe Cocker covered several songs making them his own with his unusual style, including The Beatles’ “Little Help from my Friends.” What I just learned this week, the beautiful guitar lead-in to and throughout the song was played by none other than Jimmy Page. Page had left The Yardbirds and had not started Led Zeppelin with Robert Plant.

– Speaking of great lead guitarists, Jeff Beck, who also played with The Yardbirds and with several famous performers like Rod Stewart, Mick Jaggar, Tina Turner et al, was captured in a collaboration on a very famous song with a Motown star. Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” has a pulsating and memorable guitar riff throughout, played by Beck.

– Another guitar collaboration married a very talented songwriter and performer by the name of Michael Jackson with lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen. Jackson’s famous song “Beat it” has a Beck-like guitar riff and solo player by Van Halen, whose own band is quite successful.

Eric Clapton is arguably the best known guitarist in the world. He also played briefly     with The Yardbirds – an amazing line-up of guitar talent. Before he died, Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers joined with Clapton on his most famous song “Layla.” Allman was an expert slide guitarist, so he played the plaintiff crying sound on “Layla” for the last half of the song.

– Finally, although not quite the capable guitarists as the above players, two other famous musicians played on “Carolina in my Mind,” James Taylor’s song. Taylor was signed by Apple Records, which was The Beatles’ self-created label. Needing a bassist and additional guitarist, Paul McCartney and George Harrison decided to do the honors for Taylor. That was quite the set of studio musicians for the 18 year old Taylor.

I find these collaborations fascinating. When I learned of them much later than when the songs were hits, I enjoyed the songs even more. Give them a listen and hear past the singer for the guitar sound. There are some famous fingers strumming along in these songs making them even more memorable.

Interviewers – ask your question then be quiet

My friend Lisa, who is the pied piper of Ecuador as an involved and involving American expat, offered a comment specific to Fox News about interviewers talking over the answers of people being interviewed. While Fox is far from perfect, they are not alone in interviewers who trample over their guests’ answers. I was planning on writing a piece before I saw her comment, as I get so frustrated when I see this happen.

Two of the worst at this are Gayle King of “CBS Morning News” and Bill Maher of “Real Time with Bill Maher.” I like both of these folks and think Maher is one of the more informed interviewers around. Even though his show is a comedy show, he welcomes guests that have varying views to discuss the topics of the day. King also has a lot to offer, but in a format with two other capable interviewers, she sometimes overshadows the guest to hear herself talk.

What frustrates me more, is when they have a very knowledgeable, but less pushy guest, who is in the middle of making a well-thought out and experienced based point. What happens too often is the point remains incomplete and the guest has to go in a different direction in response to the interruption. My wife teases me when she hears me exclaim “Let the person talk!”

An equally troubling approach is fully deployed by “60 Minutes” interviewers. John Oliver on his news-based comedy show “Last Week Tonight” does a piece which illustrates this approach – giving the answer to the person being interviewed who parrots what the interviewer just said. When Oliver shows about a dozen of these clips in sequence, it is hysterical.

So, interviewer do us all a favor. Ask your question, then be quiet. Let your interviewee finish the answer. Do not talk over the answer to show us how smart you think you are. I would prefer you do your homework beforehand and ask good questions. What ends up happening is the interview falls short of what it could have been. And, don’t give the person the answer – let them use their words.

Guess Who Randy Bachman is

For someone who has been a driving force behind two very successful rock bands, most people could not tell you who Randy Bachman is. The two clues are in the title.

Starting in Winnipeg, Canada, Bachman teamed with Burton Cummings to form the “Guess Who.” Cummings is the voice you hear as lead singer, but Bachman is the lead guitarist and co-writer of most of the songs with Cummings.

Several songs of note from a vast body of work include: “American Woman,” “No Time,” “These Eyes,” “Undun,” “Hand me Down World,” ” Albert Flasher,” “Share the Land,” “No Sugar Tonight/ Mother Nature,” and many others. It is hard for me to pick a favorite as the quality of each is terrific, but if you held a gun to my head, I would say “Share the Land.”

After deciding to part ways, Bachman formed another group with his two brothers – Robbie and Tim – and Fred Turner. The band used the moniker “Bachman Turner Overdrive.” Often referred to as BTO, the band offered a heavier rock sound than the Guess Who.

Some of BTO’s songs include their anthem “Let it Ride,” the most radio played “Takin’ Care of Business,” “You ain’t seen Nothing Yet,” “Hey You,” and my personal favorite “Roll on Down the Highway.”

Even though Bachman is a major part of both groups, they have different sounds. In the Guess Who, Cummings is a very underrated singer whose voice is expressive. The lyrics are more poetic with terrific musicality in support of Cummings voice. “These Eyes” is a great example of their work – “these eyes have seen a lot of love, but they’re never going to see another one like you.”

Neither lead singer in BTO matches the vocal talents of Cummings. But, that is OK. The harder songs – “Let it Ride” and “Roll on Down the Highway” – have a more robust feel with the guitar lead. BTO’s other hits are more fun than gritty, but they do have great guitar riffs, as well. “Takin’ Care of Business” starts and continues with a well-known guitar riff that even AC/DC, who typically started each song with a guitar riff, would admire. My guess is this song would be the fan favorite at a concert.

If you are not familiar with either band, start with the Guess Who. You will likely recognize some of their songs. “American Woman” was later covered by Lenny Kravitz. But, you must give BTO a listen. They had a huge following as well.

“If your train’s on time, you can get to work by nine and start your slavin’ job to get your pay……..takin’ care of business.”

An Inconvenient Sequel

I watched the documentary sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth,” earlier this week. The title is aptly named “An Inconvenient Sequel,” and is truly a must-see movie with Al Gore leading the charge to discuss battling climate change. Former Vice President and Nobel Prize winning Gore is one of the few people who walks the talk on any subject.

He is out there teaching countless others and bringing leaders together to look to our future. His expertise as a non-scientist is unparalleled and the respect he is genuinely afforded by world leaders is in evidence. Many of the folks he has taught, usually in groups of 600 or so people, have gone on to lead efforts in other countries. From the movie, he played a key role in getting India to the table with financial commitments to build solar farms rather than a devastating 400 coal plants.

He demonstrates some of the predictions made in the first movie in 2006 have come to fruition. A particular example was the prediction of the flooding of lower Manhattan if a hurricane met up with warmer oceans and came ashore. He was criticized after the first movie, but Hurricane Sandy did indeed flood the area getting into the 9-11 monument construction, as forecasted.

He also waded through the streets of Miami Beach with the Mayor and others as flooding routinely occurs at high tide, even without storms. The Mayor was very clear that climate change is happening and it is right here. It should be noted this is in a state where the Governor refuses to meet with people to discuss climate change and has forbidden discussion of climate change by his staff. That is the power of the fossil fuel industry where a Governor of a state surrounded on three sides by water cannot bring himself to discuss the flooding of his biggest city.

The movie spends some time on the lead up to the Paris Climate Change Accord and the excitement there. It was very interesting seeing Gore help broker a deal with India and a solar energy company and investor capital. Coming to an agreement was a major victory for the world, even though our current President has back tracked on what was committed. Fortunately, as I mentioned in the post on the book “Climate of Hope,” cities, businesses and citizens are leading the way, leaving Washington behind.

In the movie, Gore highlights the significant efforts in places like Chile as they exponentially increase solar energy development in dramatic fashion. Even in our own country, solar and wind energy are going like gangbusters with double-digit job growth and surpassing earlier forecasts. Progress is being made, but we cannot backtrack. The current President is throwing water on the fire, but the fire is too big for him to stop the changes.

Please spread the word about the movie and go see it yourself. It is that important.

 

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Comfortable in a role – Tommy Lee Jones

I was watching for the umpteenth time one of my favorite movies, “The Fugitive,” starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. While Ford is the lead as the fugitive, the movie belongs to Jones, who plays a US Marshal.

Jones is so very comfortable and believable in the role. But, he is like that in many roles he plays, from Loretta Lynn’s husband in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” to the adventurous movie I first saw him in “Nate and Hayes,” to his playing a talented and irascible man in “Cobb.”

The best line of “The Fugitive,” was not written by the screenwriters and was an ad-lib by Jones in character. When Ford is first cornered at water storm drain, he said to Jones’ character, “I did not kill my wife.” To which Jones responded, “I don’t care!” The line resonated so much, Ford’s character reminded him of it later in the movie after the Marshal saved him and proved his innocence.

Whether he is playing a hero, anti-hero, misunderstood person, villain or antagonist, Jones eats up the screen. In “Blown Away” and “The Package,” he plays the villain that needs to be stopped. In “The Client,” he is an attention seeking prosecutor who is the antagonist to Susan Sarandon’s young client. In “JFK,” he plays a wealthy gay entrepreneur who may know something about the assassination.

But, I enjoy him most when he plays the anti-hero roles where he does his job and cares little about rules and more about the truth. “The Fugitive” and his spinoff sequel “US Marshals” fill this role. I also enjoy “Space Cowboys” with Clint Eastwood and “In the Valley of Elah” with Charlize Theron.

Just mentioning these co-stars, reminds me he seems to be in movies with other big stars, which is telling – a few more include Sissy Spacek, Gene Hackman, Jeff Bridges, Donald Sutherland, James Garner, Kevin Costner, and Will Smith.

What are some of your favorites? I did not see the “Men in Black” movies, so I cannot  offer comment.