Stars among stars do not beget a great movie

My wife and I watched a couple of movies this weekend that had an abundance of stars. They even had relatively high Rotten Tomatoes’ scores. But, they were far from being great movies.

Last night, we watched a thriller/ comedy starring seven headline stars called “Burn after Reading.” George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Francis McDormand, John Malkovich, Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins and JK Simmons could not make this movie great. It was at best OK, maybe earning a C- letter grade. Yet, it was disappointing given our expectations.

Earlier we watched a movie with three stars called “Certain Women” about three determined (actually four) women who are trying to make a go in Wyoming. It starred Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart and Michelle Williams. It also starred a Native American actress named Lily Gladstone who has appeared in a number of movies and had equal screen time in this movie to the three stars.

Sadly, the movie was very tedious and longer than it needed to be. It was very undeserving of its high ratings. My wife and I debated turning it off on a couple of occasions, but had invested time in it by the second decision point, so we wanted to see the finish.

We were also surprised in a good way with a couple of movies this weekend. “Head full of Honey” starring Nick Nolte and his daughter Sophia Lane Nolte is very enjoyable and charming. In a movie of stars, the younger actor steals the movie playing the older Nolte’s granddaughter as she takes care of her Alzheimer’s ridden grandfather. The other is “Stronger” about a Boston Marathon bomb survivor and double leg amputee starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany as his on and off again girlfriend who was running in the race. The story moves beyond the heroic stage of his survival and deals with the real life angst of learning to live with his setback.

It seems we are better served in our search for movies in liking the story, an actor or two, and seeing reasonably high ratings using different measures. We do not mind foreign language films with subtitles and we do not limit English speaking movies to those made in the US. These sentiments open us up to a lot of great movies. For example, with a French mother, Kristen Scott Thomas has been in several excellent French speaking movies.

So, happy hunting. And, beware of too many stars. Note, the above are merely our opinions, so that and $3 will get you a cup of coffee.


Jim Brown – a simple name, but a complex man, may he RIP

Before Tina Turner passed away, another icon died, named Jim Brown. Brown was a legendary football running back for the Cleveland Browns and was arguably one of the best who ever played that position.

But, he was far more than that. He retired early to become an actor and was in a few dozen films. Most notably, he was in one of my favorite films called “The Dirty Dozen,” but more on that later.

What he should be also remembered for is he was an outspoken civil rights advocate and worked closely with Martin Luther King. Brown and three other legendary black athletes, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) of the UCLA Bruins all jointly spoke out for the rights of blacks. Brown was the centerpiece spokesperson.

Their outspokenness differs from the relative silence of Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and their contemporaries who did not want to risk their endorsements. It is good to see current athletes like Lebron James and Colin Kaepernick speak out risking their careers. Kaepernick’s career has been ruined because of the backlash against his efforts.

Brown led the way with the other three stars of his day. He was not perfect and there are stories of domestic abuse. If true, this is an awful and a severe indictment of the man. It shows that notoriety does not mean they can do no wrong. Yet, to not mention his sins and crimes would be an unfair rendering of his life.

Let me close with a positive story from a boy who loved “The Dirty Dozen.” Brown’s character was sadly killed after a heroic scene in the movie. It was befitting his heroic nature as a football star, but was sad to see. Maybe it is a good reflection on sports heroes in general. They are very good at their craft and can use their platform for good as Brown did. But, that does not mean they are perfect. And, they should be held accountable for bad behavior just like all of us would.

A legend has passed – Tina Turner, may she RIP

Anna Mae Bullock, aka Tina Turner, has passed away at age 83. Someone whose active lifestyle and stage performance made her consistently look younger than she was has died after a long illness. When I have been asked who gave the best concert I have ever been to, the answer is Tina Turner, hands down.

She is one of the finest entertainers who gave it her all every minute of her performance and through numerous outfit changes. She made sure we were entertained. She was often accompanied by two or three younger dancers with whom she easily kept up with while singing! She had a long list of hits she could draw from. Yet, the song that always got the crowd going was saved for her encore, “What’s love got to do with it?” When she sang this one, she would ask the women, then men sing the chorus telling the men “it should be easy, you’ve been saying this all of your lives.”

Her story is well known and portrayed in the biopic movie starring Angela Bassett as Turner. She had a physically and mentally abusive husband (and manager) in Ike Turner staying with him longer than she should have because of their Ike and Tina Turner Revue. After leaving, she went out on her own and had even bigger success, but still had to contend with Ike who made threats.

Several songs stand out in addition to the above – “Private Dancer,” “The Best,” “You better be good to me,” “I can’t stand the rain,” “We don’t need another hero,” et al made after she went on her own, and the relentless “Proud Mary” and “Nutbush City Limits” made before. In fact, her version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” was her magnum opus until she went on her own. She even did a song with Phil Specter without Ike called “River deep, mountain high,” which brought her acclaim.

She was an icon, but she became a legend. And, she will be missed.

Rainy Day People – an encore tribute to Gordon Lightfoot, may he Rest in Peace

I learned from my brother that Gordon Lightfoot passed away at the age of 84 from natural causes. He was a troubadour to the day he died. Here is an encore post from a few years ago, that I repeated in 2021. May he Rest in Peace.

With it raining cats and dogs outside tonight (and this morning with tropical storm Elsa), this title has greater meaning. “Rainy Day People” is not necessarily my favorite Gordon Lightfoot song, but it describes my bride of 27 years. Why you might ask? Here is a glimpse of Lightfoot’s magical pen in this song (a link to the song is below).

Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call

Rainy day people don’t talk…they just listen til they’ve heard it all

Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell you they’ve been down like you

Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re crying a tear or two.

My wife embodies rainy day people. She is a listener who people feel comfortable in being around; comfortable in confiding in. Gordon Lightfoot’s talent and the reason we both love his music is his ability to capture who we are. We saw him perform a few years ago. We enjoyed his music, but also his storytelling between songs. A man who could have many did not seem to have any airs.

His most famous song is “If You Could Read My Mind.” I think even non-Lightfoot fans could sing many of the lyrics of this song. Since it is so popular, I will skip over it to some of his lesser known, but also great songs. Another favorite is “Circle of Steel” because it tells a painful story of an alcoholic mother whose husband is incarcerated and who will lose her child in a week. The gripping, soulful lyrics include:

A child is born to a welfare case…where the rats run around like the own the place

The room is chilly, the building is old….that’s how it goes

A doctor’s found on his welfare round…and he comes and he leaves on the double.

The subject of the song is not heroic, but the words tell a story of how people struggle. Most of us don’t live in gated communities. Life is very hard for many.

For the romantic side in each of us, he write songs like “Beautiful” which has words like:

At times I just don’t know….how you could be anything but beautiful

I think that I was made for you and you were made for me

And I know that I will never change…’cause we’ve been friends through rain or shine

For such a long, long time.

He has written so many songs that were so well-loved others also recorded them. “Early Morning Rain” was sung by Elvis. “For Lovin Me” was sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. He also added a second song to the back of that one as the first part talked disdainfully to a woman scorned when the man said “that’s what you get for lovin me.” The added song he recorded had a lament “Did she mention my name” as the person who scorned his lover was feeling great remorse later on. Other great songs of his include:

“Whisper My Name”


“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”

“Carefree Highway”

“Cotton Jenny”

“Old Dan’s Records”

“Summer Side of Life”

“Cold on the Shoulder”

And, countless others, that should not be construed less by my failure to list them. Yet, let me close with a self-portrait of Mr. Lightfoot, at least by my interpretation – “Minstrel of the Dawn.” In it he says:

The minstrel of the dawn is here….to make you laugh and bend your ear

Up the steps you’ll hear him climb….all full of thoughts, all full of rhymes

Listen to the pictures flow….across the room into your mind they go

Listen to the strings…they jangle and dangle…while the old guitar rings.

Words and music. To me this is what it is all about. Gordon Lightfoot would have been an excellent poet without his music. He was lesser known, but may have rivaled even Bob Dylan on his penning of songs. Maybe the fact one was from Canada and the other from Minnesota meant they had time to collect their thoughts when it was too cold to venture outside. Yet, with his music and armed with a better singing voice that Dylan could only dream of, he was the minstrel to all of us.

For our younger readers who may not know him as well, I would encourage you to take a plunge. You can start with the songs above, but that is only sticking a toe in the water. I invite other Gordon Lightfoot fans to offer their favorites whether listed above or not. “If you could read my mind love, what a tale my thoughts would tell….just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstore sells.”

Gordon Lightfoot – Rainy Day People – Bing video

Monday morning you sure look “fine”

With all due respect to Fleetwood Mac, allow me to borrow a line from one of their songs for my potpourri title today. “Fine” is one of those multi-purpose words, but its most elegant use is from our friends in Scotland.

In one of my favorite movies “Rob Roy” with Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange, Roy would tell his wife “you are fine to me” on more than one occasion. It meant far more than just fine, it meant she was attractive to him in more ways than one.

Here in the states fine is more used to say things are a little better than OK when asked how they are. Or, it could mean you are OK with an action when asked, So, the difference in tone can mean a great deal. If curtly used, fine may mean they are OK, but I don’t want to talk about it. I sometimes say “they are more than fine” to describe even better conditions.

Of course, it can also mean monetary penance either as a noun or verb. Recently, Fox News had two fines for defamation, one for $787.5 million and one for $250 million. After those fines, things are certainly not fine in the land of the Fox.

The funniest use is the response to a question of how attractive a woman is to an infatuated person. “She is so fine, the fine folks call her fine.” And, even Rob Roy would smile at that and call it fine.

The wisdom of Dr. Seuss

With our grown children, we have saved in our attic a few of the books we read to them as kids. The box includes about three dozen Dr. Seuss books. Yesterday, I stumbled upon a Dr. Seuss quote amid my online blog and news reading that resonates.

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

While we tend to be sad and even cry when things end, the life of a friend or relative, high school, college, a wonderful family vacation, etc., we should focus on the the better memories of the enjoyment of what transpired before then.

I searched for a few other more Dr. Seuss’ quotes that impart life wisdom.

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

“If life were predictable it would cease to be life and be without flavor.”

These quotes don’t seem to come from the likes of “Green Eggs and Ham,” “Hop on Pop” or “The Lorax.” Maybe they came from various interviews. I am not sure. But, I do know there is a lot of good advice in these five quotes that can help even the oldest of us.

What are some of your favorites from the above or from his other works and writings?

Harry Belafonte, a true hero and entertainer passes away

A true hero and entertainer has passed away – Harold George Bellanfanti, Jr, better known as Harry Belafonte. From a piece in Politico called “Harry Belafonte, activist and entertainer, dies at 96” here are a couple of paragraphs.

“Harry Belafonte, the civil rights and entertainment giant who began as a groundbreaking actor and singer and became an activist, humanitarian and conscience of the world, has died. He was 96.

Belafonte died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at his New York home, his wife Pamela by his side, said Ken Sunshine, of public relations firm Sunshine Sachs Morgan & Lylis.“

Belafonte is better known for his silky voice and big smile as he introduced the world to Calypso music with songs like “Day-O” and “Jump in the Line,” but he was far more than that. He was a hero to many, especially black and brown people and children as he advocated strongly for not just civil rights, but for survival rights.

His causes may have taken root in America with his friendship with Martin Luther King and involvement in the Freedom Summer education movement in Mississippi or various civil rights marches. He attracted other performers of all races to help calm the tensions of bigotry with their presence. But, he also was an ambassador abroad as he spoke out and participated in pushing back on Apartheid in South Africa and children’s rights issues in places like Zimbabwe.

With his music, time and energy, he increased awareness of the plight of black and brown people and all children around the world. He served in various ambassador roles for the ACLU and UNICEF focusing on children. He also broke racial barriers as he intermixed performers on his TV variety shows, which unsettled many sponsors back in the late 1960s. Some even pulled out, but the networks stood with him and aired the shows. In fact he co-hosted a show with Julie Andrews for one variety special, as pointed means to show we are in this together.

Belafonte was such a world-weary activist, he was well-admired by many from all races and countries. When he spoke, it benefitted folks to listen. He won many performance awards – Grammy’s, Tony’s and Emmy’s and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But, the awards that matter more are the Joan Hersholt Humanitarian Award and the Kennedy Center Honor. These represented a key part of his life’s work, not just the entertainment.

The world has lost a hero. If you are not that familiar with him, take a look at his work, both entertainment and activism. May he Rest in Peace.

Fox News defamation penance of $787.5 million

Per an article by Matt Taylor in Politico, called “Fox News reaches $787.5 million settlement in Dominion’s defamation lawsuit” the pseudo news network tried to avoid further embarrassment and minimize loss. The first few paragraphs tell the story:

“WILMINGTON, Del. — Fox News agreed to pay $787.5 million to Dominion Voting Systems to settle a defamation lawsuit over false elections claims, Dominion’s lawyers said Tuesday.

The voting machine company accused the conservative network of deliberately spreading bogus conspiracy theories about its products after the 2020 election in a bid to win back viewers. Dominion’s lawsuit had asked for $1.6 billion in damages before the two sides reached the last-minute settlement after a jury had been selected and as the trial was about to begin.

Dominion’s lawsuit said that Fox personnel from the C Suite to the production floor panicked about losing viewers to rivals like Newsmax — and began knowingly spreading lies about its products flipping votes from Trump to Biden. The falsehoods, spread by disgraced attorneys like Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, also suggested the company was tied to Hugo Chavez and that it had bribed officials in Georgia, among other claims.

Dominion said its brand was sullied and its employees harassed to no end by MAGA diehards, and sought $1.6 billion in damages before the dramatic settlement.”

The following is a letter I forwarded to the opinion pages of my newspaper. Please feel free to adapt and use.

I read with much satisfaction that Fox News has agreed to pay penance totaling $787.5 million for its defamation of Dominion Voting Systems. The only downside is the foregone greater public scrutiny Fox News would have received if the case was tried regarding gaslighting its viewers to support the bogus election fraud claims of the former president, which on-air hosts, producers and owner admitted they knew were false in emails.
This is on top of a recent $250 million settlement for defamation of a Venezuela man and a pending trial for defamation with another voting system for $2.7 billion. With these emails, other facts and alleged withholding of evidence, my guess is Fox will settle that case, as well.

Fox decided to lie to their viewers because of money for advertising revenue. They knew they were lying. Not only does Fox owe its viewers the truth, they owe other Americans it as well. And, sadly people who worked for Dominion received death threats from those who believed Fox and Trump’s BS.

Fox earned this scrutiny. We should all remember how they harmed their audience and our country. The same goes for others who still tout the former president’s bogus election fraud claims so says this independent and former Republican voter.

A movie that roars – Lion with Dev Patel

Frequent visitors to this blog know I am a fan of movies and have a written more than a few posts of some my wife and I have discovered and recommend to others. The other day we stumbled upon a movie called “Lion,” based on a true story starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman.

More on why it is called “Lion” later. Patel plays the adult role of a young boy (around four) who gets lost in India getting separated from his older brother who fails to return to the train depot and he hops on the wrong train. The boy ends up over 1,600 miles across the country where they speak Bengali not Hindi. He says his name is Saroo and he does not know he is mispronouncing the name of his village. Given the size of his village, it may not have mattered.

Saroo is very aware of his surroundings and is able to ascertain and escape adults who are looking to use him. And, based on his brother’s guidance knows how to run to get around. It reminded us of a young Forrest Gump who ran to escape danger. Eventually, Saroo gets shepherded to the police by a thoughtful young man who befriends him and is placed in an orphanage. There he is adopted by an Australian family played by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham.

Twenty years later, the adult Saroo wants to find his birth mother and brother to let them know he is alive and safe. His memories as a four year old help shape his efforts. But, he does not pursue it full tilt until he tells his adopted mother and she offers her support for his mission.

The movie also stars Rooney Mara as his supportive girlfriend, who pushes back on Saroo when he becomes despondent or irritable. She plays a key role in getting him to tell his adopted mother. She notes “don’t underestimate your mother.” Sunny Pawar plays the young Saroo and Abhishek Bharate plays his brother Guddu.

“Lion” is the name of the movie as his real name is Sheru, which means “Lion.” His name is prophetic as this boy has the heart of a Lion to survive.

The movie is definitely worth the watch. I will leave off the ending and a lot of the drama which occurs. If you have seen it, let me know what you think. The movie shares some statistics about the significant numbers of lost children in India. So, Saroo’s plight is not unusual.

A musical example of why limitations can hinder development and growth

In too many places, history is being white washed to limit exposure to examples of civil rights and economic censorship that people in authority imposed on minority groups. In too many places the civil, voting and economic rights of minorities are being suppressed. It is not a stretch to say the former is being done to grease the skids of the latter happening again.

Yet, there is a history lesson that may seem inconsequential, but is quite illustrative. With Jim Crow laws in full bore, black musical artists were prevented from being heard on the significant majority of white radio stations. To make matters worse, white artists would cover the black artists songs making more money with the larger white audiences.

So, these black artists went where they were welcome and played overseas. They were so appreciated, they influenced a significant number of young people who would become musicians or were already headed down that path. Many British musicians cited the influence of Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, BB King, Little Richard, Howling Wolf, Hounddog Taylor, Etta James, et al.

Back in the 1960s, a musical British Invasion was occurring. Groups like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cream, Blind Faith, The Who, Deep Purple, The Yardbirds, The Hollies, and individuals like Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Dusty Springfield, among many others were hitting it big in the states. These artists were successful as they introduced white Americans to music spawned in America but purposefully suppressed from many outlets or watered down by other artists. Clapton started in a group called The Bluesbreakers because of his love of the Blues.

Saying it differently, the black music was white washed from many American ears. Further, two white artists who were highly successful emulating black artists – Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis – were having difficulties staying in the musical limelight (one was drafted and the other married his 13-year-old cousin), as record producers went very vanilla and safe with their music highlighting Pat Boone, Bobby Vinton, Connie Francis and other more pop style artists. I remember white teens and young adults craving to hear the black artists. It is a reason Beach Music exists as the northern radio stations could be heard down the coast in the Carolina beaches. The kids could not hear the unplayed music inland. So, when they went to the beach, they would ask what is that sound coming from the radio?

There are two lessons here. One is when leaders limit what children can learn, they limit their education, creativity and innovation. We must learn from our history, the good and the bad. The other is people find a way to circumvent efforts to restrict things. If they hear or see snippets of something interesting, they will want more. Yet, we should not limit them so much, that others benefit more and have to teach us what we are missing. Innovation comes from intersections of creativity like within the cross over parts of a Venn diagram. If we don’t let that happen, the innovation will occur elsewhere. And, where innovation occurs, so will the job creation

Recognizing music is a metaphor, think of how the US had fallen in math and science rankings. The US ranks 23rd and 27th, which does not bode well for American Exceptionalism which is touted more than it should be. Education spawns creativity and innovation. If we limit what kids learn, we limit what they will create.