Trumbo – a great movie about a dark time in America

Earlier in the week, I was watching the excellent movie called “Trumbo” about the black-listed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston and an excellent cast such as Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning and John Goodman to name a few. I missed it the first time around in 2015 when it was released.

The movie was written by John McNamara and Bruce Cook, on whose book the movie is based. It was directed by Jay Roach. Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten who were blacklisted early on for alleged communist activities. He spent time in jail for being in Contempt of Congress for refusing to name names. Trumbo would go on to ghost write two Oscar winning screenplays for “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One.” He would perpetuate an underground screenwriting group and eventually, Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger, would let him sign his name to the movies in 1960 with “Spartacus” and “Exodus.”

I was reminded of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which began in 1947 and was in exisentence until 1975, that started these investigations leading to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt efforts. It should be noted that 1975 is the year following Richard Nixon’s resignation. Nixon was a key ally of Sen. McCarthy. It should be noted Nixon kept an enemies list due to his paraonoia. Nixon did some good things, but he turned out to be a crook.

What is interesting is McCarthy’s attorney through this dark period was Roy Cohn. Cohn later became a mentor to a young real estate developer in New York named Donald J. Trump. Trump’s biographers wrote that Cohn told Trump to never apologize and sue everyone. Trump has followed these mandates for his entire career.

Bringing this full circle. Trump is the most corrupt and deceitful president in my lifetime, including Nixon. But, both me were influenced by Sen. McCarthy who led this dark period in American history who made up things to support his claims. It should be noted that both Nixon and Trump blame the press for not sufficiently kowtowing to them. As the Sec. of the Army asked famously of McCarthy, “have you no sense of decency, sir?” The same could be asked of the current US president.

So, we must protect America against those who wave the flag and tell people it does not stand for the things that it does.

The Best of Enemies

Yesterday, my wife and I watched a movie released last year called “The Best of Enemies.” It stars Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell in true story about the debate over integrating schools in Durham, NC in 1971. Henson stars as Ann Atwater, an outspoken (self-described) African-American community organizer, while Rockwell stars as C.P. Ellis, the Durham chapter president of the KKK. They are asked to chair a two-week group meeting called a charrette to flesh out possible resolutions to the African-American school being partially destroyed by fire with lingering toxic fumes.

The movie is excellent and reveals the tensions, scheming, learning and fighting that went on. It also permits a deeper dive into the lives of the people in the middle of this fight. Realizing the similarity of all of us, empathy begins to emerge.

I will try not to spoil the movie. It is based on the best selling book “The Best of Enemies: Race and redemption in the New South” by Osha Gray Davidson. The film was written and directed by Robin Bissell, with co-writing credits to Davidson. It also stars Babou Ceesay as Bill Riddick, a mediator who plays a huge role in bringing the people together. Key roles are played by Ann Heche, the wife of Ellis, Bruce McGill, a closet supporter of the KKK as a councilman, and John Gallagher, Jr., a former Vietnam veteran who plays a pivotal role.

The movie did not receive rave reviews, but that may be due to its closeness to reality painting obvious bias and hatred into the plot. It is inspiring, troubling, and believable. I was in the middle of the integration of schools and remember it well. My schools integrated in 1971 and, to be frank, it went off reasonably well. It did not do so well in other communities or may be other schools. Yet, I think this relates to the leaders behind the effort in each community and school.

Let me know what you think. Give it a look. Rockwell and Henson are terrific actors and bring their passion to each project. Rockwell, in particular, plays complicated characters quite well. Also, do you remember integration efforts in the early 1970s?

Call of the Wild – good even with CGI dog

Last week, I watched “The Call of the Wild” starring Harrison Ford and a computer generated dog. It should also be noted the other animals were likely CGI as well.

Even with that, the movie is entertaining. Ford’s character has his own demons that he is trying to drink away and avoid in the Yukon. He gradually reveals why he is there as he befriends this lovably awkward dog.

Per the book, Buck the dog is trying to find himself as well. The dog is taken from his home as sled dogs are a commodity with the Yukon gold rush. Yet, he has to be trained to be a sled dog. He is bought by a mail delivery couple that journeys across the Yukon to deliver bags of mail to outlying communities. The couple, played by Omar Sy and Cara Gee, offer the role of “sled parents” and mentors to Buck.

Dan Stevens plays a needed antagonist as a gold thirsty opportunist. He does not let his lack of humanity or lack of knowledge of sledding get in the way of his zeal. Key cameos are offered by Bradley Whitford and Michael Horse.

The movie is rated as OK, but that may be due to the CGI dog. Ford does a great job of playing the imperfect friend to Buck. They need each other on their journey together.

I liked the movie. Is it great, no, but it is entertaining. If you have seen it, let me know what you think.

Five feet apart – movie on teen angst

Even at the ripe old age of 61, I still will pay attention to well-crafted movies about teen angst. While channel surfing, I came across a 2019 film called “Five feet apart,” written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis and directed by newcomer Justin Baldoni.

The movie is inspired by a real couple dealing with cystic fibrosis named Dalton and Katie Prager. The movie stars Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Spears who meet in a wing of a hospital dedicafed to serving patients with this life shortening disease.

Because of the deteriorated lung capacity and susceptibility to infection, the patients must stay six apart. Through the eventual relationship, they decide they can shorten the distance to five feet.

The movie received mixed reviews, but I found it worth the watch. I actually watched it three times as I seemed to pick it up 2/3, then 1/3 and finally from the beginning, so it put puzzle pieces together for me.

It also proved educational about cystic fibrosis and what patients must go through, both physically and mentally. Yet, at its heart it is a story of a slow courtship.

I don’t think I am alone in liking movies like this. I recall enjoying “The fault in our stars” a couple of years ago. But, we can trace teen angst movies back to the play “Romeo and Juliet.” Of course, the play and movie “Westside Story” is based off the Shakepeare play.

So, give it a watch. If you have seen it or are a still a sucker for such moviea, let me know what you think.

The Wizard of Oz – scary movie?

CBS Morning News reported an interest in identifying the scariest movie people have seen. Seconds before host Anthony Mason confirmed my wife’s choice, she said “The Wizard of Oz.” Mason echoed her choice as his scariest.

First, what is your scariest movie and why? Second, did “The Wizard of Oz” scare you as a kid as it did my wife and Mason?

Thinking of Oz from a kids perspective, the witch is pretty scary by herself. But, I was scared by the mean talking trees. Yet, we should not forget the flying monkeys or the Oz icon.

As for other scary movies, my scariest is “The Omen,” with Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. I saw “The Exorcist” later, so I was more prepared for it. But, when I think of “The Exorcist,” I recall a local movie critic saying it scared him so much, he drove his car to his front steps and made sure his house key was right-side up before he left the car.

The first “Halloween,” with Jamie Lee Curtis and the fabulous Donald Pleasance is also top-of-mind scary. This was Curtis’ first starring role and Pleasance plays an interesting troubled man, whether he is evil or trying to prevent evil as in this movie.

Let me know your scariest. But, beware of falling houses, talking trees, flying monkeys and most of all, men behind the curtain.

Jo Jo Rabbit – a weirdly profound parody

After its Oscar nomination and attention, my wife and I watched “Jo Jo Rabbit” yesterday. While it is an unusual film, it is entertaining and will take you through a range of emotions. Did I say it was unusual?

Without giving too much away, the story is about a Nazi brainwashed boy of ten whose imaginary friend is his version of Adolph Hitler. The boy discovers his mother is hiding a Jewish teen girl in the attic who helps him pick away at what he has been erroneously taught to dehumanizs Jews.

The film is a parody, but is poignant and powerful as well. It is written by Taika Waititi who also plays the imaginery Hitler. It should be noted, Waititi won the Oscar for his screenwriting. Newcomer Rowan Griffin Davis stars Jo Jo with Thomasin McKenzie starring as Elsa, the Jewish girl. Scarlett Johansson plays Jo Jo’s mother Rosie with Sam Rockwell playing an odd mentor role. Rebel Wilson offers an over-zealous Nazi instructor. Johansson waa nominated for Best Supporting Actress in the role.

Strange as it sounds, the movie is worth watching. Its mission is to reveal how hatred is taught and how interaction with people can change even the most strident of beliefs. There are several poignant moments between mother/ son, Jo Jo/ Elsa and Elsa/ Rosie.

If you have seen it, please let me know what you think (caution to those who have not to beware of the comments for spoiler alerts).

A few thoughts on a rainy Tuesday

It seems like we cannot escape the rain, but at least it is better than ice and snow. Take care and drive safely. Here are a couple of thoughts on this rainy Tuesday.

In the first Harry Potter movie, one of Potter’s dorm mates won his group extra points by standing up to his friends when they were about to do something wrong. The headmaster noted standing up to one’s friends shows more courage than standing up to one’s enemies. Senator Mitt Romney should be awarded more points for his political courage for standing alone as he spoke truth to power. Like Romney, the public servants who testified under oath and at great risk showed courage when they knew they would be punished by “he who should not be named.”

There is an old saying “one should never argue with a street preacher.” Why? If someone is going to stand on a corner and yell for several hours, they may be a tad zealous. Online or on social media, it is hard to identify the street preachers (a metaphor for zealous people). Their views are given too much weight, especially when they are elected officials. Unfortunately, with gerrymandering and tribal politics, some authors of ludicrous statements are better left ignored. When an official advocates killing people for their beliefs, that is not only asinine, it is hate speech. I wish the press would ignore much of the BS spewed by the US president, yet they feel obligated to report it.

Since my computer seems to be hiccupping this morning, let me leave you with those two thoughts. Have a great day.