Thursday, March 20, 2014

Weekend Entertainment Recs for Seniors & Others

TV Good Wife Season Five 
(all 5 seasons are excellent)

The lead character, Alicia, has always been a tad on the goody two shoes side. This was especially the way we found her in season 1, the political wife whose husband was using prostitutes. So she had to go back to work as the lawyer she used to be. (The Elliott Spitz couple most closely resemble this situation.) What i really like about season 5 is that the lead is at last allowed to be as assertive, aggressive and in your face as every other lawyer in this show. Specifically, she goes ahead and does what the season closed with last year, that she and Cary were going to start their own firm. They are also planning on taking a lot of key clients with them. This is really good stuff and everyone gets very down and dirty. Unfortunately, Michael J. Fox left this show to go shoot his own show. That is too bad. I have seen his new show and this one was a much better vehicle for him. Alicia has couple meltdowns in this series, first with her husband, and then her partner-lover, the likes of which you've never seen on tv--great stuff. This series is produced by Oscar winning movie director Ridley Scott.

Music: Porgy and Bess, Miles Davis 
(George Gershwin, Gil Evans)

My favorite version of "Porgy and Bess" has always been the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong singing version. However, Miles Davis here does an all instrumental version with his trumpet being the featured solo instrument. He's backed by an orchestra but never too strenuously. I would now have to call this my favorite instrumental version of "Porgy and Bess." It is well worth owning both recordings. Davis's treatment is extremely modern with abstract, spare and Minimal elements throughout. One wonders if George Gershwin ever conceived of its being performed this way. He was such a musical genius that perhaps he did but he didn't live to see it happen. He would have loved it. 

This is also very easy to listen to whereas the singing one really commands your attention at all points. It is very hard to put on the Armstrong-Fitzgerald when you have company unless everyone is willing to be totally quiet. It commands your attention to that degree. The Davis version, by contrast, you can listen to on many different levels, including a subconscious one. After listening to all 3 albums recommended by the Ken Burns' "Jazz" 10 disk DVD series, I would say that virtually anyone would enjoy owning Davis's "Sketches of Spain" and "Porgy and Bess." Probably a jazz fan would more enjoy his "Kind of Blue" but even for the non-jazz fan there is plenty to like on "Kind of Blue." You can really dislike jazz though and probably still love the other two albums!

Film: Blue Jasmine by Woody Allen 
Cate Blanchett in her Oscar winning role

Sometimes Woody Allen bases his screenplays on works already in existence. At other times, he writes a screenplay wholly his own. This screenplay is like an extended jazz riff of one of the best American stage plays and then films which ever existed, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. In that play, Blanche, whose life is in tatters, moves in with her sister because she has lost everything. Her sister is married to a brutish but sensual man, Stanley Kowalsky (as immortalized by Marlon Brando). Blanche's mental state is precarious at best and she makes the mistake of attacking Stanley, belittling him to her sister. It is set shortly after WW II in New Orleans. This is the 2013 update to that play.

One major difference is that Jasmine married for money to a rich crook, Bernie Madoff style (Alec Baldwin). Riches alone are not what motivated Blanche but they certainly would help achieve what she wanted. She was a southern hothouse flower who lived for the refinement of being a Belle of the South. Blanche started out refined in a grand old estate. but she and it fell on hard times. Jasmine and her sister were both adopted children with Jasmine being mistaken as the "good" child because of her blonde good looks and perfect grades. jasmine is not a sympathetic character at all whereas Blanche was sympathetic at times. One major thing the two versions have in common is that the female leads do the acting jobs of a lifetime. In the STREETCAR film it was Vivien Leigh as Blanche, who won her second Oscar for it (first was GONE WITH THE WIND). If Cate Blanchett had not won for her tour de force performance as Jasmine, I would have put the word Oscar out of my memory. Woody Allen continues to write roles for women which are incredible.This reminds me of the Geraldine Page performance in his INTERIORS or the Gena Rowland's performance in his ANOTHER WOMAN.

Outstanding work is also done by the supporting cast. Alec Baldwin is perfect in the "Bernie" role as is Bobby Canavale in the Brando role (which is a much lesser role in this film). Louis C.K., the stand up comic, shows he can really act, as does another standup comic, Andrew Dice Clay, both involved with the sister. The sister is very like the sister in STREETCAR and the actress plays her perfectly. Finally, one of my favorite actors, Peter Sarsgard does an excellent job as the man Jasmine is trying to seduce into marriage to solve all of her problems. This was the role played by Karl Malden in STREETCAR. Blanche dated him as a possible way out from her problems.

The immortal line used in Streetcar, by Blanche, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," is not used in this film but you will hear it nonetheless... loud and clear... that is all Jasmine has left, just like Blanche did.

Novel: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

This has been a big bestseller internationally and is being made into a movie. Amazon's Kindle Store now has it for $1.99, a real bargain.

The UK has always been superior when it comes to humor and eccentrics. Thus, that this book is written by an Australian is a welcome addition to the UK bibliography of humorous literature. I am thinking of those marvels from the UK, PG Wodehouse and EF Benson, specifically and this author, Graeme Simsion, is a worthy follower to their Bertie and Jeeves and Mapp and Lucia.

Simsion has crafted a great lead character here. He is a professor in the Psychology Department of an Australian University who doesn't realize he has Asperger's syndrome. Thus, he is brilliant but cannot read people. When he goes out on dates, he is a disaster. One early date shows him setting up a scientific experiment with ice cream when a date tells him she only eats apricot ice cream. By the time his experiment in ready to go, the date has fled. But he now has a way out, a questionnaire to administer. This grand new scientific experiment he names THE WIFE PROJECT.

Thus, we are off and running to find out if our horribly precise and exacting professor can indeed find a mate.

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