Film: Real Life by Albert Brooks
Released in 1979 and Really Prophetic About 2000s
Writer-director-comic actor Albert Brooks has done consistently solid work since this film but it remains his very best. It is a parody, astonishingly enough, of TODAY'S work on tv yet he made this film in 1979! Tv today is parlaying extensive money out of real life situations, whether based on survival or marrying millionaires or some other new trend of the day. If you are unfamiliar with Brooks, who also plays the "auteur" director in the film, you must understand two things about him. One, he always plays obnoxious characters and this is perhaps his most obnoxious ever. Two, he is absolutely merciless on portraying himself as obnoxious. His delivery is straight on and deadpan and totally works. Brooks's character does not have an iota of real self awareness and this too is typical of the roles he creates for himself in all of his films.
This is Brooks's satiric look at a documentary purportedly capturing a year in the life of a typical American family. Charles Grodin, low key as usual, is fantastic as Warren Yeager, the Phoenix, Arizona, veterinarian who is largely passive and ineffectual. He, his wife and two children are easily overwhelmed by the callous Brooks as auteur. There are so many delights to this film that it is hard to name them all so here are just a few. Brooks showing you his choice of camera, a piece of headgear that looks like a robot suit and is all but extinct; Brooks kicking off his film in AZ before an audience of townspeople by breaking into song; Brooks capturing the wife's OB-GYN md on camera and unmasking him as a "60 Minutes" subject; Brooks capturing Yeager (Grodin) malpracticing on a horse patient on camera and Yeager's trying to remove that segment from the film; the production meetings Brooks conducts with his producer sitting in by speaker phone, telling him what's wrong with his movie and why showing real life will not "play" in America and that what he really needs is James Caan (who was hot in 1979). I saw this movie when it first opened at a film festival and have seen it many times in succeeding years. It is always absolutely hilarious and unfortunately prophetic about the "thrills" audiences of the future would want from the media.
TV: Enlightened: Two Seasons HBO
Lead character Amy Jellicoe is played by Laura Dern, a 40-year-old career woman who finds herself enlightened after a month's stay at a holistic treatment facility. This means she has become the ultimate self help person who verges on the evangelical as she wants to improve the world while still being employed in corporate America. This leads to positively cringe worthy scenes which Laura Dern does beautifully. My favorite one was a baby shower she attended for a coworker. When it became time for her to toast the baby shower mother to be, Amy launches into a plea for them all to join together for a Mexican mother on the news who is being deported back to Mexico while her children are left behind in California. The other women look like deer frozen in the headlights as they listen to her. She is absolutely clueless as to how out inappropriate this speech was for someone else's joyous occasion.
This would be an easy character to hate except that Dern gives her many layers. She now has been forced to work with the nerd division down in the basement of her company. There she makes her first friend post treatment and he is someone she would have never even spoken to before this. This is also the co-creator of the show, Mike White.
I have known enlightened people like Amy and they make me as uneasy as this show. This is a good thing. It is amazing that this show made it onto tv as it is very thought provoking.
In the second season, Dern's character Amy ups the ante by becoming a whistle blower on the company which employs her. When she meets with an LA reporter to do the whistle blowing, I again cringed, thinking, "Oh, no, she's going to throw herself at this guy after the two of them spend time saving the world," and he is not going to be interested in her long range.
Mike White, the creator and writer of this show, does a formidable job here. This is territory not usually mined in tv or movies as characters who it is hard, or impossible, to like do not sell well. The show was not renewed for a third season because of low viewing. Wisely, White did not put any cliff hangers in this second season. Thus the ending of the second season does well as the show's overall ending.
Note: Amazon Prime is currently streaming this show for free along with a hefty amount of other HBO programs.
Music: Judy Collins Sings Dylan Just Like a Woman
I Love Dylan's Compositions but not His Voice so.....
This was perfect for me because Judy Collins has a gorgeous voice that has never been in finer form than it is here. Plus there are some reworkings of the tunes into arrangements that I also like better than the original Dylan arrangements. I think all of the songs have never sounded better but even if you hated everything else, "Like A Rolling Stone" and "Just Like a Woman" are worth the price of admission alone. Plus I never knew Judy could "rock" but she certainly does on "Gotta Serve Somebody." The two of them have been friends for a very long time and began their careers often performing together as seen in the above picture.
It is a relatively new phenomenon where singers are expected to also be first rate composer-lyricists. Fortunately, in Rodgers & Hart's day, by contrast, no one expected them to sing their own tunes (thank God as it would have been awful). Singers who could beautifully interpret their joint compositions were prized, as Collins should be here. She brings his compositions to life for a whole other audience, interpreting Dylan's work in a way he has not been able to do,and we are richer for the experience.
I have come to like Bob Dylan's singing voice better over the years. It was an acquired taste for me. His talent as a songwriter was brilliant from day one, however.
Novel: Presumed Innocent
by Scott Turow
Best Legal Mystery Ever Written
Written in the first person, which totally works in this novel, Scott Turow puts a prosecutor on trial for murder. Turow, a former prosecutor himself and then a firm lawyer in Chicago, wrote this on his way to work as a lawyer each morning on the train. He captures everything you could ever want in a legal mystery-thriller and then some.
This is an absolute classic novel, which the movie version doesn't come close to equalling. I've read John Grisham's books and nothing of his comes close to this novel's achievement. Rusty Sabitch is the prosecutor and he had an affair with another prosecutor, Carolyn. Rusty is married and has a son. When the police investigate, they find Rusty's DNA in and on Carolyn's body. He is swiftly arrested and most of the book is taken up by his trial.
His lawyer, Sandy Stern, is a great character and Turow would write his next book about Stern. Rusty's friend is a cop and the judge hearing the trial is pro defense. The prosecutor has always hated Rusty. His wife, of course, must be informed, and then stand by him during the trial. Each of these characters is just terrific. This book has everything, including the best ending imaginable. Just a great, great book. Nothing else even comes close.
Everything reviewed above is carried by Amazon, iTunes, Audible, the Overdrive app for your public library and most other outlets both online and in the real world. These are taken from my five star reviews at Amazon where I am a Top Reviewer.