Friday, August 1, 2014

Weekend Entertainment Recs for Seniors & Others

Film: An Unmarried Woman by Paul Mazursky

Every principal in this movie is now dead. Paul Mazursky died on this June 30th. Alan Bates and Jill Clayburgh both died earlier of different forms of cancer. Mazursky lasted the longest, into his 80s. They were some fabulous talents in the film industry and I miss all of them.

Clayburgh is told by her husband, played by Michael Murphy, that he wants a divorce. Her reaction to this news is cinematic history as she proceeds to get physically ill, vomiting off and on. He leaves and she has to get on with her life. Made in 1978 and a sensation at the Cannes Film Festival, this film explored what a legion of women were doing, picking up the pieces when their middle aged husbands decided to leave their middle aged wives for greener pastures.

Clayburgh meets a famous modern painter, played by Alan Bates. This is loosely based on the artist Paul Jenkins and it is indeed Jenkins' glorious, flowing, abstract paintings which are used in the film. But this film is not into simplistic solutions for mid life crises. Rather it is an exploration of how this woman is going to lead her life after this huge break in the life she had planned for herself. The painter will not fill the gap made in her life because he is leading a wholly unconventional life he mapped out for himself. But he is more generous than her ex.

Mazursky was the first to explore many new breaking social changes in our lives in the later decades of the twentieth century. His films were always interesting and with great actors. We might wonder what the big deal is revisiting these films today but we must remember that Mazursky was the first on the scene. He did a remarkable job of capturing what was going on in our lives as we hit these tailspin convulsions in our society.

Alan Bates was a wonderful British actor who did great acting jobs in every movie he ever made. It was a great loss to the cinema when he died in 2003 at 69 of pancreatic cancer. Clayburgh tackled roles that many actresses were not tackling in 1978 but she was fearless. She was attractive but no more than that which made a wide variety of interesting roles available to her. She died in 2010 at 66 of leukemia which she had been battling for twenty years. 

If you have not experienced the film work of Bates, Clayburgh or Mazursky, I recommend you seek it out. They were extraordinary in the film world. Bates was also extraordinary on stage but those performances are lost to us.

TV: Malcolm in the Middle starring Bryan Cranston

If you have only seen Bryan Cranston play Walter White on "Breaking Bad" then you really need to see him play Hal on this show. There could not be a more opposite role in the history of tv for Cranston to have played. This is a totally comic role. He is the dominated husband of Lois who is the undisputed master of their household. They have four children with the gifted student, Malcolm, who is the show's narrator. This is about one of the most dysfunctional families in America and it is utterly hilarious. One great sequence has Cranston roller skating like a champ so as to teach Malcolm how to roller skate. He learned how to do this just for this episode and he is superb at it.

This is not to say that anyone else on this series does bad work. They all pull together and end up delivering an utterly hilarious sitcom about this family's life together. One of the children, Francis, they had to send to military school and nevertheless his mother remains the bane of his existence. They have the three sons at home and all three of them are capable of any sort of mayhem imaginable. 

They are the scourge of the neighborhood and the school system. They are almost always tottering on the edge of financial oblivion as well.

I was able to watch the entire show on Netflix. I just checked and all seasons are still available there for a subscriber to watch on its streaming service. It is impossible not to love this show.

Novel: The Target by David Baldacci
Will Robie CIA agent, Book 3
This is by far the best of the Will Robie books. What sets this one apart is that he adds facets to his story that I've never learned about in any other story, spy or otherwise. Chief among these is a North Korean agent named Chung - Cha (Comrade Yie). She was raised in Yodok or Camp 15, one of the Gulags. These concentration camps are where whole families are sent when even one of them gets in the bad graces of the supreme commander of North Korea. These camps are about the same as being sent to Auschwitz during WWII. Then there is her life as a regular person in North Korea when she is released from the camp. Very little works in North Korea, even basic utilities. Outages are a way of life. If you have a tv set, all that airs is supreme leader propaganda. And of course, North Korea hates us, America, which is what brings CIA agents Robie and Reel into the story as North Korea decides to commit an atrocity on American soil.

But this is not all that is going on in this book. There is also a long term prisoner dying of cancer who was associated with the Neo-Nazis. He was on death row because of his many murders. He asks to see his daughter before he dies and that turns out to be Reel! So she and Robie go to Alabama to see him and that sets off another crime for Robie and Reel to handle.

Baldacci does a masterful job with this third book and it is a huge improvement over the prior two. These books can be read as stand alone novels.

Music: The French Collection

That this is a CD that you need to hunt around for is nothing less than criminal. It is one of the very best instrumental albums ever recorded. It is the romantic French Music of Poulenc, Satie, Debussy, FaurĂ© and Ravel as done by Jazz musicians. Fred Hersch, a modern Jazz-pianist, has done a first class job pulling this together.  Some of the other extraordinary musicians are: Toots Thilemans, harmonica; Eddie Daniels, clarinet; Kevin Eubanks, guitar and James Newton, flute. Although they do jazz interpretations, the classical basis of each piece is fully respected. There are no weak numbers on this album either. I can't imagine that the classical composers wouldn't love these interpretations themselves. Personally Gymnopedie no. 1 by Satie is one of my favorite classical pieces. I previously couldn't have imagined letting anyone "tamper" with it. Well, these guys know how to tamper. That piece is the final track and brings the entire album to a wonderful close. You may have to hunt around for this. Amazon currently has a few copies by outside sellers. I don't know of anyplace where you can download it by purchase which is a shame. If you think you hate jazz, don't buy into that concept until you can tell me you hate this album. Only then will I believe you.

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.

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