Friday, August 15, 2014

Weekend Entertainment Recs for Seniors & Others

Film: Moscow On The Hudson by Paul Mazursky, starring Robin Williams

Robin Williams just died and I thought this would be a good time to revisit his breakout movie as a serious actor with comic overtones. He made this film with that great avant garde film maker of that time, Paul Mazursky, who himself died just last month. Williams always had so much energy, verging on the manic, that he needed a director like Mazursky to reel him in with gentle restraint. 

Williams plays a Russian defector to America who is a jazz musician. His is a very gentle performance and romance. He defects to the leading lady in a department store. There are sad moments, comic moments and romantic moments throughout, all perfectly realized. It was made in 1984 when Williams was at the zenith of his powers. He had many great performances to come but in some of them, this kind of sincere role would have him descend into mawkishness and sentimentality. Under Mazursky's influence, however, this film never does that. It remains a delightful character study and romance of a Russian immigrant coming to America. 

One of his best lines is: "In Moscow, we fight for a crumb of freedom! Here, you s*** on it!" In later years we tended to forget how charming Williams could be in a gentle, romantically oriented movie. In this film you can easily see why the leading lady falls in love with him. His character's exploration of freedom in all aspects from love to making money to expressing himself are all masterfully handled. 

Williams himself probably thought his "Popeye" with Robert Altman was his breakout film. I thought he did a good job with that material but he was born to play this role. It is his true breakout film as a movie star to watch.

TV: Manhattan (as in Manhattan Project)

I think this is promising. I have always been fascinated by Los Alamos which is the setting in the New Mexico desert where the atomic bomb was built to be used against the Axis powers to end WWII. It was used twice against Japan which did cause Japan to finally surrender.

One vastly encouraging thing is that these are all adult actors, all playing PhD scientists who have brought their families with them as they attempt to build the bomb. As we open, the setting is extremely primitive, rather like going to summer camp in the desert. However, you are surrounded by high military security during your entire camp experience. Since this is 1943 there is also a lot of sexism going on. Most of these male scientists met their wives at major universities while getting their degrees. So most of the wives were at least college grads and more likely masters or PhDs. Nevertheless, their main role was as wife and mother and any other role was an uphill battle. Major inroads against this mindset would not occur until another thirty years went by.

Beyond all this human interest stuff though, nothing can beat the fact that this is the story about building the bomb before the enemy builds it and using it to win the war.

For those who liked the actor who played Laura Linney's brother Sean in THE BIG C, that actor has a major role as a scientist in this series.

Novel: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

You might think that the politics of grade school in an elite Australia seaside community might differ somewhat from the same situation in America. However, except for their Australian accents and looking upon a different seascape, we could be identical twins. The political situation is the same. The big story is not the kids and the teachers in the school but instead their parents and most especially their mothers. We open with kindergarten orientation and the battle lines are drawn right there and then. The children set it in motion but the mothers pick it up and run with it as if they were playing the Super Bowl. The author zooms in on a few key mothers and families and thereby sends up a whole new generation of foibles.

There is Madeline whose first husband remarried Bonnie so that now both Madeline and Bonnie have kids in the same class. Bonnie is a yoga embracing, vegan, spiritual wonder woman who even cooks meals for the first family, which Madeline's husband and children love, much to her horror. Her older daughter wants to follow Bonnie's lead and become a vegan and spends Xmas morning feeding the homeless at a shelter. The daughter won't even set the table in Madeline's home. This is all so "right now" that it is hilarious.

On a more somber note, Chelsea, the beautiful one, has a behind the closed doors violent relationship with her rich banker husband. This no one else knows. And Jane is much younger than the other mothers, early twenties, on her own with her child Ziggy. Renata is the obnoxious mother of "gifted children" within the school who spends all her time at board meetings.

And throughout we are constantly made aware that something big has happened at the school's fundraising trivia night. Maybe murder?

I have also read THE HUSBAND'S SECRET and THE HYPNOTIST'S LOVE STORY by this author. So far THE HYPNOTIST'S LOVE STORY is my favorite. However, it will be matter of personal preference which book you prefer. They are all very well written and plotted.

Music: Nirvana, Unplugged in New York, Kurt Cobain

I cannot claim to be a Nirvana fan per se. They were way after "my time". I did give them a try after songwriter and lead singer Kurt Cobain's suicide, however, out of sheer curiosity over all the fuss made about him. I was then able to understand why he had such a huge following. 

The advantage of this album over any other Nirvana one is the "unplugged" nature of it. In other words, it is not as loud because they turned off all the enhanced electrical musical instruments. There is a sheer rawness of emotional pain in this album that speaks to everyone. That Cobain did not survive this album by long comes as no surprise. Great talent, great pain. What else is new? 

This is on "Rolling Stone's" TOP 500 ALBUMS OF ALL TIME list and deservedly so. This album was probably Cobain's ultimate cathartic act before his suicide. No one could have left a better suicide note about death and alienation. It is an intense, exhilarating musical experience nonetheless.

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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