Monday, March 30, 2015

The Fanatical Readers of Amazon Customer Reviews

On Amazon, where I file reviews, I have had a curious thing happen several times. Customers have left comments that I must be a "ringer" for Amazon or Apple (because I like Apple products). The reason for this suspicion is that I "write too well." Ergo, I cannot be an ordinary consumer. These are not customers who are seniors leaving this comment. They are much younger. In one case, Jane, another senior and reviewer at Amazon, was accused of the same along with me. We were filing comments back and forth to one another over a review I'd written and we had contrary opinions.

Rather than preening over how marvelous I must be, I had another thought about this event. I majored in liberal arts in college at a four year university. I took a lot of English and writing courses. I took theater and psychology courses plus history and philosophy courses. This was not considered strange in the 1960s. When I went to Law School, the exams were all essays and if one could not write well about the law, one's grade generally suffered for it. I am sure that most of the seniors reading this entry could write similar reviews to the ones I've written because they had similar educations.

In addition to being able to write well, both a liberal arts education and a law school education taught one to analyze. One then could reach conclusions by analyzing a great deal of data and conflicting information.

Scarcely anyone is getting a liberal arts education today. It has been on the wane for decades. This lack is now showing by those who cannot fathom having skills outside of the ones necessary for their professions.

I have also had the opposite experience to the above. A number of times I have gotten barely coherent responses to a review, which also had profane and borderline obscene comments. These usually came in at about 3am. I got beautifully written letters shortly after that by the authors of those comments. One was a Harvard Law School graduate. Another was in London and held an elite job there. Both had been wildly drunk when they wrote their comments, discovered what they had written when they were nursing their hangovers and felt compelled to apologize. When I read the initial letters, I would have thought the writers had not even made it out of high school. To put the before and after letters side by side was a Jekyll and Hyde experience. The truly appalling thing is that the writers admit that this happens rather frequently to them and are not overly concerned about the situation.

The internet has also unleashed another type of person who is compelled to send me occasional comments.  These letters usually start off that I am a liberal stooge, that I am an Obama lover, that I am ruining this country, etc., etc., I do not review political books because I generally do not read them. So this type of comment comes in on a movie or tv review of mine. One of these came in when I wrote a review about a movie involving the Indian Ocean tsunami which killed so many people. I said that this had been another extreme climactic event and that comment set this person off with his political conclusions. It is extremely unwise to engage with anyone on the internet who is on a political crusade so I merely pressed the Amazon button next to this person's name which allows me to permanently block him from that point forward.

Related to the above is when I filed a review of a graphic novel (comic book) about Palestine. I said that I found the subject matter too depressing, never ending and probably insoluble. Hence, I would not be reading any more. I got an avalanche of comments saying that I was pro-Israel, anti Palestine, that I was a liberal stooge, that I was a conservative fanatic. You name it, I was called it. After receiving about twenty of these, I deleted the review and resolved anew to stay away from anything remotely political.

Then there is the battle of the sexes. I discovered that the tv show "Entourage" was the last bastion of the alpha male. The lead was a movie star and his hangers on. Any criticism of this show of any sort elicited comments about I was a man hater; I must have been dumped too often to give a fair shake to the guys; I must be jealous of all of the gorgeous babes and on and on. The only reason I watched this show was that I loved the scenes involving the agent (Ari played by Jeremy Piven), his fellow agent Lloyd and his entire office operation. I detested the star and his hanger ons. I was even pretty sure that the writer did not intend for us to like these guys. One user gave me what he felt was the clinching argument about how wonderful the men were on this show: "This is based upon the real life of Marc Wahlberg!" I think Wahlberg has done some good films but I did not think this show was a ringing endorsement of his personal life. Eventually I just stopped reviewing this show because I was tired of hearing about how marvelous and misunderstood the guys were on this show. The misunderstood male defense? Really?

I wanted to show I was "with it" so I did not put up the Fab Four to discuss Groupies. Instead I put up today's heartthrob and his fans, Justin Bieber. If I reviewed Justin Bieber harshly, I would expect an avalanche of email from his groupies telling me off and about 100-500 negative comments posted under my review. Every age has its teen icon and I understand that. In fact, "The Beeb" reminds me a lot of Fabian Forte. If you don't know who that is then you are not a senior reading this entry!

I have something far more interesting to tell you than that JB has groupies. It is that potentially everyone has groupies. I can never tell when this is going to hit me smack up the side of the head. I can be writing about someone like Nicola Tesla (scientist) or Nora Roberts (romance writer) or Glenn Gould (pianist), say something negative about one of them, and get clobbered by their groupies. These people have groupies? Yes. Romance writers, for example, have a very ardent base of groupies. You disparage one of them at your peril. But attack a classical pianist or a scientist, philosopher or poet also at your peril. You just never know. And oh my God, comic book writers, the new residents of Mt. Olympus. Long live Robert Kirkwood, the comic book creator of "The Walking Dead," because his fans are legion. Likewise Neil Gaiman, the creator of Sandman and many other hit comics along with his artist sidekick Dave McKean. Except for Nora Roberts, I enjoy the work of everyone I've written about in this paragraph so although I understand the appreciation of this work, I am surprised by a groupie presence.

What is the biggest blessing you can confer upon a user reader? Giving him a lead to something he didn't even know existed. For example, the hit show "Homeland" in the USA is based upon the just as good if not better, "Hatufim", an Israeli tv series, which had two seasons on Israeli tv. I've seen it and directed the viewers on "Homeland" to it. This is just one in a long line of hidden facts. "The Bridge" is much better in its original Danish-Swedish version. The Danish "The Eagle" has a killer soundtrack which is also available on Amazon but under a foreign name (even though it is sung in English). Gabriel Byrne's "In Treatment" was also based on an Israeli tv series. Harlan Coben's best selling novel "Tell No One" was made into a wonderful French film of the same title instead of into an American film. This list just goes on and on.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Felix Wants Out! Nurse Ratched He's Not.

note: Felix is Jim, my husband. Felix's life is slowly returning to normal after my knee surgery. He had all along said this was going to be really major surgery with a really major recovery. I didn't believe him until I woke up in recovery and looked at myself and felt the anesthesia wear off. Then I believed. After that he was continually on call for my care and began saying that he'd become Nurse Ratched from the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." He keeps claiming he has sent away for her costume (above) online for himself.

I thought his asking for her outfit was just a joke until I found out it is a rather popular costume for parties. If you think Nurse Ratched looks out of step with the times, you need to remember that the movie was made in 1975 with Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher (Ratched) but in 1963 it was a hit play on Broadway starring Kirk Douglas with Joan Tetzel in the Ratched role.. And before that it was written as a novel by Ken Kesey in 1962. In the post WWII years before Kesey's novel was released, mental hospitals were controlling their patients by overmedicating them and, even worse, doing surgery on them to calm them down, such as lobotomies. Unlike most mental patients today, back in the 1940s and 1950s, almost all such patients were long term hospitalized and usually by the state. So Nurse Ratched, and her extreme methods with mental patients, goes all the way back to those decades. Her hair and outfit fits that time period.

I did find Felix the Nurse Ratched cap, left. It can be made using the instructions on eHow here. Paper caps like this are true to that post WWII Ratched nursing time but have not been in use since then. Nurses rarely wear caps at all today. There is no standard dress uniform either. This remains a popular costume though so you can easily make one for yourself or your grandchild for Halloween. Felix could easily make this so I wonder if I will shortly be seeing him in it.

As an historical note, Kirk Douglas was too old for the Jack Nicholson leading part when Cuckoo's Nest was finally set to be made into a movie. However, he had bought its movie rights when he'd played the lead on Broadway. His son Michael wanted to go into the movie business but as a producer so Kirk gave the project to him. Michael's best friend and roommate was Danny DeVito so Michael gave him one of the parts and it launched DeVito's career. Ironically, Michael Douglas was a very successful, Oscar winning producer for years because he didn't think he would be as good an actor and especially as good as his father who was an old school movie star. As we all know, Michael was wrong about his ability to go the distance in acting.

So how does Felix resemble Ratched? Perhaps the thing Felix hates most about this recovery is that he's been forced to follow some of my shortcuts. Felix hates shortcuts. He is inherently suspicious of them. But he had no time for himself with me at home with this bum knee. Hating shortcuts may be the one thing he truly has in common with Nurse Ratched. She did not believe in shortcuts unless they were scalpels to the brain. Felix hates breaking his routine in any respect so they are soulmates over this issue.

In his new found Shortcuts mode I found him coming home with salads he'd made at Heinen's salad bar, with wraps from Heinen's deli, with take out Chinese from that great place one suburb over which only does take out. Then I found him using Walmart too. These are all my places, selected with the singular thought of it works and fast so use it. This is just like the shortcut directions I use for getting around, making my own maps so I am never hindered by traffic. He has discovered places with my shortcuts that he never even dreamed existed. Just imagine the mortification of it though: Felix using Oscar's domestic tips!

I will admit that Felix has been through the wringer. There are these little yellow slips of paper all over our breakfast bar because he had to set up a schedule for all of my medications. It was a deluge of medicine all through the day and night. That has now been cut way down. When I got home I was taking 12 oxycontin plus tylenol each day and that was a cutback in pain medication because I'd previously been on morphine all day and night long. The oxycontin is down to 1 or at most two, the tylenol I only use when I skip the oxycontin entirely, and so on. The problem with all this pain medication is that you have to take other medicine for its side effects. I am on a low enough dose that most of the side effects are gone so we are cutting out one medicine after another as each week goes by.

Felix also has tons of stuff stacked up in the dining room because he had to make me a hospital bed-day bed. He made it from a mattress I got free from Amazon as a top reviewer. It took him days and days but I love it. In all of those bags in the dining room is all my stuff including the art quilts I made for myself. So I have to go through the bags and sort all of the stuff. My laundry and clothing is sort of heaped over there too. Next to that is my other computer equipment. I look at it, think about it, and then erase it from my mind until I hit a better day in true Oscar fashion.

Now I am also occupied with an art project so Felix is doing some fun stuff too. He was going up and down to the garage today doing workshop stuff. Both of us creatively had come to a complete standstill until this week. This creativity coming to the fore is vastly improving our state of mind. A few times we felt ourselves becoming Jack (me) attacking Ratched (Felix), as shown to the left. But now that we are making some creative time perhaps that time has passed. Actually, with me playing Jack, I more commonly felt this way about my physical therapists but I controlled myself. Just. If you have never read the novel, seen the movie or the play, you really need to do so. It is an American masterpiece. Felix has seen it and is now busy exiting stage left as fast as he can so he can ditch his leading role in it.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Part 2: Amanda Knox & the Murder of Meredith Kercher

Part I of this is here

On March 27, 2015, this most ridiculous prosecution came to a much needed end. Italy’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Cassation, overturned the murder convictions of Amanda Knox and her Italian former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. All charges were thrown out and thus this tabloid courtroom drama, which had been ongoing since 2007, ended. The case was expected to go the other way. Perhaps the battle Italy was facing with America persuaded the court to bring this farce to an end. American constitutional law was going to go head to head with our extradition treaty with Italy over Knox because Italy had continually violated the protections of our double jeopardy clause. Perhaps no one would want to go to Italy on vacation, much less to school, if they could look forward to being tried over and over again for one imaginary scenario after another if the prosecutor took a dislike to a particular person (read that as "woman").  Amanda Knox is shown glued to the phone on the day of the decision in her native Seattle.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Part I: Amanda Knox & the Murder of Meredith Kercher

On March 25, 2015 the Italian courts will again be ruling on the Amanda Knox case, vaulting it instantly front and center on all American news shows. This is perhaps the most fascinating murder case to play
out on the international legal stage. She was an American college student who was an exchange student in Italy, accused and convicted of murdering her roommate. If I were a young person contemplating going to another country to study for a year, I might interpret that to mean "Canada" after delving into this case. I certainly would not even consider going to Italy. (I say this as someone who is ethnically half Italian.) Think I'm being overly alarmist? Read this account and the conclusion on Friday and you tell me if you want to ever hear your grandchild will be studying at this Italian university. I really doubt it.

Part II of this entry is here

Friday, March 13, 2015

More Films About Love, 2 Comedies & 2 Dramas

"Choose Me" is director Alan Rudolph's charming love story about night owls who are lost souls who come together (Lesley Ann Warren and Keith Carradine). Geneviève Bujold is hilarious as  the night time shrink radio personality. She almost steals the entire show as she plays the predictable disaster in her own personal life, while she is such a success professionally. Although this is a comedy, it is a very quirky one with these eccentric characters, who cover the gamut in depicting true but less-than-sane, love. 

Carradine is a patient at a mental asylum who wanders off looking for love and meets Warren. You never are sure whether he is still crazy or not but it hardly matters. His best line is, "No, I'm the same. The town's different." This covers the classic situation of people trying to change their lives by moving or travel. He knows the town does not make the man so is very sane in this respect.

I love all of Alan Rudolph's films. They are highly artistic and independent. The soundtracks are always superb and this one is no exception. There is not a cliche in any Rudolph film. He has always made the films he wanted to make rather than becoming a household name in your mall cineplex. Most of his films only screened at art theaters and university film societies.  Most fans consider him as comparable to the late Robert Altman in artistic cinematic achievement. Carradine worked frequently for both directors.

"Besieged" Is Director Bertolucci At His Most Beautiful. This is his best film since "Last Tango In Paris". It is a wonderful love story set first in Africa and then in Europe, between an English pianist-composer, as played by UK actor David Thewlis and an African medical student, played by UK actor Thandie Newton. The film is English language. (Both of these actors can sound like Americans if they make our movies so you may have mistaken them as being from the USA in other films.)  Newton must flee Africa as she almost loses her life there. Her husband may still be alive and coming from Africa. She works as Thewlis's maid and his passion grows from there.

This movie shows rather than tells; everything is done visually with a minimum of dialogue and a wonderful accompanying soundtrack. Both actors, even though normally outstanding, exceed even their own best work in this film. The hero-pianist, Thewlis, is perfection in his understanding of self sacrifice for the one you love. 

I had to have the soundtrack too which is still available online, often as downloadable mp3s. Trust me, the movie without the music will leave you feeling incomplete. These works totally complement one another. There is both African and European music to go with the two different settings in the movie. Both are great but the abstraction in the European music Thewlis's character played on the piano haunted me long after the movie was over.
I picked the film "Center of the World" because I generally admire director Wayne Wang's work and have followed his career from its start with "Dim Sum." Wang has moved away from using solely Japanese American characters but has not moved away from his independent, edgy roots. This is an American romance through and through. Peter Sarsgaard is a wealthy cyber geek who is not a bad guy but his long suite is not the social graces. 

Shane Edelman plays the woman who comes into his life. She plays in a rock and roll band and also strips to support herself until she "makes it" as a drummer. This is actually about as American as you can get and is a far cry from the woman waiting for a man to rescue her from a life of stripping cliche. These two really match up quite well because they have a lot in common and in many ways are similar souls. 

It may not look that way on the surface but this is a deeply layered work and much becomes apparent to the patient viewer. Shane Edelman also does a nice job of showing how a "regular" woman can range all over the place in both her appearance and her emotions. 
"Lovesick" is a favorite of mine. I must caution you that if you never liked the late Dudley Moore's ability to blend comedy with romance, then it may not appeal to you as much. Moore began as a comic in the UK straight out of Oxford and then became enormously famous in the USA for his romantic comedy "10". This film was made after "10" in 1983. The female lead is Elizabeth McGovern, who currently is best known as Lord Grantham's wife in "Downton Abbey". McGovern was a beautiful leading lady at this early part of her career and prior to this had scored big in "Ragtime" and "Ordinary People." Today viewers know her primarily in her current Countess role.

Dudley Moore plays the psychiatrist who falls in love with his new patient, McGovern, the very first time he sees her in session. He was sent her as a patient because the preceding psychiatrist, played by a beleaguered Wally Shawn, had the same problem. 

This is comedy and romance and not in the least drama. The ethical problems of such a dilemma and the problems this might present on both sides are not a concern of this film. Since he falls hard the minute he meets her, that is not much of an issue anyway.

There are flights of fantasy in this film with Moore and Sigmund Freud. There are also hilarious moments, especially in the beginning, when Moore stumbles all over himself with being caught in this dilemma. He also stalks McGovern at one point early in the film and ends up stuck in ridiculous spaces as a result. He gets many laughs with these stumbling gaffes.

Another source of hilarity is when the other psychiatrists learn of his seeing his newest patient and start giving him a hard time. The whole thing is pretty preposterous of course but broad farce was what Moore was best known for as an actor. This was true from his earliest appearance in the 1960s as the comedy partner of the late Peter Cook at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, where they made an enormous impression. (To this day that festival remains a huge starting point for most UK budding talent in the arts. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie also made a huge, early impression there as a comedy duo.) Moore had also studied classical piano at Oxford and if that could be worked into one of his films, it was. Not this one though. 

Many viewers were amazed to learn that Moore and Cook were Oxford graduates, that Fry and Laurie were Cambridge graduates, as was their other campus friend, Emma Thompson. Hugh Grant is also an Oxford graduate. The guitarist from Radiohead was a musical prodigy at Cambridge. This flow from the first tier universities to the arts is not that unusual in the UK.

I like this film better than his most popular films, "10" and "Arthur". I like this film as much as his earliest film with Peter Cook in the UK, reviewed elsewhere on this blog, "Bedazzled." In all fairness though, long term "Bedazzled", 1967, is what he will be remembered for as his best artistic achievement as an actor.

This film was written and directed by Marshall Brickman who was Woody Allen's co-writer on "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan." 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Did I Miss Anything Important While Hospitalized?

I have not read the newspaper or watched the news in over a month. I had not once even watched tv or read online news. As I girded myself to return to the real world, I wondered what I would encounter. Certainly I would have heard something if there had been another terrorist attack but barring that I wondered if the world had tilted at all. Frankly, I doubted it. So here are some of my discoveries.

The first thing to greet me was a blonde Kim Kardashian, 34, falling out of her dress, as per usual, at Paris Fashion Week. Oddly the first thing that occurs to me, having worked with dyes and bleach for years, is that she is going to have to cut it short soon because at least four inches of the hair is already badly damaged. Plus women with roots as dark as hers need to bleach constantly. Then I take in the whole picture and wonder if there's anyone else who needs this much public attention. Oh, yeah, Kanye West her husband who last year sold himself literally as the Second Coming.

Next up has to be one of the luckiest men in the world., Harrison Ford. Not only did he manage to crash land a vintage plane from WWII but he also happened to land near a spinal surgeon who was golfing. The surgeon examined him in the plane and pulled him out along with other volunteers. The surgeon also told other golfers to pick up dirt and throw it on the fuel oil so that they could eliminate combustion (the plane blowing up). They did so and that was basically that. No one else was injured and he is listed in moderate condition at the hospital. This plane killed a fair amount of pilots in WWII. It was a difficult plane to fly and even more difficult to land, especially if in trouble. This is why it became so quickly a valuable vintage plane. Experts in piloting said Ford landed the plane the only way it could be landed without a total crash. So yes, skill was involved, but how many of us could hope to land practically atop a spinal surgeon who would take charge of the rescue?

Yes, I will admit it. I first went to the Daily Mirror as I didn't think I could handle regular news. Next I went to the New York Times, expecting much worse. This would be stuff that affected me after all whereas what happens to celebs does not.

Well, I was correct. The hard news is pretty much the same as before my month away. I have voted in every election and I sometimes wonder why.

Another Bush trying for Presidency despite latest failure revealed. We have three family names which keep cropping up since I was a kid when it comes to the presidency: Kennedy, Bush, Clinton. Too bad if we're going the family route that we can't grab John Adams and John Quincy Adams back. Whatever else you could say ill about them, they got things done, like creating a new country.

Race Relations in America still need improving.  Well, duh..... This American Life has a great two part series on the white police vs murdered black males controversy. It is rough listening but very well done. It exists as both an NPR show and a weekly podcast series.

The very odd fact about the death penalty is that when any of those on death row get a very bad medical diagnosis, the mercy factor starts moving forward. Usually it is terminal cancer but losing part of your brain might do it too.

Geez, the Jihadists wrecked an ancient site in Iraq, the Middle East. I have no idea why they would hit their own part of the world but I have never been able to figure out any of the attacks.

The above is the reason why I continue subscribing to the Times. Not only can I read well written recaps of my favorite shows, but even better, I can participate in these great discussions which occur with each recap. There were 422 comments made to just this recap of Downton Abbey alone. You can see in the middle the shows which are covered.

I did listen to podcasts while recovering during the last month, Here are some of my favorites pictured here. However, I have many more shows than this on my podcasts app. The reason is that many of these shows keep the complete archives of their shows online. In some cases, you may want to listen to all of them. Podcasts are free. A few of them charge for archived versions (past shows). Some of them have apps, like This American Life, which charges you $5 to get every show which it has had from the very beginning, which is hundreds of shows. You can buy it here. Best $5 I ever spent. My summation of the Serial podcast remains the most well read entry I've written on this Blog. Andrew Solomon's two talks on TED Talks are probably the best talks I've ever heard. He was the one who got the interview with the father of Adam Lanza, Stony Hill school shooting, for the New Yorker this past year. The Moth has the performance of true stories whereas Selected Shorts has some of the finest actors and audiobook narrators perform short stories. Marc Maron's WTF has had some brilliant interviews. Louis C.K., Jeff Garlin and one he recorded with Robin Williams shortly before his death remain his best. Invisibilia is another new spinoff from This American Life and deals with facets of the hidden things going on in life. Rebecca and I both loved this newest entry. Fresh Air I tend to listen to when I have just seen something which I want to learn more. Terri Gross interviews just about everyone in the arts.

One thing I learned from just writing this. I missed very little by taking my podcasts in with me for a month of recovery as my only aspect of "news"! Also, to my amazement, the Skilled Nursing facility almost has no one watching a tv whereas in a hospital you cannot escape a playing tv anywhere in it. I don't think a tv is in the OR but I'm out cold so what do I know?