July 25, 2017

Television is fast and loose. You have two or three takes to get your part right, and if you have a problem, well, by the time you figure it out, everyone’s moved on to the next scene. It’s good training, keeps you on your toes.

-John Heard

A little delayed but still can’t wrap my head around all these celebrity deaths…RIP John Heard

Dunkirk (2017)

I love going to the movies. It’s the perfect escape from reality. Some escapades though aren’t always the most enjoyable though.

Saw Dunkirk today. The two hour film was about the evacuation of the Allied forces in Dunkirk, a commune situated in Northern France. It starred Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Mark Rylance, Harry Styles and Kenneth Branagh. It was directed by Christopher Nolan, who has directed films such as “Interstellar”, “Inception”, and the “Dark Knight” trilogy.

The film started with soldiers walking the abandoned streets, picking up propaganda flyers that fell from the sky. All is silent. Then, out of nowhere, gun shots ring your ears and your heart begins to race. One of the soldiers in that group finds the shooters, stated he was British and heads to the beach where the evacuation was taking place. The film focuses on three plot lines: the soldiers on land heading to sea (“The Mole”), the Spitfire pilots mid-air, and three civilians heading to sea to rescue those evacuating Dunkirk. Each story is on a different timeline. The Mole is on a one week. The civilians are on a one day timeline. The air pilots are on a one hour timeline. Very Nolan-esque if you ask me.

There’s not much talking in the film. The film is dictated by bombs, guns and film score. Nolan tries pretty hard to downplaying their big name cast members. In a movie review given by NPR, David Edelstein insists there was a “running joke directors [insisted] on covering [Tom Hardy’s] great face” (Hardy played one of the Spitfire pilots).

I did not mind the fact there was no gore. Pretty much the only blood you saw were the wounded soldiers on the beach. I applaud the music department as they did a wonderful job adding a deeper level of panic, hope, and suspense to the film. I also applaud Hoyte Van Hoytema, the Director of Photography. The parts where the British pilots spun and dove over the glistening Channel was beautiful. The bombs hitting the boardwalk shook fear inside of the audience.

In terms of the acting, as I said earlier, there isn’t much talking. There is also a lack of representation of the French, Belgian and Dutch soldiers. I counted one main French soldier (Barnard and one Dutch man who was not even a soldier. I didn’t see any Belgians (granted, I was not looking for the Belgians. Sorry Belgians. I was too busy trying to slow my heart down after hearing five bombs go off on a ship full of men).

Kenneth Branagh provided a great performance. Branagh (who I will forever see as the Shakespearean man thanks to a theater class in college) played the selfless Commander Bolton. The downside to Branagh’s performance is the fact the real commander at Dunkirk in 1940 was named Commander James Campbell Clouston. WTF? Why change the name of the hero? In an article on the Daily Beast, Clouston’s family was not at all pleased by the use of a fake name.

Harry Styles. The first time I saw him in the film, he looked out of place. I don’t know if it’s because I have the 1D image of him in my head. Fortunately, he was able to blend in quickly. Was it a grand performance? Branagh was better. Would I like to see him in other films? Sure why not?

If you’re faint-hearted, this film isn’t for you. If you need backstory, you are not going to get it. There isn’t any backstory on the characters. They are men in uniforms, most of them unnamed, retreating from a gruesome battle. Yet, you feel their pain, suffering and willingness to survive at all costs. It’s emotionally and psychologically draining from minute one to the credits. There’s no laughing, only tears. Tears when the civilians fail to reach their goal and tears of joy when the glimmer of hope for the British comes through.

All in all, I’d give it 90%. The score and the cinematography were the best. But if you were to compare it to history and other war movies that have recently been released (i.e. Hacksaw Ridge), then it falls a bit short.

Johnny Mercer

I was reading an article from Country Living on the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s the other day. I had some vague idea who Johnny Mercer was, so I decided to do a little research project on him.

Mercer was born in Savannah, Georgia on November 19, 1909 to a prominent attorney and a daughter of a Croatian immigrant. It’s been known that Mercer’s family tree is chock full of war fellas. He is the distant cousin of George S. Patton, known best as the leader of the US Third Army post-Normandy in World War II. On his father’s side runs Confederate General Hugh Weedon Mercer, the great-great-grandfather who built the Mercer house in Georgia, though he never finished it. Before him comes a Scottish soldier-physician who served as an American Revolutionary War General, Hugh Mercer. On his mother’s side, Mercer’s grandfather ran a Union blockade during the American Civil War. All these connections to military and war provides a clear picture to his inspiration for creating and performing the 1944 hit “G.I. Jive”.

Mercer moved to New York City in 1928 when the jazz age was booming in areas like Broadway and Harlem. He lived out as a starving artist in Greenwich Village before pairing up with Hoagy Carmichael in 1933 to create “Lazy Bones”, which according to both Mercer and Carmichael, only took 20 minutes. The song became a hit one week after it aired on the radio waves. It is said they made $1250 off of it on royalties (for point of reference, after inflation it’s $23,511.92 in 2017 money). He became a recognized brother of the famous Tin Pan Alley, a group of musicians and songwriters that resided on West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue during the early 20th century.

Unfortunately, the movie business was hitting it big in the 30s, decreasing the demand for revues and stand alone songs, which was Mercer’s specialty. Movies and musicals required songs that emphasized the plot, lighten or darken the mood, and create a deeper level between the characters, the surroundings and the audience. Mercer was no fool. In 1935, he followed the money (and Bing Crosby over to Hollywood.

In 1936, inspired by a road trip through Texas (eyyyyyyy!), Mercer wrote “I’m an Old Cowhand (from the Rio Grande). Crosby sang this in Rhythm on the Range. The ironic part is the fact he wrote this on his way back to Georgia from failing in Hollywood and Hollywood ate every lyric up, despite the fact the song had some satirical jabs at Hollywood. This bankrolled his career and he returned to the Hollywood scene.

The 1940s was a major success for Mercer. In 1942, Mercer co-founded Capitol Records (yes, the Capitol Records) with record-store owner Glen Wallichs and investor Buddy DeSylva. Wallichs was the brains, DeSylva was the guy who gave the $15,000 check as start-up capital, and Mercer was the visionary, handling the artists. Four years later, Capitol sold 42 million records and cemented its reputation as one of the “Big Six”.

The 1950s brought rock’n’roll to the public. People like Chuck Berry and Elvis dominated the radio waves. This cut Mercer’s audience and opportunities to showcase is jazzy/blues talent. This didn’t stop him though. He continued writing songs for MGM and wrote a few for Broadway musicals.

The 1960s was a shining light for Mercer. In 1961, Mercer’s “Moon River” was written and performed on Breakfast at Tiffany’s. You know the scene: Audrey, wearing a white towel wrap on her head, sitting on her window sill next to a fire escape, lazily singing while playing the guitar. For years people believed “Moon River” referred to the Hudson River. Turns out it refers to a river in this South! The song was a nostalgic trip to Mark Twain’s visions of the Mississippi River. It definitely fits the film considering Holly Golightly is really a Southern girl.

In the same year, Mercer also wrote lyrics for Days of Wine and Roses with the help of his partner, Henry Mancini, who also assisted with composing “Moon River”. The duo won Oscars back-to-back for Best Song, the first time in Oscar history.

The rest of the 1960s consisted of writing songs for the greats such as Tony Bennett (“I Wanna Be Around”) and Frank Sinatra (“Summer Wind”). The 1970s was a slower time for Mercer. In the mid-1970s, Mercer was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He died on June 25, 1976 in Bel Air. He’s buried in his hometown, Savannah, Georgia.

Mercer was a creative fella. He wrote what he knew and when the industry changed, he adapted in a snap. He wasn’t a sellout. He was an artist who drew inspiration from his surroundings. Personally he had some tough times, partying too much and all that, but he never truly strayed away from the beats and sheet music.

June 11, 2017

How many actors have a shot at being a part of something that became a part of pop culture? It’s been very rewarding. I’m not getting the 20 million bucks for the new movies, but at least I’m getting warmth and recognition from people wherever I go.

-Adam West

And another bites the dust…RIP Adam West…

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

I admit it: I am a Disney movie nerd. So it’s no surprise that I saw Beauty and the Beast yesterday. You know, that live action film with Emma Watson that came out about a month ago.

I must say I am happy they didn’t follow the 1991 version exactly. For example, the library scene. In the live action it was presented to Belle by the beast as a half joke/half serious offer, which made it all the more adorable. In the cartoon version, it was presented after the snowball fight scene as a “I’ve been preparing this for you so here you go!”. Keeping the songs from the original movie like “Be My Guest” is a nice nostalgic touch.

Another plus: The live action closed loops that the cartoon left out. Was the Beast always a douchebag? I am not saying. Where did Belle’s mother go? Spoiler: she was not a French Revolutionary fighting for her country, unfortunately. What was the time period? Considering Gaston was “in the war” and the Eiffel Tower was not built yet and the mention of Champs Elysées being “too touristy” placed the time period  post-1815. These little details provided more depth for each character, making much more sense on how they fall in love or dislike each other.

The one minor issue I hold with the live action is the passage of time. Is it me or did all this happen in three days? I’m pretty sure the 90s version expanded the timeframe. I know it’s supposed to be classic love story but come on. It’s rare to acquire a “fear then witty banter then pure romance” relationship in three days. 

I love the chemistry the actors have with each other. Le Fou, played by Josh Gad of Frozen (Olaf!) was hilarious (and closet gay? Spoiler!). I would see it again and recommend the film. And if you a nostalgic cinema person, watch the movie at a classic theater without the dine and fancy seats. I saw it at Gateway Regal 16, which is an old school cinema with a classic concession stand that sells overpriced popcorn and candy, surprisingly good arcade games according to my friend John who ventured with me to see this film, and good ol non-reclining non-leather seats. It adds a whole ‘nother level of magic.

Gateway Regal 16 in North Austin

13 Reasons Why

It’s the current Netflix craze. And for good reason. Please note there are some spoilers.

13 Reasons Why, based on the book of the same name by Jay Asher, is a dual timeline, riveting mystery that tells the story of Hannah Baker-a high school girl who commits suicide but leaves 13 tapes to the 13 people that helped her reach her point of suicide, each tape a worse reason than the former. But she isn’t the whole story. There are various subplots that intertwine between these 13 people, an extra step beyond the book if one of those people who compare. One could argu Clay Jensen, the person who gets possession of the tapes during the show, is the second protagonist since we are on this journey with him.

13 Reasons Why is a powerful piece on the impacts of bullying, social media and more serious issues such as mental issues, rape and suicide. The characters are relate-able. You can see yourself as both the victim and those who hurt the victim. It helps you realize and further understand that even the smallest action could create the greatest negative impact on the other person, whether it be positive or negative, living or passed.

The plots, though a tad exaggerated at times, is a true depiction/no BS conjecture of high school life in the 21st century. Social media, lack of help from the officials and bullying are major things that play important roles in today’s high school scene. What’s interesting is the fact that Hannah’s truth is not necessarily the whole truth. Throughout the show, you are feeling bad for Hannah and wish revenge on those who hurt her, but the back of your mind is left in doubt. These events are told through the eyes of one person. Clay authenticates some of the memories as he was also a witness to some of the events, but there are many that leave you wondering “did that really happen?”. It does not (or does, if you are thinking of the quality of suspense the show instills) help that the other 12 people are either trying to hide their actions, indifferent, or too scared to come out.

Finally, the music is amazingly awesome. The creators use British punk music to add to the psychological aspect, especially with Clay as he embarks on the road to mental insanity. You get flashback bands like Joy Division. You get indie bands like Lord Huron, whose “The Night We Met Met” is hands down the best song in the whole show as it is during Clay and Hannah’s slow dance scene. And you know my love for The Cure.

With this show, you are not getting Disney pixie dust with this show. The last three episodes are graphic. The production team did not sugar coat rape and suicide. They emphasized it to the point your heart is wrenching itself while you cannot stop yourself from experiencing the emotion of sadness. There’s a reason Netflix rates it TV-MA. Parents, if you have young teens, I would recommend watching the show with them. It could be a great moment to teach a few valuable life lessons.

Cross your fingers that there is a season 2.