Sunday, November 27, 2016

Breakfast at Tiffany's Returns to the Silver Screen

Hi, I'm Audrey Hepburn, and I dare you to not fall in love with me!

Breakfast at Tiffany's appeared on the big screen this Sunday November 27.  My Mom was a big fan of Audrey's, and I had never seen Audrey Hepburn on the big screen before. Somehow it is more special to see the movie stars in a larger-than-life setting as it was originally intended in 1961.  

I love this movie simply because of Audrey Hepburn.  She succeeds in winning my heart (and evidently much of America's) despite the relatively blah supporting cast and a script that lacked believability and authenticity.  

The movie is based on a novella by the great Truman Capote.  But based on the commentary offered by Turner Classic Movies as well as my own internet research, Capote was not happy with many aspects of the film.  For one, he wanted Marilyn Monroe to be Holly rather than Audrey Hepburn.  Actually, I totally agree with Truman that Audrey was completely miscast in this role!  Audrey could never
make herself believable as an American Southerner affecting an English accent.  No, we know darn well that Audrey Hepburn is English, English, English and there is no possibility that she could convince us of anything else.  Yet somehow it all worked amazingly well. 

Speaking of miscasting, according to the commentary, everyone later regretted having Mickey Rooney embarrass himself in a pathetic attempt to lampoon a Japanese landlord.  He was terrible, and apparently Truman was against it from the beginning, and director Blake Edwards and Rooney himself regretted the entire concept, rightly so. 

I hadn't seen the movie for many years and then it was on TV.   It was kind of fun to have the song "Moon River" rejuvenated and made fresh.  I had remembered it as a song for "old fogeys" and it was surprising to hear it as a new song. 

It was interesting to me that I had forgotten most of the squabbles that Holly and Paul Varjak (George Peppard) had. I mainly latched on to the positive, fun memories of parties and romance and forgot about most of the pain and humiliations that they faced.  It made me think of my own foibles over the years and times when I acted selfishly or  like a dope.  Truth to tell, I would rather forget about those as well.  But for many of us, that is part of being young too. 

Similarly, I had remembered the ending of the movie happening over what seemed like a very long time, but seeing it anew, it went by in a flash.  I couldn't believe the movie was over so quickly. 

Without Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's is simply a Hollywood cliche, the "boy meets girl"  movie. 

Ultimately, Breakfast at Tiffany's is a movie about falling in love, one of the most profound experiences that we can ever have in life.   Audrey Hepburn made us experience that feeling and that is why it is a classic film.

I don't see it as anything  like a perfect movie.  If anything, it is an amazingly imperfect movie which somehow, inexplicably triumphed and turned out to be a masterpiece despite all of the errors that were made. Perhaps that in itself is a metaphor for life.  

 How wonderful would it be to live in New York and be young and attractive and in love?  The magic of film allows us to experience it.   

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Saving ISIS--Senator McCain to the Rescue

  I am surprised and disappointed that Senator John McCain, among others, is seeking to breathe new life into former Secretary Hillary Clinton's initiative to save ISIS from military defeat in Syria. 

    I realize that Senator McCain would object vehemently to my using the term "ISIS" to describe the rebels in Syria.  Indeed, both Democrats and Republicans have sought to be "poliltically correct."  They ask us to NOT to say "Radical Islam" nor "Islamic Terrorists" nor ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), nor ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). In fact I heard somebody from the State Department chide the Trump Administration for not knowing the that there is no Islamic State presence in Syria. Instead, they should be referred to as "civilians."  So, Russia and the Syrian government are attacking "civilians" in Syria, not ISIS.

     Okay, so what DO we call the people with rocket launchers and guns who are shooting government forces. How about "The Assholes Formerly Known As Terrorists (TAFKAT)? Like the musician Prince, they are ultra-particular about what they are called, but we all know who is being spoken of.      

      Years ago, the Obama administration decided that it was in America's best interest that a Sunni government emerge to take the place of President Assad's Shiite regime in Syria.   This is not totally irrational since Sunnis are a majority in Syria.  President Obama famously proclaimed "Assad Must Go!" abandoning all pretenses of  neutrality.  But ISIS engaged in poor public relations by chopping off the heads of its hostages, making it impossible for the West to support them. 
     Hence the plan became to defeat ISIS with some third power, but not supporting Assad. The pretense is that there were viable Sunni groups that enjoyed popular support that could supplant the leadership of ISIS. 

    Senator McCain is incensed that President Elect Trump plans to work with Russia to whale on ISIS.  Instead, he longs for ISIS (actually TAFKAT)  to be saved so that they can present a unified alliance against Russia. This is actually an amplified version of the same idea presented by President Obama and former Secretary Clinton.

McCain has basically embraced the Clinton doctrine of supporting Sunni groups hoping for a buffer against Russian and the Syrian government.

    My challenge to my friends, is that if indeed there is a group worth of our support and worth directing our military to kill for, can you name one person that we are helping? Who is that just, pro-American leader that we are bringing forward as our ally?   If you can not name one person fitting that description, it seems to me that the US should have no business supporting any one of these groups or creating a pro-American government in Syria.  We should not indulge the Cold War fantasy and hope to oppose Russia with a pro-American Sunni Islamic fundamentalist government in Syria.  If we must face the unfortunate truth, none of the groups in Syria is our ally. I'm not sure that we have a vested interest in promoting either the Shiite or Sunni side in the Syrian Civil War. However, saving ISIS, or one of its re-named successors, is one of the dumbest ideas in modern history.  To date hundreds of thousands have died in Syria during the Obama Administration's term, and the thought of prolonging that by seeking to defeat the Syrian Government and picking a confrontation with Russia is the worst idea yet.  There is nobody in Syria worth expending one American life for.  

Dr. Strange is Entertaining and Original

  Dr. Strange was interesting, entertaining and original.   Like most Marvel movies, they were willing to take some chances and eschew trite formulas from the past.
    I knew Dr. Strange mainly from reading a reprint of the original story, but never got into it that much.  Magic characters from Harry Potter on down are kind of flawed because nobody really knows what their powers are.  Here's how it works.  The good guy uses his spell to stop a bad magician.

     "Oh yeah?  Well let's see how you handle my BAD GUY SPELL!  Aluminium Recyclum!  Bwahaha!"

     "Hoho!  Too bad for you that I have an even more powerful GOOD GUY SPELL!  Sanctimonium barfitosis!" 

     ...and so on.  After a point we need a commentator to come in and tell as whether the good magician has won or lost.  It is hard to create suspense because the spell powers are so poorly defined that we just can't get excited by any threat they may pose because there is always a potential antidote spell.   

      At any rate, the movie tells the story of Dr. Strange's strange journey from being an arrogant but talented surgeon, to losing his ability due to a horrific car wreck, and his search for meaning in mystery religions in Asia.   In the comics, Dr. Strange was actually a psychedelic hippie, even before the Beatles found Guru Maharishi Yogi.  At any rate, in this movie he is able to find self help gurus beyond compare at a mysterious temple in Tibet. 

    Dr. Strange loves parallel universes.   Suffice it to say that the rules for parallel universes are as complicated as Einstein's theory of Relativity and the NFL rule book.  So you really can't figure out how all this works, you just have to wait for one of the characters to explain in more simple terms what is going on. 

    I like that in Marvel movies the characters are not one sided.  It's hard to know whether they are evil or good, or indeed whether they are capable of knowing the difference or making a choice.  We can't even be totally sure that Dr Strange is a good guy. Maybe he's not. 

     Can evil magic be used for good?  Or is it always evil, and if so, why?  What makes it evil. These are things that Dr Strange has to ask, with his genius for scholarship and his affinity for magic.  His senior fellow sorcerers and teachers also struggle to achieve a balance between good and evil. On that level, the characters are very believable.  

Dr. Strange is an arrogant me-first, ugly American visiting  a temple.  Of course when he says something stupid, as hke usually does,  the senior people like the Ancient One, pictured above, are going to kick his ass till he learns. Sometimes he gets kicked totally out of the known universe. 

How does it end?  Well, my child, of course I can not tell you that.  You shall have to view the movie yourself, and make your own judgment.  May blessings be upon you. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Will the Republicans Oppose Trump? Probably.

     About six or seven years ago, I vividly remember being at a church picnic with several of my highly educated, professional friends.  They were in hysterics because: 

   a.   President Obama was going to create a fifth branch of the US military, with allegiance sworn only to him, and not the Constitution. 

   b.  President Obama was going to outlaw all guns, and the members of the fifth branch of the military would conduct a house to house search to find and confiscate all the guns in America. 

    The Village Elliot protested this could not possibly be true (it came from a distorted reading of a speech Obama gave praising the Peace Corps and comparing to to military service), but my friends simply dismissed me as a naive liberal.   Everyone was upset, and some of the wives were literally in tears, crying over the expected loss of their guns.  

    Now flash forward to 2016.  The conservatives have regained their sanity, and it is the liberals who are losing their minds.  Trump, you see, is going to become this supremely powerful leader and impose his will on all of us from Day 1 of his regime.  

     I don't want to impose an artificial limit on Presidential stupidity, but I doubt whether any of this can be true.  Please, let's not invent new conspiracy theories to replace the old ones.  The President can not pass legislation. He can only sign bills that the Congress gives up.  I doubt whether the Republicans can pass any meaningful bill within their own party, never mind overcoming Democratic resistance.  The Speaker of the House is Paul Ryan, who basically denounced Trump and refused to endorse him for President. I think he was hoping for a Hillary Clinton win frankly.  It is very doubtful whether a  thin majority in both Houses will allow Republicans to come together on much of anything.  I'll be surprised if they can pass a budget.  
     For 8 years, the Republicans have prided themselves on obstructing whatever the President wants to do.  Can they suddenly change, unite and start passing the Trump agenda (whatever that is)?  I doubt it.  I think that obstruction has become such a strong habit, they will not be able to break it. 

    As a whole, this generation of politicians has come to regard compromise as a weakness, and they have very poor skills at negotiating and compromise.   In the Senate with 51 Republicans, they need zero defections in order to be able to pass a bill.  Good luck with that.

   What Republican Congresspeople want more than anything is to keep their job, and not get blamed for the bad mistakes that President-elect Trump will surely make.   I see major voting blocks trying to paint Trump as a pawn of the Democrats, and opposing both of them, hoping that you, dear Voter, will buy off on their story and re-elect them.   A few Republicans are actually sane and may not support tax cuts for the super-rich and things like that.   So no, I think this Congress will continue to be remembered for gridlock and deadlock.  They will not be able to overturn legislation of the past Administration, even if it's bad and needs to be overturned.  

     I just doubt they have the stomach for presenting the President with a real bill.  On anything.  And I even wonder, even with a Republican majority in both Houses, will somebody like Ted Cruz  filibuster the budget bill again?  I think it's very possible.