Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Saying Good-Bye To A Brother.

Around 8:30 last night, my mom called me with news we expected but didn't want to hear: my brother Andrew died at Renown Hospital at the age of 54. He had been in the hospital for an operation to remove a beningn but troublesome brain tumor. It was affecting his vision so much he had to stop driving a truck, which he had been doing for several years. He was living in a mobile home with my mom in Fallon, 60 miles east of Reno. They were having a good life.

He was the guy who convinced me to get a warehouse job in Fernley, and later Reno, after I had an awful time trying to get a job after losing my overnight job at KFBK in Sacramento. At the very least, I credit him with helping me find a new life after more than 20 years in radio.

It was looking for a while that he was going to recover. He was even home long enough to get me to buy him a beer he was planning to enjoy on New Year's Eve. For all I know, the beer is still in the refrigerator. However, when he mentioned he had problems going to the bathroom, he started to decline. He had liver problems over the years, and that had a role in his health problems.

We tried to be close although we had been living in different parts of the country after I graduated from college. At least his hospital stay gave us a chance to reconnect. I also got to be reunited with two of my brothers, too. It felt good, but it would have felt even better if he had recovered completely. From what I was told, the end was a relief for him.

Over the past 25 years, I have lost two older siblings along with Andrew. I still have an older brother who I keep tabs with, but it's always difficult to lose a family member. My mom is about to turn 85,and I have to prepare for the fact that she'll also be gone, too.

Anyway, I will miss Andrew and be grateful for the family I still have,

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Checking Out Hidden Figures and a Mourning First Lady

As movie award season kicked off early, I decided to check out three movies over the past two days. One was a second watch of Rogue One, which became the #2 movie of 2016. To be honest, I wanted to see it just for the final scene where the plans for the Death Star were given to someone who could wind up providing hope. If you've seen the movie, you know who it was.

I also just had to take a look at Natalie Portman's portrayal of Jackie Kennedy in Jackie. However, it wasn't in midtown or downtown Reno. It was at a shopping center eight miles away that was just as luxurious as the Galaxy Theater in Sparks, but the cost was cheaper thanks to Cinemark's Tuesday discount.

It was worth the extra drive because the movie takes a different look at Jackie that surprisingly no one thought of she dealt with the assassination of her husband including her grief and the planning of his funeral. In between the days after his death, the movie shows her classic tour of the White House that was televised in 1962, and an interview she has with an unnamed reporter played by Billy Crudup. Through this, we see the many faces of Jackie Kennedy:  First Lady, grieving widow, and a woman facing an uncertain future.

Portman has Jackie's breathy voice and mannerisms down pat it's really spooky, but two scenes that were done very well shows how deep Portman got in this role. The first is seeing Jackie changing her clothes several times, as if things hadn't changed, while "Camelot" was heard on the record player. The other was her extensive discussions with a priest played beautifully by John Hurt.

Peter Skarsgard was also very good as Bobby Kennedy, who tries to keep the government and her sister-in-law together. This is especially true when he suggests she march at the procession by the side of her husband's coffin. There's also a great scene where she's angry at Bobby because she wasn't told Lee Harvey Oswald was killed.

It looks like the Best Actress races, which will really get underway when the SAG Awards happen late this month, will be a showdown between Portman and Emma Stone in La La Land. What the Oscars need is a really competitive race, and this could be it.

Meanwhile, there was a movie that certain people couldn't remember at the Golden Globes. It's about the secret behind NASA's success in getting man into space:  three African-American women whose stories weren't even known until recently.

Just after I saw Hidden Figures, I overheard two men who thought it took more than 50 years to reveal the story because the women were sworn to secrecy, almost like the Bletchly code-breakers in World War II. Actually, it's just that, according to Margot Lee Shetterly (who wrote the book that became the movie), the women just did their job and didn't seek fame.

Still, the sagas of Katherine Gobel Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) should be told because it showed that women did have a role in the space race. Johnson's skill as a mathematician got her a building named after her, Vaughn helped NASA transition to computers, and Jackson became one of the first female and African-American engineers.

The movie is smart to divide the girls' stories into three pieces. They're all working moms, but Katherine tries to impress the others with her calculating skills, Vaughn goes to great lengths to figure out the new IBM system and make sure she and her fellow calculators aren't out of a job, and Jackson is determined to break the color line to have the right to take college courses in an all-white school to advance. It's great to see Mary tell a skeptical judge it's in his best interests to let her in those classes.

Some people may dismiss the movie as a cross between The Help and The Right Stuff, but co-writer and director Ted Melfi makes sure to get the story right, even talking to Johnson, and producing an inspiring movie. Henson is really good as Johnson, who is shy at first but lets her numbers do the talking. However, she does get some resentment from the guys, including Head Engineer Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons). Thanks to support from the head of the Space Task Group (Kevin Costner) and even John Glenn, she proves her worth.

There's some talk Spencer may get in the Supporting Actress race, but her role as Vaughn is too similar to her award-winning role in The Help. Henson is actually a little better, especially when she tells her boss she can't be at her desk because the building has no "colored only" restrooms. It's no wonder why it just edged Rogue One for first place last weekend.

Friday, January 6, 2017

My Worst Vacation

Spending a couple of days in Sacramento in January is a bad idea, especially when a series of big storms rolled in. It has taught me that I should not leave town between November and March. I just wanted to see the new Golden 1 Center up close.

This is in between Kings games, but once the city gets ice hockey, it should be busier. Despite the fact it was an off day for the Kings, they had their big scoreboard in operation, showing a high school game for some reason:

I was also interested in seeing how far the city's gotten in building its new shopping hub called Downtown Commons, or DoCo. It'll have lots of restaurants and more movie screens. It was estimated it would be ready by the new year, and naturally it was not. There is still the sign:

Worst thing about the vacation was I-80 closing overnight. If not, I would have gotten back to Reno when I was supposed to. I had to stay an extra night. The only upside to it is that I got some nice winter pictures from I-80:

Now I am back in Reno, and ready to get back to routine, and also seeing movies I didn't get a chance to see in Sacramento...because there's no movie houses in downtown Sacramento, and won't be for a while.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Most Depressing Double Feature I Ever Had

OK, the main reason was learning she died.

This happened five minutes after Manchester By The Sea ended at the Century Riverside 12 in Reno. Thanks to some handy discounts I saw this and another movie for less than nine bucks, and basically saw the top contenders for the Oscars in February. I learned about it on my phone, and told a few people who were nearby. I fully expect people to make a return trip to their local theater to see Rogue One just one more time, along with the main Star Wars movies and The Force Awakens. This will be a long week, but this will be the only way such fans, including me, will cope.
To think, I had a chance to go see her when she was at Comic-Con. Then again, I thought she'd last longer than her mom, Debbie Reynolds. At least I have her autograph.

Getting back to Manchester, I wanted to know if Casey Affleck's performance is really a guaranteed award-winner. It''s pretty good, although I also liked Lucas Hedges as the teen who's also a main part of the story.

The movie is about Lee (Affleck), a handyman who maintains several apartments while living in a small basement apartment. He gets news that his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), died from heart failure, and that he has to take care of his nephew Patrick, played by Hedges. Lee is very reluctant to do this, mainly because of a shocking tragedy from his past. During the first half, the movie looks at Lee dealing with his brother's death and the new responsibilities while also adding flashbacks to his past, and that tragedy. It's a shocking moment that drives him away from his family and his wife, played by Michelle Williams. Seeing both Lee and Patrick in their younger days, when they were much closer while fishing in Joe's boat, is touching. However, seeing Lee deal with the tragedy is also heart-breaking.
Hedges is also great as a teen who's stressed out by way too many things, from hockey and losing his dad to trying to reconnect with his uncle and how this will affect his life. There's also a scene where he visits his mom (Gretchen Mol) and his new sort-of creepy fiance (Matthew Broderick). Patrick finds his mom via e-mail but another e-mail will upset him. Hedges just might sneak in for Supporting Actor, but may not win.

The story also took Lee and Patrick's relationship to unexpected roads, especially at the end. It's a good decision by writer and director Kenneth Lonergan to have a story where a family tries to recover from tragedies, but also an ending that is honest.

The other movie I saw was the adaptation of August Wilson's classic play, Fences. We can thank Denzel Washington for this, being director and the star. This is basically the same play that wowed Broadway a few years ago, but on a sound stage. It's about a Pittsburgh garbageman in 1956, still bitter over what could have been. He used to be a ball player, but before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. When we first meet Troy, he's talking to his friend Bono over the fact that all garbage truck drivers are white. Troy breaks that color line, but he's still bitter about other things. He argues with his son over whether he should play football, but has a loving relationship with his wife Rose that crumbles when a big secret is revealed.

Washington is realy good as Troy, while Davis just takes her Tony Award-winning performance to the screen and makes it even better. While she's in the Supporting Actress races, people wonder if she could beat Natalie Portman or Emma Stone in Best Actress. It would have been very possible.

From here, I'll be looking forward to Jackie and Hidden Figures over the next few weeks, and the Oscar nominations in a month.

In the meantime, I'll toast Carrie with the screen test that started it all:

Carrie Fisher by andaluska

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Review of "La La Land": Singing In The Pain

A musical in the spirit of MGM's glory days?
Sure, Disney's done that for years, mainly with snow princesses, beauties and beasts. It's tough to do that with regular actors.

It's been a dream of Damien Chazelle to make such a film, especially after his excellent debut as writer and director of Whiplash. It came true in a big way when La La Land premiered in Venice last summer, then slowly but surely caught the eyes and praise of critics everywhere. It's only been in release for three weeks, and if it hasn't reached the hinterlands, it will very soon.

The story is about two people with dreams:  Mia (Emma Stone), a barista who dreams of being an actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist who prefers traditional jazz and wants to open his own club.
They sort of meet in a traffic jam, but see each other at a restaurant just as Sebastian is canned for not following the set list. They don't hit it off at first, but in musicals like these, they do.

What's interesting is that we get a good look at their struggles. Mia tries to do an emotional scene but she's not even allowed to finish it. There's also a string of auditions that also don't go well. It's hard to figure anything else until Sebastian is forced to play in a band doing the worst '80s covers ever.

The main romance is depicted in excellent dance routines in classic L-A locations, even a routine at the Griffith Observatory that defies gravity. Their duet of the main song, "City of Stars" is also dreamy.
Things start to look up when Mia hopes to premiere a one-woman play while Sebastian joins a jazz band that becomes way too commercial, even if John Legend leads it. However, the love Mia and Sebastian share starts to fray, especially when she wonders if Seb is happy playing music he doesn't really prefer.

Usually in musicals, such a couple will wind up happily ever after, but Chazelle prefers to make one that's more realistic. Does that include "hopeful?"
Well, Mia does one more audition, and how Stone sells this story just may be enough to fend off a tight race for Best Actress at the Oscars next February. It's basic, but it blows you away.

Gosling and Stone make a fine romantic couple, as they did in two other movies. That may have helped here. They are a wonderful couple of dreamers who may reach their goals, but will have to make some sacrifices along with way.

It's going to battle Fences and Manchester By The Sea when award season gets underway in a few weeks, but La La Land shows that original musicals, just like the old days, can still be made.