August 28, 2018

It's called karma ... and it's pronounced 'ha!' Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

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By Guest Columnist - Roy Sexton

 

Is it fashionable to hate Mamma Mia!, the international ABBA-stage musical sensation that was parlayed into the biggest box office film-musical of all time ten (!) years ago, starring Meryl Streep? Seems that way. Maybe it's misogyny or sour grapes or a general critical agnosticism toward anything big, silly, and fun. Maybe people don't want to admit how much they love infectious Swedish pop songs with nonsensical titles and lyrical metaphors that appear to have been crafted by a roomful of monkeys with typewriters.

Whatever. I liked it. Mostly.

Well, let me equivocate. I appreciated the gaga joy that the original film's cast seemed to be having - a group of award-winning pros (Streep, Christine Baranski, Julie Walters, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Stellan Skarsgard) who didn't give a flying fig that they were working from a junk script with a cringe-worthy concept (who's your daddy?). These talented souls could read an appliance repair manual aloud and make it seem zippy. So what happens when you offer them some catchy-as-eff songs and throw them on a plastic back-lot set designed by Olive Garden with a sound-stage-blue sky that makes your heart ache? Cinematic genius.

 

Franchise newcomer (is this a franchise yet?) Ol Parker takes over direction from Phyllida Lloyd on the nobody-asked-for-it sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. He does some spectacular reverse engineering to give us an actual film that is just as loopy as before but, you know, gives us characters and motivation and something resembling a plot (sort of).

 

Since this second entry is basically a greatest hits of a greatest hits package, some songs from the prior film get repeated; some B-side deep cuts you never knew existed (nor wanted to) are employed; and, as a score, all of the numbers are more seamlessly integrated into the story line ... which is basically TWO storylines.

 

First, Sophie (a luminous Seyfried) is (spoiler alert!) mourning the passing of her mother Donna (Streep, who adds to her odd gallery of beyond-the-grave "angel" characters here), and re-opens the picturesque Greek hotel as a tribute.

 

Second, in parallel, we learn through flashbacks how young Donna found her island retreat, slept with three different dudes in rapid succession (Jeremy Irvine, Hugh Skinner, Josh Dylan - all Abercrombie & Fitch adorable and completely disposably interchangeable), and subsequently declared, "To hell with all of ya!"

 

A crackerjack Lily James (CinderellaBaby Driver) portrays young Donna. She effortlessly channels and brilliantly reinvents the madcap essence of Streep ... despite the fact that the two don't look one whit alike. Lily is brilliant in the role - unapologetic and fiery. By far, the smartest thing the filmmakers did was casting her. She makes the film. Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies are a hoot as her pals (the younger versions of Baranski and Walters, respectively), and the trio present a compelling and believable dynamic as pals making their way in a world and era (1979) where their free-spirited agency ain't exactly celebrated. (The more things change...)

 

In the present day, we also see the addition of a criminally underutilized Andy Garcia as the hotel's concierge/handyman ridiculously named, yes, Fernando. He seems to exist primarily as a narrative device for Cher who literally helicopters in for the last twenty minutes of the movie, phoning in an absolutely brilliant approximation of Cher at her Cher-iest, to croon one of ABBA's most beloved tunes.

For some illogical reason, Cher, who is only three years older than Streep, plays Streep's mother. She is about as believable (pun intended) playing Streep's mother as I would be. Hell, I'd be more believable. "Do you belieeeeeve, in life after love ... love ... love?" But who cares? In the Teflon-coated Mamma Mia universe, all things exist in servitude to hedonistic joy. And you don't get more hedonistic nor more joyous than Cher singing "Fernando," as exquisitely escapist as a big movie moment can be. I adored the sequence and hated myself for doing so the next day.

 

Check your brain at the door, drink in the images and sounds, and enjoy the best party of the summer with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Yes, I laughed, I sang, I danced, I cried, and I'm not ashamed to admit that. Much.

 Postcript ...

 There were four lines in the film that I jotted down as potential review titles. They are indicative of why this film is such simplistic, absurdist genius in our meme-happy culture. I chose one - spoken by Julie Walters (I think) - which seemed to perfectly reflect the position this sequel takes in relation to its most vocal critics: "It's called karma, and it's spelled 'ha'!" For the curious? The other three options were as follows: "Be still my beating vagina." "It's not easy being a mother. If it was, fathers would do it." AND "I judge a person's heart by the way they treat animals." Go see the film, have a ball, and tell me if I chose my title ... poorly.

 __________________________________

 

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton's Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

 

 

July 6, 2018

Rachel and the Stranger -- a current events poem

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RACHEL AND THE STRANGER -- a "Current Events" Poemplus a Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, Too (the Past in Prose!)

 

By Susie Duncan Sexton

 

 "Donald Trump should build his wall out of Hillary Clinton's emails since no one ever can seem to get over them!" (borrowed from cute and witty Chicago friend Barb's Facebook page where she can be seen hugging her dear friend Rahm Emanuel!)

 

Been penning a "nostalgia" column for nearly a decade!

Thought I'd recycle a fun previous backyard escapade--

The definition of "nostalgia" connotes dreary warped time.

Instead, I'll salute the "present" while I am still (barely) in my prime?

 

Tricky to join densely populated protest marches at age 72.

Lost children kidnapped at a national border; stunned parents bereaved--what to do?

Travel bans reinstated, barring tired "huddled masses, yearning to breathe free"?

Civil rights imperiled via stackable Supreme Court potentiality?

 

Gerrymandering, political (in)correctness, battling tribes--red, white and blue?

Russian meddling, indictments, congressional hearings, strange Mafioso type zoo?

Health care, tariffs, stock market monitoring, national debt rising, porn stars cursed?

Global warming/climate change, volcanoes, hurricanes, allied-axis terms reversed?

Well, what about me?

Still dig a TV!

(or a)

Late night Facebook spree!

Gnarled finger strikes key....

 

(And now,  a segue from poetry to prose, from rhyming couplets to rambling giddiness, from topical poetry which is stranger than fiction to the sublime, instructive, maybe more sensible, yesteryears?)

 

...to investigate The (YOUTUBE) Dick Cavett Shows as that Yale graduate chats with the likes of Jimmy Hoffa, brothers RFK AND JFK, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ronald ReaganFrank CapraMarlon BrandoJack PaarWilliam F. Buckley, Jr., Lauren BacallSophia LorenRex HarrisonGore Vidal ad infinitum....

...whenever I feel like it, now that I'm ancient, I journey back in time to revisit some folks I did not fully appreciate in my younger, bustling, active days, yes, days, weeks, years that I naively believed would unroll and unfurl before me also ad infinitum!

 

I confess that I recently fell head over heels into deepest infatuation with "Bill" Holden and "Bob" Mitchum...or rather, as misguided adults in the time-warped forties and fifties referred to these two beef-cake-ish studs, "real men's men"!  Well, phooey on that description!  Reminiscent of the twitty Irish Spring advertising blitz short-changing females with the commercialized implication that possibly only males treasure bar soap, "I like them (Bob and Bill...AND soap I guess), too"...quite a lot!  Why? Both actors appear to be actual human beings revealing rugged individuality, real unashamedly candid candor, sensitivity, compassion, and quirks and delightful insecurities galore -- and they are handsome because they were each beautiful inside as well as outside....I KNOW THAT NOW!  Bob and Bill, accompanied by interviewer Cavett, visited my living room quite recently!  And so does dazzling, elegant Loretta Young twirl through THE door regularly at an ungodly hour...in black and white...starring in one 30-minute masterfully produced film after another that she and her second husband created and spearheaded -- and which are THE most inspirational televised tidbits that I have ever encountered. 

 

All of this euphoric, highly personal, shared glee is just to indicate that in recent googling, I rediscovered an old film referenced which I have yet to view.  Such an oversight is truly odd for me, because I once set my cap as a child to do nothing but watch films, if I could possibly get away with such an ambitious yet probably lazy scheme, for my entire lifetime!  Thus, before I croak, while surrounded by household-untended, tedious, boring, perilous chores and routines which are insurmountable at this stage (I need a staff--or I should have given birth to twelve devoted daughters to help me out during these waning days I may or may not have left?), I MUST purchase a DVD! (whoops!  only available on video?) This 1948 movie entitled RACHEL AND THE STRANGER intrigues my soul because ever-wise and relentlessly-gorgeous and usually-intuitive PLUS  "I-can-land-on-my-own-two-feet-given-any-circumstance" Loretta evidently might need to decide between whether she will stay with her clueless husband played by Mr. Holden, or leave him to fall into the waiting arms of Mr.(empathetic/sympathetic ) Mitchum--a quandary I truly could relish -- immediately!  Ms. Young, who can capably portray a screwball mother of seven or a spinster or an alcoholic or a nun or a farmer's wife (at the drop of a fashionable hat!), also faced this dilemma in THE BISHOP'S WIFE.  Would she stay with goofy, work-obsessed, uptight, ice-cold, priggish Bishop David Niven OR would she live out the rest of her days with adorable, attentive, gentleman-angel Cary Grant?  (The conclusion is rather tragic and incredible, and dare I say disappointing and anti-climactic, for romantics like myself!  David wins?  Ugh?)

 

I close now, kindred soul Mitchum remaining in my thoughts, knowing full well that I wished to run away with (double preposition--forgive me?) him just the other evening at midnight...only the two of us on horseback (Mitchum owned as many as 32 horses at one time!) into the sunset...if I simply could have willed myself onto the screen and outta this nutty chaos called real life.  If RACHEL AND THE STRANGER is/are available on DVD...or tape..., nobody shall see me again because ...well, you can call me -- (but "don't ever call me Shirley!") -- RACHEL...who escapes into another stratosphere, somewhere in some other space and time, with a stranger named Robert Mitchum!  Welcome to the cheeriest and happiest-ever-after TWILIGHT ZONE episode to be telecast for the pleasure of any viewing audience anywhere at any time since the creation of the universe itself...by Rod/God Serling, no doubt about it!

 

"You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. Your next stop, the Twilight Zone!"  ~ Opening voice-over by Rod Himself!

 

"Film is one of the three universal languages, the other two: mathematics and music."  ~ Director Frank Capra

 

"Every writer is a frustrated actor who recites his lines in the hidden auditorium of his skull." ~ Rod Serling

 

"There is nothing in the dark that isn't there when the lights are on." ~ Rod Serling

 

"Imagination... its limits are only those of the mind itself." ~ Rod Serling

"Opportunity is often missed because we are broadcasting when we should be tuned in!"  Loretta Young (in a designer dress) prior to closing her half hour of Loretta Young Presents with an invitation: "See you next week?" (broad smile)

 ___________________

Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in Susie's book Secrets of an Old Typewriter and its follow-up Misunderstood Gargoyles and Overrated Angels - print and ebook versions of both are available on Amazon (click the title). The books are also carried by these fine retailers: Ann Arbor's Bookbound and Common Language; Columbia City's Whitley County Historical Museum; and Fort Wayne's The Bookmark. And you can download from iTunes. Read her blog here, and meet other like-minded souls at her facebook fan page. Visit her author website at www.susieduncansexton.com.  Join a great group of animal advocates Squawk Back: Helping animals when others can't ... Or Won't. Roy's blog ReelRoyReviews can be found here.

 

 

May 14, 2018

TRANSITIONS --"Through the Decades"

By Susie Duncan Sexton

 

Quite like a restless King Tut,

I yearned to avoid a rut.

Wide-eyed, toured a marketplace so Victorian

Everything  everywhere, yet no DeLorean!Transitions518.jpg

 

Repurposed bricks, mortar -- transformed from Presbyterian church--

Its irony hurled me into conflicted "museum" lurch.

Realizing tombs, spires, stained glass, pyramids and kitty cats

Cannot be "taken with you" unto the great hereafter--(RATS!)  

 

Weddings, Sunday School, Brownie Troop 210, May Breakfasts, Ladies' Church "Circles", gatherings past,

Chop Suey dinners, Babbitt-ish Rotary crowded my memory while browsing, aghast,

Either sides of aisles bulging with caned rockers, presidential posters, butter churns and toys,

Hoosier cabinets, Horatio Alger books, magazines, spinning wheels, glass marbles for boys!

 

Bible verses remind us to spurn the material.

Still, archival treasures charm one with the ethereal.

Cookies, muffinscucumber sandwiches, cups of coffee

Provide fuel and sustenance via the basement café!

 

Of course, I wish to stay and stay only to return another glorious sun-shiny day,

But "I have promises to keep": a dental appointment two cobblestone blocks the other way!

(Purchase life-sized, rusty, bear statue fashioned from tin?)

Rush into lobby to await a replaced filling (-in)!

 

We wait, I and my antique grizzly Winnie the Pooh who'd vacated a pulpit to accompany me.

(Loretta Young last evening survived a tooth extraction, then married Hugh O'Brian on retro tv!)

Dr. Jim and hygienist Amy discuss "The Shape of Water" as I stare up speechless, then try to spit.

I inquire whether dried up boomer patients lose their ability to lick envelopes and must thus quit?*

 

Ah, life in a small town!  Walking to most any destination.  Accessibility to churchy churches or museum churches. Nobody plays too rough.

Humans who know us by our first names. Sidewalks connecting beauticians to veterinarians to chiropractors and to the dentist who is a film buff.

But best of all?  To receive the greatest compliment of my lifetime after seven decades of existence (as furthermore a Democrat)?

My inquisitiveness re the waning potency of elderly spittle? "Fear not, dear, you produce the saliva of a 20 year old!"*  And that was that!

 

(Thanks, Dr. Jim!)

  

"..and above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.  Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." ~ Roald Dahl

 

 Signed: The Old Type...Writer!

NOTE: The photographic collage includes images from The Vintage Antique Marketplace's Facebook page as well as some famous faces (King Tut, Loretta Young, and Hugh O'Brien to be specific. And fun fact: Deacon/U.S. Veep/Whitley County native son Thomas Riley Marshall was chairman of the building committee for the very church where this wonderful store now exists! Full circle!

 

 ___________________

Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in Susie's book Secrets of an Old Typewriter and its follow-up Misunderstood Gargoyles and Overrated Angels - print and ebook versions of both are available on Amazon (click the title). The books are also carried by these fine retailers: Ann Arbor's Bookbound and Common Language; Columbia City's Whitley County Historical Museum; and Fort Wayne's The Bookmark. And you can download from iTunes. Read her blog here, and meet other like-minded souls at her facebook fan page. Visit her author website at www.susieduncansexton.com.  Join a great group of animal advocates Squawk Back: Helping animals when others can't ... Or Won't. Roy's blog ReelRoyReviews can be found here.

 

March 7, 2018

Old Type Writer: A room of her own (#OscarsSoRight?)

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(Graphic provided)
 
I'm finally catching up with all of the Oscar-nominated films from year-end 2017. There are many culprits for this delay, chiefly among them the fact that, for some reason, many of these flicks don't make it to the hinterlands of the Midwest until weeks after their initial release dates. My tendency toward over-commitment in daily life may also be to blame. C'est la vie. I've finally viewed The PostThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Lady Bird; The Shape of Water; and The Darkest Hour.
I can safely say the Academy got so much so right this year. (I'm sure they were nervously awaiting my seal of approval. Not.)
Much (digital) ink has already been spilled on these movies, and I'm feeling a touch lazy so I won't go into great detail about any of them. I will admit that personally only The Post and The Darkest Hour truly spoke to me, but I found all five to be thoughtfully composed with unique and arguably essential points-of-view and with timely themes, no doubt provoking many minds and healing many hearts in this rather contentious era.
However, what resonated with me most about all five films was the strength and agency of their leading female characters. Rarely have we seen a class of Oscar-nominated films (I, Tonya included) where the bravery, wit, wisdom, and tenacity of women are so consistently celebrated and intelligently explored. Perhaps it's the Trump effect, a cultural reclamation on behalf of Hillary, an anticipation of #MeToo and #TimesUp, or just a much-needed evolution (and growing up) in Hollywood. Who knows?

"Keep your finger out of my eye." Tom Hanks' Ben Bradlee to Meryl Streep's Katherine Graham in The Post

In The Post, Meryl Streep gives one of her most nuanced portrayals in an already incredible catalogue of film work. Her Katherine Graham is faced with an unwinnable, dare I say, Sophie's Choice: save her family's paper The Washington Post from financial ruin through a tricky public offering or take on the President of the United States and risk imprisonment to honor the paper's history of journalistic integrity by publishing the Pentagon Papers. Graham is "mansplained" up one side and down the other throughout the film. Streep's portrayal is sensitive to the social and historical context that women were acculturated to lean on men and seek their counsel if and when they were "permitted" any decision-making authority at all. Ostensibly, Spielberg's beautifully paced and utterly compelling movie is an allegory for our present times when we have a president who sees the Bill of Rights as less inalienable and more ignorable. However, I saw the film primarily as a powerful and subtle depiction of a woman (Graham) reclaiming her authority and driving our nation towards inexorable truth. It's a performance for the ages, IMHO.
"You're culpable because you joined the gang." - Frances McDormand's Mildred Hayes to her town minister in Three Billboards
Speaking of performances for the ages, we then have Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes in Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. McDormand is possibly the most cathartic and relatable actor of her generation, capable of channeling the inherent tension and internal conflict of id, ego, and superego unlike any other. Mildred may be her finest acting work, alas in a film that doesn't quite rise to her admittedly stratospheric level. Mildred's daughter was raped and then immolated, and, in Mildred's frustration that the local police have been incapable of solving the horrific crime, she finds the bluntest instrument at her disposal (the titular "three billboards") to send a crystal clear message that wouldn't be out of place on an N.W.A. record. McDormand is haunting and funny, heartbreaking and infuriating as a woman whose voice just can't be stifled by her small-minded small-town. I think I would have enjoyed the piece better as a one-woman show as most of the supporting cast offer more superficial readings of their respective characters. Further, a mid-film narrative twist nearly co-opts the whole enterprise in favor of Woody Harrelson's far-less-interesting Sheriff Willoughby. Sam Rockwell (Deputy Dixon) is both hammy and poignant as a foil for and target of McDormand's rage, and, by the time the film runs its course, the idea of a Thelma and Louise-style "road picture" with the two actors isn't without its potential charms.

"Don't you think they are the same thing? Love and attention?" - Lois Smith's Sister Sarah Joan to Soairse Ronan's Lady Bird in Lady Bird

Lady Bird, directed by Greta Gerwig, is a loving and scruffy slice-of-life with luminous Saoirse Ronan as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson, a thoughtful and maddening and deep-feeling teen whose conscious rejection of organized religion and of conventional thinking runs afoul of her own desires to be liked and accepted and to "fit in" with her Catholic school's "popular kid" crowd. Any human who has ever wanted to be their authentic (weird) selves but ALSO get to sit at the best lunch table in school can totally relate (which means all of us). Ronan is brilliant in the role, as is Laurie Metcalf as her worried, worrying, worrisome mother Marion whose noble wishes to protect and to provide are as alienating as they are well-intentioned. The film is a delight, but gets bogged down mid-way with a conventional (if not completely appropriate) Mean Girls-esque subplot of Lady Bird rejecting her theatre nerd friends for the loose collection of pot-smoking athletes and gum-snapping rich kids who rule the school. The film is so interesting and so believable to that point that I found the predictability of that coming-of-age narrative a bit disappointing. Nonetheless, Ronan, Metcalf, and Gerwig give eloquent voices to the frustrations and fears of women navigating a rigged system where their respective needs and desires are often pitted in opposition to one another.

"Life is but the shipwreck of our plans." - wall calendar in The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water, directed with fairy tale elan by Guillermo del Toro, is like a soft core E.T.-meets-The Red Shoe Diaries. A co-worker of mine said it was more like a naughty Edward Scissorhands. I will accept that friendly amendment to my cinematic comparison. Shape of Water had my favorite cast of any of these films. Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones, and Richard Jenkins are all exceptional in their own rights, let alone collected in one place, in service to a visionary fable of tolerance, compassion, and love. Yet, the film overall left me cold. Perhaps, I'm a prude, but the random bits of "sexy time" between Hawkins' Eliza and Jones' otherworldly "Amphibian Man" were disruptive to the gentle narrative at play. I also could have done without said Amphibian Man biting the head off one of Jenkins' beloved cats, even if the moment is offered as an example of predatory innocence. Yuck. Regardless, Hawkins offers a brilliant and heartrending portrayal of a mute woman whose expressiveness far exceeds vocalization, and Shannon nearly steals the picture as a government official whose myopic masculinity and arrested development result in nothing but ugliness, violence, and missed opportunity.

"You are strong because you are imperfect." - Kristin Scott Thomas' Clementine Churchill to Gary Oldman's Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour

As for Joe Wright's The Darkest Hour, yes, it is a movie which features a gobsmacking transformation of Gary Oldman into Winston Churchill. And, yes, Oldman is altogether breathtaking in his depiction of Churchill's genius eccentricity, shocking isolation, and dogged determination. However, the excellence of his work and of the film itself is greatly aided and abetted by the work of cast-mates Kristin Scott Thomas as Churchill's witty, wise, and anything-but-long-suffering wife Clementine and Lily James as Churchill's witty, wise, and anything-but-wide-eyed assistant Elizabeth Layton. The three actors bring sparkling life to Theory of Everything screenwriter Anthony McCarten's chatty script, and, while Churchill was clearly the odd-man-out where British politicos were concerned, his ultimate success could be attributed as much to the women in his life as to his own fiercely independent spirit. These are exceptional performances in a pretty good film.

In The Post, Streep's Graham quotes English essayist Samuel Johnson: "A woman's preaching is like a dog walking on his hind legs. It is not done well, and you are surprised to find it done at all." Her point, in the context of the film, is that society has not encouraged women to speak their truths, so the act of doing so, while arguably initially inelegant, is as shocking as it is necessary. In the case of these five films, truth is delivered elegantly and compellingly, and the class of Oscar nominees this year goes a long way toward giving women, as Virginia  Woolf once implored, a "room of their own."

_________________________________

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton's Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

January 11, 2018

Reel Roy Reviews: The Greatest Showman

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"When you are careless with other people, you bring ruin upon yourself." The Greatest Showman review

 

This may seem a quaint notion, but sometimes it's nice to have a movie that is simply affirming and joyous and a celebration of what can be best in the human spirit. That is The Greatest Showman's raison d'etre. The subject of PT Barnum's now-controversial life may seem an unlikely vehicle for such a film, but that is indeed what we have with Hugh Jackman's latest. I absolutely loved this movie.RoyReview1182.jpg

With music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, composers of La La Land and the recent Christmas Story Live!, the film will never be accused of being high-art, but then that is not what Barnum's stock-in-trade was either. With our present distaste for circuses and with the revisionist history that sees Barnum as less of an inclusive and big-hearted entrepreneur and more of an unethical and selfish opportunist, viewers are best-served to check those preconceptions at the door and approach the film as if Barnum is a mythological figure from American folklore, a la Johnny Appleseed or Paul Bunyan.
Barnum (Jackman) chides a theatre critic who has no use for the ringmaster's brand of populist entertainment, "A theatre critic who can't find joy in the theatre. Now, who's a fraud?" It seems to be as much a definition of Barnum's artistic philosophy as a caution to Twitter trolls in the audience ready to hate on The Greatest Showman's gee willkers approach to American cultural history.
Helmed by first-time director Michael Gracey (who had a reported assist from Logan's James Mangold) and with a screenplay written by Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Beauty and the Beast), the film offers a cursory look at the significant and recognizable moments in Barnum's life, like story beats in an oft-told fable ... with a heaping helping of Horatio Alger-ism: we Americans can be whoever and whatever we want to be, regardless how checkered our pasts (hell, just look at the White House and Capitol Hill).
This is not a detailed, cynical, warts-and-all biopic but rather a heartfelt and inspirational allegory (bordering on the twinkling best of Hallmark Hall-of-Fame's legendary output) that material success cannot substitute for authentic love. And that is just fine.
Hugh Jackman is totally in his element, throwback as he is to a Hollywood of another era where corny was not only king but was embraced and celebrated by the masses. It is a refreshingly positive (albeit whitewashed) take on a legendary American captain of industry - the kind of story-telling that was prevalent in 1950s Tinseltown technicolor fantasias ... or that librarians used to read aloud to us third-graders in our elementary school reading circles.
However, The Greatest Showman is smart enough to supercharge the proceedings with a percussive, propulsive, almost martial, contemporary pop score to hook a generation of audiences weaned on High School Musical or Glee.
This simplistic approach with its anachronistic score is surprisingly effective, at times both insidiously engaging and pleasantly disarming. Highlights include rousing opener "The Greatest Show," no-business-like-show-business anthem "Come Alive," bromantic stomp-duet "The Other Side," swoony/lurchy ballad "Rewrite the Stars," and rafter-rattling curtain call "From Now On."
The bones of the story are not dissimilar to those of Barnum!, the 1980 Cy Coleman Broadway stage musical starring Jim Dale and Glenn Close, but the proceedings couldn't be more fresh or modern. Disney Channel alumni Zendaya and Zac Efron deliver lovely paper doll turns in this 21st century panto-play. Michelle Williams is luminous, simultaneously distant and winsome - arm candy with an iron will - as Barnum's stoic wife Charity.
The supporting cast is rounded out with a strong team of stage alumni who relish every moment of this big-screen cartoon. Kealla Settle as Lettie Lutz, the "bearded lady," is one to watch. Her mid-movie barnstormer "This is Me" brings down the house with a can-you-hear-the-people-sing intensity that should leave you exhausted and enraged and damned "woke" ... if you have any heart at all.
The filmmakers (tom) thumb their noses at depth, knowing that the best celebration of Barnum's life as a huckster purveyor of humbug would be to deliver free-wheeling holiday escapism that energizes and enthralls. Yet, embedded within the cotton candy fluff is a timely and haunting message of acceptance and understanding and compassion.

Sociopolitically, the film does continue the troubling trope of "beautiful white dude as multiculti savior." However, it marries that message to a final act comeuppance for Barnum. Per the film, Barnum's fatal flaw is always looking past the talent in his midst to see who else might be coming through the door, breaking the most important of hearts in his unyielding aspiration for validation from an American elite that continually rejects his kind. After a final act tragedy, Barnum's family of freaks confronts him with this brutal truth, licking their wounds, rallying the troupe, and reminding us all that the greatest show exists with those who've been loyal to us all along.

It's all quite obvious and Hollywood-shallow self-serving, but I admit I cried and cheered and stomped my feet. Sometimes the corniest message - the most heartfelt one - is the one we all need to hear again and again. As Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind (in an ethereal if underdeveloped portrayal by Rebecca Ferguson) warns Barnum, "When you are careless with other people, you bring ruin upon yourself." Family is what you make it, true success begins at home, and there is a place at the table for us all. Amen. #thisisme

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Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking re (print and digital). In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommonLanguage Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan. My mom Susie Duncan Sexton's Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

November 22, 2017

The years teach much the days never know

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"THE YEARS TEACH MUCH THE DAYS NEVER KNOW." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 Edgar Allan Poe has nothing on me.  My severe depression I could maybe downgrade to but a "funk"; however just as the lead singer with Heavy Metal "Iron Maiden" recently penned a new book from the depths of despair forgoing the hunt and peck system and instead scrawling upon yellow legal pads, I likewise someday must exorcise my grief and grievances.  Lately,  Donna Brazile and Hillary Clinton, not to mention Joe Biden, Lawrence O'Donnell, and Chris Matthews, also contributed book-of-the-month entries lamenting precarious life on this earth in these frenetic, explosive times!  I've decided to write my next book. though, when and if I survive these past few months from Hell and have at last  possibly begun to sense the humorous aspect of my personal nightmare.  It just might morph into a kid's book, for goodness' sake!  Jennifer for whom I write these columns emphasizes the positive via her news blog, and we discussed at a local restaurant how tricky "looking on the bright side" can sometimes be.  But, here I am...I can do this.   "If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered." ~ Edgar Allan Poe

My late mother took a shine to a creative little Sunday School student of hers many years past, nurturing Jayne's spunk and talents, and to this day Jayne Mullendore Oliver, whose mischievous, impish dad was my father's preferred golfing partner, continues to appreciate with much fondness my mom's attentiveness. Paying it forward, the mother of three boosts my spirits now that I have grown older and need an occasional pat on the back.  Several Christmases ago, she brought me a framed photograph of "yours truly" shivering in the cold alongside my favorite person (and son) Roy, both of us hugging a costumed reindeer at an evening downtown Christmas celebration...she appeared at my door outta the blue precisely when I needed such a happy surprise.  Last December, she elevated my spirits once again with an inscribed diary plus a delicate ring tray embellished by an exquisite quote from novelist Jane Austen. Oh, I shall never forget that moment! The doorbell rang; I stepped outside to chat awhile, onto the snow covered icy porch, and her daughter handed me the beautifully wrapped present;  I was barefoot and wearing shorts and a tee shirt; I proceeded accidentally to lock the temperamental, defective (darn it!) storm door behind myself!  Nevertheless, I eventually got back inside, shed some tears overwhelmed both by Jayne's thoughtfulness plus a minor case of frostbite -- yet lived to tell this tale.

In the spring of 2016, I attended a memorial service for Dr. Wilson...the best-looking physician who ever lived and the dad of my favorite veterinarian, Kim Egolf, whom I miss terribly.  She now practices in Silver Lake, Indiana.  She and her sister offered eulogies that melted my heart (listening from a pew constructed by John himself) within a small rural church setting, and afterwards we conversed downstairs over finger sandwiches and punch.  I shared anecdotes with those two precious Wilson daughters, mentioning their father's fascination with my own sisters when John, Shirley and Sarah grew up together in the same neighborhood in the 1940s and where I still live in the presently most cluttered (and messiest) house which I was carried into as an infant and baby sister extraordinaire! (I recently parted with a grade school photograph of Johnny Wilson that he must have exchanged with my much older sis...Kim was thrilled that I shared!)  I once considered myself an interior decorator of sorts, but writing, mounds of memorabilia, and a constant parade of rescued animals have taken their decided toll upon proper, usually futile and unfulfilling, housekeeping.  I have kept the house in the family however at all costs...three roofing jobs and countless repairs later.  I have lived in this same spot for nearly my entire life...frequently wondering whatever possessed me and how very much of this world and its wonders I have been denied.  When reminiscing with John's daughters, I realized that small town memories of, for example, one steady, accommodating physician who not only bandaged my skinned knees and took time to share great advice through a girl's various stages of life while also tending to my parents' good health until their deaths, are rare these days...and staying in one spot ain't so bad after all.

This week's local newspaper, a periodical which I truly hoped would feature my son Roy's Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Best Actor award this autumn (an oversight I have trouble forgiving for this was the only bright spot in these past few months--ah, well--actually even emoting and singing upon the same University of Michigan "boards" once graced by both actor Jimmy Stewart and actress Helen Hayes!) contained an obituary which transported me back in time.  Sweet Vera Plattner, mother of my friend Jone, died at age 104.  Vera and Jone moved two houses away from our family around 1956 and began life without their husband and father Merle in a tiny, upstairs, very special apartment at Virginia Lillich's. (Johnny Lillich, the boy next door whom I idolized defriended me on Facebook as we must be of different political persuasions in these strange times--oh, be still my  heart?)  I admired Vera and Jone so much.  Vera used to cut my hair when I was a high schooler; she was a fabulous beautician as is my current hairdresser Yvette --  for 30 years now.  Yvette and I laugh and share happinesses and heartaches all year long every year!  I wonder if Yvette knows how much she means to me!  Well, she does now!  (She also makes an intriguing appearance in one of my books because we both love animals to the max!)  I must visit Smith's Funeral Home to re-connect with Jone and offer my condolences; my childhood friend ranks as one of the brightest students whom Columbia City Joint High School ever produced.  (And, by the way, that apartment, as well as the apartment above Stuart Smith's "Carriage House", housed some of "Our Town's" niftiest people of all time...in and out they came and went...now's there's a story idea!  If only, Henry Mancini could write the theme song!)

Thus, as the holidays approach, I vow that I shall not be eating turkeys or pigs or cattle or chickens (cranberries and sweet potatoes maybe); I instead need to begin to realize how thankful I am for real, genuine persons who have enriched my life and who have encouraged rather than discouraged.  And might I add to my list of names, which I recollect when I try to drift off to sleep, my first serious boyfriend Mike Andrews (a dear soul now deceased and a Vietnam vet) and his super mom Eileen and Keith Kleespie (who passed away this past summer) and his super mom Cornelia...and the rediscovered Madeleine Jo Biddle?  And may I strive in earnest, before I enroll at some nursing home somewhere, to advocate for the demise of factory farms and age discrimination and homophobia and misogyny and divisiveness and bullying and gerrymandering and voter suppression, and bigotry in all of its forms? I pledge to speak out boldly on behalf of: women's rights to breathe in and out...no more "waiting to exhale";  inclusiveness; gun control; fading of "demographics" gab; and for the absolute necessity of veganism and spaying and neutering not only domestic pets but also deer (it's possible!), farm animals (no more unbridled, assembly-line reproduction and stock-piling), and wildlife (hunted down and harassed by self-proclaimed sportsmen); and for the return of the art of conversation face to face, and, oh YES, the resurgence of fearless kindness.  Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas and in 2018, let's all count our blessings instead of sheep!  (This column is dedicated to tiny messenger TRUTU whom Roy dubbed my "Jesus kitten" and who alerted me to disappointing truths while converting me into a wacky combination of Howard Hughes and Jane Goodall...one day I'll write his story because he continues to matter to me a lot.   Special thanks to that little runt of the litter for valuable lessons taught.)

"Her own thoughts and reflections were habitually her best companions." ~ Jane Austen's MANSFIELD PARK  (typed on ring tray, a welcome and heartwarming gift from Jayne Mullendore, Christmas 2016!)

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Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in Susie's book Secrets of an Old Typewriter and its follow-up Misunderstood Gargoyles and Overrated Angels - print and ebook versions of both are available on Amazon (click the title). The books are also carried by these fine retailers: Ann Arbor's Bookbound and Common Language; Columbia City's Whitley County Historical Museum; and Fort Wayne's The Bookmark. And you can download from iTunes. Read her blog here, and meet other like-minded souls at her facebook fan page. Visit her author website at www.susieduncansexton.com. Join a great group of animal advocates Squawk Back: Helping animals when others can't ... Or Won'tRoy's blog ReelRoyReviews can be found here.

October 19, 2017

One season following another, laden with happiness and tears

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(Talk of the Town photos provided)

Old Type Writer: ONE SEASON FOLLOWING ANOTHER, LADEN WITH HAPPINESS -- AND TEARS (a lyric from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF)

By Susie Duncan Sexton

October concluded with much pageantry in the early '50s as "gypsies, tramps and..." pirates (sorry, Cher!) paraded around West Ward classrooms, often returning home through snowflakes.  Meandering around yard signs advertising this guy and that guy running for political office, we diminutive students, suffocating beneath our masks, not only dressed up for Halloween back in the day but we also voted in mock elections.  What a season!  

"I Like Ike" buttons pinned to our costumes, we bad-mouthed Adlai Stevenson and Harry Truman simply cuz our parents did.  Columbia City notoriously voted the Republican ticket then as now.   

My mother and father, always quite secretive, would not be happy with my reporting that they continued their Southern Democratic style in spite of all the hoopla. Both, however, adored Dwight in spite of themselves, and my mom copied Mamie's hair-do, disregarding the neighbor lady's taunts that according to McCall's magazine or Ladies' Home Journal, "Middle-aged women should never attempt hair-styles with bangs to disguise one's high forehead!"  

My folks delighted in the 1960 presidential election when Chairman of the Board Frank Sinatra musically parodied JFK into office, barely, with "High Hopes", minus the "rubber tree plant" reference but retaining the "Oops" and Kerplop"!  Respect for whoever inhabited the Oval Office characterized our family. Flexibility is a trait to be admired and luckily part of my upbringing.  Would that such a stance might be revisited in this current heated political climate which makes "global warming" itself seem a cool walk in the park. 

While experiencing a recurrent attack of nostalgic reverie, I recently dashed to our camel-back trunk brimming with black and white photographs.  I hoped to retrieve my sister Sarah dressed as the sweetest-ever, pint-sized deviladorned with pointy ears and a lengthy tail and posing third from the left in the front row, captured for posterity with her classmates.  Some of the other masked "kids" smiling for the "Brownie" camera?  JoEllen Adams, Barbara Carver, Myra Lorber, Marsha Sevitts, and Margaret Ann Moyer. I loved that snapshot, but I probably passed it on to her daughter Kelly...yes, "niece Kelly"!  "Bachelor Father" John Forsythe, move over! 

Instead, an 8" by 10" glossy, which always gave me pause, materialized.  Former neighbors Ed and Carmen Landreth donned in night-clothes stand beside Charlie Chaplin and Daniel Boone 

I have had dreams about that picture.  No one ever explained it to me.  You see, my mother is the "Little Tramp", and my father is the rugged Tennessee frontiersman holding a rifle and wearing fringe and what later became known to my generation as a "Davy Crockett" cap, apparently fashioned from a deceased raccoon.  

"Killed him a bear when he was only three...Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the wild frontier!"  Many of us kids wondered, all those years ago, WHO was three?  Disney's "Davy" or the bear 

What continues to disturb me is that this photo depicts both of my parents as demonstrating 5 o'clock shadow 

Blue Bell's cafeteria, a replica of my dad's favorite eateries dotting the Southland, became the setting not only for lunch-time crowds of employees and members of the community but also...PARTIES.  Doll tea-parties happened there, and Santa visited children with wish-lists early in December. Evidently, costume balls, featuring my slightly older sister as a scarlet-garbed, horned, cloven hoofed Beelzebub--carrying a pitchfork--as well as my parents looking like bums on a Hollywood back-lot teeming with extras, also transpired in that factory basement.  Probably, I was stuck at home driving some baby-sitter to distraction 

Sad, cuz I loved sorting through jingling pocket change to purchase Spearmint Gum from the canteen area as well as about four Dixie cups of Sealtest or Borden's vanilla ice cream solely for the purpose of scraping (a tiny wooden paddle-type spoon my only tool) the congealed stuff off the movie stars' pictures which hid on the reverse side of the tabbed lids.  So disappointed when Guy Madison or "Duke" Wayne or Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd)appeared.  Giggling, squealy, and ecstatic when Jane Russell, Esther WilliamsJune AllysonJudy Canova or Betty Hutton peeked up to meet my eager gaze.  

Roy RogersDale Evans and Trigger or Elizabeth Taylor and Lassie I found totally acceptable, as well as Tonto and the Lone Ranger. "Hi-yo, Silver, away!"  

Life's funny.  Each night hobbling upstairs to bed, remembering longingly that I once cleared three steps at a time, I pass an ornate plaque propped precariously upon a rickety shelf.  Reading the calligraphic "Ancient Scottish Prayer", composed by an unknown author, I am impressed how the words perfectly highlight this season featuring "All Saints' Eve" which segues into the comparable "May the Best Man Win" mania typical of early November(though political shenanigans seem to have become a 24/7 year-round phenomenon of late): 

"From ghoulies and ghosties

 Long leggitie Beasties

 And things that go

 Bump in the night --

 Good Lord deliver us."

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Read about movies and nostalgia, animal issues and sociopolitical concerns all discussed in Susie's book Secrets of an Old Typewriter and its follow-up Misunderstood Gargoyles and Overrated Angels - print and ebook versions of both are available on Amazon (click the title). The books are also carried by these fine retailers: Ann Arbor's Bookbound and Common Language; Columbia City's Whitley County Historical Museum; and Fort Wayne's The Bookmark. And you can download from iTunes. Read her blog here, and meet other like-minded souls at her facebook fan page. Visit her author website at www.susieduncansexton.comJoin a great group of animal advocates Squawk Back:Helping animals when others can't ... Or Won't. Roy's blog ReelRoyReviews can be found here.

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