March 7, 2018

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

(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


"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


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



 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 and out they came and'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 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 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!)


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 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


(Talk of the Town photos provided)


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."


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.

September 22, 2017

Snow Globes, Grape Vines and Hockey Pucks


By Susie Duncan Sexton

"Susan Duncan, your mother's on the telephone?" head-librarian Mrs. List half-questioned. One of the sweetest ladies in town, she slowly wandered throughout the entire square footage of Mr. Peabody's namesake "bibliotheque", ducking in and out of the aisles among towering shelves of books and artifacts: juvenile fiction, biographies, autobiographies, novels, reference works, globes, ship replicas, Indian dolls--you name it. I scampered about, hiding from her. Why? I have no idea. I never roamed far from home. Not even to this day. My friends might judge me as "over-protected", I feared, IF I accepted the incoming call. Thus, I continued to avoid her approaching steps, and possibly stern visage, while I maintained my stealthy "rebel" status crouching behind stacks of literary paraphernalia in that multi-"storied" building!

Maturing in a small town, "where everybody knows your name", carries the potential for both advantages as well as the accompanying disadvantages of life-time embarrassment. "Communication" in the 50s was facilitated not only by John and Hester Adams' two daily newspapers, one Democrat and the other Republican, but also by frequent telephone calls completed with the assistance of local operators asking, "Number, plee-iz?". The grape-vine aspect, sporadically aided and abetted by an intrusive "party-line" feature, meant that several locals might be eavesdropping on private intriguing conversations in addition to the caller and "call-ee". Galloping gossip. Who in this world needed that? Branded forever.

Scrubbing behind my ears one evening prior to falling into bed on a "school night", I turned off the bath tub faucet to hear my dad shouting, "Charlotte Fahl's on the phone and wishes to speak with you!"  Me?  Why ever would a popular high school cheer-leader ring up a pesky fourth grader?  Truth's sometimes stranger than fiction. A grown-up person invited this goofy, klutzy, gangly, long-legged book-worm to proclaim at the top of my voice, "Eagles, we cheer for thee..." and "Two bits, four bits, six bits...a dollar!" as a type of mascot yell-leader for the very tall Columbia City Eagles whom my Southern mother curiously referred to as "Iggles"! 

One of life's high points, however momentary. (My "let's do the splits if at all possible" career briefly endured, throughout a total of probably seven and a half varsity-caliber basket-ball games.) Now where to custom-order the maroon and gold outfit of my dreams which would sport a huge felt megaphone stitched onto my chest and a golden eagle swooping across the backside?  Easy answer.

Blumenthal's "elegant" ladies' apparel shop, a glorious fixture for mothers and daughters, offered one-stop shopping throughout my "Betsy McCall-wannabe" elementary school days. Poodle or box-pleated skirts, angora sweater sets, party-girl organdy dresses, Princess-Style winter coats, corduroy jumpers, and fabled CAN-CAN crinolines (several of those to be worn simultaneously) cluttered the closets of most of C. C.'s "ingénues".  Ben Blumenthal, his wife Bea, and their kids lived about a block from us in a beautiful brick home. Their family dog bit me as I skipped home from school one afternoon. My badge of honor!  Their store, divine and air-conditioned, seems like a fairy tale setting now ...but I currently possess one of their purple-tinged cardboard boxes, emblazoned with silver printing, which contains my "mustard seed" necklace. Yes, Rod Serling, Blumenthal's actually existed.

Driving home heading west on Van Buren Street toward the setting sun, I am transported to an earlier era when our quaint downtown never may have inspired the infectiously perky beat of a Petula Clark tune but most certainly resembled a village nestled upon the toy floor of a snow globe. Frank Capra captured our little Thornton Wilder vintage town in his film "It's a Wonderful Life", warts and all. Friday OR Saturday night-time shopping. Kroger's, William's, or Yontz's Grocery stores. Raupfer's or Schultz's Dimestores for paper dolls, comic books, and mouth-watering cashews--within glass cases--funneled into white sacks via a silver scoop!  Dropping by for a fancy, be-ribboned box of chocolates purchased from drugstore partners "Uncle" Walt Meyers and Garland Stickler, while ceiling fans whirred above our heads. Sugar cookies from Jones' Bakery! Can't you still hear that tinkling bell attached to their screen door? Egg salad sandwiches enhanced by cherry cokes and potato chips in Seyfert's ruffled paper containers at Hollis Peeler's Walgreen's soda-fountain, twisting our bar stools from side to side then twirling 360 degrees?  Ah, "Memories are Made of This!"

Sadie Rush, with her son Allan, operated The Style Shop. Mr. Rush, who passed on his love of and talent for music performance to his son Michael, managed to contribute significantly to my outlook on life. His knowledge of jazz musicians, that droll sense of humor, and our mutual appreciation for the exact same television comedians all appealed to my inquisitive teen-aged mind. He honestly chatted with me while my mom and sister disappeared into "dressing rooms".  I always imagined that he, funnyman Carl Reiner, and talk-show host Steve Allen somehow got "separated at birth". 

WHENEVER I glance into a mirror, I am reminded of an "enchanted evening" encounter with seven year old Mike Rush "across a crowded room". Rambunctiously, the two of us commenced sliding toward one another from opposite ends of the freshly waxed Elks ball-room floor circa 1952, immediately after viewing some black and white, reel-to-reel Abbott & Costello movie, courtesy of the Hancocks, while our respective parents partied downstairs. This cavernous "ice-rink" remaining darkened until an adult could switch on the lights, our two foreheads slammed together, and, personally, I never have been quite the same since. The resultant dent located dead-center above my eyebrows lends me a serious Clint Eastwood furrowed-brow scowl which rather sets me apart. For that signature look, I have Mike to thank...or was that Tommy Roe?  Jury's still out. 


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 advocatesSquawk Back: Helping animals when others can't ... Or Won't. Roy's blog ReelRoyReviews can be found here.


July 6, 2017

A review of 'Wonder Woman'

"Be careful in the world of men, Diana, for they do not deserve you." Wonder Woman (2017) review

By Roy Sexton

I loved Wonder Woman as a little kid - the escapist kitsch of the Lynda Carter TV version with the spinning costume changes and the disco theme song and that Pepsodent-grinning Lyle Waggoner.

As I entered adolescence, the DC Comics version went through her own renaissance, led in great part by one of my favorite writers/artists George Perez (and later advanced in equal measure by Phil Jimenez and Greg Rucka). Diana, Amazonian princess, rediscovered her mythic Greek roots, fully embracing all of the soapy sudsy sturm-und-drang that being the daughter of Zeus and Hyppolyta can bring with a whole heaping helping of jealous demi-god cousins, stepmothers, and half-siblings biting at her heels. Those stories were great fun (for the reader ... not so much for Diana herself.)WonderWomanRoy617.jpg

I'm happy to report that the new (and first?!) cinematic treatment of Wonder Woman honors all that has come before, even incorporating a bit of original creator William Moulton Marston's skeezy blend of feminist kink (see: Chris Pine's Steve Trevor exiting an Amazonian glowing warm springs hot tub while Diana's gaze sizes him up - literally - but she is ultimately more interested in his wristwatch than anything else.)

Whether or not Wonder Woman finally breaks the Zack Snyder-invoked curse of stinkeroo movie-making that has blighted DC Comics' cinematic output to date or is merely the brilliant exception that proves the rule remains to be seen. Nonetheless, director Patty Jenkins (Monster) working from a script by Allan Heinberg (who rocked the comics world over ten years ago with the similarly humanistic Young Avengers) gives us a return to form for classically majestic comic book movie making (Richard Donner's Superman, Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy) with a nod toward Marvel's postmodern humane whimsy (Captain AmericaAnt-Man) but with a surety of voice and purpose that is wholly its own.

Is it feminist? Of course it is! Unapologetically and utterly inclusively so.

"Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." Diana, as portrayed with warmth and fire and wit and steel by Gal Gadot, is a stranger in a strange land to whom all creatures (man, woman, child, animal) deserve respect and love ... and if you are incapable of showing that love, she'll unequivocally kick your ass.

Making the interesting choice to set the action during WWI (Wonder Woman has traditionally been more associated with WWII), Jenkins and Heinberg make absolute hay with a setting where war was arguably at its peak of muddy, bloody brutality and where the nascent suffrage movement continued to make waves (pro and con) for women in society.

In Wonder Woman, Gadot fulfills the promise of her all-too-brief screen time in the comparatively glum and humorless (and horrifically titled) Batman v. Superman: Dawn of  Justice, delivering a star turn for the ages. It is not a showy performance (ironic, I know, since she is wearing a glittering metallic bathing suit, wielding a mammoth sword, deflecting lightning bolts with her bracelets, and, you know, flying) but is layered with beautiful notes of heartache, ironic detachment, utter bemusement, and complete bewilderment over a world designed chiefly to destroy.

She is joined by a stellar supporting cast - the aforementioned Pine who turns his character actor good looks into matinee idol charm as mansplaining sidekick Steve Trevor, glowering Danny Huston as a German warmonger, David Thewlis as a British idealogue whose rhetoric seems to urge a quick and speedy armistice, Elena Anaya as a bruised soul whose distaste for humanity leads her to develop poisonous gasses of mass destruction, and Lucy Davis stealing every scene as bantering "secretary" Etta Candy whose delight at being in the presence of a woman (Diana), who could give two whits about societal decorum, is utterly infectious.

The film is at its most thrilling when Diana leads a ragtag band of adorably mismatched soldiers across the Western Front, herself marching directly through the battle lines, armed only with her wits, her magic bracelets, and her righteous indignation over the horrors she has just witnessed befalling everyday families (and horses). I may have cried a little (a lot) during that sequence.

Wonder Woman's only misstep is in its length. At nearly 2.5 hours, the film's running time strains audience patience. Though beautiful and transporting, the movie's opening third, set in Diana's home Themiscyra or "Paradise Island" amidst a utopia of warrior women, is, well, kind of a bore. While it is essential to show Amazonian society, which is designed through reason and equality, contrasted with man's ugly world, locked as it is in the plague of war, we could have used about 20 fewer minutes of pristine beaches, jewel-hued skies, horseback-riding, and Queen Hyppolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her dutiful General Antiope (Robin Wright) stumbling to mimic Gadot's irrepressibly undefinable accent. (At times, I wondered if the Amazon nation settled off Greece by way of Transylvania.)

Hyppolyta warns Diana early in the film, in a line that foreshadows thematically all that is to come, "Be careful in the world of men, Diana, for they do not deserve you." Indeed, we do not deserve Wonder Woman, but we do need her and her mess

age of inclusion and peace, tolerance and integrity  ... now, more than ever.

P.S. And, rest in peace, to that other superhero icon of my youth, Adam West, whose Batman introduced me to a universe of colorful characters that I still love to this day.


Thank you to Rose McInerney of WomanScape​ for her kind words and for referencing the above Wonder Woman​ review in her fabulous site's latest and greatest. Rose writes, "So, while Wonder Woman is undoubtedly good storytelling with a sizable marketing budget, its success is also explained by key factors in our changing world. The first of these is the growing number of men like movie reviewer Roy Sexton who are joining with women to help promote the Diana-like warriors in our world. Roy lends his unabashed support and writing talents advocating for feminism and equal rights." Read here.


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.

May 24, 2017

Celebrating the grand opening of Blue Bell Lofts

BBLCollage1.jpgBy Susie Duncan Sexton

 What follows is the text of my speech from the glorious May 9th grand opening of the Historic Blue Bell Lofts - there were more than a few asides not captured here ... for those, go to video!

"Four Score and -- Five Years Ago"...seems like only yesterday...and we are all still wearing our durable Wrangler jeans as we gather here today INSIDE A HANDSOME BUILDING CONSTRUCTED IN 1932!   "Little" Roy Sexton --who provided the perfect tribute to or epitaph for my dad, his grandpa, in October 1983 --  co-created  this short speech with me for this special day dedicated toward the official opening of BLUE BELL LOFTS!


He declared, "Daddly (his adverbial nickname for Roy Duncan, long time plant manager) did NOT seem like the kind of person who would ever die..."  He was correct...because " Mr. Blue Bell"  (JoEllen Adams McConnell's nickname for my dad) seems present today...we know he is smiling broadly, relishing with gusto this moment.  As a young engineer from Greensboro, North Carolina, R.E.D. arrived around 1938 with his trusty slide-rule and stop-watch and stayed on as manager from 1942 until 1974 as an integral, long-time member of the Blue Bell family - both my father and this very building itself, as well as former employees and business associates and customers -- and now new inhabitants -- yes, indeed, FAMILY!

Roy Sexton emailed me the following talking points...he is always looking after my best interests...he is smart enough to know my own remarks might proceed for hours and please just sit still for only about 10 minutes instead...(I do take after my husband has always said that he wished he could hide the household job ("honeydew") jar and find me plants to manage BTW.  And I don't mean African Violets or geraniums!

"FORWARD: USE AS YOU SEE FIT - Potential thoughts for your May 9th remarks:" by Roy and Susie Sexton!

Today is a special day for many reasons. The opening of this beautiful residential facility in our Blue Bell building signifies the ongoing growth of Columbia City, a reminder of our history as a manufacturing hub, and how powerful it is when different members of the community collaborate to make life as we know it better for everyone. For me, though, this day has special significance as my father Roy Duncan ran the Blue Bell plant for decades, employing hundreds of our Columbia City friends stitching up those beloved Wrangler jeans. He would be so pleased to see all of you cute kids in your denim today!

My father, like anyone's father, loved his own family and appreciated the work that allowed him to provide for us. But anyone who knew my father well also fully realized that he could be very passionate and very mischievous, and there were days at work where his playful streak was rewarded and darker days where the deep-feeling side might be tested. Regardless, he was always undeniably proud of the persons who stepped through these doors and of the garments they created and shipped to all corners of the globe.

Here's the real kicker, though. He believed landmarks must be preserved. He gleefully remodeled and rehabilitated homes. In fact, I still question some of the choices he made in the early 60s to turn our 1935 Line Street bungalow into something that occasionally resembled a very well-lit postmodern UFO.

Even after he retired, he would fret and worry about how the factory's grounds were maintained here at the Blue Bell plant, commiserating with Mr. Ermael Day regarding the landscaping and then snapping photos that he sent back to Wrangler HQ., so he would be pleased as punch to see how this beloved lengthy, streamlined building has been restored with absolute care and genuine compassion, revelatory of an obvious reverence for the past, and with such appreciation for the spirit and the joy of the people who worked here.

I've been writing about Blue Bell since moving back here in 1986, first with a piece for JoEllen in the Historical Society Bulletin and later in my columns. As a kid, this facility was a magical place where: ice cream and chewing gum and Baby Ruth candy bars could be purchased in the canteen; lunches planned by Lucille Scott enticed at noon and got served in the divine cafeteria; dungarees were snapped up at cost in the company store; new parking lots materialized; the Vandalia Railroad tracks disappeared and in their place a tree-lined park and benches emerged; and huge bolts of fabrics would whisk from one end of the plant to the other. I've continually tried to manifest and illustrate the heart and soul of this place and constant productive, bustling activities on each of its floors and the various steps along the assembly line, covering anecdotes from the colorful personalities that walked its halls while I have simultaneously stressed the impact this dependable factory and the important business conducted within its walls had upon countless numbers of us who "once upon a time" well as presently this community.

My father spent the bulk of his life working here. I have enjoyed a great deal of my life recapturing what made the Blue Bell era so special for me (from birth to age 70!)--I have pored through my two trunks (one of which was a gift from Marilee Boyd with the words "GLOBE-SUPERIOR" stenciled on the lid) of memorabilia nearly every time I passed by them lately, during this thrilling time of repurposing, happy to add my two cents worth ...(and denim is and has always been my favorite fabric, and that pungent  fragrance permeates the air of every room of our home).  A huge sign above this establishment's entrance once proclaimed, "World's Largest Producer of Work and Play Clothes".  A lesser known slogan, but one quite familiar among Blue Bell personnel, religiously referred to as "family", was "The Big Company that pays attention to little things".  And now I am beyond thrilled to see this generation and future generations literally spending their daily lives in the former Blue Bell building's sheltering embrace. Thank you to Commonwealth and Gina Gowen and our community leadership for not only preserving but also creatively reinventing and reinvigorating Blue Bell for today and tomorrow.  And, thus, we return to the title for this speech --"FORWARD: USE AS YOU SEE FIT" - and as we can attest to this May 9th afternoon -- Mission Accomplished!



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 Joi n 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.