State of the Union (1948) starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, & Angela Lansbury

Introduction

This classic film’s screenplay was adapted from a Broadway play which opened in NOV  1945 and ran for almost 2 yrs. The play won the Pulitzer Prize in 1946. The themes present w/in this tale are a perfect fit for optimistic, first gen Italian-American director, Frank Capra, though I consider it more sophisticated than some of his (more famous) films. The first choices for the leads were Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert, BUT those actors didn’t work out, so Capra brought in Spencer Tracy. Once Colbert was fired (for refusing to work nights), Tracy suggested Hepburn (who has some of the best lines). For ALL of who realize that politics is personal, this is the movie for you

Synopsis

The only heir to a publishing house, Kay Thorndyke (Angela Lansbury- then ONLY 24 y.o.), desperately wants to fulfill her dying father’s ambition of putting a man in the White House. So what if the one who may fit the bill, successful airplane manufacturer Grant Matthews (Spencer Tracy), is VERY reluctant? Kay convinces political strategist Jim Conover (Adolphe Menjou) to groom Matthews for their (Republican) party’s bid. A wise-cracking writer, Spike McManus (Van Johnson), comes along on the trail. It turns out that Grant and his wife, Mary (Katharine Hepburn), have been separated for some time; this is something that the public must NOT know. Mary is more than willing to play the supportive wife, IF this is truly what will help Grant. Does Mary still love Grant? Does Grant  love Kay (their behavior is far from platonic) or Mary? Will Grant accept the party’s nomination? 

Review of the Film

He’s beginning to wonder if there is any difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. -Kay reveals to Jim (seriously) / Now that’s a fine question for a presidential candidate to ask. There’s all the difference in the world. They’re in and we’re out! -Jim replies (w/ exasperation)

This is the type of film you need to see twice to get all the jokes, looks, and little moments (which make it a fine piece of cinema). The straight-shooting Grant is “a man of the people” who is hesitant to water-down his message to fit into the mold of a typical politician. Jim comes to realize that some of Grant’s ideas are too liberal for the party. Mary is NOT only hoping to reconnect w/ her husband, she is disappointed when he gives in to pressure from Jim. 

Kay probably has respect and affection for Grant, BUT what she truly loves is the power that she can yield on a national stage. Lansbury admitted that no special aging makeup was placed on her; she “simple had an air of sophistication” which makes her believable as a confident, strong, middle-aged woman. (She also has the best outfits in the film.) Notice the way Kay orders around her (all-male) editors? Of course, she has to be tough in typically male worlds- publishing and politics. Mary comments that men first admire Kay, then start following her around, and eventually fall in love w/ her. 

You politicians have stayed professionals only because the voters have remained amateurs. -Mary comments to a group of political strategists (during the radio broadcast at the Matthews’ home)

Grant and Mary share a special spark, though disappointed w/ how their relationship turned out. (They have two cute school-aged kids, BUT we don’t hear/see much of them until the big climax scene.) The way that Mary talks about Grant, you realize that she is still crazy about him! She admits to Jim (a cynical old bachelor) that she set up fake dates to make Grant jealous. Jim reminded me a BIT of Tobey from The West Wing. Mary finds a sympathetic ear in Spike, who gains a lot of respect for her, and ends up rooting for the couple to end up together. Spike is an youthful man who likes to act nonchalant, flirting and cracking jokes, BUT also has a good heart (something you see in Capra films). 

Real-Life Politics Behind the Film

At the time the film was released, President Truman had NOT made his political comeback and was considered a sure loser in the 1948 election by many, which is why both the Republican presidential nomination is considered so valuable in the movie. It’s also why Spike McManus is amused when a young secretary tells him (at the start of the film) that she thinks Truman will be elected President in his own right in November.

Menjou was an ultra-right-wing political conservative who had co-operated with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), named names of persons he considered to be Communists and was a strong proponent of “blacklisting.” Hepburn was decidedly more liberal and had been an outspoken critic of the blacklist. Menjou had made several comments accusing Hepburn of being a Communist sympathizer, and possibly a Communist herself, which angered Hepburn and her co-star/romantic partner Tracy. Capra was so concerned about the tension that he closed the set to the press.

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Blade Runner 2049 (2017) starring Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Robin Wright, & Jared Leto

SPOILERS: Don’t read this post if you haven’t seen, or don’t want to know, details from this movie (now playing widely in theaters).

“For me it’s very exciting… It’s just so inspiring, I’m so inspired. I’ve been dreaming to do sci-fi since I was 10 years old, and I said ‘no’ to a lot of sequels. I couldn’t say ‘no’ to Blade Runner 2049. I love it too much, so I said, ‘Alright, I will do it and give everything I have to make it great.'” -Denis Villenueve (director) on his love of the original film

Denis Villenueve (originally from a small town in French Canada) has already been hailed as one of the best directors working today; he helmed Sicario (need to check this out on Amazon), Prisoners, and the Oscar-nominated Arrival. Roger Deakins (an Englishman) is the Director of Photography; he is a veteran who has worked on some iconic films (incl. The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, and No Country for Old Men). Deakins also collaborated w/ Villanueve on Prisoners and Sicario

[1] Whether or not you find yourself enjoying your experience, the visuals alone should have you applauding, due to their incredibly detailed nature. I personally found the overall film to be magnificent, but when certain scenes were dialogue-free and asking you to gasp at the imagery, that’s exactly what I was doing, as I feel many audiences members will. 

[2] There are certain scenes where the movie wants you to really drink in the environment, but they could have edited it a little tighter. 

[3] …over time, this too will get more and more appreciation with age (and wisdom) for those who truly appreciate the art of film-making. It’s not perfect, no movie ever will ever to everybody, will it? But it is an amazing achievement and I look forward to my next viewing with different eyes, taking in what I may have missed because there is so much to see and overlook.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews 

I studied Blade Runner in a film appreciation class in college, BUT wasn’t that impressed. Two film majors  (one male, one female) who sat next to me were enthralled, esp. by Sean Young. She was then only 23, yet hers is a quite mature performance. I saw the film two times over the years; its themes are VERY interesting if you delve down into it. 

Ford (Deckard), Edward James Olmos (Gaff) and Young (Rachael) are the only actors to reprise their roles from the original Blade Runner. From the start, this film lets you know that main character K (Ryan Gosling) is indeed a replicant. He’s a blade runner for the LAPD (as Rick Deckard was in the original) who is growing dissatisfied w/ his job “retiring” (killing) the earlier generation of replicants. His human boss Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) clearly depends on and trusts him; of course, he can’t say “no” to her orders. Most of the humans who can afford to have moved “off-world” (to live a better life), but we are confined mainly to the cityscape of a dystopian, futuristic version of LA. 

You’ve never seen a miracle. -Sapper Morton says to K

The World is built in a wall that separates kind. Tell either side there’s no wall… You bought a war. -Lt. Joshi

We eventually learn that a replicant female gave birth via C-section (WHOA)! Lt. Joshi explains to K that this news MUST be hidden ASAP. In The Bible (Genesis), Jacob’s wife Rachael gives birth to Joseph, who is sold into slavery, and later becomes a patriarch of Israel. “Joe” is the name that K’s virtual girlfriend, Joi (Cuban actress Ana de Armas), suggests for K. 

When K goes to gather info from Wallace’s corporation, he meets Luv (Dutch actress Silvia Hoeks), who becomes a formidable foe. Luv shows K info re: Rachael, the replicant who gave birth. We even hear voices of Deckard and Rachael from the earlier film. I really liked Hoeks’ acting (as did MANY critics); she stole many of scenes (creating a compelling villain). Luv, who is right-hand to Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), also shows emotion in certain scenes in the story. 

[1] K did NOT want that archetypal woman. SHE thought he did. He told her not to fuss. He wanted her to share his life with him, hence the emanator. 

[2] Though Gosling’s K appears robotic in his movements at times, in his relationships, especially that with virtual intelligence Joi (the lovely Ana De Armas), we witness how human he truly is, their romance been as inventive as it is beautiful. 

-Viewers’ thoughts on the relationship between Joi and K

Joi is one of the most interesting aspects of this film (as MANY critics noted); she is more than a mere computer, BUT less than a replicant. She wants to be more than she has been programmed to be. Perhaps Joi wants to get closer to humanity (like Data from ST: TNG)? To get closer to K, she invites streetwalker Mariette (Canadian actress Mackenzie Davis from Black Mirror S3) to join w/ her one night. 

K begins to think that he could be the child born to Rachael! K feels compelled to return to the place of his childhood (an orphanage inside an industrial plant). The best creator of memories, Dr. Ana Stelline (Swiss actress Carla Juri) tells K that his memory (of being beaten by a group of boys who wanted to steal his beloved wooden horse toy) really happened. I wanted to see more of her; she made an impact in her few scenes. 

“To be very honest with you, Harrison was part of the project before I arrived. He was attached to it right from the start with Ridley [Scott]. I met him and he’s honestly one of the nicest human beings I’ve met and is one of my favorite actors of all time, so for me it’s a lot of pleasure.” -Villenueve on actor Harrison Ford 

Sometimes to love someone, you got to be a stranger. -Deckard explains to K

Ford’s fans MAY be a BIT disappointed b/c Deckard doesn’t appear until half way through the movie. He is angry, bitter, disappointed, and living in an abandoned Vegas casino (complete w/ holograms of Elvis and Sinatra). Ford is in great shape here (note the fight scenes); he also does a terrific job w/ the dialogue! Wallace sends Luv, along w/ and a group of imposing men, to kidnap Deckard. Luv breaks the emanator, thus also destroying Joi. 

Mariette turns out to be a member of a resistance group headed by the mysterious Freysa (veteran Isreali-Palestinian actress Hiam Abbas). As one astute viewer noted. she  removed her right eye (w/ a serial number). Freysa reveals that Deckard and Rachael’s child was a girl (K is VERY disappointed). In order to protect that woman’s life, Freysa wants K to kill Deckard (before he reveals anything under torture).  

The big final fight of the movie MAY be tough to handle for more sensitive viewers. K and Luv have a rather long/brutal fight. As one critic said: “She wants to be the best replicant.” K’s purpose turns out to be rescuing Deckard, then taking him to reunite w/ his daughter, Ana. As the snow falls around him, K lies down on the steps outside the lab, his body relaxed and his face peaceful. 

 

Star Trek: Discovery (Episodes 1 & 2)

SPOILERS: Don’t read this post if you haven’t seen, or don’t want to know, details from the first two episodes of this new Star Trek series (available on CBS All Access).

The Importance of the Star Trek Universe  

I recently learned that inventor of the cell phone was inspired by the communicators used by Kirk (William Shatner) and his Enterprise crew on Star Trek (the original series- TOS). MANY young people (incl. scientists) were inspired by creator Gene Rodenberry’s imaginative writing, characters, etc. The Vulcan nerve pinch was invented by Leonard Nimoy (who played the iconic Spock); Shatner went along w/ it and ad-libbed the fainting effect. Roddenberry loved it, so it became part of the canon. Though the newer J.J. Abrams films operate on the alternative (Kelvin) timeline, they build on earlier works. The power and influence of the Star Trek universe (starting in TV, then branching off into movies) is comparable perhaps ONLY to Star Wars.

As some of you (who follow me on Twitter) know, I’m a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), which I caught towards its later seasons, then went back to watch. I saw a bunch of eps w/ my younger sibs and (sometimes) my parents. FYI: My favorite captain is Picard (Patrick Stewart). I was a BIT disappointed that Picard and Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) never became more than friends; the actors had such great chemistry together. Riker (Jonathan Frakes- who directed some Discovery eps) was one of the few men who looked better w/ a beard. And who could forget the friendship between engineers- LaForge (LeVar Burton) and Data (Brent Spiner)? I saw Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) when it originally aired, though I haven’t seen the final season. I was excited when Alexander Siddig’s name (he’s British of Anglo  and Algerian heritage) popped up in the opening credits; I loved his character, too. Sisko (Avery Brooks) was NOT only a strong captain, he was a widower and loving single father to Jake. It was refreshing to see a different side of Worf from TNG (Michael Dorn) during his romance w/ Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) on DS9. My favorite romance  was the slow-burn relationship that developed between long-time co-workers and friends, Kira (Nana Visitor) and Odo (Rene Auberjonois). The bromance between Dr. Bashir and O’Brien (Colm Meaney) was one of the rare male friendships on TV (at that time). Unlike TNG, there were a FEW supporting characters on DS9 that operated in shades of gray. This show was NOT afraid to delve into controversial issues, primarily military occupation and religion (incl. types of worship and the existence of gods). 

My Initial Impressions of Star Trek: Discovery 

Some people were hating on Star Trek: Discovery (set 10 yrs before TOS) even before it aired; they feared that Star Trek’s legacy would be ruined (whatever that means). The main character is an African-American woman w/ a male name, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), who starts off as “Number One” (First Officer) to Capt. Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh- internationally known, primarily in martial arts films) aboard the Shinzou, a ship of exploration at the edge of Federation space. They have served together for 7 yrs, so are NOT only co-workers, BUT share an almost mother-daughter relationship. I liked the chemistry between these two characters. 

The main antagonists in this show will be the Klingons, BUT they don’t look anything like Worf (or even those on TOS). The Klingons we meet here have no hair, different skin tones, and a LOT of ridges on their bodies (or just clothing). I think their costumes are unique, BUT it’s tough to see the actors’ expressions through so much prosthetic (which takes about 3 hrs. to apply). We hear a LOT of the Klingon language; this could put-off those who are new to Star Trek. Some critics compared these rogue/fundamentalist-type of Klingons to ISIS; others thought that their ideologies were similar to white nationalists. 

Michael’s birth parents were killed by Klingons during a battle. Now here is where some fans take issue: she was raised mostly on Vulcan by Sarek (played by one of my fave Brits- James Frain), who is also the father of Spock. Michael still adheres to the Vulcan way of thinking, though she has also has emotions that can’t always be suppressed. The banter between Michael and science officer, Saru (Doug Jones), was pretty interesting; Martin-Green said in an interview that these two characters were BOTH ambitious, so were competing to please their captain. Critics are saying that Jones is one of the strongest aspects of the show so far; he is of a (new) species that “can detect the presence of death.” Speaking of positive aspects, the special effects are VERY good (“like a movie,” as some viewers noted).

TV critic Matt Mira asked (in After Trek, the after-show following E2): “Where is the Discovery?” Well, you won’t see that spaceship until E3, as these first 2 eps were more like a prologue (as a few critics noted). We will meet more of the regular cast in E3, including Capt. Lorca (Jason Isaacs); the British actor got heat for his tweets re: Trump supporters. I saw on IMDB that there will be three South Asian actors (WOW)- one American (Maulik Pancholy, noted for Weeds, but also a theater actor), one Canadian (Rekha Sharma from Battlestar Galactica), and one Brit (Shazad Latif from The Second Best Marigold Hotel and The Man Who Knew Infinity). 

One of the main issues is that this series is behind a pay wall ($5.99/mo. w/ commercials is the plan I chose). As one critic (on Collider) commented, a Star Trek series should be accessible to ALL (free). Is the show taking advantage of its (already existing) fan base? Will it find an audience among those who are NOT “trekkies” (or “trekkers,” if you prefer)? The TV shows and movies on CBS All Access may NOT be appealing to everyone, BUT I was glad to see that The Good Wife was available.

Are you planning on watching this show? Please share your thoughts in the comments below! 

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