“Young Man with a Horn” (1950) starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall, & Doris Day

Put down that horn, jazz man… I’m in the mood for love! -Tagline on the movie poster

A lonely/orphan boy in LA, Rick Martin, learns he has a gift for music and falls in love w/ the trumpet. A talented Black trumpeter, Art Hazzard (Juano Hernandez), takes the boy under his wing and teaches him ALL he knows. The issues of identity and race come up in this story, as it’s focus is on a white man playing (traditionally) Black music; the undercurrent of racism (against the Black artists) is present also. The adult Rick (Kirk Douglas) struggles for a time, as his volatile personality and desire to play jazz (rather than standard dance tunes) land him in trouble. Soon, he becomes a star trumpeter featured in a NYC band and makes good money. Rick meets a young socialite studying to be a psychiatrist, Amy North (Lauren Bacall). In the novel by Dorothy Baker (upon which this film is loosely based) the characters of piano player/Rick’s best pal, Willie “Smoke” Willoughby (Hoagy Carmichael), and the singer, Jo Jordan (Doris Day), were African-American.

Rick: I don’t play for people. I play for myself!

Art: Look, boy, a man’s got a lot of living to do in this world. But, you, you’re kind of locked up inside yourself. You’re like a – like bird trying to fly on one wing. You’ll stay up for awhile. Then you’re going to fall.

Douglas’ trumpet licks were performed by Harry James, who also taught Douglas the correct fingering of the instrument. Carmichael was a friend of the real-life jazz musician, Bix Beiderbecke, and helped Douglas w/ his role. Carmichael received a thank-you letter from the director, Michael Curtiz, for his valuable input in several areas of production. Carmichael co-starred previously in Bacall’s 1st film, To Have and Have Not (1944). This was only the 4th film for Day; Curtiz was impressed enough w/ her work to recommend that Warner Bros. consider casting her in a dramatic role. Day gets to sing 3 popular standards, With A Song In My Heart, The Very Thought of You, and Too Marvelous for Words.

Amy: People try to find security in a lot of strange ways. You seem to have solved your problems – at least while you’re playing that trumpet.

Rick: I don’t understand a word you’re saying, but I love the sound of your voice. It’s got a wonderful rough spot in it.

Douglas and Bacall were close friends; they’d gone to drama school together (and have great onscreen chemistry). Bacall recommended Douglas to director Lewis Milestone; he got his first movie role in the noir classic- The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946). One viewer commented that this was the rare movie where Bacall played “a bad girl.” Rick is socially isolated, yet content w/ his life, as long as he has his horn/music. Jo is interested in him, though he is oblivious. Later, Jo introduces Rick to Amy; he doesn’t understand a LOT of what she’s saying, BUT is intrigued. Amy treats Rick V coldly after they’re married. The film contains a reference to homosexuality, although the Hays Code required any mention to be subtle. Amy is a lesbian; she leaves Rick to go to Europe w/ an artist (a woman). Decades later, Bacall told TCM that the reference was so subtle, and being was young/naive, she didn’t understand this until years later! If you like this story, you may want to check out Paris Blues and ‘Mo Better Blues.

[1] The directing from Michael Curtiz is as you would expect very tight to the drama, and the photography from Ted McCord captures the smoke filled nature of jazz clubs perfectly. The acting from the cast principals is never less than above average. […] The music of course is excellent, and as long as one is prepared for the melodramatic turn of events, this is a very rewarding piece.

[2] …the cinematography in this black & white film was amazing–very, very artistic and just beautiful. It reminded me a lot of Film Noir combined with the sensibilities of Ansel Adams.

[3] …film’s outstanding support performance comes from Juano Hernandez who runs the emotional gamut from confidante and advisor to dependent and admirer with his usual dignity and assurance.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“The World, the Flesh, & the Devil” (1959) & “Z for Zachariah” (2015)

Introduction

Post-apocalyptic sci-fi is set in a world/civilization after nuclear war, plague, or some type of disaster. I found a V long list of movies (on IMDB); here are ones I’ve seen so far: Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Children of Men (2006), Planet of the Apes (1968), The Matrix (1999), and The Handmaid’s Tale (1990). While dystopian fiction usually explores social or political struggle, society has NOT yet collapsed (BUT might be on the brink). In apocalyptic fiction, the focus is more on the characters or on man vs. nature.

The World, the Flesh, & the Devil (1959) starring Harry Belafonte, Inger Stevens, & Mel Ferrer

Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte) is a miner trapped for several days after a cave-in somewhere in Pennsylvania. When he finally manages to dig himself out, it looks like civilization has been destroyed in a nuclear incident. He drives to NYC and finds it deserted. Making a life for himself in a luxury high-rise apt bldg, he’s shocked to eventually find another survivor, Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens), a 21 y.o. blonde socialite. They start to rely on each other and form a close friendship. Some time later, they hear of another survivor who arrives via his small boat- Ben Thacker (Mel Ferrer). Ralph gives Ben an injection that saves his life; Sarah takes care of him while he recovers. In time, tensions start to rise as Ben and Ralph vie for Sarah.

Ben: I have nothing against negroes, Ralph.

Ralph: That’s white of you.

This unique/lesser-known movie showed up under recommendations on Amazon after I watched Z for Zachariah (see review below). The director here, Ranald McDougall, worked for Warner Bros. from 1944-50; he got an Oscar nom for his screenplay of the noir classic Mildred Pierce (1945) starring Joan Crawford. From the mid-’50s, he was primarily active in TV and worked on lower-budget films. Belafonte (who does sing a BIT here and looks gorgeous) was at the top of his career at this time. Though perhaps known more as a singer and civil rights activist, he acted in several V fine films and even had his own production company! So far, I’ve seen Belafonte in Carmen Jones (1954) w/ Dorothy Dandridge, Island in the Sun (1957)- which also contains a interracial love story, and the noir Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) w/ Robert Ryan.

The first 40 mins of the story is ALL about Ralph; we see a lonely (yet positive-minded) Belafonte navigate the empty/eerie streets of Manhattan. I hadn’t seen the acting of Stevens (a Swedish-American w/ a tragic life/early death) and Ferrer (Audrey Hepburn’s 1st husband; born to a Cuban father and American mother) before; they do fine in their roles. Race is a big issue here; a Black man and white woman wouldn’t be seen as equals or allowed be a romantic pair onscreen (in a segregated society). In one pivotal scene, we see the sexual frustration of both Ralph and Sarah as he gives her a haircut. Even on her birthday, Ralph doesn’t sit down to dinner w/ her, as Sarah wants, but provides the music and food. He acts like it’s OK when Ben and Sarah start to go out alone (on dates). The ending wasn’t quite what I expected, BUT it was intriguing! I think fans of classics will enjoy this movie.

[1] This movie will grab your interest and exercise your moral fiber. Race, prejudice and pride are but minor subplots in this excellent film. […] Black and white has never been so colorful.

[2] Belafonte is terrific especially in his early scenes and Miss Stevens registers quite strongly during their tense exchanges. Most of all, director Ranald MacDougall captures a barren, decimated-looking New York City to awesome, jaw-dropping effect.

[3] A very thought provoking movie that was not accepted at the time, but in retrospect, way way ahead of its time. In a racially charged world, it put forth the premise that race, in the final analysis, is superficial and meaningless. Once you strip away the layers of conditioning and socialization, you find, at the core, good and evil and the age old struggle as to which will prevail. A simple story, told directly and honestly.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

Z for Zachariah (2015) starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Margot Robbie, & Chris Pine

After the end of the world she thought she was alone. She was wrong. -A tagline for the movie

A woman in her early 20s, Ann Burden (Margot Robbie- an Aussie), lives w/ her dog (Faro) on a farm in the Appalachian Mtns, sheltered from radioactivity by rocky hills and a clean underground water supply. After about a year of being alone, Ann encounters John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor- a Brit), a research engineer who (aided by meds and a HAZMAT-type suit) walked from a govt bunker to her valley. Unknowingly, John bathes in a contaminated waterfall, so quickly gets V sick! He is nursed back to health by Ann in her house; she is a Christian and prays to God to save him (thinking he’s a good man). John regains his strength and starts to improve their lives w/ his ideas/skills. They become friends and- eventually- think of pursuing a romantic relationship. Before that can happen, about 42 mins in, Faro runs ahead of Ann to another survivor- Caleb (Chris Pine- an American)!

This movie is based on the sci-fi book Z for Zachariah (1974) by Robert C. O’Brien; after his death, his wife and daughter crafted it into a YA novel. The “love triangle” was added in by the screenwriter (Nissar Modi- a Brit); only Ann (a 16 y.o. farm girl) and Loomis (a middle-aged engineer) are protagonists in the novel. The books has many convos btwn the characters re: religion vs. science, as a few readers have noted. The director (Craig Zobel- an American) recently gained some attention for HBO’s Mare of Easttown (starring Kate Winslet). Tobey Maguire (who served as a producer) and Amanda Seyfried were originally cast in the lead roles, BUT both had to drop out. The title recalls a children’s book that John takes off a shelf: A is for Adam. As some viewers noted, Zachariah is the prophet murdered between the temple and the altar (the last of the prophets killed) in The Bible.

This movie was shot on location in New Zealand; the main set was about 40 mi. from the nearest town. Zobel commented that it “felt like a Summer camp” working w/ his small cast and crew. He and the 3 actors had a week of rehearsal; they did some improv while shooting (as I learned from watching a few interviews from Sundance film fest). Ejiofor (now in his mid-40s) is an actor I’ve admired since seeing his debut role in the indie Dirty Pretty Things (2002). He can express a LOT w/ little (or no) words; he has large/expressive eyes and was classically-trained (as many British actors). After Ejiofor was cast, one line was added in re: race (one of the funny moments). Speaking of great eyes… Pine (now in his early 40s) does quite well w/ his role here; Caleb knows how to use his sex appeal/charm on Ann. Robbie does well also: she (now just 31 y.o.) achieved a LOT of success at an early age. I learned that she just also started producing- V smart move. Check this movie out IF you’re looking for something thoughtful!

[1] Chiwetel Ejiofor gave a compelling performance. It was so real, I think the majority of us would understand what he’s going through. I was shocked by how outstanding Chris Pine was in this movie, just perfect. Margot Robbie was amazing as well, just a solid piece of acting by all.

It made for the perfect emotional love triangle. Even though only three people appear in this movie, it said so much about us as a society.

[2] This is probably the quietest and most understated post-apocalyptic movies you’ll ever see, but deep down, it is truly fascinating. With great performances, impressive directing and an intriguing plot, this film is massively engrossing and surprisingly simple to understand from start to finish.

…a fascinating study of humans in their most basic state: survival and animalistic desires, relating itself almost to Adam and Eve and biblical theory.

[3] Some films make you cry, some films make you laugh and some films just amaze you. Well, this one will make you think and digest information that you will see. Z for Zachariah may not be the most romantic film nor may it be an adventure, but hours after watching it, I was still thinking about what this film represents.

-Excepts from IMDb reviews

Cast interview with Rolling Stone
Cast and director interview with The Wrap

“Girls” (HBO): Season 2

Season 2 of the controversial (yet unique/fascinating) show returned in JAN 2013. Lena Dunham would direct 4 eps and write 7 eps in this season. The show may NOT have always had a huge audience, BUT it was written about by many journos, pop culture critics, and haters. Zosia Mamet recalled (at The Hollywood Reporter comedy actresses roundtable in 2014) that “in S1, we were shooting in Tompkins Square Park, and nobody knew who were were. Then we go back there for S2- paparazzi everywhere! It’s not just taking pictures- they’re trying to figure out what’s going to happen in the storyline.”

You feel like you are doing something that spurs a conversation, whether it’s for good or for bad. This is the first time that this has ever happened to me. It’s an amazing thing. -Adam Driver (2013 interview, Flaunt Magazine)

E1: It’s About Time

Hannah throws a housewarming party with brand-new roommate- Elijah, but it’s hard to move on when she’s still playing nurse to Adam. Marnie gets bad news at work and a visit from her mom; Shoshanna avoids Ray at the party; and sun-kissed Jessa returns from her honeymoon.

The story takes place several weeks after the S1 finale. Hannah is seeing a young Black man, Sandy (Donald Glover- before he became famous), who she seems V excited about. As some of you may know, Dunham received a LOT of criticism for her show being “too white.” Hannah is helping Adam out (his right leg is in a cast); she does errands for him, though he wants her around a LOT more. She tells him that their relationship is over; he doesn’t take it easily. We meet Marnie’s mom, Evie (Rita Wilson- wife of Tom Hanks), for the 1st time. She’s worried b/c now Marnie isn’t w/ a bf, was let go from her gallery assistant job, and her appearance isn’t up to par (“you look 30”)- yikes! Evie had to raise Marnie on her own after her ex-husband left the family; she works/lives in New Jersey (and looks to be doing well).

E2: I Get Ideas

Hannah gets unsolicited musical attention from heartbroken Adam and displeasing opinions on her writing from Sandy. Elijah questions his sexuality; Marnie makes a career compromise when her curatorial dreams are crushed; Jessa revels in married life; Shoshanna and Ray make magic; and Elijah and Marnie harbor a secret.

This ep opens w/ Hannah and Elijah listening to songs by Adam; he is shirtless (of course) and playing a guitar. They BOTH look concerned as they hear this music, wondering IF Adam really is a “sociopath.” On my recent rewatch, I had to LOL at such a funny (yet awkward) situation. Sandy breaks up w/ Hannah after she makes some “ignorant” comments re: race; Dunham said that Glover contributed lines in this scene. Hannah spends some time w/ Jessa; they catch-up and play w/ puppies in the park. When she goes to a gallery for an interview, Marnie gets shot down by the owner, Patricia (Laurie Simmons- Dunham’s mother/a painter). Dunham joked that her mom “changed all her lines” and also “chose her own costumes.” Marnie (seeing no better option) takes a job as a hostess at a men’s club; she has to wear a skimpy uniform. She and Elijah are BOTH feeling down and lonely, so they decide to hook-up (super awkward)! Late at night, Adam comes into Hannah’s apt (he has a key for emergencies). She’s (obviously) surprised and tells him to leave; Adam refuses and she gets scared!

That scene was so fun to film b/c it was a sort of a real Adam Driver tour-de-force, going from terrifying to sweet, to about to cry, to raging out. I mean, the amount of emotional territory he covers in that scene is- to me- mind-boggling. -Dunham re: the pivotal scene (that ends w/ Hannah calling the cops on Adam)

E3: Bad Friend

Hannah gets a new freelance gig, and her editor suggests that she should try cocaine for the first time to write about her experience. In the process, she gets to know her downstairs neighbor, Laird. Meanwhile, Marnie meets her old artist flame, Booth Jonathan, who takes her home to show her his studio.

Hannah starts writing for a hip/young blog that wants content that pushes the boundaries. IF you were shocked by Hannah’s revealing clothes before- this ep MAY be too much. In the party scenes (filmed at Greenhouse- a SoHo nightclub) she wears a yellow mesh tank top. Hannah and Elijah do lines of coke off a toilet lid (ewww)! Then Hannah and Marnie have a big fight re: which on of them is a worse friend; MANY viewers commented that they related to this scene. Hannah turns to Laird (who has a BIT of a crush on her); she’s hooking up w/ him for the experience (so she can write about it). Putting herself in danger is NOT new for Hannah; this ep makes us worry about her perhaps a BIT more than usual!

E4: It’s a Shame About Ray

Elijah moves out, and Hannah invites a group including Charlie, Audrey and Marnie to dinner. Jessa meets Thomas-John’s parents, which finally prompts a confrontation between husband and wife. Shoshanna discovers that Ray may be living with her.

Hannah: You can’t just be a girl in this city and expect to get your way!

Marnie: But we are girls in this city!

Hannah: Not the right kind of girls!

Marnie: Girls none the less!

This is one of the highest-rated eps of S2; a LOT of stuff happens. At a steak dinner w/ Thomas-John’s WASP parents (played by veteran theater actors- Griffin Dunne and Deborah Rush), Jessa ends up revealing some dark facts (incl. her previous addiction to heroin). She lashes out in anger when she feels judged by these (passive aggressive) people. Back at their high-rise condo, we see that Thomas-John is NOT amused; they get into an ugly argument!

Dunham’s (real-life) BFF plays Charlie’s petite/bohemian gf, Audrey (Audrey Gelman). Marnie is upset/jealous seeing how close her ex and his new lady have gotten (in such a short time). Audrey and Marnie get into a big fight! Shosh and Ray have been gotten V close for the past few eps; she says: “I’m starting to fall in love w/ you” (as they wait for the subway). Rannells (already a Broadway star) left the series at this point to front his own comedy series- The New Normal (2012). This was canceled after one season, so he returned in the second half of S3.

E5: One Man’s Trash

A man comes to the coffee shop to complain to Ray that someone is leaving trash in his trash cans. Hannah follows him to his brownstone to confess and ends up spending the rest of the day, and the next day, with him.

This is the (much talked about) ep focused on Hannah’s weekend hookup w/ a handsome/older doctor, Joshua (Patrick Wilson- who lives w/ his fam in Greenpoint IRL). It’s basically a mini-movie starring 2 characters; many viewers loved it and others hated it (calling it implausible). There is a sort of hazy (dream-like) quality to this ep; one of the regular directors (Richard Shepard) did an esp. fine job here. According to Dunham, the idea for the ep and a great deal of the text came to her during a fever dream. While some viewers thought that this was unreal, others pointed out that some men would take the chance of a carefree hookup w/ a younger/willing woman. What happened to Joshua? Wait and see…

The relationship between Hannah and Joshua is quick, but I quite enjoyed it because of Dunham’s writing and chemistry with Wilson. Near the end of this affair we learn more about Hannah emotionally, as she breaks down in front of Joshua, because he has such a good life at his age while she seems to be stuck at her young age. […] Writing was strong and focusing on only this relationship was great to watch a big move, showing this show truly is special. -Excerpt from IMDB review

When Hannah walks away from his home at the end, all I could think was how similar this episode was to Woody Allen’s style of writing. A realistic fairytale that you relate to in a way that you can’t quite put your finger on. -Excerpt from IMDB review

E6: Boys

Hannah is hired to write an e-book, but has trouble finding inspiration. Booth asks Marnie to host a party with him for a gallery opening. Ray goes to see Adam, and they end up traveling to Staten Island to return a stolen dog.

This is the first ep in the series to have a solo writing credit to a man (Murray Miller); he is a problematic creative behind the show (as I noted in my S1 review). It focuses on my 2 fave characters (Adam and Ray); they’re opposites in some respects, BUT walk to their own drummer. Ray goes to Adam’s apt. (Brooklyn Hts) to get his copy of Little Women (which Hannah had left behind). There is a big/angry dog in the bathroom- yikes! Adam explains that he stole the dog b/c he thought the owner wasn’t treating him well. Ray convinces Adam to return the dog (he has tags); they travel via ferry (which I never did when I was in NYC) to Staten Island. I enjoyed seeing the (quirky) chemistry between Adam and Ray; they get to know each other, then get on each other’s nerves.

Adam: She’s like a carnival game, you know? It all seems so simple, but you can’t get the ring on the bottle, because it’s f*****g rigged so you try and try and try until you drive yourself nuts. Then, finally, when you walk away you realize you didn’t even want the crappy prize to begin with. I realize that’s what Hannah is: a giant Tweety doll I would’ve been stuck carrying around the carnival all night.

After Booth fires his assistant, Soojin, he asks Marnie to help host a party for his friends. Marnie is V happy to do this, thinking it’s a big step in their relationship. It turns out that Booth doesn’t think of her as his gf (ouch)! Of course, Marnie is NOT alone- there are MANY women who have been treated in the same way.

E7: Video Games

Hannah accompanies Jessa on a visit upstate to see Jessa’s estranged father, his new-age wife and Frank, their virginal teenage son.

We learn more about Jessa’s (troubled- no shock there) family when she and Hannah travel to upstate NY. Jessa’s estranged father, Sal, is played by Aussie actor Ben Mendelsohn (who later made a big impression on the Netflix show- Bloodline and played a villain in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). Jessa’s hippie stepmom, Petula, is played by a veteran Hollywood actress- Rosanna Arquette. Jessa felt physically/emotionally abandoned by her father; she tells him that she needed someone on her side when a teen (and going through a difficult time w/ her mom). Hannah is hurt and angry when Jessa leaves w/o her; she calls her parents from the train station to thank them for their support (aww). This was Kirke’s final appearance in S2 (as she was pregnant w/ her second baby). It was tough to feel empathy for Jessa until I saw this ep; her father is selfish and unreliable.

E8: It’s Back

I feel like in the second series, things start to get a little deeper into that, but he’s not someone who’s willing to share. I feel like he’s guarded on it and wouldn’t allow himself to explain himself. He always has this thing going on that he doesn’t need to explain himself at any point. -Driver on Sackler being a recovering alcoholic

Hannah tries to hide mounting anxiety about her book from her visiting parents. Meanwhile, Marnie is stunned by news that Charlie has started a successful app company; Adam gets set up on a date; and Ray’s misanthropy gives Shoshanna pause.

We learn a LOT more re: Hannah and Adam here! Hannah’s OCD resurfaces; she was affected w/ it back in HS. I learned (on the Good Friend podcast hosted by Jamie Lee Curtis) that Dunham also suffers from OCD. The ep opens w/ us seeing Hannah’s various OCD behaviors (so we glimpse into her mindset)! She is having writer’s block, though she has a deadline coming up soon. Also, her parents are coming to NYC to see singer Judy Collins (who plays herself).

After several eps, Adam is back- YAY! He shares his story at an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting; he starts talking re: quitting booze, then it turns to his breakup w/ Hannah. A petite/feisty lady named Cloris (veteran comedian Carol Kane) comments to him: “I was very impressed by your honesty.” She also asks Adam how tall he is (6′ 3″). Cloris gives Adam her daughter’s phone number, much to his chagrin. The phone call scene is cute and funny; Adam describes himself as “tall and kind of dashing.” At the dinner date, Adam and Natalia (Shiri Appleby) have fun and (obvious) chemistry.

The unexpected moment of the episode for me was Hannah having OCD which, when I think back on the show, seems to be a bit obvious how she has acted in life. It showed that the Dunham is taking risks to make the character of Hannah more interesting… -Excerpt from IMDB review

E9: On All Fours

[Sackler is] someone who follows his emotions and doesn’t pause and reflect. He’s always following an impulse and is aware of something that he’s lost – it jars with how unsettled he is. The more he tries to gain control, the more things get out of control. -Driver re: his character

The episode was so awkwardly comedic and dark in nearly everything the characters did which is what I really love about the show… -Excerpt from IMDB review

Pressure from Hannah’s aggressive publisher (John Cameron Mitchell) and a looming deadline further jeopardize Hannah’s mental state. Adam and his new girlfriend have their first misunderstanding. Marnie makes an awkward step in following her dreams.

Hannah is stressed out b/c of a deadline, so she sticks a Q-tip TOO deep into her ear (yikes)! FYI: The bemused ER doc who treats her is Ranjit Chowdhury (an Indian actor/ veteran of indies). Shosh tries to be caring gf to Ray, showering him w/ attention. Marnie decides to sing at a party at Charlie’s start-up; it’s V awkward. Adam and Natalia go to her friend’s engagement party at a bar; Angie is played by Dunham’s friend IRL- Amy Schumer. When he steps out for a moment, Adam sees Hannah walking home from the hospital (wearing just a long tee, no pants); they both look affected by their awkward conversation. This is perhaps the MOST controversial ep of the series, as it brings up the issue of consent (or perhaps more accurately- dubious consent). James Poniewozik, reviewer for TIME, called it “the most uncomfortable half hour of television of the year.” We see a dark side (pardon the Star Wars connection) of Sackler! Did you see this ep, and if so, what did you think?

E10 (Season 2 Finale): Together

In order to avoid being sued by her publisher, Hannah must write her book in a single day. Marnie misinterprets Charlie’s intentions; Ray makes a career move which he hopes will impress Shoshanna.

Adam: Is this f*****g Face Space or some s**t?

Many of Hannah’s friends and acquaintances are at a crossroads. Marnie and Charlie will find out if they’re on the same page (after several casual hookups together). Shosh isn’t sure if she can handle Ray’s negativity anymore; he sees this as critical thinking. Ray decides to be more ambitious; Hermie says he can manage the 2nd branch of Grumpy’s in Brooklyn Hts. Adam and Natalia are still together, BUT Adam is trying too hard to fit in w/ what she wants (can’t be himself). Hannah’s life is getting out of control; David threatens to sue, if she doesn’t produce her e-book (after getting an advance). Unable to reach Jessa, Hannah leaves a sad/angry voicemail. Finally, she gives Adam a call; he is breaking down some stuff (angrily) at his apt. Adam notices her OCD behavior and the (uneven) haircut she gave herself. He runs (shirtless- of course) to Hannah’s apt, kicks open the door (after she hides under the covers), and picks her up in his arms. When I saw this the first time, I thought it was quite a rom com type of ending. On my rewatch, I realized that maybe they aren’t good for each other (BUT need each other in this difficult moment).

Maybe not as good as last season’s finale, but still a great episode of TV’s best comedy. The season was less strong then the first season but still great, funny and even more dramatic as this women really faced real life problems. Dunham really showed this season she is a great actress, as well as everything she does for the show. All the women were strong… -Excerpt from IMDB review

“Girls”: Season 2 – Guys On “Girls”
Lena Dunham at Golden Globes (2013)
Dunham and cast at Golden Globes (2013) Q&A

Spoiler-Free Review: “West Side Story” (2021) starring Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, & Rita Moreno

I’m sure almost ALL of you know the plot, as West Side Story is a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy (Romeo & Juliet) set among gangs on the West Side of Manhattan in the late 1950s. The 2 gangs are the Jets (white ethnics/NYC-born) and the Sharks (Puerto Rican). The 2 teen “star-crossed lovers”- Tony (former leader of the Jets) and Maria (newly arrived to NYC)- meet at a HS dance and fall in love at first sight. Of course, their relationship will have (deadly) consequences!

There are MANY problematic elements in the 1961 movie, though it is also much-loved by audiences of ALL ages all over the world. First of all, Natalie Wood was NOT a Latina or of Puerto Rican heritage. The Sharks were made-up w/ dark foundation, though people from PR have a wide variety of skin tones. This movie was released after lyricist Stephen Sondheim died on November 26, 2021. He did see the final cut of the film and prefers this version to the original 1961 film (as he said on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert).

I have been challenged by what would be the right musical to take on. And I could never forget my childhood. I was 10 years old when I first listened to the West Side Story album, and it never went away. I’ve been able to fulfill that dream and keep that promise that I made to myself: You must make West Side Story. -Steven Spielberg

The screenwriter is Tony Kushner; I think he did a fine job (aside from a couple of lines which came off as a BIT modern). The choreography (originally by Jerome Robbins) was updated by Justin Peck from the New York City Ballet. Director of Photography, Janusz Kaminski (who often collabs w/ Spielberg), went to great lengths to replicate (as much as possible) the lighting/visual style of the1961 film. Look at the way that the camera is swinging around, even from the opening number from the Jets- wow! I liked the (more realistic) sets and (colorful) costumes here. John Williams was brought in as music consultant; he was piano soloist for the 1961 movie. As many critics/viewers have noted, West Side Story has some of the best (and well-known) songs of ALL time! I’m sure a LOT of you were tapping your feet and/or singing along. This film follows the original song order of the stage musical w/ 2 exceptions: “Gee, Officer Krupke” (really liked the choreography) is moved to earlier (as the 1961 movie also did) and “Cool” (NOT impressed by new version) is sung by Tony to Riff (not sung by Riff to the Jets).

Divisions between un-likeminded people is as old as time itself. And the divisions between the Sharks and the Jets in 1957, which inspired the musical, were profound. But not as divided as we find ourselves today. It turned out in the middle of the development of the script, things widened, which I think in a sense, sadly, made the story of those racial divides- not just territorial divides- more relevant to today’s audience than perhaps it even was in 1957. -Spielberg on movie’s relevance today

When casting this version, Spielberg insisted that all Latino characters be portrayed by real Latino actors. Out of the 33 Latino characters onscreen, 20 are of Puerto Rican heritage. There is a good amount of Spanish used in this film; I was glad that I knew the language (though NOT fluent). You don’t need to know Spanish to get what’s up. Almost the entire cast is made up of musical theatre performers; veteran actress Rita Moreno (an EGOT winner; Maria in the 1961 movie) is the most famous. Except for Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler (cast straight out of HS), and Corey Stoll, ALL of the principals are Broadway alums.

Zegler has a V pure/powerful voice; she has received MANY rave reviews for her singing! Elgort (who shot this movie before revelation of SA allegations) is V tall, handsome (in a bland way), and moves gracefully (he studied ballet some). His voice is NOT remarkable in any way and holds little power; this makes “Tonight” NOT as impressive; it also puts a damper on “Maria.” Anita (Ariana DeBose), has the most interesting role; the actress has received a LOT of award season buzz! DeBose is Afro-Latina and worried that she had the “wrong look” for this role; Spielberg told her that she was “perfect.” DeBose and David Alvarez (Bernardo- older bro to Maria) also have good romantic chemistry. Of course, it’s tough to beat the (fiery) chemistry between Moreno and her Bernardo (George Chakiris- who was of Greek heritage). I was V impressed by Riff (Mike Faist); he commands the screen w/ his (amazing) dancing, but it also a fine actor. This Riff is hard-edged/volatile; this is a far cry from the (teddy bear-like) characterization from Russ Tamblyn (1961). You can now watch this movie on HBOMax!

“America” from “West Side Story” (2021) featuring Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez

Re-watching Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” (2018) starring John David Washington & Adam Driver

When producer Jordan Peele first pitched “Black man infiltrates Ku Klux Klan” to Spike Lee, Lee thought it might be a Dave Chappelle skit, until Peele assured him the story was authentic. For Lee, the story was too outrageous to ignore. He had a few conditions for directing: incl. comedic elements, and drawing parallels w/ contemporary racial issues. When Lee was a young student at NYU Film School, he was so outraged that professors taught the 1915 movie Birth of a Nation (w/ no mention of its racist message or its role in the Klan’s 20th century rebirth). He made The Answer (1980) as a response; many professors took great offense and Lee was nearly expelled. Lee was saved by a faculty vote; after his success as a filmmaker, he became a professor there and also Artistic Director of the Graduate Film Department. The film is dedicated to Heather Heyer, a young/idealistic white woman who was killed in hit-and-run at the “Unite the Right” rally on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, VA. The film opened in the US on August 10, 2018 to mark the 1st anniversary of the rally/her death. Lee received a six-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival- wow! He also became the 2nd Black American to be nominated at the Academy Awards for producing, writing and directing in the same year.

Patrice: Are you down for the liberation of black people?

Ron: Power to the people.

Patrice: All power to all the people.

Ron: That’s right, Sista.

In the early 1970s, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington- oldest son of Denzel/former football player) is hired as the 1st Black officer in the Colorado Springs, CO police department. Ron (a real person) is a college grad from a military family who wants to make a difference in his community. He’s assigned to the records room, where he is faced w/ micro-aggressions and even openly racist remarks from others. Master Patrolman Andy Landers (Frederick Weller) is one of the uniformed cops who doesn’t hide his dislike of Blacks. Ron (who wears an Afro and knows “jive”) soon requests to go undercover. His immediate supervisor, Sgt. Trapp (Ken Garito), is supportive of Ron. Chief Bridges (John David Burke) is surprised by the bold move, but agrees. Ron is assigned to infiltrate a rally where civil rights leader, Kwame Ture AKA Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins- recently played Macduff opposite Denzel in The Tragedy of Macbeth), is to give a speech. Ture was considered “radical” as he was a Black Panther; he had organized “The Freedom Rides” a few years earlier to register Black voters in the South. Two experienced undercover cops, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and Jimmy Creek (Michael Buscemi- younger brother of Steve), listen in from a surveillance van nearby. In line for the rally, Ron meets a young woman named Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), the president of the Black Student Union at Colorado College. This is a fictional character created for the movie; she is smart, articulate, and a challenging love interest for Ron. He hears Ture’s speech (very strong/impassioned); Hawkins provides gravitas to this small role.

Sgt. Trapp (to Ron): You know the way to sell hate? Affirmative action, immigration, crime, tax reform… He [David Duke] says, no one wants to be called a bigot anymore because Archie Bunker made that too uncool. So, the idea is under all these issues… everyday Americans can accept it. Support it. Until eventually, one day he gets somebody in the White House that embodies it.

The police don’t seem concerned w/ the Klan at this time; they think there is no activity locally. One day, Ron sees an ad in the paper, and calls up the number complaining re: Black people. He soon gets a return call from KKK’s Grand Wizard- and future politician- David Duke (Topher Grace)! Playing such a loathsome role posed a challenge for Grace, leading the actor to feel depressed. The men of “The Organization” (the term they use) are archetypes we’ve seen before; they’d be the type to vote for Trump (if around in recent years). Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) is the genial/clean-cut guy who quickly builds a rapport w/ Flip (posing as Ron in-person). Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Paakkonen- who is actually Finnish) is the wild-eyed/hot-tempered one whose plus-size wife, Connie (Ashlie Atkinson- recently seen on And Just Like That and The Gilded Age) wants to get involved in his cause. Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser) is the fat, dim-witted younger man (looking to the others for guidance/approval). Felix has a collection of firearms; he suspects that Flip is Jewish (raising the tension/potential for danger).

Flip: For you it’s a crusade. For me it’s a job.

Ron: You’re Jewish. They hate you. Doesn’t that piss you off? Why are you acting like you don’t got skin in the game?

One of the key themes of this movie is duality; Ron and Patrice even have a conversation re: “double consciousness” on one of their dates. Double consciousness is the internal conflict experienced by subordinated or colonized groups in an oppressive society. The term and the idea were first published in W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903). Originally, double consciousness was specifically the psychological challenge African Americans experienced of “always looking at one’s self through the eyes” of a racist white society and “measuring oneself by the means of a nation that looked back in contempt.” The term also referred to Du Bois’s experiences of reconciling his African heritage w/ an upbringing in a European-dominated society. Ron is a Black man living in a racist society; he is also a police officer (so part of “the system”). Flip is Jewish (has a Star of David necklace), but he didn’t grow up w/ the rituals and traditions (and always considered himself “white”). However, getting embedded w/ the KKK, Flip finally has to grapple w/ his religious heritage and the prejudice faced by Jewish people. Lee co-wrote the script w/ his (frequent) collaborator, Kevin Wilmott and two Jewish co-writers who served as producers (Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz).

Flip (to Ron): I’m Jewish, but I wasn’t raised to be. It wasn’t part of my life, I never thought much about being Jewish, nobody around me was Jewish. I wasn’t going to a bunch of Bar Mitzvahs, I didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah. I was just another white kid. And now I’m in some basement denying it out loud. (He chuckles low.) I never thought much about it, now I’m thinking about it all the time. About rituals and heritage. Is that passing? Well then I have been passing.

He’s a beast! Game respects game. -Lee re: working w/ Driver

For Driver fans, there is much to admire: the quiet intensity, close-ups of his profile (quite striking), and his restrained swagger. His hair is longer than most cops and he wears casual clothes (plaid shirts, sheepskin jacket, and jeans). Flip is a really good shot (can handle himself in tough situations) and projects a laid-back personality. As Flip interacts more w/ the Klan, it takes a toll (focus on the eyes). There are a few light moments in the film between the cops; these are needed to cut the tension created by the serious subject material. Driver was nominated for an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. There is much more to see/discuss; check it out yourself! I saw it at a free screening when it came out in theaters, then saw it again (Amazon Prime) a few weeks ago.

[1] BlacKkKlansman, is great movie, that manages to be thought provoking and funny at the same time. The cinematography is excellent. The only issue I had with this movie was the pacing, but nothing major. Oh, forgot to mention, great ending as well!

[2] There are aspects that feels too artificial which detracts from the tension. The subject matter requires the movie to be more real. At times, Spike Lee pushes into satire territories but nevertheless, it is still one of his better recent movies.

[3] Lee’s film takes liberties with the actual true events. It starts off as a satirical drama. Lee however in unable to resist being heavy-handed with his message…

The film benefits greatly from the performances by John David Washington and Adam Driver.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Q&A w/ the cast, director, & Ron Stallworth: